Making e-learning tools that are more supportive – BIM, TPACK and truncated feeds

The following is a mini-argument for and example of how the e-learning tools should be made more supportive. i.e. actually help the staff and students using them actively address common problems in a pro-active way. It continues some more thinking about an earlier question I asked, Does institutional e-learning have a TPACK problem?” and hopefully will inform the on-going research and development around BIM (now officially released to the Moodle community) and also inform the Moodlemoot’AU 2013 presentation I proposed.

The problem

The last post mentioned the recent research around the increasing workload faced by academics dealing with the current practice of e-learning in Australian Universities. One of the premises of my thinking is that a contributing factor to this workload pressure is that the tools aren’t provided sufficient help.

Just recently @masmithers re-tweeted an “oldie but goodie” blog post of his from 2011 – eLearning at Universities: A Quality Assurance Free Zone? – in which he reports on a range of poorly designed online courses he had seen. He talks about the “secret communion with students in the classroom” as one of the contributing factors for this. The comments on the post point to a range of other factors: “no requirement to have any teaching experience or qualifications” and limited (if any) funding for the move from on-campus to online (or dual mode). There are also a couple of comments along the lines of “we are at the mercy of crappy tools….If we’re going to build decent sites, we need decent tools” and connecting back to the workload question “spend extra hours and time away from my family trying to remediate what is essentially a bad system”.

The questions I’m keen to explore are along the lines of

  • Would the provision of better tools help reduce workload and increase the quality of the learning and teaching experience?
  • What does it mean for these tools to be better? What types of problems need to be removed? What positives built in?
  • How can this be type of improvement be carried out within the current institutional processes?

A solution

In the previous post and my current line of thinking is that the TPACK (Technological Pedagogical And Content Knowledge) framework can provide a useful lens for thinking about this problem. The basic idea is that

  • TPACK proposes that it “identifies the knowledge teachers need to teach effectively with technology” (Koehler, n.d.).
  • This knowledge does not need to reside in each individual academic, the tools they use can help provide this knowledge (either directly or by providing in context connections to others).
  • Can we use TPACK to identify the type of knowledge that we need to design into these tools.

An example

BIM is the tool that I plan to use to explore these ideas. It’s a tool I wrote and hope to increasingly use in my own teaching. The following illustrates one idea for how BIM could be re-designed to better contribute to the overal TPACK required to “teach effectively with technology” (Koehler, n.d.).

BIM is all about aggregating the posts students make to their own individual blogs. These blogs are hosted on whatever blogging platform they decide. BIM provides ways to mark (both manually and eventually automatically) the student posts.

Today, one of my students has reported a problem with the marking of her blog. After a bit of email tag between both of us, I have identified that the student has configured her blog so that the RSS feed generated has summaries of her posts, rather than the full text. This means BIM cannot see the full post, it’s marking a portion. No surprise it got it wrong.

This problem has caused confusion and disappointment on the part of the student. It has required her to expend more effort on chasing this up and required me to do more work to diagnose and remedy the situation.

Wouldn’t it have been so much better if BIM was capable of identifying this problem as soon as it happened and informed both the student and myself about the problem? Technically, it would be fairly easy to implement this.

Doing this requires that the tool have embedded into it a lot more technical knowledge (e.g. that feeds might be summarised and how that looks) and the ability to make use of that knowledge.

Being aware of this need requires that the people capable of designing and changing BIM, are close enough to its operations that this type of problem becomes recognised. I’m not sure that in all situations this is the case. How can a tool like BIM be designed to make this possible?

5 thoughts on “Making e-learning tools that are more supportive – BIM, TPACK and truncated feeds

  1. beerc

    My 10 second response follows:

    I like the questions that you are seeking to explore about the provision of better tools. As you know its something that I’m thinking about with my foray into using learning analytics to better identify and support struggling students. With my context in mind, I think the tools need both to aid decision-making and scaffold the ensuing action in a recursive cyclical manner. This requires the tool and the tool developers to be closely aligned with the context within which it is to be used. With eLearning, and given the fact that the people who develop the tools are typically not the ones using the tools, current institutional practices pretty much preclude tools that can do these things. That is, to use the TPACK diagram, the tools are sitting right up the top, completely separate from pedagogical or content knowledge.

    1. G’day Col, We’re in so much agreement it’s probably past time for us to find a (slightly or not) dissenting voice to give some critique of this approach.

      It would be interesting to see if there’s any legs in gathering all of the decision making processes around e-learning tools within an institution and analysing who is making the decisions and what they consider (e.g. is it all technical?).

      Some of @shane07 stuff goes in here. Sure there are others.

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