One current challenge is attempting to engage productively with institutional strategic/operational planning. The big challenge in doing so is balancing the perceived importance of institutional level concerns (governance etc) with those of an individual teacher.
As part of this challenge I was reading a document summarising the aims of a rather large institutional project in ICT around learning and teaching. Yesterday I tweeted part of the strategies from that project (it starts with “Ensure the development of”
As my tweet suggests I see some contradictions in the adjectives.
Here’s a story from the dim dark past to illustrate how it’s essentially impossible to have an online student experience that is both consistent and optimal.
You shall not use single quotes!
Back in the mid-1990s CQU was a fairly traditional second generation distance education provider. As such it had a style guide for print-based materials (almost the only sort) that were distributed to students. In large part the aim of the style guide was to provide a consistent learning experience for students. One such element of the style guide was ‘You shall not use single quotes’. “Double quotes” were the only acceptable option.
So, that’s consistent.
Less than optimal
As it happens, in the mid-1990s I was the tutor in the course 85343, Machine Intelligence. The practical application of the concepts in this course were done in the Prolog programming language. Here’s a brief section of Prolog code taken from here. Can you see the problem this is going to cause in terms of consistency?
write(‘Move top disk from ‘),
write(‘ to ‘),
That’s write, Prolog code makes use of single quotes. The distance education study material for 85343 included sections of Prolog code. Do you know what the central distance education organisation did?
Obviously, because ‘You shall not use single quotes’ they automatically converted all of the single quotes into double quotes, printed the materials, and sent them out to students.
I don’t know whether the coordinator of the course got to proof the study material before it went out. But he was the Head of School and I’m willing to be if he did, he didn’t even think to check the style of quotes used in the Prolog code.
Consistent can’t be optimal
The lesson (for me at least) is that you can’t be consistent across all the courses in a university, while at the same stage claiming to provide an optimal learning experience for students.
This quote from Dede (2008) picks up on why this is a problem (or you can listen to the man himself)
Educational research strongly suggests that individual learning is as diverse and as complex as bonding, or certainly as eating. Yet theories of learning and philosophies about how to use ICT for instruction tend to treat learning like sleeping, as a simple activity relatively invariant across people, subject areas, and educational objectives. Current, widely used instructional technology applications have less variety in approach than a low-end fast-food restaurant. (p. 58)
And it’s not new
Here’s a quote from Jones (1996) – yep I had a bug in my bonnet about this almost 20 years ago and here I am again
With traditional on-campus teaching academics generally have complete control over what they teach and how it is presented. In CQU’s distance education model the subject matter’s presentation is controlled by DDCE. This results in significant tension between the desire to operate standardised systems for production and distribution of courseware and the desire for course designers to be creative and imaginative (Mark, 1990).
There’s a paper or two here.
Dede, C. (2008). Theoretical perspectives influencing the use of information technology in teaching and learning. In J. Voogt & G. Knezek (Eds.), International Handbook of Information Technology in Primary and Secondary Education (pp. 43–62). New York: Springer.
20 Mark, M. The Differentiation of Institutional Structures. Contemporary Issues in American Distance Education, Michael Moore (ed), 1990, pp 30-43