Landing : Athabascau University

Video: decreasing the distance

Video: decreasing the distance

Video: decreasing the distance

By Jon Dron 14 October 2013 @ 6:51pm Comments (9)

A brief-ish (8 minute) presentation explaining some of the rationale behind the Landing and a brief overview of some of its features and facilities.

Comments

  • Beautiful!

    When I was using the Landing as a part of my COMP650 course, weekly reflection posts were necessary. Recently I found myself in the position where I felt the urge to write a reflection post in a course being conducted through Moodle, however, this practice is not necessary or can attribute to anything useful in that context. Sad! My inspiration came through those posts on Landing and my fellow colleagues offering different perspectives, definitively not "prescribed" by the course objectives (not using "learning outcomes" on purpose), like most discussion are driven in the conventional distance learning environment. What does this mean?

    Well, normally in a conventional DL environment I would assess the question that needs to be answered and conduct an internal probability assessment as to what is the most appealing answer to the tutor's ears. This would frequently leave a poltroonish feeling, just because I wanted to say something completely different. But how can I say something contrary to the unit reading without costing me my grade? Would I dare posting that I almost fell asleep 4 times watching the course-prescribed video just because the lecturer is dull (for 3 hours), and suggest some other source? No, it is a gamble. Shhhhh, don't stick out.

    The philosophy behind the Landing is completely different - I have managed to gain more useful knowledge through one course conducted here on Landing than from all the other combined. The most appealing aspect is the lack of wrong answers: for the first time I actually learned from my classmates, instead of reading and commenting on rather empty, traditionally composed posts (mine included), and able to freely write and exchange thoughts. How can one learn if all the posts share the same color of the spectrum, just in different shades? I did not even know what was the right thing to write if I wanted to please the tutor, while any opposition to the standardized way of thinking was allowed, but corrected where necessary. And not just "because the professor said so!" During my course on Landing, I can't count the number of times I joyfully wrote or thought: "Oh, my thinking is flawed" - yes, joyfully, as there is no competition, no envy, just common goals: if one part of the mechanism is not operating, the whole machine will suffer, hence the adequate use of the term "driving force".

    It was the first and last time that the group work was pleasing and engaging - please raise hands those who had pleasant experience with group work at AU so far? Hmmm, don't see any... The last comment I read in the Grad forum was "... it is like pulling teeth..."

    I do support the Landing, the driving force behind it, the ideas, the inspiration. My desire is to see that the distant learning moving forward not just towards increased social connectivity, but to this style of learning. It is sad that all the good things take time to integrate in everyday use. Now, one can notice that any learning philosophy can be transferred onto any communication medium, and how can a single social site change these well-established practices? From that perspective it can't, but the Landing is the embodiment of a different learning philosophy, not an empty but advanced technological vessel waiting to be filled.

    Just my opinion!

    Sasa

     

    Sasa Danilovic October 15, 2013 - 2:15pm

  • Thank you Sasa.

    Your comment is as powerful as Jon's convincing video and gives authentic voice to his arguments. 

    Indeed we have been surprised at the length of time to get "buy in" from AU staff and students, and as you suggest it likely takes time. But we are impatient, not just for change, but for improving the quality and enjoyment of distance learning.

    Thanks Jon and Sasa!

    Terry Anderson October 15, 2013 - 4:03pm

  • Great presentation Jon!  I would just say that if you want buy-in from the broader community,you will need some more examples that are explicitly individualized study , continuous-enrollment courses with 100 or less annual enrollments. Once people see thoq that works, there will be broader acceptance

    Mark Crawford October 15, 2013 - 6:32pm

  • Hi Jon,

    That is a great presentation. I teach finance courses in the Faculty of Business. Any ideas about how to integrate student-student and student-professor interactions into an essentially instruction-based course? We have discussion forums in our finance courses, but students mainly use them to ask questions on specific problems from the textbook or assignments. I have done a project with a group of 8 students, using AU Landing as the communication "hub", but the to-and-fro communication between the students was completely missing. Not sure what to do with a big class of 400 students, when I couldn't even get 8 students working on a specific project to talk to each other...

    Merlyn


    - Merlyn Foo

    an unauthenticated user of the Landing October 16, 2013 - 3:02am

  • Thanks all. In answer to Mark and Merlyn, it looks like I need to produce another presentation about ways the Landing is and can be used in taught courses! There have been some notable successes as well as unsuccessful experiments. In brief, though...

    Being a soft technology, there are myriad possibilities so the kinds of things that I and others have done already barely scratch the surface: arguably the greatest benefit of the Landing is that it gives a palette of possibilities that can be used in infinitely many ways.  I've found a couple of patterns that appear to work, however.

    The first is to concentrate on sharing and cooperation rather than trying to encourage collaboration. For an unpaced course with relatively few students, it is usually impossible to get people to work together on something. Instead, students share their work with others and therefore get to see what others have done, and can thus see both the good things and the things that don't work so well, as well as occasionally bumping into one another and engaging in dialogue. The more work that they share, the better, but I prefer to give students the choice - if they want to keep things private between them and their tutors that's OK,  unless social interaction is an explicit outcome, and the Landing's discretionary access control makes that easy to do. Not all of our students feel the need to be social learners and we should respect those wishes, even though there is overwhelming evidence that it helps. This sharing is especially effective if a) you comment on posts and encourage students to comment on one another's and b) you include a reflective element (typically a blog or wiki) that helps them to make sense of what they have done and see others. Being a soft technology, the human part of this is vital - an interested, passionate and enthusiastic tutor becomes very visible, while one who does not engage becomes very visible by his/her absence, just like in a traditional classroom. My failures doing this have been entirely due to my failure to sustain involvement or to be less timely than I should have been in my responses.

    The second and most powerful technique I have found is to use an evidence-based element of assessment that allows students to optionally use help given to others, annotated bookmarks, comments, discussions etc as proof of meeting learning outcomes. They don't have to engage with others in order to pass the course as there are plenty of other ways to provide proof of meeting outcomes, but everyone wins when they do - the one sharing/helping gets marks and the benefits of teaching as a learning process, others get help. You can make the grade contribution for this as large or as small as you like, but I tend to do so for entire courses or large units of them. I give course grades for each learning outcome instead of for specific exercises, asking students to put together a portfolio of evidence that demonstrates how each outcome has been met. The process of assembling work and thinking about how it meets the desired outcomes is itself a very valuable learning process that lets them consolidate and connect disparate work. It's also very transparent, and makes marking relatively easy and interesting, as every student does something different and shows competence in different ways. This kind of process can be added to even the most constrained of textbook-based courses as the solutions to even the most rigid problems can be used as evidence. Where the answers are all going to be similar (something I personally try hard to avoid) it may be best to keep such solutions private, but there will still be opportunities to provide other evidence of meeting relevant outcomes.

    I'll try to find the time to put together that video!

    Jon Dron October 16, 2013 - 10:23am

  • @Jon - very accurate description. For those who do not mind reading lengthy posts, I will include below a part of my post which describes COMP650 through my eyes as a student, written when I was taking the course. Bear in mind that at the time I was very skeptic towards social networks, but my comment was in line with everything that Jon said. For those who like to skim through, I will summarize the most important points important to me when it comes to Landing.

    1. Teacher engagement is crucial. It disables the procrastinators and encourages the hard-working students. When a student who is not willing to actively participate witnesses regular teacher engagement (even small posts on further, optional reading), it creates the feeling of positive drive in several ways, one leading to thinking in the lines of: "Hey, the teacher is posting more than I am. Am I participating enough?" It is important that engaging practice of posting gets established among students; those do not need to be long or burdening. Instead of playing on a card of forcing the student to accomplish the task, it is a better driving force to make a student an important part of the learning community. Even if this means through posts which have little educational value! My perception here is to transform even a "lazy" student into a top contributor, which leads to "embarrassment" if the serious assignments are not done - and this is crucial for student-teacher bond formation. The encouragement of the educationally (somewhat) irrelevant posts is a key component in forming a learning community, as long as they are kept in the context of the course. In our course, all of us competed on such posts (it was fun), but then no one was absent from real studies and tasks due to that community link.

    Furthermore, it is rarely a case that all of the students are not willing to post; the teacher should engage with those students that are willing, thus leaving the ones that are not with the feeling of "watching through the window how other children play". Natural question here is: "Am I missing something? My absence will certainly be noticed. Time to catch up!" Most of the time students look up to the teachers, and this provides an important leverage to motivation.

    2. Jon mentioned portfolio - the portfolio approach is simply fantastic. The traditional system would fail a physics student who did not submit a single assignment, but showed up in the end with a portable nuclear reactor. The secondary effect I experienced, and this relates to the previous point (1), is the piece of mind when grading unreachable and absolutely "lazy" students: in a way, they have to grade themselves, and at that point the become aware how little they have contributed. The Landing allows a student to browse through all of the posts and builds up a case, especially because the teacher can miss some facts. In my case, I have noticed that I had little comments on my colleague's reflections, and I expected less than perfect grade due to that. If I was seeing a large quantity of the other student's posts, but very little of my own, I would have expected not to pass or get a very low grade.

    3. Reflections, reflections, reflections. Now that I am back to the traditional learning approach, I understand the important role these play. First, it keeps student focused on meaningful (mandatory) posting every week, and on top of that one has to come up with new learning outcomes accomplished for the week. If there are none, that (again) raises the self-examination and drives towards harder work. Second, it provides a measure for self-assessment in terms of quality, as other student's reflections create the variables to compare against. Simply put - an educational Utopia, both quantity and quality in one.

    What to say, it is all about setting and gently shaping the learning environment, and allowing the students to find the motivation on their own. I am sorry for the lengthy post, but I am really passionate about the topic. Below you will find my post from the course, for those who are willing to read. I left the references on purpose so it is evident how many papers I had to read for this weekly post.

    Sasa

     

     

    The Social Computing course is certainly distinct from my previous experiences in approach it utilizes, which I believe in some respects extends further than defined connectivist one. The course does not have a predetermined assignments, but it rather loosely wrapped around certain set(s) of topics, which develop in an organic manner, evolving with the students’ aspirations and inclinations. The topical very base is initially imposed, for reasons of comprehending the importance level and impact to the elective subsequent direction, but it does not have strict boundaries and free reasoning is encouraged, given that is has some referential base. It is interesting to notice that the “weekly assignments” contain the similar amount of reading material compared to the conventional courses, yet the reading does not represent the difficulty usually associated with it, especially given the timeframe difference: one week versus 3-4 weeks for the conventional ones [7]. This, in my case indicates higher concern about the proper formatting of the assignment paper (columns, length, word count) than to actually extract and process the important knowledge. The participation is emphasized and encouraged, and the professor provides a regular confirmative or corrective actions without exercising any authority, which results in very relaxed and fluidic working atmosphere. In contrast to the conventional courses, the student inquiry is rarely required and actually the professor seems to be more active than any of the students, not just by commenting on posts but also contributing through posting the relevant content (links, topics), and in that way providing some assurance that the students are not on their own, which carries a significant element to feeling of safe guidance in the learning environment. The indirect effect of this teacher-content relation [1] is the emergence of motivation as a direct consequence of non-participating embarrassment: it is much easier not to participate when the figure of authority is not present. The group work results are much loosely coupled compared to the conventional courses as the topics are defined by the group, dictating the direction but not the group results [7], still each student's performance is observed within the selected topic. I was astonished to see how little friction this approach creates within the group members, especially being used to previous experiences where rivalry was frequent. This environment actually helps group collaboration and emphasizes constructive dialogue, which I can express through personal bias that I have not perceived a single post as wrong! For the first time I was actually able to learn from fellow students’ perspectives’, and the professor monitors for any weak reasoning and responds promptly with the reading material that can expand biased perspectives. The communication is mainly asynchronous, but the overall participation level is high, so the lag is significantly reduced to a very acceptable limit, and any deviations in this respect can be attributed to mere technical difficulties.

    Sasa Danilovic October 16, 2013 - 3:17pm

  • Well done Jon!

    Informative, useful, and inviting....

    Cindy

    Cindy Ives October 21, 2013 - 9:38am

  • Hi my fellow adventurers.  I really loved Jon's presentation -- well done. Engaging in meaningful dialogue over time with our online community -- awesome.  I continue to study and write in many forum settings on the internet and Athabasca University was a great bridge to my present work online.  I still have my day work, in counselling, but my online work is global and ever expanding. I'm grateful for the AU connection and the landing, that is https:/landing@athabascaU.ca.  We are a valuable collective and will create for years to come.


    - Jo Ann Hammond-Meiers

    Anonymous February 1, 2015 - 5:55pm

  • Why, thank you! The Landing continues to grow - those figures from a year or two ago are significantly higher now (we are approaching 7000 users, for instance, and have peaked at well over 20,000 external visitors some months). And we need it more than ever!

    Jon Dron February 1, 2015 - 6:45pm

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