#ocTEL week 1: are connections all students want?

Week 1 of #ocTEL flew past in a whirl of competing deadlines and sleep deprivation, so I’m not getting any further than the ‘If you only do one thing this week…’ task, I’m afraid.

I looked at Sugata Mitra’s ‘Hole in the Wall‘ experiment and Howard Rheingold’s interview with George Siemens. The ‘Hole in the Wall’ project, whereby Mitra made computers accessible to children in deprived areas, was interesting in that it confirmed the endless ability of children not only to teach themselves (when motivated) but to retain information in an almost photographic way. However, I wondered how relevant this approach would be if a subject could not be learned intuitively and the researcher had tested understanding, not just memory.

All this talk of self-organisation and peer learning was starting to look like a clever-sounding way for educators to dodge some of their responsibility to students. Which brings me on to the second piece, the interview with George Siemens.

The interview was full of ‘quick, scribble that down’ moments for me. (For example, ‘have social interactions that produce content’; ‘stop providing the spaces for learners to interact and allow them to bring their own spaces with them’.) This quotation stuck with me though:

Think as a global participant … the knowledge you need to learn a complex subject is not going to be contained in one individual or institution. It’s going to be distributed.

George Siemens seems to view learning as an endlessly social experience, where no one individual has all of the answers and learning material is merely ‘a conduit for connections’, as he says.

If that’s the case, why do students bother with educators? Couldn’t they just look at a list of aggregated bookmarks or search for themselves? I know I was banging on about this last week, but I think one of the jobs of educators is to curate and analyse information that’s reliable and authoritative, rather than just being a conduit to infinite connections. (As one contributor to the week 0 webinar commented, ‘Are MOOCs just bad elearning?’) In referring constantly to openness, are MOOC champions trying to make a virtue of a weakness? Surely distance learning doesn’t have to be open to be scalable.

And what about assessment? In my own experience (business education in HE), students aren’t just learning for learning’s sake; they’re learning so that they come out with a level of proficiency that they can demonstrate to their boss. (Inevitably, that means passing an exam or submitting an assessment.) The students on my programme are mid-career professionals; they don’t have the time to network endlessly or chase down information that might not be on the exam.

By the way, none of this is meant as a criticism of ocTEL itself; I’m finding it an incredibly useful and interesting introduction to material, ideas and people. (I’m taking it as preparation for an MSc in digital learning.) But I wonder if a MOOC can ever be anything more than an introduction.

I must look into a different TEL approach next week – I’m turning this into a MOOC about MOOCs. Roll on week 2: understanding learners’ needs.

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