17 February 2010

On virtual portals or ramparts

Last week P and I had lunch with R, a former student who is now working at the Open University. She was seeking our assistance in trialling a social networking package based on sharing teaching resources, which of course we were happy to support. ("Support" because I'm retired and P has no authority to commit the university to such a collaboration... Yes, I know...)

Today, this came up again. And I had to think hard to remember what the project offered. It certainly was nothing I could imagine actively seeking. It joins a series of repositories and resources with similar aspirations. I'm sure that much of what they contain is brilliant, but it is more trouble to find and access it than it is to to re-invent it from scratch.

A few thoughts;
  • Do we know how many people really use these resources, as a proportion of those teaching these topics? If I were to go by all the stuff I read in the blogosphere, absolutely everyone is on Facebook and Twitter all day. I heard on the radio today that "the average person" spends 55 minutes on social networking on their mobile each day. Rubbish! Have these people never heard of sampling?
  • Where is the disinterested research on the added value of e-learning, other than in dedicated distance learning programmes? This time last year I did an on-line (of course) course on on-line tutoring, which was full of assertions about how wonderful e-learning was. And full of passionate conviction on the part of people who have a vested interest in it. It was very well done; the design, implementation and on-line support were state of the art. It took six weeks to learn much less than I would have picked up in an hour face to face. (That is just my opinion--but the other side has little more evidence...)

  • Who has time to go looking for other people's stuff, and then re-configuring it to suit their own teaching, and re-configuring their own teaching to fit round it? It's quicker to develop it for oneself.

But the linked article is about the hard-core e-addicts. "Second Life" is probably the most egregious example of futile expenditure of time, effort and money to achieve very little. I have sat through several presentations and demo. sessions by the true believers. I do remember one in which the principal avatar was a character whose head was a flaming skull--very conducive to rigorous and dispassionate academic debate. Then there was a crude simulation of Mendelian genetics at about primary-school level... And the much better simulation of paramedic practice scenarios. That was quite vivid, but I know from sitting in on such teaching that the AV bells and whistles can't hold a candle to the timing (in particular) of an experienced practitioner overseeing merely paper-based problem-based-learning.

The very fact that I write a blog, and have two web-sites, and set up a blog for each module I teach indicates that I am not a total luddite. But e-learning has a very long way to go, and so it should. It's as much an obstacle as a opportunity to learning, even for the "millennial" generation.

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