Monday, June 16, 2008

Open Learn Creates a vacuum with its lips

Starting this blog to migrate my course content from Open Learn. Enrolled in a project/course for Fielding Studies called Critical Pedagogy: Recreating Social Movements in Immersive Environments.

Open Learn is a LMS very similar to Moodle but seems to be a very old version that is not being maintained or upgraded. I'm not sure why the course was mounted in Open Learn unless it was seen to typify an immersive enviironment. Not very immersive or conducive to collaboration. For example the learning journal has no interactive "Reply" function so there is no way to interact.

There is and associated mind mapping program called Compendium and it is okay although the upload to Open Learn is very problematic. There is a vlog function but it likewise is almost impossible to use. I won't actually say that it sucks but next best thing.

The idea was to have a collaborative co-created course but so far there has been little collaboration or co-creation. So far there has been very little feedback from the faculty who are organizing this project, one faculty has not bothered to set up an Open Learn account.

While the course is very interesting it seems like most of the curriculum materials were adapted from a face to face undergrad course. I has gotten somewhat better and if appears that one faculty actually wrote an original article expressly for the course. Otherwise mostly recycled stuff.

I'm not sure what curriculum planning process was used or what criteria were used for course development. I understand that the course is experimental with special Fielding funding. As it is being developed as a core course of some kind there may be accreditation requirements that mandate a LMS. Rather than buy one or set up a Moodle on Fielding servers the choice appears to have been to use Open learn as a host.

Open Learn is a bit creepy because there are only 8 or 9 Fielding participants but 50 people enrolled in the course over all. Many of these people appear to work for Open Learn and are enrolled in a couple of research units. None of them have any personal information listed in their accounts nor do they contribute to the discussion. Just a bunch of lurkers. Are we the ants in the jar?? As I said it is weird. I emailed the one guy who seemed to have a web presence to ask him what the deal was between Fielding and Open Learn. He replied but forwarded my request to some other functionary and I haven't heard again.
I've been taking the course seriously and doing all the readings and trying to add value and engage the other participants. There have been a few good conversations but kinna lame over all.

It is so weird to have no online feedback from the faculty. They have delegated most of the technical and interactive functions to a research assistant who is pretty new to LMS and web based social networking. The RA dutifully comments on each entry in the assignment postings but not much from the faculty, the occasional perfunctory remark.
Many of the other participants seem barely engaged, very fearful of the technology, which makes Open learn such a bad choice. If you have a miserable experience with technology your first time out you're less likely to try it again.

The work load has also been very heavy with multiple readings and complex assignments. Some of the readings have been current but most of it seems to be from the mid 90's again reinforcing the feeling that we are working off an old undergrad course offering. The assignments have a bit of the character of busy work however.

Anyway, learning is what you make it and I have learned a lot. Some of the resources are old favorites of mine although they may be getting a bit shelf worn, Friere and Illich I read 5 years ago in my MA program. I think it is new stuff to many of the participants. I am trying to maintain the self-guided learning attitude that is my preferred learning style and I think is consistent with higher adult learning.

I am consciously calling my fellow participants that instead of students although the faculty and RA use the term students. They say it kinna like your grade 8 teacher too, very annoying. Classic authoritarian top-down hierarchical model from F2F overlaid on a out dated and clunky LMS.

We were introduced to a guest speaker the other day. The students were asked to identify themselves to the quest speaker, a priest from Mexico, and then the faculty were introduced. It was fairly clear who the important folks were and it wasn't the lowly students. So weird to get that feeling in a course for a Doctoral program from an institution that prides it self on its adult ed philosophy. Late career professionals paying big bucks in tuition made to answer a roll call.

Of course I'm doing my usual thing, looking at this and saying WTF. Everybody is putting their heads down, shutting their mouths, not causing any trouble, don't rock the boat, make no waves, just do the time and collect the credit and don't cause any fuss. I have gingerly checked out some of the other students and there is a great deal of confusion and outright fear. I have occasionally pointed out what I thought was an inconsistency and seem to have triggered a defensive response from the RA and one faculty member in particular.

The ostensible topic is Critical Pedagogy: Recreating Social Movements in Immersive environments. The "social movements" that are being recreated are mostly the Liberation Theology efforts in Latin America. We haven't done much recreating so far.

I think the Immersive environment is supposed to be Second Life and we have all set up accounts and avatars and done a little prancing around but I don't know if anybody gets it yet. We have had 6 synchronous sessions with everybody sending their avatars into a virtual lecture room and then sitting around. We then listen to a teleconference, we don't even use the speaking function with in Second Life. There really hasn't been much effort to ensure that all the class participants know how to engage in this type of setting. And there isn't much course time allotted for exploration, with hours of reading and writing assignments people just don't have the time.

One thing that galls me a bit is that I know that participant contributions are being used as data for the research project and somebody is going to get a publication out of this. I don't think any of the contributors will be acknowledged. I think the RA is being paid and will likely be on the publication. We are data sources only. This is also very weird for an institution that promotes participative research.

At the same time all of our "cognitive content" is being gathered and will likely fill out the curriculum with the next offering of the course.

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