School Starts: e-learning’s in the air

Creative Commons License photo credit: Greg Melia

Next Monday is Day 1 of Semester 1 of a new academic year… hi ho, hi ho it’s off to teach we go …. or should that rather be off to learn we go! Change is in the air. It’s a change in thinking, a sort of ‘can-do’ feeling that is beginning to nudge colleagues into giving this e-learning stuff a go. I’m experiencing this change in attitude from several directions right now. Last minute panic? Maybe, but I suspect it’s part of the natural progression of change. Now change at institutional level can sometimes be glacially slow in uptake, and never more so than in academe. Tried and true ways that ‘work’ are hung on to perhaps long past their shelf freshness date, and for all sorts of good reasons. However, one of the prime excuses is time-poverty, and free-thinking academics are notorious for resisting the kind of change that comes from above … administrative mandates being one of the most resisted. But I digress a little.

This definition recently from an e-letter I’m subscribed to, Stephen Downes’ OLDaily, a sometime cantankerous but always stimulating round up of news and views on education:

… transliteracy is the ability to read, write and interact across a range of platforms, tools and media from signing and orality through handwriting, print, TV, radio and film, to digital social networks.

It’s a key competency staring us in the face …. if we care to look … and it goes to the heart of the issue. Comtemporary academics and teachers everywhere have to be transliterate. It’s 2008 already!

Transliteracy is one only of the many neologisms clustering around the keyword e-learning. Web 2.0, digital tools, e-portfolios, course management systems, personal learning environments and so on are all terms relatively new in the academic lexicon. Their meaning is not yet well understood in many cases, and it’s here that the first barrier is met. There is understandable anxiety about the implications of engaging with ‘this stuff’ and it shows up typically in resistance memes: ‘I don’t need it’; ‘I’m too busy’ and so it goes. It’s a pity, but a fact, and management (whether in higher ed or in any sector) is going to have to acknowledge this, and get smart about encouraging their biggest investment … their people … and rethink the way training and professional development are delivered.

Individual academics need to be convinced that in committing their time and effort to getting on board the e-learning train, at least three basic professional concerns will be met: the quality of their teaching will be at least as good if not better than ‘pre-e’; their productivity will have been enhanced; and the reach or accessibility of their work will be increased. Everything else is gravy. The personal satisfaction that comes from this engagement becomes a spur to further effort.

More soon on some how-to ideas, or at least from my own modest perspective … a way forward.


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