Back down to earth with a bump
Last night I received some respite from this forward thinking and sat in dulled disbelief through 'The Future of e-Learning', a British Computer Society event held at a local college.
Twelve hours later and my depression has merely deepened.
The event, more correctly titled 'e-Learning 1999 - What is this thing called a VLE? And how can I use it to track usage, upload class notices and invite students to drop off their assignments with this e-maily thing the youngsters are now using'.
I really believed that this debate was over with. The first eLearning movement, characterised by Monolithic VLEs, shovelled courseware materials, and the dogmatic refusal by many educators to engage with technology to support their learning programmes lead to hype, overexpectation and underachievement. It did however produce a sufficently large body of knowledge with Do's and Don'ts, and an understanding of the difference of the web as a medium for learning allowing different models to be employed in teaching and learning - the trends toward a more reflective, constructivist approach based on dialogue, discussion with peers and so on. We're now seeing Wikis, blogs, RSS,podcasting, PDAs and increasing personalisation with respect to technology supported learning efforts. How is it that a BCS event at a local college can teachers, trainers and lecturers be amazed at the functionality of an aged Blackboard installation? How can they, when asked the question - 'Does you find this kind of technology offers you the means to deliver your teaching in different ways, allowing more students to learn in their own preferrred way and thus derive better outcomes for all' - and the response is first a 'Yes, it does' followed by a 'But I prefer to teach without it', claim to be doing their job properly wen they deny themselves and their students the benefits of the greatest free library of stuff we've ever known, the fact that many of the students are very comfortable with the medium and they are not, access is cheap enough to be almost ubiquitous and making connections to other classes, students and institutions around the world is as easy as sending an email.
But it's not really about the technology. Surely, having the ability logon from home and pickup the latest Assignment from a folder should no longer astound teachers, lecturers and trainers. Yet it did. This was revolutionary stuff that was being demonstrated last night.
And this presents me with a real problem. If our educators are so wilfully ignorant of the possibilities and the opportunities offered to them by such facilities where does this leave something as unregulated, new and personal as the Intouch service?
Well, I've thought about this overnight and this morning I'm reassured that the intended audience of students, researchers and practitioners will have no problems. A delegate raised her hand and proudly declared that she did not like eLearning at all, in fact disliked the web as a medium entirely, but she expressed mild surprise that after Moodle was deployed to the classroom and made available to students, the thing that really took off was the Social side - blogs, fora, discusion rooms. The students have apparently embraced this particular piece of functionality and are now quite engaged with each and with the subject in a way they previously were not. Though there was some agreement from others in the room who had observed the same effect in their institutions, but this was not considered eLearning since the staff had nothing to do with it in the sense that they did not lead or facilitate this debates. 'We do this, but we don't do eLearning' was the quote.
Leave it to the learners themselves - they'll find a way. Thankfully, in spite of their teacher's best efforts, it appears they already are.