Interesting, these buzz words – suddenly they’re everywhere. Flexible is one of them, or maybe it’s that I suddenly tuned into that channel. It’s being used for everything from selling cars to e-learning initiatives. And today is “Work-at-home-day” in Sweden, third consecutive year, and lots of companies close their offices and let the employees work from home. Incidentally this morning there was an article in The New Zealand Herald about how to separate work and home when working from home with interesting ideas about how to manage the transition to work at home. (nzherald.co.nz/small-business/news/article.cfm?c_id=85&objectid=11226594)
Anderson & Simpson (2012) look back at the history of distance learning and establish the fact that “people have always learned through open and flexible means” – thinking of preachers and itinerant storytellers as early teachers. Until the invention of the printing press most of the dissemination of knowledge was an oral affair at least where the common people was concerned. The next important thing after Gutenberg was the establishing of postal services. Now, five hundred odd years later, postal services are once again not that reliable, but we have e-mails and the web to sort out most day-to-day requirements. If people stayed on in their professions and lived more or less permanently in an area through all their working life fifty or hundred years ago, today it is common to change careers two or three times and move several times. Flexible learning for many offers a solution to the need for further education.
“Flexible learning” is frequently followed by “distance” and/or “online”, which entails the presence of a computer or other mobile device. A 2013 study of incoming college students in the US revealed that 78% had regular access to a mobile device, which means that at the time 22% did not! How are these catered for? (universitybusiness.com/article/bridging-digital-divide)
Flexible in terms of time in many cases mean invasion on off-duty hours or leisure time. Finding a reasonable balance between work and time off is difficult. Being online more or less permanently, students may expect answers to questions from teachers late at night or during weekends. So – in the end some of us may in actual fact end up being tied down by flexibility.
A difficult thing, this openness craze. I see my kids, and their friends, sharing material on social media I would never even consider sharing, let alone openly. On Facebook people write about and share humongous amounts of quite personal and incredibly uninteresting things. At the same time people seem increasingly secretive about some things and kids at school shower wearing underpants or don’t shower at all. Makes me think of a line from “Sound of Music” (a great film from 1965): “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window” except I think here it may be the other way around: When God opens a window, somewhere he closes a door. A need to preserve some aspects in a tiny private corner?
Where I work there has always been an openness in the sense that if you are going to teach something for the first time and somebody else has done it before, you are welcome to borrow files and use any material you like. Among teachers attending our courses the question of ownership and copyright is brought up intermittently. I’ve never heard it the other way around “imagine what I would be able to gain if I used and developed existing material and shared it openly” – largely I think because you have to experience for yourself real benefits of open practices and still many of the colleagues haven’t.
Weller & Anderson (2013) refer to Holling’s definition of resilience from his paper on the stability of ecological systems: ‘a measure of the persistance of systems and their ability to absorb change and disturbance and still maintain the same relationships between populations or state variables’. On a great many levels open educational practices clash not only with personal convictions but also with existing rock-steady structures in HE; financing, assessment and orientation towards fixed “outcome sums” to name a few, as mentioned by Kop et al (2011). The shift in educational practices and delivery of education of any kind that will be necessary is bound to be a tough nut to crack, but as more and more people see the advantages it will eventually come about, sluggishness or not on the part of HE institutions.
One web-based course that I’m presently involved in, LATHE – Learning And Teaching in Higher Education, is run through LUVIT, one of the fourteen (yes, fourteen) different LMS’s presently in use at Lund University. LUVIT was created at LU and has been around for quite some time. We have had problems retaining LATHE participants with drop-out rates around 30%, but lately a real effort has been made to improve support from facilitators. This seems to have made a real difference, judging from course evaluation and decreasing drop-outs. However, certain functionalities are not available in LUVIT, like notifications when someone comments on a post, and the whole layout is unfriendly and unintuitive. So, in the end we may be migrating the whole course to something completely different to increase the sense of openness and better the conditions for collaboration.
The lonely bird perched on a telephone wire makes me think that a few weeks ago I had never taken part in a flexible online open course (and hardly knew they even were out there more than as distant concept, like MOOC), where as now I have earned a first set of wings and can fly whereever I like…
March 5th. In the first days of fourth week I am finding myself more and more engaged in activities on the different course fora and finding my way around more readily. Have swopped groups due to drop-outs from the first one. Much more going on, more people active in this one. Good. Also have been alloted a new learning partner; not quite sure what learning partners were meant to do? Will find out. Google+ moved from screen 4 to home screen on my phone.
Two weeks into the course new thoughts have entered my mind. That’s the meaning of it all, isn’t it? The fun of learning! 25 years ago I took a teacher training course aimed at nurses, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, at Uppsala university (‘Vårdlärarlinjen’). The course was run as a full-time “distance course” over a year and a half. Each time the course was run, it was with study groups in different parts of Sweden. I joined a study group in Boden, 80 kilometres from Piteå where I lived at the time (about 800 kms north of Uppsala). All study groups assembled in Uppsala three weeks each term for an assortment of face-to-face activities, and while “at home” we met in the study group about once a week. During this time I started using a word processor (a pc) – actually, the curriculum included a course called ‘computer knowledge’ – whereas all communication with the teachers in Uppsala was by post. Before this course, my sole experience of higher education was two and a half years at a very traditionalistic physiotherapy programme, and the first half of this course I was severely frustrated over the lack of instructions and structure. A week spent with co-participants and teachers in Tällberg halfway through the second term changed all this; it suddenly dawned upon me that I was in the driver’s seat of my own development and actually could decide largely what I wanted to do with the material and assignments provided by the course leaders. This was a true turning point for me!
When I consider this, I see some similarities to the experience of FDOL141 – the confusion, the uncertainty, the frustration regarding the set-up of the course, the different forums and also all these new digital tools, how they work (or don’t), how I manage them (or fail to). The group I’m in isn’t very active (neither am I) and I constantly wonder whether I’m looking in the right places for information and activities.