Conferences, lectures, and thinking, oh my.


I’m ‘virtually’ attending the Sloan C Emerging Tech for Online Learning conference right now.  While being able to attend a conference in my pyjamas is awesome, the down side is that I have to balance watching the sessions with my ‘real life’ commitments, which made yesterday a busy (and brain hurting) day.

I spent the morning in an online session presented by Jim Groom (or check him out on Twitter @jimgroom).  I saw Jim speak at #mri13 and have been a huge fan ever since.  He promotes the idea of a ‘domain of one’s own’ – that instead of simply having students make wordpress e-portfolios, we give them the tools necessary for them to curate their online presence in a real and meaningful way – i.e. bringing together different types of media and different spaces that are important to them.  Yesterday’s session was a hands on one, and huge props to Jim for setting it up so us virtual attendees were just as able to engage as those in the room.  We learned how easy it can be to “become the sysadmin of your own education”.  Which was sort of depressing, since I’d love to do something like that with my students but the logistical concerns (and by logistical concerns I clearly mean ‘administrative bullshit) make it nearly impossible.  Once again I was wallowing in the combination of hope and futility that I often feel after such inspiring sessions.

I then hauled my ass into campus for a CTLT  talk on “The Changing Pedagogy and Economics in Higher Education”, with Eric Grimson from MIT and Tony Bates (who is one of my academic heroes).  It was a really valuable session (not just for the cookies).  What I particularly noticed were the differences in attitudes towards the possibilities of technology for higher education espoused by each presenter.  Even though he promoted the flexibility’ that technology can bring, Eric Grimson’s talk was very much about using technology to reproduce existing practices.  Call me cynical, but I definitely heard a thread of promoting MIT in his talk that I connected to this desire to use tech to ‘sustain’ existing practices.  Tony Bates began his talk focusing not on the institution but on the literacies and skills students need today, and the need to think not about content but about pedagogy.  One of the biggest contrasts I noticed between their talks had to do with their conceptions of disaggregation or unbundling.  Eric spoke about unbundling in terms of splitting courses into smaller units and allowing students to chart their own degree programme – while students gain some control of their path, it still necessarily follows a straight line through a forest constructed by experts and administrators.  Tony spoke of unbundling as opening content and resources beyond the boundaries of institutions and across the lifespan.  Learner’s construct their own path, as meandering as needed, through a vast and diverse forest.

All this drove home to me the binaries that keep popping up, the clash between open and closed, the possibilities and the actual.  I forget that, as clearly as I see possibilities, most people are completely unaware that they even exist.  I’m finding it particularly difficult around my potential research with the MOOCs here at UBC – my notions of what MOOCs should be are so far from what they are, not only in practice, but in how people perceive them.  I’m really starting to consider if I’d be better off redesigning my proposed research to look at MOOCs outside of UBC – partly because of my interests and partly because I know there will come a day when I can no longer resist running my mouth off at some of the overly opinionated troglodytes I encounter.  Though that could be amusing…


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