Thursday, March 19, 2015

Networked Learning as a pedagogy again

I can't quite escape from the ideas I was talking about in 2008. Media choice and the pedagogy of and around that choice impacts behaviour and somehow we're liable to miss that.
Scenario: Evaluation. You have a large class of students (say 200) and you want to get a good response-rate to the routine end-of-module evaluation. The organisation would quite like this process to cost nothing at all. So, from paper-based, or perhaps optical mark read forms, the organisation has moved to online evaluations. This has coincided with a dramatic drop in response-rates. The choice of media has distanced the student from anything but the slightest amount of pedagogic influence over them (a paper just published refers to this kind of thing as 'pedagogic distance' - see Westberry and Franken 2015 - I think it is a massive issue). Even in a large lecture setting, if a lecturer hands out paper forms and requests students to complete them, the students are likely to comply. This is likely to do with the social form of the lecture as an event within which students immediately cede control to the person managing the session. Once out of the lecture, the spell is broken and all kinds of things come between the student and the online form.
Given that it is not very manageable to troop them all off to an IT room, unless you have the facility and could tie the evaluation in with some other desirable learning opportunity.
You could try an audience response system but that would be expensive and quite clumsy to administer. Apart from anything else, an evaluation with more than a few summary questions is going to feel like an imposition on the students and would, in my view, be an abuse of the lecturer's pedagogic power. There have been many discussions about the issue of students using their mobiles in lectures.
I suggested projecting a very large QR Code that points to the online form. Google's URL shortener serves up a QR Code and still works even though it gets a bit blurry when enlarged.
Any student with a smartphone ought to be able to follow the link. Clearly that is fantasy. It would be a good idea to warn the students in advance or at least to ask them to ensure they have or know where to find a QR Code Scanner app.
Even if they don't complete the form there and then, at least their browser is at the right page and they may go on to complete it later.
So it is hoped that merely by using the lecture setting to display the QR Code and allocating a few minutes to complete the form will increase response rates. Whether this will work after the novelty factor wears off, and what proportion of students who are not capable of scanning the code will feel disenfranchised and possibly put in a worse evaluation than they might have otherwise...!!! As they say, that's an empirical question...
But has the lecturer's action of introducing the QR Code in this scenario promoted connections? Is that an example of networked learning pedagogy in action? The definition says nothing about having students having to be learning at a distance...
Then there's the whole thing about the way that my role here means that I get to sit in meetings and try and join the things that I hear with the 'stuff I know' to come up with useful suggestions. Its serendipity. If learning technologists want to influence learning and teaching practice, they may have to sit in and tune in to yet more meetings.

Westberry, Nicola, and Margaret Franken. “Pedagogical Distance: Explaining Misalignment in Student-Driven Online Learning Activities Using Activity Theory.” Teaching in Higher Education 20, no. 3 (April 3, 2015): 300–312. doi:10.1080/13562517.2014.1002393.

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