And so it begins…

Distance Learning

My journey towards doing this Masters degree started in 1999. I had just successfully completed my first degree (which took 6 years to complete as I was undertaking this as a part-time evening student). I was, then, working in the Higher Education sector for a small unit that was exploring ways in which modern technology could be used to help over-burden and under-resourced lecturers to enhance their teaching and learning practice.

In the three years of working with this unit saw the political and educational landscape change forever. There was an enormous buzz within the sector concerning the emergence of something called “The Internet“, so much so that the UK Higher Education Funding Councils were investing heavily in the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme (TLTP); The Dearing Report (1997) promised a sweeping range of changes for the HE sector; the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) was set up to help capacity build teachers in the primary and secondary educational sector to be IT and ICT proficient; New Labour came into power and pushed their “education, education, education” mantra with a number of green and white papers that included: “Connecting the Learning Society” (1997) and “The Learning Age” (1998). However, all was not well in the Walled Garden; a serpent in the grass had begun to cast it’s large and terrible shadow over the world, and it would become to be “The Millennium Bug“. It could have potentially derailed the UK Government’s plans for using more IT and ICT within the educational and lifelong learning sector. It was against this backdrop that I was, then, seriously considering undertaking the Open University’s MA in Online and Distance Learning. Suddenly, I found myself working in the private sector and my aspirations for doing a Masters degree had taken a a backseat.

So, here I am in 2007 and back into the arms and comfy slippers of Higher Education once more. The OU no longer has a monopoly on Master degrees in online learning, and what’s more, it now goes by a vey different name. E-learning.

I chose to do the MSc in e-Learning with the University of Edinburgh because it offered a range of exciting and relevant modules that addressed the art and science of e-learning and how it could be supported using technologies that tended to sit outside of a traditional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) into what some pundits describe as “Personal Learning Environments” (PLE). Furthermore, the degree also has a social science dimension and it is an area that is of great interest to me and was largely the “hook” that eventually reeled me in.

In my role as a Learning Technologist I get to research a lot of technology that could be, potentially, used for teaching and learning. These include blogs, discussion boards, wikis, e-portfolios, instant messaging, social networks, virtual worlds, interactive whiteboards and hand-held mobile technologies. My role also expects me to educationally develop my academic staff in using some of these tools in a way that is pedagogically sound and practical to implement. So coming on board as a learner in such a rich online environment is going to pay me dividends in terms of the issues and practicalities that I will encounter and can share with my colleagues.

I am indeed both excited by this e-adventure and at the same time a little apprehensive in terms of my time and (my perceived) academic abilities. Over the weekend, I was reading a report from the Institute of Education (IoE) at the University of London that describes a

series of pedagogic templates for the integration of technology into teaching and learning, derived from a consideration of present Institute of Education practice and a selective literature review.

These templates are aimed at e-learning practitioners who are starting out and are, in my humble opinion, a very good model to work and adapt with.

Over the same weekend, I got to read Hubert L. Dreyfus’On the Internet” (2001), a very fascinating, philosophical and accessible tome that looked at the Internet and, in particular, distance learning in a critical and provocative way – the contrast between Dreyfus and the IoE report couldn’t be so different. I found myself agreeing with his assessment that we were creating new forms of isolationism from software that is construed to being highly social and addictive. Thus creating new forms of socialisation in the virtual world at the expense of losing one’s very being in the real world and placing real-life relationships at risk.

I caught myself questioning some of his assertions only for them to be answered in the proceeding paragraphs. His chapter on distance learning is, perhaps, the most challenging as he posits that for a student to ascend the seven stages of learning requires them to be fully in the presence of a teacher, indeed many teachers. This physical presence allows both learner and tutor to “get a grip” on the most subtlest and intangible of stimuli that you wouldn’t normally achieve “at a distance“. Towards the end of chapter 4, I was thinking: “for pity’s sake Dreyfus, give us some hope man” – this he manages to do, in part, in his conclusion. So now, my hopes and aspirations have taken on newer dimension to try and disprove some of Dreyfus’ claims as I venture into the unpredictable realm of online learning at a distance

Bring it on.

References

BBC News, (2000), Y2K big fails to bite [online]. London: BBC. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/585013.stm [Accessed 17 September 2007].

GB. DfEE, (1997). Connecting the Learning Society [online]. London: DfEE. Available at: http://www.dfes.gov.uk/consultations/conResults.cfm?consultationId=1104 [Accessed 17 September 2007].

GB. DfEE, (1998). The Learning Age [online]. London: DfEE. Available at: ttp://www.lifelonglearning.co.uk/greenpaper/index.htm [Accessed 17 September 2007].

Dearing, R., (1997). Higher Education in the Learning Society [online]. London: HMSO. Available at: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/ncihe/ [Accessed 17 September 2007].

Dreyfus, H.L., (2001). On the Internet. London: Routledge.

Jara, M. & Mohamad, F., (2007). Pedagogical Templates for e-Learning [online]. London: Institute of Education, University of London. Available at: http://www.wlecentre.ac.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=127&Itemid=50 [Accessed 17 September 2007].

Tiley, J., (1996). TLTP: the Teaching and Learning Technology Programme [online]. Bristol: Ariadne. Available at: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue4/tltp/ [Accessed 17 September 2007].

Wilson, S., (2005). The Personal Learning Environments Blog [online]. Bolton: CETIS. Available at: http://www.cetis.ac.uk/members/ple/ [Accessed 17 September 2007].

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