A New Year, A New Challenge

Last year I thought I had finally finished my Open University studies. After more than a decade of on and off studying this and that module (from Linux to child development and onwards to innovative design) I had finally gathered enough credits to get the OU’s special BSc Open. That’s it I thought. No more weekends in front of the computer. But then I found out that they also offer a masters in e-learning. That was it, I was sold. So here I am, being forced to blog regularly for “H817 Openness and innovation in elearning” and use this blog as a diary to reflect on the learning that has been achieved the previous week. This does not come easy, as the actual physical process of sitting down in front of a computer and coming up with something noteworthy for me is a rather painful one (as you can see from the previous entries on the website), especially after a day in the surgery. But it can’t be helped. So, for today’s exercise I had to read this 6 year old paper from Educause Review by Seely Brown and Adler, the magazine of a nonprofit with the task to “to advance higher education through the use of information technology”. The authors state that ‘the most profound impact of the Internet is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning’, which with my e-learning hat on is of course is a wise and accurate truism, although the captains of the adult industry and the peddlers of cute pictures of cats and possums would – on hearing this – likely have a prolonged attack of the giggly fits. For them (in 2008) the most visible impact of the internet on education was the Open Educational Resources movement, an initiative by the Institute for the Study of Knowledge Management in Education that attempts to make access to high quality learning material and course free and easy. To my shame I’d never heard of them and wasn’t aware that the principles of OER had now been taken up by national and multinational organisations. Live and learn. The authors go on and praise the benefits of social learning – something I am doing this very moment by blogging to a -admittedly small – audience as a step forward from the traditional Cartesian method of learning, in which one only engages with one’s peers after years of studying. This being an article from 2008, the authors get quite excited about the then severely hyped ‘second life’ virtual environment in which -if I remember correctly – one walked around and looked at blocky buildings built by corporate sponsors who fell for the model and tried to dance awkwardly to music from bands who thought that streaming audio to SecondLife was a hip thing to do. Another example used by Seely Brown and Adler is the ‘Decameron Web‘, a collection of resources around a seminal 14th century text, hosted by the Brown university. The site was to be used an example on how academics interact and how content is created. Interestingly, the initiative created its own trail of papers on the impact of social, web based learning with an impressive list of publications using the decameron web as a particularly noteworthy example of e-learning. Mach and Bhattacharya for instance pick up on both Seely Brown/Adler’s paper and the Decameron Web in their 2009 review ‘Social Learning Versus Individualized Learning‘.  It’s interesting to see how the Open University attempts a similar model with this course, which seems all around creating, sharing and comparing content around the course work. It will be interesting to see whether the impact is as different as promised.

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