Content is muck

muck

I have been reading  the report ‘On-line Innovation in Higher Education‘ submitted by Sir Ron Cooke to John Denham recently and I’m not impressed.

It seems to be but a variation on the ‘content is king’ theme and, by its own standards, seems to miss many points.

The title of this blog ‘Content is muck’ is intended to disparage this approach and at the same time recognise the importance of high quality, accessible content as a fertiliser for the growth of knowledge amongst learners.

Probably most critical is the following:

“2.5 The education and research sectors are not short of strategies but a visionary thrust across the UK is lacking.” p8

So where in this document is a vision outlined – where is it to come from? I (and many others) would be happy to offer one! But seriously, this is the moment and little here is visionary.

These further quotations from the document raised a range of issues:

“1.1 [..] We lag behind in generating and making available high quality modern learning and teaching
resources. [..]” p3

The difficulty I have with this is the way in which we go about catching up. We should be careful not to spend too much money on material which becomes out-of-date within a year, is specific to particular courses, contexts and levels or fails to enhance the creative rôle for the learner in developing their own knowledge.

“3.15 [..] diagram [..] showing areas where students are currently pushed beyond their comfort zones.[..]” p12

The diagram referred to shows some ICT tasks in a grid with four quadrants – the top left shows tasks which are ‘”Familiar” / “Not comfortable using”  and includes “Using social networks such as Facebook as a formal part of the course”, but the task “Using existing online social networks to discuss work” is shown in the bottom right quadrant “Unfamiliar” / “Comfortable with using” – how can this be, what do they mean? Sadly the document lets us down here, with no reference to a source, unlike the bulk of the work. A report of this significance needs to be of the highest quality of it is to be convincing.

“3.19 [..] iv. where students tend to learn almost entirely at a distance (e.g. The Open University and the student base the UK e-university aimed for) high quality, purpose written, online materials and high quality online support services are essential;” p13

I agree in part, but what does “tend to learn almost entirely as a distance” mean? Is it not the case that  learning materials and support for face-to-face learning should be of similar standard? The unspoken assumption is that learning at a distance is solitary and thus the materials and support must compensate for the lack of ‘learning conversation’ – this is simply not the case in the modern social web.

We have had extensive experience over five years of fully online provision in the Ultraversity project where “purpose written, online materials” have been minimal. This has led to no lack of quality, as the guidance and support is generated through dialogue shared by a cohort of students – the online community of inquiry. Authoritative sources, journals and textbooks including key professional documents, are available widely on the internet and can be engaged with rigorously, critcially and comprehensively. This way of organising learning is most effective in that it also sets up the student for further lifelong learning.

“3.28 [..] The e-university was ahead of its time but the UK can learn from its mistakes and it is not too late to try again to address the demand for virtual, largely on-line education in the UK and
elsewhere. [..]”  p15

I think not – the e-university did not take a visionary nor innovative approach in my view and was not at all ahead of its time, but tried to take old approaches into new technology with minimal account of growing evidence of the efficacy of new models of online learning.

For the sake of my tax bill please lets not try again without considerably more care and wisdom!

3 thoughts on “Content is muck

  1. Malcolm

    I agree with you view Richard.

    The report is more fog than foresight. It almost completely avoids the issue which has constrained the use of ICT both at HE and school level. That is the attempt to graft a post industrial approach onto an industrial and even pre-industrial education and administrative system.

    An example is the mention of plagiarism and collaborative learning where does one start and the other end? How should assessment and accreditation be radically changed, as it must if the vision is to be realised?

    How may students be enabled to mix and match the institutions, people and information sources with which they choose to study.

    How can they ‘pay’ for those distributed sources which inevitably involve crossing physical and institutional borders?

    These are fundamentals which need addressing with some urgency.

  2. Paul Bacsich

    Hi Richard – how have your views changed in the light of the HEFCE Online Learning Innovation Fund?

    Paul

  3. Richard Millwood Post author

    The fund you refer to was announced a month ago and my reading is that a task force will consider the way in which the money is spent, so I await developments.

    I am confident it is right to invest in this area, but not confident about the vision to innovate HE itself, as well as innovate in the delivery of existing HE.

    My feeling is that these need to happen hand-in-hand and that such radical innovation is opposed by the culture of HE.

    In my view, HE culture is one of conservatism, maintaining a narcissistic self-image of high quality that is not fully accurate nor suited to the needs of learners in a widened participation and gobal context!

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