Stuck on the e-learning uptake treadmill

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I’ve spoken many times about the perceived lack - and inequity - of VLE uptake at Royal Holloway, University of London.  I don’t think there is a lack staff engagement with Moodle, or Turnitin and Grademark for that matter.  Even Panopto and Clickers seem to be gaining a foothold here.  The real problem is the list of missed opportunities; our institutional use of Moodle is largely concerned with replicating or augmenting existing practices – a symptom perhaps of staff being too busy to explore and experiment with new technology, and using it instead to save time elsewhere.

Man running in a giant hamster wheel
from: http://dogdaz.com/2012/08/10/8-10-11-lifes-treadmill-lessons-from-the-dogs/
There have been some interesting discussions about engagement (and the perceived lack of) in online learning activities.  These include posting to discussion fora and publishing wiki pages.  There are many good reasons why students might not participate: poor activity design and deployment; little or no apparent pedagogic value; non-mark bearing activities; the free rider calculus, to name but a few – but there are many things that can help increase engagement.

I’ve previously explored making the value of such activities much more explicit, rather than assuming the students will automatically understand why they are asked to do things; awarding real marks for attainment; only allowing those who participate to view the final product; making activities team-based so there is some sort of 'social responsibility’ aspect; and offering alternatives to online activities such as presentations to large groups.  There are challenges associated with each of these methods. 

Another approach is to use the conditional release function within Moodle.  This allows you to control access to activities meaning that learners have to engage with Activity A before they can engage in Activity B.  In this example, A could be a wiki post, while B could be a assessed essay.  This would perhaps link the value of participation (in A) with performance in subsequently assessed work (B), and it would require students to participate in both to meet the course completion requirements.  Perhaps five percent of the value of the essay could be awarded instead to the wiki contributions? 

We are, seemingly, not allowed to bar students from ‘anything that counts’ – meaning exams and other assessed work – for non-participation or non-attendance.  This means that we need more things that count – so online activities have to bear marks to be valued by students and institutions.  The same obstacles apply however, especially poor design and time poverty.  The latter, however, will persist and impact upon the ability to address the former.

What are your thoughts – from pedagogic, student experience, inclusivity, and QA viewpoints - on making, for example, participation in a wiki a conditional activity? 

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