Blogospheric Learning in a Continuing Professional Development Context

Blogospheric Learning in a Continuing Professional Development Context

Aileen McGuigan (The University of Dundee, United Kingdom)
Copyright: © 2012 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0300-4.ch012
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Since 2006, the Teaching Qualification (Further Education) – a professional teaching qualification for in service college lecturers – has been delivered online by University of Dundee, via a virtual learning environment (VLE) on the Blackboard platform. This chapter charts developments in the programme over the period 2006 to 2010, during which time the teaching team have endeavoured to foster an interactive learning environment that actively promotes collaboration, in keeping with the social constructivist epistemology upon which the programme is modelled. The chapter explores the ways in which the programme has encouraged (recently very successfully) collaboration – participant-with-participant and participant-with-tutor –and concludes with discussion of a blog, piloted in 2009 and rolled out to all programme participants in 2010, which enabled them to initialise online discussion topics and through direct interaction with one another and teaching staff, create and disseminate user-generated knowledge. The author asserts that the closed VLE has not lived up to its promise in the TQ(FE) context in terms of collaborative learning and participant interactivity generally and suggests reasons for this and a way forward: constructing Open Educational Resources (OERs) to supplement and in time supersede the closed VLE.
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This chapter explores the topic of collaborative learning online in the context of the Teaching Qualification (Further Education) delivered by University of Dundee. Further Education Colleges in Scotland have, since a recommendation by the Scottish Government (2007), been required to provide all new lecturers with teacher training (normally in the form of the TQ(FE)) within the first three years of their appointment; established staff are likewise expected to undertake this training although there is no statuary time limit on their achievement of this. The programme of study embeds the Scottish Executive’s Professional Standards for Lecturers in Scotland’s Colleges, the underlying philosophy of which is that “the lecturer’s role is not simply about imparting facts and information but also involves acting as a facilitator and co-learner” (Scottish Executive, 2006, p.7). It is the idea of the learners and lecturer as collaborative co-learners which underpins everything in this chapter, in which the author argues that whilst some of the early hopes of the potential of social media tools to transform education altogether have yet to be realised, there is now a distinct body of evidence indicating that when the blog environment is appropriately designed, it can become a significant element of the learner experience, measurable both qualitatively and quantitatively.

It has been suggested that participation in online fora (such as blogs, discussion boards, wikis) in an educational context cannot be successful unless assessed. That is, learners will only utilise such fora if there’s ‘something in it’ for them. After all, ‘sharing’ as an element of learning is not seen as useful to the strategic learner (Naughton, Roder & Smeed, 2010; citing for the term “strategic learner”, Marton & Säljö, 1976, Entwhistle, 1993 and Biggs, 1993). Here, Naughton et al’s (2010) development of the term strategic learner pertains: “strategic learners are also characterised as: looking for the most expedient way to complete coursework” (p. 673). Some participants on the TQ(FE) programme are ‘strategic’ by necessity: they are after all busy professional lecturers, usually in full-time employment; further, many are not on the programme of their own volition (but rather due to the Scottish Government directive which requires colleges to ensure their lecturing staff are appropriately qualified). On the other hand, in a study of the potential of blogs as learning spaces at Brisbane Graduate School of Business at Queensland University of Technology, Williams and Jacobs (2004) concluded “Some students clearly submitted solely for the sake of getting the marks (invariably the weaker students) and this detracted from the overall quality of the experience for some students”. From this and other literature (Naughton et al for instance cite Biggs’s (1993) writings on the strategic learner) it is clear that assessment is not any guarantee of effective collaborative learning in the blogosphere.

The current author finds that the use of blogs in the TQ(FE) context is effective, even when not summatively assessed, providing that the environment is devised in accord with not only appropriate pedagogical principles, but also taking account of fundamental design principles, i.e. focussing upon accessibility and functionality as well as the aesthetic appeal of the blog – endeavouring to engage not just the cognitive domain of the learner, but also the affective domain.

Norman (2004) summarises the importance of aestheticism to positive affect as follows:

good human-centered design practices are most essential for tasks or situations that are stressful: distractions, bottlenecks, and irritations need to be minimized. In pleasant, positive situations, people are much more likely to be tolerant of minor difficulties and irrelevancies. In other words, although poor design is never excusable, when people are in a relaxed situation, the pleasant, pleasurable aspects of the design will make them more tolerant of difficulties and problems in the interface.

Being able to collaborate/communicate in communities online is not enough per se: the space where this happens has to be attractive so that the emotional (affective) domain is engaged. The positive affective response (according to Norman, citing Isen, 1993) can make difficult tasks easier: “The positive affective system seems to change the cognitive parameters of problem solving to emphasize breadth-first thinking, and the examination of multiple alternatives”.

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