Thursday, 10 May 2012

NDLR Fest 2012: Let's talk about the learning

Poster by Andrew Flaus, NUIG
Last Wednesday, a group of us from CELT took the early morning train from Galway to Dublin to attend the 2012 NDLR Fest at Croke Park. A number of our NUIG Learning Innovation Projects (LIPs) from last year were included in the poster showcase, and we welcomed the opportunity to participate in an event to highlight the valuable work being done by academics across Ireland in the area of open educational resources (OER).

What was good about the event?
It seems that we are finally reaching a critical mass in terms of creating a culture of sharing and collaboration. This is wonderful to see, though I suspect it still exists in pockets of good practice, rather than being widespread.  

We are building up experience and data in the OER movement in Ireland, so that our practice can be evidence based. It was suggested that Ireland is currently "punching above its weight". I am not sure about this, but I think we are holding our own.

The OER movement is now visible to those in government, though it may have come as a bit of a surprise. Sean Sherlock, in his opening address, said he found the OER movement "refreshing" while admitting that sharing of knowledge is the foundation of higher education, and open sharing is a logical step.

What about the learning?
Panel with Paul Gormley and Catherine Cronin of NUIG
I was concerned about the way language was being used at the NDLR Fest. People spoke about developing, delivering, packaging and pushing (resources, content, eLearning). There was very little discussion of teaching and learning, and little mention of students (with some notable exceptions). Isn't this just reinforcing the student as consumer model?

There was a lot of talk about quality of the learning resources developed and what role there is for peer review. I think we are in danger of reinforcing the academic as gatekeeper of knowledge (as promoted by Mr Sherlock) instead of recognising that students will go to wherever they find the most useful information. We need to be thinking more about how we can teach our students to be digitally literate, to be able to evaluate critically whatever information they come across and how to gather it into useful collections. See this recent presentation from Dr Nick Pearce on Students (and Staff) as Content Scavengers.

Natalie Lafferty wrote a lovely piece recently Why can't learning repositories be more like Slideshare? We need to make it easier for academics to contribute and share their resources, and easier to find and access useful resources for their own context. This relates to Brian Mulligan's observation about a "rate my resource" tool, and his question which was given so little consideration during the panel session.

Why are we still talking about eLearning? 
During the event, the word "eLearning" was used by many to mean a package of content. But content does not imply learning!

Should we drop the 'e'? Or can we debate about what it stands for? Steve Wheeler wrote a provocative piece on this issue last year: Dropping the 'e'.

For me, it's all just learning. Some of it is face to face, some of it is online, some of it is formal, some informal. We don't need to differentiate, it's just a continuum of blending.


catherinecronin said...

Great post, Sharon! I was so pleased to participate in the NDLR Fest, to see great work being shared, and to have stimulating discussions with you, Brian and others. Like you, however, I left feeling that we are not yet near a critical mass of people who are committed to truly *open* education practices. The NDLR is a collection of OERs as well as a community, but it won't realise its full potential if the focus is solely on the content -- it's about a culture of openness and participation.

In my contribution in the panel I spoke about engaging with our students to discuss their (and our) digital practices. How can we support our students in sharing the resources which they create? At PELeCON Alec Couros spoke about "thinning the walls" between education and society -- we need more of that! Thanks for a stimulating post.

Sharon said...

Thanks for the comment, Catherine. Yours was one of those "notable exceptions" where students and their learning were being considered. I thought it was a shame that the panel sessions didn't have a chance to develop the themes. Maybe more time can be given to that next year.

I did feel that there was a focus on content at the event. While it's great that the community is now open to sharing content, we need to move to the next level.

Natalie said...

Enjoyed reading your post Sharon and interesting to note your observation about the focus on delivering, developing & pushing resources. Sometimes we advise colleagues against developing an online resource because it's not nescessarily the best educational approach.
Re the issue of peer review I wonder whether it should be more about teachers being the guide on the side and curating resources and signposting students to useful resources to support self-directed learning.

Sharon said...

Thanks for your comment, Natalie.

Yes, I agree that teachers need to guide their students towards useful resources. But more than that, they need to help students evaluate resources they find themselves, which they are going to do anyway. Curation is a skill that teachers can demonstrate, but also one that should be developed in students.

Natalie said...

Absolutely agree with you Sharon!

catherinecronin said...

I like that! When I explore digital literacies with students, I share Jeff Cobb's advice that there are two key opportunities regarding curation, in the context of lifelong learning. The first is to Find great curators; the second is the Be a curator. Jeff's excellent post is here:

Sharon said...

Thanks for that link Catherine.

I'm doing a bit of thinking around this (in between everything else) and I think it's particularly relevant for a talk I'm giving to the WRSLAI (Library Assoc of Ireland, Western Region) in a couple of weeks time. Might chat to you about this.