online learning

Learning – Do students want face time or screen time?

Over the weekend I read a piece about a report on the future of learning according to millennials published by Millennial Branding and Internships.  This study surveyed 1,345 US College students about the future of education and reports that today’s students are more willing to learn online and that they see the future of learning as being virtual and social media driven.  I’ve not read the full report, but was struck by the fact that this study specifically asked “about students’ perceptions of and thoughts about online colleges and classes”, so it doesn’t perhaps provide an accurate picture of what students really think about the future of learning.  Despite this one of the findings is that

50 percent of students said they don’t need a traditional classroom to learn, but 78 percent do think that it’s easier to learn in a traditional classroom than online.
So in other words 50% do want a traditional classroom and 3 out of 4 students think it’s easier to learn in a traditional setting, which essentially highlights they want face to face contact.  Another report I came across this evening has looked at US teens aged 13-17 and how they view their digital lives and social networking.  This study highlights that the teens surveyed prefer to communicate face to face.
These findings are similar to those in a study undertaken by one of our former students, Robert McMillan.  This study was done three years ago and looked at whether students preferred using an elearning approach to a more traditional poster board resourced teaching session.  Robert found that whilst students liked the online resource, and would refer to it again to support revision etc they didn’t want online learning at the expense of small group teaching and 68% of students favoured elearning as part of a blended learning approach. Three years on I don’t think our students’ views have changed, they like and want more online learning that simulates clinical situations and scenarios and is rich in formative assessment and feedback which lets them see how well they are performing. They find these particularly useful for revision, but again they don’t want to lose face to face teaching contact.
With all of this in mind it was interesting to read another piece this evening in the Guardian titled, It’s too early to write off the lecture. Here Jonathan Wolf, Professor of philosophy at UCL writes,
For as long as the lecture is regarded as better than internet-based learning, it will survive on a substantial scale. And wherein lies its superiority? An interesting question. It is live. It is real. It is put on with you in mind, even if you are one of a large crowd. You experience it with other people. And, perhaps the clincher: it takes place in a university, bursting with life and interesting people who will inspire you in unexpected ways. Somehow live learning can be open and transformative in a way that transcends its educational function. Maybe one day we’ll work out how to do this better some other way. For the moment, while internet technology, if used well, can certainly enhance university teaching, and provide smooth access to excellent education for those unable to attend university, it is too early to write the lecture’s obituary.
Having just celebrated graduation it’s clear from chatting with our new graduates that they’ve been inspired by local ‘legends’ in the Medical School in lectures and clinical teaching. They’ve also received support and encouragement from teachers, doors have been open to discuss ideas, there have been research project opportunities and lots other activities to engage with.
Given all this there’s maybe life still in the old dog of traditional face-to-face teaching in higher education and we shouldn’t just assume that our students want to do all their learning online.
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Trends in online learning: #FOAMed

In recent months RSS feeds and Twitter have been overflowing with mentions of MOOCs, as Cousera, Udacity and EdX continue to attract new university partners and launch growing numbers of courses.  As these big guns have entered the world of MOOCs they’ve attracted lots of attention from the mainstream press, whilst MOOC participants are blogging about their experience as learners on these MOOCs and some of the issues they’ve encountered.

So how about MOOCs and medical education?  Back in January I blogged about an open online anatomy course that Stanford were due to be running in March.  Out of curiosity, I signed up along with a few colleagues, but the course was postponed and it’s not one of the 24 Coursera offerings listed under medicine so who knows if it’s going to go ahead.  I’m sure we’ll see more medical themed MOOCs come on stream from the big players running what are now being referrred to as xMOOCs.  Overall though in terms of online medical education I think there’s another emerging trend that’s more interesting than MOOCs and that’s free open access medical education (#FOAMed).

#FOAMed resources are typically being delivered via blog sites and much of the credit for the emergence and growth of #FOAMed is down to Mike Cadogan and Chris Nickson of Life in the Fast Lane fame and the growing band of emergency medicine bloggers that are following in their footsteps such as the team at St Emlyn’s.

It’s not just all about emergency medicine though, there are growing numbers of clinicians using blogging platforms to support and deliver medical education and particularly at postgraduate and CME level that can be branded as #FOAMed.  One example that’s been gaining momentum over the past year is  #gasclass set up by Sean Williamson and colleagues on Teeside.  #gasclass uses a WordPress blog and Twitter to support case based discussion for trainee anaesthetists.  Set up originally to  support weekly face to face training and discussion of local trainees it now attracts an international audience and is a great example of #FOAMed.  Another example is #ecgclass run by Heather Watherell and her Keeping ECGs Simple blog.  There are other sites and related twitter chats springing up around different medical specialties including urology and public health and a growing list of #FOAMed supporters.

More recently it’s been great to see undergraduate medical students getting involved with #FOAMed activities.  There’s the Twitter Finals Revision Group #twitfrg set up by Faye Bishton.  Each week Faye posts up notes for revision topics for medical students and hosts a Twitter chat on Thursday evenings at 8pm (UK time) and doctors are joining in to provide additional support to this student led initiative. Another student example is Anatomy Zone.

I don’t think the #FOAMed approach is just relevant to medical education, tools such as blogs, twitter and social media are open and accessible to anyone and in essence it’s perhaps another way of describing open educational recources (OER).  Last week I was interested to see some posts in my Feedly feed from Clive Shepherd on Kineo’s Learning Insights 2012 report and one in particular in which he highlighted that elearning is changing and said:

If you want to know about, say, photography – one of my current interests – the first thing you do is go to Google and YouTube. Your search doesn’t lead you to slide shows full of bullet points and multiple-choice questions, but to blogs, Wikipedia articles, screencasts and lots and lots of videos.

You know the detailed information will always be available online so you don’t bother trying to learn any of that. You want the big picture, the important ideas, lots of tips and tricks, and demonstrations of the key skills. If you have questions, you go to the forums. If you want to benchmark your progress against that of your peers, you join groups, share your work and provide helpful critiques to others. We are completely accustomed to learning in this fashion and very satisfied with how well it works. We cannot see why things should be so different at work.

So e-learning design is changing because, more often than not, it’s not traditional e-learning that people want. They’re looking for resources not courses. They want these resources in all sorts of forms – plain text will often do, graphics are nice, but they particularly like video. They are not expecting these resources to be fully-functioning learning objects, that take a learning objective through to its conclusion. Rather they want to pick and choose from a range of materials that can each make a contribution to whatever evolving goals they may have.

We’re looking for a new breed of digital learning content designers. Yes, they will be able to analyse a need and understand an audience but, most importantly, they will be great communicators in a wide variety of media.

It used to be that we turned to text books for resources, but as Clive suggests we’re all increasingly looking online for resources and when we find them we share them.  One of the roles of the doctor is the doctor as teacher and with the advent of #FOAMed what we’re seeing is a new generation of digital medical educators. Educators (or digital learning content designers as Clive describes them) who’ve engaged with technology and used it to create learning resources and enhance learning and create new opportunities for social learning that can both complement and supplement face-to-face and on the job learning.

The interesting thing is that this approach hasn’t emerged out of an institutional top down approach or beacuse of funding calls.  It’s being led by individual doctors who want to improve and enhance medical education and have grasped that technology can help to make resources openly accessible and support online learning.  There are also doctors who’ve started blogging who’s blog posts are also being used to support learning and in turn #FOAMed resources.  Two recent cases that spring to mind include Laura Jane Smith’s post on the Human touch which was posted up on our respiratory teaching blog and shared with our 1st year students and also Jonathan Tomlinson’s post on Shame which medical students were sharing and resharing via the Twitter sphere.

When I took up my current post, Life in the Fast Lane was one of the few medical education blogs around and Mike Cadogan was one of the first doctors I started following on Twitter.  Together with Alan Cann’s MicrobiologyBytes, Sam Webster’s blog and  Jim Groom’s work at University Mary Washington, Mike got me thinking about using blogs to support our undergraduate teaching and that led to an interesting journey for us at Dundee with our VLE.  Four years on it’s clear to see that Mike and his Life in the Fast Lane team are continuing to inspire growing numbers of doctors to embrace free open access medical education.  I hope this a trend that continues.  The future’s bright, the future’s #FOAMed!

Are UK universities missing a trick on MOOCs and open courses?

The Guardian grabbed five minutes with Steven Schwartz, VC at Macquarie University, to talk about the online course revolution and how the UK and Australia compare on social mobility.

Schwartz’s comments and observations on social mobility make for interesting listening.  He highlights what many of us already probably suspect is happening, ie that the current financial climate is seeing a decline in social mobility in the UK.

However, it was his comments about announcements of new MOOCs and groups of Universities collaborating in the develpment of MOOCs and open courses coming out of the US almost every day, but none coming out of the UK, that made me stop and think.  He’s right, in the UK there are hardly any announcements about MOOCs. There are only two that spring to my mind the Oxford Brookes First steps into learning and teaching MOOC and the recently announced OU MOOC on curriuclum design with OERs, but there may well be others that I haven’t heard of.  Should we be concerned about this?  Are we lagging behind in the UK?

Schwartz goes on to ask ‘where is the digital strategy’ in the UK?  Last year HEFCE published the Online Learning Taskforce’s report Collaborate to Compete: Siezing the opportunity of online learning for UK higher education.  The report stated:

Institutions and organisations need to invest in learning, and leadership and vision at the highest level is required to bring a step-change. Such changes will not occur rapidly enough without effective organisational structures and processes.  Online learning is a strategic issue, not a simple, bolt-on option.

18 months on it would be interesting to evaluate what impact this report has had on UK universities. Is there a clearly articulated strategic vision on digital learning in all UK universities?  JISC and the HEA continue to invest in OERs and  the HEFCE report suggests that £5 million per annum should be invetsed in OER projects.  Are OER projects the right way forward, are they delivering what academics on the ground actually need? How many JISC funded OERs are you using in your courses? Or are you making more use of YouTube videos and content in iTunesU and content developed by individuals using other web 2.0 and social media tools?

Another recommendation the report made was for investment to be made to facilitate the development and building of consortia to achieve scale and brand in online learning.

Quality online learning is not a cheap option. Through collaboration, institutions can achieve significant economies of scale and more rapid development and adoption of technologies, for example in the development of learning resources or in sharing the risk of developing new forms of provision. This approach enables institutions and organisations (that are perhaps already collaborating in other areas) to exploit their joint brands and extend them into new markets, offering innovative, quality provision. Collaboration should embrace and harness the strengths of diverse institutions and organisations, across public-private and sector divides.

This is effectively what the big guns in the US have been doing.  The taskforce suggested that £20 million per year for 5   years should be invested to set up 3-5 consortia and that this should be the responsibility of national government and devolved administrations.  I’ve not heard of any progress on this but I may have missed any announcment.  Does anyone know if there’s anything happening on this front?

Reading this again also brought back to mind the failure of the UK eUniversity (UKeU) which cost £62 million of public money.  There’s a detailed parliamentary report which explores why the UKeU failed, I’ve not had chance to reread the whole report again but I remember one of the issues being the underlying technology platform and also that a supply led approach was a key driver rather than demand.  Educause also published a piece on the real story behind the failure of the UKeU.  Their piece highlights:

The initiative was touted as an innovative response to the perceived opportunities and threats of online higher education—in the form of U.S. institutions such as the University of Phoenix Online and the University of Maryland University College, not to mention the many—at the time—dot-com start-ups such as NYU Online and Cardean University.

Which brings me back to the Schwatz interview.  Is there a new threat from the established US universities and the MOOCs they are offering via Coursera, Udacity and EDx.  The Stanford MOOC on Artifical Intelligence attracted 58,000 particpants from more than 175 countries.  Should we be worried that we’re not hearing announcments of UK MOOCs? Has the UKeU expereince made us too cautious and caused us to miss an opportunity or has there been too much of a focus on OERs?  Will lagging behind on MOOCs affect recruitment for UK online distance learning programmes?

Lots of questions, I’m sure others have similar questions and it would be interesting to see some converastion around these issues with others both in the UK and wider afield.