Category Archives: Education

Reflective practice: the need for open questions

Use of open questions in (e)learning

Open questions are more likely to lead to in-depth discussion in face-to-face or online learning contexts than closed questions. A simplistic example:

  • “Is A better than B?” (closed) invites just a yes or no answer.
  • “What makes A better than B?” (open) invites the learner to justify and explore the rationale behind their decision.

This is not to say that closed questions should never be used, just that their use should be limited – in the above example, the two questions could provide a useful sequence for initiating discussion.

Use of open questions in reflection

Similarly, when encouraging teachers to reflect on their own practice, we need to encourage them to consider and respond to open questions. A reliance on closed questions tends to discourage in-depth reflection. Why? Because in-depth reflection requires consideration of causes and significance of events, and open questions are required to really explore these.

In a recent project, I developed an app which allows the user to reflect on, create and store responses to reflective prompts (questions) relating to e-learning practice. The questions are drawn from one section of the eLearning Guidelines (eLG).

During the development process, I decided to make small adjustments to the wording of many of the questions to make them more open questions. For example:

  • The original question “Do learners have the opportunity to self-assess their readiness for eLearning?” seemed to invite a simple yes/no answer, so it was reworded as “What opportunities do learners have to self-assess their readiness for eLearning?”
  • Likewise, “Is it clear at the start of the course what support teaching staff will offer learners?” was reworded as “How is it made clear at the start of the course what support teaching staff will offer learners?”

I feel these open versions of the questions will encourage teachers to review the evidence and reflect on effectiveness more deeply.

Whether or not you are currently using the eLearning Guidelines, you might find the app a useful tool for reflecting on your e-learning practice. The Android app is free and is available to download from the apps page.

Connectivism: why I’m a skeptic

Is connectivism a theory? I guess. But when considering its usefulness to my own teaching and learning, I have reservations.

Here are 3 reasons I still have doubts about the value of connectivism as a theoretical construct:

  1. Yes, at a micro level the neurological processes of thinking and learning involve connections within networks. And yes, at a macro level as individuals we are connected to a variety of networks for sharing information. These are useful and informative parallels but there is no evidence that one is more than an analogy for the other. Because network connections are required at the micro level does not mean that they are necessarily a pre-requisite of learning at the macro level. There is a temptation to use one as an analogy of the other, but this seems likely to be an over-simplification.
  2. Connectivism is overly focused on learning as managing information: ‘… connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.’ (‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge) If we visualise this at the macro level, the successful learner would appear to be little more than an effective navigator of information networks. For learning in a purely theoretical context, that might be fine. But as a professional developer, I’m more concerned with developing capability than knowledge.
  3. Connectivism does not adequately build on the theoretical constructs I have found useful in my own teaching and learning. It’s not that every theory has to explain every event, but connectivism seems to have inadequate room for concepts such as reflective practice or higher levels of thinking inherent in models such as Bloom’s taxonomy.

Image: Tyramide filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain by Neurollero

Education reform: we need robust debate

BooksI strongly support the move to more open education and the need to critique the role that educational institutions play within society. But some of the debate seems to lack any real rigour.  For example, the UnCollege Manifesto seems well-intentioned but it doesn’t really present a strong argument. Take this recycled quote on its home page:

You wasted $150,000 on an education you coulda got for a buck fifty in late charges at the public library. Will Hunting

Now admittedly this is a quote from a fictional character, but if this somehow represents the approach, it’s problematic. It seems to me there are two possible reasons someone might express such a bleak sentiment:

  • The university they have experienced was no better than a pile of books or a one-way stream of information. I’m reminded of a catch-phrase from the 1980’s when the early adopters of computers in schools were confronted by teachers who thought their jobs might be lost. The response? ‘Any teacher that can be replaced by a computer ought to be’. Likewise, if a university could be replaced by a pile of books it should be.
  • They are under a misapprehension about the nature of a university. In that case, perhaps universities are failing to communicate what they really do?

UnCollege makes a show of espousing a radical approach: ‘join the learning revolution’ and ‘success … without setting foot inside a classroom’. But elsewhere the site belies this, such as the page on UnCollege’s two advisors which makes a point of highlighting their university qualifications. Proponents of ‘hacking’ the education system need to better acknowledge aspects of the education system, such as its role in awarding qualifications, if they want to have any real impact.