Tuesday, 23 April 2013

OcTEL task on 'readiness' to learn online.

As I'm leading a webinar on the subject of 'learners' this week i thought it was time to engage with some of the content and comments in the ongoing OcTEL MOOC.
Week two's activities start with reviewing four questionnaires designed to find out whether learners are 'ready to learn online'.
Once I'd got over the 'online' learning bit - I had thought this was a general TEL course with the focus on blended rather than purely online learning - I decided to complete these questionnaires in as unready a way as possible. The Penn State feedback directed me to some general study skills resources. However, these were not at all suited to online students or even students with basic digital habits - for example the mindmapping tutorial only covered the use of pen and paper to create mindmaps. The San Diego questionnaire seemed very joky - in fact if I was unsure about using a computer I would find it frankly insulting - and the Illinois one though more serious had obviously not been piloted on any real students. In both cases the feedback only reinforced my deficits:
'Not only do you need to feel comfortable reading course content online, but you must feel comfortable with the technology used to deliver the information'.  

'you must be extremely self-disciplined, somewhat technologically savvy, and communicate through writing without ever meeting your instructor or peers face to face'
Need to? Must? How do I get better at these things?
The University of Houston questionnaire was the most useful in that it actually identified different kinds of aptitude that might support online learning and was reasonably serious in its approach, though the questions were extremely repetitive and again I wondered about piloting. Again i was directed to general advice about 'improving' my skills before attempting to learn online. 
While masquerading as self-help, all four of these questionnaires read to me like disclaimers designed to protect the relevant universities from irate students who may not have learned successfully online. They were not research-based diagnostic tools, and nor were they supportive signposts to relevant resources for prospective students.

I'd refer people interested in this kind of questionnaire to the one we created at Exeter ('what kind of digital learner are you?') which produces customised feedback with clear pointers to how students can build on what they already do. Bath have built a similar questionnaire, using our code but with categories mapped to Doug Belshaw's model of digital literacy. Neither are exactly research-based instruments, though in the case of Exeter it was based on interviews with real students. But both are intended to help staff and students appreciate the different skills and resources they bring to study, and explore how they can build on them.