Sunday, 15 November 2009

Thoughts on Lisewski & Joyce

Examining the five-stage e-moderating model: Designed and emergent practice in the learning technology profession
 Lisewski, B. & Joyce, P., 2003. ALT-J, 11(1), 55-66.  (

This paper "highlights the need for learning technologists to establish their 'academic legitimacy' within the complexities of online learning and teaching practice" and "calls for greater professional reflexivity andcontestation within learning technology practice".

The paper uses the five-stage e-moderating model as an example of the dangers of taking a model or framework, and adopting it (whether deliberately or through a gradual process) such that it becomes prescriptive, unquestioned, or an assumed approach for all scenarios (regardless of its fitness for purpose).

Much of the paper appears to suggest that the learning technology profession is not sufficiently questioning or reflexive of its own practice, although it does consider that 'the learning technology profession as a coherent body of expertise is a relatively new phenomenon" - i.e. arguing that learning technology is a profession (contrary to my own thoughts on the lack of rigour, recognition and institutional accreditation identified in activity 5.2 after reading Warrior).

Also, while the five-stage model is extensively used as an example of the dangers of overuse of what was intended only as a framework, in the conclusion the authors acknowledge that "given our relative youth as a profession it is understandable that the five-stage model of online interaction has become a dominant paradigm for one area of our practice", recognising that there is of course more to the learning technology profession than blind following of a single model.

The paper raised a number of points which prompted further thoughts (in order that they occurred in the paper, rather than any interpretation of significance):
  • That the learning technology profession is about achieving "the right balance between the pedagogical approach and the appropriate use of a given technology" (p.55). This to me underlines by existing view that the learning technology profession is not just about understanding/using/developing the technology, but that it requires a parallel recognition and understanding of thepedagogies and nuances of the particular teaching and learning scenario.
  • The authors hold "a strong belief that it is important for potential online tutors to experience fully online teaching and learning interaction" (p.56)... as we are doing in H808.
  • The papers makes the point that "although acknowledging that online collaboration can considerably enhance the learning experience,Laurillard (2002) argues that, in collaborative learning, structure and staged timetabling reduces flexibility, compromising 'normal life' which can lead to feelings of guilt and stress as part of the collaborative process". These are certainly elements that I had noticed through participation in H808. While collaboration between a group of dispersed individuals needs some level ofadherence to a timetable, this restriction can make it difficult to work ahead (e.g. to allow for time in future when you know you won't be able to study), or to catch up if behind... and the stress and concern about being behind and needing to meet the timetable can be debilitating in itself
  • The problem is not with using the five-stage model itself, but rather with the danger of it becoming an unquestionable component of online learning design. This indicates the need for reflection and questioning. However, I've seen academics stop questioning and allowing published 'facts' or findings to becomereified - this is unhelpful in whatever profession, and is not limited to learning technology.
  • "The esoteric, emergent and complex technical knowledge that forms the basis of professional identity within the teaching and learning relationship is not immune to being ultimately broken down into simple tasks and standardization (Freidson, 1994)" (p.61). This makes me question whether learning technologists will continue to be needed. If others can (and will) learn the technical skills, what then for the learning technologists? There will always be a developing cutting edge of the technology/learning interface, so will this always be their place? Or will learning technology become a research role? There is a danger of the technology leading the pedagogy, rather than the teaching and learning need driving the required technical solution development.
  • "The profession may have to align itself with one or other of the dominant professions... in order to fulfil its own professional goals" (p.63). Could learning technology become a subset or specialism of a wider (existing?) profession?
  • "There is currently little evidence that learning technology as a profession will supplant or even equal 'academic power' in higher education, but the new pedagogic technologies, such asVLEs and MLEs and all aspects of e-learning, have become central to delivering quality mass education. The profession that mediates these technologies..." (p.63). This seems to me to imply that the focus of the learning technology profession is on 'technology mediation', perhaps in the supply of technology required by the 'real' teachers or academics. My own view is that learning technology is wider than this, and must incorporate pedagogical knowledge and debate also. Perhaps I have previously seen the terms 'learning technologist' and 'elearning practitioner' as potentially synonymous, implicitly acknowledging that different roles within these titles will incorporate more or less technical or teaching focus. This paper suggests that my impression may be incorrect, and that learning technologist is seen by the wider community in a much narrower way.

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