Wednesday, 9 February 2011

15 minutes of thinking...

A gentle start on the course theme for week 1, activity 3 - jotting down a few initial ideas of your own about innovation in elearning... here's what I thought.

Does just doing the same thing but with new technology mean it’s innovative? I think not - technology per se does not equal innovation, but it may lead to or facilitate it. For example, putting a spelling test online doesn’t make it innovative, but offering learners a context in which to understand their results, opportunities to practise using the words, links to example uses, ways to document their progress, or reflect on what they’ve learnt might make it innovative. There seems to be a rush to add an e- or i- prefix, but that certainly doesn't automatically make something innovative.

Lots of ‘innovative’, or a least new or re-thought ways of learning seem to involve social aspects of learning - communication, collaboration, development of communities of practice. These aren’t innovative in themselves - we have long encouraged them by teaching students in classes rather than as individuals and by gathering together in university departments rather than writing theses alone. What the technology has facilitated is predominantly the opportunity to access a far wider audience/community, rapid publishing and feedback, access to resources and peers and greater opportunity for co-creation and sharing of knowledge.

Does something have to be truly iconoclastic in order to be innovative? My arguments that ‘just doing it online doesn’t make it innovative’ might seem to suggest so. I'm reminded a bit of Dillenbourg (1992) 'The Computer as Constructorium'. Dillenbourg described an iconoclastic goal of breaking the learner’s passive model of learning. He noted that becoming aware of one’s own knowledge, i.e. the ‘reflection’ process, is of interest not only to researchers on metacognition, but also now to designers of educational computing systems. Dillenbourg wasn't only interested in elearning, but I still feel that elearning that can meet his goal would quite probably be innovative - even today when you might hope our expectations for computer supported learning have moved on.

What about measuring innovation? Do you need to measure how innovative it is? (and can you anyway?!) We do need to be able to compare effectiveness with existing methods - there is no point being innovative if it doesn't improve something. However, the improvement doesn't necessarily have to be in outcomes - it could be in motivation, student retention, engagement, etc... some of which are tricky concepts to measure too.

Dillenbourg P. (1992) The computer as a constructorium: Tools for observing one's own learning. In M.Elsom-Cook and R. Moyse (Eds), Knowledge Negotiation.(pp. 185-198) London: Academic Press.

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