Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces

May 16, 2013

I’ve been looking recently at a range of new builds in Universities and colleges in the UK and have been struck by the relative lack of any learning theory behind the designs. Beyond, that is, the Vice-Chancellor’s evident pride at being able to point to the new coffee franchise and padded benches and say wisely “students’ like to learn in these informal spaces you know”. Today, ahead of some planned workshops in July, I published a short working paper entitled “Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces“.

The paper recognises that new build and refurbishments of educational spaces can be significant financial commitments and often represent ‘flagship’ investments for many universities. It questions whether they are really supporting effective learning. This paper advocates that truly effective spaces need to be more closely associated with the particular learning contexts one is seeking to enrich. Re-visioning our learning spaces requires universities to create and engage with a conceptual model of the learner and faculty, to develop not just new spaces but support for new roles within those spaces. The SOLE model is presented as a conceptual framework through which new spaces and new faculty roles are considered.

Paper can be downloaded at Academia.edu or direct from BPP University College pages (ISBN – 9781 4453 5457 6 / Publication Date: May 2013)

Reflected Glory: Sugata Mitra’s SOLE Toolkit

March 3, 2013

I’ve been surprised this week to find a sudden increase in my blog visitors. As these peeks happen occasionally I just put this down to some MOOC out there stumbling across my SOLE model and deciding it was worthy of sharing. Always pleasing in itself, but not surprising perhaps. This was a sudden and unexpected peek, so one digs a little deeper into the stats and yes, lots of people seemed to be searching for the ‘SOLE Toolkit’. Excellent finally the traction  the critical mass, I have been….. ah.

Merely reflected glory it seems, for when I also do the ‘SOLE Toolkit’ search I find that the remarkable Sugata Mitra, currently at Newcastle University (UK), has been awarded the 2013 TED Prize  for his work to ‘Build an School in the Cloud‘ and part of his contribution is something also called the SOLE Toolkit. His ‘Self-Organized Learning Environment ‘ toolkit is an amazing read and well worth getting hold of. I actually think there may be more similarities to these two namesakes than is apparent at first. I contend that any effective environment should allow for each of the nine elements of the ‘Student Owned Learning Engagement’ model and Mitra’s ‘SOLE Mindset’.

When I developed the SOLE model in early 2010 I was most concerned with the notion that teaching staff found it difficult to draw the balance between maintaining an instructivist identity, the expert role, and the facilitation of independent and thoughtful self-discovery amongst learners. The Student-Owned Learning Engagement model was envisaged as a professional development instrument primarily, to engage teachers in deconstructing the learning experience and to see their role in the process from a different perspective. It’s a privilege to share the name with Mitra’s different but similar aspiration.


The Value of Advanced Organisers

October 12, 2012

The value of the advanced organiser dimension of the SOLE model is being evaluated based on its use in a short postgraduate module in January-June 2012. Whilst the toolkit proved invaluable in the module design process, the maintenance of the excel based tool as an advanced organiser for students appears to have been less successful. A fresh project begins in October 2012 to refine the editing tool to allow for more dynamic maintenance. 


Version 2.4: Weekly Objectives

October 23, 2011

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit (August 2011) introduced a ‘dashboard’ allowing the course designer to see the distribution of student workload across all the weeks, or learning units. Version 2.4 (October 2011) sees the incorporation of a ‘Weekly Objectives’ view, drawing together the weekly objectives set against the module outcomes for the first time. Each iteration is designed to provide staff and student with a greater transparency to the learning design intention.  Version 2.4 is also distributed as a fully populated exemplar, rather than a blank template to aid its deconstruction and usage.


Modes of Engagement: Version 2.3 of Toolkit released

September 5, 2011

Can one know too much about the learning we design? Why is it we appear to know so little? It’s hard to share what you can’t articulate. This is an attempt to make the learning expectations, aspirations and intentions we have of learners as transparent as possible. The desire to produce a useable, intuitive (or at least helpful) toolkit to implement the SOLE model of learning design has seen several small incremental updates in 2011.

Version 2.3 of the SOLE toolkit is released today 5th September and introduces a ‘modes of engagement’ schematic to a new ‘dashboard’ sheet within the toolkit workbook. The toolkit remains a standard Microsoft Excel workbook, without macros or protected cells that any user can customise and adapt.

Download the toolkit and explore.


Dashboard: Recognising Faculty-Student Contact Time

September 2, 2011

Dashboard in Version 2.3 Beta

Following the presentation of the SOLE model and toolkit at Madison-Wisconsin in August 2011, a number of conversations about the ‘diagnostic’ function of the SOLE  toolkit have taken place.

One of the concerns of faculty and students is contact time. How much contact time am I being offered (versus how much I take advantage of), what other opportunities for facilitated guidance do I have. Why indeed, do I as the student not recognise the ‘directed’ learning I have been pointed to, and in the case of the SOLE approach, the entire toolkit forms an advanced organiser that demonstrates the consideration faculty have given to my learning time as a student.

The version of the Toolkit presented at the 27th Distance Education Conference at Madison Wisconsin broke down the learning engagements students were being asked to complete under the 9 elements of the model into 5 areas, or modes, of engagement. These are exploring the notions of learning engagement as reflective, introspective, social, facilitated and directed. In the next version of the toolkit I’m exploring a ‘dashboard’.

The Dashboard is a separate sheet that simply presents an overview, to faculty and potentially students, of the modes of learning being designed for the student. It shows at a glance, alongside the full profile of activities for each week or unit, a schematic that illustrates how much of the activity is facilitated, directed, and so on.

 


US Interest in the SOLE model & toolkit

August 11, 2011

SOLE Information Session 4th August 2011

The 45 minute ‘Information Session’ session on Thursday (4th August) at the 27th Annual Distance Education Conference at Madison-Wisconsin produced a tweet from @lookstein “simon atkinson shares his flexible model for student-owned learning engagement – very valuable (and entertaining!)” so at least one person was interested!

The session was attended by some 50-70 people on day two of the conference at the stunning Monona Terrace Convention Centre and consisted of an introduction, this was the first US outing for the SOLE work, to both the conceptual model and the Excel Toolkit. The session was run from this WordPress site using a Resources page (which will remain here for people to access) to contain images and extracts, as well as the latest Excel Workbook file.

The session began with an interesting insight for me of the spread and diversity of people in the room. Representing K-12, Universities, Military Educators and a range of ‘outreach’ organisations. People identified themselves as roughly 75% ‘Faculty’ but a large proportion also identifying themselves as ID or instructional designers. After describing the contextual basis for the model itself, there was a fascinating exchange around the language used in the model, “What is meant by ‘Social’ context?” in distance learning, “What do you take ‘feedback’ to mean without faculty engaged?”. The session ended with a live demonstration of the SOLE toolkit as it currently being used by me to design modules for a Postgraduate Certificate.

A very enjoyable session with some excellent in-session feedback and questions and some provocative questions along the way which is after all what the best conferences are made of.

Simon at Podium


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