#ocTEL Explorer activity 3.5: evaluating a resource in your area

I thought that this was going to be what ocTEL was all about: Finding The Stuff. ocTEL has, however, proved significantly more useful and substantial. TEL isn’t all about The Stuff: it’s about understanding how The Stuff fits into broader teaching and learning strategies, understanding how learning works, understanding technical issues around using The Stuff (Cable Green), and clarifying intended learning outcomes so that choosing TEL applications/platforms (ie “The Stuff”) is a focussed and finite task. That said, this week we turned to the dauntingly vast¬† sea of The Stuff to find “a resource in an area which is important in your teaching.”

The subject we teach in my department–Entertainment producing–is specific and reaonably novel, and quick searches around the subject didn’t turn up much on the provided resource banks. That’s not a problem. My teaching team are great at the content knowledge–they know this material and this subject very well–more useful would be finding resources in areas in which we are not experts, such as, for example, critical reflection. Our final-year students in particular undertake significant critical reflection tasks, but none of us is an expert in the area. Specialised staff time is beter spent engaging students with the core subject material. So I decided to search for critical reflection in the resources, looking for material that could support the students in their reflective practice and assessment activities.

Jorum generated three unique links, however, each of them was focussed on a specific discipline: for example, “This resource is aimed primarily at students in healthcare practice to get them to reflect on their experiences and practice.” While it would be possible for me to embed this material into an Entertainment Producing course, saying to students, “when the site says ‘health care professionals’, mentally replace that with ‘entertainment producers’,” this would dimish the material’s credibility, and possibly in students’ minds, its relevance to them. The site at which I looked is CC BY-NC, so I could select only its pages which refer to critical reflection in a generic mode; I would have considered doing this if the resource had been productively interactive rather than straightforwardly informational. As other ocTEL participants have discussed in the forums in relation to this activity, in embedding external material into a university course, care needs to be taken so that it does not appear to students as if the lecturer is simply cutting and pasting simple material found online into the course. There is a fine perceptual line between lecturer as high-quality curator, and lecturer as lazy copier; understanding where this line is is based on each lecturer’s individual understanding of the teaching and learning context and cohort. Understanding this line is a key part of deciding “whether a resource is worth adapting” (ocTEL activity 3.5 question). For this reason, although Jorum generated a couple of reasonably relevant resources, I wouldn’t use either.

Under “critical reflection,” Merlot only generated a couple of discipline-specific items.

I struck gold with LearnHigher, specifically with its Critical Reflection and Thinking area.  The material is CC BY-NC, so resuable and adaptable. The activity is particularly useful.

A YouTube search for “critical reflection” generated around 2100 items, 69 of which were CC licenced. Of the latter, the majority were videos of students from other disciplines doing critical reflection presentations: not particularly useful, especially because we don’t see what marks the students earned for them. This means they can’t easily be used as exemplars. Because YouTube provides only videos, any material found here is necessarily instructional only, rather than interactive or activity-based. I found a couple of videos that I would consider including in a list of resources about critical reflection for students. Including a number of instructional resources about ‘how to do critical reflection’ could be productive in that providing students with a variety of voices and media improves the odds of connecting with students from a variety of learning styles. This was the first time I’d used YouTube’s search filtering option: it was helpful.

This activity left me with a research project. One of the activity’s questions is “what criteria did you use to evaluate this resource.” One of the criteria is my own subject expertise; another is my understanding of the courses we teach and how the material might articulate into them. However, there is another key criterion, and this is students’ consumer and cultural preferences. By consumer preferences, I mean students’ perception that they’ve invested in coming to this university for the type of education it advertises: at what point do they feel that they’re not experiencing this, and that they’re instead experiencing a cobbled-together hogde-podge of external content? Do students see the lecturer as a skilled curator, or as a locus of knowledge? I recently researched whether students in my faculty preferred online teaching and learning videos featuring their own lecturers, or videos from Lynda.com (publication forthcoming: delayed by ocTEL participation!). The students preferred the in-house material, despite its somewhat basic production values. They preferred hearing Australian accents, and felt that the in-house material was “more relevant” to their studies. Culturally, they feel somewhat resistant to US and UK material. They liked the “more relaxed” style of the in-house material, which connected culturally with Australians’ self-perception as laid-back and classless. This was one piece of research. More research is required into specific cohorts of students’ perceptions of external content.

This ocTEL activity pointed up the fact that the bulk of OER is from the US or the UK: some might see this as an example of “the spectre of pedagogocial imperialism in the virtual classroom.” This is a perceptual, subjective issue. The only way to understand it is to research one’s own students. Using OER activities, particularly if I adapt them myself, seems a safer bet than using vidoes, which necessarily signal their cultural provenance.

Activity key outcomes:

1. conduct further research with my department’s students to gauge their perceptions of external vs in-house videos, learning activities, content.

2. focus my OER searches on teaching and learning activities rather than videos.

 

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