Monday, April 26, 2010

Quality connections: No 8 wire, wool and 'sure to rise': New Zealand icons and distance education pioneers (Liz Burge, DEANZ 2010)

Rendering of human brain.Image via Wikipedia
Liz Burge explored NZ icons, and then highlighted parallels between these icons and the distance education pioneers. The distance educators, she argued required N. 8 wire thinking that used intelligent solutions to tough challenges. They followed guiding principles of flexibility and openness, as well as recognising the diversity of students. Values, lessons, and opinions about technology were central for the success of distance education.

There were four underpinning guiding principles that kept distance education pioneers buoyed up and focussed - equitable access, respect and responsiveness to learner, deliberately engaging materials for learners, and collegiality.

Roger Mills, Gail Crawford, Gary Miller, and Tom Prebble were some of the pioneers of distance learning that were mentioned. Liz Burge quoted many of their words, and brought forward lessons of the past, highlighting connections between things that have changed, and others that haven't. Much of what hasn't changed is the culture of education, resistance to educational change, the necessity of allies at the highest levels of an institution (politics), and the momentum for flexible rather than inflexible education.

Liz linked critical thinking to technology, and the ideas of the pioneers around the concepts referred to. Critical thinking included being cautious about hype - for example the hype of how television was going to change education...the same language is being used about eLearning. Draw limits around early adopters, and wait for something that is clearly not opinion, but rather is sound research. The question was posed around critical theory around access that moves from managerial to wider aspects of social justice.

The audience was cautioned against using students as fodder for research because researchers needed publications.  A suggestion was made that learners need to be brought into the process, to co-author, and to receive acknowledgment. The priority is around getting research funds, and as many publications as possible.

The messages were interesting, and some of the quotes were inspirational. However, I felt it was telling that Liz Burge sat at the front reading quotes and asking several rhetorical questions - for example, there were no images, no visuals for the visual learners amongst the audience. It seemed out of tune with the 'messages' and ideals that were the foundation of her presentation. She then moved off to one side to allow the audience to have a conversation around the key ideas she raised in her presentation. However, again, the 'conversation' was a roaming microphone that was passed around the audience who spoke to the quotes...there appeared to be little empowerment of the audience, very little opportunity for everyone to have a voice. Just sitting in the first keynote...which was a depressing contradiction of what was being said, and what was being done...however, Liz Burge did ask if the silence that followed the first audience speaker was because we were so used to the transmission model. I would ask, can you use the transmission model, and throw something open to the audience and expect vigorous discussion!? Is it time for a new model for conferences? :-)

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