Sorry for not having posted directly to week 5. In part because I have been too busy but I have been thinking quite a lot about this and wondering what to say here.
I already alluded to the idea that humans are naturally flexible learners. Learning is enhanced when the same topic is covered from a variety of perspectives. This requires a flexible approach to teaching and learning. I have discussed differences in learning styles and the need to take account of this in the structure of courses and lectures. Human’s have always been flexible learners and the importance of this within the education system has been identified by theorists such as Dewey and Knowles amongst many others. In Scotland where I had my formative education there was little evidence of flexibility during my school years, mostly rote learning and repetition were the key to learning and what you could not learn in this way would be enforced with physical punishment. For example 3 or more spelling mistakes resulted in a trip to the front and a whack with the belt. Forgotten homework, same thing etc etc. Needless to say I made many trips to the front, it is surprising I learned anything much really. High school was not much better. My sister did not like high school at all and moved at the age of 14yrs to the local Technical College. A similar institution to the college that preceded the polytechnic in Otago. Here the teaching style and the learning environment was much more flexible with more experimentation and hands on learning. The technical college was where night classes began in my home town of Dumfries. I am not sure when this happened but I think it was fairly early in the history of the college. This supported people who wanted to ‘better themselves’ or just wanted to expand their knowledge and was sometimes just a good night out. Later the high schools also became involved in delivering night classes. I am sorry I do not have references for this it is just from my own memory and prior knowledge. However it seems from reading the history of Otago Polytechnic that it followed a similar process.
During this week we attended an eluminate 10 minute lecture from Terry Marler about the evolution of the flexible, distance learning veterinary nursing course from Otago Polytechnic. Terry described the start of the Vet nursing program and response to requests from vet nurses for the opportunity to study from their own rural locations. Vet nursing started by sending the material delivered in the fact to face course to the students. This was an innovation for the time in the early 1980s but it soon became clear that this was not a good way to deliver the course and there was a need for different resources. This started with the addition of audio tapes and has gradually evolved to a distance learning package with various learning resource. Much of the course material is delivered to the students on CD and latterly more often on DVD. As Leigh points out technology has added a new dimension to this distance program but perhaps the hard copy material audio cassettes and phone conversation may have been a more flexible and accessible option for some.
As has occurred with the veterinary nursing program, in midwifery, and in other skill based programs, flexible delivery can allow students to study principally from their own home location. This will allow students to work with local midwives and hopefully will help to address some of the workforce issues for midwifery in New Zealand. Women with families will not have to uproot the entire family in order to embark on this program of study. We have been moving towards this for some time in midwifery and several aspects of the program are currently delivered online with tutorial support. With students living at a distance we will need to establish methods other than face to face tutorials to provide this tutorial support. We might be able to use elluminate session, perhaps skype calls or video conferencing for these tutorial sessions. Blogs might also be a way for students to reflect and communicate with each other. In a recent post Thanasis Balaphas from hospitality described how students in his course used digital video as a learning tool, editing to produce a youtube video. This was an exciting learning opportunity for these students. Ellis Steed and Appleby (2006) found that technology was a source of anxiety for some teachers. As Thanasis has found there are significant benefits to incorporating technology into class activities, it may take some time for this skill with technology to disseminate across all disciplines in the polytechnic. I am keen to learn as much as I can to to help move this forward in my own discipline.
I believe we are just at the start of a process of change. Up until now we have been using technology to support fairly traditional teaching practices. As connectivity has grown and social networks have developed educators are starting to see a need to adapt and use technology in different ways. The public at large have access to so much freely available and easily searchable information. The effect of this availability and accessibility of information is being felt not just in education but also in health. People have easy access to information that was previously held by experts or in inaccessible and hard to understand medical text books. In education the process of acquiring information used to be a long complex one involving visits to libraries, searching index cards and library shelves. Now much of this information is available sitting on your laptop while watching TV. This change in accessibility of information requires change in the structure and delivery of education. Initiating change is always a challenge. Change can occur through a process of diffusion of innovations this process takes time. We are at the start of this process and some are impatient to move it along. I believe we will get to a point where everyone is using technology to support new teaching practices based on a constructivist approach, but it will take a while.