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Beyond the Virtual Classroom

February 6th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Every day now, I get invitations to participate in online seminars, courses and events. For free. And if I took up every invitation from my Twitter feed, I could spend all day participating in online learning events. Whilst somewhat overwhelming, it is a very big step forward. One of my complaints about Technology Enhanced Learning has been that it has provided more opportunities for those who already have opportunities, whilst ignoring those not enrolled on a formal course or programme at an institution. Now everyone can take part, provided they have access to a computer and bandwidth.

However, I still have issues with the design and pedagogic approach of the applications being used to provide such online learning. We still seem overly hung up with the metaphor of the classroom. True, whenever developing innovation we tend to fall back on the previous paradigm, in this case of the classroom and then try to express that paradigm through new technologies. For me one of the big issues is control. whilst I have mainly used Elluminate for online seminars and have somehow grown quite fond of the programme, it has its irritations. Hand raising if you wish to speak seems so elearning 1.0.

But you can get round these restriction in Elluminate through the settings. the whiteboard can be transformed into a collective area for sharing pictures and text. The microphone can be opened to allow four simultaneous speakers, thus, at least in smaller groups, alleviating the need for handraising.

Last week I had a look at WizIQ. It would be interesting, I thought, to try another system. And WizIQ runs in a browser, thus overcoming potential firewall restriction on installing the Elluminate Java client. I have to say I was disappointed in how far they had gone in replicating both a classroom and teacher control. No one can speak without permission. The moderator is called a teacher (that put me off straight away). The aim seems to be to preserve teacher control. Surely this is at odds with the changes which Web2.0 and elearning 2.o is bringing, focusing on more participant led learning, with the role of a teacher becoming that of facilitating, scaffolding and supporting learning.

Educational technology is not pedagogically neutral. All technology makes pedagogic assumptions, whether these aare epxlicit opr implicit. And the message from WizIQ seems to be to sit down, be quiet and listen tot he teacher.

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4 Responses to “Beyond the Virtual Classroom”

  1. Simon says:

    I think WiZiQ can be adapted for more participation. Their premium service offers more flexibility in giving control to the learners, although in my experience having several microphones on simultaneously produces a lot of echo. It is definitely a platform better suited for an “expert” to give a presentation – rather like an Instant Presenter with more functionality. But it does depend how you use it to a certain extent.

    One thing I do like about WiZiQ though is the networking aspect, and the huge variety of learning opportunities available (many of them free). I definitely prefer the Elluminate platform to work with, although it doesn’t provide the networking opportunities for learners and “teachers” (sorry, did I use a dirty word 😉 Elluminate is of course much more of an investment, but then, you get what you pay for. WiZiQ offers a lot, considering it’s free.

  2. John Pallister says:

    Found myself thinking about where the web-enabled ‘teaching’ bit fits in with the PLE, what proportion of a learners time might be spent being ‘taught’/collaborating in this type of environment and what proportion of their time might they be operating on auto-learning-pilot – and what proportion would be spent face to face? – crystal ball required!

  3. Jsnet Hale says:

    I see your point(s) regarding blending the “old” with the “new.” The teacher’s role is changing, some grasping the newness better than others. There has always been a synergy between learning and teaching. If one seperates the two to consider the recent past, current, and future “look” of this synergy, teachers/professors/facilitators still are primarily responsible for determining what students (whether 6, 16, 36, or 56 years old) need to cognitively know and be able to do (i.e., learning). The biggest shift is in the “teaching,” the “how” this learning takes place and is measured, which given the expotential possibilities for 21st century “teaching” provides forums wherein students become more actively involved in the both the teaching, and when possible or appropriate, the expansion of the planned learning.

  4. Janet Hale says:

    When typing at 6AM, fingers slip! Proper name for post is: Janet Hale.

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