Observations on avoiding skeuomorphic thinking (Will Self) and the post-MOOC paradigm shift


There’s been a couple of really useful articles in the Times Higher this week.

First is a two part piece by Will Self (the author and journalist) and his academic colleague William Watkin (Professor of Contemporary Literature) about adapting teaching and learning to the digital world. It shows how, if sufficiently brave and reflective, conventional academics can adopt radically different teaching methods (in this case assessed blogs and flipped classroom). The key idea from Self is that skeuomorphic thinking about learning technology (the idea that new media mirrors old media) might help ease people into new tech, but it is deceptive and misleading. The important thing is to understand how all of these new technologies, concepts and practices interact together to form an entirely different paradigm that cannot be safely represented through the concepts of the past (if you know about Foucault’s philosophy of history, that’s where he is coming from). Self and Watkin seem to have done a good job of doing this with the design of their course. Aside from the philosophical aspect, there’s some good practical advice in this as well.

“How a course about violence changed the way students are taught and assessed – A literature module developed at Brunel University London has moved away from the traditional essay format and embraced the digital age”

And secondly another good “MOOCS? the hype was wrong” article, but with a genuine recognition that teaching, learning and students are complex things, and that the real challenge for HE is to adapt to complexity and diversity:

“Moocs can transform education – but not yet – Whether or not Moocs live up to the hype, technology’s impact on universities is real and growing, Stanford University’s John Hennessy tells Ellie Bothwell”

Worth considering both of these in the Warwick Uni context – how can we move from a “transmission of content” paradigm (and the over abundance of teaching spaces designed for that model) to a “facilitated student as producer/researcher/designer/creator” approach that fits more effectively with the global, creative, agile, networked economy? And what part does digital infrastructure and capability play in that?

My argument (developed from my PhD) is that success in the new paradigm depends upon the provision of spaces that can be occupied by ad hoc associations of people to undertake projects together. However, they work best if they can occupy such spaces uninterrupted over longer periods of time (days, weeks, months and sometimes longer). It’s hard for a university of the scale of (for example) Warwick to provide such space for all students. We might use digital tools and spaces to compensate for that, but digital capability in that area is seriously underdeveloped in HE.

Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Teaching Fellow, Arts Faculty, University of Warwick. Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellow, Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence.

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