Week 2 Reflection

12 July 2021

                        Week 2 Reflection

As I complete week two of the Online Learning Design course, I am gradually settling in and getting to grips with the course. Last week’s live sessions were enriching in that I now fully understand the role of learning design in ensuring good student experience and student success. I have also learnt that there is no one size fits all kind of learning design but that it all depends on the context, the learning need or the design problem that you want to ameliorate.

In terms of readings, I also gained much knowledge and understanding of issues around equality and equity, the duty of care, social justice etc. As teachers, our learning design must be motivated by the desire to ensure deep, rich, active and significant learning in a way that is socially just, equitable and fair. It is important for us therefore to understand who we are as teachers (our identity) and also the identity of our students and their learning needs. Having this information ensures that your design is context-specific and learner-driven.

This week I read several articles. The first one was by Anderson and Dron (2011) and the article was titled “Three Generations of Distance Education Pedagogy.” One of the key points that I picked out from this reading is that both technology and pedagogy influence the nature of the learning designs that we develop and implement and as such the technology that is available  and the context will strongly influence the pedagogy and the learning designs that will be used in that era and context. For instance, as I alluded to in my Week 1 reflection, our rapid transition to remote learning at CPUT was  in response to the changing context as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that the government imposed on the movement and congregation of people in physical spaces. Through this reading I have learnt that the availability of technology in a particular era and context to a larger extent influences the adoption of particular learning theories and pedagogies primarily because the requisite technologies will provide the affordances that are suitable for the use of a particular pedagogy in a particular context. In the reading, I especially liked the views on the connectivist pedagogy that in this pedagogy, the creation and dissemination of knowledge is not the preserve of the teacher. The connectivist pedagogy enjoins both teachers and students to co-design the learning process, co-create the knowledge and co-disseminate the knowledge. These are attributes that are also encapsulated in the eleven attributes of design thinking (Schweitzer et. al (2016). 

I also like the point that due to the fact that technology is ever changing, no one, including teachers, is current about learning and communication technologies and as such both learners and teachers must teach each  other to ensure connectivist learning for all. From a design perspective, this therefore means that my design, the tools and the content that I use must have the contribution and involvement of my students. Furthermore in the conclusion, Anderson and Dron (2011) surmise that as technologies continue to involve and offer new affordances, both educators and students must be skilled and informed on how to select the best mix(es) of both pedagogy and technology.

I also had the opportunity to read the article by Pallit et. al (2018) titled “Perspectives on learning design in African higher education” and this article was quite informative in terms of the state of learning design in higher education (HE) institutions) in Africa. Pallit et. al (2018) argue that “learning design is a complex and socially-situated practice that is not yet well-understood in African higher education” and I largely concur with them because for me and many other colleagues at my university, we have not been exposed to learning design pre-Covid-19. From this article, I also learnt that learning design is not a once-off activity, but is rather a complex phenomenon, “a field of study, a profession, a process and a product.” From this article I have learnt that learning design is a process that involves creating and providing the tools, resources and activities that create a conducive environment for students to learn. One important point that I also took out from this article is the fact that learning design should be a shareable process.

Based on the two readings and the experiences of the live session, I now have some moderate understanding of learning design. Initially I thought that learning design is more about development of online learning materials and the integration of technology in the curriculum. I have realised that this is not the case as learning design is a far much more deeper and complex process that involves the choices that one makes in terms of the learning theories, the structure of the curriculum, the delivery mode, the activities, the timing, the tools and the technology that will be used in the learning process. In this regard, I identify myself as a novice learning designer willing to learn through experience in order to ensure that I provide my students with a significant and enriching learning experience that will lead to their success. As a learning designer, I will not be playing the role of an expert who knows everything, but I will be more of a facilitator, a guide and a co-creator and co-disseminator of knowledge together with my students.

I also read the article by Pacansky-Brock et. al (2020) titled “Shaping the futures of learning in the digital age: humanizing online teaching to equitize higher education.” The article enlightened me on the need for HE institutions to design and facilitate equitable online learning experiences that support the needs of all learners. To me, this is an important point especially considering that most of the students at my university come from disadvantaged backgrounds and the transition to remote learning brought major challenges to them in terms of access to digital devices and internet data. So to me, an equitable learning design is one which can be accessed both synchronously and asynchronously and provides equal access and learning opportunities to all students irrespective of their background or circumstances. In this regard, an equitable learning design is one which facilitates and supports the success of all students. Pacansky-Brock et. al (2020) advocate for “humanizing” as a pedagogical strategy to achieve this objective as it “offers clear, practical teaching strategies for online instruction that cultivate an inclusive online course climate better able to support the cognitive and affective differences that co-exist within a college course.” In this regard, inclusivity facilitates equity. The article further informed me of other humanizing strategies such as “welcoming visuals and warm asynchronous communications to establish positive first impressions, trust between the instructor and students, and a culture of care in the online environment” Pacansky-Brock et. al (2020). In this regard, an equitable learning design is one that adapts humanizing pedagogical strategies, design teaching and learning with human dignity in mind and is socially just and underpinned by the culture of care for the students….. who should be at the epicentre of all learning design decisions.

This article also introduced me to the theory of culturally responsive theory (CRT) which basically enjoins us as academics to be considerate and appreciative of the diversity of our students.  

Pacansky-Brock et. al (2020) elucidates that “when CRT is embraced, learning environments are designed to be inclusive, valuing more collectivist cultural archetypes and ensuring all students feel included.

I teach at a university that has students coming from diverse backgrounds and I found this theory very relevant to my context and as such it will inform my learning design decisions going forward. I will need to genuinely demonstrate my duty of care by respecting my students as fellow human beings.

In terms of the design that I would like to make, my thoughts are currently navigating between two ideas and the advice from my facilitators this regard is most welcome. The first idea is about integrating the adaptive release system into my learning design. The course that I teach has 14 modules and each module has four formative assessments. I have realised that the majority of my students do not do the formative assessments because they are not for marks so they regard these assessments as not necessary. This is despite the fact I always emphasise that the formative assessments are critical for their learning (assessment for learning and assessment as learning), however, all this has fallen on deaf ears. So my idea is to come up with shorter and diverse formative assessments that they need to do before they move to the next module. In this case, if they do not do the formative assessments, then the next module will not become available.

The second idea is about building student participation and engagement during my synchronous classes. The class that I teach has 110 students and only about 50% of them attend the synchronous classes or engage with the content online. This has been so worrying to me.  I am therefore thinking of using a learning design intervention to solve this problem. My idea is to use gamification to build student participation and engagement, for example by introducing two or more gaming activities at the end of each module. The formative assessments that the students will do at the end of each module will be designed in the form of games (learning as play). 

References

  • Anderson, T., & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 12(3), 80-97. https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v12i3.890.
  • Bali, M. (2021) From Twitter thread to model to keynote.
  • Pacansky-Brock et al (2020). Shaping the Futures of Learning in the Digital Age: Humanizing Online Teaching to Equitize Higher Education
  • Pallitt, N., Carr, T., Pedersen, J., Gunness, S., & Dooga, J. (2018, July). Perspectives on learning design in African higher education. In ICEL 2018 13th International Conference on e-Learning (p. 314). Academic Conferences and publishing limited.
  • Schweitzer, J., Groeger, L., & Sobel, L. (2016). The design thinking mindset: An assessment of what we know and what we see in practice. Journal of Design, Business & Society, 2(1), 71-94.
  • Veletsianos, G., Houlden, S. Radical Flexibility and Relationality as Responses to Education in Times of Crisis. Postdigit Sci Educ 2, 849–862 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00196-3.