Welcome to LRNT 526 – Inquiry into Contemporary Issues in Learning Technologies
Welcome and course overview
Course Instructor Dr. Irwin DeVries
Welcome to the mid-point course in your MALAT program. This course is focused on contemporary issues in learning technologies. On one level, in our context issues are problems or questions that are being raised about learning technologies and their efficacy, cost, features and so forth. For example, the recent massive switch to online learning and videoconferencing during the Coronavirus pandemic is raising many questions about the best way to use learning technologies for various learning groups. There are ongoing debates about the benefits or drawbacks around use of networked devices in the classroom, data privacy for students, or AI and automation in education. There remain arguments about online learning or digital textbooks. This Educause overview gives many more examples. Writings on issues in educational technology vary in quality of argumentation and evidence, but nevertheless they illustrate how educational technology continues to invite questions, claims, counterclaims and controversy.
On another level, there is also a deeper level of inquiry that explores broader social implications of learning technologies and their impact on society. At this level political, sociological, economic and other aspects of society are explored from critical perspectives with a focus on justice and the functioning of democracy. In relation to learning technologies, the penetration of market forces into the “classroom” is of growing concern, for instance. Questions of control and power wielded by learning technology companies (including textbook publishers), and their impact on teaching and learning, continue to trouble many educators.
Both of these types of issues may be explored in this course, and each of you will have the opportunity to identify and research an issue connected to a topic and context of interest to you. The purpose is to enable you to make thoughtful and informed decisions about the use of educational technologies in your setting, as well as consider some of the broader implications of these technologies on education and social equity more widely, including students and broader communities.
It is not the intent of this course to present a pre-selected set of issues and background information about those issues. Rather, you will find your own issues to study – and there are many to choose from. You will use a critical inquiry method to examine the issue you select. Each issue will not just be discussed in the abstract, but also studied in context, i.e. related to an example learning event, course or series along with the technology used for delivery. Examples of these could include technology-enhanced learning in such forms as MOOCs, open online courses, curated video libraries or reading lists, open textbooks or other substantive open educational resources, digital educational programs, educational games or apps, and digital simulations. Selected examples of these or other technologies will be investigated throughout the course at the group level, and each individual within the groups will also explore a unique issue of interest related to that learning event and technology.
Therefore it’s important to understand that this course will be somewhat different from the usual format. As noted earlier, there is no overall set content to follow. Your progress, work and readings throughout the course will be driven mainly by the path you create for yourself and team, guided by the course instructions and schedule, feedback from your peers and guidance from your instructor.
Following is a general description of the course work structure; more details will be provided at appropriate places throughout the course or through the menu at the top of this page.
Course work summary
- Ongoing – readings both as provided and as additionally uncovered during your research through the course
- Team work:
- Identify as a team a learning technology and related learning event, and deliver online presentation to rest of class
- Some team blogging required
- Individual work:
- Develop individual learning plan leading to final critical academic reflective paper
- Explore and participate in an external learning event delivered with the technology your team has chosen – a number of examples are provided
- Maintain your contribution to the learning community by blogging, providing feedback on others’ blogs, participating in discussions, providing feedback on other team presentations
- Participate in Collaborate sessions or review recordings if not able to participate
Readings are provided in the introductory section of the course and can be accessed from the menu above. There is little pre-required reading identified in this course; however, you will be asked to review some readings you encountered in earlier courses in this program as well as find some of your own literature that helps to shed light on your topic of interest.
Because you will be finding most of your own research materials for this course, in the second week there will be a three-day forum discussion in Moodle led by Devina Dendar, RRU’s Librarian for scholarly communications and learning support to provide suggestions for effective research resource strategies. This session will also help prepare you for year 2 of your program, where you will be conducting more independent research.
Teamwork: Each team will choose an online or other digital learning technology to explore as a team; e.g., mobile devices or MOOC learning environments to support training in the workplace. As part of studying the selected technology, team members will also participate in or explore an example of the technology being used in delivering a course or other learning event. For example, a team choosing to study mobile learning could decide on on tablet-delivered interactive video lessons focused on a new technology or process in the workplace. For a team studying MOOC learning environments, the focus could be on a MOOC-delivered course on electrical engineering. Your team will stay with that chosen technology and learning event or course throughout the course. Each team will deliver a general presentation on their learning event and its delivery technology during the course. The presentation will include an online live discussion facilitated by the presenting team. Class members will also provide feedback after the fact via an anonymous web-based survey. Teams will occasionally update a team blog, with the purpose of sharing information about their work with the rest of the class. The sharing of the work among individuals and teams greatly enhances the exposure to ideas, issues and feedback in the limited time we have together.
A discussion about team agreements and other aspects of team productivity will be held during the first Collaborate session of the course, led by Nooreen Shahpreusser, who provides course team support at RRU.
Individual work: Along with the teamwork, each individual team member will choose a particular issue related to the team’s selected technology and learning event or course to explore in more depth. For instance, a member of the team studying tablet devices in learning could select the issue of screen size or accessibility factors of units; a member of the MOOC team might select a question of a particular cultural bias. This part of the course work will require you to develop an individual learning plan that will form the basis for your explorations and end with a critical issue academic paper. The individual learning plan will help structure your approach to examining your chosen issue and its related opportunities, challenges and implications. You will gain hands-on experience using a critical inquiry approach to analyze this aspect of learning technologies. Through direct participation, a critical inquiry team process, interactive discussions, scaffolded assignments, and individual investigations, you will experience and become more in fluent in issues in the field. Blogging, providing feedback to others, participating in discussions and live sessions where possible represents a participation aspect that helps to build a learning community by sharing ideas and information. Blogging in particular helps encourage a practice of writing down your thoughts and sharing them with others.
At the appropriate time early in the course each student will schedule a brief 1-1 meeting with the instructor to discuss their selected issue and approach.
- Create a learning plan that defines an issue for inquiry.
- Conduct and share a critical analysis of area of inquiry.
- Critically reflect on your learning experience as outlined in your learning plan.
To the instructor
Office hours: Every two weeks (alternating Mondays, 7 PM PST unless it falls on a holiday Monday, in which case it will be Tuesday), the instructor holds a live Collaborate session where there is an opportunity to share information and discuss issues. If a better time can be found that suits more participants, that can be explored. Between these alternating Mondays, the instructor will record and distribute audio-recorded commentaries on MP3 files on the progress of the course.
Beyond live sessions there are no set office hours. Individual meetings will be arranged with each participant early in the course to discuss individual learning plans and topics of interest. A process will be introduced to schedule these meetings.
In addition, flexibly scheduled individual or team meetings with the instructor are welcome. Please use the contact information below. For team agreement issues it is recommended that you contact the team coach Nooreen Shahpreusser, as below.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Twitter: @irwindev
- Text: 778-998-5556.
- One-on-one or team online video or phone meetings: Please arrange a time with the instructor via email or Twitter.
To the team coach Nooreen Shahpreusser
To the class via the General Discussion Forum in Moodle (use this forum to ask course-related questions of the instructor that may be shared for the benefit of the whole class).
To each other via the course blog and your own WordPress blogs using Feedly. Don’t forget to add the ‘LRNT 526 Posts’ OPML file and the ‘All Comments’ OPML file to your Feedly.
To your team using the Team Forum on Moodle and other tools you may want to use.
About Critical Inquiry
You will be asked to adopt a mindset of guided, self-directed critical inquiry throughout the course. Early in the course you’ll be assigned a reading about this topic, but in brief these are some of the the main elements.
- Self-directed exploration with guidance. Rather than have the course provide all or much of the information you need to complete your course work, both in your team and individually you will be required on your own to identify issues, develop questions and seek out the necessary information to provide critical analyses and generate solutions or recommendations. This is a necessary skill-set to support your success in the second year of the program, where you will be expected increasingly to identify issues, pose questions and generate your own research pathway and conclusions. Your instructor is available as a resource and guide as needed.
- Critical inquiry. You will be challenged to ask critical questions about the issues and surrounding research you uncover. “Critical” in this context doesn’t have the common everyday meaning of being negative about things, but rather developing an awareness of important social and cultural biases and forces related to technology in education, as well as the ability to identify reliable versus spurious claims and information sources and the underlying ideologies. For the resources that are provided, or which you identify in your research, you will discuss and question assumptions, learn more about the background and underlying controversies, and investigate what others are saying about the issues before coming up with your own conclusions.
- Examples of questions that might be asked in a critical analysis:
- How are decisions made to implement the technology? Who is making the decisions, and who is involved or consulted?
- Describe the technology platform: how is it typically described in the literature, educational press, popular media? What benefits does it promise? What is its history?
- Describe the developer/provider. Are they both the same? Who is funding it? What is the motivation of the provider? What is their background? What is their expertise in the relevant field? What is their claim to credibility?
- Explore access. What does it take to access it? How can it be viewed or otherwise participated in? What facilities and equipment are needed to access it? To whom might it open up access and why? Who might be intentionally or unintentionally restricted from accessing it and for what reasons? What is the licensing – how can it be used or repurposed? What are the limitations on what others can do with it to adjust it for their own purposes?
- Where is it housed? Who owns and maintains it? Who owns the data? What is the business model? Who can control what?
- How is the issue you have identified evident in this technology and/or learning event? What was your experience of exploring or participating in it?
- Academic value. What are its claims as to being a valid way to learn? What type of professional accreditation or academic credit is available to participants (if applicable). How is the quality made evident? What is the credibility of its technical and academic developers? Where is the research to support it? What do the critics (if any) say?
- What interests you about this learning event and technology? What concerns you? What further questions need to be asked?
- Ill-structured problems. Many complex questions and problems are not neatly packaged for systematic analysis. More often than not, when you dig more deeply into issues you will find increasingly levels of complexity, including incomplete and conflicting information, as well as differing perspectives based on political positions, public or private settings, economic and social backgrounds and other factors. At this time the question of the COVID-19 virus presents an ill-structured problem. Little is yet known, the situation keeps changing, and time is of the essence.single, complete and fully packaged solution will likely never be achieved because the problem can be viewed in so many different ways. Dimensions of the problem include deeply intertwined issues of science and health, economics, politics, communications and many other areas. In the face of many unknowns, professionals are nevertheless called upon to devise strategies and respond to public expectations and accountabilities.