Sunday, 25 November 2007

Charting: control vs freedom

I (Allison) have been thinking about how our notion of 'charting' fits with the current 'VLE debate' at the Open Universities in the UK and the Netherlands (see Stephen Downes post). This raises questions about control versus freedom.

In his contribution to this debate Martin Weller comments 'we have educational versions of tools, closed systems, selected readings, etc. And then we have web 2.0 which lets anyone do anything and then puts metrics and filters in place to help you find the good stuff.'

Martin concludes 'This tension between control (and thus being able to assure education) and freedom (where bad things may happen) will be one of the key questions higher education faces in the next few years'.

How do we balance structure with learner autonomy?

This question is at the centre of an article Anoush was reading - a critique of minimally guided instruction I think the weakness in this critique it that it presents the scenario of minimally guided instruction as a dichotomy; learners either have a) highly structured guidance or b) are left to find their own path through a primeordial soup of resources. In fact 'a' and 'b' are extremes of a continuum.

Novice learners in formal education (eg pupils learning maths at primary school) may benefit from being nearer point a) while PhD students benefit from being close to point b). If the PhD students were close to point a) they wouldn't learn the skills we expect of PhD students.

These different needs by various types of learners links with some 'old' theories -Phil Candy's work on self directed learning (learner control is viewed as a continuum) and Moores Theory of Transactional distance which focuses on the relationships across degree of structure, doalogue and autonomy (ie high structure, low degree of dialogue, etc). Jon Dron revisits these ideas in his book on 'Control and Constraint in eLearning'.

How does this fit with personalised learning?

In the debates on the future of VLEs the focus tends to be on 'personalised learning'. Yet 'learners' and 'learning contexts' are viewed in a 'vanilla' fashion. Few people are linking ideas on 'personalised learning' with different views of learners (as novice/ expert with preferred approaches) and learning contexts (formal/ informal) in a meaningful way - beyond saying these factors are important.

Can charting help support personalised learning?

If we revisit the idea that 'charting could be conceptualised as a process involving planning three different types of actions (consume, contribute, connect) on resources' (collective knowledge, other people, etc). Then it seems the personalisation aspect of learning is through the charting process. This fits with Isobel's observation that 'the distinction... is between the expert and the novice in an environoment – at both strategic and implementation levels. Isn’t what distinguishes the expert learner that they do this largely unconsciously? (but not without purpose!) Surfacing this unconscious planning for the benefit of a novice learner is part of the task of a mentor or teacher, and the reason for having mentors or teachers.'(see Caledonian Academy Blog)'

'Surfacing the unconscious planning' provides a tool that would support learners in moving along the continuum of learner control. While moving along this continuum it is the learner who decides how to strike the balance of structure, dialogue and autonomy.As Isobel comments 'perhaps the process of becoming competent is to perceive the links between the loosely related tasks'. I think this is an important aspect of 'charting'. But we also have to know what the 'loosely related tasks' are and that can be difficult - not only for the novice learner who does not know what he or she needs to know - but also for the expert working in new territory.

What is puzzling is How can charting support identification of the tasks and links?

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