The Digital Divide


The Digital Divide

Enthused and energized by #etmooc sessions, yet disheartened by collegial ‘naysayers’ – a digital divide- this characterized my week. The posting of a current NYT article entitled “The Trouble With Online College” by a colleague set off a spat of heated emails debating the pros and cons (mostly cons) of online courses just as my department is, once again, formulating a new five year academic plan under another  new president.

Background: I began teaching online courses using Moodle eight years ago in a supportive environment where departmental strategic plans included increasing online offerings and where I was encouraged to pursue PD in edtech for teaching English literature and essay writing. I developed online and blended mode courses employing long hours I didn’t really have to spare. I ‘babied’ the courses, keeping them alive as options for students through strategic marketing and planning of my own devising and ensuring enrollments. I chaired an edtech committee in my department to assist in the dissemination of knowledge and skills in this area, I mentored faculty when leadership began speaking of ‘succession planning’, and I attempted to network within the university to find a few like- minded faculty members. Then, I discovered MOOCs!

Fast Forward: #Etmooc is my 3rd Mooc, and I have since learned that it is a cMooc as opposed to an xMooc.  You can find a well written explanation of the differences by fellow #etmoocer, Christina Hendricks, here. My learning curve has been very steep in the last year as I struggle to understand the value inherent in the connected world of tweeting, googling +, blogging with educators who are pushing these new tools to new limits for learning. The educational playing field is changing at exponential speed, and although I felt in control of my online teaching a year ago, I suddenly find myself in a virtual world of overabundance, and I am racing at my own human speed to develop skills in online networking, multitasking, information curation, backchanneling, creative commons licensing, blog commenting , skyping and researching on the net.  In #etmooc each week, I am learning from my 1500+ classmates, Blackboard session presenters, and the expert ‘conspirators’ who moderate this cMooc. I now feel that I not only have to revamp my courses, but that the environment I teach in is so locked in traditional structure and thinking that I will likely not be able to fully apply my new skills or experiment with my ideas.

The Digital Divide: I have had several #etmooc exchanges on Google + about managing change in our work environments. Why is it that our educational institutions are so slow to adapt to the needs of 21st century learners? Here is a good run down of the 30 myths of e-learning which need to be debunked in 2013. Businesses, government, financial institutions-all have adopted technology and remote access protocols while the consuming public has adapted- yet- educational institutions are tethered to time, space and tradition.. Sir Kenneth Robinson illustrates well the need for changing education paradigms. Moocs are relatively new models of educational delivery and, it seems, developing some bad press in their experimentation; reports of drop out and failure rates in DL fuel the arguments against scaled and internet based education.

In #etmooc this week, we were asked to help define ‘digital literacy’ in a Blackboard presentation by Doug Belshaw and prompted to consider some questions related to the idea of digital literacies: What does it mean to be digitally literate? What is the difference between being digitally literate and web literate? What digital literacies are required by our emerging knowledge economy or by a 21 c. economy? I asked the question whether digital literacy should be classified as an ‘essential skill’. You can view Canada’s definitions of essential skills and literacy here. The national benchmarks for literacies in Canada have been used as guidelines for entrance criteria to higher ed, and in today’s competitive market for students  (FTE’s) tied to provincial funding formulas , universities are scrapping some of the traditional standardized benchmarks such as provincial exams and lowering their entrance criteria. Defining a ‘literacy’ standard is fluid, it seems, and probably market-driven. My university has a provincial mandate of ‘open access’, yet the course delivery model is predominantly f2f lecture format. We have recently joined OERu, and we have a new president whose favorite read, I am told, is Tony Bates and Albert Sangra’s Managing Technology in Higher Education, but the ‘water- cooler’ rhetoric and internal structures maintain the status quo. I am left bounding ‘rhizomatically’ through the Mooc gardens, my students are playing Minecraft when they are not working to pay for their university courses, and the institutions remain fixed in their spaces -bastions of higher education flirting with educational technology and deflecting the conspirators of change.

Note: There seems to be so much more I want to say, but suffice for now as time is limited.

Here is a link to some resources on student engagement and online learning forwarded to me by Verena Roberts of CEET.

The Standardized Testing Debate

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8 Responses to The Digital Divide

  1. debseed says:

    I want to do a whole lot more reading around this but I think we are experiencing the early adopters v late majority divide:

    Frustrating though it is for us now, we will get our ‘I told you so..’ moment 🙂

    • Janet Webster says:

      Yes, I am possibly being impatient. Today’s Vancouver Sun profiled our institution and president. Maybe I’ll get my “I told you so” sooner rather than later.

      “A blend of “hybrid learning,” including online courses, will be offered at all campuses, he said, while Kwantlen will focus on providing advanced technology — both high-tech and green tech — classes at the Cloverdale campus and new science and business classes in Newton.

      “It’s an opportunity,” he said. “We’re thinking fairly broadly and we’re thinking big. We want to match the opportunities Surrey presents.”

      Read more:

  2. Nice post, Janet: I can feel your frustration through your words. I’m curious, though–could you elaborate a bit on how you are not able to implement the changes to your courses that you feel are necessary? What is making this difficult?

    • Janet Webster says:

      Hello Christina,
      Thank you for posting a comment. I don’t know whether I can publicly post all the nuts and bolts of inner departmental politics, but in general, I think faculty members lack skills / confidence in digital literacies. We have to be self -directed learners ourselves, and some have followed the digital path in the past 10 years or so, but most have not. I conducted a survey 4 years ago which revealed that the majority of instructors had participated in some edtech PD but had not implemented any edtech in their courses.

      • I agree, Janet, that many people haven’t become digitally literate to the degree that they might feel comfortable using some of the new tools and ways of teaching they allow. Of course, the issue is also time–many of us are so busy we simply don’t have the time to investigate new methods & new tools! Not sure how to remedy this situation.

      • janlynn2013 says:

        Hi Christina,Yes-busy-too busy. I am sure you have felt the increase in admin work over the years as faculty at UBC. We too, are stretched to our limit so that most of us have lost a work/life balance. For me,the MOOC’s have helped enormously in developing my skills. I also seem to have a natural interest and curiosity while others may not.

  3. dendari says:

    bounding ‘rhizomatically’ I love that phrase. Especially since creating boundaries may be the key to using rhizomatic learning in the classroom.
    Have you thought of allowing your students to create a story using minecraft? I’ve seen presentations made in minecraft (or a narrated video in minecraft) I wonder what a story would look like.

    • Janet Webster says:

      Thank you! To be honest, I haven’t attempted Minecraft, and I don’t think I’d be competent at this point to incorporate it into my classes. Give me another year (at least), I have so much to learn.

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