Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Activity 17: Abundance...

‘The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do we best equip learners to make use of it?’

Firstly, in such a resource-saturated environment I think it’s fair to say that we are all constantly learning, whether our ‘role’ is educator or learner.

My context: One area of my professional life involves teaching English for Academic Purposes on pre-sessional courses. Firstly, I must say that I love the opportunities that this abundance of content gives me for enhancing the learning experience of my students. I am lucky in that I teach in a classroom equipped with Internet, projector, IWB and I try not to take these for granted - when I started teaching English as a Foreign Language, we were lucky if we could get a beat-up old tape recorder…) These opportunities range from the incredibly simple e.g. using Google Images if I’m having trouble explaining the meaning of a word (obviously doesn’t work for all words), or giving small groups of students a different web resource each, getting them to go away and evaluate it according to various criteria then present their findings in class, getting them to create their own OER ‘Top 10 sites for academic writing skills’, using part of a TED talk as a discussion starter etc.

The ease with which content can be created provides previously unimaginable opportunities, and the more students jump into this giant pool of resources, the more adept they become at finding good quality resources and understanding how they can be useful in their own particular context. In my view, as educators, it’s possible to model or demonstrate this kind of open approach to content. Using these resources as part of our teaching, but also acknowledging where they come from, any drawbacks they may have, alternative perspectives and so on…modelling good practice where possible. But there’s also a need to be realistic. Certainly, in Higher Education, many of the structures governing assessment and accreditation have not caught up with this abundance of content. There are still academic norms which don’t sit very comfortably within this new context. Critical thinking and evaluation, the ability to paraphrase and synthesise ideas and correctly reference sources do not go out of the window simply because there’s more content out there. There is definitely, in my view, a need to think about how advice and practice related to using abundant resources effectively can be embedded into the curriculum.

As an educator, I would stress the importance of the people around you, your physical and virtual community, and the importance of really effective communication channels. For me, taking advantage of these abundant resources is something that is best done as part of a network of individuals with similar goals, for example, within a particular subject area or department. Sharing knowledge this way, and relying on peers as a time-saver and indicator of quality of resources becomes easy and useful if there is an effective mechanism for doing it. Sadly, in my experience, this doesn't often seem to be the case.


  1. Jim the idea of personal learning network as a filter and feeder is vital for me. Your point about achieving this in the working context is equally so, as some disciplines may be more inclined to actively do this than others. Is this something you have had on the MOOC? I'm wondering, if so, how that could be sustained and carried forward.

  2. Paige, I've found the Google + group acts as a filter to a certain extent... It's where I start before wading into the blog feed which is interesting, but has a lot of posts which are less relevant to my particular context. I don't engage with the forums as I don't find the discussion threads layout user-friendly - I find that little groups of fairly like-minded people (judging by their posts) tend to form and that these are connections which I would value looking beyond the 'end' of this course. Having said that, I think the sporadic nature of contributions (due to other commitments, the dip in and out nature of a MOOC etc) mean that it can be challenging to build a consistent and coherent community or network. It's early days though, so let's see where it goes!