Thursday, February 21, 2013

Designing Teaching For Global Collaboration

I am working with a number of senior tutors with long experiences of teaching face to face in developing the courses which we shall deliver using technology. Indeed, our model is globally collaborative learning, which is as much as about distance delivery as about distribution of various learning activities. The learners are locally supported, their learning is designed collaboratively between the tutor, who is remote, and mentors, who are local, and they work with local peer groups as well as global ones. The technology we employ is easy, based on Open Source platforms and something that can run on a washing line, as they say: The trick of the trade for us is to design this complex learning structure effectively.

So, this is a business about effective instructional design more than anything else. And, being in Higher Education space in Britain, where instructional design is usually seen as the prerogative of the trainers (and not of educators) and essentially American, it is an interesting challenge. The great tutors I am working with are naturals in classroom delivery, and the art is very personal. Our conversations therefore are centred around how to transpose the whole act of teaching as a Design activity, stripped of the charisma and individuality of the teacher but enriched with greater adaptability and flexibility of the material. 

However, this is anything but standard instructional design, where one would start with learners. We don't know the learners, and what we know doesn't help: That they are a cosmopolitan group, of varying intellectual capability and motivation. This is indeed where the educators' experience is so valuable, creating models of support which could be adapted to the individual. This is where most of the education technology research focus today, with various intelligent platforms, which read and anticipate a learner's learning preferences, being in vogue. But this is indeed an intensely personal activity; for all the charm of the big data that various MOOCs and exciting projects such as Khan Academy will generate, true personalisation of learning remains as far as our unending quest for artificial intelligence. Despite my faith in progress and technology, I could think of nothing but a human solution: Installation of a local mentor, face to face, with the learners, supporting them through the process. Our designs therefore are far from what a standard training design document will look like: There are big gaps which says 'we shall figure it out'. And, all the teachers feel perfectly comfortable with it.

This may sound boring, but this process is as creative and exciting as writing an app or designing a new business process. We have no template for creating this stuff, just imagination. There are times when we are stepping back and not being prescriptive, despite the stringent requirements of quality assurance from our accrediting bodies and the anticipated future requirements from an ISO process (which we are embarking on at the same time). And, finally, into this, we shall now introduce our global partners, who will introduce their own views and cultural nuances, which we are absolutely looking forward to: This will make it even more exciting. If I found travelling around India and meeting new people immensely educational, the time I am now spending translating those conversations into inputs of learning design adds a few more degrees of enjoyment.

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