Open Practice Roundup…

Perhaps it’s just because my antennae are sensitised at the moment, post posting Open Practice and My Academic Philosophy, Sort Of… Erm, Maybe… Perhaps..?!, but here are a couple more folk saying much the same thing…

From @Downes getting on for five years ago now (The Role of the Educator), he mentions how several elements of his open practice (hacking useful code, running open online courses (though he just calls them “online courses”; five years ago, remember, before “open” was the money phrase?!;-), sharing through a daily links round up and conference presentations, and thinking about stuff) have led:

to an overall approach not only to learning online but to learning generally. It’s not simply that I’ve adopted this approach; it’s that I and my colleagues have observed this approach emerging in the community generally.

It’s an approach that emphasizes open learning and learner autonomy. It’s an approach that argues that course content is merely a tool employed to stimulate and support learning — a McGuffin, as I’ve called it in various presentations, “a plot element that catches the viewers attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction” — rather than the object of learning itself. It’s an approach that promotes a pedagogy of learning by engagement and activity within an authentic learning community — a community of practitioners, where people practice the discipline, rather than merely just talk about it.

It’s an approach that emphasizes exercises involving those competencies rather than deliberate acts of memorization or rote, an approach that seeks to grow knowledge in a manner analogous to building muscles, rather than to transfer or construct knowledge through some sort of cognitive process.

It’s an approach that fosters a wider and often undefined set of competencies associated with a discipline, a recognition that knowing, say, physics, isn’t just to know the set of facts and theories related to physics, but rather to embody a wider set of values, beliefs, ways of observing and even mannerisms associated with being a physicist (it is the caricature of this wider set of competencies that makes The Big Bang Theory so funny).

Concordant with this approach has been the oft-repeated consensus that the role of the educator will change significantly. Most practitioners in the field are familiar with the admonishment that an educator will no longer be a “sage on the stage”. But that said, many others resist the characterization of an educator as merely a “guide by the side.” We continue to expect educators to play an active role in learning, but it has become more difficult to characterize exactly what that role may be.

In my own work, I have stated that the role of the teacher is to “model and demonstrate.” What I have tried to capture in this is the idea that students need prototypes on which to model their own work. Readers who have learned to program computers by copying and adapting code will know what I mean. But it’s also, I suppose, why I see the footprints of Raymond Chandler all through William Gibson’s writing. We begin by copying successful practice, and then begin to modify that practice to satisfy our own particular circumstances and needs.

In order for this to happen, the instructor must be more than just a presenter or lecturer. The instructor, in order to demonstrate practice, is required to take a more or less active role in the disciplinary or professional community itself, demonstrating by this activity successful tactics and techniques within that community, and modeling the approach, language and world view of a successful practitioner. This is something we see in medicine already, as students learn as interns working alongside doctors or nurse practitioners.

Five years ago…

At the other end of the career spectrum, grad student Sarah Crissinger had to write a “one-page teaching philosophy” as part of a recent job application (Reflections on the Job Hunt: Writing a Teaching Philosophy). Reflecting on two different approaches to teaching she had witnessed from two different yoga classes, one good, one bad, she observed of the effective teacher that:

[h]e starts every class by telling students that the session isn’t about replicating the exact pose he is doing. It’s more about how your individual body feels in the pose. In other words, he empowers students to do what they can without feeling shame about not being as flexible as their neighbor. He also solidifies the expectations of the class by saying upfront what the goals are and then he reiterates those expectations by giving modifications for each pose and talking about how your body should feel instead of how it should look.

..which in part reminded me of cookery style promoted by James Barber, aka the urban peasant

Sarah Crissinger also made this nice observation:

Teachers reflect on teaching even when we don’t mean to.

That is, effective teachers are also adaptive learning machines… (Reflection is part of the self-correcting feedback path.)

See also: Sheila McNeil on How do you mainstream open education and OERs? A bit of feedback sought for #oer15, and the comments therefrom. Sheila’s approach also brings to mind The Art Of Guerrilla Research, which emphasises the “just do it” attitude of open practice…

One comment

  1. sheilmcn

    Hi Tony

    Really useful post, thanks for sharing. It’s been useful for me to read your thoughts on open academic practice too. I’m currently doing an HEA application and my blog has been so useful for me in compiling my portfolio and generating my case studies.