I’m thinking of moving house. It’s not that I really dislike my current house but I’ve been here a while – and it’s time for fresh walls and a new view.
The move I’m referring to is away from Blackboard, our university provided Learning Management System and into somewhere new.
I teach a wide range of disciplines in an interdisciplinary health care ethics paper. Many students undertake this in their final semester and so for a large proportion of these, their time is swallowed up undertaking onerous clinical placements – with some students away from the university in a full time clinical role for nine weeks of the semester as well as having to juggle reflective assessments and a placement journal before they even get to think about my paper. They are under stress, are time stretched and I am guessing many do not really see the value in studying ethics.
With that back story I too feel under pressure. I want my students to see the relevance of ethics, the value in critical thinking and undertaking robust examination of their own and others’ decision-making processes. I understand they have limited time to give to my paper. They also learn online but this is through necessity rather than choice. Many struggle with time management as well as grappling with the challenging content and required skills to effectively deliberate ethical issues.
I’m under pressure because Blackboard feels like the easy option. I feel strongly that our role as educators is equipping students with some knowledge (but let’s face it, that’s pretty easy to come by these days), but also positive learning experiences that will fuel them with a passion to keep wanting to be curious about the world. A part of this, for me, is equipping them with tools that they can use in their world, post degree. I want them to have access to the work they’ve done and contributed to; to have skills to continue using tools learned while at university and to have the potential to use them in practice or to teach their use to others.
I use Blackboard as a repository for paper content and this is where I post audio and video files I’ve created to aid their learning, power point slides and readings. I also use the Values Exchange, online ethical decision-making framework where most of the actual learning takes place. This tool hosts a number of philosophical thinking tools, created from decades of philosophical application and critique of traditional ethical theory by its creator. Students respond to lecturer and/or student posted case scenarios and use a series of interactive screens to capture their deliberative analysis of the case. I also use tools such as Twitter and Bambuser to disseminate useful information I come across or have created specifically for the students and they are encouraged to use the class in their tweets. Assessments are then a combination of theory application and critique and reflections on the deliberative experience of the Values Exchange process and outcomes -submitted via Word doc through Blackboard.
I’m quite aware that the majority of my students like the familiarity of Blackboard and when under time constraints the idea of navigating yet another piece of technology is indeed a real barrier; many are resistant to change, just as we all are at times. However, to be authentic and true to myself I feel I need to shift to using tools that are sustainable for the student beyond their time with me. I also feel it’s time for me to feel more challenged and to have new learning experiences.
My undergraduate class currently has 240 students – thats a lot of people to stress-out and unsettle so I’ve decided to see if I can first implement changes in a much smaller, semester 2, postgraduate ethics paper. Two tools that spring to mind are ones that I’ve experienced myself, as a learner in the #mosomelt cMOOC experience. These are WordPress and Google+ Community. Having experienced first as a learner enables me to more effectively step into the shoes of my students, to better understand what it means to learn about and use these tools, as well as being able to anticipate the likely issues that will arise for my students using them. I’ll continue to use the Values Exchange as a foundational learning tool, as it offers such discipline specific learning opportunities, and the other Apps such as Twitter and Bambuser but much more of what my students learn and experience will be able to be taken with them for potential ongoing use.
Starting small, with this postgrad group ,will allow me to build confidence and get valuable feedback from the students with the idea to implement a more substantial shift when the undergrad paper is next offered. Looking back to this time last year I wouldn’t have envisaged a shift of this nature, evidence that the #mosomelt cMOOC has/is enabling me to see my teaching differently and along with our little COP, has created in me confidence to start packing my bags for the move.