Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Using a flexible learning space to teach about a flexible learning space

Note: This article was originally posted in the Connect section on the Educause Web site, at: 
However, this address has since become inaccessible, so the post has been reproduced here as an archive with the same date and approximately the same time.

[Sorry it is so long since I posted - the Western New Year and Chinese New Year have both passed!]

My job title of 'VLE Administrator' covers a wide range of duties, many of which are quite technical and system-oriented, but it also involves advising staff on developing their areas in the VLE (LMS), the service front line, as it were.  This term I've spent quite a lot of time preparing and delivering courses on how to use WebLearn;  the face to face contact makes quite a pleasant break from coding or answering emails stuck in front of a computer screen.

We are now coming to the end of this term's series of lunchtime courses.  They have usually consisted of a presentation with slides and demonstrations followed by hands-on where people work individually through a number of exercises, familiarising themselves with some aspects of the VLE.  The peak of interaction usually would not go beyond viewing each each other's test area.
However, I've recently found myself in one of the so-called flexible learning spaces within the department - a wide room with islands of workstations and a lot of gadgetry.  After a couple of weeks delivering the standard format in this space, I've only just realised that I ought to make more use of such communal spaces.  So this week's course will mark a departure as I shall get people to work in groups, to plan and implement together some structures for online learning.  According to the booking system, registrants are mainly staff, but a couple of postgrads among the number; some work in departments, some in colleges and I guess some belong to both; they cover humanities, social sciences, medical sciences, maths and physical sciences.  And the number of resources they appear to have created in WebLearn range from 0 to dozens. 

This is therefore, I think, an ideal selection :-)  How?  It reflects a typical cross-section of WebLearn's users and I'm hoping that those with more experience will become aware that they are able to help those who are relative novices.  This situation is very natural within WebLearn (Bodington), because it is designed as a flexible space itself that allows as little or as much participation as people need.  You can take any group of people, give one of them the right to create a container and from that point on they can adopt any number of roles to create a mock department or whatever with spaces for teaching, administration, research etc.  Expertise grows tree-like - as the resources expand, all being well so does the amount of delegation and thus the number of people growing the tree.

I've made a list of requirements, suggested some tasks, and wonder how they will manage?  Actually, I'm mainly hoping that participants turn up on the day - the competing demands (and intellectual distractions) on Oxford academics can be quite considerable! 

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