Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Asynchronicity: why won’t those discussions work?

For some time I have been trying to figure out why asynchronous discussion isn’t working that well in teaching postgraduate quantitative genetics. I had a feeling this would be the case, but I still can’t tell you why, intuitively, I thought this. It has something to do with the quantitative nature of the study – but we’ve seen problems with it that we haven’t seen in other quantitative areas (like veterinary epidemiology and animal health economics).

But interviewing students this week have given me the clues I was looking for, I think.

Reason 1: learning genetics necessarily takes students through complex quantitative tasks that do not make sense unless everyone is at exactly the same point.

Reason 2: meta-cognition and therefore high level discussion (what some of the students have called “real discourse”) happens at specific points in the units of study – probably at the end (or at the end of sections) - rather than continuously. This might be because learning the theory and the calculations is quite involved and there is a need to concentrate on them before trying to draw them all together to think about at a higher level might take some weeks, rather than happening on a week-by-week basis.

This might mean that we could:

  • leave the students on their own to work through problem sets OR
  • we could schedule regular synchronous chats, where students work through problem sets synchronously (we tried this and it worked pretty well, but there are some practical problems)
  • schedule meta-discussions at specific points in the units to happen either asynchronously or synchronously

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Distance running

An earlier draft of a paper I have just submitted for review is here http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=dfqggshp_4hs4kgn&hl=en

This sort of thing really succeeds in making my job more difficult, but I am hopeful that as we look at the issues we deal with in distance education in a non-DE place like the one I work in, we'll be able to make things better.

I have really enjoyed working with a wide range of colleagues lately, on describing distance education, figuring out what makes it different, what makes it fit and not-fit at a University like ours and what (to an extraordinarily specific level) could change that would make it better for distance students and staff.

This paper is the first finished of two that I've been working on plus some internal politicking.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Proposing history: knowledge ownership in Oz HE

Quick post to give opportunity for comments on my current draft of PhD project proposal looking at the ownership of knowledge in higher education in Australia - proposal is to do this in the history department at University of Sydney. Current draft can be found here:
http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfqggshp_1c9fw6r

Would love to hear any thoughts.