Saturday, June 27, 2020

Binge learning - keeping learners hooked

Netflix fans seem to have no problem devoting several days to watching an entire series (or several series) with few breaks. The series is so compelling and engaging that we immerse ourselves completely in the experience. The creators of the series are extremely skillful at grabbing our attention and carefully embedding elements that will keep us watching: fascinating characters,  multiple plots, cliff-hangers, intrigues. Could these strategies be useful to increase engagement in online courses, in particular MOOCs that still fail to retain the vast majority of those who sign up for a course?

This is the topic of an interesting article, Going over the Cliff: MOOC Dropout Behavior at Chapter Transition, by Chen Chen, Gerhard Sonnert, Philip Sadler, Dimitar Sasselov, Colin Fredericks, and David Malana, contained in new publication The MOOC is dead—long live MOOC 2.0! They have looked at how MOOC participants tend to drop out at the end of modules and suggest the use of a storyline with cliffhanger elements as a way of maintaining curiosity about what is to come in future modules.
One of these strategies is cliff-hangers, which is a widely used strategy for retaining viewer attention in the field of broadcasting, such as radio and television. Common examples include ending an episode with suspense or stopping for a commercial break just before the replay of a critical score or decision in a sport. This article suggests that there is merit in the adoption of this strategy in MOOCs where learners are expected to assume greater responsibility for their learning with minimal guidance and support. The effective use of this strategy in educational settings, however, will require teachers to act as architects or designers of independent student learning experiences, and not simply deliverers of the subject matter content (see also Naidu, 2016).
Just as many courses have benefited from elements of gamification to raise engagement levels, maybe a greater sense of drama and story could also contribute to higher completion rates. This doesn't mean trivialising education but rather adapting elements from drama, film and entertainment to enhance intrinsic motivation. It also requires new skills for a course development team.

Could we ever see cases of binge learning, where people happily spend their waking hours immersed in a learning experience? Why not?

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Digital literacy means knowing when to switch off

Photo by K I L I A N 📷 on Unsplash
I noticed an interesting quote on Twitter:
Digital literacy is also about knowing when not to use technology. Being digitally skilled is not simply about embracing everything digital, it is about developing an awareness of both the opportunities and the challenges of using digital media in our work, studies and leisure time. It involves becoming more aware of how digital devices, platforms and apps collect and sell our personal data and deciding where we draw our own red lines. Few of us ever read the terms and conditions but we can all learn some basic warning flags and be able to say no to certain offers. You can say no to cookies on sites you are unlikely to visit again, you can use browsers and search tools that don't track you, you can avoid overloading your mobile with hundreds of apps that you hardly ever use and so on. We also need to learn when to switch off and when we should rely on other skills and methods. Learn to cope with boredom and silence without immediately reaching for your mobile for a quick fix.

Beetham's quote comes from a thread that also mentions a report from Project Information Literacy on students' attitudes and strategies towards the way algorithms filter and monitor the content we see in our digital devices, The algorithm study. The study shows that students are generally well aware of the influence of algorithms and how their news feeds can be manipulated. They are aware that the major platforms harvest and sell personal data and although they take measures to counteract this they find these platforms irresistible. It is indeed hard to avoid using Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook but the key is to be able to make informed choices and know how to limit your exposure. Sadly the students surveyed had acquired their digital strategies from friends rather than in class and most reported that the influence of algorithms was seldom, if ever, discussed in the classroom. The report's main message is that educational and media organisations need to do much more to counteract the way algorithms are forming our society.
Most, though not all, know that data-driven platforms, if left unexamined and unchallenged, threaten representative democracy and the cultivation of informed and engaged communities. Together, these findings reveal a growing global epistemological crisis. As many students assert their authority as learners and first-time voters, educational and media organizations need to do more to teach “algorithm literacy” within and beyond formal education. Ultimately, journalists and media organizations need to check the unchecked power of algorithms and the social problems they expose and exacerbate for students, faculty, and society.
Students seem increasingly skeptical about the reliability of the information they find on the web and see the digital literacy training that they have received in school and university as outdated and inadequate. The report recommends the following measures:
  • Use peer-to-peer learning to nurture personal agency and advance campus-wide learning. 
  • The K-20 student experience must be interdisciplinary, holistic, and integrated. 
  • News outlets must expand algorithm coverage, while being transparent about their own practices.  
  • Learning about algorithmic justice supports education for democracy. 
The digital monster we have created is soon out of control, especially as artificial intelligence becomes increasingly sophisticated. Over-dependence on digital media makes us open to manipulation. How we deal with this requires action at all levels from government to the individual but the education system has a particularly vital role to play.