Topic 02: Challenges of Openness in Education and Learning

This week, we have explored the challenges of openness in education and learning. In my blog post, I will talk about openness in my teaching practice and connect it with concepts that surfaced during this week of the course.

Introduction

I work as a lab manager and teacher at the university. My teaching uses a digital fabrication laboratory, a fab lab. The lab is not only for education; one can build and measure things there. I can adjust various aspects of the lab to benefit the learning.

The lab houses various pieces of digital fabrication and electronics equipment. For most equipment, a user manual or instruction session is needed. It is yet another level of doing anything with the equipment safely.

I have a coworker, and student requests usually take over most of our time. The idea of the lab is not to produce something for the students but to show students how the equipment works for them to be able to do their projects on their own. The problem is that there are not enough of us to show all the tricks to everybody.

One of the ways how we are trying to solve this problem is to create instruction videos about the most demanded topics. There are other instructional videos out there, but they usually lack an aspect or two that is specific to our lab. Thus it seems necessary to create videos telling how to do things in our lab. We would publish them on the YouTube channel of our lab.

The second approach towards solving the overloading problem is connected to the Cone of Experience by Edgar Dale 1. Dale argues that people remember the most through teaching to others. With that in mind, having a critical mass of students who would teach other students to use equipment could solve the problem.

The motivation of the teaching students would be to learn more about the lab. Another note worth considering is that Dale did not base his cone on scientific research and warned his readers not to take the cone too seriously.

Motivation for the students to teach could be the opportunity to connect with communities outside the university. We offer memberships to companies and professionals outside the university structure as a fab lab. Also, we need to introduce them to the way things happen in our lab, which can be an exciting point of interaction between them. This interaction between students and actors external to the university relates to Dewey’s ideas about openness 2. Dewey argues that educational institutions should function as communities interacting with other parts of society.

We have the videos, and we need to have students who can teach. How do we get there? A set of courses teaches how to use the lab, the Digital Fabrication I, II, III, and Studio. They are an academic overlay for the global Fab Academy 3 course. At the moment, it is the main point of access to the knowledge needed to work in the lab and acquire understanding up to the level to teach others.

Three Dimensions of Openness

During week 2 of the ONL course, Christian Dalsgaard and Klaus Thestrup 4 surfaced. We started to work on all of the before-mentioned things without having a framework in mind. Understanding pedagogical opportunities of openness in education is the objective of the paper. It discusses three dimensions of openness.

  • Transparency
  • Communication
  • Engagement

Let’s connect each dimension to what is happening at the Aalto Fablab and, more specifically, the Digital Fabrication courses.

Transparency

Braun and Schmidt 5 argue that transparency (in wikis) helps socialize new community members by showing them how collaboration works and which form of behavior is acceptable. Labs like ours often have a wiki, an online repository of knowledge. Anyone can contribute to it, but at the moment, we do not use it to its full potential. The videos we are producing are another aspect that contributes to transparency. Here, an open question is how to present the wiki and videos to show how collaboration works and what behavior is acceptable in our fab lab?

Communication

In the paper Barriers to Communication in Distance Education 6, Zane L. Berge argues that the base element of the hierarchy of communication barriers is distance education access. Putting things online does not necessarily provide access. We have a wiki and videos on our YouTube channel. That does not mean access. I think the context of information consumption matters here. If a video is a part of the course, arrangements related to access feedback happen in one way. It is different if someone watches the video outside the course to complete a project related to something else.

It seems that the immediacy of feedback is also an important aspect here. Is there the possibility for someone to ask a question and get an answer as soon as possible? The fact that we are under pressure with people asking us questions leads to the students' frustration as we cannot talk to everybody immediately. It was observed by Hara & Kling in 1999 7 and Thorpe in 2002 8 in their research. How to solve that in the best possible way remains an open question.

Engagement

The fab lab network promotes learning through doing. Students teaching other students is a form of that. The fab lab movement attempts to activate this aspect through the Fab Academy, where everybody has to create online documentation that others can use. It does not count as teaching as there is a missing part where the documentation creator interacts with an audience. Fiorella & Mayer, in their article The Relative Benefits of Learning by Teaching and Teaching Expectancy 9, found out that it is better if the students teach in comparison to being only prepared for teaching. Having documentation online does not count as teaching. Here I can form another open question to myself: how to integrate students teaching other students on top of the documentation of every assignment during the Fab Academy course?

Conclusions

To conclude my reflective blog post, I covered several open educational resource solutions that we use in our lab to make the knowledge of using the lab more accessible to students. Open educational practices are needed to optimize access to them according to the three dimensions of openness: transparency, communication, and engagement. I did not dive into the realm of open licensing as this is a big topic on its own and, thus, I will leave it outside of this blog article.

Group work during this week gave me several possible perspectives to evaluate existing open educational resources and processes in our fab lab. Thank you all.

References


  1. E. Dale, Audiovisual Methods in Teaching, 3. ed. Hindsdale, Ill: Dryden Pr, 1969. ↩︎

  2. J. Dewey, The School and Society: Being Three Lectures. University of Chicago Press, 1907. ↩︎

  3. N. Gershenfeld, “Fab Academy,” Fab Academy. http://fabacademy.org/ (accessed Dec. 20, 2020). ↩︎

  4. C. Dalsgaard and K. Thestrup, “Dimensions of Openness: Beyond the Course as an Open Format in Online Education,” Int. Rev. Res. Open Distrib. Learn., vol. 16, no. 6, Dec. 2015, doi: 10.19173/irrodl.v16i6.2146. ↩︎

  5. S. Braun and A. Schmidt, “Wikis as a Technology Fostering Knowledge Maturing: What We Can Learn from Wikipedia,” p. 10. ↩︎

  6. Z. L. Berge, “Barriers to Communication in Distance Education,” Turk. Online J. Distance Educ., vol. 14, Jan. 2013. ↩︎

  7. N. Hara and R. Kling, “Students’ frustrations with a Web-based distance education course,” First Monday, vol. 4, no. 12, Dec. 1999, doi: 10.5210/fm.v4i12.710. ↩︎

  8. M. Thorpe, “Rethinking Learner Support: The challenge of collaborative online learning,” Open Learn. J. Open Distance E-Learn., vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 105–119, Jun. 2002, doi: 10.1080/02680510220146887a. ↩︎

  9. L. Fiorella and R. E. Mayer, “The relative benefits of learning by teaching and teaching expectancy,” Contemp. Educ. Psychol., vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 281–288, Oct. 2013, doi: 10.1016/j.cedpsych.2013.06.001. ↩︎

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About

Hi, my name is Krisjanis Rijnieks, I come from Riga, Latvia and am currently a part of Aalto Fablab, Aalto University in Espoo, Finland. I made this blog to document my participation in the Open Networked Learning (ONL) course.

I am interested in ONL because I am teaching another globally distributed course known as the Fab Academy. In ONL I expect to find new methods that I could use in my future practice.