Reflections on IDEL

Has it only been twelve weeks since the start of IDEL? It feels like a lifetime ago, yet just a fleeting moment at the very same time. Having come through the other side I feel a heady mix of inspiration, an excitement for the future, a sense that my understanding in key areas has really come along, with a slight tinge of battle-weariness and trepidation heading into the assignment. One last push and all that…

It’s been interesting to reflect back on the last three months, particularly in light of my first blog post. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when starting. It’s almost like starting a new job (what are my colleagues (students) going to be like? Have I made the right decision? Am I going stick out like a sore thumb?), but it’s been the right move. The experience has been quite the revelation – it’s certainly one of the better decisions I’ve made in the last few years.

Before I get stuck into the actual content of the course, one of the real highlights has been the course experience as a whole. I’ll be honest, I’d lost my faith a little in digital learning before starting the course. I think this was largely on the back of client requests for rather linear course formats that did little to take advantage of what online proffers, and perhaps I’d been suckered it this. I’m glad to say my eyes are re-opened again to the possibilities, with an increased vigour to explore the boundaries where possible.

There are many reasons why IDEL ‘works’, but for me, it’s because of the following factors:

  • The design of the course. It’s well crafted, with an obvious appreciation for feedback and incremental improvements each semester.
  • Each activity seems to be planned with real precision, particularly with regards to the ‘running order’. There seems to be a reason for everything, and this builds confidence as someone new to this game.
  • It places ownership on the student to deliver, but with very solid support and guidance if you need it.
  • It feels like the course ‘practices what it preaches’. This was my suspicion prior to the course, but I’m glad it’s turned out to be true.
  • I was a little skeptical about the mix of contact points throughout. Different tutors every couple of weeks, with a separate contact for the blog. How can a useful bond be struck up without it feeling like been passed from one to another? I needn’t have been worried. I think the various course tutors obviously work closely together, and there’s a sense that a lot is discussed ‘behind the scenes’. There’s an obvious passion for the course, and a real sense of duty (and respect) towards students on the course.
  • The course is very much one of curation, rather than instruction. I realise many of the papers involved some of the Edinburgh team in one form or another, but think this is as a result of the University’s standing in this field. I’d never really been involved in a course this deeply that in many areas happens ‘outside’ the VLE, and this is one of the key points I’ll take moving forwards.

What could be have been different? One of the key themes throughout has been the push to keep a keen eye on things, so keeping with I think it’s pointing out some areas that were a challenge. Personally, I found some of the initial subjects quite tough, but I think that’s down to my primary commercial, rather than educational history. They were hugely interesting and of value, but the learning curve was a little tough to start with. As the course progressed I think it moved away from the educational angle in part, and as such was more familiar territory.

I do think the forum format could be improved somewhat – this seems a little tired and not optimised for dialogue. I felt it difficult to understand the various threads, and which ones I’d already read. As always Moodle could benefit from a ‘lick of paint’ to make it more visually pleasing, but again I think this lack of polish is actually conducive to the course – it doesn’t distract. And if we think of the VLE as part of the University of Edinburgh, I’d probably guess it fits with some of the more historic nature of the buildings? 😉

After the first sanctuary, there was something of a lull between the students. An activity such as a skype chat could have brought everyone back together and may be worth considering for next semester. I just felt we all returned in dribs and drabs and the network wasn’t as strong as it was in the first half of the course. Surprisingly I felt the sense of community was at its peak mid-way through the course. But I also suspect life catches up with many after a few weeks. After that initial impetus to get going there are demands on our time outside of the course that can’t be put off any longer.

Back to the course itself, and it’s difficult to summarise, simply due to its wide expanse. If I had to try and distill down some of the key messages that have had the biggest impact on me, they’d be:

  • Be wary of anyone talking about a revolutionary technology in education, it’s unlikely to have the impact that’s expected, and in the ways they are expecting
  • The role of teacher may change with the increasing use of digital technologies within education, but this does not make it any less critical
  • A digital learning experience is as much as part of the institution that’s delivering it as any bricks and mortar setting
  • We need to make sure everyone has a voice around the table in terms of technological use and development – at present Silicon Valley and commercial companies perhaps shout the loudest
  • Technology is influencing the direction of education as much as it is a tool (the rhizomatic/constructivist viewpoint)
  • Technology is not neutral. It has historical, societal, political influences to it.
  • Automated need not mean less personal.
  • A critical eye is key to avoid being swept up in the latest fashion, and to maintain focus on what really matters.

These are quite broad, but without regurgitating the entire course, it’s difficult to go into more specific detail.

Regarding my own performance on the course, I wish I had attempted more multi-model blog posts, but I think time restricted this. I’m hoping that in future modules I’ll have more time to explore this, but as always time is the critical factor.

On terms of my professional life, the IDEL experience is having an immediate impact. I’ve been able to use what I’ve learned to help challenge some pre-defined beliefs with clients. It’s also given me additional confidence, largely because the content has helped fill some of the (significant) gaps in my thinking and knowledge. I also use the IDEL experience as a benchmark in many ways, and talk about my three months, and how they could use curation and external tools to good effect, for example.

One of the more surprising outcomes has been attempts to explain terms such as ‘instrumentalism’, ‘constructivism’ and ‘rhizome’ to my other half, it’s always useful to try and articulate these to someone not involved in the subject to see if you really understand the concepts!

Finally, a real plus point is all the doors it’s opened, both in terms of new subject areas to explore, and the connections I’ve made. It’s been eye-opening to say the least, and am looking forward to seeing how this develops in 2018!