I’m tired of being told that online learners are uninterested, uninvolved and unengaged because, from where I sit, I see us as completely connected to our work, communities, families and school–we may just be too involved to step back and notice the remarkableness of it all.
My last post got me thinking about my academic journey, that has been anything but a straight line (It took me 14 years to complete my undergraduate degree). The following post combines some memories as I remember them today combined with some old blog post fished out of the AU Landing elgg (If anyone has an easy way to export from both elgg & Mahara and import into WordPress, please let me know.)
For most of my undergraduate degree, I lived in the remote, northern community of Inuvik. My courses came in a box, assignments were sent in the mail (with a carbon paper form) and tutors were available by phone for a couple of hours each week.
I selected courses that (a) had no labs (because I could not travel the 3200km to complete them) and (b) required limited use of library books (browsing the stacks at a distance was problematic in the early days of the Internet). My degree became eclectic mix of statistics, physiology, anthropology, history, learning disabilities (aligned with my job in a high school), and media-related courses.
Along the way, I did some really interesting assignments. In one Anthropology course, I recorded the oral history from my ex-grandmother-in-law (is that a thing??). She told stories of picking berries as a little girl in the Mackenzie Delta, having a rock as a doll, and years spent raising kids in the bush. We would stop from time to time to sing songs and practice counting in Inuvialuktun with my kids. In a women’s history course, my research project was based on the journal written by my own great-grandmother about her time homesteading in the Yukon. I still have those tape recordings and assignments.
Later, I took children’s literature because it fulfilled English requirement & senior level requirement. Most readings were done with my kids at bedtime. It was the first time I ever read out loud comfortably. And the first time I heard the words and began to understand the beauty of language beyond content. I would have never gained that appreciation for language in any other setting. In another course about children & media, I compared Arthur (the Aardvark) and Lizzie McGuire and used interviews from my kids and their friends in the analysis. My daughter began to think of university as a place where you do really exciting stuff 🙂
All of this work was done in isolation from other students. That’s how it was done (and still is in most self-paced courses). For every obstacle (no library or lab access, no regular contact with instructors or other learners, extremely limited internet access), I had an opportunity that I may not have had as a “traditional” student (access to Invialuktun elders, learning disability case studies, kids to interview…).
For me, there is no question that the quality of learning was “equal but different” to anything that can be done in a classroom. I learned more and these courses have had a more lasting impact on me than any of my first-year courses on campus where I was a bad student, but really good at borrowing notes and memorizing textbook content.
My early courses point to creative thinking, rather than technology, leading the way in open and distance education, with a focus on increasing access. As much as I valued those early courses, the following post captures my excitement of any evidence that I was not completely alone in my studies. Improvements in technology used in creative ways did lead to new and exciting opportunities.
I finally finished a 3-year Bachelor of General Studies degree in 2008. A degree that would qualify me for almost no graduate programs. So I applied and was accepted to Athabasca’s Certificate in Instructional Design program (and later laddered into MEd). I started when my fifth child was 3 months old. Suddenly I was in online classes with people with real careers and real degrees and real experience. Despite feeling completely incapable, it turns out I had a few skills and did all right and got involved in some early OER, social media & accessibility research. Again, it was a crazy time, best captured in an old blog post.
It is interesting to go back and read. Apparently many of my frustrations have not changed much. Many of the conversations have not changed.
But I also feel like the LMS enabled a period focused on replicating in-class experiences in online spaces. Paced, cohort-based, recorded lectures, participation marks for discussion boards, online quizzes, open textbooks. And measuring clicks. All built on the assumptions that (a) everyone has access to Internet all the time, (b) students need to interact with other students in the same class at the same time to learn over a term and (c) interaction with the system would somehow lead to learning.
It is possible that it’s just me that got lost. Regardless, here’s to hoping for more time spent tackling questions of access, unique needs of distance learners, openness and knowledge generation. As it turns out, the things that really mattered to me then continue to be the things that matter to me now 🙂