Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Elearning Patterns and Predictions
In 1972 I took my first permanent teaching job in an elite Edinburgh secondary school. Just the year before, it had been a private school. James Gillespie’s High School (JGHS) always prided itself on its high standard of education.
A maximum class size was among many standards that JGHS maintained. It strove to have no more than 25 learners per class. The belief was that a finer relationship between teacher and learner could be attained. Through this practice, significantly better educational successes were achieved.
The number of scholars who left JGHS to take up business careers, or went on to higher education, was proof enough of this accomplishment.
It was a fantastic start for me as a teacher to be with classes of this size. But it was certainly no preparation for the learning environments that confronted me in teaching positions I took up after that time.
In 1974, I had a form class of 36 learners in a school that maintained an average class size of 35.
An elearning counterpart
Almost 30 years later, research into educational achievement through elearning methods suggested that there was an optimum size for elearning groups led by a teacher.
In any group of elearners, there will always be those who can be considered ‘active’ – others who learn despite their apparent inactivity in engagement with a teacher or facilitator – and those who are neither active nor engaged significantly in learning. Time has to be distributed fairly in attending to the needs and wants of each these groups.
An e-teacher who has more than 15 to 20 ‘active’ learners in a group is always extremely busy. When the number of active learners increases much above 20, strategies have to be developed and practiced to cope with the constant learner-teacher activity that inevitably occurs in those environments.
Symptoms of stress and exhaustion are inevitable in any teacher who succeeds in engaging enough learners so that the active group comprises much above 25. My own experiences of this have been confirmed by those of my colleagues teaching in e-environments similar to my own.
A recent experience
Recently, I’ve been actively engaging in discourse with groups of people in Second Life (SL). In the months that I’ve assiduously studied in this networking environment, the number of ‘friends’ in my Friends List has slowly increased. The size of my list is now well over 60.
Within that group is a sub-group of 15 to 20 friends who actively use instant messaging (IM) to contact me whenever I am online. It is a great experience to network with people in this way. Not all of this is done locally – that is to say, my avatar is not necessarily appearing on the same screen as the avatars of those who are IMing me.
Of late, I have found it difficult to be online while following any intended single pursuit. Two weeks ago, I became an ISTE docent, as avatar Kallan. In adhering to the expected commitment that comes with this office, I discovered that my group of ‘active’ friends caused me significant concern when attending to docent duties on campus.
At first, I was torn between being seen to be ignoring my friends, while attending to a duty which I enjoyed. Even sending messages of apology to IMing friends was an activity that I found distracting while attending to docent duties.
I’ve since learnt from other colleagues in similar SL situations that they often simply ignore the incoming IMs during the time that they are occupied with more immediate activities. Obviously they too have difficulty reading and responding to incoming IMs when engaged in other cerebral activity.
In translating this to the elearning environment, I can see clearly how a teacher can become stressed and overworked. There is the part that is played by commitment. There is also the aspect of prioritisation.
Who gets priority from the teacher in a learning environment?
When a teacher is actively assisting several learners together, how does she cope when a learner puts forward, out of the blue, a desperate plea for help?
What strategies can she employ to ensure that this learner, who may well be one who has never before communicated directly with her, gets the necessary immediate support?
What provisions must administration provide in a school to ensure that the number of active learners in a teacher’s group is kept to a manageable level?
How can administration ensure that teachers are not forced to adopt strategies to disengage themselves from needy learners in order to protect their own stress levels?