We have now reached unit 6 in the course flexible, distance and open learning and the topic for this unit is “Open educational practices”. I will here reflect on my current practice and identify I can provide opportunities to my students to connect with individuals, groups and resources beyond the course, module, programme boundaries.
An idea that I have already written about is to use blogging as a tool for my students to interact more openly. I will revise some of the content here, and also add some reflections based on the insights I’ve gained so far in the course.
In one of the courses in health informatics I teach, the students work in smaller groups (5-6 students with mixed backgrounds, some clinicians and some developers/engineers) throughout the course to analyze needs and requirements for a health informatics system of their choosing. It is very difficult to gain access to real stakeholders/end users during the 6 weeks the course is running and so the course (albeit being hands-on in the use of different analysis and modeling tools) becomes quite abstract and disconnected from reality. The students are very creative in their work, but have complained about not really knowing whether their ideas are really relevant or not (despite getting feedback from me, they want to hear from the real end-users which is exactly what I teach them is important). An idea I’ve gotten was that if the students were to describe their proposed systems and progress continuously on blogs, would it then be possible to get feedback from real stakeholders? By making the blogs public perhaps we could actually get healthcare professionals, patients and other stakeholders to access and comment on the proposed solutions.
Hilton et al describe three different types of learner interaction that is important to support; learner – content, learner – learner, and learner – teacher. The blogs I suggest could be a means to support interaction within the course, but my goal is rather to create opportunities for learners to interact outside the course. I’m not entirely certain what this interaction might be called, perhaps learner – public interaction? Either way, it would be interesting to explore how useful such interactions could be.
I see two main challenges to get this idea working, (1) to get others to feedback/comment on the students blogs, and (2) to get all students to feel comfortable opening up their learning like this.
Here’s my plan to address these issues.
1. FEEDBACK FROM OUTSIDE I think that there are a lot of people out there who are interested in health IT and who are eager to comment and give feedback. If I were to organize f2f sessions with such people it would however be costly and time consuming. BUT, reading someones blog posts and writing a few lines back is much less resource consuming. And since I have a growing network in Sweden and internationally of people (both technical and clinical) who are interested in health IT, why not make use of it? So, today I asked on twitter (making use of the fact that it’s an IT in healthcare conference going on in Stockholm today with the hashtag #ITivardendagen) for volunteers to read and give feedback on my students blog. In a matter of minutes 5 persons expressed their interest, and I haven’t really started trying yet. So, I’ve got high hopes for this, and I’ve decided to at least give it a try when my course starts in January – and even if the feedback from outside does not work, we’ll use traditional peer feedback which will be an additional learning experience for the students.
2. DIGITAL LITERACY AND OPENNESS – one concern I have is that not all students may feel comfortable sharing their work online. My plan is to let them choose; since we have the opportunity to create closed blogs within the learning platform we use at Karolinska Institutet it would be possible for students to reflect and receive feedback within the course. I will however clearly describe the rationale for using open blogging, and provide an introduction to the tools, to support and motivate those students who are uncertain. Simpson also focus on motivation as a key aspect of online learning , and I believe that both peer feedback and (perhaps even more so) feedback from the public could increase student motivation and creativity.
I have other ideas for opening up my teaching practice, some I have described previously here. Providing my courses as completely online courses is not relevant right now, but I think it could be a step-wise development – by using more open, online resources in our campus-based teaching the effort required to offer the course fully online is decreased. Finally, I do find the idea of open courses appealing and hopefully in the future more of the health informatics courses we teach at KI can reach a wider audience!
 John L. Hilton III, Charles Graham, Peter Rich and David Wiley, Using Online Technologies to Extend a Classroom to Learners at a Distance