Collaborative Learning

Martin Terre Blanche

This is a diary of my involvement in a project on collaborative learning in the psychology department at the University of South Africa. Most recent posts below and links to previous posts on the left.

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posted by Martin on Wednesday, October 01, 2003
Another e-learning mantra in the making

The normally sensible Stephen Downes today quotes an article by Belinda Lazarus showing that teaching an online course takes 3 to 7 hours per week. What irritates me about this is the implicit assumption that online learning equals facilitating online discussion groups. It only takes between 3 and 7 hours per week for classes of 25 (i.e. up to 17 minutes of instructor time per student) if one is into the kind of teaching where - For example, Stephen Downes' own OL Daily is at the centre of a very large network of online learners (1450 daily subscribers, 650 weekly subscribers and about 10 000 RSS hits per day). These are not merely passive recipients, but people such as myself who do stuff with what comes out of OL Daily - we forward and quote and talk back and use what Stephen writes in many other overlapping and distributed knowledge networks. But even if one sticks with the original 12 000 readers and assumes that Stephen spends a full 8 hours per day doing the stuff that makes it all possible - that's still only 2.4 seconds of instructor time per learner per day.

OL Daily is e-learning on steroids because it feeds into and gets energy from a growing and vibrant network of people who are actively creating new understandings of their field - it isn't a time-limited group of students who happen to have landed up together in a course and are now being made to discuss things. I am not saying that all formal courses should be banned or that all heavily-facilitated online discussions are bad, but what worries me is that "3 to 7 hours per week" will become another one of those e-learning mantras. At my university most of the e-learning experts already "know" that 25 online students is the maximum number you can have in a "class". Now they'll "know" that it takes up to 7 hours per week to "handle" such a class. So we'll go on having boring and conservative course designs and always-busy instructors making sure that each of their little flock of 25 students is participating as s/he should.

posted by Martin on Monday, September 29, 2003