Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Bonk & Khoo (2014) – Adding some TEC-VARIETY

I was delighted to receive my copy of this text and read it eagerly, on the hunt as always for ideas for my online classes. I am currently teaching three fully online papers, which will bring my tally of online classes to six this year. I love teaching online and strive to be innovative and to try something new online in every class each semester.

For a long time, the trend in online learning was to ‘put a course online’ and teach it as closely as possible to how it would be taught on campus in a f2f context. This might mean lots of readings to download, copies of lecture notes and PowerPoint slides. Gradually, this shifted to ‘lecture capture’ via Panopto, and online discussions which usually took the form of a weekly forum where students were assigned literature to read and discuss with a stimulus question and guidance from a lecturer in discussion (if they were lucky).
All rather dull…
Not a lot of magic there!

This book is in the tradition of Salmon’s e-tivities (2nd edition 2013) and McDonald’s Protocols, in that it collates practical suggestions for activities in online classes; is predicated on a solid base of research and theory; and clusters activities according to the rhythm of online teaching and the needs of online students.

Why would these rhythms and needs be any different online, you might ask?
Therein lies the purpose of the book and the heart and soul of Bonk & Khoo’s work: the activities are specifically designed to motivate and retain learners who could otherwise disengage, drop behind, drop out and disappear. The statistics show that a great many online learners do not complete.
The point is: To humanise the cold online classroom, establishing an inclusive climate for learning, to emphasise the construction of knowledge, learning participation, student ownership and creativity.

Yes, humanity, inclusion and creativity online!

I’ve been a fan of Curtis Bonk’s work since the 1998 'Electronic Collaborators' text co-authored with Kira King (aka ‘the Bonk-King book’, much to the amusement of Kiwi readers). I’ve spoken with Curt during his visit to Waikato (in 2002), and in Orlando, Florida at a Hypermedia conference in 2006, and I found his work ‘The World is Open’ to be a source of inspiration. TEC-VARIETY continues this vision, and I was particularly drawn to the statement: “We live in a world rich with golden nuggets of free and open learning content as well as technologies for interacting and collaborating about this content” (Bonk & Khoo, 2014, p.2).

Elaine Khoo is a close colleague and friend, and we have collaborated on a project together, involving student-generated podcasts in teacher education. We’ve presented at ASCILITE and have authored journal articles together. Elaine too, has been a source of inspiration throughout my Doctoral journey as her research broke ground in a similar field and hers was one of the PhDs I read and cited.

Knowing the authors, I knew the activities in the text would be insightfully theorised, informed in particular by key learning theories, based on many years of international experience, and also relevant to New Zealand contexts. I was not disappointed.

From the start, the book clearly works at the intersection of technology, pedagogy and learning.

The use of the memorable acronym – TEC-VARIETY – guides the reader through ten principles of online learning in support of student motivation and retention.
For each principle, there are ten activity ideas. Do the maths: that’s 100 activities, each of which is presented in a clear format with instructional considerations, variations and extensions, as well as time-cost indices.

A few of my favourites:…

Tone: Video Intro
Encouragement: Critical friends
Curiosity: (The most downloaded chapter so far) Contextual and Cultural blogs
Variety: Serious play, via online séances, and encouraging teacher education students to sign up to teach a language online.
Autonomy: Open exploration weeks, OER explorations
Relevance: Pubcasting: embedding multimedia interviews with researchers and academic writers, discussing their most recent findings or publications
Interactivity: Wiki-based brainstorming and co-creation (e.g., student-generated tutorials, class glossaries, e-books); comapping (collaborative mindmapping)
Engagement: Microblogging
Tension: Structured Controversy
Yielding Products: Course video summaries

None of the activities are particularly high-tech or out of the reach of our faculty – all can be accomplished in Moodle (or any other LMS) and using systems and support readily available to us here and now.

Several of the book’s accolades refer to chapter 14 – which looks at how to work with colleagues to encourage them to try new ideas.

I am thrilled and proud that the work of my co-blogger and my own studies are cited in the text.

Importantly, the book has an accompanying website http:tec-variety.com
And in the spirit of openness, the text is available as a free download from the site, along with additional resources. The entire e-book or any of the 15 individual chapters can be downloaded free of charge.
The authors take an interactive approach, inviting readers to trial and provide feedback on the activities, and to suggest modifications and contextual improvements. The intent is to continually update the book site “with new pedagogical activities and ideas, technological tools, reviews and announcements as well as stories of best practices” (p.5).
The text is self-published by Bonk’s Open World Books, and this in itself is a source of inspiration as an act of intellectual generosity, and integrity.

The final word might go to Curtis Bonk’sown blog:

 “Online instructors can learn how to design a safe climate for learning, give feedback, foster interaction and collaboration, nurture student autonomy and creation of products, and much more. The intent is for higher online learning retention and the development of more self-directed online learners”.

TEC-Variety is fresh and ready for immediate and flexible application. I’ll be keeping my copy handy!

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