Prior to starting the H800 course it was over 10 years since I was involved in a formal course of education leading to an award. Obviously there have been countless learning experiences associated with my work through preparation for lectures, scholarly activity and research, plus numerous training courses, staff development and so on. Nevertheless, H800 has been the first structured course of education I have taken for some considerable time. Earlier courses I have taken at undergraduate and postgraduate levels were largely before the widespread use of learning technologies, and were quite traditional in their delivery and assessment.
I have made quite extensive use of technologies in my role as a lecturer, and I have generally been enthusiastic about them. However, the experience of being a learner on H800 has helped me to understand the role of technologies in the learning process. Whilst my views about the effectiveness and suitability of various technologies have changed, my overall perception of them remains largely positive.
As a learner I make extensive use of a VLE (the H800 course site), the tutor group forum, and my own personal blog. I also use the virtual classroom (Elluminate) but less regularly. I have gained a great deal from using these technologies and feel that my experience on the course (from a 'learning' perspective) has been as good, and probably better, than earlier face-to-face courses. In some respects I feel that the use of asynchronous learning technologies such as the tutor group forum has positively helped me to learn more from a discussion than the equivalent face-to-face discussion. I am by nature quite a shy person. In face-to-face discussion I am quite conscious of what I say and how it will be perceived by other people. Consequently, if I am not confident that what I have to say will be appropriate then I will probably not say it. The benefit with the tutor group forum is that you don't need to respond immediately. You can reflect on other contributions, check up on some basic facts, and then make your contribution when you are ready. I have found this process to be quite liberating, insofar as it has allowed me to make contributions with some confidence.
The example of a poor experience with a technology which springs to mind is the use of wikis. By coincidence, I have just left a comment on a fellow student's blog expressing my disappointment with the use of wikis on this course. I really don't think I have gained anything from the use of wikis. Here's the comment I made:
Personally I don't think the use of wikis on this course has been particularly conducive to collaborative learning. In most cases the wikis have consisted of little more than a table to which we have added various bits of information. There never seems to be any tangible outcomes from the wikis. Perhaps this is due to my own lack of enthusiasm, but I really struggle to see the point of them.
I think wikis might be more appropriate when small groups (of say 4 or 5) are required to produce something with a very clear set of objectives. Ideally the individuals within the group would each be tasked with dealing with a specific element of the exercise. They each upload their contributions to the wiki and allow fellow group members to edit them and supplement them. In this way the output of the group could be more than the sum of the individual contributions.
Unfortunately, the way we have used wikis doesn't seem (to me at least) to facilitate these synergies.