Blog revival – It’s that time of year again!

Every year or two, I have a burst of creative energy during which I aim to update all my online presences and return to writing regularly. Each time I do this, I am motivated by a specific short-term goal, such as preparing for a job interview, or writing a funding proposal, or sharing the domain-specific content that is exciting me at the moment. This time, the specific driver was being interviewed by a colleague who is doing a PhD on blended learning, which resulted in me revisiting my own web content from 15 years ago, and surprising myself at how little has changed. In reviewing my own material, I also noticed that my memory of time and place is getting less reliable as distance grows – so although I first published on "blended learning" in 1996, we actually referred to it as "mixed mode" delivery. What I did was not deemed to be particularly interesting back then because all projections were that the future of education was fully online and traditional teaching would be a thing of the past. It was also not considered to be research, despite the fact that it was published, and was presented at a conference.

Revisiting the past provides a good opportunity reflect on the fact that my primary driver for engaging in online teaching was to address a budgetary dilemma – fire my sessional teaching staff or make budget cuts elsewhere (such as printing). Having gone the online path, it was then exciting to find new opportunities offered by the media and to rethink traditional delivery, i.e., to engage in reflective practice. One thing I can see is that very little has changed in terms of my understanding of teaching practice, and that technology is just part of the broader tool-set available to me as a teacher. I still see teaching as a conversation between teacher and student about the "way of thinking" embodied in the particular domain of interest.

A second driver for my return to the online space is the fact that I have a new online "mentor", Dan John, who is as prolific and readable as my first online "mentor", Stephen Downes. While Stephen Downes has a philosophy background and works in the online learning space, Dan John has a theology background (I guess it's a particular branch of philosophy) and works in strength and conditioning of athletes. Both people are my gurus because, not only do they link theory and practice, but they also have genuine expertise in both domains, as demonstrated by their own practice and by their "train the trainer" workshops. They demonstrate the type of interactional expertise described by Harry Collins, which should be foundational to educational practice.

I have found inspiration in Dan John's simple message regarding Park Bench versus Bus Bench workouts, and in his exposition of goal-setting in terms of "do this, now do that" as the program to go from Point A to Point B. The particular insight in terms of goal-setting is that Point B, the goal, is generally well-defined (even when aspirational), but the notion of Point A (where are you right now?) is mind-bogglingly unclear to most people. Furthermore, if Point A does become clear (for example, my level of strength and athleticism is pretty good for the average over-50 woman, but is at the not-naturally-gifted end of Novice for an athlete, despite the fact that I have been training for 5 years), many people are unwilling to go back to basic fundamentals required to achieve Point B.

I suspect my current obsession with Dan John's work is to help me maintain a degree of sanity in an educational context that blatantly markets the express bus to Point B without any consideration of the range of Point As that the bus is allegedly servicing. This occurs at a macro (degree) level, which in addition to ignoring Point A also ignores how much space is available at Point B for all the alighting passengers (jobs in particular industries, or even the industries themselves in an uncertain future). It also occurs at a micro (unit) level, where pre-requisites for undertaking a unit of study (i.e, formal specifications of Point A) are actively discouraged, while "learning outcomes" (formal specifications of Point B) are mandated and "quality assured".

It remains to be seen how long my burst of creative energy lasts for, but I am also encouraged by the idea that our graduate students in the Digital Technologies and Training Lab are at a stage of development that they have lots of ideas to express in writing along the way to completing their PhDs. Hopefully they will begin to see the benefit of writing short thought-pieces to help them articulate ideas, to share those ideas with an audience, and to allow them to reflect on their own work ten years down the track when they've forgotten what they were thinking now.

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