I have recently taken a number of courses in other subjects than computer science or mathematics (which are my main subjects), where the structure of each course has been based on some sort of collaboration between strangers having different backgrounds and different areas of expertise; just like the Open Networked Learning (ONL) course. In Online learning: it is all about Dialogue, Involvement, Support and Control, the authors stress the importance of focusing attention to what they call the DISC factors (capitalized in the title) when designing an online course. In the light of my recent experiences of courses taking place in physical reality, it is clear that the inevitable chit-chat, the socialization taking place during the obligatory fika breaks, the facial expressions and the body language accompanying each spoken statement, serve as a glue when forming the social learning environment; and that social glue is not automatically present when the learning environment is online. Hence, we must create an online version of the social glue.
I have given a number of workshops for mathematics teachers about using digital tools. When I try to picture a scenario where I give an online course instead of a workshop, the benefits are easy to see; no more getting up at 5 am to go to Stockholm, or other places painfully far from the city of Lund. In Flexible Pedagogies: technology-enhanced learning, Gordon uses place as one of three degrees of freedom, the other two freedoms are pace and mode. As for the freedoms defined by Gordon, I fully agree, but on his continued journey into technology-enhanced learning, I start to cringe. Gordon describes the flexibility algorithms can provide in terms of personalized learning material and computerized assessment. No doubt a computer can parse all expressions of the equation 2x=4y+6, and no doubt equation solving could be taught in a more efficient way using some cleverly made behaviouristic software.
The mechanical Teaching Machine suggested by B.F. Skinner can be made far more flexible using digital technology, but in my opinion this isn’t why digital technology is interesting in education. The tools we have at our disposal have always had a great impact on how we think. A computer is a universal machine that in an unprecedented way enables the visualization and the exploration of abstract ideas. It is a tool that can change the way we think, and as a consequence the way we learn. It would be a pity if we only used it for teaching the same ol’ boring stuff as in the pre-computer era, even if we could do it in a more effective way.