Human presence in #edcmooc

My heading was first Human presence in massive open courses but I made it shorter. I am following the edcmooc course and contextualise all my thoughts accordingly.

In week 3, we are looking at examples of approaches which respond to the apparent threat to ‘the human’ posed by technology by re-asserting the importance of what is irreplaceably valuable in human ways of being and learning.  We are considering the view that human nature and human ways of being are in some sense under threat by technology, and that this has the potential to undermine the basis of our commitment to humanist ideas which underlie many educational philosophies and approaches to practice, such as equality, freedom and autonomy.

What are the different ways of human presence in purely online-held courses? I have a personal history of working as an online facilitator and I had a feeling about being closer to my adult students online than if it had been f2f. I am convinced that human presence is possible online, but it is not easy to define its conditions. I had an excellent partner, Pekka Ihanainen, with whom I facilitated some online courses for two teacher education colleges (in Finland). We wrote and published about our experiences but only in Finnish. I’ll try now to tell shortly about our findings. As I said in another blog post, I have a feeling that edcmooc is similar with our way of facilitating adult students’ learning.

Dialogical space is a necessary condition and facilitators have a role in creating it. Dialogical space is safe and supporting, creative and challenging. It is the atmosphere in which everyone wants to do his/her best and enjoys the work. Presence can be described in many ways and the parts are connected to each other. This image helps to define the dialogical conditions:

Dia2Facilitating presence includes all actions which help the students to learn. We used the concept “didactical” but it is not used in English and “pedagogical” does not sound good, so I chose the term facilitating presence.

Emotional presence is very challenging and interesting to define. The teacher must be personal, it is not good to hide one’s personality. It is good to locate oneself in some ways. In edcmooc  we took photos about ourselves in a Hangout situation. We can see that we are human beings (with much technology 🙂 ). Emotional connections are between people but also toward online studies. It is good to share problems and solutions and be anxious together. And to build up community humour when it is possible.

Cognitive presence is easy to understand, but it is complex in practice. We have a duty to disturb our students intellectually, said someone in edcmooc. It is good to avoid direct guiding , and better to support students as they find their way. The general guide lines must be clear, but thinking and assessing is students’ work.

When the community reaches a dialogical state and finds its own working habits, every monologue is also a component in the shared dialogue and new connections are found. It is emergent learning, every participant is learning and creating. In edcmooc the photo “competition” in week 3 supports this side of studies, otherwise it could be too serious.

I took a short glimpse at other theorists in this field. I remember Terry Anderson and the many research groups, who were working on this theme in 2006-2007. Here are links to Anderson’s blog post and this slideshare.  This image integrates the basic concepts.

Dia1In the middle of the diagram is educational experience. Social presence includes emotional presence. Setting climate connects social presence to teaching presence.

Supporting the discourse combines social and cognitive presence. Teacher selects and recommends the content.

I like the concept of triggering events, it describes the dynamics of learning. Sense of community is another important concept. Otherwise studies can be only external performance with little engagement. I am myself very sensitive to the atmosphere: I registered to an American mooc which was organised correctly (like edcmooc) but I interpreted that the teachers were not authentical themselves and the course was only a play and all supporting acts were like following rules, and same to each student. I don’t want to tell the name of the course, I wish good luck to them. I registered and watched some videos, that was all I did.

I return back to edcmooc again. Professor Fuller links his talk to our key theme of re-asserting the human. His stance seems to be that ‘you can only be morally credible’ if you are addressing issues of human freedom and equality. Thinking about education specifically, might we see MOOCs as an example of an ‘old humanistic project’, particularly in the promise they appear to offer for democratisation, equality of access and so on? I wanted to say that the humanistic project is possible in certain conditions.

Often the question about online teaching is that what is lacking in it concerning human communication. Hersh’s solution was to incorporate more video and audio components into the course-delivery mechanism. Most professors who teach online already incorporate short video and audio clips into their courses. But it is rarer, Hersh says, for professors to use videos of themselves to teach or interact with their online.  I think that in edcmooc the Hangouts bring the facilitators near us, but the most important thing is the atmosphere of equality and enthusiasm to understand elearning and digital cultures. We are studying with our facilitators and assistants without any hierarchy.