Encouraging Critical Thinking Through e-Learning

head with brain mappedMy journey into e-learning began with moving my digital notes (PowerPoint, Word) from my own personal computer to an LMS, in this case Desire2Learn.  I thought I was on the cusp of something big, and my students would be amazed at the accessibility and amount of material at their fingertips.  However, I quickly realized that all I had accomplished was to create a digital version of a filing cabinet, and that I really wasn’t “creating a spark” in my students in any way.

Stephen Downes, in his article “E-learning 2.0” states that e-learning today is mainly in the form of online courses that use LMS’s to organize and deliver content.  This is not much different from the days of my first correspondence course where content was sent to me in paper format and I submitted my assignments by walking to the post office.  If e-learning is simply providing a digital form of the same content, how is this any better than what we already have?

I recently listened to a textbook distributor sing the praises of a new program that can learn with the students, guiding them towards areas they need to focus on, and providing all the bells and whistles students seem to require to be engaged in learning.  You can learn a topic through reading text, watching animations, videos and taking interactive quizzes.  I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling so uncomfortable through the entire presentation.  After some thought, I realized that my philosophy of learning includes constructing knowledge, not simply receiving knowledge.  I wish my students to critically think about what they are learning and to learn together, not in isolation as they complete yet another module of an online course.

Many teens are already actively participating in the creation and sharing of content, or a “participatory culture” (Jenkins, Purushotma, Welgel, Clinton and Robison, 2009).  How can I encourage and support this culture in an online environment?  How can I change the way I approach my online teaching, and create a safe space for students to create the content rather than provide “canned” content for them?  How can an LMS be used effectively to achieve this goal, rather than acting as my glorified filing cabinet?

References
Downes, S.  (2005, October).  E-learning 2.0.  eLearn Magazine: Education and Technology in Perspective.  Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1104968

Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Welgel, M., Clinton, K., & Robison, A.J.  (2009).  Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.  Retrieved from http://mitpress.mit.edu/sites/default/files/titles/free_download/9780262513623_Confronting_the_Challenges.pdf

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