Learning from (e-learning) failure

My colleague and fellow-blogger Aidan Byrne (aka Plashing Vole) has just forwarded me a post from the Australian academic who blogs as Music for Deckchairs about learning from edtech failure(s)The post begins “The problem with edtech evangelism is that it assumes the most valuable lessons are learned from other people’s success. This is why our lives fill up with stories of exciting tools that have transformed this that or the other thing. Exhausting, really.”

Absolutely true.  Tomorrow I’m off to a Higher Education Academy-sponsored day event at Leeds University English Department to talk about blended learning with a bunch of colleagues there and I’ve reached the dizzying heights of being invited as their keynote speaker.  I guess they aren’t thinking I’ll turn up and say “actually all the e-learning stuff I’ve tried has been a bit rubbish and I wouldn’t recommend wasting your time on any of this with your students”. I’m not, of course, but the principle of being allowed to try things out and it perhaps not working is something that our university structures don’t always accommodate too well.  Any new project proposal these days — whether pedagogic or subject-based research – seems to have to say confidently before its even started what shiny outcomes it is going to have achieved.

Music for Deckchair’s post thus reminds us that what doesn’t work is as important for learning as what does.  So you try out an e-learning activity with your students and it doesn’t go well.  Reflect on it.  Why didn’t it work?  Did you really want it to work?  What would you do differently if you did it again?  Ask your students why it didn’t work (they may well be more likely to know than you).  Write this process down and publish it.  It’s valuable.

One of my potential e-learning failures this past academic year has been this blog.  I’ve neglected it a lot (sorry to my three-and-a-half readers out there — I’ve appreciated your patience).  My excuse — such as I have one — is that I’ve been very focussed on writing a good old-fashioned book and  I don’t seem to have been born with the writing multi-tasking gene.  The part of my brain that  writes literary criticism is also not the same part of my brain that writes poetry, so the development of my MMU MA Portfolio due in later this year has also been taking a bit of a back seat.  But I’ve noted in myself that whilst I’m happy — and indeed enjoy — discussing aspects of my teaching on this blog, I would have been a lot more uncomfortable discussing my book-in-progress.  Maybe as English academics we are still a lot more private about the processes of producing our published work.  This includes failure as well as success.  There are days, weeks, even months when a project may not feel like its ‘going well’ at all.  Other times the writing adrenalin kicks in, connections are made and insights emerge.  Most often it’s just a sustained long, committed slog, where you have to keep on ‘showing up at the page’ when you can. And again. And again.

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