I love a metaphor, especially a food one. Trying this out …

Flour, eggs, rolling pin, tea towel
Amber Thomas 2020 CC-NC-SA

The race to “put teaching online” as a result of Covid-19 has surfaced that many people have a skewed understanding of what online learning is. Martin Weller highlights how out of date that perception is, and Christina Costa describes some of the misunderstandings.

Part of the problem is promotional rhetoric from Educational Technology companies. They sell a shiny version of the future. Where personalised means impersonal. Where learning is tracked to an inch of its existence.

Unfortunately if staff unfamiliar with blended learning hear those messages then they can forgiven for discounting “ed tech”. They will be angered by the “disruptors” saying education needs a revolution, and find themselves siding with the “resisters” who may be just as polemic and biased.

For academics who have avoided the VLE for their modules and only know it as a file store or as clickable staff training courses, that’s what they think is being asked of them right now. They think they need to create clicky content and fancy animations. It is alienating to academics who feel they would be feeding a machine, ceding control to an impersonal content development studio.

And it creates a huge suspicion of educational technologists within institutions that they are just there to “push product”, or to transform materials into something they will lose control of. Professional workflows are needed for quality and scale but this current pivot isn’t about scaling up courses for mass enrolment, it’s about translating the student learning experience on existing courses at their current scale.

As an aside, equating ed tech companies with institutional ed tech support is like equating the big pharma industry with your local pharmacist.

So how about describing the situation with this metaphor:

We are not looking to create fast food. Anytime-anyplace shiny looking homogenised standardized food. Low nutritional value but convenient.

Nor are we expecting academics to become Michelin starred chefs overnight, mastering sous vide and serving up intricate instagrammable meals.

What we need is good nutritious home cooking. Made in domestic kitchens, with good quality ingredients and prepared with care. We need dinners around the table, healthy and filling, with good conversation.

At Warwick part of the Extended Classroom approach is “recipes” which reflects our thinking that its about taking available ingredients, learning some techniques, and having agency over what you cook. We’re realising that academics who haven’t worked with us yet misunderstand what we do and what’s expected of them in this time of pivot. The more people we can reach through our messages about home cooking, the sooner we can demystify what blended learning can be.