Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

January 2, 2009

If you’re looking for me…

Filed under: Uncategorized — lisahistory @ 8:32 am

I’ve gone back to my online teaching blog at http://lisahistory.net/wordpress. Come on over!

November 29, 2008

Course Recommendations: Revamping a MOOC

Filed under: Week 12 — lisahistory @ 7:51 am
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Having been invited to do so by both George Siemens and Tom Whyte, I here note changes I would make if I were teaching this class (or a class like it) in future. This builds on my previous critique-y posts Environmental Engineering and Course Critique (week 9) and Network Control via Grades (week 5). Except for the first one, they are about form rather than content.

Get historical

I am still struggling with taking a traditionalist, conservative role in my concerns about basing so much of our study in trends that only emerged within this generation.

I think for the future, it would be good to see some consideration of the larger view, the context that goes back beyond the last 20 years and beyond the formal field of educational research. I would have liked a much larger perspective into which I could fit contemporary theories of teaching and learning. Since I had to develop it myself, it seemed I was often jumping up and down saying “that’s not new!”

Redistribute the assigned workload

I would redistribute and revise the marking scheme. Putting 90% of the graded items into the last few weeks left too much floating time at the beginning of the class, and far too much work at the end, which didn’t allow for proper feedback along the way. Participation should be worth far more, and deterministic assignments (CMap, “papers”) far less. Most of the grade should be based on the overall blogging, if that is the central learning repository being tracked for each student (see Get Visual, below).

Improve participation in synchronous meetings

Set at least one synchronous weekly meeting as fully participatory.
Students should be able to “present” their ideas and perspectives to others at the synchronous meetings as part of the “presentation”. Student participation needed to be built in, not treated as a sideline/backchat/commenting thing. If the idea is that the teachers are learners too, then asking questions of them is not enough.

Create specific topics or questions, not just the topic of the week.
A set topic or question would level the field, with the instructor acting only as a guide. Students who took trouble to arrange time to be present would know what would be discussed, be more prepared, and feel a responsibility to participate.

Get visual

No blank screens
Jeff’s multiple webcams using MeBeam, evident in a couple of UStream sessions, could have been used to bring in groups of students, who volunteer in advance to share their ideas. For more free-wheeling discussions in Elluminate, students could collectively record main ideas on the whiteboard. That space, like the chat, should be used (as Nancy White did so effectively). It would even be possible to show one of the instructor’s “talking head” videos right in Elluminate, and discuss during and after.

Use of images should be encouraged.
Things were way text heavy everywhere, even on the blogs. The metaphors for connectivism could be pictures rather than text and stories. And no, a diagram with connected text boxes doesn’t count.

Determine the pedagogical goal for each element of the course

Clear objectives are needed for the pre-set elements of the class: the Moodle forum, course wiki, connectivism blog, Google groups, etc. Discussion should take place about what types of content might be appropriate for the Moodle forum vs SL vs blogs. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each for forming community, sharing information, expressing individual ideas? There are norms already for these tools, developed collectively by those who regularly use them, but people don’t necessarily know these trends. Perhaps a list of suggested options by usage could be developed:

  • posting reflections on course reading = blog
  • asking questions of the instructors = forum 1
  • arranging times and places to meet elsewhere = forum 2
  • presenting or listening at live, instructor-led meeting on particular topics or questions = Elluminate
  • tracking colleagues’ blogs = rss
  • real time meeting with colleagues but not instructors = SL or elsewhere

etc.

Encourage a dynamic course wiki

Allow student access to change the main wiki, and have doing so be an expectation.
The course should grow organically. Instructors mark out the planting beds, and plant a few of the basic items (readings, assignments). Space could be made for adding other “found” readings each week, and inserting links to various discussions or other content.

Keep up with posting correct links and times for synchronous sessions.

Adapt the concept of The Daily

Limit it to what’s up for that week, and the RSS feeds from student blogs. No commentary or “special” posts noted.

Make assigned readings (and more) interactive

The basic readings are a focus, so they could be treated as such. Each could be placed in the Moodle forum as a place for focused discussion. If one didn’t want to put the talking head videos only in Elluminate, they could also be inside a forum. (In Moodle, I like the “single simple discussion” format for this, with the media item as the first post.) This provides an element of immediacy to content responses.

The approach used for CCK08 could be applied to many different types of classes. I could do everything I’ve suggested above and create a perfectly good history course! This class has provided an excellent model to build upon and, interestingly enough, the further application of connectivist tools is what can make it work even better.

November 28, 2008

Hollywood Connected: final project

Filed under: A Movie! — lisahistory @ 8:46 am
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This is a 13 minute film in .mov format.

Medium size and quality (60MB)

Medium size but lower quality (20 MB)

The big mother (177 MB) for discerning viewers who appreciate a finer cinematic experience

November 26, 2008

The Future Ain’t What it Used to Be

Filed under: Responses,Week 12 — lisahistory @ 10:24 pm
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I was intrigued by the way the FutureLab’s “2020 and beyond” parallels the Horizon Report, and yet adds these vignettes of what it will be like to live in the near future. The question I asked as I read was, “of all this, what is likely to really happen and what isn’t?”

The pervasive technology for personal use reminded me of Edward Bellamy’s Looking Backward (1888). In that book, I recall two technologies standing out. One was the home music system, which piped music in to the home, and was controlled by dials on the wall. Another was the umbrella-like covering that was deployed over the entire city when it rained. The first of these came to be, in the form of our stereo systems, sensurround, Musak, satellite radio. The second did not.

In that context, perhaps it is the personal, small technologies that come to be, and the larger, environmental technologies that are predicted incorrectly.

In Star Trek, the epitome of technology prediction models, they had the hypospray, a device that injected medication through the skin without needles. They also had the transporter, which dissolved the body into molecules, sent them through space, and reassembled them at the other end. Again, the first one has come to be, through medications administered in skin patches and nasal sprays. The second (unfortunately for those of us who deal with traffic every day) has not.

In that context, perhaps it is the technologies which are close to what we already have that will come to be. In the 1960s, we were already aware of substances that could be processed into units so small they could be absorbed through the pores of skin. But we had nothing that could dissolve a human into fairy dust.

Consider, then, Future Labs’ predictions. The Personal Devices (combined devices, wearable technology) become likely on an individual basis — we already have these as novelty items. But the Intelligent Environments are less likely. Although we have the technologies (I think of the sensing devices embedded into rubbish bins in London), the infrastructure of something like a mobile game would take a concerted effort and a system with many small parts, often embedded in public spaces, to provide continuity without large base installations. A few may attempt it, but it is likely to go the way of city-wide wifi: suitable for densely populated city centres but too extravagant for anywhere else.

The Network (combining of our various communication devices at work and home)is already happening, although again I doubt the viability of cooperative effort, suggested by the Ambient Networks, to do this in a larger environment. We can’t even get cellular mobile phone companies to share towers to create efficient coverage. Competition has made the likelihood of workable networks lower, as each company tries to profit from its own. That’s what’s happened with Ricochet in my area; it’s become useless. Such network competition also produces electronic pollution, radiation from huge ugly towers just so people can say “‘sup?” to their friends. We have to go elsewhere to find analyses of market forces and how they relate to the likelihood of adoption.

Also in this Network section I began to notice a pattern. Each of the vignettes had us going somewhere (“you’re walking down the street”) and sharing the same sorts of stuff we share now (photos, video, notes). That’s where things became less innovative, and even Processing just seemed to support what we do now (sharing animations, making stories). Most of the technology here and in the Storage section was for the purpose of recording and sharing human action (film the kids, “capture an audio-visual record of every second of your life”). If we did that, when would we watch the films, view the record? Would we stop doing other things to watch ourselves, to the point of experiencing our own trivialities like reflections in multiple mirrors?

All the wonderful things mentioned in the “Questions for education” sections (experimentation, evolution of ideas, sharing information) are being done now, even without sophisticated technology. Tools for collaboration aren’t collaborators, they are still tools, at the service of people’s needs. In asking questions like “Will recall of facts and events become obsolete as a socially valued skill?” we’re missing the idea that we already act as if recall is archaic, that we’re entering a post-literate society, which is not necessarily a good thing. What use is anytime access to great ideas, writings and art when we don’t know how to read? We may not have to recall facts, but how do we decide when we want to find some?

It is telling that much of technologies predicted will be for personal, and relatively trivial, use. Everything here seems an answer to the question, “I’m bored: what should I do?” Play games, share photos, record your whole life. I won’t be one of the people ordering the communicator embedded in my belt. I think I’d rather pin it to my shirt, keeping the technology separate unless I want it there. You know, like in Star Trek.

November 21, 2008

The Map(s)

Filed under: Visualisation — lisahistory @ 1:13 pm
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Here is my “big map” for CCK08 (click for larger version or here is the really big version):

But I also want to share one I made about knowledge:

November 19, 2008

Reflections on Personal Connections

Filed under: Musings — lisahistory @ 11:40 pm
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I happened to read George’s blog post about his grandmother passing while he was far away, on an evening where I skimmed around the course blogs and comments, looking myself for some connection.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the weak ties we have, the catch-as-catch-can communications both made possible and encouraged by web interaction, are most appropriate for when in-person contact is not feasible. I didn’t used to believe this. I used to think those connections to be not only adequate, but in some ways preferable, to sharing physical space. I would pester my non-internet-using friends to go online, chat with me, meet me online. I do that less these days. I would get frustrated that the faculty I work with always want in-person workshops about online teaching, instead of meeting online. I’ll let go of that better now. Even today a colleague requested a phone conversation instead of emailing on a subject, and I saw his point.

In sharing my views about the necessity of physical learning space in the Moodle forum, I mentioned that the students who do best online are those who are comfortable in the web environment already, have some self-motivation, and need to be there instead of an on-site classroom for a reason other than mere convenience. Perhaps this is true of non-students too: the web is where we go when we cannot find the connections we need near us, when our friends are not nearby.

I’ve “lived online” for a number of years now. I have gained much support both from people I’ve met on the web and from people I know in “real life” with whom I communicate online. But I am often left wanting to know someone better, instead of just knowing that person through the artifacts s/he chooses to share. I share my artifacts very selectively, and since in real life I am hard to get to know, it would be even harder to get to know me online. The personal support I’ve both given and received has been very context-specific, based on a particular event or interaction, very weakly tied. I’m pretty sure that isn’t the same thing as being someone’s “friend” (a word that has been corrupted by the online services).

Professionally and intellectually all this is great. But I think after this class is over, the blogs I’ll come back to, the people I want to know better, may not be the ones whose work stretches my intellect or changes my approach to work, although those were the connections I initially hoped to make. They may be the ones, like Ruth Demitroff, with much wiser things to say. They may be the ones posting beautiful pictures of their walk in the woods with their dog. And the things I’ll treasure will be things like Ed’s whiskey haikus, Ken’s bizarre satires, and Mike’s visiting with me in Second Life and playing guitar on video.

This surprises me, because I’ve gotten such a rush out of all the reading and writing, the intellectual discourse, and the creativity (however restricted inside these still-primitive technologies and the confines of the class itself). But living inside the net with this intensity, doing this class, has taught me a lot, and they weren’t the things I intended to learn.

November 18, 2008

Universities: post-historical technocracy vs new learning models

Filed under: Week 10 — lisahistory @ 4:42 pm
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Having read with great interest (read: frequent gasping, jaw dropping, note taking) Michael A. Peters’ Higher Education, Globalisation and the Knowledge Economy: Reclaiming the Cultural Mission (2007), of course I must respond. It is my duty, I think, as a historian. And at the same time, I want to see whether I can connect it to the question George Siemens poses in this week’s video (is technology transformative or just an add-on?) and his article for this week.

What’s missing in the questions about technology and educational institutions is the middle ground, the negotiated, messy grey areas on which techno-evangelists claim the world is embroiled, but themselves seem unwilling to engage. Peters was more willing to deal with these than many other authors to whom we’ve been introduced.

In his work, Peters claims that a new crisis for the university system has been declared. In English-speaking countries particularly, there has been a move away from the university as a “universal welfare entitlement” to a “private investment in ‘human capital'”, a transition marked by a demand for new workers in the global tertiary economy, cries for accountability, and monitoring to reduce the public financial burden. There is at present more people in universities than ever, a greater focus on vocational goals and application, and concerns about competition among institutions of higher education as we “come to terms with the impact of globalisation”. Taking his cue from Bill Readings’ The University in Ruins (1996), Peters says that the main concern, apart from a decline in the humanities, is a crisis of external legitimation, which he claims up to now has been based on the “notion of culture”.

This notion, embedded in the “modern university”, is subject to his (and Readings’) historical examination. This examination is based on three ideas dominating the modern university, in chronological order: “the Kantian idea of reason; the Humboldtian idea of culture, and; the techno-bureaucratic idea of excellence” (5). He treats the first two as the “historical” university, where the main purpose of the institution shifted from the application of reason to the needs of the state. Universities became the place where, in the 19th century, nationalistic ideology was inculcated. Entering what he calls the “post-historical era” (I really dislike that term), the modern capitalistic economy replaced the older nationalistic goals with the meaningless idea of “excellence” in education, an undefined and useless objective. This new approach promoted the neo-liberal focus on market forces, “obliterating the distinction between education and training”. Nowadays, it is suggested by Readings, that market model is being replaced in its turn by the conception of the university as a “global service corporation” in a new “knowledge economy”. This economy, according to a UK White Paper “Our Competitive Future” (1998) will be neither interventionist nor market-based, but focused on knowledge as wealth-creating and transferrable, ready to be exploited — a “techno-bureaucratic ideal”. In opposition to this ideal, Readings instead presented the concept of “dissensus” as an alternate path once “we have had to relinquish the notion of culture as the unifying idea” (20). This dissensus is founded on openness and incompleteness, which sounds similar to a number of views we’ve examined in this course.

Unfortunately, although Peters doesn’t say so directly (so I will) Readings’ “dissensus” vision seems to replace the techno-bureaucratic utopia with an ahistorical model that substitutes “knowledge” for “excellence” as the useless and non-referential catch word. Instead, Peters provides a better-grounded alternative to legitimization being based on consumer power, competitive production, or the “hollowing out of the university” (16):

I want to take a different tack and suggest a form of the university that does not break entirely with the founding historical discourses and their single unifying ideas but preserves them, adapts them to new conditions, reinvents and redefines them as an imaginative basis for resistance against the narrowing of thought.

He goes on to talk about the traditional goals of universities as producing knowledge and disseminating it. Instead of throwing out universities’ role in “culture”, he suggests the adoption of “knowledge cultures” based on shared practices and cultural norms, even as they shift. He argues for the preservation of reason and understanding of our own culture, an acknowledgement and acceptance of changing conditions that need a rational response. In other words, he argues for many of the things I would argue for that make the “post-historical” idea clearly the wrong direction. This wrong direction leads away from the “critique” element of rational discourse (for which Peters cites Foucault) into the stupidity of crowds and the tyranny of a mob wandering around in semantic constructions (which is one of my levels of hell).

George Siemens’ New Structures and Spaces of Learning (2008) attempts to envision a different model, one based on connectivism but acknowledging the traditional roles of the university, including accreditation, guided tasks and research. This model does not succumb to the post-historical techno-bureaucratic free-for-all that disturbs Peters. It quite literally connects the old and new elements of the university:

Structure is seen as necessary for beginners in a subject, to provide foundation, with exploration at the next level for the learner, and room for negotiation. It seems to reflect the approach of the English tutorial system, or graduate study (when grad students aren’t subject to serfdom, that it). This model would bring the perception of universities our culture can reclaim (centers of learning) together with new methods that take advantage of the latest technologies. It could potentially also move the pendulum back from skill-specific vocational “training” to a fuller idea of education, so long as the technology didn’t dominate the learning and create its own techno-bureaucratic nightmare. In addition, Siemens’ model needs to be careful about promoting specialization too early, which would take us back to the “training idea”. One great advantage of our general education standards, as I’ve said before, is the provision of a multiplicity of fields of study, with required introductions to each before a student may specialize.

So in answering questions about the future of institutions in the face of open resources, internet connectivity, and amateur content, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that institutions do evolve over time in response to changing conditions, and they don’t have to lose all their foundations to do that. And no, it’s not as simple as just augmenting the current system or “adding in technology”: I’ve seen that fail in many classrooms, from K-12 to college. Technology’s purpose is to be applied to problems. When there are problems in our institutions that technology could solve, technological solutions should be applied in those areas. If there are problems technology cannot solve effectively (or morally, or efficiently, or acceptably to those concerned), then there needs to be conversation about whether its application is appropriate. But the role of the university itself is to expand, not contract, to include varying subjects, approaches, and connections in the quest for knowledge, not just the pursuit of “excellence”. That’s part of the university “culture” as well.

November 15, 2008

Openness and . . . wait just a doggarned minute

Filed under: Week 10 — lisahistory @ 6:55 am
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This morning an instructor who’s just starting to teach online contacted me. He had been told I was the campus online guru, and wanted to meet with me to discuss ideas and course management systems (our college is currently supporting Blackboard fully, but paying vendors for access to Moodle and ETUDES-NG). Among the many resources I’ve built into our Program for Online Teaching, I thought he might be interested in my EDUCAUSE article on CMSs (it’s not in the big journal, just the little practitioners’ Quarterly). I don’t keep it bookmarked, so I typed the title into Google.

I noticed others had written things about my article, so I started following a few links. I found it on Downes’ column for last May, with some comments I wasn’t aware of. Then I saw a link from British Library Direct. When I followed it I discovered that I’d have to pay a service charge, plus VAT if applicable, for the full text of the article. For me in the US, that’s £8.75 for immediate download.

I had been paid nothing for writing the article, and here this outfit is making money providing it to others. It is available free in both html and pdf forms from the EDUCAUSE website itself, so it’s not like it’s a restricted item of some kind. When I wrote it, I knew I was doing it for free, but wanted to share. It never occurred to me that anyone outside the organization asking me to write it would get paid for my work.

During our UStream discussion yesterday (thanks to Kristina for posting it), it was mentioned that Bradley Shoebottom had said something about making money off of open source. I misunderstood that, having not yet read Bradley’s post, and when I hit British Library Direct, I thought: “This is how people make money off of opennness!” They dupe people into believing that the article is accessible only through them, and charge for it. I wrote the article intending it to be free and open, and someone else has stolen it, in a sense, by trapping it.

If they’re doing it with my little article, then right now, people must be taking all kinds of free and open work, and charging for access to it. What kind of walls will our content be behind, without us even knowing it?

November 13, 2008

Paper #3: Resistance, Reassessment, & Retooling

Filed under: papers,Uncategorized — lisahistory @ 11:09 am
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There are numerous opportunities for changing teaching and learning through the application of connectivist ideas. The most important is the possibility of creating new designs for instruction, designs which create an exploratory environment or “ecology” where networked learning can emerge. As Stephen Downes has implied throughout the class, there is a need to do away with “sameness” or universality in terms of educational goals, assessments, and learning itself. Doing so would take the formality out of “formal” education, transforming it toward an institutionalized version of Jay Cross‘ “informal learning”. These new approaches would naturally reflect many of the global changes taking place in the production and distribution of information and ideas. Such a transformation is currently demonstrated in the decentralizing forces evident in internet sharing, blogging, and artistic creation. It threatens traditional patterns of authority, making it possible even for learners subject to the control of our educational institutions to create their own learning paths.

It is difficult to institute such change in practice for several reasons. One is that a shift to learner-controlled education would require institutions to have a commitment to quality that extends beyond the life-span of the people currently running the institution. People in today’s society are notoriously short-sighted in their goals. Unlike the townfolk who planned the Gothic cathedrals of the 12th and 13th century, current leaders do not view their creations in the longer term — they want results right now. This impatience makes experimentation less likely to receive intellectual or financial support. In addition, the structures controlling education employ people who have a vested interest in using their current skill set, authorized in the form of Ed.D. and Instructional Design degrees. Last, there is the usual resistance to change found in all human societies, from ancient Greek Sophists who hated Socrates, to medieval peasants resisting three-field rotation despite obvious benefits, to Americans persisting in a stultifying two-party political system. Such resistance is completely natural, and the concerns raised by cynics, Luddites and skeptics should be considered as part of the process by which change is created in a thoughtful way.

Such perspectives provide balance to the hype, offsetting the over-enthusiasm which can undermine the creation of a solid foundation for educational transformation.

Cow Power in India

Cow Power in India

One concern is computer dependency. Heylighen (2002, 7) notes problems of “inefficiency” in dealing with large amounts of information, but his solutions rely on systems which are at present utterly dependent on fossil-fueled electricity. His claims of the eradication of physical constraints and the “disappearance of distance”, his “ubiquitous electricity network”, are reliant on non-sustainable energy (in the parts of the world where they are even available). Like many other “hype-sters”, Heylighen sidesteps or refuses to deal with the moral implications of changes in society and resource allocation wrought by computerized communication, particularly the internet. Many are doubtful that “networked individualism” (Wellman 2001), although popular at the moment, is an appropriate or desirable substitute for local community ties or face-to-face communications.

Other objections which warrant our attention include:

  • the belief that “distributed learning” cannot be assessed, that such learning creates networks but not necessarily knowledge;
  • the fear that individual skills will decline, institutionalizing specialization of tasks to the point where few people will know how to chop wood, weave fabric, or cook wholesome meals;
  • the concern that individual learners will be motivated only by immediate need, that intellectualism will no longer be an end in itself, that being “educated” will be so personalized as to mean nothing;
  • the fact that the current education system is doing what it was designed to do, keeping little learners separate and controlled so that the adults can pursue their money-earning activities, while ensuring a standard of achievement that can guarantee competitive advantage (through degrees and social connections) and enable the next generation to achieve greater status and more possessions than the last.

These voices of resistance should cause innovators to reassess, to develop a value system based on more than freedom, openness and individualism. There should be considerations of social morality, dedication to family, service to society, intellectualism, broad knowledge, and historical foundations.

George Siemens asks, “Can our current world of weak ties and easy connections produce the depth of learning required to meet the complex challenges facing our future?” But does “depth of learning” mean in one small area, or as needed to become a thinking person? And which is necessary for the future? The idea that no one person can build an airplane or master a discipline (Siemen’s Complexity, Chaos and Emergence 2008, p. 2) implies that depth of learning need only include one specific skill (such as the knowledge of how to weld parts of the fuselage) but not depth in overall intellectual habits of mind. If knowledge is fragmented into such small sections, such specific divisions of labor, that assumes a future in which such specialization is needed. This may be a response to the perception that our world is becoming more complex, and that each of us practicing one speciality will combine in an unintentional collective (Dron and Anderson 2007) to get everything done. Certainly there is a perception of such increasing complexity, and increasing “speed”, but it may well be faulty, since most generations note the same thing. As Virgil wrote, “fugit inreparabile tempus”.

Retooling is required for implementing change. Understanding of complex systems, which have always existed, is the umbrella for the skills that are most needed as external control and authority decline. Contemporary examples, such as the unexpectedly quick spread of hoof-and-mouth disease (Seth Bullock 2006) and the lack of coordinated information preceding the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (Surowiecki 77-78) point toward the weaknesses of decentralized learning in ordinary environments. In education, therefore, certain aspects of learning need to be emphasized in order to change the environment:

  1. interpretation: the ability to place events, people and objects in a useful context
  2. metacognition: awareness of ones own intellectual processes and bias
  3. awareness of the “access trust”: appreciation that channels of information may be controlled by the few
  4. aggregation: crucial to creating understanding, this aggregation should be intentional (diversity within decision-making groups a la James Surowiecki 2004) as well as emergent (Dron and Anderson 2007)
  5. ability to operate appropriately in an open environment: a new adaptation of social skills, including:
    a. identity construction
    b. communication skills
    c. wayfinding (Siemens, Instructional Design and Connectivism 2008)
    d. recognition and appreciation of diversity

Of these, interpretation has been basic to intellectual endeavor since Peter Abelard (however much he paid for that). Metacognition is becoming more popular, and every revolutionary in history is familiar with the “access trust”. The other two skills (aggregation and the ability to operate appropriately in an open environment) have increased in significance. Understanding and applying these skills, which themselves need to be learned, would provide the necessary underpinnings for successful educational change in the direction suggested by connectivism. Without these skills, and consideration of the well-founded moral and practical concerns of skeptics, new approaches will prove impossible to adopt.

Unlinked Source:

James Suroweiki, The Wisdom of Crowds (New York: Doubleday, 2004)

November 10, 2008

Learners, Students and an Ontological Issue

Filed under: Week 10 — lisahistory @ 3:10 pm
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This class has me thinking a great deal about individualism, independent learning, and terminology. I’m also considering George Siemens’ shift, articulated in the Nov 7 UStream session, from the epistemological to the ontological, from talking about how we know things to discussing what we become.

All of us are “learners”, from the time we are born. It’s built in. We learn from many people and resources. To call someone a “student” is to imply formal enrollment in an educational institution. Somewhere along the way, some learners and students become educated people. I have been reading Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of the Rational Voter, and becoming familiar with economists’ definition of the “enlightened public” as meaning something between the ordinary public and economists, who to me represent “scholars”. Scholars base their life on exploring and researching academic subjects. Another word we’ve been using would be “experts”.

Learners are the focus of this course, and of connectivist theory. Not just formally enrolled students, but people who learn, however and wherever that happens. The desire seems to be to turn our enrolled students into learners, imbued with the motivation to explore that they’ve had from birth. While I see that as laudable, I am struggling with the attack on our current educational systems as being either harmful or useless. Although I personally think there should be a great deal more independence of action and fluidity of curriculum, our current education system serves a purpose in terms of acculturation, child care, socialization and other elements that society wants.

But a key factor for intellectual development is exposure to what’s possible. At the K-12 level, students are introduced to many different subjects. At the college level, most of our students are subject to a multi-disciplinary curriculum. (In this case, the term “curriculum” refers to the package of courses taken for a degree.) In a world of completely independent, self-guided learning, the learner would pursue areas of interest to fulfill his/her own perceived needs. But colleges have General Education, curriculum developed with the deliberate purpose of exposing students to subjects they might otherwise not encounter. I can cite numerous circumstances of individuals who came to college with one major, but graduated with another, or who found their intellectual direction in classes they didn’t want to take.

The battle seems to be for the minds of people in their formative years, who are in the current system distinct in their role as students, their institutionalized instructional guidance, and their exposure to multiple subjects. To replace our educational system with completely self-guided learners could mean premature specialization, and a lack of exposure to non-familiar subjects.

Learner Student Educated Person Scholar
Directedness self school self self
Motivation immediate need grades/status/degree subject learning intellectualism/status
Likely age any, begins as baby key formative years any adult graduate school and up
Likely diversity of subjects explored low high moderate low
Information source varied, depends on access and desire institutional, guided by instructor varied, depends on access and desire data, research

It seems likely to me that what makes someone an educated person (not just a student or a learner) is diversity. And while I would certainly agree that diversity of learning methods in our schools and colleges could be improved, drastically, I’m not certain that the cost should be diversity of subjects to which students are exposed. My objective in my job is helping students become educated people who know how to learn, an ontological goal to which I’ve dedicated much of my adult life.

Educated people, the “enlightened public”, have always included the ranks of the self-educated. But the vast majority of educated people, who can now learn for their own ends while at the same time recognizing the need for service to society, are dominated by those who found their way in a guided environment. In fact, many of us learned in opposition to those educational institutions, fighting the norms we found overly restrictive in our formative years. It wasn’t necessary to determine our own educational objectives to determine our destiny. Many must become learners (with self-direction and motivation determined by biology) and students (forced to see the variety of human knowledge whether initially interested or not), to become truly educated.

[Note: this class has made me quite topsy-turvy — at work I am an innovative teacher, here I’m just an “educator” — everywhere else I am considered a radical, but here I become a traditionalist — I am a supporter of Rousseau and John Holt, but here I am arguing for our current system….]

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