Lisa’s CCK08 Wordpress Blog

November 6, 2008

Paper #2: Insurgence for Emergence

Filed under: papers,Week 9 — Lisa M Lane @ 4:58 am

As social needs change, so do educational methods and the desired “role” of the educator. At present, there appear to be two roles for educators in western societies, each reflecting society’s conceptions of teachers. The Lecturer is the font of all knowledge, and relays information through didactic methods, telling the students what they should know and thus writing on their Lockean tabula rasa. The other role is Facilitator, mediation using Socratic techniques to help students discover the same knowledge, but through a different discussion-based method. The recent popularity of (and fears about) this latter method has led to a societal demand for a further role for teachers, Accountant. Teachers are held responsible for demonstrating that particular outcomes are achieved through assessments. This role was created by authorities, legislators responding to social critics calling for “accountability”, as if education were a measurable social investment instead of a public good.

Since the roles are viewed as oppositional, they are usually presented as the only two methods. At the college level, where the Accountant role is only just slipping in, the lesson in recent years is that we must be less a Lecturer and more a Facilitator. The instructors using more “active learning” methods are seen as the classroom innovators. The division between Lecturer and Facilitator may be an introduction to the problem, but it misses the larger issue of creating learning environments. As George Siemens’ writes, “I’m rather sick of ‘sage on stage’ and ‘guide on the side’ comparisons. The clear dichotomy chafes” (2007). Active learning and facilitation creates a more participatory learning environment, but its basis is still in the learning of the individual via the method controlled by the instructor. It is “learner-centered” but not “learner-directed”. What if instructor control were substantially less, and the learner far more independent than even the facilitation model allows?

Connectivist learning theory presents the possibility that the neural networks of the brain, and the natural tendencies of social networks, could be used as models for formal learning. The emphasis is on the instructor creating an appropriate learning environment and providing access to resources rather than controlling learning through either lecturing or facilitation. Connectivist roles thus look different, although each deals with the balance between control and freedom.

The Curator role, presented By George Siemens on his Connectivism Blog, is part museum curator and part Clarence Fisher‘s “network administrator”. This viewpoint provides enough control to allow the continued role of educator as facilitator and guide:

An expert (the curator) exists in the artifacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But she’s behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map.

Curators, however, control not only which items are on display, but what the tags say. Freedom is built in because the “path” through material need not be indicated, allowing for greater exploration and individual interpretation.

The Master Artist role emphasizes modeling for students. I currently use a Master Craftsman model myself, which emphasizes constructionism more than just observing the artist at work. These models use metacognition about the learning process as a tool, as in Phelps’ ideas about making learning more explicit in non-linear complexity-based learning. The Craftsman also emphasizes the development of skills that can be used and adapted to many fields. In my discipline, History, I teach that the pattern of facts -> interpretation -> analysis can be used not only to construct arguments in history, but to understand any discipline. Elements of patterning, wayfinding, and sensemaking (as Siemen’s Instructional Design and Connectivism week 7 introduction indicated), can be taught through any discipline.

A more open role would be that of Organic Gardener, where learners are like plants. Gardeners allow a great deal of freedom, but encourage desirable patterns (Kurtz and Snowden 466). They are prepared for chaos and are aware that the uncoordinated actions of the lower orders can result in higher levels of action, as in Bullock’s emergent learning in chaotic systems. The edges of the garden metaphor emerged in this course in Carlos González Casares discussion of Node Gardens, and more specifically in Eyal Silvan’s comment in the chat room during the October 21 Elluminate session: “metaphor alert: it sounds less like building a house, more like growing a garden… all you can do is steer the students, but you can’t really “plan” anything…“. Inez Whipples’ blog post used this to remark that the process of learning “looks less like building a house and more like planting a garden”, and Stephen Downes’ referred to instructional design as “seeding” the environment in the session on October 24, 2008. An organic gardener creates only the conditions in which plants can thrive, and while control is evident in the choice of what to plant, unexpected life is taken as a boon so long as it does not destroy what was planted.

The impediments to implementing such connective classroom learning are many. The accounting super-environment of schools encourages the reduction of natural complexity in learning, as population and financial pressure creates groups of students too small to be diverse, too large to be taught individually, and too trapped into an annual ‘course’ system to encourage free opportunities for learning. These can be seen as the “initial conditions” (Siemens 2008) in the ecology of classroom instruction as it exists. While the ideal may be overthrowing the old system, bureaucracies do not change this way.

What we face is a lack of magic. Aware of increasing access to information and resources via the web, we envision a world of self-motivated learners, unhampered by bureaucratic straight-jackets and obedience training. We want to use new technologies to bring them the world, controlling their learning only so they don’t hurt themselves or others. We want them to learn like we learn, through connections and discovery. We want assessment of learning to be based on personal empowerment of knowledge rather than passing tests and earning degrees. Ultimately, then, we want the role of Wizard. The ultimate power, not to control people, but to change the system.

The solution is subversive application of connectivist and other useful learning ideas within the current structure, an insurgence for the purpose of fostering emergence. In addition to being an appropriate response to the hyper-controlling accounting being demanded by authorities, this sneakier approach is necessary because of another impediment: the difficulty students have becoming self-directed learners, having been trained all their lives to be reliant on the instructor. As noted in the session with Alec Couros, the main problem with too much openness is people’s inability to handle it in an appropriate manner. This problem is the same whether we’re talking about politeness in Moodle forums, the stupidity of crowds, or the difficulty of requiring students to “think for themselves”. As Ruth Duggan noted in the Moodle forum of October 30, “Rather than the teacher having the ‘power’ it is about empowering students to learn.” Having not been given this power, it’s necessary to take it. Our new role is Insurgent, creating a better way by undermining the system.



  1. Nice metaphor Lisa. I never thought I’d see myself as an insurgent, but I guess in many ways we each do have to take things into our own hands. Like artists in times of change, we’re called to shake things up a bit, and to ask our audience (students, parents, teachers, administrators) to consider alternate points of view.

    Comment by Rodd Lucier — November 6, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

  2. Lisa,

    Your mention of “obedience training” re-sparked my web search for a serious effort to change the architecture of the classroom.

    The following quote sums up the issue nicely.

    From: More on 21st Century Classroom design

    Begin quote———–
    Classrooms must reflect the learning paradigm we use and the audience we are addressing. Fundamentally classroom design has not changed for[m] since the 19th century. The rooms are still design[ed] to be teacher centered, board focused (no matter what the board is – blackboard, whiteboard or interactive whiteboard).
    ————-end quote

    I did find a blog of a researcher that is looking at this:

    She interested me in the idea of learning spaces/commons. These are now usually attached to a library. However, it may be possible to use the learning commons concept as a starting point to create a more relaxed (physical) classroom design. The learning space design does sacrifice the built in “obedience” cues (rows of desks facing front) but enables the instructor to develop appropriate way-finding without having to overcome the inappropriate room and furnishings.


    Comment by Bob Bell — November 6, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  3. Hi Lisa. I like very much how you have laid out the various teaching typologies. I confess I am having some difficulty distinguishing between the Curator and the Facilitator models, as described.

    I very much like the concept of wizard. An interesting view of this archetype is presented by Carol Pearson (1986) The Hero Within: Six Archetypes We Live by. I see this model as a sort of synthesis of Master modeller/Socratic approaches, playing and participating in the garden, using whatever tools are available, working within any ’emergent’ learner directions, proferring content and debating it, probing for depth while distributing breadth of topic. I am not sure about the application as an insurgent movement.

    The wizard model could be taken a step further, with the Teacher assuming the role of ‘Fool’ as in court jester. Perhaps in this role insurgency could be conducted.

    However, I wonder that there will ever be a world where passing tests and earning accreditation will cease. How do you feel about this statement:

    Man(kind) is the measure of all things. (including themselves?)

    Comment by Ken Anderson — November 6, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  4. Hi Lisa
    Very interesting article, thank you for your thoughtfulness. I would particularly like to comment on “the main problem with too much openness is people’s inability to handle it in an appropriate manner”. Yes, I agree. The transition to more freedom for learners (and their facilitators) has had its problems in the education system. There are changes though, one by one, leading to pockets of difference. Teaching people (early in their education) to “handle it” is by far the best way to facilitate change in the system and the people in it.

    Amazing things are happening in schools that choose to make emotional intelligence part of the curriculum – from the principals right through. Not only are reportable incidents down by greater than two-thirds, numeracy and literacy skill scores have gone through the roof, with NO more focus on those skills than before. It can be done. The system can be changed from the inside out. Once others begin to see and become curious at the anomaly in particular schools, ideas will be exchanged, and connectivism will bring about a ripple effect that will not be stopped.

    On the other hand, I do think some kind of assessment will still be required – that will change too to meet the needs of the “changees”.

    Kind regards
    Jenni Wright

    Comment by Jenni Wright — November 6, 2008 @ 7:46 pm

  5. Very nice paper. Wow, what use of metaphor – over the top!

    Comment by mkfrie — November 6, 2008 @ 10:47 pm

  6. I really connected to this piece. I’m currently teaching an online course in which, except for one substantial paper, all of the students’ grade is comprised of student-driven discussions. It’s a totally new and exciting thing for both me and the students. It’s working very well, however, this approach scared off more than half the class in the first week and we’ve dwindled to just 13 students here in the last third of the class (45 from the start). Those that remain are doing a fabulous job, and I’m so impressed with them and their insights! I’m afraid though, that this pedogogical technique has failed. Your thoughts?

    Comment by Becky — November 7, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

  7. Fabulous post Lisa, it is obvious how much you enjoy engaging with this material. I agree with the other comments about your terrific metaphors which show a real depth of understanding.

    In our workplace the insurgents have been chipping away for some time trying to change the culture. What we have noticed in the last few months is the number of “newbies” who are putting up their heads for first look into these spaces and wanting to have a go. They come sometimes with almost no understanding of the hardware (that lovely coffee cup holder which appears when you push the button)or the software (what exactly is an email attachment?). But it does show that the early groundwork is having an impact and some really valuable conversations are occurring with people who were very anti any change at all.

    Comment by Grant — November 8, 2008 @ 3:45 pm

  8. Hi Lisa!

    It’s always a joy to come and visit. From where I stood, not working for someone else anymore, the role of Insurgent is the most appropriate. The School System won’t change soon and we need to work from the inside out.

    I like your views, your role empowers the teacher. Instead of remaining in an eternal complaint you have opened a door.

    Great metaphor! See you. Maru :X

    Comment by Maru del Campo — November 8, 2008 @ 6:39 pm

  9. @Rodd I like the parallel to artists who have to shake up people’s complacency now and then.

    @Becky: I’ve been wanting to write a post on my one big experiment doing exactly this several years ago, except the “products” were independently designed displays of their knowledge. The drop rate was huge — something like 65% dropped the class because they couldn’t handle the independence. The group that stayed, my goodness, not only were they able to achieve the most amazing things (I recall distinctly the art, the fashion show, the film about gliding), they formed lasting friendships and I get emails from them about how they’re doing years later. The class influenced their lives in a way that had little to do with the discipline. But I could not afford that kind of drop rate. It was during a period when our administration was looking very closely at retention (which they have used as an excuse to not permit people to teach online).

    @B-ob: Funny you should mention libraries — I was thinking yesterday how so many schools have mentally sidelined the library because you can just “find it on the web”, and how very wrong that is. The library is the heart of this, the hub, the place to explore and learn how to explore.

    @Grant: interesting about the newbies. I get very cynical when people start saying the new people will solve everything because they’re “tech savvy” — most bring in the same perspective as when I was hired 20 years ago. But yes, gradually, folks are coming around.

    Comment by Lisa — November 9, 2008 @ 6:48 am

  10. […] learning often leads to deeper understanding and comprehension of the subject matter. But, as Lisa states in her second paper for CCK08 “[a]ctive learning and facilitation creates a more participatory learning environment, but […]

    Pingback by CCK08 “Paper” #2 - The Changing Roles of Educators | All The Young (Edu)Punks — November 9, 2008 @ 4:16 pm

  11. […] post, “Paper” #2 for the CCK08 course. I’ve read some others’ papers (Lisa’s, Maru’s) and probably realized that I went in a different direction than maybe I’d […]

    Pingback by Reflections on The Changing Role of The Teacher - Week 9 | All The Young (Edu)Punks — November 11, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  12. […] is also important to reference Lisa Lane’s strategy for change in this context: The solution is subversive application of connectivist and […]

    Pingback by PLEs - antithetical to the current education system? « CCK08 - Viplav Baxi — December 13, 2008 @ 5:12 pm

  13. interesting about the newbies. I get very cynical when people start saying the new people will solve everything because they’re “tech savvy” — most bring in the same perspective as when I was hired 20 years ago. But yes, gradually, folks are coming around.

    Comment by OutsourceAccounting — December 24, 2008 @ 12:02 am

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