Authentic Learning using Networked Communities

Jasmeet Virk compares his education with textbooks, libraries and teachers to the abundance of educational content now available on the web, including The Exploratorium and virtual field trips, looking at how communities of learning and inquiry based learning affect the learning place whilst using these types of resources.

In full

Advertisements

City schools aims to empower students through technology

by Deneesha Edwards at TheDispatch

A review by Lexington City Board of Education of educational priorities included

Through its technology plan, Lexington City Schools wants to increase students’ collaborative problem solving skills, empower self-directed lifelong learners and teach ethical responsibility through digital media and electronic communication

In full

Towards Peeragogy

At DML Central Howard Rheingold shares his experiences with students collaborating using a range of social software, how groups interacted with each other and how they build a community of co-learners.

It’s not exactly a matter of making my own role of teacher obsolete. If we do this right, I’ll learn more about facilitating others to self-organize learning.

In full

Learning for the future

Phil Race describes the difference in the roles of educators as information has become more accessible, available and technologies have developed. He outlines what he believes are factors of successful learning and touches on what is being measured.

“We need to modernise our assessment tactics to be more online, more digital, more virtual, more face-to-face, more use of social media technologies, and more interactive. We know that assessment drives learning – just ask students. But as long as assessment is predominantly (hand)written, learning in higher education will continue to lag behind other aspects of our advancing civilisation.”

In full

And speaking of measuring learning, registration available for Learning Analytics and Knowledge 2012 in Vancouver, Canada – 29th April – 2nd May

If You’re Human, You’re a Slow Learner #change11

By Andrew Neuendorf

Sometimes the Web can make a beautiful, serendipitous nexus. Whilst pursuing two seemingly separate lines of thought in two seemingly separate universes (integral philosophy on Beams and Struts and education theory on the Change MOOC) I discovered a connection that makes me a little less schizophrenic and a little more dialectic.

Here’s my little self-absorbed tale of discovery: Jeremy Johnson commented on my Beams and Struts article (“The Singularity is Near-Sighted”) and recommended William Irwin Thompson’s wonderfully-titled  “The Borg or Borges?” Here Thompson revisits one of his key concepts from Coming Into Being, that consciousness is a delay-space where different inputs from the senses are cross-referenced and their interactions stabilized, giving rise to a unique emergent self-awareness. Time is sort of slowed-down so that some of its components can get to know each other, exchange echoes, and establish a perspective.

In other words, human consciousness is the result of slowing down.

As Thompson so eloquently puts it:

Fast is fine for the programmed crystalline world of no surprises and no discoveries, but slow is better for the creative world of erotic and intellectual play.

This fits nicely with Clark Quinn’s Week 13 presentation on Slow Learning. Quinn writes in his opening blog post:

Really, I’m looking to start matching our technology more closely to our brains. Taking a page from the slow movement (e.g. slow X, where X = food, sex, travel, …), I’m talking about slow learning, where we start distributing our learning in ways that match the ways in which our brains work: meaningfulness, activation and reactivation, not separate but wrapped around our lives, etc.

Slow is the way to go. We’ve gotten so used to outsourcing our cognition to machines, to opening multiple tabs, and craving faster connection speeds that we’ve overlooked the exquisite work of evolution. Some see the brain as a vehicle for rapid computation. Perhaps that steam pouring out of our ears isn’t mere by-product. Maybe we’ll slow down and see it’s really the driving spirit, and we’ve been blowing it off and letting it dissipate as waste. Not the ghost in the machine, but the ghostly machine.

Forget machine. Forget ghost. We could call it, to paraphrase Yeats, a sustained glimpse out of Spiritus Mundi. Or it could simply be the dance of complexity teaching its steps to the dancer, inviting improvisation for the first time.

Thompson says it best, in conjunction with John Keats:

The field of consciousness has more to do with slowness and a higher dimensionality, even beyond the three of the physical volume of the brain, in which hyperspheres— or some other higher dimensional topology — involve simultaneity in a neuronal synchrony — in a pattern. A mind, in the opening words of Keats’s ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’, is a ‘still unravished bride of quietness’, a ‘foster-child of silence and slow time’.

And now for the ironic part: I have made this connection between the cultural historian and mystically-mind Thompson and learning technology strategist Clark Quinn because of the internet, because I was taking on more than one field of study at once, and because of Twitter, blogs, and .pdf files.

In other words, I’m writing about slowing down because I’ve been living fast.

If there is a lesson here, it’s that we need a new term and a new understanding for how a person can live and think and create in relation to technology without having to adopt one of the two polarities of Luddite or Techie. If you’ve read my Beams and Struts article you know I’m skeptical of The Singularity. Still, our lives are interconnected with technology, and likely made better because of it. It’s a matter of how one stands in relation to technology. Is it a tool, or are you?

The writings of both Thompson and Quinn suggest giving precedence (and prescience) to human consciousness over its hyper technological extensions.

#Change11 Traineeship Programs and Cynefin Framework based on Dave Snowden – Part 1

by John Mak

Jenny Mackness summarises in her post on the presentation by Dave Snowden.  I am impressed by Dave’s saying: “There are whole tracts of knowledge that can only be understood through interaction, e.g. through an apprenticeship model of education, which allows for imitation and failure, such as for London taxi drivers. Failure is key to human knowledge acquisition.” That sounds practical, as we have been adopting such an apprenticeship model of education here in Australia – with on-the-job training for the last 2 decades. To a great extent, I reckon it is one of the best ways of learning through practical hands on- deep down to earth learning.  The merits with such learning is that apprentices and trainees could actually follow through with the gaining of skills that they could apply on the jobs, reinforcing the experience, and thus allow for reflection of what works and what doesn’t in their particular fields.  This apprenticeship and traineeship on the job model of learning has also been highly valued as one of the situated learning – a model of learning where “Learning begins with people trying to solve problems.[4] When learning is problem based, people explore real life situations to find answers, or to solve the problems. Hung’s study focuses on how important being social is to learning. In believing that learning is social, Hung adds that learners who gravitate to communities with shared interests tend to benefit from the knowledge of those who are more knowledgeable than they are. He also says that these social experiences provide people with authentic experiences. When students are in these real-life situations they are compelled to learn. Hung concludes that taking a problem-based learning approach to designing curriculum carries students to a higher level of thinking.[4]

To what extent is the above claims valid? There are lots of problems waiting for us to solve, especially when one is at work, or studying in a course, or immersing in networks or communities, or in gaming, even having personal informal study, as part of the life-long or life-wide learning, or in the case of learning a particular skill as a hobby or interest.  For instance, if I want to learn how to play badminton, then I would likely try it myself, and watch others playing in the court, or watch some of the videos on Youtube, in order to understand some of the basic techniques, and thus could practice the skills when playing.  I could also share some of my experiences with others, or ask others for help, so as to improve my knowledge or skills.  As a disclosure, badminton is my favorite sport.  If one is learning how to cook, then he or she would likely watch some of the videos on cooking, checking with cookbooks on the recipes, and trying to cook different dishes at home.  However, would one become a chef just by doing that?  Not likely? I learnt that most chefs have acquired the skills through apprenticeship programs.

I just happened to discuss with the owner of the restaurant today, and he shared with me his experience as a chef before becoming an owner.  Surely, he learnt through immersion into the particular trade (as a chef), and so it is different from that of an amateur.  I like cooking too, but I could only do some very basic dishes, like fried rice, fried noodles, porridge or soup, but would never be able to achieve that level of mastery of the chef, without more expertise training and guidance.  To this end, I am impressed with Dave’s mention about the importance of training as a generalist, rather than a specialist, and that: “In universities we are training recipe book users and assessing whether they can reproduce the recipe. We are not training chefs who can achieve a huge amount without a recipe. Chefs have a mix of practical and theoretical wisdom and willingness to engage conceptually and theoretically with real world problems.” as cited by Jenny on Dave’s presentation.  So, it is important to have an open mindset in order to develop those expertise, likely through learning with more knowledgeable others, and or training on the job or workplace.  Is traineeship the solution then?

How about the effectiveness of traineeship model? The report states that: “The findings suggest that traineeships are an important pathway for female early school leavers. However, traineeships are poorly targeted if the target group is disadvantaged young people.”

There are concerns what traineeship program should be aiming for, whether it is more relating to provide avenues of training for those unemployed or disadvantaged people who would like to pursue a trade or the skills acquisition, both for new entrance and those currently employed on the job, for upgrading and/or recognising their skills.  This up-to-date report on traineeship provides the details with recommendations.

It has been revealed that most “trainees” could learn the skills on the job, and for those who are existing workers with years of experience (veterans in particular), what are necessary would be a reinforcement of their skills to ensure that they are kept up-to-date and so it is more aligned with recognition of their competency, though certain skills acquisition would surely happen with the introduction and application of new and emerging technology at work.  I reckon a simple to complicated scenarios would be sufficient for the “training” of most of these trainees.

For new entrance trainees, especially those early school leavers, or unemployed people, I could see the needs falling into a number of patterns, with a wide spectrum of skills.  For most of the early school leavers, their interests may lie more with the hands-on manual, technical or technological, administrative and clerical work, which may range from cooking and catering, hospitality and hotel work, office administration, warehousing, transport and distribution, freight forwarding, automobiles, mechanics, fitting and machining, performance arts, ICT, child care, nursing, finance and accounting, finance etc.  So, the emphasis here is on the skills for a particular trade or profession, though there are also strong emphasis on knowledge, where the trainees are expected to “acquire” such knowledge (like health and safety, legislation, company rules and regulations, procedures, products and services, and general knowledge on ICT and customer service) in order to perform the job to the standards required. I reckon the scenarios most likely fall into the simple (in majority) scenarios, where systems, processes and procedures would determine the best practice, and training would more likely be based on the supervision by their supervisors, or trainers, though institutional teaching and facilitation would also be incorporated to reinforce the knowledge and skills learnt through the job.  The challenge for  the training of disadvantaged or unemployed people is that most institutions would need to provide those on-the-job experience for them to actually practice the skills.  On some occasions, simulated working or virtual learning environments were introduced to augment the classroom training.   The use of authentic learning in a classroom setting may be a good alternative to solving this problem.

Are these skills and knowledge the same or different from the literacies cited in various reports?  See Keith’s post Here.

Two Rules for Teaching in the XXIst Century

By Daniel Lemire who has kindly licensed under CCA/NC-ND 3.o Unported , please note that his blog licenses commercial use under Creative Commons 2.0

Education in the XXth century has been primarily industrial: organize the workersstudents in groups under the supervision of a managerteacher.

We all have been in such systems for so long that we take it for granted. How else is anyone to learn? Maybe some can learn differently, but most can’t because they are unmotivated and lazy, they lack the critical skills to differentiate right from wrong on their own and they can’t assess their own level of expertise. At least, that is what I’m told, but I think it is unfair.

To me, this is like saying that we have to keep long-time prisoners in jail because they do not know how to organize themselves when given their freedom.

Indeed, if students who went through years of schooling cannot learn on their own, if they cannot assess their own progress, and if they generally cannot organize themselves without supervision, we have to wonder whether schools bear part of the blame. And I think they do: we enroll students in supervised and regimented systems where they are constantly told what to do, constantly tested by others and where they have to follow rigid rules as to what they should learn. It is no surprise that many students cannot work on their own when they leave school.

There are a few broken individuals who never really became adults. They have to be kept in check all the time because they could not survive on their own. But if these constituted the essential part of the human race, we would have gone extinct a long time ago. Our ancestors, not long ago, had to survive in small bands hunting small animals and grabbing whatever they could eat. They had to be incredibly resilient because human beings spread throughout the globe like no other animal species.

To put it bluntly, most people lack autonomy, they can’t be entrepreneurs, precisely because we have carefully beaten it out of them. I have two young kids and they are crazy. One of them is building a castle out of paper in his room. The project is huge and complicated and has worked on it for days, on his own, without anyone telling him what to do. He made mistakes (which he explained to me) and he had to fix them. How often do schools let students embark on self-directed projects? Almost never.

My sons are not exceptional. Like other kids their age, they behave in unconventional ways, trying crazy things on their own, having crazy thoughts on their own. Eventually, with enough schooling, they will settle down and do as they are told in a more reliable manner. They will become very good at following directions.

How good will they be at emulating someone like Steve Jobs, who repeatedly broke all rules? I fear for them that their sense of initiative and wonder will be killed by the time they finish their schooling. (Thankfully, I am a crazy dad with crazy ideas, so maybe I will mitigate the damage.)

Hence, as a teacher, I reject the industrial model as much as I can. I believe that, in an ideal world, we would not need any teaching at all. There is hardly anything you can’t learn through an apprenticeship. For example, if you just helped out Linus Torvalds for a couple of years, you could become an expert programmer. In fact, I suspect you would fare much better than if you just took programming classes.

The problem with apprenticeship is that it scales poorly. How much patience will Linus Torvalds will have for kids who hardly know anything about computers? How many could he coach? Would he want to have kids over at his house while he is coding?

We still use the apprenticeship model in graduate school. But to accommodate most students, I still haven’t thought of a better model than setting up classes. But should the classes be organized like factories with the teacher acting as a middle-manager while students act as factory employees, executing tasks one after the other while we assess and time them? I think not. My teaching philosophy is simple: challenge the student, set him in motion, and provide a model. I try to be as far from the industrial model as I can, while remaining within the accepted boundaries of my job. I have two rules when it comes to teaching:
•Focus on open-ended assignments and exams. Many professors are frustrated that students come in only for the grades. Probably because they focus on nice lectures and then prepare hastily some assignments. Turn this problem on its head! Focus on the assignments. If your students are not very autonomous — and they rarely are — give several long and challenging assignments (at least 4 or 5 a term). Do make sure however that they know where to get the information they need. Provide solved problems to help the weaker students.
However, keep the assignments open ended. We all like to grade multiple choice questions, but they are a pedagogical atrocity. In life, there is rarely one best answer: assignments should reflect that. In some of my classes I use “programming challenges”: I make up some difficult problem and ask the students to find the best possible solution. Often times, there is no single idea solution, but multiple possibilities, all with different trade-offs. Quite often the students ask me to be more precise: I refuse. I tell my students to justify their answer. Over the years, I have been repeatedly impressed by the ingenuity of my students. Many of them are obviously smarter than I am.

What about lecture and lecture notes? They are secondary. In most fields, the content, the information, is already out there. It has been organized several times over by very smart people. Books have been written on most topics. There is a growing set of great talks available on YouTube, Google Video and elsewhere. Your students do not need you to rehash the same content they can find elsewhere, sometimes in better form. Stop lecturing already! Just link to what is out there and encourage your students to find more using a search engine. Only produce content when you really cannot find the equivalent elsewhere. Please link to material beyond the grasp of most of your students: they need to know the limit of their knowledge.

The famous software engineering guru Fred Brooks agrees with me:

The primary job of the teacher is to make learning happen; that is a design task. Most of us learned most of what we know by what we did, not by what we heard or read. A corollary is that the careful designing of exercises, assignments, projects, even quizzes, makes more difference than the construction of lectures.

For my years as a student, I hardly remember the lectures. They were overwhelmingly boring. And I soon learned that even if a teacher was remarkably able and he could give me the impression that I understood everything… this impression was quickly falsified when I tried to work the material on my own.

•Be an authentic role model. Knowing that someone ordinary, like your professor, has become a master of the course material means that you, the very-smart-student, can do the same. That’s the power of emulation.
When Sebastian Thrun gave his open AI class at Stanford, tens of thousands of students enrolled. Sure enough, the Stanford badge played a role in the popularity of the course, but ultimately, it is Thrun himself, as a role model, that matters. He has now left Stanford to create his own independent organization (Udacity). Thrun must be confident about his success since he left his tenured position at Stanford, reportedly because he cannot stand the regular (industrial-style) teaching required at Stanford. One upcoming course is “programming a robotic car”. I have no idea how good the course will be, but it will be motivating for students to attend the class of the world’s top expert in the field of robotic car.

The status of the teacher as an expert has always been important. However, the ability of people like Thrun to reach thousands of people every year through his teaching means that there is less of a market for teachers who aren’t impressive AI researchers.

Unfortunately, as long as I teach within a university, there are a few things I am stuck with:
•Deadlines: Some students are able to go through the material of a class in 4 weeks. Others would need 16 months. Alas, universities have settled on a fixed number of weeks that everyone must follow. If you complete the course faster, you’ll still have to wait till the end of the term to get credit. If you need more time, you will have to make special arrangements. Of course, schools follow the factory model: we can’t have workers come in and finish whenever they want. But outside an industrial setting, I think that deadlines are counterproductive. If I take a class in computing theory and end up proving that P is equal to NP, but I end up my paper a few weeks after the end of the course, I will still fail. Meanwhile, the good student who followed the rules but showed a total lack of initiative and original thinking will go home with a great grade. What do we reward and what do we punish?
•Grades: Grades are a very serious matter in schools. Denis Rancourt, a top-notch tenured physicist at the University of Ottawa, was fired after refusing to grade his students. (He would give A+s to everyone.) Grades are effectively the quality control mechanism of schools, where students are the product. Somehow, we have totally integrated the idea that we could sum up an individual by a handful of letters. It sure makes managing people convenient! It all fits nicely in a spreadsheet. Of course, students have adapted by cheating. Schools have reacted by making cheating harder. But I cheated all the way through my undergraduate studies getting almost perfect score in all classes. How? I discovered a little trick: at the University of Toronto, all past year exams were available at the library. If you took time to study them, you soon found out that, at least in the hard sciences, a given professor would always use the same set of 10 to 20 questions, year after year. So all you had to do was to go to the library, study the questions, prepare them, and voilà! An easy A. But it is all rather pointless. In theory, grades are used by employers to select the best students, but serious employers don’t do this. We use grades to select the best candidates for graduate school, but I doubt there is a good correlation between grades as an undergraduate and research ability. I know two top-notch researchers who have admitted getting poor grades as undergraduates. For years, I have served on a government committee that awards post-doctoral fellowships: I am amazed at how poor the undergraduate grades are at predicting how well someone might do during his Ph.D. Conversely, I have seen many graduate students who had nearly perfect scores throughout their undergraduate studies who are totally unable to show even just a bit of initiative. They do well as long as you always give them precise directions.

Credit: Thanks to Michiel van de Panne for the reference to Brooks’ quote.

Further reading: Making universities obsolete by Matt Welsh, an interesting fellow who left his tenured position at Harvard to go work in industry.

Disclaimer: Many people are better and more sophisticated teachers than I am. And the industrial model does work remarkably well in some settings. Yet I think that they the skills it fails to favor are increasingly important. We have to stop training people for factory jobs that are never coming back.

Open Government Data *wince* it’ll take a while… Open Education – next September? No probs

by Emma Mulqueeny

Emma reviews the recent Michael Gove announcement at BETT regarding the move towards open education as opposed to traditional curricular models and mentions that

“out of all the 28,000 teachers who qualified in 2010, 3 – THREE – were computer science majors. Three chose to go into teaching, the rest chose to reward their hard-earned degree in the City, or on their own start-ups”

Leon mentions in the discussion

“What people still don’t get is that there is a massive cultural shift in progress involving how people meet and learn and that it often has nothing to do with the institutional side of education but can be co-opted by it. I know it’s unfashionable but we are talking pedagogy and epistemology here. How and why people learn what they learn and the reasons for learning. The fact that any government leaves it up for grabs means it could either be sidelined or it could be harnessed.”

Full post & discussion

 

#Change 11 – Halfway Point Reflections

by Jenny Mackness

Well it’s time to take stock a bit – not the ideal time – with Xmas looming and everything that entails and needs thinking about  – mostly food. Every year I cannot believe how much food is consumed :-)

But how much of Change MOOC have I consumed and what are my tentative and first reflections at this point.

There have been 14 weeks of presentations and activities and I managed to keep up with all of them but two (and I may yet get to the two I missed – that is the beauty of this type of course) :

Week 01 : Orientation
Week 02: Zoraini Wati Abas
Week 03: Martin Weller
Week 04: Allison Littlejohn
Week 05: David Wiley
Week 06: Tony Bates
Week 07: Rory McGreal
Week 08: Nancy White
Week 09: Dave Cormier
Week 10: Eric Duval
Week 11: Jon Dron
Week 12: Clark Aldrich
Week 13: Clark Quinn
Week 14: Jan Herrington

I have found it fascinating  and very enjoyable on a number of levels.

  • I have been intrigued by which elements of the MOOC have been changed and which have been kept the same as previous CCK type MOOCs and have noted that this MOOC has had more of a conference style than previous MOOCs.
  • I have really enjoyed the range of different presenters, with their different styles and the different tasks they have set. Although not many people, including myself, have responded to the tasks, I still think these are a very valuable part of the course, as they help us to understand what is important to the presenters.
  • Some of the MOOC presentations have fed directly into research I am doing to the point where I have been anxious about whether we (my colleagues and I) can get our research out in time, before it has all been said and discussed already. There has been the element of trying to keep up with the ongoing conversations and work out how they relate to our research – and consider whether our research is going out of date as we do it!
  • The MOOC topics have helped me to feel more abreast of current discussions and issues in relation to learning, networked learning and e-learning. Some of what I have learned in the past 12 weeks that I have attended has already fed into a research paper that has been submitted and accepted, and into a forthcoming project.

<!–nextpage–>

What have I found difficult or what would I change?

Despite my blog post ‘Doubts about slow learning’ there is no doubt that I am a slow thinker, reader and learner – not by choice, but simply by capability – so I have found the weekly change of topic very difficult to keep up with.  For most weeks I have managed to find the time – but for a couple of weeks, I gave in and recognized that other priorities were higher on my list.

On the other hand – you can’t get bored when the topic changes weekly – so there is a fine balance to be maintained here and I suppose everyone’s personal balance point will depend on his or her personal context.

What have I done differently this time?

I have now participated in 6 MOOCs and written 5 research papers as a result – either loosely or closely related. I realize that I am all the time slowly learning more about how to participate in MOOCs and each time I approach it a bit differently. This time, I wanted to make more of an effort to make connections across the MOOC network. I have not been brilliant at this, as I still haven’t spent enough time reading other people’s blog or Twitter posts, but I have tried to respond to anyone who has commented on my blog. If I’ve missed anyone it is because of lack of skills, organization etc. rather than intent.

Initial reflections

I am all the time reflecting on what it means to learn and participate in MOOCs and why I find this way of learning so intriguing. I notice that Heli (who I met in CCK08) is also thinking about this. What is interesting for me, is that in my ‘day job’, i.e. the job that earns the money – only a few have so far been interested in MOOC pedagogy as Heli calls it. But I sense that this is changing. I remember talking about CCK08 to a group of academics in 2009 and being met by a wall of blank faces. That group is now hoping to design a course on MOOC principles. Exciting times!

I think participation in Change11 has not been that high – but personally I don’t see that as a problem. As I have mentioned before in a post – a colleague once said to me that however small the numbers, those who are at the table are those who are meant to be there.  I always find that very helpful.

There have also been those who have missed having a central discussion forum, e.g. a Moodle forum as we had in CCK08 – but personally I am OK with no central forum – in fact I sincerely hope that Stephen, George and Dave stick to their principles of how they think learning in MOOCs should be modeled, demonstrated and exemplified and don’t get swayed by low engagement figures to cave in and provide more structured courses. For me – the whole point is to recognize that we need to learn in distributed open spaces and educators need to help learners to develop the skills to do this.

20-12-11 Postscript

Evidently I was wrong about the low engagement – which is good to hear. :-) Here are the figures that Stephen has posted on his blog today

it’s not really that low, in my view: in addition to the more than 2000 people receiving the daily newsletter, we’ve had 38,000 visits and 135,000 pages read during the 14 weeks of the course – and that’s just on the main site, not counting all the Twitter and blog posts read on other sites. And the have been 1300 blog posts harvested and almost 2500 tweets – you can read 766 blog posts online.

Technophobia has no place in education

A recent article in the tes looks at how mobile and computing devices have historically been banned which reinforces an older model of education where the teacher churns out teaching and collaboration is restricted. The author mentions a school where they are investigating use of devices on an individual basis but the devices will not be allowed outside of the school itself, restricting learning within a specific environment and context. He notes the need for real change for learner autonomy in the future:

http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6162155