Sunday, October 7, 2007

The end of the holiday season

After several holidays and conferences I am back in the class room and on my blog. It is amazing how much is being written in the blogosphere in a couple of weeks time. It is impossible to catch up with all of that. The best option to get back into the routine of things is to abandon about a month's worth of web-postings and to slowly pick my way back into all the reading material.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Which side of the wall are you on?

It is nearly that time of year again, of the ALT-C conference. The biggest annual event on learning technology in the UK. I will be co-presenter with Clare Woodward of a short paper that will highlight some of our research in access, inclusion and Web 2.0 technologies. Is the new web 2.0 technology the panacea many claim it to be? And how influential is it to those who reside on the wrong side of the technological wall? About 43% of the UK population does not use technology and 25 percent of these people do not see any relevance of technology to their lives. There are those like Selwyn who doubt if Web 2.0 technology will enhance learning at all. The digital natives – digital immigrants typology by Prensky adds another dimension to the debate around the digital divide, and even the Net-generation seem to use it for fairly trivial activities related to chatting with their friends rather than the collaborative and constructivist learning experience envisaged by enthusiasts.

The potential of the latest web 2.0 and mobile technologies and the possibilities for personalisation, network and community forming they offer, place the learner at the centre of the learning experience, rather than the tutor and the institution, and could be instrumental in determining the content of the learning experience. By influencing education for all, they also revive the ideals of ‘adult education for liberation’ as argued by Illich and Freire. Their vision was to see people take ownership of the learning process, rather than institutions controlling their education.

We will discuss developments by drawing upon Illich’s considerations that education must be fit for purpose in relation to the personal, social and educational needs of participants. Moreover, it will explore the issues of ‘ownership of one’s own learning process’ and the extent to which the new social software tools enhance the learning experience.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Social networking for social enterprise

A Guardian article this morning announced the development, ready for the autumn, of a new social networking site, called Horsemouth. It will be designed, not for people who would like to share their individual day to day activities with others, but for people who would like to share more significant life-changing events, and are willing to help, mentor and support others through these events. It shows once again the potential of online social sites for informal learning and support and could be very useful for community organisations involved in developing support networks.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Britannica -Wikipedia

I have been busy writing a paper over the past weeks and had only had a glance at the discussions taking place on the Britannica blog on Web2.0. The piece by McHenry and the subsequent comments show how much 'ideas matter' to Britannica . They removed Stephen Downes' critical comments and in doing so showed that they didn't really have any intentions of true debate about Web2.0 and education, just a one-sided story to support their views: their experts are the only ones able to think and produce valid knowledge. By discarding other views they have shown that they don't adhere to their own principles for validating information. Most of us remember their attacks on Wikipedia as being a second-rate piece of work. The argument by McHenry shows a distinct lack of understanding of the societal impact of Web2.0 technologies.
Henry James from MIT shows he knows the issues in his blogposts on Wikipedia and media literacies. They go to the heart of current developments in networked information and knowledge. He follows the move away from expert knowledge towards collective knowledge, developed on online networks, perhaps in projects such as the Wikipedia or in games. People work together, develop skills and knowledge as they go along, learning from others in an informal way. He discusses four skills as most important to this: Collective intelligence: to be able to share knowledge and build knowledge together, which of course is not at the forefront of most educational programmes, where most assessments are individual projects; information literacy and critical analysis skills to ensure sound judgements are being made on information sources; networking skills, to be able to make the links to other people and information, sysnthesise and disseminate information; negotiation skils required to travel across networks, get involved in communities, adapt to a variety of cultures. I agree with these and if the education profession is serious about personalising the learning environment, and embedding it in students' other everyday activities, these are the skills student will require to foster a deeper level of learning. Educational institutions should think hard on how these skills could be embedded in the curriculum as they are undoutable what citizens of tomorrow need.
It is not helpful of traditional media to attack new developments, and even worse to use new media and not engage with them in the best possible way by distorting the discussions and deleting views that are not quite theirs.
Seth Finkelstein in TechnologyGuardian was wondering what the purpose of Britannica's involvement in blogging has been: to get involved in the technology as it seems unavoidable, or to just make use of the technology to create links to their own encyclopedia. I wonder.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Evolution or revolution?

An interesting debate is taking place on developments in secondary education. Graham Attwell can see the beginning of the end of traditional schooling. He sees the developments at Knowsley as a positive experiment where technology is being used in the way a number of leading learning technologists would like to see online networks and informal learning take over traditional class room based learning. The personal learning environment and the learner are at the centre and in control, with the teacher as a facilitating helper. In the comments area of his blog a reference is being made to Mr Read's blog, clearly a person with local insights who can see the disadvantages of the development. He points out that local realities might not quite justify the level of change and development instigated by the council.

Of course questions should be raised about the strategies being used for change. What works best in the end: rapid change following a clear vision, or a slow process of change that involves most stakeholders in an engaging way? In addition, a large group of learners is part of the Knowlsey experiment and it will not become clear for some time what their future will hold if the experiment fails.

Having been frustrated time and time again in a process of achieving change through evolution, I am quite charmed by the boldness of the revolutionary move in Merseyside. I have to say though that after about 7 years of chipping away at the curriculum from the margin while trying to incorporate technology in a meaningful way, we have achieved major changes that are carried by a large group of stakeholders. I feel that engaging most of the people involved in change will in the long run have a deeper impact than a revolutionary change imposed by outsiders or from above would have had. Time will tell if the Knowlsey development will have a positive outcome for all concerned!

Monday, June 25, 2007

How do you know?

Stephen Downes wrote a thought provoking blog posting last week. For now I'll only have time to give you his video presentation on Web2.0 learning, which is interesting in its own right. I will need some more time to respond to his posting.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

What is education for?

George Siemens has organised another online conference, this time on the future of education. Most of the discussion so far has centred around the effect of technology on education in the future. It seems to me that before thinking about how technology can enhance education, it would first be important to reflect on what the purpose of education is. Are we happy with the direction our politicians are taking it? Only when it is clear to us where we want to go with education, can we use technology to the best possible end to serve it.
Over the past decades, the focus of adult education for instance has changed considerably. It is being used more and more widely by politicians to ensure the upskilling of the work force in developed countries to serve the discourse of global competitiveness. Of course that has not always been the main aim of adult education. In the 70s Adult Education was seen as a great force for social change. Adult education has traditinally been important for personal development and growth in human beings. Not only skills development was seen as important, but also other aspects of a person, including emotional and social development. In the Guardian newspaper an interview with a remarkable headteacher of an independent school, Anthony Seldon, suggests that our educational institutions no longer educate with an emphasis on the development of the whole person, he argues that education has been replaced by instruction. He suggest that the views by Gardner who emphasised education to develop the human beings as a whole has been marginalised in favour of views where education mainly serves to develop the linguistic and ligical-mathematical intelligence. Personal, social, artistic, physical, spiritual/moral developments have taken a backseat. Seldon has changed the curriculum in his school to include lessons in happiness and wellbeing. 'Children need an owner's manual, so they can manage themselves. Manage their minds, their bodies, their emotions, their relationships. People come out of schools with no understanding of what anger is, what depression is, what anxiety is. They don't understand the importance of silence and stillness, of seeing what is there in the mind.'

I would like to see us reflect more on these issues, and perhaps move the balance back towards education where the emphasis is not mainly on cognitive development, but also on other aspects of our being, as in the end these will be more important in us as individuals living wisely together with others and subsequently for our world to be a more livable environment for us all.

Looking at what technology has done to this end, how it is currently being used and could be used to move towards a more holistic approach to education, I would have to say that in my view technology seems to have had a detrimental effect so far. The wide use of technology in the past decades has changed our relationship with the world and not always for the better. In adult education the initial driver has been to upskill the population, and in schools as well the main focus of the ICT curriculum has been to give people ICT skills that would be of use in an office environment. Of course the explosion of creative and social applications outside education, in particular the new wave of Web2.0 technologies has made that we can communicate more effectively with a wider group of people, but it is still not clear if all the features and hype that learning technologists see as exiting developments to change education will really be of value to move forward this kind of education. It will be important to not run with what the technology has to offer, but to use technology wisely.

Dreyfus and Spinoza (2006, 268 and 270): The approaching tide of technological revolution … could so captivate, bewitch and dazzle, and beguile man that calculative thinking may someday come to be accepted and practiced as the only way of thinking. … We can affirm the unavoidable use of technical devices, and also deny them the right to dominate us, and so warp, confuse, and lay waste our nature.

Mobile blogging

Just found out the delight of mobile blogging. I can't believe the ease with which I managed to send a photo of my garden, taken on my new mobile, to my blog. Isn't technology magical sometimes?

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Internet is growing, but the number of major sources is shrinking

Guardian Technology posted an article on the shrinking number of sources that most of use in using the web. Richard McManus commissioned some research in the number of Internet sited we use. The data showed that the Internet itself has grown by 77%, but that this does not mean that we use more sources on the Internet. The data actually showed that we use less sites, but the top 10 domains we use are proportionally increasing in seize. According to Mc Manus, the 'Top 10 domains account for 40% of the total pageviews on the internet - a 29% increase over the last five years'.
Social Networking sites as MySpace and YouTube have been important here. Carr in the Guardian also mentioned how many searches now bring up a Wikipedia entries.

Is this a good or a bad development? I would say it is good and bad. All of the top 10 domains are now owned by large corporations, who can influence what and how the sites develop. The changes of Flickr are an example of this, but comments by users show that people will most likely stay with their initial social networking site, as most of their peers are users as well and it seems people don't like to move en-block. On the other hand, the content generated on social networks still seems to be fairly uncensored, even on these corporately owned sites, and their filtering function is important for the management of the huge amounts of information out on the Net. Thinking of my own practice, where would I be without Stephen Downes OlDaily ? The amount of my time saved by following his daily dose of 'learning technology', rather than finding all information myself is considerable. Of course our filters have to be trusted and what we read has to be valuable.

The one problem I can see is that the smaller the number of sources, the less reliable the information will be. The lack of diversity could mean that the information on networks is not critically assessed and linked to a variety of positions and becomes too one-sided and self-serving.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Social networking sites for education

I am back from holidays in Italy and not quite back in the swing of things yet. My mind keeps wondering of to other places....... Stephen Downes OlDaily sent me a link this morning to Ewan Macintosh's blog post on Bebo. He mentioned that the average Bebo user spends 41 minutes online a day on their Bebo musings. He feels educators should harness the potential of these sites, and the skills people pick up while using them for educational purposes.
Although I can see the networking potential of the tools and their ease of use, in addition to their business potential, I wonder what makes that Macintosh is attracted to sites like Bebo for educational purposes. Young people use these sites for gossiping and talking with their friends, showing off their music, and exposing themselves to the world in order to grab some attention. And yes, ok they learn how to press buttons and to use templates, but there are in my view major issues with their use in education.
Research by Neil Selwyn, and one of his papers 'Digital Inequality and New Spaces of Informal Education for Young People' shows that the majority of young people use technology for very mundane purposes: finding information, sharing music and messages, writing about their everyday life. Selwyn, sees the potential of technology to move young people to a deeper engagement with issues of citizenship and other issues related to wider society, but he believes the best way to go about this would be facilitating an organic growth of engagement, rather than for it to be imposed by adults in the informal online spaces that young people have created for themselves. 'In practice, what are essentially fluid, organic, and chaotic virtual practices will be flourishing precisely because they are free from external control, restraints or official adult intervention'. Perhaps invading Bebo and MySpace with our message is not such a good idea. The medium needs to 'fit' the message. Why would young people, who are on Bebo and Myspace to communicate with their friends, engage with a site put up by adults about citizenship? Authenticity of the communication is at the heart of this. If people's expectations are not aligned, the message won't come across, in a similar fashion that this would happen in a face to face environment, where people would not discuss subjects such as 'democracy' with people sitting at other tables in a coffee-shop. What has already shown to work is communication on networks of interest, or on spaces such as Elgg, in which networks are formed, but with a different purpose than Bebo. Where a higher level of thinking and reflection might be part of the expected package for the participant.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

What more is there to say?

The most powerful speech I have heard in a long time......

Friday, April 13, 2007

Learning in Networks Utopian?

Some work on the conference wiki after the online Connectivism conference, and a post by Terry Anderson entitled Learning with Networks, made me think about the possibilities that online networks could offer in changing the way we learn. Anderson referred to work by Jon Dron and reflected on the value of networks to formal and informal education. He defined a network as Stephen Downes does, not so much as a confined group, but as an open, free flowing entity that links individuals.

Stephen Downes emphasised the need for diversity, openness, connectedness and autonomy for networks to be successful. George Siemens and Stephen Downes developed theories of learning on the premise that networks and their numerous connections could facilitate learning successfully.

By participating in online networks, for instance as bloggers, people commenting on blogs, producers of videos, or as people who silently take in what other people on a trusted network have to say, they would develop their knowledge. Propositional knowledge provided by tutors does not form part of the theory, as autonomous and interest-driven individuals on an open, diverse network, would be able to learn by truly engaging in the networks.

How important would diversity of a network be?
Andersen argues that the quality of network interaction would be determined by the quantity of participants, as the larger the number of people participating, the better the chance of a heterogeneous network. In addition, he states that the quality would be dependent on the culture in the 'real' world of each network member, but also on the culture in the virtual world of the particular network, as 'individual posting and network deliberation are all situated and culturally bound'.
The more diverse the people partaking in the network, the greater the need to reflect on and think about views and ideas that are different from their own. According to Terry Anderson, if the nature of the network is heterogeneous, a certain level of competency in critical thinking and evaluation would be required. I would like to add skills in media and information literacy to this to ensure an awareness of how online companies generate content and what the purpose of this information is.

How diverse are networks?
I haven't found much research on the nature of online networks with regards to diversity. I came across a number of publications, though, that made me wonder if it would be premature to build theories of learning on the assumption that networks are heterogeneous:

Technorati's 'State of the blogosphere' report this month showed that 37% of blogs are in Japanese, 36% in English, 8% in Chinese and in Farsi 1%. Bloggers in other languages would be thinner on the ground. In a global networked environment this shows that a large number of people do not have a voice, or will be communicating through a language that is not their own.
National UK Statistics showed that in the UK still only 57% of the population had Internet access at home in 2006. The people least likely to have Internet access at home would be older people and people from lower socio-economic groups. It seems that still only particular groups in the population would engage in online debate.

People most likely to use the Internet would be young white and middle class. Even young people don't engage with web 2.0 technology in the way some enthusiasts would like us believe. Selwyn in his paper 'Dealing with digital inequality: rethinking young people, technology and social inclusion' The Net-generation seems to use it for fairly trivial activities related to chatting with their friends rather than the collaborative and connectivist learning experience envisaged by enthusiasts.
In addition, Oliver Kamm in an article in the Guardian pointed out, when speaking about political bloggers, that they are 'by definition, a self-selecting group of politically motivated who have time on their hands'. He argues that the 'conversations bloggers have with their audience are an echo-chamber in which conclusions are pre-specified and targets selected'. They result in abuse at public figures and poisoning of debate because of lack of accountability. Tim Dowling, engaged in the current debate on etiquette in the blogosphere noted that 'the blogging world has faced criticism, from without and within, for the low tone of cyberdebate. Online discourse, it is said, is characterised by personal insult, childish mudslinging, meaningless feuds, self-serving digression, pranksterish vandalism and empty threats'. He mentioned two female bloggers who have been insulted for the sole reason that they were female or that they took down insulting hatemail from their site.

This does not seem the climate and culture in which learning for all would thrive. I realise that a more traditional class room is not always a heterogeneous learning environment either, but there the tutor would be expected to show more sides of a story and keep in check unacceptable behaviour.

Another issue that sits not quite comfortable with me is the denouncement of propositional knowledge. As a teacher of infants, older children, disaffected adults and postgraduate learners throughout my career, I am not convinced that providing people with the means to learn online will automatically ensure their engagement in online networks. Not all learners have the autonomy and confidencethat would be required for this. In addition, Bill Kerr in a presentation at the connectivism conference referred to Alan Kay's non-universals. Kay explains that there are a number of areas that are hard to learn, based on studies in anthropology of all human societies . They are: reading and writing, deductive abstract mathematics, model based science, equal rights, democracy, perspective drawing, slow deep thinking, agriculture, and legal systems. When thinking about connectivism, and distributed learning, this list causes me concern as I am not convinced that people won't need the external incentive of a qualification that has currency in the workplace, or formal teaching to take on these areas.

It seems premature to expect that autonomous people in an open, connected environment will learn in depth, just because the tools, connections and the information are available. The environment might be there, but there might be prerequisites for people to engage successfully.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Blogs, reflection and assessment

Another issue that kept nagging at me throughout the Shock of the Social conference was the way blogs are being used in some Universities.

I was quite shocked to find that informal, reflective tools were being used in a very controlled manner: Writing blogs would form part of the assessment process and in some instances their use would be very much controlled by the tutor: make people write a mini-essay posting and make other students comment.

In my view this takes away the strength of the tool: instead of fostering individual reflection and critical thinking about certain subjects that the student is interested in, it makes a blog into another tool to satisfy the needs of the tutor and the institution.

The writing by Boud and Walker (2002, p94) would suggest that reflection on demand does not work. Although they emphasise the importance of reflection in context, embedded in the learning activities, they point towards a carefully balanced process in which reflection is linked to conceptual frameworks and learning outcomes, but is not prescribed by the tutor. In their view, 'writing a 'reflective journal' [, which a blog is,] and the 'expectation that they will be read by an assessor leads some students to censor their reflections so much that they fail to engage with their felt experience and avoid learning'. The role of the tutor would be to balance between 'recipe - following' and providing enough guidance to avoid students losing focus.

The argument for including blogs as assessment at the conference was that if not linked to assessment, people would not use them.

You would have to question if blogs were right for purpose to the activity in which they were being used.
I am an educator with first hand experience of how students used asynchronous discussion boards while the activity was included and not included in the assessment process. I know that including them ensured that people used the tools, but not in the way I would have liked them to: It made them write mini-essays for me, rather than that they communicated with each-other over course concepts.

I think it would be a shame for blogs to be used in this way as in my view it destroys their potential for reflection. Perhaps it would work to only make the use of blogs compulsory, but to not prescribe and control the way they were being used.
Boud and Walker referred to papers in which it was advocated to assess reflective journals in terms of reflective writing, rather than in terms of standard academic writing. This might be another option to make them part of the formal educational structure.

Second Life

At the 2007 The Shock of The Social conference in Oxford in the UK last week, I had my first experience of Second Life. An enthusiast showed us how he bought clothes, gave hair to his person that flew us around the virtual world. Showed us adults flying planes along interesting buildings and led us to a university area. He showed us to an educational presentation area as well.

I have to say I did not feel comfortable playing a computer game like this and was wondering if it really is the way forward in engaging our future learners as some learning technologists might like us to believe. Was Lyotard right after all in his final book to be concerned about us moving towards an inhuman society? How far will we remove ourselves from reality?

It makes me wonder if the real world has become so complex that people have the feeling they are no longer in control and see playing a game in which they can control their imaginary lives and living in a dream world, as the way out.

The Net has given us a great opportunity to connect with people all over the world in a variety of networks and to me that is one of its major strengths. Although this is Second Life's strength as well, the unnatural 'game-like' atmosphere could make that people will use their other networks instead.

Educause has a feature here on the uses in education.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

YouTube ethnography project

I have followed with interest the videos that have appeared in YouTube in relation to Web2.0. The original one made by the Digital Ethnography group from Kansas State University gave a view on Web 2.0 in which learning technologists and other enthusiasts can recognise their current work.

Cory the Raven posted a counter video on YouTube that questions what this kind of medium has to offer in addition to traditional media such as text and film.

The video itself has a very interesting pace to it and I would say the number of comments, communications and discussions on YouTube at the moment, ranging from McLuhan to Welsh, show that the level of communication that has been made possible through the Internet has changed these two older media into something new. It has made that text and film have been transformed from one-to many media in broadcasting mode, into many-to-many media, where information and discussion encourage the creation of knowledge. This in my view makes a big difference. The information is discussed and reactions to the older media mean that new thoughts and ideas are created. The videos have already been viewed by more than a million people and hundreds of comments have been made.

I agree with Cory that it is becoming problematic that half the population is not taking part in the online discussions. It makes that the knowledge in networks is less reliable, as it might only paint a one-sided picture on a subject. As somebody who has worked hard over the past five years to engage people with technology it seems a waste that a vast number of people are excluded from valuable learning opportunities. It seems to me that the higher the rate of convergence of technologies, the faster the engagement of disengaged people will be: the easier and cheaper it will be to access technology on digital televison or mobile phone, the quicker people will be tempted to take part.

Cory seems overly concerned with the move from living in the real world to living in a virtual world. It reminds me of Lyotard's final book in which he was very concerned about the move humans are making towards the 'inhuman'. I would argue that most people who venture online are firmly grounded in the real world and that problems in the real world quite often make that people move online to find information and to discuss whatever makes them tick in reality.

The Net-generation and confidence

I have just spent a very frustrating afternoon trying to get all the features back on my computer that were there before my 16 year old son wiped my profile and restored the default. You will probably say, you could have avoided this by password protecting the profile, but I have never liked to do this as I feel it is important for Pieter to know that I trust him to stay out of the areas on my machine that he should not be touching. He has a brand new very good computer him self! It surprises me how (over)confident the net-generation is. They dare to tackle any problem on a computer and think they know all the solutions to problems relating to their needs. They don't always take into account the needs of other people!

I have to retract these last sentences as Pieter just asked me why I wouldn't just do a 'systems restore'. Of course I have to admit that his confidence might be justified as I have all precious files, folders and feeds back.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Research methods

At the moment I am thinking about research methods that could capture the new developments in technology. I am especially interested in personalisation and 'free-roaming' across Internet networks. If students have more control over their learning and move outside the formal educational setting, it will be much harder to track their 'knowledge creation'.

I am thinking of using Social Network Analysis techniques to analyse what actually happens in networks. How easy/hard is it to be accepted in a network and to learn from people and information flows in networks? How important is the communication that takes place? Is 'parallel learning' as mentioned by George Siemens on his connectivism blog at all possible, or as Bill Kerr post in his learningevolves blog, do people advocating 'connectivism' take their thinking too far and deny the importance of the individual and the learning that occurs inside their heads? How dense are these networks and how diverse are the participants?

I am also considering the use of integrated design research frameworks, as advocated by Terry Anderson' at the 'Connectivism' conference, to see if they would capture all aspects of an intervention to move to a more negotiated, personalised online learning experience. As I am most interested in the learner experience, I am not convinced that such a structured approach would be suited to research educational processes as they are usually 'too messy' as researcher, tutor, learner, design and context all interact. This might mean that an ethnographic approach would work better to capture all the connections.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Free roam learning - versus informal learning

Informal learning has been heavily discussed this week online. All or nothing could see informal learning integrated in training together with formal education. Stephen Downes and Tom Haskins
do not agree with this but view informal learning as non-formal, as not linked to any marketable entity, in which control is inposed by others than the learner. I like Tom's analogy of free range chickens with learning. It seems to me that Tom's and Stephen's sense of informality entails for learners to roam freely from node to node in online networks, and I would call it free roam learning as free range still holds some connotations of restrictio and control. It would be good to keep free-roam and informal seperate as there is still a high proportion of the population that does not have access to the Internet, thus also does not have access to freely roam from node to node. In Wales that is about 51% of the population. These are in general older people and people from unskilled and semi-skilled backgrounds. Should we leave all these people out of the equasion as they do not have access to the technology? I don't think so. Informal learning, and with this I mean 'first step learning' relevant to the needs, aspirations, and interests of learners, is offered as a stepup to other forms of learning all over the UK. It is informal as it is very much negotiated with the learners and there are no formal assessments involved in the process. It is not free roam learning as lack of confidence and efficacy means that a number of steps need to be taken before these learners can move from informal to free roam learning. It is important when discussing connected knowledge that we keep in mind that the most vulnerable people in society are excluded from the discussion.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Communication in the blogosphere

At the connectivism conference George Siemens responded to my posts on 'communication while using technology in education'. Here is the link to his blog. I haven't worked my way through the post and interesting comments on his blog completely yet, but it captures a number of important issues. I cannot see a true dialogue in blogging: online communication is not a true two-way conversation, but people posting messages, putting forward their own viewpoint, the things they are interested in. The medium is not as well suited to communicating as a face to face environment and people only half-listen to the other persons point of view (especially when they are as long as the ones on his blog) or do not respond at all.
The problem with not responding at all is that the blogger becomes an information source in broadcasting mode, rather than a source of knowledge. I can understand that people at the centre of networks, the 'experts' (and I do believe this is the way the networks develop, not random nodes, but communities with expert(s) at the centre) cannot always continue to communicate; they will move on themselves as they learn more. Where does that leave the people at the periphery of the network? I would say with lots of information to digest and a need to not only mull it over in their own heads, but to comunicate with others.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Connectivism conference

The connectivism online conference is underway. I just ended a conversation with 180+ people and still can't let go and participate in the discussion. If you don't know what connectiviism is, Stephen Downes described it as follows on one of the discussion forums:

'At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.

It shares with some other theories a core proposition, that knowledge is not acquired, as though it were a thing. Hence people see a relation between connectivism and constructivism or active learning (to name a couple).

Where connectivism differs from those theories, I would argue, is that connectivism denies that knowledge is propositional. That is to say, these other theories are 'cognitivist', in the sense that they depict knowledge and learning as being grounded in language and logic.

Connectivism is, by contrast, 'connectionist'. Knowledge is, on this theory, literally the set of connections formed by actions and experience. It may consist in part of linguistic structures, but it is not essentially based in linguistic structures, and the properties and constraints of linguistic structures are not the properties and constraints of connectivism.

In connectivism, a phrase like 'constructing meaning' makes no sense. Connections form naturally, through a process of association, and are not 'constructed' through some sort of intentional action. And 'meaning' is a property of language and logic, connoting referential and representational properties of physical symbol systems. Such systems are epiphenomena of (some) networks, and not descriptive of or essential to these networks.

Hence, in connectivism, there is no real concept of transferring knowledge, making knowledge, or building knowledge. Rather, the activities we undertake when we conduct practices in order to learn are more like growing or developing ourselves and our society in certain (connected) ways.

This implies a pedagogy that (a) seeks to describe 'successful' networks (as identified by their properties, which I have characterized as diversity, autonomy, openness, and connectivity) and (b) seeks to describe the practices that lead to such networks, both in the individual and in society (which I have characterized as modeling and demonstration (on the part of a teacher) and practice and reflection (on the part of a learner))'.

As you can imagine quite some discussion is taking place as the concept of connectivism is controversial in itself. I am not convinced that we can leave behind concepts such as 'information' and 'knowledge' as we have known them for centuries.

There are networks out there producing mis-information and half-truths. People will always look for likeminded people, diregarding critical examination of the network's ideas. How would this work in an educational sense? What would the role of the tutor be? Refuting mis-information, or being the expert and providing content?

Thursday, February 1, 2007

MIT laptops project is gathering momentum

The project by MIT to develop laptops and facilitate equality in ICT access between children in developing and developed countries is gathering momentum. The test phase will start in February.
This seems a massive step in the direction of unleashing the creative potential of people in communities and countries whose voices have been marginalised for so long.

Will the laptops end up and stay with the people they are being designed for? The production cost might be low in Western terms, but in developing countries one laptop would feed a lot of empty stomachs! Link

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Connectivism conference

This month an online conference will take place on connectivism. All Canadian 'talkers' and 'thinkers' in the field of learning technology are involved: Stephen Downes, George Siemens, Terry Anderson, Diana Oblinger so it should be an interesting event.
You can find out more and register at the conference web site.

I think it is great for educationalists to talk about new developments. It is a shame though that not more research is carried out in the use of these new technologies to see if the ideas thought up by crystal-ball gazing would actually work in a learning situation. Their actions are not always consistent with their talk.

Stephen Downes for instance talks a lot in his blog and papers about how connecting people will enhance the learning and knowledge creation. He carries a tutorial on how to include RSS feeds on blogs on his website (I am still working on adding one to this blog), but then he has taken down all his RSS feeds and has moved to an email distribution in broadcasting mode for his blog. I presume it has to do with protecting against spam attakcs, but it is a contradiction in terms with the writing on his blog. Chat and discussions don't work, so it seems that from Web 2.0 he has moved back to Web 1.0. I have for quite some time been impressed with the way his blog has become a community of practice of learning technologists, but find it disappointing that people can no longer comment and communicate in an easy and straightforward way.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Future Lab

Over the past few weeks I have read a number of publications by Future Lab and they are all very interesting. A number of people are looking at 'personalisation' and at 'networked and connected learning' . They also just started a blog called Flux

My only problem with their papers, as with most other papers on these subject, is that they are speculative, rather than based on research.
Happy New Year to you all. I have recovered from my holiday in Gran Canaria over Christmas and New Year and of writing my literature review for my PhD. I feel I am still on a roll, so I have already taken new books out of the library to start the chapter on research methods.