Monday, September 29, 2008

Survey on 'Learning on online networks'

Downes and Siemens on their 'Connectivism & Connective Knowledge' course suggest that the future of learning lies on online networks, rather than in a structured institutionally controlled environment. They see how the second wave of Internet technologies could be instrumental in moving from a hierarchical teaching approach to a networked approach. As I wrote in my paper for the AERC conference in St.Louis this summer: 'web 2.0 technologies would facilitate the transformation from an educational model that is structured in courses, controlled by the institution using a ‘broadcasting’ model in an enclosed environment, to becoming a model adaptive to learners’ needs, owned by individuals, while using an aggregation model in a personalised open learning environment, and a fluid extension of the wider informal personal space...This resonates with the ideas of Illich, who saw at the heart of the educational revolution in the 1970s the need:
‘1. To liberate access to things by abolishing the control which persons and institutions now exercise over their educational values. 2. To liberate the sharing of skills by guaranteeing freedom to teach or exercise them on request. 3. To liberate the critical and creative resources of people by returning to individual persons the ability to call and hold meetings – an ability now interestingly monopolized by institutions which claim to speak for the people. 4. To liberate the individual from the obligation to shape his expectations to the services offered by any established profession- by providing him with the opportunity to draw on the experience of his peers and to entrust himself to the teacher, guide, adviser or healer of his choice.’ (Illich, 1971, p.103)
His vision was to see people take ownership of the learning process, rather than institutions controlling their education. In order for agency and participation to return to the learning experience, Illich (1971, p.2) called for ‘the possible use of technology to create institutions which serve personal, creative and autonomous interaction and the emergence of values which cannot be substantially controlled by technocrats’. He saw that the alternative to ‘scholastic funnels’ would be true communication webs. However, moving from an institutionally controlled learning environment towards an Internet based open environment would create several problems and an important question to ask would be if communication facilitated by this type of technology would be effective in knowledge creation? Would communication with global communities of (possibly the same) interest help in knowledge construction?' What about the power relations on a network, would they be any different from a class room? I have hyperlinked a survey here that I was hoping people on the network would be willing to fill out. It should give me an idea of how people feel they learn and create knowledge while participating on a network. Thanks to anyone filling it out!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Connectivism a learning theory?

CCK08 The first week on the connectivism course has been quite something. Many activities to choose from on different environments with varied navigation, many different things to go wrong and a lot of pressure on people to take part in reading papers (put up by George Siemens and Stephen Downes), and also to read blog posts, to write blogs and wikis and take part in discussions. Adrian Hill and I will get our paper on 'Connectivism' published in the September Issue of IRRODL. As it is quite topical, and analyses the validity of connectivism as a learning theory, the editors have kindly given permission to pass it on to George and Stephen to use on the course before the publication date of the journal.

Monday, September 8, 2008

New structures and spaces of learning

CCK08 George Siemens sent all participants of the massive Connectivism course that has started this week an email in which he gave the link to his paper 'New structures and spaces of learning: The systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism, and networked learning'. He gives his ideas on changes that have taken place in education under influence of technological development and also quite utopian views on the role of the institution,tutor and learners in the future. He seems fairly uncritical of the negative effects of technology on society and teaching and learning. Two things I would like to say after a first glance of the paper: Our teaching methods have evolved over ages, are steeped in history and tradition. It is unrealistic to expect these suddenly to be discarded because the Internet has arrived. Current teachers and adult tutors might not be aware of opportunities that new technology offer for teaching, but on the other hand, they are very well aware of the things that do work in their class rooms. Why change? Secondly, ever since e-learning has started, research has emerged that clearly demonstrates that we are just at the experimenting stage of working towards a connectist model of learning. Also, there are numerous papers that show challenges and problems to overcome to make it really work (Conrad 2005, Mann 2005). It is all good and well to write speculative papers on how fantastic the use of technology in learning can be; it is quite a different matter to actually make it work in practice. Issues that seem most problematic are: lack of learner autonomy (Kop, 2008), power relations on networks (Conrad, 2007; McConnell, 2005), lack of access to the Internet for particular groups (Selwyn 2006), underdeveloped information literacy and critical thinking; communication as a conversation, rather than to create knowledge and foster learning; a comfortable place to learn in( Woodward et al 2008), to name a few. Yes, I agree with a lot of what George says; once you have bought into technology, you can see the possibilites of connecting with people outside instituional structures, but a lot of research in the actual practicalities will be required before we know how it will be possible for it to work for the majority of people, and not just for the learning technology enthusiast.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Conectivism course

CCK08 Too busy writing academic papers for so long that I had forgotten about my blog. The new course by George Siemens and Stephen Downes on connectivism has awakened my interest in blogging again and made that I get involved in their venture. So far 1600 people worldwide interested in the subject of Connectivism have signed up and the course is in 4 languages. As always the start of a new online course is a bit confusing as you have to figure out how and where to find the most important materials and features on the course. A wiki has been set up the bring researchers interested in the subject together, which is interesting. The problem with global courses of course is that they are global and that people in different time zones get up and go to bed at different times, which makes it difficult for all to get involved in synchronous communication. The first session for instance is in Winnipeg at 19.00 , which means in Swansea UK it will be 1am and not such a good time for me to take in anything about connectivism. I expect though that George will have arranged something as usual to make sure that the Illuminate event will be recorded somehow. I wonder how the session will work. The last one that I was involved in was last year at the connectivism conference with 120 people and the volume of people then caused all sorts of technical problems. See how it goes this time. Good of George and Stephen to take on a project like this. Lucky for them only a small group wanted to get involved in the accredited version of the course. Can you imagine marking 1600 essays or blog entries?