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.

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