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Sarah Stewart has picked up on a conference taking place here in Dunedin that I know very little about. Part of me is offended that I know so little about a conference being organised in my home town without any of the organisers talking to me directly about it. But universities are a bit like that really, and maybe Dunedin is chock full of people living and breathing “computer mediated social networking” that they don’t need to seek out other locals… personally, I have not found many at all.. perhaps they just research it.. whatever the reason, as Sarah points out, we can’t not submit ourselves to their authority something for inclusion in the program if we are to regard ourselves in this field at all.

On looking at the topics for the conference it would seem that our experiences with running the Facilitating Online Learning Communities course would be a good candidate to talk about. I’m a little put off by the tone of the conference though, and a bit at a loss as to how we might go about packaging what we know about that experience up into a presentation of some sort of “research” for this conference. I do know that there are quite a few things about our experiences that the conference attendees would find interesting, starting with the things Sarah points out such as personalised learning through blogs and wikis, and open access to the course and how that resulted in a better learning environment and fee paying enrollments.

I would like to extend the proposal to talk about open content, the difficulty of negotiating the participatory expectations of such a course with the traditional educational models of ‘stand and deliver’, and the discussion around facilitator or teacher. I’d also like to point out to model courses that follow this vein, such as Dave Wiley’s Introduction to Open Education and the work in progress on Wikiversity, Composing free and open educational resources.And then of course we could talk about the bigger picture at Otago Polytechnic.

So, my initial thoughts are that we could talk about:

  1. The set up and maintenance of the Facilitating Online Learning Communties course
  2. Experiences of the participants and examples of how their new learning is being used in their work
  3. Outstanding issues and considerations arising from the course
  4. Further work we will do in developing education generally at Otago Polytechnic using socially networked media and communications.
  5. Frank and honest discussion on the probable and existing issues with this vision and Otago Polytechnic

I think it would be good to beam the likes of Sue Waters and some of the 10 minute lecturers in on the day as well, to get their impressions and reasons for participating on the air… as I think they played a very significant part in the course that we have not really captured yet.

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Ah yes Graham, I share your.. story.

AsΒ  Alahka puts it in your comments, you can lead a horse to water… or as I have exhaled from time to time, flogging the dead horse that died in the trough!

I think though, it is incentives and time we need to encourage and support those teachers to first use the tools for their own learning. If they can’t do that, then I’m not sure we should be risking their incompetence on the lives of others who are either coerced into their charge, or pay huge fees for their services.

As I teach and facilitate various online courses this year, a lot of the theories and concepts I subscribe to are getting some hard testing. The biggest challenge I am finding is the expectation for a teacher or instructor while everyone talks about a facilitator. I don’t think someone can be both, primarily because a teacher inherits a significant amount of power and traditional roles that counter act the more neutral and passive presence of a facilitator. This post will be a series of thoughts about this tension, and some ideas on how I can better manage my attempts at online learning community facilitation.

There’s a teacher at the party

I find it is all too easy to assume the role of a teacher if you are an expert in your field, but very difficult to adopt and maintain the role of facilitator to a group studying your field. Many things stack up against efforts to maintain a neutral and passive position of facilitation:

There is this blog and other artifacts that help to establish me as some sort of “expert” or someone with a few years of experience researching and testing the topic of online learning etc, and so a teacherly presence is hard to avoid, and there is an expectation that my experience and expertise should be used to help people find the answers more quickly and efficiently.Β Added to that are the student or participant expectations. People engaging in the courses I attempt to facilitate are typically vocational teachers and trainers by profession and people who have enrolled in a formal course, through traditional administration lines, via a professional development cycle and with very little background knowledge of me or the topic I am asked to facilitate, and that they intend to learn … about. And so, through this set up process they are encouraged to expect the familiar presence of a teacher or trainer, a formal learning venue and everything else that is familiar to a person who has been successful in the schooling experience. Ultimately they are unprepared for the facilitated and individually responsible and self motivated learning environment I try to encourage.

I can understand the expectation for a teacher in a course. Naturally a student who has enrolled in a formal course, following traditional administration channels, paying fees etc and who is of an age and professional experience that is very used to the idea of taught and instructed learning, would expect a similarly efficient, industrial strength, structured learning pathway within the course. But this is at odds with my understanding of facilitation and my principals around individual responsibility, networked learning, and a belief in the importance of deschooling.

So I have a problem.

Either I yield to the tradition of schooled learning and assume the role of teacher, instructor and assessor and forgo the role of facilitator, or I invest a lot more time with these courses and develop my skills as a communicator and become more sophisticated in ways of moving expectations towards a facilitated and individualised learning environment. At the moment, I can’t say I have been very successful at that, there are some things I can see I can do better, other things I have no control over, and then there are things that allude me all together. I am myself caught in a twilight zone between teacher and facilitator. I have years of experience being taught and then some teaching. I’m actually quite comfortable being the know it all teacher, instructing people on what to do with their time πŸ˜‰ I even know a bit about controlling people’s behaviour so as to reflect something I can assess as learning.. but facilitation, that continues to allude me.

When I act as a facilitator I generally ignore all the lead up that the people who engage in these courses go through before they meet me. Mystake number 1. Then I assume an equal role with and between the participants and expect individual responsibility for motivated and expert learning. Mystake number 2. I actively fend off teacherly roles, keeping the structure and prescribed content to a bare minimum. Mystake number 3. Inevitably the frustrations from the people engaging in the courses are expressed, calling for more structure and direction and a more efficient pathway to a learning fix. It is not sufficient to simply establish and maintain communication channels, arrange and negotiate content like guest lectures etc, and assist individuals and groups with their research. The move from teacherly/taught to facilitated learning is complex and time consuming. So much so that I doubt these courses have much of a chance at succeeding at developing a individualised and facilitated learning experience.

Needless to say, teaching and instruction is the much easier path for all involved. Teaching and instruction are well established practices with numerous resources in place to support all involved in the exercise, including implicit and culturally embedded practices like narrative, closure, authority, partitioned knowledge, economy of scale, industrial strength admin processes etc). And almost everyone who is involved has experienced this type of schooled learning so we’re all on the same page in more ways than one. It is very difficult to socially learn in any other way, especially in a formal, traditional, schooled environment. The teach and instruct methods are a safe bet.

But I have been asked to facilitate a learning community. And although I know the word facilitate is being used more than a little loosely by institutions these days, and that the majority of the participants are encouraged to bring with them expectations AND needs of being taught and instructed, I have this idealist expectation to build and facilitate a learning community. All this relates specifically to a course I am attempting to co facilitate at the moment. It is called funnily enough, Facilitating Online Learning Communities. I share the facilitation role with Bronwyn Hegarty and we both struggle with each other and each internally with this tension between facilitation and instruction, cognitive and behaviorist practices and socially constructed ideals… We each have 4 hours per week to do this job, and only a small number of people engaged.

For the most part I think we have been successful given all the challenges. We have managed to move the course out from the limits of the Learning Management System so as to demonstrate the existence of learning communities in online contexts other than managed learning. So far we have looked at discussion forums, email lists, blogs and RSS, wikis and web conferencing. We are beginning to consider social networking sites, virtual worlds and gaming communities… all the participants have a blog, but only 1/2 – 2/3 are active with it, we have curated a series of what we call “10 minute lectures” that include about an hour of discussion, and we have attempted to down play our own presence as experts or specialists.

Unfortunately frustrations are expressed from time to time that relate to the seeming lack of structure and direction in the facilitation of the course, and the apparent over whelming amount of information and technical skills needed to participate. I can’t help but think that a lot of this frustration can be attributed to the confusion between teacher and facilitator, and the expectation of instructed learning that the course admin has encouraged. However, in the apparent absence of a structured course I think it is far to say significant learning is occurring in this online course. Most of the participants had not heard of a blog or RSS before this course, and did not know of the distinctions between social networking sites and blogs and wikis.. etc, none had used a web conferencing facility like Elluminate or Skype, and very few had heard of the world class people we have in for the 10 minute lectures, and we have successfully embraced a number of others late drop ins from around the world who have participated with us along the way. So the learning curve must indeed be steep for many of the participants. There are totally new technologies, new and immature methods, far from mainstream ideals, and very open and transparent communication channels – all 100% online. But dissatisfaction is very present 😦

I find David Wiley’s course an inspiration and a model for those like me who are suspended in the twilight zone of how to teach and facilitate all at the same time. His course is targeted at people who are already experienced with online communication, and David’s reputation attracts a wide variety of people from around the world. His participants are highly self motivated and network learners before they engage in his topics. The course is initially presented instructionally with clearly articulated schedule and expectations in a wiki format. Each topic in the schedule asks the participants to read, reflect and then write to their blog. David then demonstrates facilitation practices once the participants are under way with this. He summarises their work, comments and links people’s posts to each other. It helps that he has some farely well known edu bloggers participating in his course and so the topics and discussions go further and wider than the course participants themselves. I don’t have intimate knowledge of David’s course however, and he may be grappling with his own demons, but it is useful at least for me to see his approach to structure and conduct.

I think, if I am asked to “facilitate” another instance of Facilitating Online Learning Communities, I will follow David’s model initially, and either strongly suggest prerequisite experience, or a pre course for instruction on how to use various forms of core technology, but this doesn’t solve the problem of needing self motivated learners to participate in a facilitated learning environment. It is generally assumed that this ethic emerges after a participant practices blogging and experiences networked connections. This is true for approximately 10 – 20% of the participants I have had contact with, so what of the 80 – 90%? Perhaps this number will decrease as more and more people experience this type of expectation and meet others who have experienced it before.. a bit like the take up of email… or perhaps social networking sites like Facebook or Ecto will replace the idea of blogging and bring us back to group work, which seems to be what we are all schooled to being more comfortable with.. sadly

Plane home to Dunedin is about to board, so I’ll end this here. Just some notes to continue with later.

Barbara Dieu posted to TALO these links to stat graphs looking at the generational uptake of social media. Click to view. My initial thoughts from them:

I see the high bars moving WITH the generations, rather than other generations adopting these practices… which means the types of things that we are seeing 18-26yo doing online will change and evolve as their life experience grows.. in other words, social media will become rich and broader ranging with information and learning on a wider variety of things and with varying levels of depth.. within about 5 – 10 years. At the moment educationalists could be doing much more towards attempting to engage the % of the age group, and on their terms, so as the maximise the potential energy in this early adoption. Obviously, doing so will mean we learn the things now that we will need to know in 5 – 10 years time.

Then again, do these stats affirm the need for reaction at all? Or are those that promoted the use of social media doing so on the belief that it is simply a good thing to do proactively?…

Konrad Glogowski (that’s him on the right) joined us for the 2nd in a series of 10 minute lectures relating to the facilitation of online learning communities. In this recording Konrad talks about developing a sense of community and individual presence before attempting formal learning. Konrad talks to his middle school teaching experiences but his research and insight is very applicable across many efforts to develop an online learning community.

Wara points to another facinating titbit in his post, The importance of hacker thinking

The 5 part youtube playlist, The History of Hacking

During the 1970’s, the phone phreaks or phone hackers appeared: they learned ways to hack the telephonic system and make phone calls for free.

John Draper built a ‘blue box’ that could do this and the Esquire magazine published an article on how to build them. Fascinated by this discovery, two kids, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, decided to sell these blue boxes, starting a business friendship which resulted in the founding of Apple.

Getting their laughs and skills from hacking and cracking into primitive computers and exploiting the Arpanet (predecessor to the internet), they created a novelty that would become the target of federal crackdown in years to come.

Janet Hawtin has posted an idea that really gets me thinking. We should combine the literacy skills of online and offline researchers and communicators.

Because these are subtle and personal customisations for specific contexts this means they are diverse. As a community we are developing social skills around finding and filtering for our own personal purposes the collective diversity available. I think this is where literacy exchange comes in.

I think Janet’s idea is a great one! I know I am guilty of forcing people into a very narrow range of research and communication technologies (blogs, wikis and RSS of course), and this naturally frustrates people who are accustomed to other ways of researching and communicating. Meeting professional researchers and communicators who don’t understand these technologies is frustrating however.. but as Janet says, it would be beneficial to draw on a diverse range of literacy skills, more, it would be very important to actively seek out this diversity and support it.

I think Janet’s idea relates to my idea of using analogue media along the lines of socially networked media so as to bridge digital divides.

There is lots to explore here, and Janet’s suggestion is something I might add to my list of objectives when facilitating learning communities. That list?

  1. Losing the teacherly voice
  2. Linking analogue media and communications with digital networks
  3. Supporting and promoting a range of research and communication literacies
  4. Establishing networks more than groups
  5. Supporting long term learning communities
  6. umm

Bill Kerr seems to be willfully applying a modernist frame of reference over his developing critique of social media. To my mind looking at the world today through the lens of modernism is a bit like turning up to a party wearing your work clothes… I’m not sure if that analogy works for others out there, but it works for me at the moment. This is not to say I don’t appreciate Bills choice of reference, it is quite thought provoking and its certainly giving me stuff to blog about πŸ™‚

I get this idea about Bill from a recent film Sunshine and I have just seen called Helvetica.

Its a documentary on the story of the type set helvetica. Well, its more than that really, its the story of modernist visual communication and media and its relationship to the world today. And that’s the link to Bill.
The film started with the old modernists, nostalgically reminiscing about the crisp, clear, rational idealism of helvetica. Through interview after interview it sampled the perspectives of designers on the significance of the type set. The post modernist designers came on later and almost embarrassed themselves with their naive politiks, but they cleared the thick, pipe smoke air left by the modernist old boys, and made way for the deconstructing grunge. The sort of punk deconstructionists destructionists who dismissed it all and wiped the slate clean of these historical burdons and over all disappointments.

Gradually the film moved through these observable historic periods and attempted to clear some of the fog around today. The current generation of professional designers and their freedom to sample everything from that historic pallet. They are able to balance the rational clarity of modernist style, with the political messaging of the post modernists, and the subjective expressionism of the grunge to create a range of unique messages and visual environments based largely on sampling and remixing. Often deep and considered (as it has to be with these historical references), but largely surface and superficial, intentionally too.

Of course the old boy modernists are still hung up about the post modern “disease” that snuffed their flame, and think and behave like they are the guardians of everything “true”. The post modernists are still hung up about their modernist parents not accepting anything they do, and while they relax into a conservative retirement they on the whole refuse to acknowledge the sophistication of their successors. The punks still don’t give a shit and just get on with it.

But its the emerging generation that is interesting to us now.. this is perhaps the age that will be called the neo constructivists, the time when media and communications was somewhat democratised, when the set up cost to be a film maker was within reach of many, to be a communication designer was within reach of many more still, music, journalism etc..

But that right there is still considering the world with a modernist reference! To use the professions of film making, record producing, journalism as some sort of reference or comparison to the socially networked media is a mistake. To be hung up on the quality of output from socially networked media, based on the outputs of professionals is largely out of place. Of course there are emerging professionals that are using the social platforms – the A listers and the like, but on the whole, considering neo constructivism in terms of historical professionalism is a bit like turning up to a juiced up punk/grunge rock party dress and drinking your 60’s helvetica.. you’re gunna get bashed or worse.

Its not quite right, but I wanna say that there’s no such thing as a film maker, a designer, a journalist or record producer anymore. These historic reference points for media and communication have been diluted and washed away. If these things are everywhere now, then these things are nothing (to appropriate Robert Hughes‘ famous line). Of course we still go to see films, and buy recorded music, and take notice of journalistic expertise, its just that these are no longer the only, or most significant platform for cultural expression. Visual communication and design is now merging with personal expression and identity and professionalism has nothing to do with it.

The Helvetica film ended with an excellent observation of this new social mediascape by a fella named – I’ll have to watch the film again 😦 I’ve asked the Youtube pirate if he/she has the clip I’m thinking of… but the fella was observing the scene through the lens of society and communication. The point of this post is that appreciating the historical significance of the socially networked media scape, or the neo constructivists (if i’m ok to call it that (?) is better done through the lens of contemporary social science, through communications studies, through culture and visual communication. Not through modernist perspectives in computing, rationalism or objectivity.

Dangerous words I know – to a precious modernist despairing at the destruction of his world as the boys and girls strip him of his work suit.

Thanks to Artichoke and Rose for the heads up to what is for me absolutely hands down, one of the best presentations about connected knowledge I have seen in a long time.
Serendipity 2.0: Missing Third Places of Learning – Teemu Arina

[Someday Sunshine and I will find our way to Finland and everything will be ok…]

I thoroughly recommend watching the 30 minute screenrecording of the presentation. Not only is it a fascinating and refreshing perspective on the ideas of connected knowledge, the images and even the accent will make it fascinating.

Thanks to Teemu for putting so much work into it, for communicating to me in the only language I can understand, and for giving me more access to the kind of thinking going on in Finland.

This is high order stuff for me.. and while I enjoy being in that space – I watched this in work time, research. All the way through I was trying to relate the observations and ideas into my own context. Adult education and training, mostly with vocational goals. Teemu showed at least 2 very thought provoking examples of projects applying his line of thinking. One of which was Network Oasis.

netWork Oasis is a collaborative working, learning and development environment. It is a space designed to inspire spontaneous and guided encounters of different individuals. Versatile environment welcomes actors, specialists and groups from various companies, research and development organizations and communities. Billing is based on the actual logged usage of the facilities. The price includes all 1200 m2 of space and services. Laptop and a cell phone are the only necessary tools for working – Internet, printers etc. are provided by the services.

That is something I can look at more closely and see how solid I can get the concepts before testing them out here, in lil old Dunedin…

Teemu finished his presentation with these questions:

  • What does it extend?
  • What does it make obsolete?
  • What is retrieved?
  • What does it reverse into, if over-extended?

My attempt to answer them in my own vocational education and training context before I’ve had any time to reflect on them:

What does connected knowledge technology extend in vocational education and training?

The ability of a business, company or organisation to service the education and training needs of itself, through informal learning models, but facilitated through technologies. In saying that however, some sectors will be a long time coming compared to others. Office work and organisational work and the like could be the first – already having the sorts of technology available to them, and being the closest to being conceptually ready to adopt these methods. Trades and industry maybe some of the last cabs off the rank, if at all as many have very little access to the types of technology available now to connect knowledge, or the media literacy levels available to make the most of it. I could (and hope I am) be wrong about this though. The hospitality and service sectors are an interesting possibility… but I’m aware that Teemu is pushing me to think for more informally and less compartmentalised with knowledge and skills development… I am, its just hard.. community building within and across sectors maybe a way to establish fertile ground for connected learning.

What does connected knowledge make obsolete in vocational training and education?

Well, if informal and networked learning models became popular and successful for workbased learning initiatives, vocational education and training services could become a lot more unnecessary. Within the voc ed service sector itself, traditional curriculum will slowly dissolve into more integrated and relevant micro learning, with holistic learning principles and ethics being left to … dunno what…

What is retrieved in connected knowledge models for vocational education and training.

I think the apprenticeship model will become the familiar vehicle to promote connected learning. Only the master will be a distributed role over a network, or local community of learners or trades association.

What will be lost or what will be the negative if we go too far with connected learning practices?

We disrupt local knowledge workers at a pace, rate and philosophy that alienates them even though they are or would be valuable to this new practice. We risk adverse affects of assessing and awarding approval to practice when skills or experience are not as good as thought (but the social and open learning should counter this). We get caught up in techno futurism and loose site of many current and historical issues that need to be delt with. And we think in terms of data or ethics that are foreign to our number 1 learning space – family and local community…

Bill Kerr pulls together a few images that paints a great picture on the status of the One Laptop Per Child Project

In preparing for my one laptop per child presentation at CEGSA (Computing Education Group of South Australia) this Thursday I did a google search of images of its use in different countries. Here are some of the images I found