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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:
- The set up and maintenance of the Facilitating Online Learning Communties course
- Experiences of the participants and examples of how their new learning is being used in their work
- Outstanding issues and considerations arising from the course
- Further work we will do in developing education generally at Otago Polytechnic using socially networked media and communications.
- 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.
I am having trouble getting my comments to appear on Teemu’s blog, so I’ll post them here and perhaps drag other’s into the debate kicking and screaming 🙂
Teemu Leinonen posts an interesting summary of an idea for a presentation at the next Future of Learning in a Networked World non-conference. As an aside, I really like the connection between criminals and FLNW people 🙂 I like that alot in a strange type of way…
In it Teemu re-enters the networks and groups debate positing that networks form groups and that groups learn non formally as apposed to informally and therefore networked learning equals non formal learning. I might have got this wrong, so you better read Teemu’s post and set me straight if I have.. Harold Jarche come’s in on it as well.
If I have the right end of the stick then I wonder, does it follow that networked learning be non-formal? If we take Teemu’s analogy of people who identify as criminals 🙂 They are networked by virtue of their occupation or cultural setting, they network by way of the legal system, the places they frequent, or the people they harass. They group based on common interests and complimentary perspectives within this cultural setting. Some might form a small group around the idea of drug production, others around a robbery, others around gang violence.. etc. It is in this group setting that they form within the network that they learn non formally. It is no longer at this point, networked learning.. The network part is separate to the group part and so is separate from the non formal learning part that Teemu tries to connect with networked learning. Networked learning and non formal learning can appear to be connected if we look at networking . grouping and learning as a sequence, but they are not necessarily… networked learning (and so the informal learning) is more like the hidden curriculum Teemu and others refer to elsewhere. It is the intangibles that emerge from the network or cultural setting. The formation of groups. The grouped, non formal learning is different.
So, for example – the edublogasphere.. is a network of bloggers writing about education. They are networked by virtue of their common use of the Internet and blogs to communicate.. but they are not grouped at this point. They learn from each other still, but it is more distant than in a group or non formal learning process. FLNW is a group that emerged when nodes within that network connected and more strongly bonded to a point where they wanted to meet around a common objective. But the learning that goes on in that group is different to the informal or hidden learning that goes on in the networks. So to imply that networked learning is the same as group or non formal learning is not recognising the difference between a network and a group.
Ah…! here we go again 🙂 it is an interesting discussion and I hope we are all willing to have another belt at it.
I reckon it rests on what we find acceptable to call a network 🙂 I am happy with a network being a largely ungrouped, informal and mostly distant connection between individuals, information, media, groups and other nodes. I suspect that Teemu is not happy with this. I wouldn’t call my group of friends a network, and I recognise the people in FLNW less as a network and more as a group with a different set of benefits to me, mostly friendship!
The pub is another interesting analogy that Teemu makes in the comments to his post. I might go to the pub as an individual for the chance to be around other people and talk about what ever.. the quality of Finnish beer perhaps.. for me at this point as an individual entering the pub, this is a type of networked learning and is very much informal. Later, and maybe after quite a few rounds of Finnish beer I might find myself in a group, learning in a whole different way. Likely (being a Finnish pub, I will find I am with a group if criminals! 🙂
It is the same as if I go to the blogasphere and set up my own blog to talk about education. I don’t really mind who I meet and talk with, all I hope to do is connect nodes of information, ideas, media and even persons for some obscure benefit to something ill-defined.. curiosity. I could happily exist like this for the rest of my time on the blogasphere, or I could reach in further and attempt to make stronger connections and even join or form a group such as FLNW. Through such a group we might develop shared objectives and learning, but at this point the group exists where before it did not. I think this is where the two forms of learning are very different (but equally valid) in one hand we have a networked learning and largely being informal, in the other we have a group learning and largely being non formal.
I think it is important to make this distinction because we are all very used to forms of group and non formal learning like classes and schools, families, and group identities, and very few of us learn how to exist and benefit in a network, and perhaps at times needlessly look for a group to join. I think our lack of appreciation of networked and informal learning is a blind spot in common understandings of learning and education.
Its a beautiful day outside. I’m spending it building a wardrobe in the bedroom. And while I wait for the batteries on the cordless drill to recharge, I’m finally catching up on my long neglected bloglines.
I highly value Stephen Downes’ recent critique the Cape Town Declaration. I started reading the declaration yesterday, but quickly lost interest in it for reasons I was not entirely sure of at the time. Stephen’s critique, the comments that follow, and the links out to other ideas about it offer up so much more food for thought than the declaration itself. I think I will spend more time following the critiques and responses before I actually read the declaration – maybe that way I will find the thing more interesting as I read through it and consider the critiques and conversations I have already read. At this point in time I intuitively share Stephen’s concerns and I think the general points he is trying to make should extend right accross the Open Educational Resources movement. There is too much standard thinking about the ‘delivery’ of education, and the near neurotic obsessing over copyright seemingly at the expense of more important issues to do with learning. Nuf said on that for now.. more to follow after I’ve had more time reading.
Speaking of reading, making the time to read really helps me to listen. Since working at the Polytech my time for reading has been slowly eaten away. While in discussions about workload I try hard to defend the time I need to read, and reckon that people in my role need to allocate at least 30% of their time to it.. for me this would be at least 40 hrs per month reading my bloglines and adding notes to my blog. I need this to remain current and to sustain my connections. Funny how a fulltime job with all its inefficiencies can eat away at that. Over the past 2 years I have been reduced to less than 20hrs reading and writing time. I am starting to appreciate the familiar chorus from people when I encourage blogging and RSS, that chorus that says, “but who has the time!” In my own loss of the time I need, I really have only myself to blame. I must defend that time, and where possible extend it. Reading other blogs, comments and general points of view are extremely helpful to my own listening abilities and the things I can bring back into my local context. The trouble is, that that amount of time impacts on my abilities to listen in on the local channels. Those face to face meetings, discussions, and other things. At the moment, there is a communication disconnect between the speed and depth of the online communication and the slowness and superficiality of the face to face…
Stephen also recently posted the transcript of the talk he made in Wellington back in 2006 on Groups and Networks – the class struggle continues. I have blogged extensively my support once again for Stephen’s thoughts here, especially through that time soon after his talk where the debate about Groups and Networks became quite controversial, ending in a wide scale dismissal of its importance. I still think it is centrally the most important issue not just limited to online learning, and this recent transcript helps keep it alive in my mind.
Do you know of a freely accessible online intro course to sustainability that could be used to initiate some under informed people to the issues and ideas of sustainability?
we have been presented with a copyright protected, closed format, password protected, pay-here-please resource that would be quite effective for initiating people into the concerns, but does not in my opinion present a sustainable model for online learning development. I wish I could show you this resource, but.. it requires a password.
I criticised the resource as demonstrating unsustainable practices in terms of online resource development and learning, now I’m tasked with finding examples of more sustainable online resources… open source, freely accessible (no passwords), collaborative yet concise and informative… I expect I will find little in the way of finished resource.
It is a difficult task, as the expectation has been set by the resource that has been presented. A very linear, ‘mechanically interactive’, multi media broadcast of introductory information speaking to a particular frame of thinking about the issue (corporate/organisational sustainability). It is a genre of online learning resource that I have come to see as unsustainable… but on the other hand it has been suggested that such content could be an effective resource to ask participants to first go through and then critique and use as a basis to help build a more sustainable version .. hmm perhaps a Wikiversity or Wikieducator development would be such a venue for user genertaed content…
The Wikipedia entry for sustainability has an excellent range of resources, including a list of educational opportunities which I will slowly review.. The Wikiversity site has the beginnings of a potential course, but already beyond the concise and engaging resource we are looking for just now. The good thing about these 2 wiki examples is we could mold them to our needs without issues with access and copyright restrictions.. perhaps it will work out cheaper and more effective to do just that then to buy in an external resource like the one that has been presented to us. If we can’t find a ready to use resource that models sustainability, my thinking is to consider the cost of developing an easy to follow step through of available resources, including the drawing in of a variety of multi media (such as this video on Youtube that William found a few days ago). So if anyone has a good ‘lesson plan’, link or entire curriculum handy that would step people through an introduction to the concerns of sustainability, that would be most helpful. Anything that relates to social, economic and ecological sustainability is being sought.
So at this stage, any help in finding accessible, open for reuse and remix, concise and engaging resources would be appreciated. Links to individual resources like that Youtube video, texts, or whole curriculum/lesson plans would all be helpful. Please add anything to the comments below, or using the Del.icio.us tag intro-to-sustainability. I will collect and review all that is found and attempt to summarise ideas from there.
I hope this post generates discussion and links, both would be helpful. Thanks for your time.
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. 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 😉 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.
George Siemens has posted much needed rethinking on the role of teachers and experts in Networked Learning. He presents the idea of a curator as a central player in initiating a focus for a learning network.
I very much like this idea of the curator and I’d like to add more to it by describing and preserving the integrity of the teacher and the facilitator.
As many already know I try to reinvigorate questions and discussion on the role of teachers from time to time – all be it a little confrontational 🙂 Lately I have been broadly focusing on the integrity of a facilitator, especially as I reckon the teaching profession is [innocently] corrupting the integrity of facilitation with teachers calling themselves facilitators – but remaining teachers in every sense of the word. I guess teachers do this in response to the as yet illdefined roles needed in a networked learning. They are perhaps prematurely trying to redefine their role of teacher without yet fully understanding why or how, and engaging in the dialogue that George points to. I don’t think teaching needs redifining, it is fine as it is, it just needs to be deinstitutionalised and moved away from being the primary player in people’s learning. Artichoke is in my opinion the deepest and most thought provoking edublogger writing in this vein of thinking, and she is drawing very much from the thinking of Illich.
As George suggests, perhaps the expertise of a curator are more suited to becoming a central role in networked learning – someone that draws on an array of teachers and content to suit a particular purpose. I want to add the facilitator as another important role here, as someone or something that assists people to negotiate the exhibition that the curator has assembled. Not a teacher dressed up as a facilitator – someone who manages to remain impartial while at the same time engaging and interpretive; someone that can respond quickly to various and often unpredictable contributions from participants; and someone who does all this without asserting a sense of authority or even expertise over a topic, but instead calls on teachers and experts to engage when a teacher or an expert is needed. And that’s where networked learning and the Internet really help us. They give us access to a vast number of teachers and experts to call on at any given time!
But where can we find curators and facilitators? I don’t think we can reliably find good facilitators in the teaching sector.. perhaps we will find better facilitators from the fields of journalism, comedy, performance, talk back radio, speakers to the house of reps, etc. And as George points out, we will find curators from museums and art galleries (lets not forget the librarians!) I see the likes of Stephen Downes, George Siemens, David Wiley and so many other “A listers” – or most referenced contributors, primarily as teachers and content providers in this network. People and content that the curator might draw from. Modern day researchers who are available to be teachers and content providers in an exhibition, conference of course. They’re participants as well – especially in areas they are not recognised as experts, but the sustained focus, quality, popularity, experience and depth of their work makes them more teacherly than participants in their field. So it is not them that are the facilitators (although they are often capable as George showed with his facilitation of FOE). But one cannot be both an expert or teacher and facilitator at the same time.
I’m yet to come accross someone in our widened educational network that I would call a professional facilitator and/or curator.. perhaps like the teaching sector, the edublogging sector is not a reliable source for good facilitators. Perhaps the source for good facilitators and curators do not have an online presence and network yet…
But when they emerge I see the roles playing out like this: A curator finds resources and a space to bring together an “exhibition” of content, experts and teachers, then either adopts the different role of facilitator, or employs the services of a professional facilitator who will assist all the participants to negotiate the various aspects of the exhibition.
For example: Someone who organises a conference is essentially curating content, and will either facilitate that event themselves, or hire a professional conference facilitator to do it. The teachers and experts play a secondary role in these sorts of learning environments by providing the content and focus. In a sense, the people and content in this secondary layer are competing with each other for attention and recogniton.. they often choose to collaborate instead/or as well as compete (I mean compete in a very positive sense) for the attention and participation in their topic area. The tertiary level in this type of learning environment are the participants. They move around the content that is presented to them by the curator, and engage in various discussions, workshops and other events with assistance from the facilitator if needed. Often the curators, facilitators, teachers and experts join in and participate as well, but they unavoidably carry with them the status and isolation of their role, while the participants are free to move around unrestrained by an identity as fully formed as a teacher or expert at this “exhibition” that the curator has put on.
An art exhibition (and the opening in particular) is very similar. The artworks, the artists and the critics provide the content; the curator selects the content; and the participants develop the interpretation/learning. The more I think about it, so much of the world works like this. The old practice of classroom, captive audience teaching, and standard set fees is such an abused privilege!
So begins a new/or revisited thread of networked thought I hope… and we may at last be developing a clearer model for networked learning.
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?
- Losing the teacherly voice
- Linking analogue media and communications with digital networks
- Supporting and promoting a range of research and communication literacies
- Establishing networks more than groups
- Supporting long term learning communities