Posted by: crumphelen | April 2, 2013

POT Cert Week 21: short and deep, a nod to online education theory #potcert

This week, under the heading of “Introduction to Online Education Theory”, POTCert addresses not only a contemporary and challenging topic but one which has fundamental implications for future society. Consequently, because of the colossal scope and contentious nature of the topic, and in order to avoid posting something that although tries to encompass as much as possible only serves to be vague and unfathomable, I’m just going to provide a few highlights of a couple of articles that focussed my reading and comment on one or two of the prominent points.

Knowledge is a powerful thing - with it, anything's possible.

Knowledge is a powerful thing; with it, anything’s possible.

First off, in his article, Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age, Larry Sanger is scornful of some of the sentiment currently circulating in education, saying:

some Internet boosters argue that Google searching serves as a replacement for our memory and that students need not memorize — need not learn — as much as they did before the Internet

educationists inspire us with the suggestion that collaborative learning online can serve as “the core model of pedagogy.” Knowledge is primarily to be developed and delivered by students working in online groups

and further, he says that these “Internet boosters” advocate that

the co-creation of knowledge can and should take the place of reading long, dense, and complex books.

Sanger fears that

if we take their advice […] we will have a society of drones, enculturated by hive minds, who are able to work together online but who are largely innocent of the texts and habits of study that encourage deep and independent thought.

He doesn’t see how using the tools of the Internet are any real substitute for

the difficult work of developing individual minds.

His key underlying assumption is that

a liberal education and the Western enlightenment ideals that it inculcates not only are valuable but are essential to our future.

Here, I’d counter that deep independent thought is all well and good, but hasn’t this led to a situation today where information and expertise has become siloed; and besides, drawing now on my recent experience in the eLearning and Digital Culutres MOOC, what’s to say that such humanist values and enlightenment ideals actually beget some pinnacle of human achievement, because as things stand currently in the world, there’s a whole lot that could be working out much better: the environment, equality, social justice and the eradication of poverty to name but a few. It may well be, as transhumanist thinking avers, that by realising the benefits of emerging technologies we could indeed overcome fundamental human limitations. Maybe, the knowledge that’s needed now, to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century and beyond, can no longer be derived from deep independent thought and must indeed be summoned up as collective intelligence, or at the very least facilitated through networked learning.

“Connection forming is natural”, says George Siemens in his article, Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching.

It doesn’t need coercion. We do it with language, images, video. We create, express, connect. And software is now available that aids this innate activity with unprecedented fervor. We build competence, make sense, learn, and growth through our connections.

Siemens asks us to consider what he calls the ” happy little edublogger”, whose

established networks [and] experience enables them to put new developments into a historical context. They assist others to create networks…but they do more. They serve as curators of ideas, connections, philosophies, and world views. They create frameworks of interpreting and understanding history, new technologies, and trends through their work and public dialogue.

In the relation to the role of the “individual formerly known as teacher”, Siemens comments that he’s

rather sick of “sage on stage” and “guide on the side” comparisons. The clear dichotomy chafes.

He acknowledges that

power in classrooms has shifted from the teacher at the centre

preferring to use the term

‘network administrator’ […] It’s the basis on which teaching and education should be founded. But I think something more is needed, something that places some level of value or interpretation on content, knowledge, and concepts being explored.

Here he offers the idea of

the joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be.

Explaining the addition of curator as

an expert [who] exists in the artefacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But [who’s] behind the scenes providing interpretation, direction, provocation, and yes, even guiding. A curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don’t adhere to traditional in-class teacher-centric power structures.

Certainly, as Siemens points out

much [is] happening in terms of defining what is acceptable authority for information and knowledge.

Undoubtedly, because education’s no longer asking the same questions and can no longer be based on once familiar assumptions.

Image Source: http://www.fotopedia.com/items/flickr-3842815564

References:

Sanger,L. (2010)  Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age. Available at: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/individual-knowledge-internet-age

Siemens, G. (2007) Networks, Ecologies, and Curatorial Teaching. Available at: http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=93

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Responses

  1. Hi Helen – thanks for your post with your thoughts about two of this week’s readings. Your reference to George Siemens thoughts about ‘curators’ reminded me of Etienne Wenger’s writing about ‘social artists’ which you might be familiar with – http://wenger-trayner.com/resources/social-artists/ My interpretation is that Wenger puts more emphasis on social learning – or perhaps they are just saying the same thing but using different language.

    Your reflection on Larry Sanger’s article…….

    >Maybe, the knowledge that’s needed now, to meet the complex challenges of the 21st century and beyond, can no longer be derived from deep independent thought and must indeed be summoned up as collective intelligence, or at the very least facilitated through networked learning.

    ……… is very much in line with the discussions we had on a course that I recently did with Howard Rheingold – Towards a Literacy of Cooperation. I wrote a number of blog posts about the course, but maybe this one relares most closely to ideas of collective intelligence – http://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2013/03/02/technologies-of-cooperation/

    I am also interested in your very last sentence

    >education’s no longer asking the same questions and can no longer be based on once familiar assumptions.

    I was wondering whether you would have time to expand on what these questions and assumptions are.

    Thanks for giving me such a lot to think about 🙂

    Jenny

    • Hi Jenny, thanks for your comments, and apologies from me for my tardy response; my routine has been somehow disrupted over Easter. I liked the reference to “social artists”. It immediately made me think of a whole host of people I’ve come across through my experience in the licensed trade (pubs), not classrooms, who through small conversations and ordinary events manage to create social spaces that evoke community, develop social meaning and promote everyday learning. The work of Etienne Wenger resonates with me enormously; I wish I knew it in greater depth though.

      Although I don’t know anything about it, the idea of emergent learning appeals to me as well. The unpredictability and exploration, or adventure, aspect it conjures up is definitely for me, as is the acceptance of risk that I think must come with it, but I’m sure to some people in education this must be difficult to contemplate if they’re happy with predictable outcomes and a certain level of control.

      As regards to my point that education’s no longer asking the same questions and can no longer be based on once familiar assumptions, I think I really mean society is no longer asking the same questions and can no longer be based on once familiar assumptions, to which education must respond to the outcome. My thinking in this regard was influenced by my recent participation in Edinburgh University’s MOOC eLearning and Digital Cultures, which addressed the question: ‘what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?’, and here I might add that I feel spectacularly under qualified to present these theories and viewpoints. Any way notwithstanding that, approaches to modern education to date have been defined by humanism and humanistic values, derived from the Enlightenment. However, developments within digital technology, bioscience, philosophy, ecology and popular culture are increasingly pushing at the boundaries of what it means to be human and consequently making the boundaries seem less secure:

      * biomedical developments in cloning, genetic and tissue engineering, transplantation and reproductive medicine
      * advances in artificial intelligence and the promise of seamless brain-computer interfaces
      * the increasingly mundane and unnoticed embeddedness of digital technology in our everyday lives
      * ‘posthumanist’ and ‘anti-humanist’ philosophy which has challenged some of our often taken-for-granted assumptions about ‘human nature’ and the ways in which we define what it means to be human
      * movements which question the ecological sustainability of human-centred ways of thinking.

      The course took the standpoint that human nature and human ways of being are in some sense under threat by technology, and that this has the potential to undermine the basis of our commitment to humanist ideas which underlie many educational philosophies and approaches to practice, such as equality, freedom and autonomy.

      Before I re-embarked on studying, I initially regarded technology as changing our literacy practices, then I figured it was society changing to become networked in a global age, now it seems its deeper than that…

      If you want your mind blowing, I recommend anyone to take the next run of the course.
      I hope I’ve cleared up what I alluded to, even though I can’t begin to explain it.

      Thanks Jenny for your comments and for the brilliant video outlining learning theories and adding emergent learning into my list of things I’m curious about. 🙂

      Helen

  2. The points in the beginning of your entry here how students don’t need to memorize, or learn, as much anymore now that there is the Internet is interesting (Sanger, 2010). We talk about the differences between memorization and learning in my field (child development). Perhaps we can look some facts up more quickly than in the past, but do we need to learn any less? Thanks for the entry. Made me think.

    Sanger, L. (2010) Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/individual-knowledge-internet-age

    • Hi Laura, thanks for your comments. I wonder if it’s that we don’t need to learn less, but rather that we need to learn how to learn more?

  3. As always, I enjoyed reading your post. I think as instructors we will need to get very creative on finding ways to stimulate our students’ minds. Since so much information (true or false) is available at the snap of a finger, students are not training their brains to retain information–especially for the long-run.

  4. Hi Helen – thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment and it is interesting to hear about your experience with the EdCMOOC. I was registered for that MOOC, but never got round to it because I got heavily involved in Howard Rheingold’s ‘Toward’s a Literacy of Cooperation’ online course.

    >The course took the standpoint that human nature and human ways of being are in some sense under threat by technology, and that this has the potential to undermine the basis of our commitment to humanist ideas which underlie many educational philosophies and approaches to practice, such as equality, freedom and autonomy.

    I came away from Howard’s course with more confidence in human nature than seems to have come out of the EDcMOOC – particularly from Elinor Ostrom’s work on how people use ‘the commons’ and her faith in humans as being able to care for ‘the commons’, as opposed to Garrett Hardin’s work on the Tragedy of the Commons. But I think I will try and get to EDcMOOC next time it is offered.

    And re Etienne Wenger’s work, I can really recommend his book ‘Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity – http://books.google.co.uk/books/about/Communities_of_Practice.html?id=heBZpgYUKdAC.

    Not an easy read – so if you wanted more of an introduction to it – then I would recommend the Academic BEtreat that he runs with his wife Bev.- http://wenger-trayner.com/betreat/ . I have done this both f2f and virtually and preferred the online version – mainly because I work better with a bit more space around me 🙂

    No need to reply to any of this Helen as I know you have to move on to Week 22 – but it’s been good to have this ‘conversation’.

    Jenny

  5. […] Week 21: This week’s topic of learning theory was really tricky to post about. Not that I don’t understand learning theories by and large, just that it’s such an enormous topic. I was unable to watch Jenny Mackness’s video because I didn’t realise that my browser had fallen out with YouTube, so I decided to write a reply to Larry Sanger’s article, “Individual Knowledge in the Internet Age” instead. In truth, I just wanted to get the post out of the way; it wasn’t a great post, but I was glad that I posted something and that Jenny was interested enough to make comment because a very interesting discussion ensued. […]

  6. My family always say that I am wasting my time here at net, except I know I
    am getting familiarity daily by reading thes nice articles.

    • Thanks. I’m with you; there’s so much you can learn from other people on the web. Wishing you well with your learning, Helen 🙂


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