Sunday, October 26, 2008

Tensions-- Opening Firewalls to more Connected Designs CCK08

“There is an inherent tension between the rhetoric of Web 2.0 and current educational practices.” --Gráinne Conole

Additional tension-- increasingly more apparent, becoming more taut as I traverse three diverse learning environments daily—Blackboard as an instructional designer, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge as a learner, and an emergent online community of practice as both a learner and community leader. --One tightly closed and linear, one open and connected, and the third a “walled garden” on a social network platform that thrives on the willingness of its members to share and make connections.

Hmmm, these tensions, not unlike the tensions resulting from my repeated requests to open holes in the firewall in the large urban district in which I taught and learned for so many years, hoping to provide access to connections to deepen understanding by students of key concepts. Thank you to Ariel who suggested:
“…it made me think of an electrical wire which is insulated, over the end piece or over the wire itself, to prevent it from connecting in certain ways and encouraged to connect in others.

Isn’t that what we are talking about when we talk about Instructional Design? … The Connectivist approach is simply to remove a lot more of the insulation to allow a lot more connections, including those sparks that jump gaps we as the “designers” may not have even envisioned. --Ariel
and enabled me to explore a connection to those firewall experiences and the appreciable tensions and dichotomies as I seek to examine instructional design through another lens. Wikipedia notes that:
“A firewall is an integrated collection of security measures designed to prevent unauthorized electronic access to a networked computer system. …. inspects network traffic passing through it, and denies or permits passage based on a set of rules.”
Those rules in the districts in which I worked were stringent, imposed not by educators but technicians interested in security, not learning. And they prevented, and continue to prevent, learners from making important connections with content, with people, with ideas, with networks, with the world. In my mind, I pictured a high, taut wall through which we were always trying to punch holes. And I often referred to my efforts as “knocking my head against brick walls”. The firewall contributed to learning characterized by linearity and lack of connections. Additionally, swirling around in my mind is this notion of security and how that relates to learning. A firewall whose tension is so great, restricting any penetration or connection, keeping learning safe—there’s something wrong with that picture in light of the complexity of learning and the risk taking required to move understanding to the next level --- a bit of a digression--

I’m wondering if the instructional designs I’ve developed in Blackboard don’t hold some similarity to the notion of that impenetrable firewall? Lisa’s learning design prompted me to examine mine in a similar fashion. First my intent:

In the design, “Exploration” often incorporates an interactive concept attainment activity (often meaning when I can persuade subject matter experts of the potential for discovery as opposed to presenting). Although mapped as a cycle for each week of learning, lacking are indications that the cycle is not sequential and that opportunities are allowed for revisiting evaluation, exploration and expansion as desired by the learner which is my intent. Now the reality---

This illustrates the reality of what actually exists in Blackboard for a weekly unit. It could be viewed as a pretty taut firewall-- as a matter of fact, the agency often notes “we want to keep participants within the Blackboard environment”. I’ve noted before my sense of some tension with the outcome of my designs; my travels in learning in this course have exponentially increased my wanting to punch holes, to design for making connections.

Then I decided to make an attempt to look at my own learning design that has worked for me in this course for these last three weeks.

There’s no wall here; connections prevail. I’ve viewed extraordinary landscapes, stretched far from my comfort zone with great trepidation to find that the complexity, the finding of patterns, the waymaking, the sense making have contributed to learning far beyond my greatest expectations.

So what implications then can drawn and how, within some given parameters (I won’t have a job if I don’t design in Blackboard), can I alter the learning design in Blackboard, hopefully modeling and demonstrating for those in power an alternative, powerful design for learning? A question shared and suggestions made by those with whom I’ve connected:
“Can we apply the best of web 2.0 principles to an educational context? More specifically can we use this as a means of shifting teaching practice to a culture of sharing learning ideas and designs?” --Canole
“In many ways the theories of connectivist learning are designed as a tutorial system without a tutor. “ This sentence jumped out at me the first time I read it as hitting the nail on the head. Now as I think about it, I wonder if rather than their being no tutor, there’s a multitude of tutors as big as your network, each guiding you through the bits they know more about than you do. It’s kind of a “professoriate of all learners” to paraphrase Martin Luther. Big networks may be important to this model. As your network grows, the likelihood that everyone in it is as ignorant (I don’t mean the term pejoratively- perhaps unaware would be better) of a given topic diminishes. Now, how do we design learning resources to make that happen?” --An Education and Technology Blog
"…LD is specified with control in mind, and thus cannot be easily adopted by learners. In fact, LD prescribes a sequence of activities for a learner, which are carried out in a particular environments initiated and controlled by learning designers, rather than the learners themselves. In my opinion, If we insist to have LD, then it should be LD triggered by the learner; i.e. personal learning design." --Mohamedmninechatti
How is the general level of activities on cck08! Is there some fatigue in the network? Where is the activity of the 2000 students? Distributed! Moodle? Blogs? NingGroups? Twitter? How is your role as a teacher in cases of despondency spreading? Can the network manage it? Which implications does it have on the ‘design’ of courses? Can you design courses to minimize dropout? Facilitator roles, feedback, mixing online-offline activity? --Jorgen
So therein lies the problem, the structure of education needs to be revamped to allow students the opportunity to find out why education is important to them. --tomwhyte
Shackleton-Jones proposes an awareness-resource model, where the primary purpose of formal instruction/training is to raise learner awareness of when to go out into a PLE and seek information. --An Education and Technology Blog
In this model, Shackleton-Jones notes:
“The very bottom level (Knowledge sharing) represents, to some extent, the submerged part of the iceberg (or the ‘dark matter’ of learning organizations, depending on which metaphor you prefer). The vast majority of activity in your learning organization already resides here, and it is the areas where L&D departments are least likely to be involved, but there are ways in which they can begin to facilitate and contribute to this tier – by maintaining a wiki system, by contributing to and supporting blogs, by facilitating knowledge-sharing."
George Siemens suggests, if I’ve interpreted correctly, designs that with an emphasis on adaptability and keeping current --designs to which attention is focused on patterning that encourage learners to see different situations and recognize patterns found with them—designs that focus on encouraging and supporting wayfinding to assist learners finding their way through overwhelming amounts of information and finally designs that enhance learners’ ability to come then to some point of sense making.

The Conole reading, New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, offered meaningful schema and frameworks that have deepened my understandings and will inform any future design.
As Wendy summarizes:
“In her Pedagogical framework for mapping 'tools-in-use', “Conole identifies 3 dimensions that span from information to experience, passive to active learning, and individual to social learning. I immediately recognize that most classroom learning takes place in the upper left corner of the framework. Most of our students individually learn knowledge-level information in a passive manner.“
And she continues:
“ESSENTIAL QUESTION: How do we move our students toward the lower right corner where they can actively experience learning with others?

Conole offers a matrix of principles against the learning characteristics they promote. For example, frequent interactive exercises and feedback promote thinking and reflection, conversation and interaction, as well as evidence and demonstration. Allowing users to build a reputation in the system promotes experience and activity. Conole further identifies personal learning networks as a means for creating custom learning experiences.

I see personal learning environments as the key to a connectivist approach. Learner freedom to choose connections and navigate the network is crucial.”

Canole also proposes learning through some combination of the following:
  • thinking and reflection
  • conversation and interaction
  • experience and activity
  • evidence and demonstration

and further purports that “can then be used as the basis against which to benchmark pedagogical principles for any particular learning scenario”. Those principles:
  • Reflect on experience and show understanding,
  • Frequent interactive exercises and feedback,
  • Provides support for independent learning,
  • Supports collaborative activities

From those suggestions, what steps, even those every so small, can reduce some tension and move design toward the lower right hand quadrant in an VLE such as Blackboard, perhaps punching some good holes in that firewall? I’ll be considering how:
  1. To cluster patterning, waymaking, and sensemaking experiences -- moving from “learning units” (completely linear) to folders
  2. To design more collaborative experiences that are active and experiential, connecting learners to appropriate networks
  3. To include aggregated resources that are available outside the VLE so that learners can keep current and for the very purpose of portability as Mike suggests:
    “As useful as many centralized platforms are, the key issue for me is they retain user contributions, so learner contributed content isn’t necessarily portable.“

  4. To persuade subject matter experts and project managers to allow learners to create discussion forums, recognizing the need for them to make and create connections in their learning as Mike again suggests:
    “Moreover, it seems clear from the usage of the CCK08 Moodle Forums that centralized spaces for discussion remain a critical aspect of learning; and this seems to be a key area of importance for the VLE.“

  5. To create a greater awareness of resources
  6. To allow opportunities for knowledge sharing (wikis are portable from Blackboard)

It’s difficult to think small steps, but as Jenny said:
"Stephen himself has said that teachers need to model and demonstrate and this makes perfect sense to me. We just take small steps to begin with, modeling and demonstrating in small ways what can be achieved and celebrating success as we go along and gradually things start to move, but it will be a slow process."
I enter the “walled garden” of our emergent community of practice--the tension subsides as I encounter design domains of the Cloudworks design framework
  • Enabling practice
  • Building identify
  • Actualizing self

A design in which social interaction occurs around the content of 21st Century Learning; a design which considered:
"In the realm of enabling practice, a designer is faced with the task to create facilities that enable the support of a practice that exists or could exist within the social group that is the intended audience of the social software system. ... In the realm of building identity, the designer’s job is to provide the user community with the mechanisms that allow for the development of an online identity. Finally, in the realm of actualizing self, a designer needs to create the mechanisms that allow users to tap into the collective wisdom and experience and use it for his own benefit, learning processes and actualization." (Bouman et al., 2007: 14) --Conole
Missing only a strong emphasis on mimicking reality, this NING design provides a page for each learner to personalize, developing an online persona, and various mechanisms that allow users to tap into the collective wisdom—discussion forums, permissions to up load videos, RSS aggregation to the forums and community activity, a Delicious feed with a common tag for bookmarking resources of interest to the community, a capability to form small groups to connect with folks of like passions, and as the community continues to emerge, additions of “expert voices” as learners are encouraged to expand their own learning networks. Full of learners making connections, around a common desire to learn more about 21st Century learning. Full of excitement, full of discovery, full of connections --- the only tension—totally different as learners move out of their comfort zones to stretch--- No firewalls to monitor traffic—

My preferred designs and environments for learning -- Connectivism and Connective Knowledge and the community of practice. However, I can’t abandon the source of tension as of this writing -- what if, given the new and deeper understandings I’ve been fortunate to acquire via my connections in this course, I really can punch out some holes in the Blackboard “firewall”? What if I can move design to a new direction? What if---

Photo Credit


Keith Lyons said...


When alerted to your post via Google Alerts I decided to make myself a cup of coffee and savour the broad ranging sweep of your post.

I think you synthesise a wonderful amount of detail and insight into this post.

You have a dilemma but I think you will resolve it ... you will become part of the solution to the 'walled gardeness' of instructional design ... a prairie of opportunity enriched by connectedness.


Regenesis said...

I didn't create a learning design model for this course and that was a mistake. I really need a map and a path or I forget some of the online places where I find course discussions. Although I visit CCK08 websites every day, I haven't been checking my google reader feed and I have a backlog of 148 posts there. It must be frustrating to put so much effort into a post and then hope we find it.

Lani said...

Hi Keith,

Thank you for the kind words--

I really like your phrase "prarie of opportunity enriched by connectedness"


Lani said...

He Regenesis,

Thanks for stopping by.

My attitude toward blogging may be different from many-- the very act of writing helps my organize and clarify my thinking, sort out what's important-- and so I really write for myself and am humbled and honored when someone stops by and finds some value--