Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Climb -- CCK08

“Every day you may make progress. Every step may be fruitful. Yet there will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving path. You know you will never get to the end of the journey. But this, so far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” –Winston Churchill

A perfect description of my “climb” in CCK08--

Although seemingly great boulders blocked my path at times, nevertheless my journey was ever-improving because of the very nature of open, connected/networked learning. Countless, valuable connections guided my way and for those, I am eternally grateful. At times, when I was not in the best shape for the steep ascent, the autonomy afforded by this model, allowed me to set my own pace. Thanks to the path markers left by George and Stephen as they led the climb, I made good progress in finding my way. As mentioned by others, this journey’s not ended, yet only beginning—I eagerly anticipate views of incredibly, expansive landscapes as I continue the climb.

My sincerest thank you to George and Stephen for this opportunity and my very best personal wishes to all with whom I made connections. May they continue--

Photo credit

Sardines, Networks, and Hope -- CCK08

Some years ago, teachers in a large urban district --first energized by professional development that helped them integrate technology effectively into learning for their students, then discouraged and frustrated by inappropriate filters and unsupportive administrators-- pledged to join the ranks of “committed sardines” when I shared with them Ian Jukes’ metaphor. Through some of the most trying times, the mention of “committed sardines”, would bring a smile, renewed dedication and a hope that that “critical mass” of those working for change might soon be reached so that we could move forward in providing authentic, meaningful learning for students.

Years have come and gone. Change has been minimal at best and in reality, at least in the large district of which I spoke, has been reversed. Where is that critical mass? Why didn’t it materialize? Similar questions traverse the globe in the edublogosphere with murmurs, then raised voices, strong and respected voices asking when and how to move out of the echo chamber. An event prompts a surge in activity, then discouragement, and here we are---

Now the future –and with a future now ahead of us that many cannot envision, are we asking the right questions? Are the questions posed at more appropriate for our time?
1.“To what extent are we prepared, as a society and as educators, for the massive changes in human capabilities that digital technologies are likely to enable in the next 13 years?
2.To what extent are our future visions for education based upon assumptions about humanity, society and technology that are no longer valid?
3.To what extent can we, as educators, help to shape the developments of technology in order to enhance human development?”
Their projections for the future-- exciting, intriguing, transformative—I hope to live to experience just a bit of what they describe. However, as noted, the implications for education are enormous, and daunting:
"The development of new communication tools, the creation of resources that allow us to record our lives and everything we see and interact with, the development of constant connectivity and instant interaction with our environment, raise profound questions about what it is that we need to know and be able to do as humans as we become increasingly like cyborgs."
And their suggestions resonate with me:
"We need to develop the mechanisms for an open and public debate on the nature and purpose of education in the digital age which goes beyond safe slogans such as ‘meeting the needs of every child’ (who can disagree with that?). Instead, we need to confront the fact that longstanding assumptions about what education is for, who conducts it, and how it is assessed, may need to be challenged. And this challenge will need to take place in the public spaces of the media, not the confines of the education community –

It is not possible to make decisions about the future of education in a vacuum– we need to systematically model and build a new education system and offer examples of possible futures that are accessible not only to researchers, technologists and politicians but to parents, children and local communities."
The discussions around the issue of change within the diverse CCK08 community have been enthusiastic, informed, and truly energizing; yet, as diverse as this community is, its membership draws significantly from the field of education.

I’m wondering if we each adopt the mantra from Mike’s incredibly eloquent, passioned rant, which touched the depth of my soul:
"For those of us who believe the course of education needs to change, it seems to me that the most important things that we can do to affect this change are to trust our beliefs, remain vigilant in our cause, realise that each of our contributions are singularly important in their own right, and maintain the hope that so long as we enact the changes we want to see in education we will eventually realise the goal."
and couple with that the building of a powerful network, of connections the current technology now affords- couldn’t this discussion of the future of learning and education be moved and connected to the public spaces mentioned --- researchers, innovators, parents, children, and communities –accessing the power of collective wisdom? Aren’t the underlying tenets of connected/ networked learning and the networks the right foundation on which to grow the change?

Reading the work of the, reflecting upon the landscape of connected /networked learning, experiencing the potential of the network, remembering the metaphor of the committed sardines –all converging---

There is hope, for—
"Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence." --Lin Yutang

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The dance of change— CCK08

Hardly a dancer myself on any traditional dance floor- lacking rhythm and coordination, neither fleet of foot nor graceful--

Yet a sometimes eager, always passioned participant in the dance of change as a catalyst who has attempted to defy resistance and continue to press forward in whatever small corner of the world I happen to inhabit—often without success. Unwilling to date to remain in any way satisfied with the status quo, George Siemens’ comments truly resonate with my experience:
“The dance of change between catalyst and counter pressures, leading ultimately to new affordances, can be difficult. A smoother or more rapid experience in the restructuring of education can hardly be expected.”
A few steps this week in fact—two forward- after co developing materials for a workshop for public school administrators immersing them for just a moment in 21st century tools for learning – and then 3 back -- to learn that the facilitator and participants of the workshop situated in a public school were unable to access more than half the resources provided, and for a time unable to even view the wiki on which the workshop materials were to be accessed. This workshop was an attempt at small scale innovation at an administrative level -- an attempt marred by resistance from IT departments who totally fail to understand the transformative potential of new technologies. This workshop, in its failure, clearly illustrates in its one small example the need for systemic change as George Siemens notes:
“Yet, in spite of small-scale innovation, new methods typically do not result in new spaces and structures of learning. As noted by David (1990), new innovations are adopted in the context of existing physical spaces. Changes of a more significant and profound nature need to be enacted at a system-wide level.”
Frustrating at best, I’ve been dancing in different K12 environments for many years. Most memorable are my early experiences when the large urban district in which I taught determined that pulling down a filter (that blocked sites of sports teams used to assist students in learning math and sites with primary source content --interviews with former slaves-- to help students understand the concept of slavery) was the only way to protect students from danger. Lack of access rather than teaching students responsible Internet use became the norm then and as illustrated by my dance with the workshop this week, continues to be the norm to this very day, at least in my part of the world. Consequently, Wendy’s statement resounded with me:
“The sober implication for schools is that existing systems are so entrenched in bureaucracies of current practice that they are not likely to change. Those of us who are trying to innovate from within are basically banging our heads against the wall.”
The dance- it must continue but I think with reasoned passion and suggested models such as that in the reading of George Siemens’ paper. Even though the paper referenced systemic change at the university level, it’s my sense that the ideas can be readily adapted for the k12 environment in which I live, and work, and learn.

George Siemens speaks of the importance of transforming learning spaces:
“Our ability to learn, grow, and adapt to change pressures is directly linked to the nature of our learning environments. Oblinger (2006) addressed the link between space design and opportunities for learning:
"Space - whether physical or virtual - can have an impact on learning. It can bring people together; it can encourage exploration, collaboration, and discussion. Or, space can carry an unspoken message of silence and disconnectedness. More and more we see the power of built pedagogy (the ability of space to define how one teaches) in colleges and universities. (para 1)”
Reconceptualizing learning spaces for k12 students-- designing for learning ecologies that enable networked learning and participatory pedagogies will help to ensure that learners are far better equipped to live and learn in today’s world. Today’s classrooms continue to support and enable delivery of content by the expert. Novice learners require some structure but as Lisa discusses George’s model, the same could apply at the k12 level.
“Structure is seen as necessary for beginners in a subject, to provide foundation, with exploration at the next level for the learner, and room for negotiation. It seems to reflect the approach of the English tutorial system, or graduate study (when grad students aren’t subject to serfdom, that it). This model would bring the perception of universities our culture can reclaim (centers of learning) together with new methods that take advantage of the latest technologies.”
Developmentally appropriate participatory pedagogies could transform learning IF, at least in the United States we can move from the current NCLB model of paper/pencil multiple choice standardized testing. I’d add to George’s statement
“Multiple interacting elements occurring on tension fault lines, such as open versus closed systems, expertise versus amateur content creation, networks and ecologies versus hierarchies and bounded classroom structures, create a climate where it becomes difficult to accurately explore or consider future directions.”
an additional tension fault line of NCLB testing versus authentic assessment for learning, as it seems to me that this systemic change is also critical for any consideration of transformation to learning ecologies that enable participatory learning. In concurring with Janet
“These powerful opportunities risk being trumped by the governance of our infrastructure. There must be a way to move forward with a sense of due care and positive engagement, not just by learners but also by the systems and communities which enable them.”
I’m wondering if one possible way to move forward with due care is to continue our dances in our personal situations and also make sure we broadcast to government agencies such models proposed by George Siemens or Peters?

As Keith noted Peters also proposed a model:
“I want to take a different tack and suggest a form of the university that does not break entirely with the founding historical discourses and their single unifying ideas but preserves them, adapts them to new conditions, reinvents and redefines them as an imaginative basis for resistance against the narrowing of thought (Michael Peters, 2007, p.21).”
Could this also apply to American public education? With the advent of the new technologies and views on social learning, can’t reinventing and redefining public education can only be in the best interests of all our children.

And I’m wondering if we can’t enlist foundations such as MacArthur with resources to sustain the dance as they seem to be moving in a similar direction--
“Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement? And finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this endeavor from an engaged and diverse set of publics that are broader than what we tradition¬ally think of as educational and civic institutions?”
What type of marathon is needed to effect this change with models and supporting research? What will it take to reach the point where we are four steps forward and meeting minimal resistance? I sure would like the opportunity to kick off my shoes—or do I need some endurance training?

Photo credit

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Wide open-- CCK08

“The lake’s wide open.
There’s a lake effect snow warning.”
As inhabitants in the heart of the snowbelt region of Northeast Ohio, we know what that means. Chances are we’re about to witness a significant accumulation of snow. The 60 inches that fell in four days in November, 1996 are a good illustration (shoveled all by hand -- too wet for the snowthrower).

The open lake (not frozen) enhances the capacity for the snow events to increase in significance, especially when the other critical variable factors are present—temperature of the air, the water, levels of humidity and wind direction. Lake effect snow events are fickle. Last week the wind was more westerly than northwest, so during last week’s warning 10 inches of snow fell just 10 miles north of us while we had a just a dusting.

Waking this morning to a lake effect snow warning, reflecting upon my readings on openness in education—and connecting—

The open lake, with its capacity to enable and enhance such snow-- the Internet, with its capacity for more freedom, for providing more access:
“Fortunately, various initiatives launched over the past few years have created a series of building blocks that could provide the means for transforming the ways in which we provide education and support learning. Much of this activity has been enabled and inspired by the growth and evolution of the Internet, which has created a global “platform” that has vastly expanded access to all sorts of resources, including formal and informal educational materials.” Seely Brown and Adler
The humidity, elevated and contributing to increased snow-- the rise of sharing and social learning expanding more opportunities for open communication:
“The Internet has also fostered a new culture of sharing, one in which content is freely contributed and distributed with few restrictions or costs. …

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.” Seely-Brown and Adler

“The idea that all of us, acting independently, but ensemble, en masse, can come up with something better than any individual in the group could by themselves. This is not a case of marching toward mediocrity, this is a case of the group simple being able to take into account more factors, more variables, than any given individual. But for this to work, we have to have the open communication and access. We have to have the distributed non-centralized non-hierarchical model.” Stephen Downes
Yet, these snow events and openness of connected learning rely on a confluence of so many variables and each, if not in sync, can become a barrier to the realization of the phenomenon--

Open Access to content and conversations is a stated characteristic of connected, networked learning: “openness is a prescriptive, integral part of the theory. It is one of four major properties I identify as essential to successful networks (diversity, autonomy and interactivity being the others). ..” (Stephen Downes) How often my frustrations have surfaced when a search appears to have located just the perfect resource, only to find that it requires a membership to view in total. Although there is a trend toward more open and available resources, as Stephen Downes noted: “…the calls for a closed network are becoming more insistent and more pervasive.” Despite those calls, open access “creates a participatory architecture for supporting communities of learners.” (Seely Brown and Adler) Those varied and numerous communities contribute to more accomplished practice (deepened learning and understanding) for all who contribute. Initially, however, there is some fear of the transparency inherent in such a culture.

Transparency, the willingness to share is essential to the openness of connected learning—requires a significant shift in thinking by many educators.
“It is the openness of learner’s writings that I find difficult to require. …But not everybody is comfortable with this extent of openness. At best, some will gradually become accustomed to it (as I did to a large extent). The other sort of discomfort with openness arises when there is a major disproportion of abilities. …So there are many possible reasons why people would prefer some privacy zone for their learning.” Matthias
I’m wondering if overcoming that feeling of “uncomfortableness”, of trying out ideas and writing in the open isn’t one step on the road to becoming part of a participatory culture. Isn’t it that transparency that helps pull in those from the periphery? And can’t transparency enrich our collective learning?

Communication and Cooperation, without question, are critical variables to openness in education. Mike’s comment resonated with me as he described what I see as “real” learning in which we engage together:
“Natural learning is not scripted. It’s not neat, tidy, and orderly; organised or in-line with learning objectives or attributes - to act otherwise is both shortsighted and to our detriment. Learning is messy, complex, complicated, wrought with false starts and at times highly frustrating. It is exploratory, and experiential; fueled by incessant curiosity and endless questioning of our world and our place within it - it is also an inherently personal process that cannot be handed down from on-high. I cannot learn for you, and likewise you cannot learn for me. We can, however, learn together, and learn from each other.” Mike
Stephen Downes also speaks to open learning and communication when he says:
“When we begin to speak, and not just listen, and in the new language, not just the old language. When we gain access and control of the syntax, the semantics and the vocabulary of the new media. And this happens if, and only if, we have an open communications network.”
In recent years, I can’t count how many times assistance has been offered to me with no conditions (a great benefit of sharing and openness); Rheingold reinforced my sense of why when he explained:
“I give useful information freely, and I believe my requests for information are met more swiftly, in greater detail, than they would have been otherwise. A sociologist might say that my perceived helpfulness increased my pool of social capital. I can increase your knowledge capital and my social capital at the same time by telling you something that you need to know, and I could diminish the amount of my capital in the estimation of others by transgressing the group's social norms. The person I help might never be in a position to help me, but someone else might be.” Rheingold
That open communication, the enriching of both knowledge and social capital rely on cooperation and a willingness to adopt norms that promote the freedom of expression through civil discourse:
“One of the great problems with the atmosphere of free expression now tolerated on the Net is the fragility of communities and their susceptibility to disruption. The only alternative to imposing potentially dangerous restrictions on freedom of expression is to develop norms, folklore, ways of acceptable behavior that are widely modeled, taught, and valued, that can give the citizens of cyberspace clear ideas of what they can and cannot do with the medium, how they can gain leverage, and where they must beware of pitfalls inherent in the medium, if we intend to use it for community-building.” Rheingold

Licensing, Creative Commons or GNU, can enable open learning. However, as Lisa has discovered those open licenses are not recognized by all and she asked:
“If they’re doing it with my little article, then right now, people must be taking all kinds of free and open work, and charging for access to it. What kind of walls will our content be behind, without us even knowing it?
Open Resources—there needs be a willingness to share resources and Stephen Downes has noted the benefits which result both publisher and reader:
“For readers, open access grants access to an entire body of literature. For publishers, open access guarantees the widest dissemination of the articles they publish.”
Sustainability Stephen Downes’ Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources addressed critical issues related to this topic including various funding models (Endowment, Membership, Donations, Conversion, Contributor-Pay, Sponsorship, Institutional, Governmental) and a description for sustainability of a project:
“the functions of production and consumption need to be collapsed, that the distinction between producers and consumers need to be collapsed. The use of a learning resource, through adaptation and repurposing, becomes the production of another resource. Though there is a steady stream of new resources input into the network by volunteers, this represents, not the result of an OER sustainability project, but the beginning of it.”
It’s my thinking that we must work toward the common goal of not permitting these variables to become or remain barriers to open learning, because the opportunities that arise upon convergence —

only reinforce -- “We need to transform learning…from something we do for people to something they do for themselves… --Stephen Downes

And that transformation needs to be “wide open”.

Photo Credit

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Exploring, Considering and Proposing--- CCK08

Some 40 years ago -- in a time of the first automated teller machine, the first computer mouse, the Nova computer with 32 kilobytes of memory for $8,000 -- I entered the classroom as a new teacher with the desks in straight rows, the teacher desk at the front of the room, blackboards, one textbook per subject, filmstrips and a projector. My roles— teller, disciplinarian and test giver.

Some 35 years later -- in a time of Google, Windows 2000, Palm Pilots, LMS — I exited a classroom distributed among 6 high schools connected by videoconferencing, lessons on line, a host of web resources, student laptops with virtual lockers within the LMS, and paperless learning. My roles-- designer, evaluator, motivational speaker, expert learner, organizer, mentor, mediator and “guide on the side”.

Some 4 years ago – in that same time of Google, Windows 2000, Palm Pilots, LMS – having left those physical spaces of learning, I entered Blackboard’s virtual space for learning as an instructional designer with discussion forums, group areas, learning units and lots of text. My roles – designer, expert learner, guide, communicator.

(I’m in total agreement with Viplav Baxi‘s contention that: “For me, the educator and the instructional designer roles are intricately linked in many ways. In fact I think it is a mistake to think about them in isolation.” I viewed my planning in the classroom as “designing” and carried that perspective to my current design position. Consequently, as I consider roles, I am unable to separate one from the other.)

And now – a teacher/instructional designer in a globalized society characterized by a “climate of abundance, rapid change, diverse information sources and perspectives, and the critical need to find a way to filter and make sense of the chaos." (George Siemens) with new possibilities for learning characterized as distributed, diverse, autonomous, connected, and open afforded by the advances in technology –

And this question—

Engaged and connecting to the thoughts of others --- metaphors in abundance caught my attention first, analogous to the roles appropriate for teachers/instructional designers in these times – some resonated with me far more than others:

Ken suggested what I think he would term a network manager with attention to
“1. Pipe handling, access and mechanics, 2. Pipe care and maintenance, 3. Flow Dynamics… it is critical that educators and institutions focus on teaching pipe mechanics and stay out of the flow.”
Although I’d agree that managing the dynamics is a critical role today and that this concept serves learning that is distributed and connected, I’d wonder if instead of “teaching pipe dynamics”, would students be better served by modeling and demonstrations? Unfortunately, although my father was a mechanical engineer, I’m having a bit of trouble with this concept and I’m sure that may simply be a matter of preference.

Ariel believes:
“that the roles of the Instructional Designer and Teacher are changing ... Those roles must merge into the Sharer, who shows new technologies and connections to information to others while always keeping in mind his/her own role as perpetual student. … To do this, the Sharer must, at least in some respects, plant the environment for others, set up what may grow into connections and give opportunity for emergence in ways even the Sharer may not envision...”
I like the notion of Sharer—for me it conjures images of warmth and trust, two elements I deem necessary to an effective learning space. A Sharer seems to possess the attributes to design learning that is open and connected. I’m wondering though if a sharer models as opposed to “show”, is there then more possibilities for connecting and collaboration?

Viplav views:
“Educator as a weaver – just like a weaver puts together many threads and creates a design, .. though, the educator would need to leave the design unfinished, with plenty of raw ends...

Educators as pattern builders - those who are able to build logical interconnections to make a field intelligible to the learner at each stage of learning. The educator must preserve the patterns in a way that can be accessed and re-harnessed for reference or for new learners.”
A weaver, and isn’t by the very nature of the weaving one who creates patterns -- hmm, this appeals to me— diverse in the many colors and the textures, autonomous in uniqueness of piece, fibers and threads connected and reconnected in the weaving, and open when fringes on the edges leave way for more connections?

Lisa considered a host of metaphors and their appropriateness to the role of teacher/instructional designer:
Lecturer.., facilitator.., accountant.., The Curator .., Master Artist. I currently use a Master Craftsman model ...A more open role would be that of Organic Gardener, where learners are like plants. Gardeners allow a great deal of freedom, but encourage desirable patterns (Kurtz and Snowden 466). They are prepared for chaos and are aware that the uncoordinated actions of the lower orders can result in higher levels of action, as in Bullock’s emergent learning in chaotic systems.”
And then this!
“What we face is a lack of magic. Aware of increasing access to information and resources via the web, we envision a world of self-motivated learners, unhampered by bureaucratic straight-jackets and obedience training. We want to use new technologies to bring them the world, controlling their learning only so they don’t hurt themselves or others. We want them to learn like we learn, through connections and discovery. We want assessment of learning to be based on personal empowerment of knowledge rather than passing tests and earning degrees. Ultimately, then, we want the role of Wizard. The ultimate power, not to control people, but to change the system.”
And finally--
“Our new role is Insurgent, creating a better way by undermining the system.”
And a day later this!
“That’s when it occurred to me: it’s ALL environment, the environment created by the setting and the people within it. Teaching is environmental engineering. … Wonder what would happen if we all came in one day and the desks were gone, replaced with pillows and decorative rugs on the carpet, colorful cloth walls and a plate of couscous for sharing? We’d do different things, I bet.”
What really resonated with me here were organic gardener, wizard and environmental engineer!! These images were powerful to me-- educator/instructional designer as organic gardener -- growing learning that engenders diversity in the many families, autonomous in the specific species, connected by the initial planting yet open and emergent, varying with the conditions of weather, soil, amendments and pests. And wizard – yes! To frame the design of connected learning in a context that is engaging, to step aside once learners are engaged, to know just when and how to step in to redirect through discovery, to enable and empower learners in connecting unhampered by the restrictions of any system -- I sense an “art” as well a science in the designing. The “environmental engineer” is brilliant! For with the design of an environment that enhances joyful, thoughtful, active learning that is connected and open— setting the tone that enables learners to grow.

On to more descriptions by George Siemens who suggests a joint model of network administrator and curator for a firm foundation for the roles of educators/instructional designers:
“Clarence has adopted the term "network administrator" to describe the role of teachers. I like it. 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.

The joint model of network administrator and curator form the foundation of what education should be. An expert (the curator) exists in the artifacts displayed, resources reviewed in class, concepts being discussed. But she'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. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. While learners are free to explore, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline. Their freedom to explore is unbounded.”
Recognizing that the curator role embodies clearly dualities that seem essential to our roles—“balancing freedom with thoughtful interpretation”, creating spaces for knowledge creation yet being an expert, acknowledging autonomy yet understanding “frustrations of exploring unknown territories without a map”, working behind the scenes yet displaying artifacts and resources—

Rather than suggest an additional metaphor, I’d like to propose an inclusive model that incorporates the roles of curator, organic gardener, wizard and environmental engineer-- thinking that with their adaption, we’d likely be serving the best interests of all learners in our designs.

Other contributions also caught my attention:
“E-learning is not e-teaching. You are no longer in control of what happens in the classroom. The students are in control. You are a guide, not a director.” --Dietsociety
I’d like to somehow post this on each instructional designer and subject matter expert’s login page to Blackboard! It reminds me of what I often shared with my high school students who wanted to become teachers-- “Teaching is not telling.” Designing experiences in which learners take responsibility and control should be a mantra for all those charged with these tasks.
“In order for teaching & learning to evolve, educators must realize a sense of urgency in becoming lifelong learners.” Thecleversheep
A role of lifelong learner didn’t seem to arise in the metaphors, or perhaps I missed it. For each learning space and experience we design, it seems to me that it is essential that this be modeled and demonstrated—

Mike’s post was the first I read this week; my breath caught and I won’t forget:
“And yet I still can’t help but wonder where I would be today if the instructor had taken a different tact with the students – encouraged empowered exploration rather than self-doubt; fostered a culture of passion, enthusiasm and encouragement rather than one of passive obedience; and above all treated students as unique individuals rather than subjects to be ruled over.”
Each of us, as designers of learning spaces and experiences, should be required as are doctors to pledge to “Do No Harm”. Whether in the text, audio and images of our networks, or in the walled space of our classrooms, we must recognize the power inherent in design – that design can reach out to touch a soul and empower that soul to reach its full potential or it can dampen or destroy the strongest and weakest of spirits, sometimes causing great pain and irreparable harm.

I’m imagining all the possibilities and wondering -- is it time for some subversive activity?

(Thanks to my former students, Clarence Fisher, Mark Alhness and other educators for the images that may capture educator roles that are changing.)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Connected learning-- playing with boundaries CCK08

(Thanks to K12online07 and Darren Kuropatwa for the phrase “playing with boundaries”)

For over 13 years, the view from my kitchen window overlooked one of my perennial beds and a vast wooded area. The browns and rusts of autumn would give way to bare branches coated in ice and snow followed by the greening of the woods with the coming of spring and summer. So blessed with such a vista--- Suddenly pink flags in a line not far into the woods and later noisy machinery tearing down trees to make way for a home for new neighbors and with that a need to attend to boundaries. To one who had grown to love the expanse, this attention to boundaries, set by law with steel corner boundary pins, was disruptive, unnerving— such a contradiction to what seems are increasingly blurred boundaries in many aspects of our globalized society as William H. Dutton writes:
“Across many arenas, the Internet is becoming not only a new source of information, but also a platform for networking individuals in new Internet enabled groups that can challenge the influence of other, more established, bases of institutional authority.

Networked individuals’ can move across, undermine and go beyond the boundaries of existing institutions.

The ability the Internet affords individuals to network within and beyond various institutional arenas in ways that can enhance and reinforce the ‘communicative power’ of ‘networked individuals’ is key.

An intriguing avenue to explore could be to seek to hold Internet users more accountable through the development of innovative approaches to using the … Internet enabled networks to regulate itself…. These are typified by self-governing processes developed for successful novel online applications where users participate in establishing and monitoring governance rules.”
And Manuel Castells contends in the Afterword of Network Logic
“Finally, in this network society, power continues to be the fundamental structuring force of its shape and direction. But power does not reside in institutions, not even in the state or in large corporations. It is located in the networks that structure society.

This is why to counter networks of power and their connections, alternative networks need to be introduced: networks that disrupt certain connections and establish new ones…”

With the many power/control “boundaries” of society blurring and new technologies pushing the “playing with boundaries” out into new grounds in business and politics, constantly focusing on a power shift, George Siemens notes:
“The individual has far more control over what they access/read, contribute/write, and who they dialogue with that ever before. This does not translate into a brave new world. But it does suggest a foundational change that educators need to be aware of.”
Sometimes that awareness arises unexpectedly:
“It has taken years of acclimatizing our youth to stale artificial environments, piles of propaganda convincing them that what goes on inside these environments is of immense importance, and a steady hand of discipline should they ever start to question it.“
And yet--
“Apparently, several students standing in the back cranked up their iPods as I started to lecture and never turned them off, sometimes even breaking out into dance….The students were undoubtedly engaged, just not with me“ Wesch quoted by Joost
In other instances, colleagues publish hoping to increase awareness as Will Richardson does in Footprints in the Digital Age in Educational Leadership: ASCD
“Our students must be nomadic, flexible, mobile learners who depend not so much on what they can recall as on their ability to connect with people and resources and edit content on their desktops, or, even more likely, on pocket-size devices they carry around with them. Our teachers have to be colearners in this process, modeling their own use of connections and networks and understanding the practical pedagogical implications of these technologies and online social learning spaces.”
Shouldn’t we all be aware and hopefully “playing with boundaries” – the classroom walls, teacher as “sage on the stage”, and the traditional classroom management of desks in rows and teacher made rules. And doesn’t deeper understanding of connected learning give us reason? Suggesting we play with the boundaries-- exploring connected learning even in K12 (North American centric—yet another imposed boundary), examining the knowledge in the connections and the networks and modeling that understanding with and for students (is that a flat classroom?), designing a learning environment that supports the building of community, rather than compliance. Aren’t these also interconnected?

Many toyed with those boundaries as they sought to push, re establish or even extinguish what they see as the current practice.

Not wanting to play with current boundaries:
“I still believe that Connectivism will require to much power to be lost by the Teacher in terms of legal responsibilities.“ --Where Old Meets Now
"Am I supposed to feel sorry for my students that they do not have control over their own learning. My Answer at this time is NO. They are 12 years old, to them the power is on because they can plug something into the wall and it works… They have no conceptual understanding of much of anything other than their own limited space…" --Where Old Meets Now
Pushing back:
"Lisa Lane writes, "I think I have a right to personal empowerment by virtue of my being able to take control when necessary, or to relinquish it when required." Is this true? If one cannot take control, does this person no longer have a right to personal empowerment? Do rights depend on capacities? Or to ask the same question from the opposite question: do we exert control by virtue of our nature, our personality - or do we exert control by virtue of our actions?" --Stephen questioning Lisa
"One of the most striking images I have of my visit to South Africa was of the walls that are everywhere. But nowhere were people less safe. Huddling together with people of your own kind, keeping those you fear at bay with fences and security and police, makes you less safe. You have the illusion of control - but it’s only an illusion." --Stephen Downes
“This can be a positive force or a disruption in the classroom and the university, depending on how prepared we are to harness these Internet enabled learning networks.” --Dutton
“What would schools be like, I imagine, if we learned to use our conversational adult voice within its four walls. It might immediately remind us that we are keeping company with kids, not lecturing at them. It might also suggest to them that they might speak to us in the same way. After all, our way of talking, arguing, persuading, and thinking aloud are, however unintentional, models for those we share the space with. How might we, in short, create for the young settings in which they learn how to join us in the adult world? This would include modeling themselves on the varied styles of adulthood we offer, while also inventing their own ones—suitable to their ages, the generation they are growing up in, and their own unique personalities.” --Bridging Differences
"I guess what I am saying is that some students are not confident in themself to learn autonomously or of an age where they know how to go about it. Therefore some structure and scaffolding is necessary to guide them into developing life-long autonomous learning skills. Rather than the teacher having the 'power' it is about empowering students to learn". --Ruth Duggan
"I think every child is a walking power grid. They will make their connections, do what you will as a “teacher.” If you are the most attractive connection around, they will be attracted to you, will want to connect to your source of information, will grow from and with you. But if you try to constrict and insulate them, to keep them from connecting to anything or anyone but the way YOU want, the spark will jump the gap and connections will be made in all sorts of unexpected (to you) and perhaps unpleasantly shocking ways." --Ariel
"So sometimes power, authority and control will be to do with what we say and at others about what we do, and the way in which we exert power, authority and control will be constantly changing according to the circumstances and context." --Jenny
Playing with boundaries:
“Ethical behaviour cannot be imposed. It can be enforced, but cannot be produced through the use of force.

Only behaviour that is freely chosen can become ethical behaviour, because only such behaviour can be relied upon even in the absence of constraint or force. Only such behaviour will survive the breakdown of social order. Only such behaviour will permit the rebuilding of a society in the event of disaster.
Such behaviour is not created by power, regulation or force, it is taught, and such behaviour is not taught by telling, it is taught by modeling and demonstrating ethical (read: ‘reasonable’) behaviour.” --Stephen Downes
“Reciprocity is key to the power of networks, the alchemy of mutual give and take over time turning to a golden trust…is the essence of CCK08. I believe unequivocally that a space of flows flourishes when ego is subsumed in collective flourishing.“ --Keith
"In other words, if you try to influence them (K-12 students) by letting them go and try new ways of learning, they will reward you ten times what you have given them, because you have respected their freedom to learn and share. And they (and you) will enjoy learning." --Sui Fai John Mak
“The power to do something else, to communicate using alternate means, to simply not use the Moodle forums, was always in the hands of the students - if they cooperated with each other.” --Jenny
David Warlick in his K12 Online 08 presentation contends that value rises from the community not the authority – the wisdom of the community.
"• Lead from outside in
• Mobilize disparate supplies of energy
• Foster trust and empower others to act
• Help people grow out of their comfort zone (my personal favorite)
• Lead learners, not all-knowers
• Nurture other leaders
This is great advice for teachers who strive to facilitate students' development of their own personal learning environments." --Teachweb2
"As with most aspects of life, teaching requires a delicate balance of freedom and control. Perhaps structure is a better word than control. (While I know teachers who are extremely controlling, I don't personally think you have to be that way to be a good teacher.) At the same time, our students have not been given the freedom to control their educational destiny. You can't impose all that structure and just take it away. But, what if children were taught as early as preschool that they would be responsible for the learning process. How might our schools look different? How might power shift to the learner? Who might be left behind? Who would float to the top?" --Wendy Drexler
A week on the periphery, reading entries and pulling snippets of thought, thinking deeply about playing with boundaries, reflecting on where I’ve been:
  • From a practice that gradually moved from “telling” within four walls to active learning with connections outside the classroom via email collaborative projects and videoconferencing (technology of that time)
  • From an authoritarian classroom based upon compliance to one with student generated rules setting the foundation for the creation of a community
  • From initially those many years ago feeling that I had to be an expert to modeling for students how to learn and find out what we didn’t know
I spent more time than I’d like to admit in what I’d now call “traditional teaching”. Only after years of additional, independent reading, and a student pushing me onto the Internet by actually creating a Cleveland Freenet account for me so we could communicate over the summer did I consider “playing with the traditional boundaries” of control.

Key moments that forced me to reconsider the boundaries I had set in my classroom:
  1. The Cleveland Freenet Account
  2. Engaging “at risk” urban high school students in ATT Learning Circles collaborative projects and finding an engagement in learning and writing previously not evident at all
  3. Hours of professional development all focused on integrating technology into learning
  4. Implementing a component of a large Technology Challenge Grant – extending my own personal network
  5. Leaving the classroom to become a resource teacher in the Educational Technology Office and then realizing it wasn’t the technology that changed my classroom but the pedagogy
  6. John Steinbeck’s poem (in this post)
  7. Watching an incredible community develop in a class of students when I asked them to create the rules of our classroom, after reading Alfie Kohn’s Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community
  8. Observing a 1rst grade classroom in which the teacher had created a community where students helped each other; she’d say: Oh, Mary dropped all her crayons and immediately students would jump to help
  9. Observing a lunchroom of rowdy middle school aged children, who when a teacher walked under the clock on the wall, immediately were quiet.
  10. Having students teach me what I didn’t know about technology and then in turn teach their classmates
From these and other instances, it became increasingly clear to me that very young children (I had always taught middle or high school aged), given the opportunity and experiences that modeled and demonstrated, could engage in independent, meaningful learning in a community in which compliance was not the primary focus. That high school students also responded to a “flatter” classroom that did not always specify exactly how to, where to, or how it must look (a bit harder there for they were not accustomed to teachers relinquishing that control).

And now with a deeper understanding of connected learning, thinking on where my practice is headed with the thoughtful, new and exciting pedagogies inherent in emerging technologies, might these illustrations indicate my direction? I’m wondering if very young children don’t benefit from participation in a community, from connected learning that is developmentally appropriate as evidenced here and here? I’m wondering if elementary and middle aged students learning can’t be connected and learning enhanced with an authentic audience as evidenced here and here? I’m wondering if as youngsters increase in age, the measure of connectedness and community can’t spiral appropriately? Perhaps as high school students, developing expert voices (exemplary student project) for a worldwide audience or collecting class resources via delicious can push the boundaries to more engaged, networked learning?

Pushing back, nudging those who disagree yet helped me clarify and synthesize this concept-- I’m thinking though that the playing with boundaries has only just begun as new technologies enable educators to transform practice – in ways we may not yet fathom-- Playing, connecting, learning, pushing, playing some more -- are you willing?

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