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?

Photo Credit

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ProfSeeman said...
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