Tag Archives: knowledge

Stephen Downes in Melbourne

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Why did I go to a professional event on the first day of my Easter holidays? Two words: Stephen Downes.

Stephen started by prompting reflection:

Reflect on how you learn in your job today?
How do you learn to use new technology and keep up with events and announcements? How do you learn new policies and procedures?

Then he made an interesting, perhaps controversial, comment. He said
there’s a distinction between the way we learn and the way learning is taking place in universities, etc.

What does that mean?

As I’ve mentioned earlier, my first-year uni son has confirmed for me that he learns in the same way that I did 30 years ago. Lectures and tutorials. Online forum? No. Sharing notes in Google docs? No. Creation of personal learning network using RSS, Delicious or Diigo, or Twitter. Absolutely not.

I know that some tertiary institutions are more progressive with online learning, but these are not the established, traditional ones so sure of their reputation that they forfeit self-assessment. Maybe I’m being unkind. After all, they provide experts. One expert per subject. Are the students learning how to learn in a global context where experts are scattered?

Stephen says we need interactivity in our learning; we need to learn from people. Instead of relying on traditional models of learning, we need to build our own interaction network, placing ourselves, not the content, at the centre.

I’m thinking about secondary school students. A teacher picks the content which is the agenda for learning. What about the interests, the passion of the individual student that could drive authentic learning? Isn’t there room for passion-driven learning in our curriculum?

Stephen says to employ a wide range of technologies to build our network. We need to pick and choose the technologies that are most comfortable to us. Pull is better than push, we should be able to choose our sources. He tells us to speak in our own voice and listen for authenticity; share our knowledge and our experiences, opinions.
We need to make networked learning a habit and a priority. He said someone had coined the phrase ‘interaction is like breathing for the brain’. If interaction isn’t provided, we have to make it ourselves, for example, if we’re at a lecture like this, we should blog it. Hence this post.

Stephen sees information and knowledge as people-centred. That is, we should bring knowledge in, but also translate it into our own way of seeing the world, and then share it, creating a network for people to remix in their own way. This is one of my favourite new concepts of knowledge – it evolves depending on who does what with it; we’re all unique, and so is our take on knowledge.

But how do we control knowledge as we pull it in? We simplify it, and summarise it in our own words, using our own vocabulary. Make it relevant to us, take what’s important to us now. Shouldn’t students be taught to learn this way?

And then it really got interesting. Stephen said, it’s better to shun formal lectures (certain irony here) in favour of informal learning, eg. the Google Reader approach to learning; learning from people we’ve decided we want to speak to us.

And what about this: Do connect to your work at home and on vacation but feel free to sleep at the office; most work environments are dysfunctional;your learning takes place when it takes place. Your best time might not be 9 to 5; ideas and learning happen when they happen.

And here’s one for those of you who, like myself, often feel overwhelmed by the flood of knowledge they’ve pulled down on themselves. You don’t want to assimilate all that knowledge. Let go, it will come back if it’s important; information is a flow, not a collection of objects.

Self-directed learning is a theme with Stephen. You and nobody else is reponsible for your own learning. These principles ought to inform how we teach as well as how we learn, and that’s what connectivism and Learning 2.0 is all about. Self-directed learning rejects passivity, so get up and walk out if what you’re hearing doesn’t interest you. Be pro-active; take responsibility for learning.

There’s a lot more to Stephen’s talk than I’ve managed to outline here. This will do from me.

Have a look at the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Online Course. created by Stephen and George Siemens.

If I had to say one thing that I came out thinking about today, it would have to be that learning is personal, and that we must be pro-active about finding, organising and creating our own knowledge, about what we learn and who we learn from. And in this way, if we learn transparently, we model learning for our students.

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Filed under 21st century learning, learning, network literacy, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

A balance between teaching skills and content

oldscales

Photo by takaken2008 on Flickr

What are 21st century skills and are these skills different to those currently being taught in schools?  How radically do we need to change our teaching practices?

Daniel Willingham has written an informative post in Britannica blog entitled Education for the 21st century: balancing content with skills, in which he asks and answers the important question: why the sudden concern for 21st century skills.

Willingham quotes reports and books  that point to:

changes in the skills required for most jobs. Our economy is generating fewer jobs in which workers engage in repetitive tasks throughout their day (e.g., assembly line work) and more information-rich jobs that present workers with novel problems and that require analysis and teamwork.

 Willingham quotes Elena Silva in defining these skills as having at their core the ability to

analyze and evaluate information, create new ideas and new knowledge from the information.

He also adds to creativity and critical thinking the following essential skills for the 21st century from a report from the partnership for 21st century skills :

new knowledge … [and] global awareness, media literacy, information literacy, and other new content.

Now, this is where I start sitting up and taking note. Although I’m fully on board with the need for 21st century skills, I haven’t felt comfortable substituting content for skills alone. Memorisation of facts without the skills is obviously a waste of time, and I understand that you need the skills to locate, manage and synthesize the freely available information to create knowledge, but we still need a knowledge of some content, surely, otherwise the skills are free floating and without context. 

Willingham ties up the skills/content dilemma very well for me. He says that the 21st century skills require deep understanding of subject matter:

Shallow understanding requires knowing some facts. Deep understanding requires knowing the facts AND knowing how they fit together, seeing the whole.

And skills like “analysis” and “critical thinking” are tied to content; you analyze history differently than you analyze literature … If you don’t think that most of our students are gaining very deep knowledge of core subjects—and you shouldn’t—then there is not much point in calling for more emphasis on analysis and critical thinking unless you take the content problem seriously. You can’t have one without the other.

As usual, a balance is required to make things work effectively, and this should surely be common sense. This way we avoid the too often pendulum swings that have occurred in the history of education

between an emphasis on process (analysis, critical thinking, cooperative learning) which fosters concern that students lack knowledge and generates a back-to-basics movement that emphasizes content, which fosters concern that student are merely parroting facts with no idea of how to use their knowledge, and so on.

For me, this balance is the key to identifying the problems and solutions of 21st century learning. I’m trying to understand the shift in education more deeply to avoid a superficial conversion. I think that, for me at least, more discussion will enable a deeper understanding of the learning processes and the corresponding teaching processes that are essential to prepare students for work and life in these times.

As usual, I welcome and am grateful for any comments, and look forward to generating some discussion.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, debate, Education, learning, teachers, teaching, Web 2.0

Humanity meets in the library

This is how it goes.

I read Jenny Luca’s post ‘The future of libraries’ which she wrote after reading John Connell’s post ‘Education and the cloud’. John wrote his post after reading Kevin Marks. Kevin had read something Tim O’Reilly had written. Tim was writing after having read a book by Kim Stanley Robinson. Before spiralling further, I should redivert to the purpose of my own post which is to contribute my own thoughts following from these threads, and specifically following from Jenny’s valuable insights.

As John Connell remarks, ‘the world of knowledge is shifting inexorably onto the Web.’  Whether we like it or not, it’s true. Now, I’m not saying that, in agreeing with this statement, I’m ready to pull books off shelves, turn libraries into clubs and restaurants (as Russian communists did with churches), or make the whole population of teachers redundant. I’m here to say that the massive shift of knowledge onto the web is happening, and that people will be playing a new, even more important role in the location and management of knowledge and technology.
Thomas Frey, the Executive Director and Senior Futurist at the DaVinci Institute, has written an interesting account of the future of libraries, which is actually a history of information and knowledge, since libraries house information and knowledge in whatever form they take. Frey comments:
We have come a long ways from the time of da Vinci and the time when books were chained to lecterns.  But we’ve only scratched the surface of many more changes to come…
Throughout history the role of the library was to serve as a storehouse, an archive of manuscripts, art, and important documents.  The library was the center of information revered by most because each contained the foundational building blocks of information for all humanity.
So what do libraries become once information moves to the web? And what becomes of schools and teachers if information can be accessed by anyone anywhere?
Jenny Luca says:
There will still be a need for schools and teachers. I don’t think we will become obsolete. I do think the nature of learning will change; we will need to encourage and foster self directed learners and this is what I see the function of teachers will be in the future…
… What the point of libraries will be, I think, is as a meeting place for humanity to share ideas. A bit like Ancient Greece where the Sophists would meet up together to share ideas.

 Humanity. Both Jenny Luca and Thomas Frey have identified the larger concern as humanity. It’s not about books, computers, buildings or technology but the collective resources of humanity. It’s not about books versus the internet. And as Frey says, ‘books are a technology, and writing is also a technology, and every technology has a limited lifespan.’  People locate, write, store, use and share information. How revolutionary was Johann Gutenberg who unveiled his printing press to the world by printing copies of the Gutenberg Bible in 1455? But, as Frey says, communication systems are continually changing the way people access information:

If you were to construct a trend line beginning with the 1844 invention of the telegraph, you will begin to see the accelerating pace of change:  1876 – telephone, 1877 – phonograph, 1896 – radio, 1935 – fax machine, 1939 – television, 1945 – ENIAC Computer, 1947 – transistor, 1954 – color television, 1961 – laser, 1965 – email, 1973 – cell phone, 1974 – Altair 8800, 1989 – World Wide Web, 1990 – Online Search Engine, 1992 – Web Browser, 1994 – Palm Pilot, 1996 – Google, 1999 – P2P, 2002 – iPod, 2004 – Podcasting.

If we bring back the true meaning of libraries – to share knowledge and ideas, or, more specifically, to enable the human interaction with knowledge and ideas, then we can see that schools and libraries, as centres of learning and interaction, are challenged with a new, global purpose. Frey says:

Libraries themselves are a global system representing an anchor point for new systems and new cultures… The notion of becoming a cultural center is an expansive role for the future library.  It will not only serve as an information resource, but much more, with the exact mission and goals evolving and changing over time.
It’s humanity that Jenny focuses on when describing what libraries and schools should be:
The space where students can form relationships, the space where they can articulate ideas and glean advice and encouragement, the space where the human network forms and where they can find ways to make it grow.  
In redefining the library and its purpose, Frey advocates experimenting with creative spaces. He suggests new functionality in the library, including band practice rooms, podcasting stations, blogger stations, art studios, recording studios, video studios, imagination rooms, and theatre/drama practice rooms.
With the whole world changing so rapidly, we have the opportunity to reinvent our learning spaces creatively. In doing this, we don’t destroy what we had in books or teachers, we respond to changes by recognising what is essential, and reshape our learning instead of holding on to external structures out of habit.
Learning is about people as my first paragraph attests to. Thankyou to my learning community.

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Filed under creativity, Education, internet, learning, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

Own the info, keep the info, hide the info

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I was reading Will Richardson’s article Get. Off. Paper. where he talks about people’s dependence on paper, and the reluctance to let go of owning information in hard copy. I’ve also just read what Joi Ito, CEO of Creative Commons, has to say about sharing photos of ourselves. It’s made me reflect on the nature of owning and sharing information, and how that has changed dramatically in the last few years.

When I was at school and university, information was power. If you wanted to be successful and get good marks, you needed information.

I remember how scarce information was. I had to work hard to get it, and I had to work hard to get it before others did, or get it from places others wouldn’t know about.

Sound strange? Think about it. An assignment is set, and the class goes to the library, but there are only a few books about the single subject that needs researching. Once I was jumped from behind by another student who clawed me until I dropped the book she wanted. Sound unbelievable? Believe it; it’s true. That experience shocked me and I’m not about to forget it. I’ve wondered since then, how important is this information, that someone would behave in such a manner? Admittedly, this is extreme behaviour, but think about this. In those days, my assignments were based on the location of content. If I owned that content, I would regurgitate it and present it attractively. Would I be in a hurry to share this information? Well, that would mean that someone else would have the same information as me. Why would I share it? Did we ever do anything with that information? Analyse it, evaluate it, modify it, create from it? No. That information was what my mark was based on.

Will Richardson talks about a paperless society. What I remember most about university, was the time I spent photocopying chapers in the library. Not complete chapters, of course, just the legal percentage of what was permissable. I focussed on collecting bags full of coins so that I would be able to photocopy pages from all the books I’d found that were even remotely relevant to my topics of study. I needed those copies, I felt empowered with all that paper, all that information that I may need during my research. When I was finished, I kept that paper. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. I might need it. I think I still have it.

It’s a relief but also kind of strange to be functioning now in the potentially almost paperless world. I turn to people for my links to information, and I share freely, as well as receive in abundance.  My networks are not mean. They are made of people who are smart, connected, varied, informed, interesting and willing to share ideas and knowledge. I’m happy that I’m still learning so that I can turn my back on the old ways.

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early images of reality from picture books and today’s clickability

We take for granted today the clickability of information. We should think back, really think back properly, to the days before we had the internet as a source of information.

I was talking to my son today about our early conceptions, and we shocked ourselves about uninformed and xenophobic ideas we had of people and cultures when we were children. My primary school years situated me in a very narrow place, although not as narrow as some, since I did come from an ethnic background. These are very interesting times because we are developing and learning like crazy but we don’t have a great deal as points of reference, so our learning is coloured by our often incomplete or erroneously formed concepts. To put it another way, what information we do gather is not always correctly understood and is even reconstructed by our own imagination. I say imagination because you need a great deal of it to fill in the gaps between the isolated pockets of knowledge and understanding.

So, I remember growing up with Australians who were either ‘real Australians’ or from a European background (Greeks, Italians, Macedonians) and Russians from my own cultural group which was always a minority (and none at school). Since I loved to read, my knowledge in these days was gleaned from books, most of which I owned and some from libraries. Information books didn’t seem to abound, and picture books were often teachers of the world beyond my own. I remember learning about dark-coloured people with grass skirts or slanty-eyed people, people living in teepees or igloos or swimming underwater every day. Now, that’s not a deliberately racist description because, since my information was delivered through a visual medium, my knowledge of these people was almost entirely visual. And not a realistic depiction but usually a cutesy illustration.

Now we take it for granted, but a little context to information is just a click away on the internet. Google Earth or Maps would have given my little snippets of information of other cultures a geographical location, and joined all those floating, isolated bits of knowledge into a world map; Flickr could have given me an easily accessible collection of pictures. Of course, information books with photos abound, even picture books with beautiful photography which deliver early aspects of reality to the preschool child.

How has this affected my development of knowledge? Do I still harbour distorted ideas of the way things are in the depths of my subconsious? Or have I worked hard at reconstructing and revising the way I see and understand things? Is this a blessing in disguise, a constant practice for maintaining elasticity and flexibility in the course of life and my understanding of it?

Meanwhile, I remember my picture book worlds with nostalgia. I used to imagine myself in the pictures, and dreamed of living on the little island where the smiling grass-skirt girls lived, so tiny that you could walk it in a couple of minutes, always sunny, water crystal clear, fish and birds abounding, all things provided for idyllic living. Did you wish you lived in any of your picture books?

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Filed under Education, flickr, learning