Learning – Is it Really about Who is in Control?

This week, it seems like no matter what I read, I kept facing the word control as it relates to learning – teachers in control vs. learners in control. This makes it sound like learning is a game of tug of war. So, who is gaining ground and who is going to end up in the mud? Frankly, neither position sounds like an advantage to me…

To be honest, just thinking about linking those two words – control and learning – ties my stomach up in knots. Is that really what learning is about – who is in control? 

I remember many teachers from back in the day who would have liked to “control” my learning. They tried. I am and I was a bit of a rebel, though, I guess – or maybe I was just difficult. People liked to say that I was bored in the classroom because I wasn’t challenged. Well, they were wrong. I was bored in the classroom because it was boring. Period. End of story.

Fast forward to May 2007, my first college class after a twenty year hiatus. It was speech communications with Mr. Mosley and, right off the bat, he asked us why we were there. I raised my hand and why wouldn’t I? The question wasn’t that tough. We were there because we were expected to be there. Wrong, he said. You have a choice. If you don’t want to be here, there is an alternative.

But, even back in the fourth grade, I knew that I had a choice and that I made the decision, and if I failed, I suffered the consequences.

So, my question is this-

Is there such a thing as control when it comes to learning?

If so, what – exactly – are we trying to control? Are we trying to control the learner and their behavior in the environment? Are we trying to control the content so that a specific message – and only that message – is conveyed and retained by the learner? Are we trying to control the learning process? Do we see learning as a map with a single line between destinations? De we see learners as little identical boxes that are to be stuffed full of uniform information?

Personally, I see learning as more of a relationship of complex interactions – a web, of sorts – but not one that has to exist online or solely online. I think that we can still apply the nodes definition from connectivism, but the web would be much more limited when offline. From my perspective, the role of the teacher – as someone or something with new information – can be occupied by multiple (and even simultaneous) players. If anything, control here is shared, but maybe it doesn’t even exist.

Does control need to exist for the sake of learning?

Connectivism and Developing a Personal Learning Philosophy

I chose to study Web 2.0 tools and applications because I see interaction as the primary component of teaching and learning in the online environment – interaction with the material, interaction with the instructor/facilitator, and interaction among peers – and I believe that Web 2.0 tools facilitate and support that interaction as the methods for connecting.

Interaction is key to learning online.

From the perspective of connectivism, this interaction occurs in the web of a personal learning network which is not limited by the structure of organized learning. A personal learning network is our unique set of connections to people, to resources, to repositories of information. When a problem requires solving, our personal learning network of trusted colleagues and authenticated resources is where we turn. This is how we sort through the chaos and where we contribute our own unique perspectives.

As much as I appreciate the idea of connectivism, as a learning theory it assumes certain capabilities that are not actually ubiquitous. Connectivism can only apply to those who have the ability to connect and not every human on the planet has the hardware device and Internet connection available to participate.

OK, I am going to open myself up a bit here. I believe that learning – in the broadest sense – is synonymous with living.

Learning is key to life.

Learning is not a set of physiological processes or a collection of biological entities as life may be defined, but learning is what we think and believe and how we engage with the world around us. Interaction is what is happening when a person learns and our interpretation of that interaction becomes our evolving knowledge.

So, if interaction is key to learning – particularly learning online – and learning is key to life, then how do we reconcile the missing voices??

Media Sharing and Learning

For a few weeks now, the focus has been on text-based Web 2.0. What happens when images, audio, and video are added into the mix? Based on our discussions this week, I would say that the potential for learning is encouraging…

First of all, we can’t pick just one method! Discussion revolved around the benefits of variety. John was the first to mention the versatility present in Web 2.0 tools and the resulting opportunities to provide learners with a variety of methods for interacting with content, peers, instructors, and other participants in the global classroom. In the comments, I pointed out that giving the learner options allows them to optimize their learning experience through the selection of the most appropriate method or methods based on their preference, circumstances, or any other influential factor. John also alluded to the learner’s capability for adapting content to fit their own unique context. In this manner, versatility in methods also supports ease of accessibility to content for a broader array of learners.

Second, we believe that Web 2.0 – as a constantly evolving group of methods and tools – has a bright future! John perceived Web 2.0 as a potential fix for the helpless learner feeling that he had to cope with when forced to learn math in a lecture hall from a teacher who had his back to the learners the whole time. Stephanie brought up the potential for creativity as she encouraged instructors to examine lessons from the point of view of their students. The potential in Web 2.0 for fostering learner motivation by integrating formal and informal learning was also considered.

Third, we find the Web 2.0 world engaging! From Beth’s “Flipped Classrooms” to podcasts for supporting students in overcoming learning challenges to the prospect of higher-order thinking, Web 2.0 represents a Web-connected global community. As I said before, global classrooms are not restricted by walls and rosters. They are student-directed, networked, participatory learning experiences.

In summary, it seems like we have concluded that emerging technologies and digital media do provide us – as educators, designers of instruction, and learners – with new tools and new opportunities for teaching and learning. They do give us versatility in how we present and exchange information and foster creativity in how we share media, apply it to our own unique context, and co-create new content through collaborative knowledge building.

Of course, there is no single or simple formula for selecting and implementing learning via Web 2.0. As I pointed out in a previous post, for example, it can be challenging to learn from a podcast where the speaker has a slow, monotone voice, or unfamiliar accent. In our rush to play in the sandbox, it remains critical to first consider fit – fit to objectives, fit to content, fit to context – as well as format. As members of the larger global community, we have a responsibility to at least attempt to understand the limitations of any method or tool for facilitating communication in order to avoid (or at minimum, reduce) the potential for misinterpretation of the message. Such misunderstandings could result in the convolution of the learning process or the derailing of learning altogether.

Web 2.0 Tools and Media Sharing? Let’s Talk Versatility and Creativity

Don’t look to me for a feel-good story about podcasting…

Podcasts have been used in a few of my classes and I always choose to read the transcript instead, if there is one available. That’s because I can read the transcript at my own pace – rereading and writing notes – without the added need for manipulating a recording while attempting to attend to the spoken word and comprehending through slow speech, a monotone voice, or unfamiliar accents. This may not be the PC answer that you were looking for, but I calls ’em as I sees ’em.

What’s the big deal? Content is content in a podcast. If you want to learn about quantum mechanics, Stanford has provided some podcasts for that. And look no further than Yale for podcasts on the philosophy of death. If you want to learn how to create a podcast, there is a podcast for that! [Here comes the but.] But, there is no interaction with the presenter in a podcast. 

Learning in Isolation

Learning in Isolation

There are no opportunities for further discussion or to ask the speaker for clarification. The most that one can hope for is a comment box (to where…nowhere?). Now, provide me with synchronous access to an individual of interest who has knowledge or experiences to share and – absolutely – I want to see and hear them, but there is potential for interaction in that experience! For me, that interaction makes all the difference…

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not stating that there is no value in podcasting. Absolutely not. All that I am saying is that emerging technologies have given us new and exciting options and that we should consider fit – fit to objectives, fit to content, fit to context – before we decide how to incorporate them into our practice.

This brings me to my first point – versatility. Some of my peers really enjoyed that opportunity to listen to podcasts. They liked hearing the content – they found that they could attend to it well through listening and/or watching and they liked being able to listen in the car, on the treadmill, etc. I am not good at attending to the spoken word. My mind wanders – just like it did back in the fifth grade – and I find myself staring out the window and daydreaming about lunch and recess. Hey, at least I’m honest.

Versatility is about a variety of options for providing and consuming content, in addition to the co-creation of new content. The other fantastic thing about Web 2.0 is the creativity that can be harnessed in the co-creation of content with the existence of emerging technologies and the media sharing that they support.  As a learner, would you rather hear that you are going to be watching a movie or making a movie? Like podcasting, watching a movie represents a unidirectional flow of content. Of course, discussion points or activities may be added throughout, but the movie itself is just slightly more exciting than reading text with lots of pictures. After all, in a movie, the pictures move…

What happens when the boundaries that traditionally define and separate the roles of teacher and learner are blurred and content is co-created with digital media rather than just being consumed? Creativity takes over and shared media allows the learners and the learning to enter the global classroom. Global classrooms are not restricted by walls and rosters. Just the opposite. Global classrooms share and build on content. Global classrooms are student-directed, networked, participatory learning experiences. What does that mean? Can’t imagine what that looks like? Well, watch this! Or this!

Created by Michael Wesch in collaboration with 200 students at Kansas State University.

A Vision of Students Today

So, what, exactly, is this? This is a digital ethnography project that was led by Dr. Michael Wesch, a cultural anthropologist and 2008 U.S. Professor of the Year, when he was teaching at Kansas State University. This is his story on how digital media has taken off exponentially and how his project, Mediated Cultures, came to be. When it comes to unpacking the impacts of new digital media on the Web, Dr. Wesch says it best in that “it’s not just about information, it’s actually about linking people…and linking people in ways that we have never been linked before and in ways that we can’t even predict.” 

Emerging technologies and digital media give us new tools and new opportunities for teaching and learning. They give us versatility in how we present and exchange information and foster creativity in how we share media, apply it to our own unique context, and  co-create new content through collaborative knowledge building. Offering a variety of methods with which to interact and exchange and create content puts the learner in the driver’s seat. The learner can then choose the optimal method to accommodate the how, when, and where of their learning experience and determine the size of their own classroom. Versatility and creativity in teaching and learning, of that I am a fan.

Why Wikis?

Wikis are versatile.

I like wikis because they are versatile, they offer a fairly quick start-up and they are simple to navigate.

For Example…

Want a public/private space for an ongoing community calendar that allows members to comment and edit and records changes? A wiki can do that. Other resources can do it too.

Want a public/private space for community development of a mission statement that allows member editing and discussion and records a revision history? A wiki can do that. Other resources can do it too.

Want a public/private space for the ongoing creation of a collective resource that allows member editing and records a revision history? A wiki can do that better than most similar tools that serve as collaborative publishing environments.

I have seen a professor use wikis in his I/O Psychology class. Every semester, a new class adds on to and revises existing content in the wiki. Each semester the resource gets a little more comprehensive and the content becomes more concise with a deeper level of analysis.

Who are the Wiki Police?

When ascertaining quality in a wiki, one probably ought to consider the age of the resource as well as the size of the developer community, since (theoretically) the quality should improve as additional contributors continue to evolve the resource content over time. In the practical application of a wiki, however, any community member has the ability (and right?) to come along and highlight something that they don’t like or don’t agree with and hit the delete button. Wikis depend on the knowledge, abilities, motivation, and integrity of every community member; so, the capabilities of open contribution and immediate updating can become either advantages or drawbacks.

Wikis in the Classroom –

In the case of wikis in formal education where students are unlikely to have a level of expertise on the subject matter, quality as defined by accuracy of content and the use of an academic writing style with appropriate formatting and citations will require policing by an instructor.

Public Wikis –

In the case of public wikis, quality is policed by the users. Expert users may be tasked with oversight as site moderators. Users may be asked to report content that falls outside the acceptable range as established in a community administrative document. Still, some might refer to wikis as crowdsourcing knowledge, but I agree with Marcio Saito in that it is important to remember the 1% Rule here. (Jakob Nielsen calls this Participation Inequality.) The 1% Rule suggests that 1% of the community will create the content, 9% will edit and modify that content, and 90% will view the content without making a contribution.

Additional Reading:

Wiki as a Teaching Tool by K.R. Parker & J.T. Chao

Gratitude Illuminates the Darkness

I went back to community college in 2007. That’s almost five years now. No wonder I’m tired! Five years of juggling family, work, school – of sitting all day at work to come home and sit at a desk til midnight (or later); of scheduling every family detail and every weekend in order to try to leave enough time for studying.; of trying to minimize everyone’s sacrifices. Going back to college – whatever the method – is no walk in the park for the adult learner. 

Kids and jobs and classes, oh my!

In my first draft of this post, I was busy waxing philosophic. Then I decided that I was being overly dramatic, so now I am going the Oz route instead. Rather than talk about my need to figure out where I left my enthusiasm for the destination – after all, it’s got to be around here somewhere – I am going to recognize my partners in the journey. After all, today is that day where everything is all covered in hearts and chocolate and mushy love stuff. Besides, who wants to read a dark and depressing monologue on paralyzing life intersections and how-did-I-get-here-anyways? The answer is nobody.

I remember the first time I admitted – out loud – that I was thinking of going back to college. We had just taken one of our girls on a weekend college tour. I was doubtful of myself and of my capacity to be successful in an academic environment. I had a heap of past unpleasant experiences to overcome. Thank goodness for reassurance from the love of my life, who was not. For five years now – through full sinks of dishes, and piles of books everywhere, and overflowing hampers of laundry, and late night homework marathons, and my document just disappeared panic attacks – he has never wavered in his unending support for me or my pursuit of self-actualization through higher education. I am very grateful. I could never have gotten this far and I would not be writing this now, if not for him.

Several years ago (it’s always so much longer than it seems), he and I bought a house that would fit all our kids and, for a while, it was like a never-ending Weather Channel special on devastating storms around here.  Now, just the baby is left at home, while everyone else has gone and become an adult when I wasn’t looking. The house is quiet now. In fact, it’s so quiet that we brought home two kittens just to get some chaos going. Sometimes I wonder what I miss(ed) with my nose buried in a book or the computer all the time. They tell me that it’s ok and that they understand. They support me and tell me that they know I can do it. And when I see them working so hard in their own endeavors, they tell me that they have had a good example to follow. I am grateful for their unconditional love.

Since my return to higher education, I have serendipitously come in contact with many wonderful people. They are my mentors, my friends, my peers. Whenever someone says that learning online is isolating, I always say that it doesn’t have to be, that it shouldn’t be that way. So, today, I want to tell every one of you how grateful I am for your presence in my life. This is for the teachers who continue to support, guide, and inspire me long after our class has closed. This is for the staff and administrators who give their time so generously and remain accessible and open and willing to help. This is for the peers who listen to me complain and lend a shoulder to cry on. I am grateful for every one of you. Thank you. 

Some people are social butterflies. I am not. Those of you who only know me online may be surprised to find out that I am an introvert. Not only that, but I suck at being a friend. I have one lifelong friend and I am convinced that we remain friends only because she is the greatest person on the planet and that sort of makes up for my tremendous personal shortcomings and lack of social skills. She still picks up the phone even after I have forgotten to send her a birthday card! Twenty years ago, nobody would have ever guessed that we would be graduate students at the same time and in similar programs, her studying international education and me studying adult and distance education. We don’t see each other nearly enough. (Last night she still had a Christmas present for me in the back of her car while I stood empty-handed.) But, I can tell her that I don’t know what I am doing and she assures me that I will figure it out – that I always do – and for that I am very grateful.

Last week when my friend called to ask me if I wanted her second ticket to attend a discussion with the Reverend Jesse Jackson at Lehigh University, I stammered a bit. “Jesse Jackson”, I asked, then there was a really long pause. Sure, I knew the basic 411 on him, but what would he have to say about higher education? And would he say it from “the pulpit”? Well, at least I had the presence of mind to say, “let me do some research.” I found a full-length interview on YouTube from last year where the context was higher education. I called her back less than ten minutes into the recording and accepted her kind invitation. I guess if college has taught me anything, it is to question my own assumptions, and that is a really important lesson to learn.

And so, last night, we sat in an auditorium and listened to Rev. Jesse Jackson answer questions from faculty and students and the public for two hours. I really can’t describe the experience. Of course, one expects him to be educated, to be an experienced story-teller, but I never expected his unique combination of compassion, and honesty, and sharp wit, and sense of humor. Even at 70 years-old, he never missed a beat. He was truly inspirational.

And so, to honor him, I wanted to come home and write something profound. Something that people would read and say, wow, there’s a lot of great thinking going on here. Unfortunately, I keep finding myself coming up short in the thinking department these days. It’s sort of like my head is full of cotton. My heart, however, is always working overtime. So, today, I am going to depend on my heart to do the heavy lifting that my brain is just too tired to do.

Last night, Rev. Jesse Jackson reminded us to never underestimate the power of one light to challenge the darkness. All of you, my family and friends, are the lights in my life, because my life would not be the same without you. I am truly blessed. And I challenge everyone who reads this post – whenever that may be – to show gratitude today to the people who shine the light in your own life, not just because today everything is decorated with red hearts and mushy love stuff, but because gratitude illuminates the darkness.

Using Blogs and Blogging to Unlock Learning

A few posts ago, when I blogged about whether the ease of publishing is a game-changer in higher education, I demonstrated (coincidentally) how blogs and blogging can facilitate critical thinking and writing and, as a result, support higher-order thinking. To recap, in a private online discussion, I formulated an argument as to why I did not believe that ease of publishing is a game-changer. I had developed my argument to such an extent that I decided to make a few minor revisions and transfer it here to the blog as part of my evolving philosophy on teaching and learning online. In the process of that review – while reflecting on and reevaluating what I had already written – I changed my own mind.

Reflection, Reevaluating, Revision – these are three of the keys.

As more and more users find their way online, open access and ease of publishing have transformed the Web into a cornucopia of accessible content. Just follow your interests and jump in, but don’t be too surprised if you lose yourself “down the rabbit hole,” as one of my peers described the experience. The Web fosters the development and use of critical thinking skills, since learners are forced to navigate through what seems to be a sea of limitless options and discern the usefulness of the wide variety of resources they discover there.

Open Access and Critical Thinking Skills – these are two of the keys.

Combine blogging with reading and commenting on the blogs of others and you create a social learning network. This opens up a participatory learning process of sharing ideas and experiences; interacting through comments and ongoing discussion; and gaining new insights from the experiences and perspectives of others. Turn that cooperative learning into action within the open access environment of the Web and collaborative solutions manifest. This is the co-creation of knowledge.

Be an Active Participant in Online Networks – this is another key.

Whether part of an informal learning opportunity or within the formal learning curriculum, teachers considering the use of student blogs ought to remember these keys and ask the questions below in order to optimize learning potential.

1. How student-directed can the learning experience be? How much control will learners have over topics, content, presentation? The more control/ownership they have, the more motivated they may be.

2. How will interaction among student bloggers and a larger audience be fostered? Will students be encouraged to locate established blogs and interact with the authors? Will student bloggers be required to comment on each other’s blogs? Established blogs become successful examples for students to emulate and bloggers offer new perspectives and experiences to consider. Ongoing discussion can lead to deeper understanding.

3. How will blogs and blogging be purposed? Will they be regarded as a short-term project or lifelong learning tools? Will students be given the opportunity to create a personal learning resource that they can continue to use long after the academic year has finished?

I’m sure this is far from a comprehensive list. What am I missing? Please share your thoughts on blogging pedagogy.