FSLT13 – What is learning?

FSLT13  has started this week, and today George Roberts, Marion Waite and Elizabeth Lovegrove  ran the first live session in Blackboard Collaborate (View the recorded session here) .

Officially this is the Orientation week, so this synchronous session was simply to explain how the course will run, to have a go at using BB Collaborate tools (see below) and to raise and answer questions.

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 18.22.12

This First Steps course has a very ‘friendly’ and supportive feel to it. It is open, but not massive. Over 250 have signed up and 12 have signed up for accredited assessment. New this year is the involvement of 20 volunteer ‘expert’ participants – people who have considerable experience of teaching in HE or who participated in FSLT12 last year. Alec Couros and Lisa Lane, have called these people ‘mentors’ on their courses. Finding the word that accurately describes their role is a bit problematic, but in FSLT13 the expert participants have already been proving their worth, responding to blog and forum posts and encouraging engagement.

Whilst this is an orientation week, no time has been wasted in getting down to the nitty gritty, with George Roberts asking the question in the Week 0 Moodle Forum – ‘What is learning?’ This is a very weighty question. I remember that last year I referred to Stephen Downes’ statement that ‘to learn is to practice and reflect and to teach is to model and demonstrate’. Ever since I first read this I have liked it. It is very straight forward and emphasises the process of learning and teaching. Of course, learning can also be a product which is articulated in this infed.org website.

What I particularly like about this website page is the quote from Carl Rogers

I want to talk about learning. But not the lifeless, sterile, futile, quickly forgotten stuff that is crammed in to the mind of the poor helpless individual tied into his seat by ironclad bonds  of conformity! I am talking about LEARNING – the insatiable curiosity that drives the adolescent boy to absorb everything he can see or hear or read about gasoline engines in order to improve the efficiency and speed of his ‘cruiser’. I am talking about the student who says, “I am discovering, drawing in from the outside, and making that which is drawn in a real part of me.” I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: “No, no, that’s not what I want”; “Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need”; “Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!” Carl Rogers 1983: 18-19

This aligns completely with my belief that learning is not so much about what we know but about who we are. My thinking has been very much influenced by Etienne Wenger’s work on learning and identity. Ultimately, however we learn, it changes who we are. Through learning I learn about who I am and that knowledge influences everything I do. That’s what learning is all about for me.


The Academic Identity of the Academic BEtreat

Connecting with BEtreaters in Grass Valley

I have been on the Academic BEtreat all week (today is the last day) and realize that I am not at all clear that we have a common understanding of what we mean by ‘academic’ on this BEtreat. What does it mean to be an academic?

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, there is a wide mix of people on the BEtreat – 16 of us in total.

  • Some have openly said they are not academics.
  • Some are as interested in the process of the BEtreat as in the academic content.
  • Some are more interested in the application of the ideas surrounding communities of practice and social learning theory, to their practice (be it in business or academia) than discussing the theory.
  • Others feel that they have come to the BEtreat to discuss theory and feel short-changed if we are not doing that.
  • What is a superficial activity for one is a meaningful activity for another and vice-versa.

The BEtreaters seemed to have come to the BEtreat with specific expectations related to their personal understandings of what an ‘Academic’ BEtreat might offer.

I have looked up the word ‘academic’ as a noun in the dictionary and here are two definitions.

  • A teacher or scholar in a university or institute of higher education
  • An intellectual

Well we are not all teachers in the BEtreat, and I think this probably applies to scholars and intellectuals as well. I wouldn’t count myself in either of those categories.

But looking up the word ‘academic’ as an adjective yields many more definitions. Here are some:

  • Belonging to or relating to a place of learning
  • Of purely theoretical or speculative interest
  • Having an aptitude for study
  • Excessively concerned with intellectual matters
  • Conforming to set rules and traditions
  • Theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly useful

This is a strange list and makes me think that it’s not helpful to think in terms of academic or not an academic – but maybe more useful think about academic behaviours or academic identities.

I wonder whether if the BEtreat had had a different name,  it would have attracted a different group. For example:

  • Educators’ BEtreat
  • Learning, Meaning and Identity BEtreat
  • Learning Theory BEtreat
  • Social Learning Capability BEtreat
  • Cultivating Communities BEtreat
  • Pedagogy BEtreat …….

…… and so on. How much difference does the name make to who is sitting round the table?

When I signed up for the Academic BEtreat, my expectations were guided by the outline on the Academic BEtreat workshop.

The “academic Betreat” is open to researchers, lecturers, doctoral students, evaluators, and others involved in teaching and research. We envision a small group of 10-20 people, face-to-face and online.

This BEtreat is an invitation to come together and explore key concepts and issues in social learning theory. We take time to go deep into the questions brought to the table by everyone. We discuss concepts and methods, analyze frameworks, and compare theories. People will have a chance to discuss their research with the group and get some help on their work in progress.

Despite the clarity of the BEtreat outline, I know that some people think they have had too little theory, some too much, or some people think they have had too little application to practice and some too much and so on. It’s impossible to please all the people all the time, but it’s interesting to consider why mismatches in expectations occur.

I hoped to have in depth discussions about learning and I have more than enough to take away with me. It’s been exhausting – but time very well spent 🙂

Onliners’ view of Grass Valley BEtreaters