Student learning in a turbulent age

View towards the Mersey

View towards the Royal Liver Building and the Mersey from the 5th floor of the Redmonds Building, Liverpool John Moores University.

This week I have been privileged to hear Professor Ronald Barnett speak at Liverpool John Moores University, where he was the keynote speaker on the second day of their teaching and learning conference. The title of his talk was:

A University for Learning: considering the present and glimpsing the future.

The theme for the conference as a whole was ‘Locations for learning: where does the learning take place?’ so Ron Barnett started his keynote with the question ’What kind of spaces are we trying to open up for students – how much space?’ He told us that the university has been with us for 900 years or longer and will be with us for a very long time. Many of today’s students will be alive in the 22nd century. At the very least we should try to answer questions such as: What is student learning the 21st century? What is it to be a graduate in the 21st century? What might we hope for from our students? What might they want of themselves?

He pointed out that we live in a turbulent environment and that our students are learning in a turbulent age where the higher education mantras of knowledge, skills and employability are no longer adequate. Neither knowledge nor skills may be adequate for tomorrow and we know that there is no guarantee of employability. The world is changing and there is a world beyond work.

He told us that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty and that we don’t only have to think in terms of complexity, but of supercomplexity. In the Abstract for his book ‘Realizing the University in an Age of Supercomplexity’, this is discussed as follows:

The university is faced with supercomplexity, in which our very frames of understanding, action and self-identity are all continually challenged. In such a world, the university has explicitly to take on a dual role: firstly, of compounding supercomplexity, so making the world ever more challenging; and secondly, of enabling us to live effectively in this chaotic world. Internally, too, the university has to become a new kind of organization, adept at fulfilling this dual role. The university has to live by the uncertainty principle: it has to generate uncertainty, to help us live with uncertainty, and even to revel in our uncertainty.

It is interesting to note that this was written 15 years ago!

So in this world of ever increasing diversity, differentiation and complexity, is there anything that should bind us together? What aspects of Higher Education are universal across the globe? To answer this question he said we need to ‘reclaim’ the student as persons who can develop the capacity to benefit the world in wise ways. Higher Education should therefore be more than satisfying students as consumers or viewing them in terms of pound notes.

In this world of uncertainty and supercomplexity, Barnett suggested that learning is often ‘scary’, involving becoming more than you are, becoming other than you were. Knowledge and skills are not enough; they require engagement to become a human being of a certain kind. Individuals must continually give of themselves, must continually remake themselves. The curriculum is not as important as pedagogy, i.e. the student/teacher relationship. We need to open up pedagogical space for our students and search for spaces of possibility. We should support our students in developing the dispositions needed for a world of challenge. Dispositions of

  • A will to learn
  • A will to engage
  • A preparedness to listen
  • A preparedness to explore
  • A willingness to hold oneself open to experience
  • A determination to keep going forward

Barnett then suggested that these dispositions should bind us across institutions. These are the dispositions that would help students to develop the qualities required for a world of challenge, qualities that will enable them to become global citizens who will help to bring about a better world.

He also suggested that to do this we have to understand ourselves as human beings in relation to the world and for this we need an ‘ecological curriculum’ which promotes being in the world, sensitivity to its global/local, personal/professional, systems/persons interconnectedness, engagement in its sustainability and improvement, active empathy and caring for the world.

Ron Barnett spoke with a passion that it is not possible to convey in a blog post and it was this passion that made the keynote so effective and, judging by the tweets and the comments I overheard in the following coffee break, inspired so many in the audience.

At the end of the keynote a question raised was whether these ideas were ‘pie in the sky’. These were not the words of the questioner, but the words that Ron Barnett used in responding to the question. On reflection about the keynote, despite finding it the highlight of the conference and well worth travelling to Liverpool for, I am left with a sense that we were treated to a passionate exploration of a glimpse into the future of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of Higher Education, but it’s the ‘how’ that remains open.

We were left with the question of how an ecological curriculum which contains spaces for critical self-reflection, spaces for engagement with self, society and the world, spaces for multidisciplinary demanding experiences, can be introduced into a 21st century Higher Education institution. How will these ideas impact on Higher Education? How will they be realised in practice?

Rhizo 14: Emerging Ambiguities and Issues

This is the fourth and final post in a series which outlines the thinking and planning Frances Bell and Jenny Mackness have been doing in preparation for our presentation – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC – for the ALTMOOCSIG conference on Friday 27th June.

The first post was – The Rhizome as a Metaphor for Teaching and Learning in a MOOC 

The second post was – Making Sense of the Rhizome Metaphor for Teaching and Learning

The third post was – Principles of Rhizomatic Thinking

This final post will cover some of the issues that are emerging from our research data.

 

Rhizo 14: Emerging ambiguities and issues

 Slide 6 (Source of image: Tom Friedman. Open Black Box : http://eyelevel.si.edu/2007/06/sculpture-as-an.html )

We are still in the process of analysing our data, but on the basis the work we have done so far we were able to send these statements out to survey respondents who agreed to an email interview:

  • The rhizome is a useful metaphor for learning but it does not add anything significantly new to our current understanding of teaching and learning.
  • The use of the rhizome as a metaphor for designing teaching and learning has a positive impact on the role of the teacher.
  • The rhizome metaphor is sufficient to describe networked learning, but insufficient to describe learning in a community.
  • The rhizome is an adequate but incomplete metaphor for explaining how we learn.
  • The metaphor of the rhizome works well for social learning, but less well for knowledge creation.
  • Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas were not relevant to learning in Rhizo14

The statements exemplify some of the emerging alternative perspectives on the learner experience of the Rhizo14 MOOC.

We haven’t done enough analysis of our data yet to come to any conclusions, but here are some tentative initial questions, findings and discussion. We do not have any answers to these questions. We simply raise them and open them for discussion.

  1. The role of the convenor. What is the role of the convener in a course which tries to apply D &G’s rhizomatic principles? Is it possible to have no centre?

Here are the alternative perspectives of two survey respondents.

Our words, our images, our diagrams were what drove the learning for ourselves and for others in the course. Where the conversations went did not start from a single centre and move in an ordered fashion from there; they started wherever we started, and moved wherever those involved wanted them to move. As a result, there were numerous conversations happening at the same time, going in different directions, linking up to others if we made the links happen. 

I could see many people getting enthusiastic and falling in love with the community like “we are something, we are the best in world. Others are stupid and not creative but we are great. Dave is the King and it is fine to get attention from him.” I define this groupthink and emotional drifting. Someone called it a congregation around dc

Is a course, which necessarily means there is a course convener, the right environment for exploring and modelling rhizomatic learning?

  1. The operation of power in Rhizo14 and its relation to striated and smooth spaces for state and nomadic thought

“Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that is universal by right”, they insist, “[only thought is] capable of elevating the State to the level of de jure universality” (Holland, 2013, p.45)

D & G talk about smooth and striated space. Striated space is structured and organised and can be the home of ‘state thought’, whereas in smooth space there are no fixed points or boundaries. Many of Rhizo14’s provocative prompts seemed to be designed to help participants challenge state thought/ arborescence in education. We are curious to explore how nomadic thought was enabled and constrained by the few structuring devices (activities and technologies) present in Rhizo14.

Although rhizomatic nomadic thought may seem more at home in smooth space, it may not have that luxury. There may have been more striated space in Rhizo14 than you would expect in a course about rhizomatic learning. This also relates to thinking about the rhizome as achieving ‘felt-like’ status, which Holland (2013) equates to ‘smooth space’.

Holland writes (p.38) that ‘any rhizomatic element has the potential to connect with any other element’ . He compares felt to the warp and woof (weft) of fabric. Early analysis suggests that Rhizo14 didn’t achieve felt-like status (i.e. a smooth space). There was not enough ‘omni-directionality’.

‘Rhizomatic elements co-exist with one another, but without structure (e.g. felt). Any structure or unity is imposed as an extra dimension  .… and as an effect of power on the dimensions of co-existence of the rhizome itself, whose self-organization requires no added dimensions: structuration or unification, by contrast, occurs as the result of “over-coding” by a signifier…..’ (Holland, p.39)

The potential ambiguity between Dave Cormier’s role as convenor (with his expressed desire to moderate communication) and his wish to be de-centred within Rhizo14 may have been realised in confusion and challenge by some participants, and defence of him by others. There is some evidence of this in the data we collected. A possible explanation could be that Rhizo14 ended up being ‘over-coded’ with Dave Cormier as the signifier and members of the dominant Facebook Group as signifiers, thus working against decentring. This is the one of the issues we hope to explore with Dave Cormier himself to enrich our understanding.

  1. The Community: Is the idea of community compatible with D & G’s principles of rhizomatic thinking? In Rhizo14 is the community an example of territorialisation? D & G write about the necessity of territorialisation, but say it should only be relatively temporary.

Community is not a word that features strongly in D & G’s A Thousand Plateaus, but they do write:

There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogeneous linguistic community. ( D&G, A Thousand Plateaus, p.7)

On the same page, they also write:

There is no mother tongue, only a power takeover by a dominant language within a political multiplicity.

And Holland explains this with:

‘Even on its own plane, discourse as rhizome is “an essentially heterogeneous reality” [p.7 in D&G’s book] – a “throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages,” Deleuze and Guattari assert, with “no mother tongue” [7]. The appearance of a standard language is instead the result of a power-takeover by one language among many, necessarily in connection with yet other factors, most notably political and demographic ones.’ ( Holland, E.W., 2013, Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus, Bloomsbury, p.39)

The question we, as researchers, are considering is whether the notion of community works against rhizomatic thinking principles, but we haven’t got any further than this at the moment. Does a community lead to a standard language and a power take-over? One interesting aspect of community within Rhizo14 is that although Dave Cormier drew on his existing network to attract participants to the MOOC, there was no pre-existing Rhizo14 community, and so part of the early ‘work’ of Rhizo14 was community formation.

As Dave Cormier said:

In discussions with the excellent Vanessa Gennarelli from P2PU she suggested that I focus the course around challenging questions. It occurred to me that if i took my content and my finely crafted ‘unravelling’ out of the way I might just get the kind of engagement that could encourage the formation of community. http://davecormier.com/edblog/2014/04/01/explaining-rhizo14-to-oscar/

This is an interesting issue that we hope to explore further.

  1. The community is the curriculum

This begs the question – what was the curriculum? As is evident from the first quote from a survey respondent under point 1 above, there were some participants who believed that the curriculum was created by the community. We have evidence that participants learned ‘how to MOOC’, ‘how to make connections with like-minded people’, and ‘how to think differently about their existing educational philosophy’, but as mentioned in a previous blog post, only a handful survey respondents referred to D&G’s work in their understanding of the rhizome as a metaphor for learning and teaching.

As well as minimising the content he provided, Dave had already affirmed the need for learners to create content. Participants from DS106, EDCMOOC, and CLMOOC 2013 would already have experienced a MOOC where ‘making’ was a key focus for community/ course participation. The ‘Arts and Crafts tent’ was popular, a participant-driven approach, and can be seen in the many multimedia artefacts tagged #rhizo14, but not everyone wanted to do this. One of the ways in which curriculum could be perceived is by the content generated by learners, and the diversity of content from poems to wordy blog posts and a lot of remixes in multimedia in Rhizo14.

As one email interview respondent has written:

I do not quite understand how the community designs and negotiates its own curriculum community. We need more studies and references to describe the processes of negotiation that go on within a community that enable it to design their own curriculum.

And finally, the same respondent wrote:

I have a feeling that this metaphor needs to be connected more to pedagogical issues arising from educational research. 

Which neatly brings us to the end of our presentation and emphasises that we still have more questions than answers and, as we have mentioned before, far more thoughts and discussion topics than we have room for here, or time for in our presentation.

Slide 7

(Source of image: Tobias Øhrstrøm Learning from a potato: http://www.iaacblog.com/maa2013-2014-advanced-architecture-concepts/2013/11/learning-from-a-potato/ )

If you have any thoughts/questions about this series of posts, we would welcome your comments on our blogs, or by email:

  • jenny.mackness@btopenworld.com
  • frabell@gmail.com

 

References

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press.

Holland, E.W. (2013). Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus. Bloomsbury

 

************************************************************************************

This Creative Commons License applies to this blog post and supercedes the one that normally applies to this blog, which can be found in the sidebar.In publishing interim findings to our blogs, we are cautious about how we publish what could ultimately be part of a journal article. For this reason, the license under which we publish these posts relating to our presentation is different from the one normally applied to our blogs.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Thoughts about community as curriculum in #rhizo14

richard-giblett-mycelium2Source of image- http://www.galeriedusseldorf.com.au/GDArtists/Giblett/RG2005/source/mycelium.html (Richard Giblett)

The idea of community as curriculum is not new. Etienne Wenger wrote about it in his 1998 book on communities of practice – and since no ideas are truly original, his thinking was probably influenced by prior writers -but nevertheless his book is the most thumbed on my bookshelf and in 1998 he wrote that education is:

‘… about balancing the production of reificative material with the design of forms of participation that provide entry into a practice and let the practice itself be its own curriculum… (p.265)

He has grounded the idea of ‘community as curriculum’ in the practice of the community, but he has also stated very clearly what he means by community and what he means by curriculum.

There is clear evidence from communities of practice that the practice itself is its own curriculum. The strongest community that I am a member of is CPsquare – the community of practice about communities of practice. This has been going for many years and has a strong group of core members who welcome peripheral participants and support them in their learning trajectory. It is a semi-open community – full access is through paid membership.

I am also a now peripheral, but originally a founding, member of the ELESIG community  – a community for people interested in researching learners’ experiences of e-learning. This also has a strong core group and is an open community. This community does not yet have the depth of shared history that CPsquare does, but time will tell and it is already developing a substantial shared repertoire.

So community as curriculum is not problematic for me. I have seen it in my communities and it is evident in #rhizo14.  I blogged about it early on in the course – The Community is the Curriculum in rhizo14 

BUT

#rhizo14 is a course  – a learning community rather than a community of practice? As Sylvia Currie (responsible for the SCoPE community  – another community I am connected to)  pointed out on my blog (in a comment), and I have also heard Etienne say, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, so long as the basic principles for a community and curriculum are in place.

I am, as yet, unconvinced that this can happen in ‘a course’.

What I am finding interesting to follow through in my mind, is whether it is possible to have a ‘course’ about something like rhizomatic learning/thinking without contradicting the very premise on which it stands. I have heard Stephen Downes also talk about problems with the word ‘course’ in relation to cMOOCs.

For me the most interesting curriculum topic that has arisen in the #rhizo14 ‘community’ (and I still question whether this ‘course’ qualifies as a community – but I think only time will tell) is the topography of the learning environment.

In particular I am interested in the notion of ‘ learning spaces’.  Keith Hamon wrote a wonderful post on this relating it to a soccer game and field, and it relates very closely to work I have been doing with my colleague Roy Williams about the effect of the relationship between structure and openness in learning environments.

So today, I have spent some time reading around this idea of what ‘space’ means to a learner and the constraint that the idea of ‘community’ and ‘course’, if they are not carefully cultivated, might put on a learner in relation to their space for learning.

I think Ron Barnett in his book ‘A Will to Learn: Being a Student in an Age of Uncertainty‘  has summed it up for me when he writes about the tension between singularity and universality. This tension is not, I think,  problematic in a network.  It might be a bit more problematic in a community, but I think it is very likely to be problematic in a course.

On p.148 Barnett writes:

‘There is here a key spatial tension: to let learn, to let go, implies singularity. By this I mean that the student is to be permitted to become what she wishes, to pursue her own intellectual inclinations, to identify sets of skills that she wishes to acquire to come into her own voice. However, the teacher in higher education has a kind of tacit ethical code of ensuring that that student comes to live in keeping with the standards of her intellectual and practical fields. The student is going to be judged by those standards, in any event, but standards of this kind imply universality.’

Whilst this quote obviously applies in a situation where a student is studying for credit or some sort of certificate, I think it also says a lot about the role and power of the ‘teacher’, ‘convener’ of any course – and how that power, knowingly or unknowingly, can constrain the learner’s space.

Barnett also writes on p.148 ‘The teacher’s presence may serve perniciously to reduce the students’ space’.

This for me explains why community, course and curriculum are an uneasy fit.

Further quotes from Barnett’s book that I think are relevant to #rhizo14 are:

p.148 ‘Given spaces in which to explore and to develop, students will become differentiated from each other’.

Singularity is a necessary outcome of space’.

This raises for me the tension between the pressure of community, course and curriculum and the learner’s desire/need to find their own space, their own voice in relation to their own learning.

And p.149 Barnett writes:

Giving space to students, therefore, brings into play ethical dilemmas, as the singularity-universal tension itself becomes necessarily apparent.’

And so I come full circle to the question of ethics in a course, curriculum and community, which I wrote about in the very first week of #rhizo14 – Rhizomatic Learning and Ethics

The Community is the Curriculum in #rhizo14

As happened in CCK08 (the first MOOC in 2008), it seems that ‘the kids have taken control of the classroom’ in this second week of Dave Cormier’s open online course Rhizomatic Learning – The Community is the Curriculum . The topic this week is ‘enforced independence’ and here is Dave’s introduction:

I have been standing back, observing, watching, waiting, to see what directions people take in response to the idea of ‘enforcing independence’.

Simon Ensor summed up how I feel this week, when he posted this on Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-01-23 at 09.59.43

I particularly like the line ‘So long as the mists envelop you, be still’. On the whole, for me, there isn’t enough ‘stillness’ in social media environments. And I can also relate to the first line. My own expression has always been ‘When in doubt, don’t!’ So rushing off down rhizomatic paths isn’t really my style – but it has been fascinating to watch the paths that are being created and followed this week.

Unlike ‘cheating is learning’ (last week’s topic), ‘enforcing independence’  has been summarily dismissed as a viable idea by some. Arca says “Independence cannot be enforced. End.”  There is obviously a discussion to be had around independence as an important idea in association with pedagogy, but I’m not sure about the possibility of ‘enforcing’ independence. I might come back to that discussion in another post.

For now I am reflecting on Dave’s introductory video where he said that the word ‘course’ in association with #rhizo14 does have meaning, i.e. it is a course (not a free for all), that he is directing, not in the sense of a conductor with a set sheet of music, but in the sense of directing towards a certain type of conversation. I wonder what type of conversation Dave envisaged for this week – because it is going all over the place. For example:

Sarah HoneyChurch organised a live synchronous session last night for European/African participants  – but I’m not sure if the session was about social bonding or something more substantial.

Cath Ellis has tried to steer discussion towards actually reading Deleuze and Guattari’s work and bemoans the fact that many of us are engaging in discussion without having read the seminal text. She suggests reading the first 25 pages/introduction and has posted some links to documents in Facebook, to get us going. Not everyone is keen to do this reading. Maha Bali presents an alternative perspective.

Maha Bali is also interested in researching the different forms of community interaction and its effects on learning in‪#‎rhizo14‬ and has put out a call for collaborators in the Facebook group.

Penny Bentley is interested in the question ‘How does Rhizomatic Learning add to/enhance Connectivism? (also on Facebook).

The discussion around ‘cheating as learning’ continues, with a number of people still concerned about the ethics of rhizomatic learning.

Frances Bell thinks we are in danger of “Falling into the tendency to think about rhizomatic learning within formal educational contexts” and is interested in power in rhizomatic learning environments

Keith Hamon is interested in the relationship between ethical behaviour and boundaries in rhizomatic learning environments.

A number of participants are creating badges for the course and awarding them as and when they feel appropriate.

Many people are interested in how the ideas behind rhizomatic learning relate to their teaching practice.

And there’s more….

All this would suggest that ‘The community is the curriculum’, i.e. the curriculum this week, is being created more by the community than in relation to the week’s topic – which I assume was the intention behind the course design.

But where does that leave Dave as the ‘director’ of conversation? What are the implications for his and our ‘power’ in the course?

And I’m wondering about the word ‘community’ and whether everyone going off along their own rhizomatic paths is conducive to community. For example, will there be a break away ‘theory group’ and if there is would this militate against community? Is it reasonable to talk about rhizomatic learning in relation to community?

I feel the mists descending again!

Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum #rhizo14

rhizo Screen_Shot_2013-09-17_at_8.51.41_PMDave Cormier’s open course – Rhizomatic Learning – The community is the curriculum – starts tomorrow – Tues 14th January.

This is not an xMOOC type experience, so don’t think you can go to one place and find everything.

However, Dave has written an unguided tour of his course on his blog –  which gives some indication of what you can expect.

So far these are the associated course sites that I have discovered:

I haven’t yet managed to find anywhere else that blog posts might be aggregated – but quite a few are mentioned on Facebook by Dave and also on Twitter

There are lots of names I recognize in the list of people signed up for the course which is great.

In one of his blog posts Dave has suggested that in Week 1 of the course we introduce ourselves and state our goals for the course, although he has made it clear in his unguided tour that there are no learning objectives for this course

I’m not sure that I have any specific goals. I think I will go with the flow and see what emerges. On looking back through my blog posts I see that I have made three posts about rhizomatic learning in the past.

Given that the last post I made on this subject was more than two years ago, I will be interested to see how much Dave’s ideas have progressed and how much mine have changed.

Quick Update:

For those who would like to follow blogs related to this course, Matthias Melcher is aggregating them. See http://x28newblog.wordpress.com/wp-links-opml.php?link_cat=205896894 and his blog post with further details: http://x28newblog.wordpress.com/2014/01/12/rhizo14-opml-feedlist/

He has also added this blogpost to the Diigo Group mentioned above (see his comment below).

Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge

This week Professor Glynis Cousin from Wolverhampton University spoke at Lancaster University about her long-standing interest and research into threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. She spoke for about 40 minutes, with no notes and no powerpoint.

“A threshold concept can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting, or viewing something without which the learner cannot progress. As a consequence of comprehending a threshold concept there may thus be a transformed internal view of subject matter, subject landscape, or even world view. This transformation may be sudden or it may be protracted over a considerable period of time”
(Meyer and Land 2003)

Professor Cousin started by saying that there is no such thing as a threshold concept. A threshold concept is a heuristic device, not an objective thing; it is a work in progress. For her the most interesting aspects of threshold concepts are troublesome knowledge and liminality. Threshold concepts are not the same thing as ‘key concepts’.

Thinking about threshold concepts helps academics to recognize that they tend to ‘stuff’ the curriculum.  Many make the mistake of seeing the syllabus as a synonym for curriculum. In fact what is needed is to ‘shrink’ the curriculum, to move from coverage to uncoverage, to think about what is critical for students to learn, what is critical for mastery and to consider what will transform students’ learning, and discourage them from simply ‘mimicking’ understanding.

In doing this and in the spirit of ‘less is more’ and teaching for mastery of a concept, we need to consider what shifts we want students to make. For example if we want students of engineering to become engineers and if we want students of French to become French speakers, what is critical to this mastery?

Curriculum design which takes account of threshold concepts is not a spiral curriculum – it is more like an octopus, incorporating many ‘trigger’ materials –  materials that shape who you are. What interferes with design approaches are the students themselves. They often do not understand the rules of engagement of being a University or College student. They not only need to gain conceptual mastery, but also learn to be a student. So there is a lot of ‘noise’ going on as students find themselves in a state of liminality, oscillating betwixt and between mastery and troublesome knowledge. Learning is anxiety invested.

So the idea of threshold concepts in curriculum design, and their dependence on notions of liminality and troublesome knowledge, returns centrality to the teacher and brings the student closer to the teacher. Student-centredness does not mean ‘satisfying’ the student, it means getting the relationship between the student and the teacher right – establishing a gift relationship between student and teacher, rather than a service client relationship.

These were the ideas I noted down from Glynis Cousin’s talk. Many of the ideas resonate with  the work I have been doing with Roy Williams and Simone Gumtau on designing for emergent learning (see Footprints of Emergence ) – but the centrality of the teacher is a bit of a departure and a challenge to recent thinking about how learners learn in networks and massive open online courses.

References

Cousin, G (2006) An Introduction to Threshold Concepts. Planet No.17

Meyer, J.H.F. and Land, R. (2003),Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (1): linkages to ways of thinking and practising, in Rust, C. (ed.), Improving Student Learning – ten years on. Oxford: OCSLD.

SEAD White Paper – Learning Across Cultures

Our paper “Learning Across Cultures” has been accepted by SEAD and posted on their site along with a number of other papers. ‘Our’ refers to Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and me.

The next stage is a ‘meta-analysis’ of all the actions suggested in the different papers and a review of the papers in line with the review process posted on the SEAD website.

There will be a preliminary presentation of the study at the US National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC at a Leonardo DASER on May 16 2013.

When the study is finalised, our full white paper will be included in the Appendix.

It will be interesting to see the outcomes of the meta-analysis and whether the final report has any impact on transdisciplinary, cross-cultural collaboration between the sciences, engineering, arts and design.

This is how the original call for papers was explained on the SEAD website

We are seeking to survey concerns, roadblocks and opportunities, and solicit proposed actions for enhancing collaboration between sciences and engineering with practitioners in arts and design. These position papers will be submitted as part of a report to NSF and the community from the SEAD network in the summer of 2013. With grateful appreciation for US funding, we recognize that activity connecting the sciences, engineering, to arts and design is international and, furthermore, that global involvements are essential in today’s economy. Therefore we are interested both in what US collaborators can learn from experiences in other countries, and vice versa, institution or region specific issues, and also in how to foster collaborations that bridge beyond regions to nations. Cultural cross-fertilization via the SEAD network – whether from disciplinary, organizational or ethnic perspectives – is a vital component of our purpose and goals.

Footprints of Emergence in CPsquare

We had a great discussion about our recent paper Footprints of Emergence  in CPsquare’s Research and Dissertations Series of presentations last night. By we I mean, Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and myself and by CPsquare I mean the community of practice on communities of practice.

We had some technical difficulties in getting connected and we were small in number, but if ever there was proof that ‘small is beautiful’ in terms of quality of discussion, it was in last night’s discussion.

Some interesting points came out of the discussion.

Our footprints (see diagram below) could be interpreted at first glance as ‘flat’ and static – a bit like a map. Our paper explains that the opposite is in fact the case, but a dynamic, evolving, adaptive 3D footprint is very difficult to depict without the correct software. This is something we are looking into, but personally don’t have the skills to develop – maybe I am just speaking for myself 🙂

Example of a Footprint

Each footprint is a ‘snapshot’ in time. This was so well observed and noted by John Smith (Community Steward of CPsquare). ‘Snapshot’ describes it so well.  They are also snapshots from an individual, or specific group perspective. John said ‘emergence is in the eye of the beholder’. So true.

The footprints can be drawn prospectively and/or retrospectively, dependent on the context and purpose and we discussed a variety of ways in which the footprints have already been used and the case studies we have published in the paper.

The footprints are about the balance to be achieved between prescriptive and emergent learning. We are definitely not saying that in any given learning environment ‘emergent’ is right and ‘prescriptive’ is wrong, or vice versa.

It is difficult to determine exactly where on the footprints the points should lie at any point in time. In determining this we are very aware that the very next day, next hour, we might place them differently. The value is in the discussion or thinking about where to place them.

John contributed an interesting perspective from his reading of Barry Boyce and James Gimian, The Rules of Victory: How to Transform Chaos and Conflict–Strategies from The Art of War (Boston & London: Shambhala, 2009).  and thought that ‘the strange produces the conventional and vice versa’ and that many of the metaphors and issues from the book can be brought over to the same issues that we are discussing in relation to emergent learning. We definitely need to explore this further.

And right at the end of the discussion, the issue of ‘awareness’ was raised. As Roy put it … a possible ‘scenario is that as more people draw more footprints, and they become more ‘aware’ of the dynamics, they are less able to interact with (or in) full ‘awareness’.  This takes us into a whole new realm of discussion for me, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

But in the meantime – Roy has set up a wiki for further discussion. If you are interested in our footprints framework and would like to contribute a footprint to the wiki, Roy, Simone and I would love to hear from you.

And Roy, Simone and I have decided that our tag for discussions related to this on Twitter, blogs or elsewhere will be #emergentlearning

SEAD: Describing Changing Curricula

This is the title of an Abstract for a white paper that Roy Williams, Simone Gumtau and I recently submitted to SEAD.

SEAD is a working group that is looking to report on and

address new opportunities or roadblocks to improve collaboration between science and engineering and arts and design. The report will also analyze existing reports issued internationally over the last ten years and develop a meta-analysis of these previous reports. http://seadnetwork.wordpress.com/about/

Here is a link to the Abstract

We now have until November 15th to submit our White Paper, which must include a summary section with suggested actions. The more specific the Suggested Actions the better:

a) Identify the STAKEHOLDER (people or organizations in a position to take an action, or who will benefit from the success of your work).

b) Describe briefly the roadblock or problem you have learned in your own work, and suggest actions that others can take to help overcome such problems.

c) Identify new important opportunities that you feel should be made a priority.’

Our thinking for this submission is influenced by two recent papers we have worked on and submitted for publication.

1. Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Footprints of Emergence. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning

  • this has been accepted and hopefully will be published in the next edition of IRRODL

2.  Williams, R., Mackness, J. & Gumtau, S. (2012) Synaesthesia and Embodied Learning.

In the Footprints of Emergence paper we expand the ideas we developed in an earlier paper on  emergent learning Emergent Learning and Learning Ecologies in Web 2.0  , with a particular focus on developing a framework for designing curricula for emergent learning.

In the  Synaesthesia and Embodied Learning paper,  we explore how synaesthesic enactive perception can underpin innovative learning design.

Since writing and submitting these two papers we have begun to think more deeply about how they inform each other and the implications for enhancing creativity and innovation across the disciplines through considerations of emergent, prescriptive, synaesthesic and embodied learning in relation to curriculum design.

For further information see also Roy’s blog post of Friday 17th August – also with the title ‘Describing Changing Curricula’

Is structure counter to cMOOC philosophy?

This was a question that came out of our FSLT12 Research Review meeting today. We were discussing what we have found out about the ways in which people participated and learned in the FSLT12 MOOC  –  and the extent to which this was constrained by the structure and curriculum we designed into the MOOC.

These questions have been timely for me. I have been pondering for quite a few days now about the approach taken by George Siemens and Rory MGreal to their Openness in Education MOOC, which I signed up for.

I was completely baffled at the start of the MOOC on September 10th when there was nothing on the site. Apparently this was down to technical failure, but I’m wondering how many other people were contacting ‘friends’ to find out what was going on. To what extent is communication a part of structure and curriculum? But even now that the MOOC has got going and has been explained as follows …..

This course is based on a connectivist model of learning that Stephen Downes and I have been developing since 2008. We will provide some readings each week, but the course is really driven by learner contributions and resources. Which means that if no one blogs, the course gets pretty boring :). Once you’ve submitted your blog, please include the course tag (oped12) in your posts and they will be aggregated into a daily newsletter. Please be patient as it typically takes a day or two to get ramped up with the course.

We don’t have a central discussion forum set up…learning happens in many places, sites, and tools. More on that here: http://open.mooc.ca/how.htm If you feel a place of interaction needs to be created, please create it and share with others using the course tag.

…. it’s quite difficult to find the content and it seems that there are not going to be any synchronous sessions, where people could gather/connect if they so wished.

David Wiley has made similar comments in a blog post, but brainysmurf  has responded in the comments on his blog

It’s really up to us as participants to decide what to do with the facilitators’ content (if anything), to develop our own live sessions if we want to and to share our resources as we see fit. That shift in power/control/effort is going to rattle more than a few people, I bet!

Am I rattled? Well, not rattled, but certainly questioning whether this extremely ‘hands off’ approach is in the best interest of learners.

Which comes back to the question of just how much structure and support should MOOC conveners provide. I know there are no right or wrong answers; and to come back to the initial question, I’m not sure how much or in what ways a structure/curriculum constrains learning, but then I’m also not sure how much a lack of structure/curriculum constrains learning.

Is structure counter to cMOOC philosophy? I don’t think so. I don’t see that the principles of connectivism – autonomy, diversity, openness and interaction across distributed platforms, or the key activities of cMOOCs – aggregate, remix, repurpose, feedforward, necessarily militate against structure or a curriculum.