Emergent learning: the designer’s role, the learner’s experience

Discussions about our recently published paper, Footprints of Emergence,  continue, particularly with respect to the relationship between curriculum design intentions and the learner experience.

We have been discussing the paper with the CPsquare community, a group of academic colleagues from FH JOANNEUM, ZML-Innovative Learning Scenarios  and others. These discussions are ongoing and we share our current thinking on this wiki . Anyone who is interested in Footprints of Emergence is welcome to join.

The following points in our recent discussions have caught my attention:

Our experience (i.e. the authors of Footprints of Emergence) is that drawing a footprint from the design perspective and from the learner experience perspective can result in very different images for the same course. This raises the question of whether designer intentions and learner experience can be aligned.

If they can’t, then to what extent can the learner experience be validated by anyone other than the learner?

At this point I need to explain that the learner experience in terms of ‘identity’ development, is for me what learning is all about, but whether or not this can or should be ‘assessed’ is another question.

I can’t see that the curriculum/course/learning environment designer will ever be able to ‘control’ the learner experience, however prescribed the curriculum or however heavily assessed. So what then is the designer’s role?

A number of teachers talk and write about the need to first ‘create the space’ in which the learner can grow and develop their identities, and then facilitate learning within that space. If this is true and learners need ‘space’, why do we still see the design of heavily prescribed, content heavy courses? In addition, online learners seem to need and take/create more space than f2f learners, i.e. contemplative learning space. What does the need for ‘space’ mean for the design of blended learning, integrated online and f2f learning, and a prescribed curriculum?

Another point that keeps cropping up in discussion is the extent to which learners need to be pushed out of their ‘comfort zone’ to promote significant learning – possibly through providing a non-prescriptive, less structured learning environment. At what point does the learning environment become so chaotic and ‘unsafe’ that learning is compromised/jeopardized?

Should we expect learners bend to fit the curriculum/learning design or should the learning design bend to fit the learner? This is a difficult question if you don’t know who your learners are going to be, e.g. in MOOCs.

So finally, at what point is a mismatch between design intentions and learner experience constructive and at what point is it destructive and how might this affect emergent learning?

Academic Betreat – The Work of Identity

I had hoped that we would discuss identity at the Academic BEtreat and I wasn’t  disappointed. What I hadn’t expected was that my own identity would become such a focus of my learning on the BEtreat.

In the 21st century the work of building an identity is greater than ever before. Identity is a negotiated expression of the self and these days there are so many landscapes and communities in which to do this, particularly for the young. In the past learners did not have so many choices or spaces in which to negotiate their identity and there were not the same opportunities to change jobs. Once a blacksmith, always a blacksmith, just like your father and your grandfather before you.  These days we have to manage multiple trajectories all at once. It’s hard work.

But does this mean we have multiple identities or just one identity. In our discussions we were divided on this. Some felt that we have just one identity, but that we behave differently in different contexts and that some parts of your identity come to the surface in different situations. Others do not see that one identity, just parts of it. Others thought that we have multiple identities.

We recognized that roles and identities are not the same thing and decided that we ‘play a role’, which is prescribed and comes from outside yourself, but that we ‘are a person with an identity’. But of course a role can impact on your identity.

There are also times when we may need to re-negotiate our identity. One of the BEtreat participants illustrated this with her decision to become a Muslim, which she explained required considerable re-negotiation of her identity.

Finally we discussed the ‘dark night of identity’ which I have blogged about before. There are times when your whole identity falls apart, or what you believed you could do you find you can’t, but as a learner you have to hang on in there, even though at the time you might wonder if you will ever come out of the ‘dark night’. Of course there are some people who thrive on these situations, but as Etienne said, ‘Mastery of learning requires understanding the struggle of what it takes to become something’. It is when our identities are threatened that we learn who we are.

Although we have an identity in relation to many different contexts and we may have to renegotiate our identity in different contexts, the work of identity is in one person. If we look at identity as multiple identities, we underestimate how much work goes on to keep a sense of personhood.

In the 21st century building your identity is hard work.

The Academic BEtreat, gave me plenty of opportunity to think about my identity, who I am, how others might perceive me, the meaning of identity and it’s relation to my learning and learning in general.

Finding my voice in Academic BEtreat

The Academic BEtreat is on a roll.

Academic BEtreat learning environment

The technology issues have been largely sorted – yesterday my sound scarcely dropped at all, and if it did it was only for a minute or two – so I now feel like I have more of a chance of learning. (I say ‘my’ sound, but the problems have been at the California end, not at mine here in North West England).

I enjoyed yesterday very much, and I realize, not for the first time that I much prefer learning online than face-to-face, i.e. if there is something deep and substantial to discuss and learn. Face-to-face can be great for networking and socializing, and both these enrich the relationships and the learning, but for me online allows for more ‘filtering’ of ideas, more reflective space and more control over the learning process. I can more easily distance myself and switch off what I don’t want to listen to, I can be more selective about who to interact with, and I have more time (although still nowhere near enough) to process the ideas and new learning. I already feel that my time spent working on this year’s BEtreat online has been far more productive than when I was in California last year.

It has taken me a while to work out how best to organize myself for working online on this BEtreat. Before the start, I set myself up with a large second computer monitor, so that I would have more space to keep open different sites and documents. But despite this I have still reverted to taking hand-written notes. There was just too much switching between Skype, Adobe Connect, video on/off, microphone on/off, open word documents, open PowerPoint presentations, open BEtreat wiki site, open blog posts, and email – to be able to write into a Word document at the same time. But my hand written notes are a terrible scrawl. I am out of the habit of handwriting fast – so will I ever be able to decipher my notes?

What I have found extremely interesting so far is that, despite the distance between me and my Californian and online BEtreat colleagues, I feel that I have much more ‘voice’ this year, than I did last year when I attended the BEtreat face-to-face. We have discussed identity in the BEtreat (I hope to come back to issues of identity in another post), and I realise that I have had much more opportunity to project my identity into the learning community this year. I think I have used my physical voice more in the synchronous sessions than I did last year, but I have also been able to type into the chat, which means I can ‘talk’ without interrupting the speaker. I don’t have to ‘wait my turn’. I also have my own personal wiki page where I can express myself to my heart’s content – and ‘talk’/write about what interests me (a bit like my blog). I’m not sure that anyone is ‘listening’/reading these thoughts, but to me that doesn’t matter. It is another opportunity to project my ‘voice’ and not be interrupted 🙂 And what is more, on reflection, I realise that these depictions of my ‘voice’ are less fleeting than in a face-to-face setting. This can be both positive and negative, but for me the positive usually outweighs the negative.

At least twice in the BEtreat I have felt my identity to be on shaky ground – it has been challenged. I am still reflecting on this, but need time to process my thinking about identity, from what we have heard and learned on this BEtreat.

Finally, there is one other BEtreater who is blogging – my online colleague Jutta Pauschenwein. Jutta has written a great series of blog posts about the BEtreat. This is her latest post – http://zmldidaktik.wordpress.com/2012/08/02/did-i-reach-my-objectives-in-the-betreat/

Much of what Jutta writes reflects my own thinking, but what I realize is that my extensive participation in MOOCs over the past five years has helped me to cope with the uncertainty and information overload in this BEtreat.

Modes of belonging in communities of practice

This is discussed in Chapter 8 of Etienne Wenger’s book Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity (p.173-187)

Keywords: Engagement, alignment, imagination, belonging, identity, communities

Notes:

To make sense of identity formation and learning in communities of practice, we need to consider three modes of belonging – engagement, imagination and alignment.

Engagement is the active negotiation of meaning through the formation of trajectories and the unfolding of histories of practice. Mutual engagement creates a shared reality in which to act and construct an identity. Whilst it can lead to negotiation of meaning, the shared histories can also narrow learning through their power in sustaining identity.

Alignment coordinates our energies and activities to contribute to broader structures. Through alignment we do what we need to do to become part of something big. Alignment concerns power, it can amplify our power and our sense of the possible – but it can also be blind and disempowering making us vulnerable to delusion and abuse.

Imagination is extrapolating your own experiences through time and space. It is a creative process that reaches beyond direct engagement. Imagination can create relations of identity anywhere throughout history. Imagination was very well illustrated by the experiences of two stonecutters, doing the same job who differed in the sense of what they were doing and in their sense of themselves as individual stonecutters. One was ‘cutting a perfectly square shape’; the other was ‘building a cathedral’.

On p.183 Etienne writes

‘Given a community, one might wonder what the possibilities for mutual engagement are, what material supports imagination, and how alignment is secured. Such questions focus not on classification but on mechanisms of community formation, as well as on the trade-offs and kinds of work involved’.

When working in a community of practice it is fairly easy to see concrete evidence of engagement and alignment.  Imagination seems to me more difficult to ‘pin down.’

  • Is it less visible?
  • How conscious is it?
  • Is it a shared reality?
  • What material supports imagination?

These are my questions from this Chapter.

Update 06-06-13

See also – http://prezi.com/u0gqsdob0p9h/edit/#1_195952

Meaning is the driver of learning

This is a quote from Etienne Wenger when he spoke to the FSLT12 MOOC in June. The recording is on YouTube and there are further details on the FSLT WordPress site .

Etienne briefly illustrated what he meant by referring to his son’s ‘meaningless’ biology homework on cells. I found this interesting as one of the more meaningful aspects of my own education was the study of biology – for me what could be more meaningful than the study of life – and within that the study of histology – related to the study of genetics, which I remember as being fascinating, since I could easily relate it to ‘me’ – why I have brown eyes, cannot roll my tongue and so on.

Next week the Academic BEtreat  starts and we have been asked to prepare by reading at least one section from Etienne’s 1998 book.  I have read the section on ‘Identity’ and commented on that in a blog post a couple of weeks ago.  Another section that we could choose to read is on ‘Meaning’ (p. 43-71). Slow reading is required for this book. Each sentence is densely packed with ideas. It took me a two hour train journey from Lancaster to Birmingham last week to read that small section; I am now on the train again and have two hours to digest the reading and make this post. Quite a luxury!

The key words in this section for me are: Practice, reification, meaning, negotiation and duality.

Some of the key ideas (or highlights for me) as I understand them are that:

  • we experience the world and our engagement within it as meaningful through practice (p.51)
  • meaning occurs through an ongoing process of negotiation, which does not necessarily involve language
  • fundamental to the negotiation of meaning are participation and reification
  • participation is a source of identity (p.56)
  •  ‘participation is not something we turn on and off’ …’the meanings of what we do are always social’ (p.57)
  • reification gives our meanings an independent existence and shapes our experience. These independent forms become a focus for negotiation. Reification as a constituent of meaning is always incomplete.
  • participation and reification are a duality, not opposites, not on a spectrum, not substitutions for each other, not translations of each other, not classificatory categories. They are complementary.
  • ‘The communicative ability of artifacts depends on how the work of negotiating meaning is distributed between reification and participation’. (p.64)

So from this can we say that cell biology for Etienne’s son was not meaningful because the requirements of practice, negotiation, reification and participation were not fulfilled, or was it just that he was badly taught, or simply that histology doesn’t capture his imagination in the same way as another discipline, such as music, might

My memory of histology is from my university days, where most of my study was solitary – working in the library for long hours – which was broken up by periods of sitting in vast lecture halls looking at the back of the lecturer writing in chalk on a blackboard so far away it was difficult to see. So I remember participation as passive. I don’t remember any overt negotiation, although I must have negotiated meaning with myself and the reification must have been the required essay, which I don’t remember discussing with anyone. According to Etienne ‘The meanings of what we do are always social’ (p.57) and even drastic isolation is given meaning through social participation. He also says that reification can be a process as well as a product.

So in the BEtreat I hope we will be able to discuss further

  • the relationship between meaning and social learning and, if I can make meaning in isolation, what exactly do we mean by ‘social’ learning and participation?
  • the relationship between meaning and identity. Do I have any control over my identity and the meaning I make and if so how does this relate to participation, negotiation and reification?
  • how is meaning affected by culture and context?

‘Identity in practice’, ‘Participation and non-participation’

These are the titles of Chapters 6 and 7 in Etienne Wenger’s Book – Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. (p. 143-172)

This is one of the sections of his book that participants in the forthcoming Academic Betreat (starting July 30th) have been asked to read and then think about Highlights, Key Words and Questions.

I have been interested in the question of Identity for the past few years, because I am aware that the many different aspects of my life have shaped my identity, just as my identity has shaped the many aspects of my life. I am also aware that I still have unanswered questions about the place of identity in learning.

On p.5 of his book Etienne defines Identity as

‘a way of talking about how learning changes who we are and creates personal histories of becoming in the context of our communities’.

More recently I have heard him talk about the increasing complexity of managing your identity in multiple landscapes of practice –  which relates to the work that Bon Stewart is doing for her PhD – where she writes about ‘The unbearable lightness of being … digital’  and Digital Identities

My Highlights and Questions from the two chapters

  • Identity is not just what we say about ourselves or what others say about us. It is not about self-image, but rather a way of being in the world – the way we live day by day.

Q. So how then do I come to know who I am? How do I keep the ‘knowing who I am’ distinct from what I say about myself or from what others say about me?

  • Identity is a constant becoming, and a constant negotiation of the self through participation and reification. ‘It is not equivalent to a self-image; it is not, in its essence, discursive or reflective’ (p.151). Negotiation can be silent.

Q. If identity is not discursive or reflective, how is it negotiated? If negotiation is silent, how is it realized?

  • Identity is rich and complex because it is produced within the rich and complex relations of practice (p.162) Identity can’t be compartmentalized. You do not cease to be a parent because you are at work.  Identity results from multi-membership of many communities and associated multiple convergent and divergent trajectories. ‘…multiple trajectories become part of each other, whether they clash or reinforce each other. They are, at the same time, one and multiple.’ (p.159). Identity is an interplay between local and global and between the past, present and future.

Q. If this is the case, i.e. identity is too complex to be compartmentalized, then where does this leave work which is looking at digital identities, such as Bon Stewart’s work on ‘six key selves’  If we don’t compartmentalize identity in some way, e.g. I am a consultant, ‘team member’, mother, researcher, wife, teacher, daughter etc. how do we discuss it so that it is meaningful? It’s easy to understand that identity may be greater than the sum of its parts, but without breaking it down into parts does it have any meaning?

  • Identity is not only about knowing who we are, but also about knowing who we are not. ‘In practice, we know who we are by what is familiar, understandable, usable, negotiable; we know who we are not by what is foreign, opaque, unwieldy, unproductive’ (p.153). We define our identities through a mix of participation and non-participation.

Q. To what extent is identity related to perception and alternative perspectives, i.e. how do we know whether the perceived identity, by ourselves or by others, is ‘true’?

Keywords

  • Negotiation
  • Participation, non-participation
  • Reification
  • Trajectory

Final Questions: Why is learning about identity important? How does an understanding of identity impact on teaching and learning?

Identity Online

This week has seen the last Networked Learning Conference Hotseat for this year – Managing your Online Learner Identity

Having followed the Hotseat discussions, the topic seems to have raised more questions than it has answered. It started with a discussion about what we mean by online learner identity, online identity, learner identity, or simply identity and is this different online to offline, and can we ever not be learning?  It seems that most of the Hotseats have started off by trying to pin down meanings for the terms being used by the Hotseat presenters.

Then came questions relating to whether we have one identity or multiple identities and whether working online fragments or disembodies our identities.

There was of course the discussion about how the internet might alter our identities by making them so publicly visible; we leave indelible traces on the internet. Do we have less control over how others perceive us online, or are we able to manipulate what others think of us?

Do we construct our online identities in association with others? What is the role of avatars in this?

Does the fact that we inhabit different online environments for different purposes mean that we have different identities?

Interestingly and coincidentally, questions about identity have also been raised this week by Alan Levine in a keynote video he gave for the Flat Classroom Project   His questions were:

  • Is there a clear demarcation between who you are online and elsewhere?
  • What parts of you are people missing out on if they do not interact with the online you?
  • Why (or why not) should you manage your own personal cyber infrastructure? What does this mean to you?
  • Who are we in this space where the online world is not something distinctly separate?

And then similarly – almost coincidentally I came across Lou McGill’s blog post about identity and through her Bon Stewarts blog post

There were a lot of references to literature posted in the Hotseat, which I have copied here below – but I was surprised that Etienne Wenger’s work on Learning, Meaning and Identity was not mentioned. A comment like ‘Any serious learning will take you through a dark night of your identity’, would seem to relate to this discussion.

I have signed up for the Academic Betreat  this year as an online participant and am hoping there will be more discussion about ‘identity’ during the week.

References and relevant links from the Hotseat

Koole, M. (2010). The web of identity: Selfhood and belonging in online learning networks. The 7th International Conference on Networked Learning (May 3-4). Aalbourg, Denmark.

Koole, M., & Parchoma, G. (2012). A Model of Digital Identity Formation in Online Learning Networks. In S. Warburton & S. Hatzipanagos (Eds.), Digital identity and social media. London, UK: Information Science Reference, an imprint of IGI Global.

http://roys-discourse-typologies.blogspot.co.uk/search?q=identity,+capability+

http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/resources/detail/subjects/csap/eliss/3-3-williams

Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1990). Positioning: The discursive production of selves. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 20(1), 43-63.

Harré, R. (2010). Social sources of mental content and order. In L. Van Langenhove (Ed.), People and societies: Rom Harré and designing the social sciences (pp. 121-149). New York, NY: Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group).

http://www.csisponline.net/2012/03/12/from-digital-methods-to-digital-ontologies-bruno-latour-and-richard-rogers-at-csisp/

Latour, B. (2007, April 6). Beware, your imagination leaves digital traces. Times Higher Literary Supplement. Retrieved February 27, 2012 Retrieved from http://www.bruno-latour.fr/node/245

Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as another. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.

Rajagopal, K., Verjans, S., Van Bruggen, J., & Sloep, P. B. (2011). Stimulating reflection through engagement in social relationships. In W. Reinhardt, T. D. Ullmann, P. Scott, V. Pammer, O. Conlan, & A. J. Berlanga (Eds.), Proceedings of the 1st European Workshop on Awareness and Reflection in Learning Networks (ARNets11). In conjunction with the 6th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning (EC-TEL 2011): Towards Ubiquitous Learning 2011 (pp. 80-89). September, 21, 2011, Palermo, Italy: CEUR Workshop Proceedings. Available at http://ceur-ws.org/Vol-790/

http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/college-ready-writing/bad-female-academic-being-myself-redux

Madge, C, Meek, J, Wellens, J & Hooley, T 2009, “Facebook, social integration and informal learning at university: ‘It is more for socialising and talking to friends about work than for actually doing work’.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 141–155.

Selwyn, N 2009, “Faceworking: exploring students’ education-related use of Facebook.” Learning, Media and Technology, vol. 34, no. 2, pp. 157–174.

Perrotta 2009 The construction of a common identity through online discourse   http://opus.bath.ac.uk/20813/#.T2jkdgoAMKg.delicious

Van Doorn 2009 The ties that bind: the networked performance of gender, sexuality and friendship on MySpacehttp://nms.sagepub.com/cgi/content/long/12/4/583