Archive for August, 2010

The epiphany is that what I have been thinking around native collaboration and what Stephen and participants of the Critical Literacies open course (which I regret not being actively part of) have been discussing have a great deal of resonance. Like in CCK08, I was approaching the topic more from the tools and implementation perspective while the CritLit group focused on what builds the capacity of the learner to perform as a learner in a networked learning environment.

What the learner would actually use was where I proposed newer collaboration techniques leveraging the networked learning environment, but the term “native” meant a certain capacity on the part of the learner to be able to operate in a networked learning environment. What the CritLit discussion has done, therefore, is lay out a framework and taxonomy through which tools and techniques for collaboration can be imagined and created, much more rigorous than the regular 21st century skills discussions we have been reading about.

Stephen lays out a framework for Pedagogical Foundations for Personal Learning and Steve has an excellent post and a compilation on his wiki of a Critical Literacies Taxonomy.

The Critical Literacies discussion contributes a lot more. It builds on Stephen’s framework for literacies deemed to be “critical” in a networked learning environment. Steve puts a taxonomy together for Critical Literacies and more – he connects the understanding of these literacies to George’s original attempt to put together a taxonomy for Connectivism.

If I may articulate the impact this can have, I think it will significantly impact a whole set of design and development techniques and directly address, in ways other existing theories have in their own beliefs addressed, problems of personalization, assessments and collaborative learning. I think it will pave the way for a structured understanding of how to meaningfully use or engage with digital networks for the purpose of learning.

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I came across John Merrow’s post on Proof that Teachers Matter in which he talks about an LA Times story in which ” Three reporters documented the effects that teachers have on their students’ test results.”  The current shameful controversy and its continuing aftermath around the proclamation of a semester system in Delhi University brings a bitter taste in the mouth.

John writes:

…the adults in charge have known of the damage that some teachers are doing—and have done nothing, or nothing effective anyway, about it.  That’s the high tolerance for mediocrity that I find alarming, and that’s what must be addressed, and soon

Pretty much sums it up. According to a report 51% of the teaching posts in Delhi University are lying vacant. I am pretty sure of the 49% remaining, the percentage that actually take classes on time will be significantly lower given the frequent and sometime convenient strikes. Of the 51% I am hoping most will be filled by ad-hoc teachers, who are second class citizens living by very different slave-like rules (the permanent teacher will go on strike, but the ad-hoc has to mark his attendance at all times, for example).

Or as this article here on teachers’ opposition to biometric attendance systems implementation at the university which makes a telling note that “Teachers opposed the promotion criterion, which includes performance-based appraisal, point system and academic progression indexing.” Ultimately, the only foolproof way of knowing whether a full time teacher actually came to college to teach had to be scrapped at idea stage (well, it couldn’t tell if a teacher actually taught or how effective he was, but that was secondary).

Critics make arguments of inappropriate use of a vice-chancellor’s powers (the DU VC used emergency powers to push these through), infrastructure availability, cutting into research schedule etc. One critic even goes on to state:

Biometric systems of attendance, semester system of education and a point-based system of evaluating teachers are mere pieces in a jig-saw puzzle which threaten to take the shape of the monster called privatized education, which will ultimately mean the death of liberal arts and the narrowing down of space for independent critical dissent.

This fragment from the Frontline article is talking about Kapil Sibal (the Honorable Minister of Human Resource Development, Government of India):

In a remark that could be considered insulting, with obvious disregard for the teachers’ genuine concerns, Sibal recently said that the semester system was being opposed because teachers did not want to put in the necessary hard work. “Sitting in the plush office of his Ministry outside the university, what does he know of the hard work that we put in?” asked Vijay Singh, a history professor and an elected member of the A.C. (Academic Council).

I am sure there are concerns both ways. But folks, please remember, Delhi University is the flag bearing university in India. Everyone is involved in the debate for all possible reasons, and while they debate, students suffer.

One response from a teacher forum on the LA Times article here.

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Look who is talking

I just read Will Richardson’s thought-provoking post Who’s Asking. In particular, this paragraph stands out / echoes my thoughts:

So here’s the deal with the change that many of us in this conversation are clamoring for in schools: we’re about the only ones talking it. The townsfolk down at the corner store aren’t demanding “21st Century Skills,” technology in every student’s hand, an inquiry based curriculum and globally networked classrooms. By and large the parents and grandparents in our communities aren’t asking for it. The national conversation isn’t about rethinking what happens in classrooms. No one’s creating assessments around any of this. And in fact, outside of the small percentage of people who are participating in these networks and communities online, the vast majority of this country and the world doesn’t even know that a revolution is brewing.

Ahhh…that articulation itself prompts me to ask, in more the Indian context, “look who is talking”! The problem is there aren’t many people talking about, far less “clamouring”, for the kind of changes we have been discussing and the kinds of heated debates over new forms of learning and what they potentially impact.

The way the mindset is, it is about “more of the same, at perhaps better quality, will work better”, not “others have tried the more, it doesn’t work” mindset. Indian education industry, for examples, is now abundant with technological solutions for lower risk areas such as etutoring, exam management, assessments, English Language training and the like, focusing on e-enabling these sectors. It is salivating on rural access, vocational education, student loans, advertising, foreign universities and future policy based accreditation possibilities. The government is applying the traditional system using the same curricular frameworks, bureaucratic processes, pedagogy, teacher training etc. believing it will scale seamlessly. The teachers and educators, if we are lucky, have even barely heard of the terms being discussed in the conversations Will mentions.

What’s worse, these approaches are being touted as those which can solve our problems nationally irrespective of reach and diversity.

Look, it seems there is really no one talking. I may perhaps be wrong, and I would loved to be proved wrong on this one, but this is important enough to state, if only to provoke a response. We perhaps have the biggest challenge of all and my deepest worry is that because of this unprecedented scale, like in the past, this apparent apathy will result in an inequity so large that it will derail our development and risk our futures.

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On tradition

I have now been going to school events – formal and informal – for about 5 years in my capacity as a parent. My 5 year old and my 10 year old are being programmed to show respect, listen attentively and obey authority by the school system.

The way of doing this is to make doing yoga or finger-on-your-lip drills, asking children to repeat words they have heard, prompting them to show appreciation as a group – in the process trying to divert their attention from their immediate neighbours and focussed on what’s hot on the stage or at the blackboard.

For those irascible and lovable souls who cannot bring themselves to conform, a private session with the Principal is the ultimate rebuke (at least for most), but being singled out publicly is also common.

But children, free willed as they are, are not machines that can be programmed. And respect is not an affordance of power & authority for teachers and administrators but something that they have to earn. 

The school wants help from parents. Help us make them better listeners, they say, after all parents have a shared responsibility.

I cannot understand how I can help. I am guessing the students get so much content that there is no possibility of their engaging with it in a meaningful manner. Teachers face the same problem. And homework – there is always tons of it, so even trying to engage meaningfully with it at home becomes a huge, if not impossible, challenge.

If students cannot engage with content in a meaningful manner, one can assume that most of it is going to be rote learning – memorization before the exam. A few talented ones would go the extra mile because they are faster learners or memorizers or have tangible interest. But the ones who are playing catchup are flying around in a downward spiral, perhaps leading to more truancy and less attentiveness.

I think the key is to drastically reduce content and sequence it across and through the years in a much more efficient manner. I think it is time that educators realize that this is a system for the few not for the masses. You cannot have universal education for all if you multiply the content with every change in curriculum.

What would the benefits be of reducing content? Greater engagement, greater scope for personal attention, higher effectiveness in the learning process, flexibility in learning methods, higher retention…I could go on.

The challenge is upstream to Higher Ed and vocational training. Is it conceivable that curriculum can reduce in such a way that modern ambitions of a skilled workforce and intellectual horsepower still be achieved? Is there a 20-80 principle here that can be leveraged (20% taught, 80% self learnt or adapted as per requirements)?

 Or is it just some really weird and wishful thinking?

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I had written earlier about collaboration as native collaboration – the basic thesis being that we should perhaps be able to bring a new level of structured collaboration for learning that can assess learning defined as connectedness of an individual. I had looked at tools like IMINDI and sites like MindQuarry. The five aspects of native collaboration that I proposed were:

  • technology
  • network
  • collaboration skills
  • content domain
  • context

Gregory Todd Jones (@coopscience) pointed to an interesting article – Guidelines for Group Collaboration and Emergence – by Venessa Miemis. And then I came across two really interesting concepts – online debates and SKOS (Simple Knowledge Organization System). While the first link talks about various tools developed for online debates, the latter talks about a bridge between knowledge organization systems and the linked data community.

Which brings me to think – can we define ontologies for debates (and for collaboration in general)?

Venessa’s article and others like Mark Elliot on Stigmergic Collaboration describe “group”/network characteristics and behavior including some not so easy to represent or capture concepts like trust and relationship building in a “group”/network. Given that some or all of these operate in a collaborative exercise, are there ways to understand and represent them in terms of tools and analytics?

As Morendil states for one debate tool:

bCisive supports different types of statements, distinguished by the icons on their boxes: questions; arguments pro or con; evidence; options; “fixes”, and so on. At present it doesn’t appear to *do* anything valuable with these distinctions, but they proved to be an effective scheme for organizing my thoughts.

I know UML, for example, provides a way to model ontologies. Maybe we could use it to develop some for collaboration and derive some techniques of assessment as well for these ontologies.

Two other interesting links – On Social Learning Sensemaking Capacity and Collective Intelligence (don’t miss the argument map) and the following image from Memetic Cartography:

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Sliced PLEs – that is the term I had thought of to describe the subject of this post. I wrote:

Let us say I managed to slice through everything in my PLE and gathered relevant information (posts, entries, discussions etc) around a specific learning area. Then, suppose I had the tools to order and sequence that information into a flow that seems intelligible to me. Then, suppose I somehow managed to add supporting information of my own that I would think people would benefit from (maybe a short quiz or an introduction).

Then I sent all that out to my community and said, why don’t you help me refine this…I would like to share my learning experience with others who may have a similar learning style? Suppose, through a process of soft peer reviews, I was able to improve on what I did. At the end, I could then submit the peer reviewed learning material (my shared PLE slice) to the community and let the community rate it.

Suppose you wanted to learn about that particular area. You would go to the virtual learning place, search and find a large number of these shared PLEs with different community ratings. You could pick the one you like the most (i.e. find the most intelligible), import that slice into your own PLE (just like importing a SCORM based course into an LMS maybe, though I know people will dislike that analogy!) and maybe even rate it when you complete.

From Dave and George’s Educause article, the rationale for open online courses stems from challenges of scale and opportunities for diversity in ideas. They go on to elaborate on the changing roles of the educator in open online courses – amplifying, curating, wayfinding, aggregating, filtering, modeling and staying present. Online open courses in practice mean for them a participatory pedagogy, an “eventedness”, resource centralization, conversation clusters, “just enough” structure and flexibility to engage with self-direction.

The issues essentially are those of retaining attention & ensuring participation (the other side of the filtering Dave is working on to resolve and which Chris Anderson would perhaps call “pedagogic waste” – its alright to dropout when it is free?) and accreditation that is an important aspect.

How would these issues be addressed by a scenario where learners, who anyway have to go through all the roles of the educator identified above (except perhaps staying present)  in order to learn, decide to make their learning journeys sharable, replete with the affordances of social media? What new issues would be raised? What benefits would this have?

Scale and filtering (to the extent of attention and motivation) would perhaps be addressed in such a model. The model could provide a host of other affordances – personalization (learn in ways people with styles similar to yours learn), diversity (multiple ways to learn – each may provide a unique insight), scale of support (there are many more educators then), access (ability to find the most appropriate resources for your needs, decentralization (corollary to scale) etc. 

I see these differently from DIY or traditional courses in the sense that connectivism offers. Authenticity could be as large an issue as in other debates, although I have the feeling that peer reviews will help mitigate that. The certification issue could become a role for formal educators in a sense similar to learners taking courses for credit in an open online course. The focus would shift from open educating to open learning.

Tools could be developed so that other learners can learn from the new educators learning journey. These tools could alleviate the need to create structured content. Best of all, perhaps learning journeys could be aggregated and mashed up at will creating more comprehensive or richer learning experiences.

I believe this would be connective. It would also be, in a sense, learning through connective simulations – immersive environments where learning in diverse forms and shapes is being experienced and practiced.

As always would appreciate your feedback and comments!

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Alan Levine summed it up nicely:

And frankly, the open courses, marched to the beat of a fixed time length syllabus, might be seen as an incremental step from (I guess they would be called) closed courses? Non open courses? Are there other models than attaching the open network to a fixed course?

We have been attaching a network to the fixed course. It doesn’t matter if not all aspects are fixed, but there is sufficient resemblance through a fixed time length syllabus to a traditional course to bring Alan to think of these as an incremental step (actually, there are other startling contrasts that have been pointed out in the Educause article by Dave and George).

I have been thinking about NBT and Native Collaboration for some time now and been raising the same question. It actually started with a brief online exchange with Stephen and others prior to CCK08 where I proposed that you need to look at aspects such as time and content structure from a 2.0 lens. Of course, I learnt a lot more during CCK08 and thereafter, getting the distinction Tom Werner made between looking at the problem from an instructional lens vs. from a network lens.

Maybe we need to think of a model that stands contrasted in every way to a fixed course. So are there other models we can propose? Illich states:

The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity. (Deschooling Society)

Maybe we can look at the learning web and think of a continuously running learning environment which teaches everything and to everybody who wants to learn. All the experts are there and there are millions of people who come to learn for varying periods of time – some with the same needs as you but connecting to different resources than you – based on their preferences and learning comfort. The effectiveness or efficiency of learning would be dictated  in some large part by the way that environment is designed.

Illich takes it further by stating:

Universal education through schooling is not feasible. It would be no more feasible if it were attempted by means of alternative institutions built on the style of present schools. Neither new attitudes of teachers toward their pupils nor the proliferation of educational hardware or software (in classroom or bedroom), nor finally the attempt to expand the pedagogue’s responsibility until it engulfs his pupils’ lifetimes will deliver universal education. The current search for new educational funnels must be reversed into the search for their institutional inverse: educational webs which heighten the opportunity for each one to transform each moment of his living into one of learning, sharing, and caring. We hope to contribute concepts needed by those who conduct such counterfoil research on education–and also to those who seek alternatives to other established service industries.

He talks about universal education not just education. That is an important distinction, more on the lines of initiatives like the Education for All. He could be correct there because of the sheer scale if that distinction is accurate. If he talking about all types of education being done like this, the problem is not of scale but of developing appropriate methods – methods that result in accomplishing the goal of “transforming each moment”, methods that embrace complexity and non-deterministic but desired outcomes – for different educational domains.

In the professional space, learning happens in the way that Illich conceived – a Wengerian network of practice transforms everyday activities into learning and performing in a networked environment. It happens tacitly or explicitly; by mistake, accident or on purpose; by fear of failure or intrinsic motivation. That’s why I am so intrigued by thinking around connective simulations.

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