Archive for April, 2015

Another edition of the fabulous “mostly run by” Dave Cormier, Rhizomatic Learning conversation Rhizo15 begins! The question of the week, with the usual deep subversive intent is:

Build learning subjectives: How do we design our own or others learning when we don’t know where we are going? How does that free us up? What can we get done with subjectives that can’t be done with objectives?

Are we thinking inside the box? Does changing around “objectives” to “subjectives” free us from tradition – the tradition that says that learning must be designed?

Simon Worren (Worried Teacher) points out a way of looking at it – emergent outcomes.

Intended learning outcomes (ILOs) are essential in module planning to indicate the direction of teaching, however, it must be recognised that ILOs represent the lecturer’s intentions for study, not the student’s.

Carl Gombrich makes the point that design based learning (in the instructional design sense) is often at odds with traditional university based education that is more “emergent” in nature – the former more equipped to deal with “skills” and the latter with “concepts”. While most of the university education we have seen (atleast in India) is hardly emergent, it is also true that much of design based learning is hardly “aesthetic” either, at least at scale. He makes the case for a merger – “design for concepts” rather than “design for skills”. By that he suggests that either we move to a higher level of abstraction in design (say, through more loosely defined learning outcomes) or that we recognize that certain areas of study are more suited to one versus the other approach.

Sarah Honeychurch challenges the notion that rhizomatic learning is at once personal and collaborative in nature. Perhaps that learning may be greatly enhanced if it was collaborative, and perhaps we are all missing out learning from her attempts. I think the point to be made is that you may not necessarily want your learning to be public or brought about by shared experiences, but the more we learn and share collaboratively, the more we help learning as a whole.

Simon makes the point that people and ideas (and beliefs) cannot really be separated and that the learner has her own agency in deciding how, when, why, whether and where to interact with others. Collaboration cannot really be mandated to be an essential condition for learning. Also he makes the point that embracing messiness and uncertainty in learning does not necessarily mean that education systems as such should embrace messiness and uncertainty or that knowledge is only  fuzzy and uncertain.

My sense is that we are not talking about the same thing here. I think the focus is not on defining a single way in which we learn. The focus is on one possible way to learn – a way that is intensely collaborative, yet personal – which some people may find to be extremely fulfilling, so much so that they would exercise their agency and choose it to be the way they would like to learn in the world. Many people would not find this way “super-fun” and they may simply not be comfortable negotiating the messiness, but that does not mean that way of learning is unreal or useless.

Rebecca asks the million dollar question – what feeds/constrains online collaborations? This is something that we need much more work on. There is much to learn from the cMOOCs since 2008 and many other experiments across the world. Perhaps we are hitting the problem with the same old approach – trying to “design it” – trying to change the way we learn and teach by employing new ideas.

My own belief is that when we engage with new forms of online, social collaboration, the only real outcome we should be concerned with how well learners and teachers are able to negotiate this medium with each instance of such emergent learning. It is a longer term process of realigning to or establishing a new way of learning, more than a way to establish a better design paradigm that generates better traditional outputs such as grades. Maha Bali makes the case for making the subjective obvious (critical pedagogy) and makes the case that the goal is “…not to filter better performance from worse; it’s to help students learn.”

Thinking of objectives and subjectives seems very much #insidethebox (in all its variants – as the starting point for learning subjectives on a continuum, as elements that can be designed, or as inversions). We need to perhaps focus ourselves more on asking what if there was no design, no objectives and subjectives that we could identify – what then would learning really look like?

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The existing large and pervasive structure for teaching and learning in our schools and colleges is well-known and documented. By structure I mean things like learning progression through defined years of schooling, periodic assessments, organization of a large population of students into more “manage-able” units called the classroom, fixed physical spaces for learning, assignment of class and subject teachers to these classrooms, lesson plans and curricula and so on. There are variations across countries in these parameters, and they may vary in terms of gross indicators like the student to teacher ratio, PCs to students and other indicators.

Schools may also innovate on methodology, extent of blending technology, assessment techniques and other processes and techniques. Some schools may also be single-teacher or multi-classroom, or may have multiple teachers co-teach or peer teach, or may even have student led teaching. There is also discussion around the question – Is ‘Multi-Classroom’ Teaching in Your Future?

But in essence or systemically speaking, they follow a structure with the variations born out necessity or by explicit design. It is this system that we incessantly tweak in order to achieve certain outcomes based on difficulties or challenges we face ranging from challenges around achievement of educational & holistic objectives to employability or societal concerns.

There are many claims to Alternate Education systems. The Sri Atmananda Memorial School provides one such approach.

When visitors walk through the gates of the kindergarten (‘KG’ – children of four and one-half years of age) and the Lower Primary (‘LP’ – children from five to eight years of age) sections of the school, they see a world of chaotic activity: running, laughing children being chased, children digging furiously in the sand, water splashing, swings flying, a small knot of children bending over a picture book, a house built of bits of colored cloth, a lively cricket game, a group of easels with brightly painted pictures, a table of children busily cutting and pasting and so on. There is no apparent organization.The pace is swift, the mood, lively and energetic. Yet this enthusiastic learning environment is carefully orchestrated and planned, given the proper number of teachers with the proper training.

Some of this has found echoes in the Indian movie called 3 Idiots. The trailing scenes of the movie show precisely the extent to which the traditional system can be re-imagined. Doubtless, there are many more people thinking this way.

As Knutson comments:

A number of years ago futurists Toffler (1970, 1980) and Naisbitt (1982) predicted the break-up of the standardized, bureaucratized, factory model school system. They indicated that if the changes did not come from within the school systems, they would surely come from out side of them. They also said that the information and technological age in which we live would require of its citizens creativity and diversity, not the sameness underlying the operation of the standard school system.

An interesting framework is provided in Towards an Alternate Typology of Alternate Education Systems (Aron, 2003) who references Raywid’s typology (Appalachia Educational Laboratory 1998) as well.

Such typologies document the effort to move away from factory-age conceptions of the education system to “systems” that disaggregate parts of the traditional school structure and aim to personalize them to specific who, what, how and funding factors. Included thereby, are many systems that appear substantially different.

Models range from schools-within-schools to magnet schools, charter schools, schools without walls, experiential schools, career-focused and job-based schools, dropout recovery programs, after-hours schools, and schools in atypical settings like shopping malls and museums.

What is important to analyze is whether these “alternate systems” are variations within an existing traditional system or whether they are truly alternate. The point is, that mere disaggregation and recombination within an overall formal structure of traditional education, although can definitely be called innovation, but it does not point to a truly alternate system of education.

Consider the term “at-risk”. What are students “at-risk” of? They are at risk of not being able to complete goals set by the traditional school system. Consider the term “home-schooling” or “open-schooling”. There is a traditional system at work which immediately evokes the standard parameters of the traditional system. Consider “school without walls”. Again it plays on one parameter (the boundaries) of traditional school systems.

A real approach at inventing a new system of education must necessarily avoid taking the existing traditional system into consideration, both in terms of vocabulary or parameters. This is not inside the box vs. outside the box innovation thinking – it is invention. Illich was remarkable in that sense, because he presented an “institutional inverse” conception of education, and this may surely be one approach. But perhaps we must also consider approaches that don’t make a play on “opposites”, but rather on being different, like apples and oranges.

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