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Archive for the ‘Learning Theory’ Category

I didn’t know it at that time, having been born just a few months later, that the revolutionary Open University, UK was born in January, 1971 with 25000 students. Of course, my parents didn’t know that either when they named me Viplav (my Sanskrit origin name literally means “revolution”). It’s just one of those weird coincidences.

The OU was born amidst great opposition as a “University of the Air”. The concept was being discussed from the early 1960s. Touted as “an experiment on radio and television: a ‘University of the Air’ for serious, planned, adult education”. It was revolutionary also because it did not ask for prior qualifications and placed a premium on students acquiring the skills to study in this medium.

Although the first correspondence (read Distance Education by local mail) based course was organized in India by Delhi University in 1962, Andhra Pradesh Open University (now Dr. B R Ambedkar Open University) was the first Open University in India when it opened in 1982, 3 years before the famous government-owned Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) that opened its doors in 1985. IGNOU has now about 4 million students and serves 20% of Indian Higher Education students.

There are many parallels to the growth of the two systems (UK and India), and the UK OU’s trajectory was a pivotal influence on what our policy makers envisioned. In fact, I have direct evidence that this is so.

Between 16-19 December 1970, there was a seminar organized by the Ministry of Education and Youth Affairs, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the University Grants Commission (UGC). The Seminar’s focus was on an open university.  J C Aggarwal chronicles the event in his book, Landmarks in the History of Modern Indian Education, and states:

In the United Kingdom the proposal for the establishment of an open university, originally called the university of the Air, took 4 years to take definite shape. Profiting by what has been accomplished in the United Kingdom and elsewhere, and also by the experience of the correspondence courses conducted by several Indian universities, it should be possible for shortening the time that will be needed for planning and preparation.

It was proposed that a study group be established to work out the details so that an open university be created “at an early date”.

This open university was envisioned to make higher education available to those with “the capacity for it to benefit from the existing facilities.” It was meant for highly motivated adults lacking formal qualifications or means to join universities full-time. In their conception, the Open University could be used for:

  1. providing education to capable, independent and mature learners
  2. providing education to the masses at a reduced per unit cost
  3. making higher education more effective by leveraging scarce resources
  4. as a means of employing new and unconventional methods of instruction and exploiting new technologies

Very interestingly, they placed focus on ‘open-ness” to new ideas as fundamental to the open university concept. Perhaps they were prescient about the current xMOOCs when they wanted the  best in curricula from Indian and foreign universities.

It is interesting that the dominant paradigm (as Prof. MM Pant pointed out to me yesterday) was the television, and thereby video. I was told recently that we have many tens of thousands of hours of taped educational videos (between CEC, IGNOU and others). Supporting technologies included the radio, postal communications and localized study centres.

Aggarwal also points to an interesting government committee on Audio-Visual Aids in Higher Education (1967-69) set up by the UGC. Video was preferred because it provided “sight” and sound to enrich the learning process. They acknowledged that:

Films, filmstrips and transparencies are being increasingly used in educationally advanced countries as visual materials which can be used in any teaching situation when it becomes necessary to demonstrate a point, a fact, an idea or a process.

It is perhaps being inspired by these ideas that even today the government is commissioning advanced direct to home channels for education and have created NPTEL (Engineering disciplines OER repository) and NMEICT e-Content (by CEC and others).

Together, India must absolutely have the largest collection of educational material in the entire world. And I would wager that a large percentage of it is really good quality material suitable for leverage by everyone, if only the government would make it really open and accessible.

Over time, the confluence of developments in affordable technology as well as developments in educational theory, has brought many inflections on our policies and curricula. Our educational systems have time and again, faced up to these developments in an incremental fashion to various degrees of success.

Globally as well, when elearning came in, it was more of a response to standardize learning “packages” so that they could be uniformly consumed by a large number of people. Driven by the emphasis on cost reduction by Western corporates, eLearning quickly took off as a time and money saver. Traditional education systems too realized the potential, but were limited by available funds and perhaps a greater aspiration to quality than the corporates.

Now there is a point to which an existing paradigm can stretch and contort to keep up with surrounding developments in technology and learning theory. We passed that point about 10 years ago when dramatic changes in networks and social media started surfacing.

The current thinking is all part of an evolution that is now about 60 years old (perhaps more!). New thinking cannot be built on top of something that ancient. We have to start from scratch, re-envision the educational process and systems from the very ground up so that they reflect our possible futures that are in all honesty going to be dominated by intelligence brought to us by networks and data.

That work has to begin in earnest now. Very soon, we will be seeing the rear end of the demographic dividend (which shall move to Africa). What are we doing to prepare ourselves for that future?

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The discussion on what is a MOOC or how do we classify MOOCs is gaining momentum. First we had George explaining the difference by saying that there are xMOOCs and cMOOCs. Now Lisa Lane has come with a different taxonomy (network/task/content based) with some interesting distinctions. Dominic came up his own understanding of the “features” of a MOOC. See also Gordon Lockhart’s Super-MOOCA MOOC by Another Name and a brilliant post by Doug Holton, where he makes many insightful remarks including what could be necessary and sufficient conditions for learning to occur or to be “caused” (don’t particularly like that last word).

Taking Doug’s cue, we should perhaps be talking of massive in the sense of the quantum of connected-ness or connection-richness, or in terms of the widespread nature of the learning need or motivation, rather than looking at it from the point of view of number of learner enrolments.

That said, I would reiterate that we are comparing apples with oranges, and despite the “mania”, there is no reason why we should be forced to compare these different initiatives in the first place. MOOCs (cMOOCs) will have a plethora of possible implementation strategies and techniques. For example, I love what the folks at the Mechanical MOOC are doing (Audrey covered them here).

In my opinion, it makes more sense to focus on the platform rather than the tool, the rubric rather than the assessment and the DNA rather than the you or me.

A video, by Prof. John Holland (University of Michigan) speaking on Modelling Complex Adaptive Systems, is a must view (rather long, but worth it) for a large number of reasons. I find this CAS video (and generally the complex systems area) appealing because it makes more sense to me than engineered closed systems like we have in education today.

I am intrigued by the emphasis in the talk of building blocks, signals, interactions and boundaries within an overall approach of risk taking innovation. I think that fundamentally describes the platform I am referring to. Let us look at that process.

When a learner first starts out, certain pre-conditions exist. These pre-conditions are what makes a person a learner – whether it be out of curiosity, awareness, context, a need and/or some other kind of motivation trigger. At this point, the learner understands little of the network of knowledge, and perhaps may also have a sense or purpose or general idea of outcomes from the forthcoming experience. The platform will have to recognize this initial state.

Next comes a series of interactions in and with the network. This is where the accessibility, quality and depth of the network (in terms of coverage, accuracy, engagement, open-ness) and the contained boundaries play a big role in facilitating or obstructing discovery, experimentation and conjecture – viz. sense-making.

The network really is two things – one, an explicitly curated or visible set of people, content and tools, and two, a vast hidden implicit network intimately connected with the first but not explicitly visible at first.

Interaction in the network will be governed by signals – actions by the learner, actions by others and changes in the network itself as it evolves and adapts. The learner will interact to implicitly or explicitly “produce” or “engineer” make visible or personal, a set of connected nodes in the network (which shall be her curation arising out of her discovery, experimentation and conjecture).

The visible and invisble impact of her sense-making and of others will generate fresh signals in a non-linear manner. Over time, some of the network constellations will get broken to form new bonds (or connections) as the process will be usually far from equilibrium. Visible parts will become a part of the network thus changing the network maps of sense-making of others and in turn generating new innovations and experimentation.

Again over time, feedback from these interactions or signals will reinforce collections or patterns of these nodes of sense-making and new building blocks of comprehension and sense making will emerge. This is turn will affect boundaries of interaction and reduce impedance caused by them, so that new constellations are created.

The platform will have to recognize this elaborate dance of sense-making, the signals, interactions, boundaries and complex adaptation. It will have to provide for this complexity and it will need to allow for contextual influence to align towards certain constellations (and it will do so in many ways, giving us the agency). 

The platform will have to recognize and help resolve multiple trails that coalesce into a conception, parallelisms or multiple patterns of building blocks that converge into a model (a thought, an idea). And the system will have to recognize transition or inflection points, when existing models are questioned and new trains of thoughts emerge, just like in this post.

The platform has to provide for this emergence, chaos, self-organization and adaptation. Something that is spectacularly different from what Khan Academy or Coursera or other non-MOOCs are attempting to do. And in doing so, it will forge a new understanding of what an educational system ought to be.

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Speakers at the EDGEX Conference debated many tensions and challenges apparent in education today.

George Siemens evocatively questioned the use of the word “disruptive” and asserted that we should call for transformation instead. Given the broad societal transitions to a networked and complex ecology, he talked about how initiatives like Coursera, Udacity and the Khan Academy provided disruptions, but did not transform education.

Forces that are working to transform education have their drivers in economic change, changing perceptions of the university systems, changes in student expectations and needs, and demographic explosion in worldwide student population. In his opinion, there are some forces that may transform education – robots, new school models, cloud computing, new assessment models, new pedagogical models like the Massive Open Online Course and distributed research & discovery networks.

Putting the focus sharply on India, and its challenges of scale, equity and quality, he said that India has perhaps the chance to break from tradition and leapfrog over many of the milestones in the evolution of the traditional educational systems worldwide. That leverage of transformative educational research, was perhaps what excited many of the international and national speakers and delegates at EDGEX.

Bringing another tension to the fore, Stephen Downes talked about Education as a Platform. Instead of focusing on content, Stephen believes that the connections should be given primacy. Knowledge is something that is grown rather than acquired or ingested. Outlining some of the current challenges with MOOCs, such as the size vs. connectedness or the bootstrapping challenge, Stephen felt that their MOOCs were insufficiently focused on connectedness.

Education as a platform would encompass thinking on the personal learning environment and giving fresh meaning to assessments and learning analytics in a networked ecology. Dave Cormier brought a similar tension while talking on embracing uncertainty, using rhizomatic learning in formal education. Dave talked about the shift from content as curriculum to community as curriculum, and how the notion of rhizomatic networks could be brought to bear on the traditional learning mechanisms.

In the conference summary session, we wrestled with another important underlying tension – that of spaces between networks. Typically we build links between nodes in a network by the virtue of which spaces between the nodes get obliterated and become invisible. By argument then, the network should really be a continuum, rather than a set of discrete nodes.

Jay Cross had expounded on how we need to democratize learning. He talked about how the education behind the gates is finally starting to converge with real life in this network era. He bemoaned the state of training in corporate America, stating “training is dead”. He was tremendously excited about the prospects of informal learning to attack the problem of scale with quality in India. In fact, the same concept came up for debate in the conference summary session again – the fact that democratization, which is education by, for and of the people, was talked of more in terms of “for the people” rather than “by” and “of”.

Jay remarked that there is no one solution (and school is probably not the one, in fact schools can be at times non-democratic). Learning is seen as a key enabler for democratization. Stephen said that commercializing learning is antithetical to democracy. Les Foltos brought up affordability in both Indian and US contexts – are we as democracies making the commitment to make education affordable at high quality. The only recourse, then as Stephen remarked, is to rethink the concept of school.

An important tension was that between order and chaos. Do we want order from chaos or chaos from order? Stephen argued that the order exists in the eye of the perceiver and that order is not inherent in chaos itself. As Les Foltos put it, the tension is between the current traditional system that is extremely ordered and discourages risk taking and systems that encourage risk taking and are inherently chaotic. Clark Quinn argued that chaos could be imbued with values and purpose in terms of design and then one must expect movements to and from chaotic states. Dave Cormier highlighted the challenge of fostering creativity in students in chaotic systems and moving away from the tyranny of assessments. Rhizomatic networks are inherently both ordered and chaotic.

The next tension was around technology availability specifically around the requirements or conditions in which the theory of Connectivism could operate. The main challenge in a developing and less developed world context is the availability of technology – technology that allows networks to really exist on the digital scale. Both George and Stephen felt that technology was a sufficient condition, but in terms of theory, not a completely necessary condition.

There were tensions exposed in our thinking of design. Is design (as we know it) dead? The fundamental tension here was that design, as we know it, is focused on creating ordered and deterministic outcomes. Can there be design around complex, adaptive systems that can allow for environments that are emergent, self-organizing and adaptive? Grainne Conole discussed the conception of design, in particular leveraging the network construct, can design today prove useful in creation of open, participatory spaces for learning.

There was another tension in terms of design in the context of scalability. Inherent in traditional systems of design is standardization and bureaucratization of design processes. Dave Cormier raised the question of how we can distribute design expertise in a way that can scale. Grainne talked about more participative and innovative methods where teachers and experts are able to use design tools and processes based on networked collaboration techniques in a manner that is very different from business process like mechanisms that institutions typically follow.

Martin Weller, who had talked about digital scholarship in an open, networked and digital world, talked about his experiences in teacher education where he talked about yet another dimension – problems with using social media and innovative design. Les Foltos talked about physical challenges that teachers face in terms of the support they need to be innovative and risk taking. They also need to apply techniques and experience success in their contexts in order for them to believe the grand visions. Stephen brought in another tension – that of over design – and believed that design should be used as a syntax to be interpreted by individuals, in a minimally prescriptive manner.

 

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Over the next few weeks, as the countdown to the EDGEX Disruptive Educational Research conference to be held in New Delhi from March 12-14 begins, I hope to bring to you all news and updates about the conference and its themes.

The EDGEX 2012 Conference has been carefully and collaboratively constructed to bring cutting edge educational research to participants. There are two major themes – Learning X.O and Simulations & Serious Games. The Learning X.O theme essentially tries to synthesize the fairly amazing and disruptive research and experimentation around Connectivism, Informal Learning and Communities of Practice.

For something that I joined up in 2008 (with the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge [CCKO8] “course” led by George Siemens,Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier, featuring a unique open-ended format called the Massive Open Online Course – MOOC) to co-experiment with over 2000 people across the world, to have advanced so much and to have directly or indirectly inspired systems thinking on education (witness the Stanford AI “course” experiment and the recent announcement – MITx – by MIT) by traditional brick and mortar institutions, is no mean achievement over such a short period of time.

What makes Connectivism and all the associated themes so disruptive is just that – its potential to arm an entirely new generation of theorists, researchers and practitioners with the thought paradigm and tools to comprehend the impacts of disruptive technology, over abundant knowledge, demographic pressures and changing social relations among other important trends. Underlying it, in my own interpretation, is the tremendous principle of democratization – of education to be by, for and of the people. Though it is heavily steeped in technology, the essence of it is like “the principles behind the steam engine” as Stephen would say.

George and Stephen continue to raise the bar. Their continued work, and that of able partners and fellow researchers like Dave Cormier and Alec Couros, not only on the CCK MOOCs, but on various others, like the Critical Literacies MOOC, the EdFutures MOOC, Alec’s EC&I 831, the Change11 MOOC, the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, Stephen’s technology development and many other initiatives, are inspiring thousands of educators worldwide.

Etienne Wenger, with his disruptive work on Communities of Practice, is one speaker who we shall miss terribly on this platform. We did not get his availability on the dates for the conference, and would have loved to have him, so as to, at least in my mind, complete the conversation. But I am fairly sure, his intellectual presence will be felt strongly through the themes of the conference.

Quick switch to Corporate Learning and the one name that immediately comes to mind is the person responsible for really starting it all – Jay Cross. In his work with the Internet Time Alliance, Jay, along with Clark Quinn (who we are honoured to host at the conference), Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings and Paul Simbeck-Hampson, are redefining the boundaries of what learning can be. Their work on Learnscapes as learning ecosystems that promote complexity instead of eradicating it, is path breaking because it offers another way for us to think about how workplace learning can be transformed.

Even as this disruptive research and experimentation impacts our conception of how learning will be and how learning systems will be, the work of three of the expert researchers at EDGEX2012 – Grainne Conole, Jon Dron and Martin Weller – is of crucial significance. Grainne is researching ways in which new pedagogies and approaches to design can harness the potential of social and participatory media. Martin is investigating the implications of scholarship in a digital world. Jon is looking at learning environment design and investigating the “shapes of online socially enhanced dwellings that are most likely to lead to enhanced knowledge and, in the process, uncover some of the nature of technologies and our intimately connected cyborg relationships with them”.

Meanwhile, the other theme, Simulations and Serious Games, is really a veiled approach to unravelling how rich digital media and delivery platforms can combine to produce rich digital learning experiences. The work of Clark Quinn and Alicia Sanchez, and other speakers such as Sid Bannerjee and Jatinder Singh will lay the foundation for rethinking digital media. Clark, of course, brings in a much wider perspective – he is rethinking our conception of learning and systems for learning and is investigating models such as spaced practice, social learning, meta-learning, and distributed cognition.

Les Foltos brings in focus to teacher education and how educator communities can use peer coaching as a technique to continuously learn and evolve. Shanath Kumar, Satish Sukumar, Rajeev Menon, Manish Upadhyay and Amruth B R bring in yet more perspectives on design, content, new age assessments, semantic web, mobility and technology, thus rounding off this theme.

And this is not limited to Higher Education alone. The principles and precepts are fairly universal, although the practice and implementation will definitely vary between contexts. K12 educators will find a plethora of disruptive opportunities in the conference.

The conference has one other dimension worth noting. We are inviting startups and entrepreneurs who believe that they are contributing disruptive innovation to education. You will see some of these entrepreneurs showcase their ideas at the conference.

I am hoping this conference acts as the melting pot for disruptive research and practice and marks the start of new level of collaboration between participants.

In my mind, all this research is connected by one common theme – we are looking the ways to change the dominant paradigm, because the dominant paradigm will fail (and indeed, is failing) to achieve a vision of a meaningful and capable system of education in the face of the challenges we face today.

Particularly for countries like India, the timing of these disruptions could not be more apt. And this is where we hope your vision and expertise at the conference and around it, will pave the way for open and concerted dialogue on how we can embrace change in our society.

The website for the conference is up at http://www.edgex.in. The website features speaker bios and a set of resources to get started on the many topics that will be covered in this conference. You can also connect with us  prior to the conference through email or the links below.

Please do feel free to drop me a line at edgex2012@edgex.in if you are interested and I will get right back to you! We look forward to hearing from you!

Let’s disrupt!!

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It gives me great pleasure to announce a unique conference on educational research and innovation called EDGEX, to be held at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi from March 12-14, 2012.

The two main themes of the conference are:

  1. Learning X.O – marking the significant and ongoing developments in learning and teaching, particularly in informal learning, connectivism & connective knowledge, the MOOC, Learning Analytics & BIG data, Digital Scholarship, Peer Coaching and Open Distributed Design.
  2. Simulations & Serious Games – A focus on scale and both the philosophy and practice behind simulations, virtual worlds and serious games, clearly one of the most articulate and cogent responses to skill development and joyful learning in the recent times.

What makes the conference unique is the sheer intellectual capital that will be leading the conference. These speakers certainly do not need an introduction:

  • Jay Cross, Internet Time Alliance
  • George Siemens, University of Athabasca, Canada
  • Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada
  • Dave Cormier, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • Alec Couros, University of Regina, Canada
  • Jon Dron, University of Athabasca, Canada
  • Grainne Conole, University of Leicester, UK
  • Martin Weller, Open University, UK
  • Clark Quinn, Quinnovation, USA
  • Alicia Sanchez, Defense Acquisition University, USA
  • Les Foltos, Peer-Ed, USA
It is perhaps rare to have these speakers under one roof and is a unique opportunity for the Indian audience, battling challenges of equity, excellence and expansion in the face of a huge and diverse scale. We are privileged to have them accept our invitation and we look forward to hosting them in India.

This conference is part of the EDGE Forum which is a group of leading educational institutions from public and private sector committed to promoting highest standards of education, value systems and governance in the field of higher education.

The EDGE conference, an anual event, addresses questions of improving the quality of education in several dimensions like education governance, human resource management, cutting-edge technologies, holistic approach to education infrastructure and above all adoption of best practices. It serves as an analytical and authoritative source for policy recommendations on higher education. The conference is well represented by reputed educationists, Higher Education administrators, teachers and high level policy makers, apart from representations from industry.

The EDGEX2012 conference site will shortly be live but if you are interested in attending, please do let me know through comments to this post.

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Right off the bat, if you have not seen it yet, check out Building a New Culture of Teaching and Learning by Dr. Tae.

The movement started with the Dandi March in March 1930. The British had a monopoly or complete control over the manufacture of salt. Indians were not allowed to collect salt from the sea. Instead they were forced to buy it from the British at high prices. Gandhiji decided to defy this law and he along with 78 followers marched the over 300 kilometre distance from Sabarmati to Dandi on the Gujarat Coast. On the coast he picked up a handful of salt breaking the Salt Law. This was an open defiance of the British.

This excerpt from an Oxford School Education Primary Social Studies book (Book 5), for children of Grade 5, authored by Vibha Roy and Reena Jain, provides an introduction to the Dandi March. Just like this excerpt, the book is made up of many others on many different phases of our History.  Typical questions asked of the reader are factual, concerned with date, place, names and events.

And just like the excerpt above, those paragraphs introduce many complicated terms – “monopoly”, “manufacture of salt”, “price”, “law” etc. – that if the reader does not understand, will make it difficult to fully understand the story being told.

The Instructional Designer would hopefully find faults – the mention of the Salt Law is left to the end while it is being described at the beginning; there are assumptions about prior knowledge not substantiated here or anywhere else in the curriculum in Grade 5, how does one pick up a handful of salt on a coast?; why is it important to know the number 78? and so on. The Visual Designer would want a map from Sabarmati to Dandi or an early photograph or clip (if it was a WBT) from Attenborough’s film on Gandhi, to help the reader visualize the context.

Children also learn how October 2, his birthday, is celebrated through a UN resolution, as the International Day of Non-violence. A quick search on the web does reveal that world leaders are inspired by Gandhi’s strategy of non-violence and civil disobedience.

Irrespective of whatever else, the excerpt would need to be backed by an array of explanations for an inquisitive child. Personally for me, these few lines took over 30 minutes to build context for and introduce. There was a lot of passion too that I have about how Gandhi did all this and that needed to be translated.

Building on another fact, that Gandhi was born in 1869, I asked two uncomfortable questions which I had never asked before:

  1. What was Gandhi’s age when he embarked on the Dandi March?
  2. Why did he walk all the way when he was so old and alternative means of transportation were available for a man of his age and national importance?

If you do not know the answer, Gandhi was 61 and frail. And he walked all that way to do a few very strategic things:

  1. He started with 78 followers but many hundreds joined him from villages and towns on the way to Dandi when they understood what he was up to.
  2. These followers went through the hardship of walking with Gandhi (and he was a fast tireless walker), spent days and nights together, perhaps chanting national revolutionary songs and having heated debates on the British.
  3. Several leaders must have emerged who handled administrative and other tasks as well as showed resilience, courage and ability to manage other people
  4. Put a slow pressure on the British government. It was like a slow boiling kettle of water that threatened the defences of the British system and introduced uncertainty within their system of how to handle this.
  5. Gave Gandhi a chance to take multiple opinions on what exactly to do when they reached Dandi. If Attenborough’s film is to be believed, Gandhi’s people had it organized very well. The British had barricaded the entrance to that particular beach. The people organized themselves in rows of 5-6 people each and approached the entrance while the women went about frantically arranging makeshift beds and medical supplies. When they were ready to start, they simply disobeyed the waiting police phalanx and walked into blows on the head and body by heavy police lathis (sticks) which left them injured and bleeding. The injured were ferried to medical care and the next batch of 5-6 people stepped forward to receive their reward. This kept on happening minute after minute, hour after hour.
  6. He also achieved multiple objectives here, not the most unimportant of those was highlighting the hapless atrocity of the British colonial mindset.
  7. Very importantly, the March exemplified how a strategy can be supported implementationally by tactics. For example, look for a similar strain of thought in the Swadeshi (indigenous) movement, which exhorted people, in a non-violent manner, to stop buying British goods.

Most of these ideas can be connected to many other parts of the History book’s description of the Struggle for Independence in India. Those parts that explain why Gandhi was really a great leader.

However, for most children, these are a group of paragraphs and a set of factual questions waiting to be memorized for the Unit test around the corner.

What are we doing to our children?

The brilliant teacher can not spend too much time on these lines, bound by the pressure of introducing 5000 years of history books paragraphs in a single academic year. No amount of out of class activities and building posters on India’s Independence Movement can recreate the passion or understanding. The less brilliant teacher would perhaps not even know the meaning of “strategic”. 

Certainly, most of them would not have a degree in Instructional and Visual Design or even group collaborative methods. Perhaps one of the most painful things, by way of acknowledging the presence of the Internet, are a few long web links “printed” at the end of the chapter, which the student has to type in to a browser, if she ever has time left over.

I am treating this in agonizing detail because the Grade 5 student studies such books across language, maths, science and social studies as part of their ever expanding curriculum.

Frankly, I think I am missing the point here. Either we should be exposing to children the passions, experiences, concepts and people around us in a way that both informs and generates reflection, or we should stop this waste of precious time – maybe focus on core skills – communication, team work, critical thinking, problem solving etc. – building in them the capability to comprehend more advanced topics later in life.

Maybe the way to teach history is to take a few case studies or topics indicative of the phase or area and let children build the skills to explore and comprehend different aspects in an academic year. They will learn more and retain much more.

Same for curriculum design. If one area cannot build up on another in a mutually reinforcing manner, we are actually enforcing an unnatural specialization upon children. Why, at least in the initial formative years should there be so many different subjects – silos artificially created that compartmentalize and constrain knowledge and learning?

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PLE/N Tools

Really nice collection of links for this week’s #PLENK2010 discussions. I especially liked Patterns of personal learning environments, Wilson. Wilson looks at patterns of use of and activity in personal learning tools and learning networks, revising a previous approach which was very functional and tool-specific.

One of the ongoing challenges I have is with the constant comparison between LMS and PLE, which I happen to think, is an apples to oranges comparison. They serve different needs and are differently located on the spectrum between self-learning and managed-learning (if there is such a phrase). The MOOC and the LMS are comparable, as are NBTs (which I define as Network Based Training, the natural networked learning successors to WBTs) and PLEs.

Let us picture this. The LMS is used to launch a WBT course. The course pops up in a player which is really a navigation shell that acts as a data conduit between the WBT and the LMS. Suppose the LMS is learning network and personal learning tools aware (with blog, wiki, Flickr, connection hub-bing, discourse monitoring etc. affordances being provided by whatever mechanism – web services, XCRI…) and the WBT is just base reference material not quite unlike the Daily in this MOOC.

The player could then be technically programmed to act as a conduit between the WBT and the network or personal learning tool (people, resources, context, conversation, bookmarking service).  Sort of a SCORM for networked learning environments.

What would you call the WBT then? A NBT.

Would the PLE look similar to a NBT. Yes, it would resemble a slice of the PLE, a workspace which we organize around a theme that interests us. Similarly, the NBT could be conceived of as a combination of slices of many different PLEs, in fact as many as those learners enrolled in the NBT.

But the NBT would necessarily be a more constrained, parameterized environment, designed or seeded by a network weaver, an atelier – the new avatar of the teacher, and adapted and grown by the learners, present and past. The PLE would grow unfettered, the whole being greater than the sum of individual slices.

Most of the discussion, even in Wilson’s paper, focuses around the tools in the end. What can tools do to present the solution to a pattern? In fact, almost every solution is expressed in technological terms (notice how many times the word “tool” appears in the first line of the solution).

It is almost as if technology is the master problem solver for every pattern of learning, but that may just be me.

I would rather focus on Critical Literacies. On having reasons. Just like I would not count an NBT operating in an LMS environment to be a true NBT – as in truly architected as a networked learning aware solution from the ground up, rather than pasted on a WBT as a quickfix.

And that is perhaps why I would choose to take a radical stand – PLE/N tools do not yet exist. I would like to take you back to how PLEs were defined in Week 1:

A Personal Learning Environment is more of a concept than a particular toolset – it doesn’t require the use of any particular tool and is defined by general concepts like: distributed, personal, open, learner autonomy.

and for PLNs:

A PLN is a reflection of social and information networks (and analysis methods).

We are confusing our current lists of PLE/N tools with the concept or the method, like trying to measure the length of a moving snake by a tape measure or measuring the volume of a gust of air with a sudden clenching of our fist.

By far the most important attribute of the toolset, if you can call it that, for a PLE/N would be its complete invisibility. It would be implicit for learners in the way it has been designed. It is then that we will be able to project our personal aura on it and make it personal, as open as we are, as connectedly aware as we want to be (or can be) and as autonomous as we will allow it to be.

And that will also take a fundamental rearchitecture of the way we conceive of learning resources, away from resources as objects or networks, to living and dynamic forms that reflect our social and information networks.

More of a hard left than a gentle meandering this one, would you say?

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