A Critical Reflection ( / Taking the Red Pill)

Please forgive the overplayed movie reference, but #INF530, for me, was like stepping into “The Matrix”. Perhaps I should say stepping out of “The Matrix” – the computer simulated world humans live a half-life in, and into the “real” world. What I’m trying to get at is that I’ve been floating through life, even as an educator and tech-guy, without knowing what’s really going on. #INF530 has opened my eyes to the undercurrents of technology, knowledge, and information which flows around us, shapes our understandings and pulls us into the future. In taking this Masters program, I chose the red pill; I want to see how far the rabbit hole goes.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/pauldineen/2121606903/ – Paul L Dineen – CC BY 2.0

I can honestly say I’ve developed both as a professional and as a person in taking #INF530. Both are intertwined, sure, but it’s not very often you can say that a professional development course or the like affected you at a deeper level. I’ll get to that later. As a teacher and an IT leader though, I’ve developed knowledge which has had an immediate implication on my practice.

Probably the most hard-hitting was a realisation half-way through #INF530 (Reflective Blog Post 3) that I was using:

“what I thought was smart use of Web 2.0 software, a bit of blogging and wiki-learning. It turns out though, I’m probably just engaging students in “low level” learning experiences”

And that was quite a tough pill to swallow. It was also though, a platform. A starting point. An ideal to chase. I’m now much more focused on providing learning experiences which enable connections to occur, for creativity to flourish, and for passions to be followed. It’s up to ME to embody the change that schools need to take, and I’m taking responsibility to do just that.

So I’ve learned a lot ~

Theories of knowledge flow (From Reflective Blog Post 2, on Connectivisim)

“It is a learning theory for the digital age – one which acknowledges we live in a world of multiplicity. Individuals and communities are nodes of knowledge, scattered about, complicatedly connected”

Concepts of linked data, the semantic web, and meta-data (From Reflective Blog Post 4)

“Berners Lee claims there is a latent, largely untapped potential of the world wide web to link data sets and information together. It’s also called ‘the semantic web’ – a “common framework that allows data to be shared and reused across application, enterprise, and community boundaries.”

But what I’ve really found to be a development for me, was working in the participatory nature of #INF530. It was amazing to see how quickly people bonded and started talking. We had a shared passion and a shared goal, and were “all in it together”. It was an interesting feeling for someone like myself who is usually quite blasé and “too cool” when it comes to group endeavours. I immediately felt this one was different. And I’m not going to sit here and say it was always easy – I ooh’d and ahh’d a number of times over making comments, posting, and asking questions. I battled with some inner self saying – “what have you got to share?”, “who cares what you think?”, “they already know that!”. But I came to realise (while not always comfortable) putting your ideas out there and connecting with others is vitally important. Setting your ideas free, no matter how silly you think they are, can always lead to other ripples in the pond down the line. It’s altruistic. It benefits society.

So thanks, #INF530. You’ve not only given me oodles of new knowledge and aspirations and ideas to put into place in my classroom, but also an increased propensity to share, connect and collaborate. And that, is a great thing. It was tough getting back into study (time-management wise) but I’m very glad I did, and am looking forward to the next few years and developing even more.

Digital Essay Proposal

My proposal is a focus on changing notions of the author in a participatory world (as exemplified by Wikipedia) and the implications of this on curriculum design, in particular, writing.

Here is a potential structure:

Part One:

Detailing the rise of a participatory culture as exemplified by the rise Wikipedia. Vector knowledge, knowledge networks (Connectivisim) connecting to create this mesh of information and knowledge – theory illustrated with examples from Wikipedia.

Part Two:

What this means for notions of “the author”, the nature of information, truth, facts, expertise, authority.

Part Three:

Why examples like Wikipedia often get “bad press” – the critiques and concerns of this change in the notion of the author.

Part Four:

What skills / knowledge / fluencies are needed to thrive in this participatory world (information fluency frameworks etc), and how curriculum design goals might be met to assist students to gain competencies in working in this participatory world.

 

I’m planning on creating a Google Site as the tool with which to submit this essay. It will be a traditional essay but extended with video, audio, images and hyperlinking. I can create navigation headers at the top of the essay, so readers could skip to which ever parts interested them, or see just the media components etc.

After the essay is submitted and returned, I’ll keep this live. My plan is to “walk the talk” and hopefully open the project up for commenting, editing, and extending (this is possible in a Google Site). Hopefully it could become a great resource of ideas for writing (and other) activities in a participatory world.

In terms of the subject material, the Carrington reading in the course content greatly interested me, it links very well with a professional inquiry we are on at my own school into writing, and I have identified that this is a gap in my own understandings and practices I would like to rectify. Providing learning experiences for my students which prepare them for life in this participatory, networked world is getting really important for me!

Feedback and guidance would be greatly appreciated 😀

Some Recent Reflections

Blog Task 3: Visit three of the blogs of this subject cohort. Browse through the blogs and choose at least one post to leave a considered reflective comment about content, or ideas, or thinking that might have been stimulated by reading the post.

 

I’m slowly working my way through “Module 3: Knowledge Networks”. It’s slow going because I’m really really into it. I’m following links to links to other links and getting washed down a rabbit hole of information. What makes this information meaningful for me is that what I’m learning is shining a stark spotlight on my current practice. I was reasonably confident that I was designing learning experiences which hit on 21st Century skills and competencies. I peppered in what I thought was smart use of Web 2.0 software, a bit of blogging and wiki-learning. It turns out though, I’m probably just engaging students in “low level” learning experiences – a realisation both sweet and sour. I’ve not been utilising these tools to their potential – but now that I can see their potential, backed with the knowledge I’ve been acquiring through the modules and I’m excited about what learning experiences I can design and where my students will take their own learning for the upcoming term.

So with that in mind, I read Margaret Simkin’s recent Module 3.1 Reflection.

Margaret highlights that:

  • Educators should “realize the importance of curriculum design consciously based around C21st skills and objectives

The “consciously” part of this sentence struck me, and linked with some of the other interesting tidbits I ran into while exploring through the course content:

  • The Conole reading, in particular the ‘Mapping of Web 2.0 tools to different pedagogical approaches’ section.
  • An article I read on DML Central about Alan Levine – his title not an Instructional Technologist but a Pedagogical Technologist, reflecting his role as an “architect of open, connected learning systems that enable students to take power over and responsibility for (and joy in!) their own learning.
  • Another point Margaret emphasises, student’s “apparent facility with computers disguises some worrying problems” … “Digital literacies and information literacies do not go hand in hand
  • The  useful ‘information fluency’ resources and frameworks, such as the ISTE Nets
  • Joyce Valenza’s inspirational Ted Talk about the importance of transliteracy and the evolving learner.
  • The Carrington reading which asks – are we teaching students to thrive in a fluid, wiki world, or actually in a world of stable ‘print’ knowledge (and then that wikis are a great place to start for scaffolding, modelling, into this participatory world)
  • The OER resources, and the learning design tool CompendiumLD Margaret linked.

So, these and other core points have coalesced into certain personal understandings:

Connecting, participating, and openness is of central importance. But it’s not a skill students have innately – no matter how it may seem sometimes – therefore students need to be scaffolded, guided and modelled. Every student is different, so they will all need different levels scaffolding – knowing your students is key. Web 2.0 tools are an effective platform with which to enact these experiences of participating and connecting. Learning within these environments, coupled with a ‘conscious’ attention to the right learning activities, trigger the key skills, attributes and behaviours we know of as “information literacy”.

So I guess if you’re doing all that, you’re will on your way to becoming a “pedagogical technologist”!

Some questions at this stage though:

  • In what ways can blends be formed between information literacy and traditional literacy? This is important as in NZ we are mandated to report on achievement towards literacy standards twice yearly.
  • A further investigation into open and accessible planning
  • How this fits in with a holistic, inquiry based approach to education (I’m sure it does very well, I just want to think about this a bit more)
  • As Margaret says, how to “get others on board”.

 

Thank you to Margaret Simkin for stimulating many of these ideas!

Connected Learning and Digital Literacy

Blog Task 2: Write a 500 word reflective piece with demonstrates your emerging understanding of themes or issues of importance in the topic in relation to education and/or personal professional practice. 

 

 ~ Connectivism ~

A word which I’d never encountered before three weeks ago.

A theory which is beginning to make sense to me.

An area I’m growing my confidence in.

 This is my current understanding of what it means:

Connectivism is the next evolution of the learning “-isms”: behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism. It differs from the others in that connectivism strives to make sense of the impact that technology has had on how we connect and communicate, live and learn (Siemens, 2004).

It is a learning theory for the digital age – one which acknowledges we live in a world of multiplicity. Individuals and communities are nodes of knowledge, scattered about, complicatedly connected. Chaos theory, an integral part of connectivism states that while yes, our information networks are multifaceted, unpredictable and diverse, there is meaning distributed across and within this network of connections (Downes, 2012).

It’s the job of the participant in this new information ecology to uncover patterns, make sense of these connections, and make new connections (Siemens, 2004). To make sense of the chaos. How individuals go about doing this, within learning communities and networked environments, is something which connectivism strives to understand.

To participate fully within the diverse ‘knowledgefield’ technology has afforded us today, individuals need to be “confident in their ability to make connections, understand concepts, critique, create and share knowledge” (Starkey, 2011, p37). If these are some of the competencies integral to living well in the future, then we want students leaving our schools to be well versed in their arts.

While it’s clear that the students of today are changing in response to the digital age it’s a myth that they come hard-wired to participate effectively in this world (the digital native argument). Learning design, therefore, needs to focus on providing experiences that will grow these literacies and competencies. A revamped set of literacies – digital literacies – indeed a reimagined pedagogy, is required.

Ford (2008) outlines one way learning can be designed within a connectivist framework. A central theme of Ford’s work is the flow between the concepts of mediation and autonomy.

The web is the source of a massive amount of knowledge. Students may have the autonomy to surf these networks, but the extent to which they are able to source information, critically evaluate and make sense of information may be limited. The goal is to help students along the path to becoming autonomous seekers and users of information, to be flexible and versatile navigating the digital currents. Mediation is required in assisting students to achieve this goal – in particular, fostering meta-cognitive awareness.

Much exploration has also been undertaken in regard to what exactly these new literacies that students require are. It’s a diverse area of research, with many different frameworks, strategies and models.

Bawden (2008) breaks down digital literacy into information literacy (which is actively finding and using information – the “pull”) and media literacy (dealing with and understanding media “pushed” at the individual). Added into this is the necessary elements of digital citizenship – the social and moral components required for effective participation and safety.

Retrieved from http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3193/2829658906_0e94c592a8.jpg

The Digital Literacy Handbook from Future Lab UK highlights creativity, effective communication, collaboration, the ability to find and select information, e-safety, functional skills, critical thinking and evaluation, and cultural and social understanding as core dimensions of digital literacy.

Finding the commonalities between these facets of digital literacy then moulding them into the particular context of your school and community is key.

We are developing our understandings of the world in which we live in and the future the students of today will enter. Connectivism seeks to understand the role of learning in our new, diverse knowledge ecology, while models of digital literacy aim to provide educators with a framework of skills and competencies required for effective participation within them.

 

Continue reading

My Current Understanding

Blog Task 1: Using your readings and interaction with the subject to date, develop a statement about your current knowledge and understanding of concepts and practices in a digital age within the context of your work or professional circumstances. What is the context of your learning? What are your personal aims in this subject? What challenges are your hoping to meet for yourself?

New media tools and frameworks have facilitated the rapid expansion of participatory, collaborative learning opportunities. I say expansion rather than generation because humans have always learned from one another throughout history. The New Zealand curriculum states “facilitating shared learning” as a valid, effective pedagogy. It’s just that in our current times, more than ever, we have the tools and infrastructure to enable these kinds of interactions to a previously unavailable extent.

The web allows people to come together in communities of like minded individuals, communicate with one another – work, play, and think together. The world has become more open. Content and data which was previously holed up in libraries or labs can now be accessed, commented on, and developed further. The world’s history is in the process of being digitised, catalogued and made searchable.

These nodes of knowledge are being connected together like synapses in the brain to other nodes; both real people (amateurs, experts, communities) and other pieces of data. Connections between previously unconnected nodes create new avenues of thinking, help solve problems and drive further questioning.

This availability of knowledge however, is challenging the traditional definitions of “teacher” and “student”. It begs the question – if all of the knowledge I’ll ever possibly need is a Google away, why do I need to be taught things from a teacher? Does the role of “teacher as expert” still exist?

This is one of my personal aims in this course – to explore what it means to be a teacher in these times of enormous change; the interplay between new forms of learning possible and the core skills needed to be taught to enable effective participation with them. As a primary school teacher responsible for laying foundational skills and knowledge to students aged 6 to 11, as well as growing their capability to live well in the future, this is of high personal interest.

           

So while without a doubt, some core sets of skills and knowledge remain central to our ability to learn and participate effectively, what Thomas and Seely Brown (2011) call our “new culture of learning” challenges our traditional emphasis on certain literacies. It calls upon a new model of competencies. It revises the toolbox of skills students need to actively participate in the world of the future.

One of the competencies key to success in the future is the ability to adapt to rapid change. As people living in these times, how well are we dealing with this shift?

This is the sharp end of the spear as I see it. Change, in practice, comes slowly to education – how can we speed it up? How can we move from isolated pockets of teachers and innovative schools trialling, thinking and doing, to a more mainstream application and understanding of 21st century learning? How can we get parents and community stakeholders understanding what it means to teach and learn in our connected, networked now?

These are some of the challenging questions I hope to investigate as I move through this course, and why I’ve decided to choose “Digital Leadership” by Eric Sheninger as the focus of my book review.

I’m looking forward to the journey ahead, in particular “walking the talk” – being actively engaged and participating in our community of learners.

 

References

How Humans Learn Best. Retrieved from http://changelearning.ca/get-informed/understanding-human-learning/how-humans-learn-best

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning. Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Educause: Berkley, Thomas D & Brown J, Souellis Studio.

TKI: Effective Pedagogy. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/Effective-pedagogy