“Reflective practice, while often confused with reflection, is neither a solitary nor a relaxed meditative process. To the contrary, reflective practice is a challenging, demanding, and often trying process that is most successful as a collaborative effort.” (Osterman and Kottkamp, 1993, p.2)
This report critically reflects on the author’s participation in INF532 Knowledge Networking for Educators. It documents the authentic learning achieved as the result of engagement with the learning modules, peers and participation on new media platforms such as Twitter, Padlet, paper.li. Excerpts from blog posts are included to exemplify transformations in understandings around knowledge networking practices. The report has adopted Driscoll’s (1994) model of critical reflection to structure the reflection based on Kolb’s (1984) cycle of action and reflection. Driscoll’s model asks three simple questions to guide the reflective practitioner: What? So what? Now what? By using this framework, this critical reflection will not only delve into learning and practice during the course but also propose future action based on these insights. Specifically, the report documents not only critical reflections but also reflexive actions taken in response to new understandings and appreciations of information environments, knowledge networks and network literacy which have transformed practice (Mezirow, 1990). Osterman and Kottkamp (1993, p.2) and Boud and Walker (1998) also highlight the importance of a critical reflection approach which provides the opportunity to challenge the learner to explore states of perplexity, inner discomforts and dilemmas (p.192).
Web 2.0 and digital technologies are variously described as pervasive or ubiquitous and have the potential to enable or create barriers for learners and educators (Reed, 2014; Siemens, 2005). New media platforms and digital technologies have invaded and transformed how we network, share and curate information and knowledge (Levinson, 2013; Standage, 2013, pp.6-8). Although an active user of social media tools and web-based technologies to connect, research, acquire and share information and knowledge, the course has extended my practice as a learning designer moving from an active user to a mindful and informed participant, adopting purposeful and deliberate practices to connect with people, institutions and platforms as the result of the exploration of new media tools. Through engagement with the learning modules, and formative and summative assessment activities in this course, these practices are now underpinned with a deeper understanding of the lifecycle of information, its history and future. For example, I now capitalise on the symbiotic relationships that new media technologies provide for knowledge networking (Levinson, 2013, p.4). While watching a YouTube video I can share this in real-time by selecting the share options to Twitter or Facebook YouTube offers. Engagement with the courses has fostered an appreciation and provided practical application of twenty-first century sharing and networking using platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn and curation tools such as Diigo, paper.li and Pinterest to contribute to real-time networking and knowledge generation, and raised awareness of my identity data which needs to be thoughtfully managed (Marwick & boyd, 2010). Our knowledge community is now global and classrooms without walls a reality (Levinson, 2013b).
Knowledge networking and information curation using new media
Two examples typify changes in my understandings around knowledge and personal learning (PLN) networks. Below one of my early posts in response to a learning activity is compared with a recent post illustrating the shift made from a theoretical and scholarly appreciation of social media tools to becoming a purposeful contributor with clear goals around the personal learning network I wanted to establish, how I perceived social media platforms and importantly the reputation I wanted to establish as an innovative designer. The participatory design of the course challenged my theoretical understandings with real-world application.
- Blog post New models of information production
“As educators and information professionals, the challenges we face are around teaching and modelling best practice engagement with these new information production models to our students and peers. Issue such as privacy, reputation and the digital footprint we leave are important considerations which we need not only to navigate, but also teach. While Facebook captures and distributes data on a personal level, Google is able to understand our online behaviour as part of a section of the global community. Even how we search and retrieve information is open to scrutiny. With opportunities to collaborate and generate content, new fluencies alongside traditional literacy is needed for learners to contribute and express themselves on these new models of information production (Crockett, Jukes, Churches, 2011). (Steele, 2016a).”
- Blog post I tweet, honestly
“Twitter is no longer a social media platform that I flirt with. While my followers are growing slowly and steadily, the network of artists, creatives, educators and designers I follow have become essential to my work as a learning designer. They continue to inspire me, keep me informed of events, developments and what is happening in their world. Twitter has become a significant part of my PLN and transformed how I curate and share information. I am also mindful of my “imagined” multiple audiences which Twitter collapses into one audience (i.e. context collapse). While Goffman (cited in Marwick & boyd, 2010, p.123) may equate my behaviour to a “performance”, I propose that authentic self-representation more accurately describes my tweets and is critical to whom I attract. Twitter is the equivalent of coffeehouses in the 1670s. It is the new media “hotbed of collaborative innovation”, the Roman Forum or Greek Agora facilitating the direct sharing of information (Standage, 2013, pp.234, 245). #IloveTwitter (Steele, 2016b).”
In the OLJ post New models of information production understandings are primarily informed by engagement with the course readings and research. The potential of microblogging is not fully explored yet and is social. In the OLJ post I tweet, honestly scholarly understandings are now informed through growing engagement with Twitter for knowledge networking and information sharing. The author’s contributions to the “conversation ecology” of Twitter (boyd, Scott & Lotan, Crawford, 2009) have matured and are now part of daily social and educational uses of the platform.
Information curation and knowledge network practices
The OLJ Curation—Helping the learning designer support academic capability (Steele, 2016c) reflects on the role of the curator and Visser’s identification of four main roles of the digital curator (Wilson, 2011). It concludes that a significant part of the role of learning designers is to support academic capability and that Visser’s four main roles of the digital curator are central the practice of the designer —curating and bringing together new knowledge and distributing/sharing with my peers and academics.
Another example of authentic learning which shifted my knowledge networking practices from theoretical understandings to informed practice was the learning gained from creating the knowledge artefact Wiki the Movie. The purpose of the artefact was to facilitate discussions amongst learning designers around their reluctance to use the team’s wiki on the intranet. However, not only were my understanding of tools for knowledge sharing extended as a consequence of researching the role of wikis for the assessment, I was also able to initiate discussions at weekly team meetings around our knowledge sharing practices and challenged designers to reflect on their motivations and understandings of knowledge sharing and the wiki. The journey of the instructional design processes adopted to design and build the KN are documented in OLJ post Planning the knowledge artefact (Steele, 2016d).
The future—It’s up to us!
In the OLJ blog The future—It’s up to us (Steele, 2016e) the future of designing student-centered learning is considered against the backdrop of business realities faced by universities—a landscape dominated by a demand for flexible study options by students who now balance study and work. Driven by market-focused priorities to reach diverse student groups, provide flexible pathways for undergraduate and postgraduate study and attract students globally universities seek digital teaching and learning solutions to help to meet these needs (Bower, Kennedy, Dalgarno & Lee, 2011). Traditional models of teaching and learning from the nineteenth and twentieth century no longer support current or future practices and fail to provide students with the knowledge and skills to navigate new media for study and research. Innovative solutions are required to participate in global platforms (Bradley, Noon, Nugent & Scales, 2008; Oliver, 2011; Robinson, 2010). Lindsay (2016) advocates “a shift in pedagogy, shift in mindset” (p.1) to support learners where technology has removed walls and classrooms (or lecturer theatres) are now flat and potentially open.
Finally, reading questions and posts from other students, responding with information, or asking a question on the discussion forum provided a sense of community and belonging (Wenger-Trayner & Wenger-Trayner, 2015). Participating in the moderation of the discussion forums also provided opportunity to engage and respond to peers. Curating and tweeting information took on a new purpose as I read discussion posts. The sense of community and belonging I felt from the first Padlet posting to reading weekly emails from the course coordinator and dropping into the discussion forum Café provided a motivation to curate and share knowledge and events around the topics in the course to the learning community and practice the important skill of reciprocity (Lewis, 2015).
Now what? The connected educator
The new understandings and transformative learning gained in this course has provided me with new insights into my role as a learning designer in higher education. I am firstly challenged to take action and transform my practice by collaborating with academics to embed learning activities into their courses which build student capabilities in knowledge networking and equipping them to navigate and manage their online identities (Bennett & Folley, 2014; Levinson, 2013, pp.161-171). My understanding of my role as a learning designer is also changed and I now see myself as a knowledge networking champion who empowers and facilitates academic capacity to leverage technology to create communities of practice and networks for knowledge sharing and collaboration (Lindsay, 2016). Importantly, the social and participatory design of this course not only provided engagement with authentic learning, but also modelled what it means for educators to engage in knowledge networking.
Reading Nussbaum-Beach and Hall (2012) inspires me to continue to build and contribute to the connections in the personal learning networks that I participate. These reflections are recorded in the OLJ blog post Defining the connected educator—Reflections (Steele, 2016f). Siemen’s predictions in the early part of this century that network connections are critical to survival in the digital knowledge economy continue to hold true. Attending a recent professional development workshop facilitated by Siemens at QUT contributed new understandings around the importance of fostering weak ties in my global network to invite fresh, innovative perspectives (Granovetter, 1973; Siemens, 2016). Specifically, weak ties are those connections in networks that are not in my immediate social network which share the same interests or viewpoints. Strong ties will tend to generate similar ideas, knowledge and information while weak ties will introduce new information and points of viewpoint.
While I scored highly on the Self-evaluation rubric for new literacies of the 21st century (Nussbaum-Beach & Hall, 2012, pp.14-17) my lower scores were for category 5 Engage in professional growth and leadership. To continue to develop as a contributor to global education in the twentieth-first century I will need to develop an action plan setting out SMART goals to widen my network to include weak ties (e.g. thought leaders who are not in my immediate professional network), seek opportunities to contribute to forums and inform policy directions in in my workplace and continue research in new media studies.
Lindsay (2016) advocates a “shift in mindset”, Isaac Mao in his online essay Sharism: A Mind revolution proposes that this mindshift is the notion of sharism which is the “key motivator of social media and the core spirit of Web 2.0” and the “pledge of Creative Commons (Mao, 2007). Richardson (2011) also warns that “the less you share, the less power you have.” The new poor in knowledge networks will be driven those by a mindset that hordes ideas, information and inspiration. The talent buried in the ground will not multiply, rather it is through participation on new media platforms that ideas are able to “travel from one person to another, rippling through networks of people connected by social bonds” that knowledge is shared and multiplies (Standage, 2013, p.250). The new rich will be those who leverage the symbiotic relationships between new media technologies to network and collaborate (Levinson, 2013, p.4). Continuing to develop as a learning designer who is actively contributing to global education will mean continuing to share on new media platforms, networks and blogs. I am inspired by librarian Meredith Farkas and her blog Information wants to be free to create a blog to continue to contribute to my networks. Paper.li and storify will also feature as new media platforms that I will use as part of knowledge networking and sharing to curate and disseminate knowledge in new, innovative ways.
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*Please note that danah boyd prefers to write her name in lowerca