Evaluative statement (a):
From the commencement of Knowledge Networking for Educators, there was an expectation of relevant learning, encountering new skills and continuing involvement in a networked community of practice. The learning modules delivered valuable and relevant material, providing challenging and practical experiences for exploration, as well as demonstration. This is best exemplified by referring to Assignment One, which required the development of a digital artefact (a new skill) (Simkin, Digital Artefact and References, 2015). The end product was a short film, but the processes of topic and platform selection (Simkin, Survey Results, 2015), and subsequent artefact creation, were where the challenging practical experience was most evident (Simkin, Artefact Design, 2015). Given the assessment mark allocation gave more credit to the exegesis, the time taken to develop the artefact was excessive, but incredibly fulfilling, despite the compromises that had to be made (Simkin, Exegesis, 2015). Significant learning resulted from mistakes, investigating exciting platforms, conquering fears (for example, peers found hearing their own voice confronting), and technical frustration. Conquering the digital product was a wonderful achievement, celebrated on Twitter by most of the cohort through sharing links. Assessing the work of colleagues for this task also provided a significant, networked learning opportunity (Simkin, Collegial Artefact Critiques, 2015). A valuable addition to this process would have arisen from sharing the exegeses, which described the context, intention and restraints behind the artefact, enabling a deeper level of analysis.
During the course of the semester, this subject presented a range of concepts and required the exploration of a range of knowledge networking tools. Starting with the obligatory introduction (Simkin, Knowledge Networking for Educators, 2015), and progressing to the final module (Simkin, The Future, 2015), the Digitalli blog posts of 2015 document a growth in knowledge mastery, leading to increased wisdom, thereby setting the scene for ongoing growth as a connected educator as defined by Gregor Kennedy (Kennedy, 2014).
The course began by investigating information in the digital age, evaluating the different sources of knowledge, identifying innovative platforms, and challenging participants to re-define terminology and apply it to contemporary learning scenarios (Coutas, 2010). Early in the subject, students encountered a range of digital tools, some new to them, and others well used (Simkin, Digital tools, 2015). This suite of new media tools, covered all aspects of knowledge management from content creation, to content curation, and included collaborative work, and connecting with and developing social networks leading to communities of practice (Simkin, Curation, 2015).
Building on knowledge networking to strengthen school-based classroom engagement and learning was a highly valuable aspect of the course, even for those with prior active involvement in a range of digital platforms (Simkin, 1.1 Connected students, 2015). It enabled both consolidation and revisitation of virtual learning spaces, revived forgotten skills while mastering new ones, and increased overall personal understanding of the philosophies of information management (Simkin, K. C in a C. A, 2015). The crucial need to consider pedagogy, andragogy and learning design when designing tasks was incredibly beneficial. The latter was aptly defined by Tolisano, in scaffolding what learning occurs when a class is involved in an activity such as Skype (Tolisano, 2103).
While the verdict on skills and knowledge gained from this course is overwhelmingly positive, there are some aspects which cannot be evaluated with such a high level of affirmation. The documenting of networked learning experiences through blogging enables reflection, and ideally, feedback. The processes required by the learning modules and assessment tasks for INF532, in combination with a very small cohort, meant that the capacity to engage in dialogue through blogging (and the discussion forum) was limited. There was a strong connection between the assessment tasks and blogging, but limited direction to blog within the learning modules. Unlike INF530 and INF536, for example, there was no requirement that peers comment on each other’s blog posts, an attribute that was missed. The digital artefacts were peer assessed, but some people were fairly slow to complete this or did not advise their peers where to find their evaluation (Simkin, Collegial Artefact Critiques, 2015). This was an innovative digital process which did not meet its potential standard for peer learning or the networking expectations held by most participants.
Using a blog to reflect on learning enabled powerful personal reflection, meaningful consideration, and publication of ideas. Sharing links through Twitter resulted in some feedback from followers, but no comments on the posts themselves (Simkin, Tweeting, 2015). This scarcity of feedback was disappointing.
Another aspect of knowledge networking that has been the basis of subjects within this Master of Education course has been the use of the discussion forums. This year information was distributed through the new Interact2 interface, based on the Blackboard learning management system (Simkin, New LMS, 2015). This added a new format for students and staff to conquer. Students found the new discussion format less user-friendly, and feedback was inconsistent. Fewer comments were posted on the forum, and retracing items proved tricky. The email alert within the system did not work as well as last year’s.
Despite these issues, overall the value of this subject is acknowledged. Throughout the semester topics ranged from the playful to the very serious and academic (Simkin, Play & Learning, 2015). Participants developed physical classroom and library spaces, and digital venues such as YouTube channels (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaJmkTMf7-74nzRUDW4e9pg ). Concepts such as the flipped classroom, blended classrooms and flexible learning, which are sometimes just contemporary buzz-words, were productively investigated and compared with personal practice, leading to improvement in learning design (Simkin, Types of Learning, 2015).
Reflective statement (b):
In retracing the course of Knowledge Networks for Educators, there are several components from the learning modules that really resonated. The contents of the first module raised some key issues relevant to personal concern and frustration in attempting to teach twenty-first century skills in a school that remains largely “analogue” in focus despite being well-equipped technologically (Simkin, 1.2 New Culture, 2015). From dialogue with other students of this course, this is, sadly, too common.
Contemplating the development of digital lives, personally, professionally and for the students encountered in participants’ work, it is hard to imagine that a sound philosophy of communities of practice is not a basic guiding principle in this day and age. Yet for many teachers and administrators, the main focus with technology in classrooms is fear of cyber bullying, rather than the crucial need to model the use of technology and development of C21st skills which include protective behaviours (Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S), 2014). The dichotomy between issues of authenticity and authority in the digital age compared to the past is extreme when considering Floridi’s comment: that humanity has experienced information ages since writing began (Floridi, 2009, p. 153). Modern students need to become the Gutenberg or Turing of these times, by seeking wide-ranging input to create new information (Floridi, 2009, p. 154). Teachers should celebrate the fact that information is socially situated, and socially constructed, and, therefore, instruction needs to be designed to empower people, as opposed to overwhelming them (Lindsey, 2014). Infowhelm is a serious issue with many different names (Bawden & Robinson, 2009). Students should be guided to locate and evaluate information, rather than be restricted to the text-book or teacher notes that many educators insist on mandating as the sole source of information (Simkin, 1.1 Connected students, 2015).
All educators have a unique and critical role to play in assisting their students to develop skills that enable them to cope with the flood of information that is now accessible (Brown & Duguid, 2000, p. 14). The rapidity of information sharing is well demonstrated by the mesmerising animated gif that introduces the Too Big To Know blog post (Simkin, Too Big To Know, 2015). Infoenthusiasts are excited by the amazing amount of knowledge that may result from this, however, students need to be educated to understand, select, and curate, then network and collaborate in order to problem solve within a learning community, something to which is so well suited to digital information sources and sharing (Floridi, 2009, p. 154).
Thomas and Brown define this as a new culture of learning, invisible, non-traditional in structure and operating within a defined environment (Thomas & Brown, 2011, pp. 17-18). They acknowledge that playing in such a culture leads to the development of passions and ideas, which, in turn, encourages freedom to research (Thomas & Brown, 2011, pp. 17-18). The necessity for managed freedom is supported in Douch’s recent blog post, where he postulates that the balustrade at the edge of The Pinnacle (in the Grampians) doesn’t restrict people; instead it is liberating them to go further (Douch, 2015)!
Learning within this new culture cultivates global, digital citizenship, generates feedback leading to improvement for students, and establishes the use of rich and highly textured examples of cross-referencing and communication to form a community of practice made up of the teachers and students within the group (Thomas & Brown, 2011, pp. 22-25). There is a serious problem if teachers are not also learners.
Ruminating on digital artefacts led to an investigation of the best-known creator of such learning objects: Salman Khan (Simkin, Khan Academy, 2015). Interestingly, while Khan has designed artefacts to teach entire subjects, he does not advocate a world without teachers, rather, he proposes a change to teacher deployment. He proposes that teaching become a team sport where numerous students in a large space collaborate with a number of teachers (Khan, 2012, pp. 197-198). The fluencies of C21st learning are well suited to Khan’s model (Crockett, Jukes, & Churches, 2011).
A thought provoking concept is that of filter bubbles (Pariser, 2013). People must be educated in the manner that algorithms work, and what is typically collected and presented to each one of us separately. The speed at which information is being added to the web in combination with these mining algorithms is a critical C21st skill, that should be included in overall education programs (Simkin, Filter Bubbles, 2015). In fact, Australian teachers are mandated through learning standard 4.5 (Simkin, AITSL, 2015) to use ICT (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership, 2014).
Actor Network Theorists postulate that competence is an effect is passed through organisations as a result of minute translations at mundane levels of everyday knowledge flow patterns (Fenwick, 2010, pp. 27-28). They also state that knowledge must be considered as a rhetoric of contentions (Fenwick, 2010, p. 35). The investigations and analyses of educational processes are more important than the logical meaning of concepts and processes typically applied to analyse education (Fenwick, 2010, p. 44). It is vital that educators think about the accessibility and equity of information (Simkin, ANT, 2015).
Stange’s strange video, filmed through Google Glass, utilises a method of recording that is disconcerting and distracting in the extreme (Stange, 2013). It detracts from the valid points Shirky presents on the premise that knowledge networking is based on having a common interest and working with like-minded people (Simkin, Shirky, 2015). Of necessity, the incorporation of finding like-minded people, connecting with them and following their interests, forms part of this process (Simkin, Shirky, 2015).
New vocabulary has been acquired: glocalisation (Simkin, Fis(c)hbowls etc.!, 2015); “filter bubbles” (Simkin, Filter Bubbles, 2015) and fliperentiated, in relation to excellent design for flipped classrooms(Hirsch, 2014). The latter was shared through the Diigo Knowledge Networks group – a wonderful source of co-created information for members.
In contemplating the growth accruing from the study of Knowledge Networks for Educators, the improvement in and consolidation of personal skills and development of a more focused information philosophy is measurable. It has brought all the learning in this course together to strengthen both educational practice and personal learning connections; a pleasing outcome for those involved.
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. (2014). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Retrieved from Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership: http://www.aitsl.edu.au/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers/standards/list
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Douch, A. (2015, May 28). Why Your School Needs Clearly Defined Social Media Policies. Retrieved from Douchy’s Blog onICT and Education: https://andrewdouch.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/why-your-school-needs-clearly-defined-social-media-policies/
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Pariser, E. (2013, March 22). Beware Online “Filter Bubbles”. Retrieved from YouTube: http://youtu.be/4w48Ip-KPRs
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