Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Czech Course Followup Questions

I was asked the following questions after my presentation to CZ Course RVP_VT21 yesterday:
  • (Elements of Coop.) How to ensure any educational outcomes in accordance with short-time curricular aims? Students having autonomy do not usually feel about the aim the same way as teachers. Is it a call for a curricular change?

This is like asking, "how do you have freedom, and still control people?" In an open educational environment, you cannot "ensure any educational outcomes", nor is it desirable to do so. I said during the presentation there is no core curriculum; this is directly contrary to the idea of ensuring educational outcomes.

I think that parents and administrators need to rethink what they want students to learn and how to teach them. Look at this post: http://www.downes.ca/post/56473

Notice that though there are no curricular outcomes, the instructor is able to lead students towards the things he thinks are valuable by modelling the process. The students are also given more incentive by having their work posted online. A wide variety of persuasions and inducements are available.

  • (Distributive vs. Connective): How to ensure one isn't gonna be disturbed receiving so many stimulations from the others or we won't get parallel outcomes when students don’t know who’s working on what? I see it’s not contra-productive from the educational point of view but once a teacher wants their students to work um some comprehensive topic, I have my doubts about the result.

I'm not sure what it means to be "disturbed by receiving so many stimulations from others." You could always turn off the computer! But beyond that, you can select to receive input from only a few sources, as opposed to many.

It is important to understand that in a connectivist environment the *learner* is responsible to selecting media and resource sources. It is not the case that the teacher or school sends a whole lot of things to them. Rather, the learner selects the content sources, and makes the decisions about what to read or not to read.

Over and above that, being able to select relevant materials from a large body of materials is a skill that should be cultivated in a connectivist environment. I have talked in the past about knowledge as recognition. This is the same sort of thing. As a person becomes more adept in a certain subject area, he or she is much more able to recognize which materials out of a sea of materials are worth reading. It's exactly the same process as recognizing your child's face out of a sea of faces.

Over time this sort of perception will be aided with technology, just as we are aided in visual recognition by glasses and telescopes and video monitors. Filtering systems, content recommendation systems, analytics and other tools will make the task of recognition easier. But in the end, it will still be necessary to select relevant material by recognition, and the effectiveness of such selection will improve as a person's expertise improves (and, indeed, is a measure of that expertise).

  • Don't we produce "information mess" this way? Everybody just writes, doesn't read, speak and doesn't listen (a nice metonymy to the academic world by the way) as if our purpose wasn’t to learn how to cooperate but to win ourselves some recognition.

In my paper 'Educational Blogging' I point out that the first step to successful blogging is to read blogs. In my paper 'How to Be Heard' I recommend that people use other blogs and articles as starting points for their own creative activities.

It is in fact extremely difficult to be creative in a vacuum. The very possibility of creativity implies the existence of a stimulating environment to remix, repurpose, and to create with. Just as the academic will work against a literature or tradition in his or her field, so any creative person will work against a similar creative environment.

Having said that - there is a subtext to this question which suggests that content needs to be organized, the best content selected, and a mechanism put in place to ensure that people follow and pay attention to this content. I would suggest that such a mechanism will create more harm than good, as the process of selection will distort the normal selection and reading of materials, and will create a disincentive to create unpopular or unsanctioned work which would never be selected.

In an open communicative environment, where people depend on each other for ideas and inspiration, and where a mesh-like network of connections between these people develops, a form of organization emerges of its own accord. This phenomenon is well known - look up 'clustering' in the network literature.

Finally, the question addresses the idea of a purpose of being to 'win some recognition'. I think we can certainly detect and distinguish between those people who are attempting to work cooperatively and those who are attempting to win recognition. It is the distinction between those people whose communications are intended to benefit other people, and those people whose communications are intended to benefit themselves.

In the world of broadcasting, controlled media, corporate or institutional publishing, and group-like structures, the self-promoter may well be successful. This occurs when they are able to obtain a privileged interaction with managers or those responsible for broadcasting. This is an instance where the community as a whole suffers. People are unable to avoid broadcast media - this is what the self-server is counting on. He will *push* his way into their consciousness.

But in a network-based cooperative environment, the self-serving communicator is unable to obtain success. Because the learner is responsible for the selection of his or her own media, they will select materials that hep themselves, and do not serve the interests of the sender. It's exactly the same process as selecting useful content instead of advertising. That doesn't mean self-selection will be perfect, and the self-promoter may be able to obtain some traction in such an environment. But where the recipient makes the decisions, the generous, rather than the selfish, will tend to become more popular.

  • What amount of time does it take the students to work cooperatively when they're not used to it? It seem it would (will!) take a lot here.

There is no fixed amount of time. Or, another way of offering the same response: it will take whatever amount of time they are willing to put into it.

The question appears to presuppose a model where a person learns content 'XYZ' in some number of hours. The suggestion is that it will take more hours to learn 'XYZ' if working cooperatively. But the question really doesn't make sense in this context.

Let's suppose I want to learn how to program a 'bubble sort' in Python. Given a teaching resource - perhaps some sample code with instructions - it will take me maybe half an hour to learn the procedure. In order to impress it into memory, I would need to revisit the process at regular (and increasing) intervals over time. So, say, a total of two hours.

This would be the case whether or not I was working in a cooperative environment. The actual learning time for something simple and focused like that is unchanged, because the materials and process are the same. We could talk about how better or worse to design these materials, but that now leaves the domain of cooperative versus collaborative learning.

But now, in cooperative learning, I do something I don't do in other forms of learning: I document my learning, and make it available through some feed-forward mechanism, to a wider audience. This takes more time. And the benefits to learning are indirect.

We can suggest that perhaps one's own learning will be entrenched through documentation of learning. We can suggest that some ancillary skills, such as documentation skills, language and presentation skills, and the like, would be developed. As John Stuart Mill commented in his autobiography, he never learned something so thoroughly as when he was teaching ti to his younger brother.

But the greater benefit of one person learning this way is felt by *another* person. Prior to even learning how to conduct a bubble sort in Python, it is necessary to locate and select an appropriate learning resource. In a broadcast system there may be one available resource, but it may cost to much, may be inaccessible, or may be unsuited to your learning preferences. In a cooperative system, a wider selection of such resources will be available, many often more suited to your needs and preferences.

But even here, I do not want to assert that you will find better resources more quickly. You may still be slowed down by the greater selection and difficulty of choice. But you are benefiting in indirect ways - you are seeing the same subject from multiple perspectives, you are seeing it in a wide variety of applications, and people will address the subject from many different contexts. In the direct method, you will learn how to conduct a bubble sort, but in the cooperative environment, you will learn the *meaning* of a bubble sort, by observing its use in a variety of contexts.

  • Won't the borders between different school subjects get blurred in the connectivist manner? It seems like one great Project-based learning model to me since students work mostly according to their own scheme.

Yes, the borders of different schools will become blurred. That is a good thing. It enables students to communicate with a much larger number of other students, and to learn and appreciate the true diversity that characterizes society.

You can think of it as a "great Project-based learning model" if you wish; that description would not be disagreeable to me. One's home school would provide resources, environment, coaching and support. It would be a base of operations. But one's actual learning would take place in the wider community, not only from other schools, but from the community as a whole. This is a good thing.

In just the same way, the borders between school subjects will also become blurred, and int he same way, this is also a good thing, for two reasons:

- first, no subject is independent. Every subject is related to every other subject. People sometimes talk about 'math across the curriculum' or 'critical thinking across the curriculum', but in fact, we could just as easily talk about 'chemistry across the curriculum' or 'political science across the curriculum', as these two subjects, like the others, are embedded in every other subject.

The division of learning into subjects is, to my mind, an improper abstraction and idealization of some subjects, and some subject descriptions, above others. It resides in the view that there are some 'core' subjects on which all other subjects depend. But knowledge, include the knowledge received from an education, is not structured that way. By fostering an understanding based on 'core' subjects we foster an improperly abstracted and ultimately incorrect view of knowledge and the world generally

- second, it may be the case that there are core patterns or regularities underlying all disciplines, but these are not such that they can be abstracted and taught in isolation, but rather learned only through a process of pattern recognition. each learner will identify different regularities and different patterns, depending on their points of view. And they need to be engaged in a program that combines multiple disciplines in order to be in a position to identify these patterns regularities.

(As an aside, I am not specifically advocating discovery learning here, though there may well be an element of this. I don't expect students to detect the patterns in this by themselves, with no assistance. They should be given tools, support, assistance and encouragement. Instructors and colleagues would be prepared to show them where to look, or how to look. But this is very distinct from an environment where the instructor  says 'this' is the underlying regularity, 'this' is the foundational principle. What counts as foundational., underlying, or regular ought, in the end, to be determined individually by each person.)

3 comments:

  1. I’ve subscribed your daily newsletter a few weeks ago and I’ve been reading the posts and links to articles and blogs you refer.
    Although I work within the compulsory education system, the older I get the more critical I become. I have been reflecting and reading about an alternative school more connected to the interests of children and youth, more motivating and creative.
    I recognize that some schools and teachers have been making efforts to work on multidisciplinary projects and on European initiatives (Comenius projects, eTwinning projects, etc) but in the end they have to prepare them to pass the tests and exams of the different subjects/drawers of facts that have to be memorized and registered.
    For many years alternative school movements (Ferrer modern school/1901, Freinet/30’s, etc) have resisted and some schools have survived to the traditional mainstream organization, but they remain exceptions.
    The educational potential of Web 2.0 turns more evident the disconnection between contemporary reality and the traditional mainstream school. More critical minds within the education community are contesting the established order, but the system resists to change, and people are afraid of dismantling the existing organization for fear of chaos and of conservative sectors of society that complain that kids are more illiterate now than in the past (http://prezi.com/ykvs7iim-hob/uma-escola-alternativa/), therefore more of the past methodologies should be enforced to get better education indicators.
    I think that the reflection that goes on about Education has to spread and gain more contributors to the cause of learning and education transformation.

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  2. That is very useful for student.
    http://www.virtualhse.com/

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  3. I love the "across the curriculum" agenda for all subjects.

    And I completely agree that the question "how do you have freedom, and still control people?" is very much on people's minds when they think about all kinds of learner-centred education.

    But this all assumes that learning (rather than certification) is all that important to the education system.

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I welcome your comments - I'm really sorry about the moderation, but Google's filters are basically ineffective.