Finding Meaning in Paradigm Shifts

Dant (1991:5) defines knowledge as being a phenomenon which is socially constructed and shared by all members of a society. Its features of common sense may be understood at two levels: on the one hand, it is of belonging to a consensual wisdom: on the other hand, common sense is not only taken for granted, but at the same time, maintained by the members of the group.

Stenhouse (1991) claims that the school is basically a distributor of knowledge rather than a manufacturer (1991:10).This raises two issues – firstly that the knowledge found in schools is moulded in the activities of maintaining that knowledge rather than generating new forms of knowledge. Secondly, as Stenhouse also points out, disciplines of knowledge “have a social existence” and: “are located in groups of scholars, typically in our society working in universities, extending their disciplines by research and teaching them to students.”

Knowledge – or what is accepted as useful knowledge by a certain community – is thus maintained in educational institutions. We may perceive by this that this maintenance of knowledge is a powerful form of social control, and in effect, a maintenance of reality.

And, according to Postman and Weingartner (1975:195),

“The basic function of all education, even in the most traditional sense, is to increase the survival prospects of the group. If this function is fulfilled, the group survives.”

Learners are not passive recipients of knowledge. They do not come to class as tabua rasa, but with their own set/s of knowledge. One can only learn in relation to what one knows already, which is one of the pedagogical intents of involving learner’s personal points of references in order to create/add further knowledge.  Hence, my question is, if todays students are using digital technology for their everyday purposes, why are educators still reluctant to acknowledge the implementation of of digital tech in the classroom? If education is to establish the survival of a group, then denying students to use digital technology in their learning process is to deny their survival in the world outside classrooms. Digital technology is not merely a tool which facilitates learning – it is much more than that as I have previously explained throughout this blog.

As Sara Rasmussen explains:

“Understanding how to take advantage of the capacity of iPad apps, how to use audio recording devices and Audacity, how to export and upload files online, or exploring programming software like Processing — these skills are utterly valuable. Sure, they up a student’s job marketability, but far more importantly, they create opportunity for creativity.They expand students’ options for expressing their work and push them to rethink and challenge the ‘natural’ standards for collecting, communicating and sharing knowledge.”

It is that shared knowledge, the ability to take advantage of digital tools for communication and creation that make up the characteristics of digital literacies. This knowledge is an integral part of learners’ requirements today, just as it is for educators.

Enthusiasm and support for integrating digital technology may stem from a number contexts: “For some, it’s about improving computing skills to support the digital economy and entrepreneurship; for others, learning to code is part of a subversive and empowering approach that enables ordinary people to take control of the structures they live and work within (see, for example, the excellent hackasaurus and codecademy projects). It can stem from a belief that schools need to keep up with the rapid pace of technological change in the modern world to remain relevant to students’ lives outside school or because digital media makes study more effective. It can reflect a desire to equip young people with the skills to participate in new media networks, or to defend themselves against pervasive and potentially harmful media messages. It can be seen as both opening up new educational inequalities and as a way to combat social disadvantage.” (Lyndsay Grant). Morever, it can be a a combination of the reasons above or even others, such as ensuring that education fulfills its purpose as the survival of the group, as Postman and Weingartener point out.

When Downes discusses knowledge, he refers to different types of knowledge, broadening the spectrum of quantative and qualitative knowledge, to include distributed knowledge: “Distributed knowledge adds a third major category to this domain, knowledge that could be described as connective. A property of one entity must lead to or become a property of another entity in order for them to be considered connected; the knowledge that results from such connections is connective knowledge.”

It is this paradigm of connective knowledge that our learners are growing up in today. Learning is not confined to the classroom. Learning occurs in and out of educational institutions. Connected learning is not only a possibility, but a reality. Today, it is also a matter of choice for educators. Below is an example of how a digital classroom may harness digital learning:

I understand that it takes courage to shift behaviour, beliefs and paradigms. Nevertheless, it is time. Time to acknowledge that we are living in times of profound change and those changes affect education and approaches to learning. Digital tools do not replace traditional knowledge – it is the approach, the enhancement of what learners already know and practice and developing their skills further. For example, if before students spent hours searching for a reference in a library, today they can often  find that information online. What they need to know, is how. If in the past students glued images to their projects  which were then posted on the classroom walls, today there is a wealth of digital tools for image editing and digital posters can be shared beyond their classroom walls, commented by others and perhaps even the beginning of dialogues which transcend borders and boundaries.

Distributed knowledge is fluid. And through its fluid characteristics, dynamic. The sociotechnical context of our world is altering traditional practices and if educators are not part of that change, they will be left behind in a world which has no place for them.

References:

An Introduction to Connective Knowledge – Stephen Downes

An Introduction to Curriculum Research and Development – Stenhouse, L. (1991)

Connected Learning

Design Your Digital Classroom  - Susan Oxnevad

Knowledge, Ideology and Discourse – Dant, T (1991)

Liberal Arts in the Digital Age: Teaching Technology as a Language – Sara Rasmussen

Network theories for technology-enabled learning and social change: Connectivism and Actor Network theory – Francis Bell

 Role of Tech vs The Purpose of Education - Lyndsay Grant

Teaching as a Subversive Activity – Postman, N. & C. Weingartner (1975)

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12 thoughts on “Finding Meaning in Paradigm Shifts

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  3. Hi Uzma, thank you for sharing your thoughts. Yes, that is a very valid question but one needs to consider the context first. I usually begin by giving students a framework and go through with them how to use a certain tool. Most of the times their tasks are personalized and I give them deadlines as well. For example, they will be working on a task and I am there for questions; then they have a deadline to complete the task and to embed it in their blogs (which they use as their own E-portfolio).

    I’ve been asked this before and have heard other teachers complain that students don’t work because they go on to Facebook etc. If the task is engaging enough, if the task is meaningful to students, they will focus and won’t be checking private emails etc. I’ve never had any problem at all – quite the contrary, students forget about their break-time and enjoy seeing their achievement.

    Tasks need to be designed and appropriate for the learners and in tune with the topics they are studying.

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