Blurred Boundaries

Mary, Mary, quite contrary,

How does your garden grow?

With a tool here, and a tool there,

And pretty  iPads all in a row”

If I were to change again the well known nursery rhyme, I would surely ask  how do  my learners learn?  Yet, when thinking of learning, what exactly is one referring to? What is considered knowledge?

Up to recently, knowledge was controlled and shaped by those in power – mostly by  university professors, journal editors, publishers and book reviewers. I say ” up to recently” because in postmodernism, knowledge is characterized

culturally and intellectually by a revolt against this control and by an assertion of different modes of cultural expression” (Pring, 2000).

Pring (2000) goes on to explain how this shift was caused by communications technology and how it frees one from restrictive practices. Additionally,  “Communications technology opens up other avenues for engaging with others in pursuit of knowledge” (Pring, 2000) thus providing alternative venues for learning.

This is relevant to bear in mind when reflecting on learning and learning processes today. Our postmodern world is characteristically eclectic, a constant flow of negotiation and re-negotiation of meaning, of understanding, of interpretation. It is through this process of of interaction that knowledge grows, and once again turning to Pring (2000), “Knowledge grows through the encouragement of of criticism, not through suppression” (123:2000).

As an educator I experience the blurred boundaries of learning and teaching; I am expected to provide knowledge of a particular subject, while at the same time, teach my students how to engage  and use specific digital technology. And this is the crux of the matter – whatever digital tools I may introduce in lessons are vehicles of learning, not only the tool itself. The digital tools I select serve both learning the subject matter as well as life-long skills. My boundaries blur as I daily consider appropriate pedagogy, content and digital technology.

I sometimes hear that students don’t need to blog, for instance, don’t need to use digital technology, that students will learn without tech, that learning how to use digital tech in the classroom is unimportant -  despite their lives being surrounded by digital technology. I often hear how students learnt in the past without the digital tools available today. And I question, for today is not the past. Education holds the  strands of the past with the stands of today,  providing knowledge and skills  for the future. If one is to engage students, then it should be with pedagogy which is appropriate for today and not only for the past.

In previous posts I mentioned iPads and elements of chaos. Change will often bring about elements of chaos and complexity. These changes affect all in education, especially when engaging with digital tech, as more than the 3 elements I mentioned above (pedagogy, content and technology), are involved. Precisely because of what tech enables us today, to be connected to others,  to openly exchange and pursue knowledge, this “Connectedness requires a distributed knowledge system; knowledge is not centrally located in a command and control centre; ” (Morrison, 2006). Possibly, it is this deep change of paradigm that provokes the concept of “disruption” in education. Personally, it is this element of connectedness which I feel lacking in my teaching practices.

On the one hand, I am in tune with a postmodern pedagogy; I am fully able in the field of content and a keen learner of digital tech (see CristinaSkyBox and Digital Delights for Learners as examples). I believe that literacy is not static and therefore teaching and engaging in digital literacies is fundamental today for the workforce of tomorrow. However, owing to my educational and cultural context (furthermore, cultural contexts should never be taken lightly nor underestimated), elements of connectedness are missing.

Yes, my learners engage by learning and creating with digital tools – both online tools and iPad apps. (Digital tools may not mandatory for learning but denying learners to access and use them is a breach in the purpose of education.)  There are many which may be adapted according to students’ needs, contexts, and content while  there is a wide choice to meet teachers’ teaching style.

Connecting. Connectedness. Connectivism. If literacy should not be regarded as static, then how can knowledge be accepted as static? It is precisely through connections that new ideas evolve, that creativity is fostered and new knowledge develops into something more tangible.

Perhaps it is time to stop focusing on lists of tools and apps. Perhaps it is time to focus instead on the transferable skills that these digital technologies enable and what is necessary to learn in order to use them.

Perhaps, it is time to live more comfortably, more at ease with the messy chaos of learning, accepting that knowledge has no centre, that knowledge is alive and constantly changing. And perhaps, that is what educators need to enable today in classrooms – a connection between content and skills (e.g. how to do research online, how to collaborate on projects online), bringing  more connectedness to classrooms, opening up windows of thought and collaboration to a generation living in a digitally connected world.

References and further reading:

Hall, I., 2012, Tools Are Just That

Mishra, P. & M.J. Koelher, 2006, Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A Framework for Teacher Knowledge

Morrison, K., 2006, Complex Theory and Education

Pring, R. 2000, Philosophy of Educational Research, Continuum, London-New York

Siemens, G., 2005, Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

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4 thoughts on “Blurred Boundaries

  1. Pingback: Blurred Boundaries | Connectivism in Open and Online Learning | Scoop.it

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