Blended Interactions – BlendKit2014

Roush images via photopin cc

One main questions which called my attention during the 2nd week of BlendKit2014 was,

Is there value in student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction in all courses regardless of discipline?

I think that there always needs to be some form of interaction among students as well as between students and instructor. Just because part of the course happens to take place online, does not mean (to me) that the instructor “disappears”, letting attached content and required readings take his/her place.  The challenge is to find an appropriate balance in the scaffolding – too much, the instructor may become a “helicopter teacher”, preventing learners to explore on their own. On the other hand, too little may leave even the most motivated student feel lost/disengaged within a course.

Whether a course is wholly based on distance learning or whether it is blended, it should have the following:

* Clear instructions and expectations

* Supporting reference materials

* A suggestion of tools which enable synchronous conferencing/communication

* A project/s in which participants contribute to

It is in the last area, which contributes to community building among participants, that a great part of the interaction may occur. It is also where the interaction among learners, instructor and content may take place. In other words, it is in the building of a learning community where there is interaction among participants that learning may take place. Rather than focusing on the technology (i.e. be it a moodle or wiki or blog), there needs to be a space where ideas and discussions may engage and connect the participants on a course. Learning is the focus and purpose – not the technology. However, the choice of technology should be user-friendly for students, especially those who are beginning to learn online, whether on a blended or full-time distance course. Hence, clear instructions, not only for tasks and expectations, but also on how to use the technology should be provided.

Some projects may be individual or designed for pairs/small groups.

For individual tasks, students should be encouraged to give feedback, and adding what they think would further enrich the task; peer evaluation should be encouraged.

Fink, (2003) points out how  active learning through debates, simulations, guided design, small group problem solving,
case studies, help to involve the learner.  Active learning also includes reflection and dialogue, the space where learners, instructor and content meet; i.e. the learning community which is enabled with technology, is where these learning reflections and dialogue take place. 

Lastly, blended also includes a blend of learning spaces;  there should be spaces which are private for learning and students’ communities (just as off-line) and public spaces, where informal learning takes place.  Below is an example of the varied environments may occur (Milne).

However, it is important to bear in mind that as so much keeps changing in the online world,  virtual spaces  too will change depending on participants’ choices, course objectives and how participants wish to build their learning community (i.e. references in the image below may not be so popular today as there are other virtual spaces to communicate and create communities).

References:

Fink., L.D., 2003, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning

Lavin, R. et al, Engagement and Communication 

MIlne, A., Designing Blended Learning Space to the Student Experience

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The Question of When

In a thought provoking post, George Couros raises the question of “What if…?” – timely questions for all educators and educational managers. My question is when?

When will educators make the effort to be fearless?

When will educators make the effort to connect with others without judgement but sharing resources, ideas, visions, trials, errors and successes?

When will educators accept that today’s learners do have digital lives, even if they may not be familiar with how to use digital technology for learning and so need to learn how to make the best use of digital tech for their academic lives and futures unknown?

When will educators, who often have digital resources at the tips of their fingers, be brave enough to accept that making mistakes, asking for help, failing, is all part of learning and that they too are learners?

When will educators realize that it is through networks and connections that ideas thrive, and new forms of knowledge may develop?

caras-7When will educators acknowledge that their world is open, if only they let it be and that professional development/training is an on-going conversation and not an end in itself?

When will educators accept that without their passion, without their individual efforts, without their positive, constructive action towards change, not much may make a difference in their practices?

However, change WILL happen. With, or without them.

Change is challenging, change may even be painful. But life IS all about change. Holding on to educational paradigms which were designed for the Industrial Age will simply no longer work. Classrooms of disengaged learners, longing to get back online, where there is interaction and engagement, is heart wrenching for all involved in classrooms. Bringing the world of digital spaces and digital learning  to the world of learning is necessary.

A change of perspective is urgent. And the first step is for teachers themselves to get involved. Regardless of how many training sessions teachers must attend, if they are not involved in connecting, in participating in a networked world, if they are not active in the giving and sharing, then many of those training sessions will have little positive outcomes. I am not making a case that Social Media is the only way to learn – by no means. I am making the case that yes, participating in Social Media is one way for teachers to keep themselves updated and involved in the process of changeS that are happening all around.

Learning is not about leading.

Learning is about the will to participate, the will to negotiate meaning, the will to implement the necessary changes for one’s changing context. Learning how to make sense of one’s changing, global, networked world requires elements of fearlessness.

 

When… ?

the connection - Seth Godin

Further references:

Bryant, P., 2013, The Logical Impossibility of Status Quo: Six Disconnects that Demand a Digital Pedagogy

Couros, G., 2013, What if… ? 

Downes, S., 2008, Seven Habits of Highly Connected People

Downes, S. 2013, Strive Less, Share More

 

A Stream of Voices

One of the characteristics of Web2.0 has been  the possibility for individuals to participate actively in the dissemination of knowledge  and in the process,  become part of the collective knowledge which so often is shared in social networks.

My ventures into social networking probably are similar to many others: in order to keep professionally up-to-date, I was part of mailing lists, subscribed to associations which interested me, and book-marked sites to re-visit. Today my practices have changed and my social/professional digital networking is an integral part of my daily routines.

When becoming a more active participant on Twitter, for instance, I knew that I wanted to use Twitter as a learning tool and therefore began following educators who I had learnt from previously, for example, through their blogs or other publications. Slowly my network grew, I have met other educators and participants from different fields which I am interested in, and today I am grateful for all the selected up-dates and information that is shared by my PLN. If initially I step-toed with a strategy and wish to learn, today I realize that being a participant in a social network such as Twitter (for example) is much richer than only the exchange of information.

These digital networks have different characteristics: on the one hand, information and connections are made without direct economic interests. On the other hand, there is the need to maintain a professional reputation and with that, there is certainly a certain dimension of egocentricity. Having said that, one should regard that last aspect as part of human nature. For instance, in many F-2-F meetings participants will speak up not because they have anything worthy or of interest to add to the discussion at hand, but to be recognised by their peers as someone whose voice should be heard.

Despite the differences between communities and networks (see Nicky Hockly’s clear explanation here), these spaces of interaction have become active learning environments. Whether the exchange of information/data may be transformed into knowledge for the participant, is another issue, but one that occurs equally in more traditional learning environments. With the rise of social media, one is given more choices as well. One may log on to find out what is going on in one’s world, one becomes an evaluator (i.e. is the information true? is it relevant?) and one has the power to express one’s voice.

My focus up to now has been digital networks. Obviously there are others – family, friends, colleagues and those who one interacts on a daily basis. There are formal and informal networks; often it is over an informal cup of coffee that peers in an organization exchange information (the waterhole phenomenon) and that too has its role in the flow of information in an organization. One of the issues raised for this blog entry, was the role of knowledge, networks and organizations, which I will now turn my focus to.

As an educator who works for institutions, there is no doubt that any materials I create for assessment or teaching purposes will belong to the institution. That has always been my attitude. If I am part of an examination committee, for instance, I consider it professionally unethical to use the same exams in another institution. The same applies to didactic materials,  with the emphasis that I regard each class of learners as an individual culture with its own needs and interests, therefore, transferring didactic materials to another educational institution does not make sense to me. However, when it comes to knowing and knowledge, the issue is quite different.

I have always covered my own personal expenses for professional training. As a blogger, as a participant in social networks, and as a curator, those products and activities  are mine and do not belong to the institution. Should wish to share (and I always have), that is different. In other words, organizations do not hold possession of one’s professional development nor knowledge. Should I wish to share what I create, publish what I write, have my ideas developed even by other teams if I cannot myself carry them out, then that is my decision and responsibility – not the organization where I work, as long as the ideas are mine and do not belong to the institution.

There are boundaries in networks. I may have my immediate professional network of colleagues and peers as one circle and at the same time, participate as an active member in other networks and online communities without harming or disrespecting any of the other circles I may interact with. In the end, knowledge may flow in streams of networks, but will always belong to the individual and not a particular organization unless he/she has a research contract that specifies otherwise.

On a lighter note, I created some visual representations of my Twitter activity, which I will share here:
http://www.vuvox.com/collage_express/collage.swf?collageID=0546b86530

Networks, communities and knowledge. A stream of voices, a cacophony of giving, receiving and perhaps even creating.

Participating is part of one’s digital identity.

 

Knowledge, Learning and Community: Elements of Effective Learning

View more PowerPoint from Stephen Downes
How do you navigate the streams of social networks?

 

References:

Green Eggs & Facebook: 15 Social Media Tips from Dr.  Seuss – Pam Moore

Knowledge, Learning and CommunityStephen Downes

N is for Nicky – Interview with Nicky Hockly on Communities, Networks, Infusion and more

The Myth of the Online Community – Mark W.Johnson

Who connects with whom? – Shen, C. and P.Monge

Metaphors of Collaborative Learning

I have tried  balancing my learning as others wanted and expected me to.

And I have often failed miserably.

Why?

Learning may be perceived as the acquisition of knowledge, as participation in a process, as creating knowledge and a progressive inquiry. (see Development of Learning Theories)  For me, it is not always simple to separate these models of learning. There is a place and time for each; each model taking on a different role and significance in the different stages of my learning process. It is with hindsight that I may later reflect, look back and attempt to pin-point what model of learning I was experiencing throughout a particular learning process.

Learning, like communication,  does not happen in a vacuum. It is socially conditioned and takes place in a specific time and context. There also needs to be shared points of references for one can only learn in regard to what one already knows. Going a step further, I also tend to regard all learning as relative at times – in the sense that what a learning experience may be for me, may not be regarded as a learning opportunity in the eyes of another. How I perceive an  optimal learning context too, may not be so fruitful for someone else, hence “learning” may possibly be regarded as having a certain degree of relativity if one wishes to pin-point the best model for learning.

Hindsight in learning as well as teaching, cannot be underestimated. Just as when Jackson (1968) states that:

“teaching is an opportunistic process. That is to say, neither the teacher nor his students can predict with any certainty exactly what will happen next. Plans are forever going awry and unexpected opportunities for the attainment of educational goal are constantly emerging.” (Jackson, 1968)

So too learning is full of the unexpected. Or at least, that is how I perceive the learning process at times. I have often maintained that learning is a slipping, sliding, gliding process, where things fall into place rather than be pre-programmed to fit into place. Again, I turn to Jackson who offers a similar metaphor for this process:

“(…) the path of educational progress more closely resembles the flight of a butterfly than the flight of a bullet.” (Jackson, 1968)

If  I wish to visualize the learning process, perhaps it is most authentically represented in a Jackson Pollock canvas – as Postman and Weingartner claim, ” a canvas whose colors increase in intensity as intellectual power grows (for learning is exponentially cumulative)”.(Postman & Weingartner 1975)

By no means do I wish to challenge nor disregard what researchers have established or expressed as learning models. Not at all. I myself have referred to these principles and models as well in the quest to understand this elusive process known as learning. (elusive because one cannot predict the exact moment of clarity and learning). When it does occur, again, it is with hindsight that one can look back and realize that like the high speed bubble, the moment has passed and one already “knows”, one has already “learnt”.

If I were asked which model of learning is most immediately significant to me today, without hesitation my reply would be collaborative learning. Learning for me does not make sense if it is merely a culmination of knowledge acquisition. Hence referring at the beginning of this post how I often failed “learning” which was repetitive, non-critical and non-participatory.

Learning is not, in my view, a hoarding of facts and figures. Learning implies outcomes of action-systems; learning is a change in perceptions.   If knowing is doing, then it is through collaborative learning (as as well as teaching and sharing) that my acquisition of knowledge makes the most sense. It is through collaborative learning – in the true sense of participating and  growing within the networks and communities to which I belong, that my learning takes most often place today.

It is through this perception of learning, of doing,  that I also engage students  in my classroom practices.

How do you perceive learning?

References:

Jackson, P.W., 1968, Life in Classrooms, Holt, Rinehart & Winston

Postman, N. & C. Weingartner, 1975, Teaching as a Subversive Activity,Penguin Education

Echoes of Social Learning

Often, when discussing learning, words such as “interaction”, “collaboration”, “sharing” pepper the discourse.  And of course, as any language teacher well knows, there is the regular “pair work” and “group work”. There is little pair work here. And up to now, no significant group work.  My dreaming weaves have  been silent, invisible. Or have they?

Does silence signify not learning?

In our days of constant chatter through media and our immediate social environments,  I do believe that there is a place for silent reflection when one is learning. This may not hold true for all, but certainly I need time to process information, thoughts and links.  True, I have been busy with my daily duties and tasks, have been reading, curating and sharing with others articles, web tools and platforms which I find interesting, useful and definitely creative.  I have also been attending workshops, a conference and am tentatively trying to catch up with a current MOOC.  Nevertheless,  within my momentary silences, I have also been wondering, questioning, learning.  Hence I  turn to a blank screen in order to seek a sense of possible balance between facts and fictions, links and hyperlinks.

One issue which has been circling in my mind is how communities of practice take place and evolve. Being active in classrooms and regarding each class as a culture on its own, CoPs are not necessarily a complete novelty to me as certain characteristics of CoPs tend to overflow into dimensions of classroom culture.  What is new (or rather, at this point, relatively new as CoPs are not a new concept nor practice in 2011), is how information is disseminated, codified and validated with the widespread use of media channels in contrast to a more “conservative” perspective of classroom culture. (Please note that when I refer to “conservative”, I refer to studies of classroom culture before the wide-spread of the internet and social media).

In CoP – Addressing workforce trends throgh new learning modelsEric Sauve explains that “CoPs are distributed groups of people who share a common concern, problem, mandate, or sense of purpose. They can be used to facilitate the informal knowledge transfer that drives leadership development, productivity, and innovation.”  It seems to me, that in today’s rich landscape of communication (Web 2.0 platforms, tools and the many options individuals have to join different communities and participate actively online and in the world), that this leaves few excuses for educators to sit back or lie in their shell, not participating, not adding to the flow of dialogue and on-going change. If educators themselves are not courageous enough to take the step forward and be active in an age of open learning and open resources for all, what skills will they be transfering to students? What learning practices will students acquire and adopt for their present and near future?

CoPs, in my view, are closely connected to social learning, even though social learning is not necessarily a “new” phenomena – people have always learnt socially. However, being able to connect, to share best practices, to raise issues and participate in open discussions is new through the tools and platforms now available. This process provides a dynamic synergy which wasn’t always possible before the advent of social media. Lucy Marcus portrays this connectiveness eloquently in her article What it Means Today to be “Connected”, when she states that “Connecting with people and innovative ideas is more important than ever.”

For it is not only the connection with others (i.e. one’s network or connections) but the flow and exchange of ideas which is essential for learning and change to take place.

There are issues which blur when reflecting on educational processes and learning. There are blurs between best practices  and engaging in social media. There are blurs between good teaching and attempting to cover up poor pedagogy with technology.

Attempting to question these areas are part of learning.

They are part of my learning.