Feels like we only go backwards – The need for a new pedagogy in HE #1

‘Education is an illusion if it simply disseminates information’ (Garrison & Anderson 2003)

There is a common mantra in education which argues ‘pedagogy before technology’.  This is where the reason for using the technology is underpinned by pedagogical approaches to learning, teaching and assessment. This has often been interpreted as a way of developing new approaches to the existing pedagogy, where the technology has been used to simply replicate the didactic, broadcast modes of learning common in most institutions, as opposed to challenging the need for a new pedagogy.  A pedagogy that embeds the new skills of learners in collaboration, content making, remixing and repurposing, social interaction, identity and sharing into a curriculum that encourages social interaction, supports the development of networks through social media, broadens the community of practice to include a set of connections and promotes and generates inter and trans-disciplinary thought and ideas.  As far back as 2001, John Seeley Brown noted;

 ‘Learning is a remarkably social process. In truth, it occurs not as a response to teaching, but rather as a result of a social framework that fosters learning. To succeed in our struggle to build technology and new media to support learning, we must move far beyond the traditional view of teaching as delivery of information.’ (Brown 2001)’ 

 Brown, J.S. 2001, ‘Learning in the digital age’, The Internet and the university: 2001 Forum, eds M. Devlin, R. Larson & J. Meyerson, EDUCAUSE, Boulder, CO, pp. 71-86.

 

Over the next few weeks on this blog I am going to offer you my perspectives on this new pedagogy.  For many of the reasons already well explored in the press and the blogsphere and for a significant number of other reasons not touched upon, higher education is at a critical juncture.  This juncture, whilst not one spelling the immediate doom-laden end of the world as know it, is almost certainly constructed from elements of a perfect storm.  A financial crisis placing severe and not-unpopular pressure on funding, rampant conservatism even from left-wing governments, technology reaching a point of saturation and ubiquity that makes its use in education expected and almost seamless and two-tier university system that has empowered the market leaders with enough clout and know-how to eliminate the competition in an entirely un-collegial way.


 

And it was like talking to a stranger… In defense of social interaction

One of the consequences of the overhyping of MOOCs has been an increased public interest in peer-led learning and peer assessment.  The obsessive interest in the numbers engaged in MOOCs (thousands enroll!  650 messages in a day!! 4650 blog posts this week!!!) places the emphasis on the quantity of interaction against the quality of learning that is occurring through that interaction.  Many MOOCs use the methodology that asks learners to post something to a forum and through the magic of comment aggregate other people interested enough to read and contribute together.  The result is a long trail of posts on a discussion forum that are neither social nor interactive but more like a presentation to a room where almost everyone is asleep.  This seems like all we have done is move the broadcast model from ‘lecturer to learner’ over to ‘learner-learner’ because we can’t find a pedagogical model economic enough to deal with the MASSIVE part of the acronym.

 

‘We need to fuel that evolution by developing the assessment tools that will support higher-order learning on a massive scale—we need to put technologies to work to support self, peer, and expert evaluations, to provide expert feedback in a fraction of the time currently required’

MoocDonalds: Are MOOCs Fast Food? By Kyle Peck | Professor of Education, Penn State University http://www.evolllution.com/opinions/moocdonalds-are-moocs-fast-food/

 

Social interaction is a complex beast.  Emotions, attitudes, personality, identity, meaning, authenticity and emerging senses of realness all play into constructing our approaches to social interaction.  Each different social media platform that emerges changes some or all of these bases.  Facebook widened our networks and reached out to people who in the past time may have forgotten (or at least temporarily until the next high school reunion).  Twitter made connection management more manageable by limiting the scope and duration of the social interaction to 140 characters.  Google analytics has made the study of numbers accessible to any blog owner as they check the length of engagement with their content daily.  But as with the MOOC, numbers seem outrank the quality of the engagement.

 

One of the issues that arise for me with the MOOC model of peer interaction is the initial assumption that all interactions are equal and that all those who interact are the same.  Sure, contexts vary and the time given to the programme is also variable.  However, social interaction is not always conducted amongst equals – people play different roles in the group.  Cross and Prusak (2002) looked at the formation of informal communities within organisations and argued that one of the critical aspects of a successful community was the ability to share knowledge between people as opposed to knowledge simply originating from sources.  They defined four roles within these communities; central connector, peripheral specialist, boundary spanner and information broker.  Whilst these roles primarily represent modes of organisational interaction, they have been utilised in a number of studies to categorise and explain the behaviours and practices of social interaction, social networking and personal interaction in informal settings, and support the basis of effective social networking and engagement engaging with experiences.

 

A focus on metrics, whether this is completion rates, measures of time spent on the website or hits to a youtube lecture, ignores the critical notion of learning.  Simply digesting information from someone else, whether it is open, remixed, funky or interesting is still that – digested information.  Tapscott and Williams (2010) argue that collaborative learning and collaborative knowledge production represent the necessary future of modern higher education. A fully integrated web 2.0 approach linked with a pedagogy that is designed to fully utilise the benefits of social construction and collaboration requires significant change to both the practice of teaching and the practice of learning.

 

Simply asking learners to digest material and then post about it, often in isolation and asynchronously disconnected from their peers doesn’t support the sharing of context.  So much of the interaction in online programmes seems to be predicated on forcing communication without listening or interaction.  It also does ask the learner to reveal much of themselves, challenge their perceptions or learn from someone other than the disassociated academic, represented here often as a talking head and not much else.  The temptation then becomes to focus on the medium and not the message.  It is common to see discussions about the platform, the course or the concept of a MOOC (what I call the #metamooc – hashtag it!) to be one of the few topics that engage people in actual social interaction.

 

Social interaction within a programme needs to be authentic and resonant.  This matters whether the programme is virtual or face-to-face.  The role of the academic is critical.  They help create the conditions under which engagement can occur.  They also help create the environment in which interaction leads to learning.  In a MOOC world, this role is disconnected from the Massive because there is no recognised pedagogy that can economically connect it.  Aside from the obvious assertions of developing a better understanding of interaction in order to facilitate it, there are four things that I believe can enhance the impact and practice of social interaction in education.  This isn’t a how-to list nor are they exclusive, because I know there are other things that make social interaction work.

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Authentic

  • That the interaction represents something believable.
  • That the interaction means something
  • That the interaction is not forced

Real

  • That the interaction is comparative to other relationships
  • That the interaction is rooted in practice
  • That the interaction replicates, challenges or re-purposes how we interact with others

Mutual

  • That the interaction is recognised and responded to
  • That trust occurs within the interaction
  • That learning occurs through interaction

Resonant

  • That the interaction goes deeper than superficial
  • That the interaction has lasting impact
  • That the interaction affects the way we learn and what we learn

 

Like I said above, I won’t argue that this list is the panacea to solving the age old problems of on-line interaction in education.  I will argue that simple measures of performance such as clicks and analytics and metrics only help to measure the MASSIVE aspects of a MOOC, and that this element is not pedagogical in nature.  It is a measure of economic feasibility and success.  The OPEN aspect has already been corrupted to mean free from cost not from copyright.  All that really leaves as pedagogical is the mode (ONLINE) and the concept (COURSE).  And these elements are at the mercy of the financial reality created by the MO bit.

 

(Cross, R., & Prusak, L. (2002). The people who make organizations go-or stop. Harvard Business Review, 80(6), 104-112).

 

‘I can’t count the reasons I should stay, one by one they all just fade away’ – The power of community in higher education and work

The idea of a community, the spirit and goodwill it can create, the passions and arguments it invariably engenders and the potential for learning within one has been a passion of mine since I was a youthful, brown-eyed teenager running discos and band events for my peers at school.  At all stages of my career, I can point to where my practice has intersected with communities, either as part of one or linking to others.  It is the common thread that links my personal to professional life and has driven my daily activity for over two decades.

 

When I worked for one of Australia’s largest book chains in the 80s and 90s, I led a project to create communities of science-fiction and fantasy readers, many isolated by distance and context, where the store and a very primitive on-line and mail network became a hub got people to share opinions and passions.   I was involved in community media for over ten years as a producer and board member, which highlighted some of the difficulties that can arise from community building, however on the other hand, demonstrated the absolute power of being part of something that can change the wider community or its members and make things better.  This sense of community, of belonging, of interaction, collaboration and shared differences (and perhaps indifferences) has influenced my opinions and attitudes towards open access, creative commons, social media, learning and teaching and politics.  It is from these experiences that I have come to passionately believe that communities (or networks or group, or whatever you choose to call this collective of people) are one of the most powerful forces for learning, social interaction and emancipation.  Belonging, shared beliefs and practices, and a sense of ownership are emotional and personal tie lines, connecting us to others, both similar and different.

 

Prior to moving to the UK three years ago, I worked for a large public further education institute called TAFE NSW, located in the south-west of Sydney, Australia.  Within my department, the notion of a community underpinned both the way we worked and the way we engaged with our learners.  Within the department, I was lucky enough to work with one of the most amazing group of teachers I have had ever had the privilege to know. They were passionate about learning and teaching.  They never assumed the learners were incapable of learning, whatever level they were at.  They were open to experimentation and innovation.  They worked with each other, not against each other, sharing resources and ideas, coming to team meetings.  Everyone was part of the family and everyone worked towards making the community stronger.  It is a great example of how work practice was enhanced by community.  Work was collaborative.   Load and responsibility were shared.  People passionately argued for what they believed.  There was conflict, but it was generally constructive and creative, borne out of shared belief in the brand and the work we were doing.  This was often despite an organisation that more than often did not support them, reward them or value them.  The department met and exceeded targets, kept to budget and improved student outcomes.

 

A community of practitioners learns from each other, respects each other and draws on the expertise and experience of other networks and communities, developing links beyond the fuzzy boundaries of their own community.  All the members of this team have now spread themselves to the four winds (three different countries at least).  But the community still exists. It’s bigger, it’s influence different and it’s resonance more wide-ranging.  It has evolved.  This is what happens with communities, new members and new contexts ensure the community survives and changes.   It is another transdisciplinary skill critical to maintaining and keeping connections within and between communities.

 

The notion of community is not a new concept, social movement theory has linked community to the emancipation and democratic participation of individuals in society (Diani 1992; McAdam, McCarthy & Zald 1988; Pateman 1970).  Lave and Wenger (1991) have talked about the idea of communities of practice, where learning occurs through action and practice within a community.  John Seely Brown (2001) in a very interesting evaluation of ‘Learning in the Digital Age’ argues that ‘Learning is a remarkably social process. In truth, it occurs not as a response to teaching, but rather as a result of a social framework that fosters learning…it’s through participation in communities that deep learning occurs…by coming to inhabit the relevant community, they get to know not just the “standard” answers, but the real questions, sensibilities, and aesthetics, and why they matter’. (Brown 2001).  Writers such Kamenetz (2010) and Siemens and Weller (2011) argue that one of the fundamental processes of learning is social interaction and socialisation, which can occur within communities supported or enabled by social media. McMillan and Chavis (1986) in their landmark work on community, position the notions of understanding and acceptance as central to a community often formed by the creation of boundaries defining rather than celebrating difference.

The development of communities should be a fundamental part of modern higher education.  It should sit within the process of curriculum design, learning and teaching, assessment and lifelong learning.  Teaching that is dominated by monologues such as a lecture, the use of technology that replicates the existing individual approaches to learning (such as the way a VLE is often used (Hanley 2011)) and the continued reliance on an assessment system that requires and privileges an assertion of individual understanding is not modern learning. It is memory, it is absorption and it is repetition; it is not application, use, social contextualisation and collaboration.  We often demonise collaboration and call it collusion, punished punitively or call it failed group work, where politics and personalities overrun learning.  At TAFE, our work with students occurred broadly within a restrictive administration and curricular system, with formal exams and nationally set and monitored curriculum and quality enhancement.  Despite this, much of our work with students was collaborative, using methods such as project based inquiry, simulations, case studies, work-based learning and student-led learning (for more, you can read this paper).  We tried to find ways to link the learners across disciplines, with marketers working with events management students and radio people collaborating with musicians and marketers.  It is in these spaces between disciplines that innovations and creativity will emerge.  We clearly saw in a number of projects we ran examples of where students learnt from each other, developed understanding through practice and did so with minimal intervention from the teachers.  These are powerful and resonant ways to learn (and a topic for another blog!) (Brown 2001; Nicolescu 1997).

 

When people enter the world of work, they will need to engage in socialisation, collaboration, team work and sharing, no matter what the context.  When they change jobs, new job opportunities will arise from within their community or because of their interactions with other communities. These communities won’t exist through old students clubs or reunions; they will be virtual, connected across and through platforms.  They will be lasting and agile, drawing on new members and connecting with others, without boundaries and managed intuitively.  Engagement may be more widespread and infrequent, as consumption in modern communities sometimes wins over interaction (how many people read your Facebook status vs. commenting on it…or read vs. comment on this blog!).  The technology supports the on-going viability of these communities, keeping them alive when in the past time would have seem them fracture.  However, it is a new range of skills that people bring to communities that make them functional and productive.  Brown notes that these are an ‘…ever-evolving language of interpretation and expression, an interactive approach to learning, creating, and responding to information through a complex montage of images, sound, and communication’ (Brown 2001).  Some of the current modes of teaching and learning are not fit for a new purpose; they are part of the toolkit, not the whole box and dice.  By themselves, at best, they only passively support the learner to acquire and the transdisciplinary skills required to make and develop their community.

 

My alum from my undergraduate days is still connected through Facebook, some of us a little greyer or balder.  Some of them are my closest friends, sharing outings, debate, monopoly and art.  These connections are strong and important, both emotionally and personally.  In some ways this community formed despite our education, which was didactic, non-interactive and individualistic.  We learnt these skills ourselves, as millions of other learners have over centuries past.  Perhaps we were lucky. But imagine the possibility if all of higher education supported as part of the broad church of education, this kind of skill development, collaborative knowledge creation and social interaction.  Imagine if every learner ‘left’ their degree with a community that they were an active and engaged member of and had the skills to form and lead other communities, linking each together where appropriate. If those communities then informed and created the curriculum that the next generation engaged with and were a part of the learning process not just for each other but for successive communities.

This blog post is dedicated to the memory of the wonderful Cathy Lee.  A valued and loved member of our community. You are missed.  

 

Brown, J.S. 2001, ‘Learning in the digital age’, The  Internet and the university: 2001 Forum, eds M. Devlin, R. Larson & J. Meyerson, EDUCAUSE, Boulder, CO, pp. 71-86.

Diani, M. 1992, ‘The concept of social movement’, The Sociological Review, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 1-25.

Hanley, L. 2011, ‘Mashing Up the Institution: Teacher as Bricoleur’, The Radical Teacher, no. 90, pp. 9-14.

Kamenetz, A. 2010, DIY U: Edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education, Chelsea Green Publishing.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. 1991, Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation, Cambridge Univ Pr.

McAdam, D., McCarthy, J. & Zald, M. 1988, ‘Social movements’, in D. McAdam, McCarthy, J., Zald, M. & Smelser, N (ed.), Handbook of sociology, Sage Publications, pp. 695-737.

McMillan, D.W. & Chavis, D.M. 1986, ‘Sense of community: A definition and theory’, Journal of community psychology, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 6-23.

Nicolescu, B. 1997, ‘The transdisciplinary evolution of the university condition for sustainable development’, International Congress – Universities’ Responsibilities to Society, International Association of Universities, Chulalongkorn University, Bankok, Thailand., viewed 2nd May 2012 <http://basarab.nicolescu.perso.sfr.fr/ciret/bulletin/b12/b12c8.htm>.

Pateman, C. 1970, Participation and democratic theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Siemens, G. & Weller, M. 2011, ‘Higher education and the promises and perils of social network’, Revista de Universidad y Sociedad del Conocimiento (RUSC), vol. 8, no. 1, pp. 164-170.

 

Making connections: Using your flickr more effectively to build networks

Flickr (and other photo sharing applications such as Facebook) are very interesting examples of web 2.0 interaction.  Pictures are quite emotive, interesting and personal, but can be equally creative, informative, descriptive or simply abstract. Web 2.0 is built on the concept of user generated content, where the people who populate and use the site are the people who make content.  Sure, we can discuss issues of copyright and ownership, which are important and shouldn’t be ignored in the way I am just about to!  But, what I would like to focus on with this post is the notion of connections, and the roles we play to facilitate and support the connection between audience and maker, between producer and consumer and between us and other people 

Flickr represents the simplest way to transition from being a consumer of culture to a producer of it (a process that has been called prosuming, where the same person can participate in the production and consumption of arts and culture, facilitated in part by the interactivity and engagement of web 2.0 technology- for more info see http://www.freepress.net/files/CommunityMedia_ProsumerEra.pdf, which is a great article written by Ellie Rennie).  We as a logged in user of Flickr can browse other peoples photos, we can search for images that have tagged or given a title, we can share those pictures with our friends or contacts, and in some cases we can use those pictures for our creative and generally non-profit purposes (note: some pictures have all rights reserved meaning, look but do not touch).  However, we can do something as a user.  We can upload our own creative content and allow others to consume it in the way we consume.  We can go back as many times as we want to the content we like, we can make certain pictures favourites, but equally other can become ‘fans’ of our work and do the same.    

So, how does flickr link creators and ‘fans’?  If you just upload your own photos on flickr, sharing them with others, tagging them with labels that help people find them and then letting your friends and colleagues know that the flickr photo stream is available and running, then flickr serves the same purpose as say Facebook in terms of photo sharing. flickr can offer the user/producer a lot more however.  It allows you to post your photos to albums of shared interest and content.  It allows you to comment on people’s photography, whether this is the image, the technique, the subject or simply to make contact and say what you think. After you have made contact with people through being in the same group, sharing their work or even having a conversation with them through commenting, you can make them your friend and share their new uploads.

A really interesting example of this occurred on a street art project from Sydney.  A mural artist decided to take an anti-burqa stance in a wall mural in Sydney last year.  An artist using her own artistic medium of posters responded to the work, which she then took a photo of and posted to flickr.  What resulted was a dialogue between users of flickr (including myself) about the controversy, the area the work was exhibited and the whole issue generally.  Blog content was linked and a conversation established between an artist and her ‘fans’. 

See http://www.flickr.com/photos/glendaglitagrrl/5329264335/

How did I spot this part of art from amongst the millions of photos?  It was a street art group that aggregates or collects photos of street art in a particular suburb in Sydney (where I used to love).  I comment regularly on other peoples pictures, whilst also adding pictures of my own (when I get to go home to take them!).  I spotted the picture of the work in the group’s photo album having been recently added.  Aside from the benefit of interacting with artists, I had an immediate and sustained interest in my photos, jumping from 10 views a day to 150 views a day.  

Like most web 2.0 applications, flickr relies on the sharing of user generated content, interaction between users and a commitment to maintain that contact, perhaps using mediums other than flickr (such as a twitter feed or through a blog) in order to be an effective tool of networking.  So, if people don’t engage by sharing content, commenting on content or aggregating their content in groups, then no-one will see the content.  If a tree falls…

So, search some groups that might be related to the pictures you have posted and post some of your photos to that group. Look at other peoples photos and make some comments on their work. Perhaps blog some of the groups you have found on flickr.  Here are some interesting flickr groups I just found that you might wish to have a look at, or share your photos on…

http://www.flickr.com/groups/londontheatrebreaks/

http://www.flickr.com/groups/stagestruck/

http://www.flickr.com/groups/practice/

http://www.flickr.com/groups/just_dance/

A final suggestion might be to embed your flickr photo stream into your blog. How you do this varies from blog site. However, there is a simple how-to guide located here http://www.flickr.com/help/blogging/

And to complete the circle, here is my flickr photstream, which you may find of interest.  Be warned, it does contain strong language and adult themes, and is not suited to people under the age of 18…street art can be a rude and politically charged medium to work in J