Are those hearts strings connected? – the power of fleeting connections in a digital pedagogy

I am a huge fan of connectivity, both the learning theory and the practice of it embedded in and through higher education programmes. The ideas behind the seminal works of Stephen Downes and George Siemens (amongst others) resonate with me. I like the idea that social interaction and engagement doesn’t just enhance learning, but can change the way some people learn and more significantly, can bring others into the education tent who perhaps have struggled with the often incessant didacticism that pervades parts of the higher education experience. At the heart of it for me is that the connections forged are representations of trans-disciplinary skills that in themselves evolve over time as the level of knowledge and the contexts of learning shift.

 

Within my experiences of working with and later developing approaches to learning that embrace significant aspects of connectivism (see the work we are doing at the University of Greenwich http://blogs.ac.uk/greenwichconnect), what continues to dominate much of our research is the importance of the strength of the connections within and between networks. Words like ‘lasting’ or ‘resilient’ come up often in debates around around course design, and when we talk to the students words like ‘friends’ and ‘mates’ are used to describe their networks (actual or desired). Social media has changed our notions of what these words mean in the context of modern networks. Our networks are often larger and more tenuous than ‘traditional’ person to person networks. Social media allows connections to be dragged back into the social or professional whirl of now, where in the past they may have simply faded into misremembered memories (it is 25 years since I graduated high school and I am still adding former school mates to my Facebook). Equally, many social media networks allow you to nurture tenuous connections from random meetings like a seedling in fertile soil.

 

As academics we seek and are sometimes compelled to find data that proves (or validates) our activity. When it comes to connections and networks we get caught up in statistics around employability. The ability of the Ivy League or Russell Group universities to develop lasting networks that enhance the chances of finding a good job is well explored in both research and popular culture. I have seen a number of pedagogical approaches in institutions (that either directly or indirectly reference connectivism) seeking to replicate these connections in order to have a realisable and measureable outcome from which effort can be rationalised. But they are predicted on ways of keeping the network and connections ‘live’ for ever extending periods of time. Today, I want to make the case for the complimentary benefit of the fleeting connection within a social interaction and engagement led pedagogy.

‘Bauman (2003) has decreed this the era of ‘liquid love’, in which intimacy is commodified and meaningful relationships have been replaced by fleeting connections.’  Bauman, Z. (2003) Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Cambridge: Polity Press cited in Barraket, J., & Henry-Waring, M. (2006). Online dating and intimacy in a mobile world. In Sociology for a mobile world: proceedings of The Australian Sociological Association 2006 Conference (pp. 1-10). The Australian Sociological Association (TASA).

‘Siemens (2005) also suggests that weak ties, such as those exhibited by the participants in the online course community, are a valuable source of information within personal learning networks. Furthermore, he suggests that these tenuous or fleeting connections play an important role in prompting and supporting innovative practices as individuals are exposed to new ideas from beyond their familiar network of practice.’ Siemens (2005) cited in Mackey, J., & Evans, T. (2011). Interconnecting networks of practice for professional learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), 1-18.

 

What are fleeting connections?

• The person you meet at a party and have an intense 30 minute conversation with.
• The cool guy at the bar in the conference you just attended who watched your presentation and really liked it.
• The student you worked with for 20 minutes on a group exercise in class.
• The wallet full of business cards you collected.
• The person on the train who started talking to you on the way to Antwerp.
• The person who you were moved enough to praise for their video/photo/sounds on-line.
• The person sitting next to you on the plane that talks with you for six hours before you realise you have landed.
• The person who commented on your blog.
• The person who mentioned you on Follow Friday on Twitter.

 

They are often intense, meaningful, powerful, engaging and rich with opportunities for lasting and immediate learning (just not lasting in or of themselves). They are the long tail of connection-making, where 20% of our interactions are made up by 80% of our interactors. However, they are often the best stories, the most engaging memories or the perfect case studies. And for this, they rarely exist alone or in isolation. They are part of web of engagement constructed, maintained and reflected upon over time. Each fleeting connection adds to the web. And as is the way of the world today, each fleeting engagement seems to find formal and informal ways of connecting again to themselves (often facilitated by social media liked LinkedIn). These are perfect conditions for what Lewis, Pea and Rosen (2010) called ‘generative learning’;

 ‘Generative learning communities are expansive in three senses: they grow in range of participants, in degree of engagement by those contributing to the dynamic learning interactions of that community, and in expanding the knowledge created and harvested for use by that growing community. Such communities are generally informal with the goal of expanding upon public knowledge; are not rigidly confined by formal participation structures of interaction, but rather create their own informal communication patterns; they are interpretive, with an emphasis on dialog and multiple viewpoints; and they are expansive in terms of inclusion of people, ideas and topics.’ Lewis, S., Pea, R., & Rosen, J. (2010). Beyond participation to co-creation of meaning: mobile social media in generative learning communities. Social Science Information, 49(3), 351-369.

 

Way too much personal information #1

One my favourite movies of all time is ‘Before Sunset’, directed by Richard Linklater (1995). For those of you who have never heard of the story, it is a simple play told from the perspective of Jesse and Celine, two people who meet on a train, share a night of intense ‘connectivity’ in Vienna and then part promising to reunite. The whole film is a love letter to the notion of a fleeting connection (and its subsequent sequels explore the impact of that fleeting connection on these two people’s lives 20 years on). Now, this ain’t a movie review column, so let me get to the point. Aside from the ‘Sliding Doors’ notion of chance and decisions taken and not made etc, there is something intensely interesting to me about learning that occurs in unexpected or fleeting ways. I recently re-watched this movie and noticed how many specific aspects of my life were shaped by both the single moment of seeing this film for the first time (Hoyts George Street, Sydney) and the ongoing impact it had. I can point to the way I travel around Europe, the places I went to, the way I spend my day when I am on the road and the events that I remember to this day that are related to things I saw in that film (I spent a day in Vienna following in Jesse and Celine’s footsteps – we called it our ‘Stalking Richard Linklater’ day). The two characters in the film (but especially Jesse) work through issues in their own lives in the prism of this fleeting connection. Random moments of learning, insight or reflection that occur because of a connection that could never have been planned, organised or identified.

 

But as I noted in an earlier blog post ‘…lying at the heart of an educational experience is the ability to understand why something is authentic or real. Without that, we are left with a bunch of words sans context. Repeated, spoken but not contextualised or understood. Remembered, resourced but without meaning or resonance.’ These connections hang on to something, perhaps a mood or an emotion, authenticity, experience, attraction, chemistry, interest, motivation or engagement.

 

How do we harness fleeting connections in a higher education context? In that very question we have a number of critical assumptions that are key to any approach to developing a pedagogy that actions the skills of the digital age. However, I am going to approach only one of those questions in this blog post. Are we preparing learners for now or forever? Is there a more generative approach we can take to learning?

 

A new model of pedagogy – Remix, reuse, repurpose, participate

 ‘Many of these groups have training sessions to help young people figure out how to tell their stories more effectively, how to mobilize their personal experiences or stories that matter to them in ways that connect to real world issues, which hopefully move other people towards action. These are things that can be translated more broadly into the classroom. The more we teach the skills through the classroom, the more effectively young people are going to be in engaging in participatory politics.’ Henry Jenkins

 

Too much of our existing teaching and learning approaches are about locking things down, preventing people from making mistakes, avoiding ‘stranger danger’ and making the nanny state the default position and cotton wool the prêt a porter de rigueur. How about teaching people how to effectively use something, make that media/instrument better, invent the next creative iteration themselves and move society forward? There is a litany of media examples about new platforms/modes being invented and commercialised by people with no formal education and this is held up as a triumph, that by not studying they are somehow spared the brainwashing and automaton making practices of education. How did it come to this? We could speculate about the lack of impact of technology, the lack of experience of many academics with using the technology of their students or simply that there is a need perhaps for a new need pedagogy. All good debates. All contentious. All too big for this blog post (although there are a few older posts in my blog that have a good stab at them).

 

I have a simpler answer perhaps. We spend a lot of time teaching people how to do something now. We use technologies that help us to achieve these aims and provide the learner with an opportunity to demonstrate that they have learnt how to do something now. We give them cases that are in ‘the now’ or in some cases very much in the past in order to position knowledge in the wider historical discourse. And this is perfectly and amazingly effective. But it is not the whole of the pedagogical tool-shed. And it is becoming less and less of the case as technology makes product life cycles shorter and technological advances become more critical to on-going competitive success. Identifying the ‘things’ that underpin practice are critical to providing the skills to repurpose, remix and reuse them for a newer, brighter context. It is in the fleeting connections that you are exposed to the ‘something different’ that are these newer, brighter contexts.  They represent a sense of randomness, uniqueness and sometimes disquiet and discomfort that challenge the constructed reality of knowledge handed down through the generations that comes from sitting on the same hard seats in the lecture theatre as your forefathers. You get to see how people look at and do things in new ways. Our pedagogy should be built on the ability to adapt, change and innovate when the context shifts around us. Do we want learners who panic when something doesn’t fit the model we have laid out for them or do we want them to be agile enough to turn that model on its head, move G to F and find a way to do something no-one has thought of before?

 

Way too much personal information #2

My undergraduate degree is in marketing. I completed it in 1991, long before social media and internet marketing. The single most useless subject I did was called Marketing Decision Models. It was based on the work of Philip Kotler from the early 70s (and with a text out of print for 15 years when I did the course). Why was the subject useless? Because it tried to model behaviours (using economic modelling theory) that were not current when I did the subject. They were not adaptable because they were designed to be as accurate as possible in predicting measurable outcomes like sales or market share. Because they assumed that generally things like retail would be there forever, or that markets were constructed on local product distribution only or that products always had a physical form, they were not re-purposable for what has become entirely different contexts.  They are a history lesson at best (which has it’s purpose) and at worst represent a fictional account of the way marketing is done.  I have never been able to re-purpose or re-mix that information in 20 years of teaching marketing or in the decade or so I practised it.  What benefit then did I gain from the hours on that subject?  If I was to be critical, I would say very little.  To me, if teaching the principle of modelling, a new pedagogy would start with how you make a model, what are the key things you need to ensure a model does what it sets out to do.  You might then show some examples of models.  And then you make a model yourself.  Get groups to find contexts and make models.  Share then with each other, critique them and remix the whole thing up and you might just have invented a completely new solution to a problem.  However, the way it was taught was predicated on lasting connections, that sales was always a function of promotion spend times competitor spend over C (which was constant).

 

Co-incidentally, it was a fleeting connection I made during this subject that taught me that marketing is not a science but an understanding of people, and that making people being happy is at the core of good marketing (OK, he was a stoner and a hippy, and he photo-bombed one my graduation photos long before photo-bombing became an internet thing, but what the hey!). That short interaction across a few classes in a semester with a person whose name I have never been able to remember shaped much about how I approached my marketing career. It was not a ‘light bulb’ moment. It was a moment of pause that I needed to link all of what I had been thinking and analysing about marketing over three years, all the issues I had with abusive marketing practices and the like and come up with a model that worked for me.  And in that moment of pause, I saw models in a new way.  Sales wasn’t a number, it was a function of people doing something, thereby very difficult to model.  I didn’t get a high distinction is that subject (although I did get a credit which I suspect was a function of the fact that I was one of only 5 people who could get the textbook thanks to a marketing teacher father’s huge out of print library!)

 

Clearly life is not built on fleeting connections alone. We need resonance and depth and critical analysis that require sometimes forensic building and rebuilding. These deep connections are important.  A new pedagogy needs methods by which deep and lasting networks and connections can be formed.  Interaction and engagement across years with expertise and experience is critical to developing the participatory culture Jenkins sees. Fleeting and deep are not dichotomous but complementary.  Fleeting, momentary or brief connections happen all the time.  What is missing is two-fold.  Recognition of their importance, however major or marginal and secondly, a framework with which to understand and build on them.  Unless there is pedagogical imperative to embrace and understand the increasing complexities of fleeting connections, then we are robbing our learners of the very things that will extend the benefits of their learning for decades, even into jobs that didn’t exist before they started their studies.  Social media is an important tool in this process.  It is not the panacea or the magic button, but it makes the whole thing some much easier to facilitate.  A pedagogy that embeds social media at the core of its teaching and learning process is one that will engage the learners ability to make connections, lasting and fleeting.  But more importantly, will help them learn better by exposing them to ideas, contexts and opinions that are no theirs (our ours) alone.  We use that model every time we attend a conference or read a paper.  It might just work for the modern learner.

 

Say it out loud it’ll be okay : Action, activity and the chance to play

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I will find a way
To get to you some day.
Oh, but I, babe, I’m so afraid I’ll fall, yeah.
Now can’t you hear me call?

Shake some action’s what I need
To let me bust out at full speed.
I’m sure that’s all you need
To make it all right.

Shake some Action – Flamin’ Groovies

 

 

In my last blog post I argued that after decades of debate and proselytizing about e-learning we are still talking about it in terms of ‘potential’, like promising the arrival of Christmas and never really delivering, with higher education experiencing it’s own groundhog day – December 22nd over and over and over again, only hinting at the joys of a Christmas to come?

 

Of course it would be easy to promise a solution to that in the context of a short (ish) blog post. Also it would be very silly. However, in order to solve a problem there has to be an analysis of the root causes, otherwise we might be just treating the symptoms, leaving the gaping wound untouched. A strategic initiative for e-learning is nothing but a new coat of paint if it is not informed by an analytical approach to the stakeholders engaged and the environment in which it will operate and a belief in the need for agility and flexibility in the knowledge that tomorrow may be entirely different. One such root cause is what I call the action/activity conundrum.

 

ac•tion
/?akSH?n/
Noun
1. The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim

ac•tiv•i•ty
/ak?tivit?/
Noun
1. The condition in which things are happening or being done.

 

If we equate teaching and learning in HE to a balancing act, walking on a tightrope between two buildings in a gale then we can start to see the difference between these two concepts. In this analogy, activity is what is keeps you there on the wire, hands flat, arms out, small wiggles from side to side to maintain balance and well, to be blunt, whatever you can do to not fall off. Actions are the movements that take you forward, step by step until you get to the other side. You can’t stay balanced up there forever. Activity is not enough.

 

Is e-learning caught in the glare and sway of simply being an activity? Whether that be in the guise of using technology as a replacement for instruments that reside in an aging and some would argue increasingly irrelevant pedagogy or as lip service to yet another university initiative that you value as equally as the one on employability, the one on sustainability and the one that makes sure your logo uses the right cerise colour. Activity can be seen as a form of passive resistance. Yes Sir, of course I am doing as you ask. Can’t you see I have started using YouTube videos in class? I upload my lecture notes and slides to the VLE? Look at Bob over there, he hasn’t even logged into his email for weeks! Compliance is not critical. Compliance is doing, not evaluating. I recently had a discussion with a student over the efficacy of using lecture/tutorial mode in a course design. The upshot of the argument for me was that in the end, I don’t care whether you use lecture or tutorials, whether you think YouTube, blogs or is the best thing since sliced bread. What is fundamentally important is that you have a rationale for why you are using it. You have looked at the students, the knowledge and the environment and critically analysed the suitability of what you have chosen to do and that you have tried it out and therefore basing your assertions on some experience. An action achieves an aim by doing something. It is not simply doing something. Running to stand still.

 

But what can a strategy do to react or adjust to this kind of resistance? Well the first thing is to recognise it as resistance. We can reward people for engaging in the process of change. We can encourage and support those who resist through fear, skills gaps or time pressures. But we also need to build a strategy that enhances the analytical and evaluative capacity of programme teams and individuals. This is often portrayed as a big stick approach, where instruments such as quality assurance are used to ‘enforce’ analysis. This is no different to compliance. Why have huge swathes of society embraced social media, smart phones and the internet? Because they realized the benefits that came from using these technologies! They experimented with them, they pushed, prodded and broke the boundaries for how these things should and could be used. They succeeded and they failed. They fell over, dusted themselves off and got back up again. Change should not be a single shot. One of the responses to e-learning I hate hearing is someone who says ‘I tried that once and it didn’t work’. And perhaps that one experiment made you gun-shy, or as the glorious Flamin’ Groovies put it ‘…Oh, but I, babe, I’m so afraid I’ll fall’.

 

In part, the success or failure of a strategy to overcome passive resistance or allow the institution to move from potential to actual can be attributed to space. An action is not always a rehearsed move, taken in the full confidence that each step will confidently move you forward. Sometimes those steps are tentative. Testing the safety of the next foot forward in an unknown environment that maybe higher than you think or closer to the ground than you can imagine.

 

In the increasingly frantic, impossible environment of HE teaching, the ability to have a safe space to play is becoming increasingly difficult. One of the key tenets of the new social media generation is that they are encouraged to play, experiment, remix and share. User generated content is predicated on this, even with the criticality that comes from peer evaluation. Yet in our halls of learning, we seem to have lost this sense of experimentation. Something has to work right, first time or we run the risk of exposing ourselves to criticism or rebuke. How do we react? We do the least risky version of what we want, and we do that well (but not too well). We do the lowest common denominator to a level of competence that avoids painful scrutiny. Yes, perhaps this description is a tad hyperbolic. But unfortunately it is, to varying degrees, incredibly common.

 

Play is at the heart of human behavior. It informs a variety of cognitive processes and at its most basic is fun. Play is not risk free despite the best efforts of the ‘fun police’. Going out on a limb and trying something different can be exhilarating, scary and empowering in one breath. Developing a strategic approach to e-learning that embraces and encourages play and experimentation is critical to overcoming the notions of passive (and active) resistance. Playing in a group, sharing the results of your experiments, successful or less so and engaging in a practice of not necessarily knowing where your next foot is going to go is liberating. Finding the space to toss all the pieces up in the air and remix what you have been doing can be equally liberating (why do some people really love the idea of flipped classrooms?). Finding connections and trans-disciplinary relationships through musical metaphors, subtle and obvious is part of the way I experiment and play. It also represents a chance to remix. Expose people to things they have never seen or heard before or to curate something, like the immense power of the mix tape (see this scene from ‘High Fidelity’).

 

We need to encourage learning, teaching and assessment to be developed in an environment where new things can be tried. Where the process that identifies which new things we can try and how they can be embedded and contextualized is critical and evaluative and allows the results to be shared amongst colleagues in a collaborative way.

 

What does this actually look like? That takes us back to the coat of paint analogy…my wall colour is another person’s garish nightmare (talk to my wife about our home decorating differences). There is no one size fits all model, and what works for me may or may not work for you. Last time I used music in a presentation half the crowd loved it, the other half thought it was distracting and one person questioned my dissing of Slade (for the record, I like them).

 

But in a broad sense, it comes back not to the method but the space. Experimentation needs to be encouraged and rewarded. Putting play at the heart of a strategy can be a risky sell where student numbers and NSS scores represent the exact opposite. We know the power of collaboration for our students, yet many of our programme teams work in isolation from each other and even in isolation within the team itself. Coming together because you want to do something is much better than coming together because you have to do something. There is far less exhaled breath and furrowed brows, and perhaps far more small whoops of delight, high fives and smiles. But most importantly, this whole shebang requires top management to buy in. To recognise the power of play and experimentation. To support those processes and provide the guidelines, objectives and resources that shape your actions and lead them towards making the institution better, enhancing what students achieve and making your job easier and more rewarding.
If there’s something inside that you wanna say

 

Say it out loud it’ll be okay
I will be your light
I will be your light
I will be your light
I will be your light
Dry the Rain by the Beta Band

Gonna be a new race! Scaling the walls of institutional change

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There’s gonna be a new race
Kids are gonna start it up
We’re all gonna mutate
Kids are saying yeah hup! 
Radio Birdman – New Race

 

I was having a discussion recently with a group of students about the linking of industry practice and teaching in Higher Education.  It made me reflect back on my own industry experiences as an arts and retail marketer in the early 1990s.  I was in marketing for one of Australia’s largest book chains and later was marketing director for a community radio station.  There would be few aspects of that practice that have not undergone significant change.  Aside from the obvious changing nature of the products themselves, distribution has been re-imagined and a lot of theoretical rationale for why retailers exist has been made redundant.  Price has become a global concept and promotion is rooted in modes and mediums barely imagined in 1991.  But mostly importantly, the customer themselves have changed, with the way they seek, consume, share and obtain media driven by skills and behaviours shaped by engagement and interaction with technology.

 

The same progressive shift in user behaviors is clearly evident in higher education, manifesting itself in similar shifts to our 4P’s (Price has been thrown into turmoil by the free aspect of MOOCs and £9000 fees in England, Product is shifting through OERs, e-learning and again, MOOCs…you can work out the rest).  However, the predominant model of teaching, learning and assessment across many universities is still mired uncritically in 19th century models and practices, as if the radio didn’t even exist and bookstore was a cloth hatted man serving your needs individually by drawing dusty leather bound tomes from his darkened shelves.

 

Making change without doubt one of the most difficult organisational processes of them all.  Management guru Tom Peters used to talk about change by noting that one of the most empowering changes he saw in a workplace was where the team agreed to move a filing cupboard three feet to the left, because that filing cupboard had been getting in the way of work flow for years and no-one ever felt empowered to move it.  When ‘big ticket’ changes like e-learning or a new teaching, learning and assessment strategy come along, the common mantra is to label them as huge changes that will require decades of time and billions of pounds to effect.   When I worked in FE in Australia just repeating that mantra sometimes ensured whole eras of changes actually swept over and past my department (much to my chagrin and regret now!).  How can I change programmes I have planned for, notes and lessons I have carefully designed, room booking systems made years in advance, professional standards inflexible since the time of Harold and the arrow?

 

There are two obvious paths to take this blog post, and I am going to ignore both of them.  It is too easy to compare education to the anachronistic and arguably fading world of physical book retail.  Equally, it is too easy to rant about the slow changing nature of higher education institutions.  Now is the time to take the path of least resistance.  Through a lot of the literature and debate around this topic there have been three ideas, nay comments really, that have resonated with me in terms of how we as developers and strategists for e-learning can make organisational change happen and stick.  As with all my blogs recently, I am not arrogant enough (yet!) to suggest that these suggestions will shake the world and solve all the problems.  They just might however, give you an insight into a way forward.

  1. 1. From little things big things grow

Davidson and Goldberg (2009) argue that ‘…institutions of learning have changed far more slowly than the modes of inventive, collaborative, participatory learning offered by the Internet and an array of contemporary mobile technologies’.  Slowey (2012) noted that in Ireland there has been a high-take up of e-learning platforms such as the VLE, but this is often in a more instrumental manner (efficiency, cost etc).  Trying to change the entire practice of any institution is a difficult task. That said, it is unsustainable that learners arrive at HE with skills that are out of sync with those required to engage in study and then are different again to those required to gain and participate in practice.  There is some evidence to suggest that e-learning in institutions is often the purview of the e-learning evangelist, someone who is motivated to try different things constantly and that these evangelists represent a minority of provision, bringing into play accusations of scalability and context.  Garofoli and Woodall (2003) used an old marketing concept (the adoption cycle) and applied it to HE, suggesting that many changes don’t get out of the early adopter phase (where e-learning is championed by people who favour ‘revolutionary change’ through self-sufficient, risk taking, experimental behaviours.  Donovan noted (as early as 1999!) that;

‘Early adopters often are lauded as ready-made advocates for technology, but this rampant enthusiasm is a double-edged sword: sometimes it is contagious, but more often, it is perceived as techno-zealotry. This is off-putting to the majority of faculty, who may resist the adoption of technology by saying, ‘I can’t do that because I’m not like him/her’ [an early adopter].’

 

Adopting one small new practice because you are aware that learners and learning has changed is far less frightening that throwing all of it out because some e-learning cheerleader tells you that it works.  I was labelled by a very eminent colleague recently as an e-learning evangelist.  I politely retorted that I am not an e-learning evangelist; I am an evangelist about the benefit that can be had from encouraging people to talk to each other; a much simpler premise for change.  And that is often all it takes to seed change.  How about trying out clickers in your classroom because you want students to engage in opinion sharing? What is the harm in asking learners to share their group interactions with other learners through a Google doc or making a short video on their phone and uploading it to youtube? Instead of printing a huge readings book, how about making a scoop.it site and getting the learners to comment on each reading in a dialogue on the site, or even better, encouraging them to add readings to the list?  These are small incremental changes, but all linked to social interaction and engagement.  They are not sea-changes nor are they barbarians banging at the gate.  There is something to be said for the idea of from little things, big things grow.

2. ‘When I graduate I will probably have a job that doesn’t exist today’

I was watching the rather ubiquitous video made by the Kansas State University five years ago called “A vision of students today’ and the even having watched it many times, that quote above had never really resonated with me until this year.

In so many fields and disciplines the pace of change is facilitating both a change in what we do, but equally where, when and why we do what we do at work.  I have heard many people protest that the modern youth (post and including Gen Y for want of a better descriptor) are not prepared to do the hard yards at work like we did.  In some ways, the way we teach in HE is informed by a similar ‘rite of passage’ approach, where the learner is expected to undergo the same university experience that we did.  Certainly when I finished university the jobs I went for were the same ones that existed before I started (recruited by the same people, the same companies and more than likely the same interview questions!).

 

In my field of marketing, expertise in social media, micro-segmentation, border-less distribution and DIY were not even glimpses on the page of my monolithic textbook.  Even when I was teaching marketing, the skills present in both the curriculum and practice are different to what is required today.  Of course, there are principles, universal truths perhaps, that transcend the ages, but even they get questioned at some point.

 

If we accept that employability and finding a good job are now central motivations for undertaking HE then clearly there needs to be a closer, even symbiotic dialogue between HE and work (or practice).  We also have to accept that without doubt technology has changed the way work happens and the way work is constructed and defined as a function of a consumer or capitalist society.  From learning design through to how we interact with a group of learners in front of us or in front of our screens, the recognition that the way we did it before, or the way we had it done to us maybe insufficient for the requirements of the 21st century learner.  Perhaps we react to this by trying out the benefits of user generated content, encouraging the development of Personal Learning environments, we might set assessments that encourage learners to explore and define professional identity through social media or we might simply model the modern working environment through collaborative or socially engaged activity.

 

3. Learners are not native to technology, they were introduced to it.

In the youtube clip called ‘Rethinking Learning – the 21st century learner’ (linked above) noted e-thinker Henry Jenkins observed that often when we talk about e-learning we get caught up discussing the skills required for the workplace and not the skills required by the 21st century learner to engage as a member of society (which he noted included creativity, civic engagement and socialising).  One teacher (Nichole Pinkard) argued that no child was born digitally native (mirroring much of the debate around Prensky’s work) and that you can trace back to where they were exposed to a piece of technology that resonated for them and they went from simply consuming and using to producing and sharing.  I have seen this happen with my 5 year old niece, who has taken the digital camera we gave her and aggregated traditional photography skills such as depth of field and perspective along with digital skills of texture and colour and shape aligned with the type of photography supported by the camera (as well as taking a mean self-picture!).  Perhaps she will become a photographer, or something else visual, or perhaps not, but the skills of technology use are emerging earlier on our children because of the ubiquity of the technology and its fundamental ability to change the way something is done.

 

The generation of learners entering HE now have used devices, computers, the internet and mobile technology almost all of their life.  They didn’t have to re-learn how to do something (remember going from rotary phones to push button to mobile).  They know how to find information on the internet.  They have developed skills in determining authenticity and realness (see my earlier posts).  They consume and make content (in 2011, over 50% of YouTube’s licensing payments come from user generated content and depending on definitions between 66 and 80% of videos uploaded are user generated).  They bring with them skills to HE we can chose to ignore through our teaching, learning and assessment or that we can chose to build on and embrace them.  We as a profession cannot continue to promote and support the ‘empty vessel’ mode of HE teaching and learning, where we assume that students start university ready to be filled with all the knowledge we choose to disseminate.  Once again, small initiatives and ideas can be the way to bring about this change without tearing down the walls of the lecture theatre.  Student-led learning such as class presentations can be enhanced to encourage creativity and innovation not repetition, learners can be supported to build and develop networks between groups and cohorts through collaborative and inter-disciplinary projects like the one run at the University of Technology, Sydney called ‘Shopfront’ (see http://www.shopfront.uts.edu.au/).  Mobile phones can be embraced as a way of linking notes to practice in a classroom, or a method of crowd-sourcing or resource discovery.  None of this is rocket science.  What is important to note is that I strongly believe that underpinning of this should be a vision for what kind of institution you want to be a part of, what kind of pedagogy informs your learning, teaching and assessment, how do you want find out about your learners and adapt to their skills?  And that this vision should be supported by action, people, evaluation and sharing.  It should align pedagogy and technology in an agile and collaborative way.  And finally that there is not one size this will fit all and they as markets have fractured, retail has personalised and the largest selling book of 2012 was originally a piece of internet distributed Twilight fan fiction, we also need to find unique and personalised paths through our reconstruction.