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Context, construction and community – the changing topography of education

For the last couple of years I have been trying to find patterns in and make sense out of the  rapidly changing landscape of tertiary education.  Without choosing any specific pathway I have been following threads of conversations and ideas back to their (often) blog sources, been introduced to various aspects of education theory that had previously escaped me, been amazed, intrigued and sometimes bewildered by the options provided by new technology and enjoyed the very vigorous debate along the way.

The original impetus for this journey had been the SLENZ project (2008-2010) which had funded us to explore and experiment with the use of a multi-user virtual environment (Second Life) for tertiary education.  The project had many successes and had left me with a very clear vision of the enormous potential these kinds of spaces had for changing the way in which people learned. My initial purpose was to indulge my own delight in innovative technological applications and to see how I could use them in my own teaching practice. Frustrated by the  constraints of Learning Management Systems with their focus more on educational administration and control than excellent learning experiences, I experimented with driving my face-to-face teaching from class blogs and using various cloud based tools, particularly Google docs, as interactive class whiteboards and participated in two MOOCs, Pedagogy First and Designing a New Learning Environment.

Since 2010, the possibilities for technology to disrupt the traditional model of education have increased at a rate which is overwhelming to me and no doubt alarming to a very large number of educators.  Flipped classrooms, education in virtual worlds, MOOCs (xMOOCs and cMOOCs), PLNs (personal learning networks), e-Portfolios, connectivism, gamification, OER (open education resources) and a plethora of new educational tools are all making it very difficult to see the forest for the trees.  I have found it much too easy to become entranced by one intriguing branch! Over the last few days, prompted by an invitation to attend a brainstorming session on moving our institute towards a ‘future learning space’, I have been attempting to stand back a little and identify some of the patterns that I see.

I have come to the conclusion that it isn’t just the landscape of education that is changing, it is the entire topography.  We may rearrange the deck-chairs to better catch the sun but the land on which we sit is itself shifting, cracking and reforming. Unless we stand up and engage with some very fast and fancy footwork, the pleasant landscape will shortly become unrecognisable as the sun disappears behind turbulent storm clouds.

I have categorised the fundamental changes that I believe are taking place as the three C’s

  • Context not content
  • Construction of knowledge
  • Community.

I have written before on the notion of context and I have beoming increasingly convinced this is correct.  While there is always some factual knowledge that is important to memorise (for convenience if nothing else), our almost immediate access to a global resource of knowledge makes much fact retention redundant.  How we find the relevant knowledge, how we judge and evaluate it, how we relate the context of the found knowledge to the context in which we use it, and how we do all that efficiently and competently is much more important.

How we construct new knowledge is also changing.  The trial and error approach of practical application has long been recognised as a successful learning mechanism as has the more structured and guided approach to task completion by following a set of steps. In an educational context however, both of these have generally been teacher led or instigated.  The concept of challenging students to find their own solutions and create their own new knowledge with little direction seems risky and failure prone.  Yet the need to create knowledge, either new, or new to the individual, is now recognised in the value placed on life-long learning and is an essential component of it.

There is a growing recognition that learning is a social activity – that we learn best, not in isolation, but in learning with and from others.  Collaboration and cooperation,  acting within a team, connecting with others for mutual learning are all part of builidng this life-long learning community.

Coming to grips with these changes is not about how to use tech in the classroom or even how to design online courses – it is about understanding that technology is bringing about a fundamental shift in the way we learn and in the way we construct and use knowledge.  This understanding has to transform how we teach and even more importantly how we assess and reward the learning.  We have to reassess what we value as educators and how we can assess that.  There is little to be gained by changing how we provide learning experiences for students if we continue to reward memorisation and individual achievment.  We need to re-consider and re-design our assessment practices and reward systems just as thoroughly as we do our teaching and I will be writing more on this topic in a later post!.


Week 9 Assignments

Readings – Ch. 7 Ko & Rossen:  There were some good suggestions about student activities in this chapter. I don’t agree with the authors that ‘many students don’t know how to collaborate on a task’. I tend to assume they can do anything I can do — but it is my responsibility as an instructor to provide guidance that provides a framework & expectations in order to move things along. Many of the activities suggested were fairly common but good reminder of the similarities between a classroom & a training environment. I was intrigued with the concept of online role playing — and think it might fit nicely with the animation tools we explored this week.

I posted earlier about my experiences in Second Life (new one for me!) and with animation. I really enjoyed Laura’s viceo. I also watched Robert kelly’s “How to Screencast a PPt”. Even though I’ve done that, I got some good tips on some of the things I struggle with like capturing screensize with Jing, font size, etc.

I’ve had a Diigo account for a while — but haven’t been using it much. So I did move through the reading and bookmark some things — added a few sticky notes, etc. Great tool for collaborative learning – something I will definitely use.

It was a busy week — lots of exploring. I’m off to read other posts now. Love digging into the new things. Maybe I’ll even plan a meet up in Second Life. Anyone want to join me?

Content or Context

 I recently came across a suggestion that in 21st century education, context rather than content was king (if anyone can point me at the reference i would be so grateful!). It resonated with me then and I have been struggling to give some coherent form to my ideas ever since.

*Update – the reference was from a presentation that Steve Wheeler gave in March 2012 – The slide show is here and is well worth a look.

I have just signed up for the Designing New Learning Environments MOOC from Stanford (along with three of my colleagues) and have enjoyed reading some of the great posts that are already there.  I came across one from Sam Basu  where he mentioned that perhaps the three essential elements of an educational ecosystem were Content, Connectivity and Device. This was my reply in part -

“I wonder if there is a fourth area in the educational ecosystem – context. By this I mean both the context for the learning and also the context for the content. The concept of context (rather than content) being one of the essential components of an educational environment is a fairly new one to me and I am struggling to present it coherently – but I am trying to suggest that the contexts we place both the content and the learning experiences in, are often overlooked but are fundamental to creating a thriving ecosystem. The content itself may well change (and does with increasing speed – in my area of ICT at least) but the context in which the content is discovered, synthesised, evaluated – engaged with – and the context in which the content exists may have greater longevity and equal importance.”

This is going to be an important topic for me I think as I struggle to define what I mean by context, it partly relates to the pedagogy and design of authentic learning experiences but it also relates to the context in which the content is discovered – (a crude example would be an academic article or an advertisement).

As T.S.Eliot wrote in The Rock “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?. Finding both the knowledge and the wisdom seems to me to be one of the fundamental challenges for 21st century educators. I would love to hear other people’s ideas as I struggle to define what I mean :)

New Flicker Search Engine

I’m trying out a new search engine for Creative commons images in Flicker.

Robert Plant – Led Zeppelin

photo credit: Heinrich Klaffs via photopin cc

Pretty nice! Lets you search for all creative commons images and provides html link for attribution. I added the caption. This is great for someone like me who often is in too big of a hurry (or at least that’s my excuse) to properly give credit for images.

Techy Nurse Professor

After reading in Ko – that online teaching is not about the technology as much as it is about the teaching. I must clarify why my blog is called “Techy Nurse Professor”. Healthcare is becoming increasing dependent on technology. I like to support the nursing students who are looking at the technology for medication, disease […]

Week 3 – POT – link to My online course ‘start here’

Goal: To rebuild my newly converted online course to be student centered and increase learner engagement Objectives: 1. Use the pedagogical design template offered in POT to begin the rebuild of my online course. 2. Use the Design Elements template offered in POT to rebuild each weekly module. 3. Creating Forum Discussions for this course […]

Week 2 – POT

1. The Questionnaire – I scored a 16 which indicates I prefer presentation. I am not sure that I really prefer presentation in pedagogy – I entered the environment and this is what everyone else was doing. I also feel this is sort of what was expected of me as a new Lecturer. Finally this […]

Week 1 – POT

Hello Everyone My name is Evalyn Gossett, I teach Nursing at Indiana University Northwest. I am interested in instructional design and online teaching. The course I teach – Nursing Management and Leadership went live online for the first time this semester. I was awarded a small grant to redesign the course in our LMS – […]


Need to get on track with this. and give post the correct tag – potcert

Where I Am, Where I Need to Start, and Caine’s Arcade

My “beginner’s questionnaire” score was originally 13, but then I reconsidered it and revised to a 9.  I think this reflects the uncomfortable ‘straddle’ many of us feel when we reflect on how our practice does not fit our promises.  Here are my scores with some of that reflection.

Assessments: 2 Assessments are most important as a learning tool for students. 

I realize that I am being idealistic here.  As Otto Scharmer puts it, however, this is the future that begs to emerge.  I am acting from this belief even though I am required to measure skills and facts for the most part.  I think we often fail to make the distinction between assessment and feedback, between the formative and the summative.  I am striving to become all feedback while I also provide self-assessment tools for my learners.

Roles: 2 Students should be active participants in creating their own knowledge.

I am both a constructivist and a connectivist here.  I want my online ecosystems to reflect my strong belief that making is connecting.

Content: 2 The content should be at least partially created by the students.

Again, I write from where I wish I was and not where I am.  I select most of the content in my Intro to Lit online course with large group discussion.  I also let workload push me into this default mode.  In other words, since I am less practiced in level 2 content I actually practice at levels 4 and 5.  That is why I am taking this course–to find a way to more closely align my practice with my ideals.

Interest in material: 2 Students should be given choices in how to learn the material.

I allow students to respond by using text, audio, video, photos. I am not sure if that is giving them choice in how they learned the material.  Instead I think I am giving them presentation choice.  For example, I ask that students access lots of material that I choose for them to create a definition of poetry.  I do not limit them to my material and I insist that they relate their discoveries to their own lives.  I want to know whether this is the practical limit (personal, professional, or pedagogical) to my approach to material.  I doubt it is, but I need to push this envelope till it pops.

Getting Started Chart

I find myself as an instructional designer who needs both presentation and discussion.  My students are mostly trapped in the presentation/lecture mode.  I can sense it when they frustratedly ask me, “What do I have to do to get an “A” on this?”  Too much extrinsic motivation make learner go deaf, dumb and blind–yes?  Yet I think that I would ultimately like for the inmates to take over the asylum.  I think ‘adult’ learning (and I have known very young learners who were adult learners) requires that the learner take charge.  I understand that baby birds need to be brought up a bit before they’re pushed from the nest, but in the end, push we must.

I also think that this dilemma–presentation v. interaction–might be a false one.  Take as an example the online website, Vialogues.  In one way the videos one can upload are presentations.  They might have high production values like the extraordinary RSA Animate series, but they are still lectures–one-way talk.  But Vialogues allows you to comment on the lecture’s content and to comment further on what others have written.  That is a hybrid beast that makes me wonder whether there are more of these vigorous tools around.  Ted Majors used one called DOTSub that I am beginning to explore, but I would appreciate learning about more.

Where the Hell Do I Start?

I am currently teaching an online Intro to Lit course.  I want to change a few items this semester to reflect what I do here.  I want wholesale change next semester when I teach it again.  I am also exploring how much my current learning platform, Blackboard 9, controls my online instructional practice.  In other words, I want to know whether Bb is making me a ‘hypocrite’ or whether I can take full responsibility for that.  Lastly, I want to explore other LMS’s this next year, particularly Instructure’s Canvas, to see whether I can find a platform that fits me better.

While We Are at It…

I think this video is just a marvelous learning examplar for anyone of any age. I guess I mean that we have a lot to learn from ‘Caine’s Arcade’. This is what we wish to stoke our students with and if we can do this online then we can create a revolution in formal  learning. Gotta love this little guy and what he has to show us all.