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The connectedness of ideas by learning online – towards a new theory of learning

From E-Learning V

Fig.1. This IMHO is what learning has become in the 21st century – and how it got there

There’s more going on here than you may realise!

From E-Learning V

Fig.2. Traditional top down learning

Two triangles, one above the other and linked with a down arrow suggests traditional top down learning … or simply knowledge transfer from someone who knows something to someone who does not.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 3 By someone’s side

Two triangles, one facing the other, may represent a shift towards collaborative or horizontal learning in a formal setting, though for me it represents the learning you do away from the institution – with friends, with family ‘on the same level’ as it were.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 4. Participatory and situated, networked learning on the periphery

From E-Learning V

Fig.5 The thinking starts with Vygotsky and his research into behaviorist learning

It then progressed to the study and analysis of learning in communities

From E-Learning V

Fig. 6. Activity Theory as conceived of and developed by Yrjo Engeström. 

From E-Learning V

Fig.7 The interplay between two entities or communities coming together to solve a problem and thus producing something unique to them both (object 3) – a fresh idea.

From E-Learning V

Fig.8. Activity Theory re-connected – breaking out

Though developed over some thirty years the structure of ‘Activity Theory’ as a model is breaking down because of the quality, speed and way in which we now connect overrides barriers and invades silos making communication more direct and immediate.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 9 Activity Theory in a connected world

Everyone and everything is just a click away.

From E-Learning V

Fig.10 Visualizing the maelström of original ideas generated by people sharing their thoughts and ideas as they form

The maelström of new ideas where people and groups collide and interact. Historically this had been in grounded ‘communities of practice’, whether a London coffee shop or the senior common room of a prestigious university, the lab, the studio, the rehearsal room … today some gatherings online are frequent, enabled by the Internet and no less vibrant as like-minds and joiners contribute to the generation of new ideas.

This, drawing on Engestrom via Vygotsky, might be a more academic expression of Open Learning. Here a host of systems, expressed in model form, interpose their drive to achieve certain objectives into the common whole. That mess in the middle is the creation of the collective powers and inputs of individuals, groups, departments or institutions. The Open bit are the connections between any node in one system, and any other node from any other one of the systems … which blows apart the actions within a single system, making them more open, though not random.

From E-Learning V

Fig. 11 It’s going on inside your head.

fMRI scans reveal the complex way in which ideas form and memories are recalled and mixed-up, challenged and re-imagined. We are our very own ‘community of practice’ of conflicting and shared viewpoints.

From E-Learning V

Fig.11. Perceiving brain activity as the interplay between distinct, interacting zones

From E-Learning V

Fig. 12 Ideas enter your system, your brain and are given a fresh spin

From E-Learning V

Fig.13 Ideas coalesce until you reach a point of understanding. The penny doesn’t so much as ‘drop’ as to form.

Where would we be without one of these. 98 billion neurons. A uniquely connected mass of opportunity and potential. This is where, of course, memories are formed and thoughts had. Increasingly we are able to share ideas and thoughts as we have them, typically through the tips of our fingers by sharing our thinking online, especially where it comes to the attention of like-minds, and troubled-minds – anyone in fact or strongly agrees or strongly disagrees enough to contribute by adding their thinking and revealing their presence.

xMOOC or cMOOC?

The realities of MOOCs

I stumbled upon this succinct article on MOOCs by Ben Betts.

MOOCs are why I returned to the OU having completed the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) at the end of 2012. I followed H817:Openness and Innovation in eLearning, joining the Open but, and have now complete two further modules: H809: Research based practices in Educational Technology (with an eye on research) and the phenomenal H818: The Networked Practitioner (just completed) … this as the field keeps transforming I intend to stay abreast of it. Indeed, I’ll keep on eye on H817 for 2015 as this is a considerable advance on the old H807 I did in 2010 that had its content stuck somewhere between 1999 and 2005.

What is interesting in this article is that the author Ben Betts ponders as a passing thought at the end of the piece on the need to ‘learn how to learn’.

This for me is where too many practitioners go wrong – they have their eye so firmly fixed on the ‘next big thing’ that they forget or ignore the understanding we have gained about how we learn over decades. There needs to be a healthy loop that obliges us to consider the basics: learning theories and to see MOOCs in context – all learning is ‘blended’ – even the purely online learning module is conducted by someone with their feet or bum firmly on the ground or in a chair.

The other mistake that other authors make too often is to sensationalize activities or developments such as the MOOC. Every advance builds on something else, and for all their strengths they have weaknesses too, and whatever affordances they have may be exploited or ignored. Interesting times and delighted to find an expert author and practitioner to follow.

What I needed, and got from H809 was a grounding in learning theory which at last I am starting to master. If a further course is required for me it would be more on the application of learning theory, probably in the broader setting of ‘education’ rather than an e-learning context and probably informed by a role educating on the ground – so practice based and applied. Which rather suggests in business – as indeed I did for the best part of 15 years.

Imagine you are constructing a course in digital skills for an identified group of learners

H817 Open Activity 8

ACTIVITY: Imagine you are constructing a course in digital skills for an identified group of learners (e.g. undergraduates, new employees, teachers, mature learners, military personnel, etc.). It is a short, online course aimed at providing these learners with a set of resources for developing ‘digital skills’. It runs for five weeks, with a different subject each week, accounting for about six hours study per week. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Often the messiest and most problematic of tasks prove to be the most revealing.

Thinking of a group of swimming teachers as participants in some Open Learning was a challenge as some would never have used a computer at all. I thought of another group, nursery nurses and even contemplated going on to undergraduate medical students or junior doctors so that I could imagine working with a digital literate group but then returned to the challenge of introducing those with no experience of computers at all.

Do you try to teach someone to swim butterfly when they cannot swim? Can a swimming teacher learn anything if they don’t have access to a swimming pool? This is what it felt like – clearly OER is never suitable for everyone – the learning outcomes must come first, then how to deliver these in a way that suits the participants. There’s a saying in advertising, ‘preach to the converted’ i.e. you are selling goods and services to people who want them anyway. The easiest ‘sell’ would be to create a course on digital skills for those who are just coming online and are eager to acquire the skills, rather than a group that includes those who have no digital skills and are even belligerent or disinclined to take any interest.

Coming from Learning & Development we have sometimes been expected to ‘shoehorn’ other people’s content, or the client’s old content, into the production. We decline. We will use the material to inform the production process only. There is a reason, for narrative and continuity why I still feel that creating your own bespoke content is often a better alternative, otherwise there can be discontinuity, the need for writing in caveats, or simply reversioning as participants take a negative view of the smallest of things – say US English used instead of UK English.

Week

Topic

Resources

Suitability (G/M/B)

1

INTRODUCTION

to the Web and digital skills

Learning on the go

Mobile devices

Just in time or applied resources and tools.

Websites and social media

Twitter, Facebook … WordPress

Wikis

Keyboard Basics

6 Learning Methods Every Teacher Should Have

Internet Basic (UK GOV)

Using the Web (BBC Webwise)

M

M

M

G

2

SEARCH

Find a variety of content on MSM Website related to schedules, programmes, events, Swim21, contacts and compliance

Download and open PDF files.

Login and add personal details

Searching: Making the most of being online (BBC Webwise)

Searching the Internet (UK GOV)

Mid Sussex Marlins

Locate Swim21, download the Code of Ethics PDF, email the Swim21 Officer to say that you agree to abide by these guidelines.

G

M

3

VIEW

Select a video on swimming  technique from the Breakwater Swimming Website and note tips you would use in a training or teaching session.

Breakwater Swimming Training

M

4

PARTICIPATE

Register with IoS

Online Forms

Navigate/Search Function

Find and do a 1 hour free CPD of your choices

Multiple-choice

Audio/View

Rate/Comment

Register with the Institute of Swimming

Do a Free Continual Professional Development (CPD) refreshed – 1 hour

Working and Learning in Sports and Fitness

Open Learn, The OU

Track 6

How to develop reflective skills and improve leadership techniques. Part of The OU course E113 Working and learning in sport and fitness.

G

5

CREATE

Register withe blog host

Create a journal entry on a session and reflect

ELABORATE

Find and comment on other club and personal blogs

Create and load video

Legalese

Starting a new Web Site

Blogging, a tool used to reflect and learn

Be Secure Online (UK Gov)

How to avoid online fraud

Twitter Users.  A Guide to the Law (BBC Webwise)

B

B

G

G

REFLECTION

It was recently announced that a company had created a connector or ‘brick’ that allows those playing with either Lego bricks or Konnex to connect to two. It strikes me that OER requires some conformity in the creation of the learning resource in the first place to allow such bonds and that templates or connectors are required too. However, even if the learning resource is an idea expressed as a doodle with some text or a series of annotated diagrams from a whiteboard that are photographer and put online I believe this is far preferable to shoehorning another’s ideas into your learning design. Can you construct a new short story by lifting paragraphs from others? Can you construct original Shakespeare by mashing up lines from different monologues? Can you create a coherent painting by grabbing elements from a number of masters? This isn’t the same as the remixing musicians do, or is it? This isn’t the same as taking a cooking recipe and changing some of the ingredients – it is about the quality, truth, conviction, coherence and flow of a persuasive narrative.

My greatest challenge is the nature of the intended audience, whilst ‘Swimming Teachers and Coaches’ is one way to define them, for most this is a volunteer role for an hour or so a week, for a few more a modest part-time and paid role for perhaps 6 to 8 hours and only part-time and professional for 3 or 4 – say 12-16, sometimes 22 hours a week. They are a disparate group too – from airline pilots and Doctors, to a retired postman and an assistant in Waitrose who left school with no qualifications and now understand that they have Dyslexia. One is doing an MA in Sports Science online, another gets his wife to receive and send emails – yet another her husband. This spectrum of digitally literate ‘residents’ to the ‘occasional visitor’ even the non-user – and in some cases belligerently ante-Internet means that to reach this group requires more group workshops, face to face applied ‘poolside on the job’ and hand-outs. Content online needs to be printable so that if necessary intermediaries can print off in specific fonts onto coloured paper for those with Dyslexia. Content in the post, the traditionally distance learning approach would be favoured by some.

PROBLEMS

Links no longer valid or content removed, sometimes for declared copyright issues, such as here. Not having adequate input into the bespoke construction of the content in the first place, and then the possibility that the content may be removed is a problem.

Several hours too late I gave up on the depositories. I have always found UK Gov websites very easy and clear, say for calculating and paying tax, or getting a Road Licence for the car. With the drive to have everyone on Universal Credit using the web – those in the community who are most likely also to have no or poor digital literacy skills or access, I wondered what training and support UK GOV offered. I was delighted with the ‘We Make Getting Online Easier’ website and feel that it would support those for whom using the Internet would be a struggle – how and where they get online is another matter if they don’t have an Internet connection at home, or a Smartphone. For continuity reasons I may then use this website through-out with the only venture away to look at YouTube ‘How to …’ videos relating to swimming teaching and coaching. I then checked the BBC and for UK residents found the BBC WebWise resources perfect. Start on the home page, run through the content bit by bit over the weeks.

 

What is the point in playing chess if you let a computer give you the answers and all you do is move the pieces?

The act of playing chess, and the process of thinking it through is the joy and the learning.

  • What will be the point as or once all the answers are online?
  • Where we let algorithms and the Web provide the answers?

Does this mean that anyone can be a doctor so long as they have a smartphone in their pocket and a good connection?

Knowledge acquired is how learning occurs.

  • The learning process is necessary in order for the brain to make sense of it (or not)
  • And we do so, each of us, in an utterly unique way.
  • Less so because of when or where we were born,
  • But because we were made this way.

‘Je suis comme je suis, je suis faite comme ca’.

Our DNA is unique and the brain it constructs also.

Not hard considering considering:

  • There are some 98 billion neurons in there.
  • And every neuron has some 10,000 connections.

It is this mass of interconnections that makes us both ridiculous and smart,

Able to think in metaphors, provide insight, solve problems, conform, deform and inform.

And fall in and out of love.

Enthusiasms bubble up like farts in the wind.

Life is like a game of chess

We are its players and pieces whether we like it or not.

It is the sense of participation and control that makes life worth living.

Which suggests that absolute machine power – Google-eyed algorithms could be no better than prison.

Life is not a game though

And we are more than merely players.

There is no need to strut and fret our hour upon the stage.

Unless …

It is a story we tell, defined by our actions and responses

A rollercoaster of our own making.

There is no need for noise and tension,

where we can be cool in war and love.

 

Here in Lewes we shut the town centre down for a march as often as we can.

It all stems from 5th November. We had only been here a couple of months and we were enrolled in a Bonfire Society. That was 13 years ago.

The town also has a Moving on parade for all primary schools in the district, not just the town, but from outlying villages. The town centre is closed to traffic and kids, dressed up, carrying banners and whatnot on a theme, march through town and end it with a party in the Paddock – a large field, formerly part of the earthworks around the 11th century Lewes Castle.

It helps to make an occasion of something when we move on. We’re rather good at it:

  • Christenings
  • Marriage
  • Death
  • Birthdays
  • Anniversaries
  • Graduation

I’m down for Brighton or will try to enroll in Versailles for my graduation. I skipped my first nearly three decades ago. I just didn’t feel like moving on. I hadn’t felt I’d had an education to justify the fuss. My fault, not theirs. I put in the hours and came out with an OK degree but that isn’t why I’ll remember my undergraduate years.

I should mark moving on, and away from this blog. It logs, day by day, and in the background countless pages of hidden notes. It has carried me through the Masters in Open & Distance Education.

H809, my bonus track, will mark the end.

For this reason I am migrating most of the content and the journey it records to an external blog.

My Mind Bursts

From time to time I’ll post a note at the bottom of the page to say this is where it’ll be from June.

My moving on.

By May, I’ll also know if the next few years have been set up. We’ll see. I may even be back at the OU in some capacity. I rather

 

Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education

Fig.1. Why Blog?

If anything has been written on blogging I want to read it. On 27th September 1999 I posted to my first blog – it was on blogging and new media. We’re now in the phase of transition that took the printed book after the Gutenberg Press some 400 years. The clunky blog of 1999 barely compares the variety and scope of what we still call a blog today.

This rightly questions when and where blogging should be an endeavour to use with students. 

Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education (2007) Kerawalla, Minocha, Conole, Kirkup, Schencks and Sclater.

Based on this research blogging is very clearly NOT of interest to the majority of students, NOR is it likely to be of value to them for collaborative learning. There may be value in blogging for your own sake – aggregating content in one place.

(Research on using blogging with students of Public Relations gives a far more favourable response … I would suspect that this would apply to courses on journalism and creative writing i.e. use the medium that is appropriate for those on specific courses).

This is a study of OU students.

A more promising, and appropriate study I am looking at concerns PR students who a) need to develop their writing skills b) need to understand what blogging is all about.

The greatest value I have got from this self-inflicted exercise is to deconstruct the research that was undertaken should I wish to undertake research of this ilk myself. Can I fault the research?

What do you think?

Problem Does blogging support student in their learning or not?
Are educators perceptions of the positive uses of blogging for learning borne out by the perceptions of and uses of blogging by students?
Questions QQ Designed to ascertain their level of experience of blogs and to gather their opinions about how blogs (and other tools) could support their learning.

The research questions we sought to answer were as follows:

1) What degree of blogging experience do students have?
2) Do students want to have blogging as part of their course?
3) In what ways do students think blogging is (not) a useful learning tool?
4) Is there a disparity between what course designers think blogging is useful for, or would like blogging to be used for, and students’ opinions of usefulness?

Setting Online students at the OU
Survey of 795 student and course designers
Authors ‘Enthusiastic’ OU IETT Academics
Previous research O’Reilly 2005, Sade 2007, Weller 2007 – literature search, previous research …
Concepts/theories
Methods Qualitative – explorative/iterative rather than set

All questions required students to select their response by clicking on a radio button, (e.g. ‘yes’ or ‘no’, or Likert scales such as ‘not at all’, ‘slightly’, ‘in-between/no opinion’, fairly’, or ‘very much’). (Kerawalla et al. p. 6. 2007) + an open question for expanded thoughts.

Interviews with course designers – Interview questions were designed to address the following areas: the rationale for introducing blogs, whether blog content would be assessed, whether blogging was compulsory, uptake levels and whether there were any plans to evaluate the success of blogging activities.

– extract, collate and compare.

Quantitative

Analysis – The survey generated both quantitative and qualitative data.

SPSS Analysis
Manual coding of responses
Coding of responses

Findings
  • Affordances of blogs not taken up, support meaning making, (Fiedler, 2003)
  • reduce sense of isolation (Dickey 2004).
  • knowledge communities (eg Oravec 2003).

i.e. Not everything they’re cracked up to be.

Krause (2004) reports haphazard contributions to blogs by his students, minimal communication between them, and found that posts demonstrated poor quality reflection upon the course materials.

Williams and Jacobs (2004) introduced blogs to MBA students and although he reports overall success, he encountered problems with poor compliance as, for example 33% of the students thought they had nothing valuable to say in their blog.

Homik and Melis (2006) report only minimal compliance to meet assessment requirements and that students stopped blogging at the end of their course. Other issues include:

  • students plagiarizing from each others’ blogs
  • the need for students to have developed skills in choosing which hyperlinks to include in their blog (e.g. Oravec, 2003)
  • an ability to manage the tension between publishing private thoughts in a public space (Mortensen and Walker, 2002).

It appears that the ideals of educators can be difficult to implement in practice. (Kerawalla et al. p. 5. 2007)

Paradigms A cultural psychological approach to our research that proposes that learning is a social activity that is situated and mediated by tools that fundamentally shape the nature of that activity (e.g. Cole, 1996, Wertsch, 1991 and Vygotsky, 1979).
Limitations Expectations about sharing, enthusiasm for the genre …definition of blog (see e-portfolio and wiki), journalism …. hard to define (Boyd, 2006).

They mean different things to different people. Uses to collate resources (portfolio) (Huann, John and Yuen, 2005) , share materials and opinions .. (Williams and Jacobs, 2004).

Implications Guidelines, informs design
  • 53.3% of students had read a blog
  • only 8% of students had their own blog
  • 17.3% had commented on other people’s blogs
  • 23% of students thought that the commenting feature on blogs is ‘slightly’ or ‘not at all’ useful,
  • 42% had ‘no opinion’
  • 35% thought that commenting is ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • only 18% said that they thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.
  • of those who blog only 205 of these thought blogs would be ‘fairly’ or ‘very’ useful.

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU as part of your studies?’

35%  ‘not at all’
13% said ‘slightly’
34% had ‘no opinion’,
12% said ‘fairly’
6% responded ‘very much’

Students were asked ‘how much would you like to use a blog provided by the OU for personal use?’.

52.6% said ‘not at all’
8.7% said ‘slightly’
28.3% had ‘no opinion’
8% said ‘fairly’
2.7% responded ‘very much’.

Chi-square analyses

Examination of the observed and expected frequencies for this data suggests that in both cases, there is a relationship between not seeing a role for blogs and not wanting greater use of conferencing.
Supporting findings that when given a choice between classroom based learning or e-learning those who have a choice are equally satisfied by what they get.

All of the positive responses refer to the students’ own (potential) study blog. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007) Others use their blog as a repository. Few saw the benefits of linking or using a blog to for reflection and developing ideas.

Responses to the question ‘would you like a blog provided by the OU to support your studies?’ reveal that there is a profound lack of enthusiasm (from 82% of the sample) for blogging as part of courses.

Later this year, we plan to explore PhD blogs. This variety and combination of methods will enable us to gather different perspectives and to triangulate our findings. (Kerawalla et al. p. 7 2007)

REFERENCE

Cole, M. (1996) Cultural Psychology. Camb. Mass: The Belnap Press of Harvard University Press.

Kerawalla, Lucinda; Minocha, Shailey; Conole, Grainne; Kirkup, Gill; Schencks, Mat and Sclater, Niall (2007). Exploring students’ understanding of how blogs and blogging can support distance learning in Higher Education. In: ALT-C 2007: Beyond Control: Association of Learning Technologies Conference, 4-6 September 2007, Nottingham, UK.

Vygotsky, (1979) Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole M, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner and E. Souberman (eds and trans). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wertsch, J (1991) A sociocultural approach to socially shared cognition. In L.Resnick, J. Levine and S. Teasley (eds), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition, Washington: American Psychological Association.

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