Friday, December 19, 2008

Communities of practice

Many of the explanations of how learning occurs start with the assumption that learning is something that happens to individuals. Learning theories that explain situated cogition are based on the fact that learning happens as people interact with the living world. Situated learning describes the notion of learning knowledge and skills in contexts that reflect the way they will be used in real life.

Lave and Wenger proposed that efficient learning was not a solitary activity, but a process of engagement in a "community of practice." Instead of examing learning as the acquisition of skills and knowledge, they asked what kind of practical contexts and social engagements provide the framework for effective learning to take place.

In studying different apprenticeships, they found that rather than a master/apprentice relationship there was actually a complex 'community of practice'. Attaining mastery in the field involved beginning on the periphery of the community, and then gradually becoming a full participant in the community of practice.

Friday, December 12, 2008

New conceptions of knowledge

Our task for his week in CETL-IET is to contribute to a particular Wikipedia entry. The class has been discussing how difficult we are finding this, particularly changing someone else's text, contributing publicly on a subject we are not experts in, and writing in a medium where we are unsure of the rules, let alone the conventions.

In an excellent post to the class forum Richard commented that he saw the reluctance stemming from:
  1. Conceptions of knowledge that are connected to expertise, rather than collaboration.
  2. Assumptions about truth as being absolute, and already existing.

Richard said "But, what if truth is primarily a dynamic uncovering? (The Greek word for truth is aletheia which literally means uncovering.) That moves knowing into a more fluid realm." and went on to say that, in wikis, "The key is for thoughtful people to engage the process so that knowledge gets created."

If knowledge ever existed as something that could be packaged by experts and delivered to novices, it certainly no longer exists in that form.

Shifting describes how the last decade has fundamentally re-written how we:

  • acquire knowledge
  • collaborate in creating knowledge
  • find and store information
  • authenticate and validate information
  • express ourselves and our ideas
  • relate to information/knowledge
  • function in knowledge intense environments

Friday, December 5, 2008


John Anderson and I with our NSW Minister for Education and Training Quality Teaching Award citations. There were four awarded for excellence in teaching in New South Wales universities.

The awards are given after a lengthy process that involves the submission of a portfolio, three referees reports and an assessors' visit that includes sitting in on classes and talking to students, peers and supervisors.

My citation says, in part: "Marjorie combines a genuine concern for students with exciting, innovative and creative approaches to online learning."

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

My PLE - a draft

What is a PLE?

Connectivism looks at learning as taking place through a network of connected sources of information, opinion and experiences. This network forms a personal learning environment.

For some a PLE is a product - a package that can be added to an instutions' course management system, portal, or e-portfolio, to provide a greater range of tools and enable access beyond the formal education period.

For others, constraining the personal learning environment into something that can be mapped and labeled is an impossibility, the PLE is:

In between these two views debate rages as to what constitutes a PLE, and as to how valuable they might be.

Terry Anderson asks PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? and compares the advantages and disadvantages of an educational system based on the familiar LMS versus an emergent one based on a PLE. His conclusion, with which I agree, says that a learning management system offers little that can not be done outside the system. Their widespread adoption by educational institutions is a result of the packaging of the features for convenient use - not the features themselves. While individual teachers might allow students to choose their own learning sources and tools, on the whole I think we will see PLEs implemented as plugins to Blackboard such as Learning Objects' Campus Pack.

But if we can think of PLEs not as a product, but as a process, it becomes a productive way of focusing attention on how we, ourselves, learn. Every few years in the staff club someone says, "You know that 90% of education funding and attention goes to formal learning, but 90% of learning takes place informally." This might be becoming truer by the year. Opportunities for acquiring information, sharing experiences, expressing opinions, and creating texts have increased exponentially with the widespread use of networked technologies.

Documenting these connections is a way of thinking through how we learn, helping to frame questions about what, how and why we are learning, and assisting in framing personal learning goals.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


In Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age George Siemens outlines a learning theory that he suggests better explains how learning takes place in an era when:
  • most people move through a variety of occupations, hobbies, personal situations, and practical needs;
  • people learn not only from institutionalised education, but from a range of sources including working through new tasks, searching for just-in-time information, and asking connections for their experiences;
  • learning is a life-long activity, we don't go through a period of learning information, followed by a period of applying it - the two are integrated throughout life.

Connectivism theorises contemporary learning as a process that "is focused on connecting specialized information sets" whether these information sets reside in libraries, databases, workmates or cyberbuddies.

The article describes the limitations of earlier learning theories as that they are based on the premise "that learning occurs inside a person" and do not address learning that is manipulated by technology or happens within organisations.

I'm not sure I understand this. My teaching is based on a social constructivist philosophy. Lev Vygotsky died young in 1934, and his work was based on language learning in children, yet his theory can be applied to learning in a digital era. Essentially it is based on the notion that we learn by doing something in the company of others who can already do it at some level.

I think that learning has to be internalised before it can be called learning. Machines can learn, organisations can learn but this is a change that happens inside the machine, inside the organisation, inside the person.

This line of thought inexplicably reminds me of Groucho Marx's "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Authority, canons and taste cultures

One of the skills we have been discussing in class is the ability to locate and evalate information, and arising out of this has been a number of comments on a necessary ability to locate authoritative texts, hidden as they are amongst amateur opinions and personal accounts.

However I think we need to go beyond this to develop in our students a critical attitude to knowledge in general, to let them learn that knowledge is constructed and can be contested, whether it appears in Nature or on a 6th grade class wiki.

One of the significant impacts that the internet has had on the academy is to challenge the notion of 'expertise' and the social designation of experts.

For example, in Jonathan Lupo's dissertation on contemporary film criticism, he analyses how the internet has enabled a new generation of non-professional film fan-critics to challenge professional critical hierarchies, and undermine the authority of academic critics and journalistic reviewers.

Contemporary literacy

I'm currently doing a course Introduction to Emerging Technologies through the University of Manitoba, which is the motivation for this blog - a way to record my thoughts about what we are learning, and to store links to information, opinions and tools.

In a discussion of Personal Learnning Environments (more about them later) one of the instructors, Dave, said that what he sees as new about being literate today, is that we don't need to remember information, we need to be able to find information when we require it. We grab bits and pieces from a wide range of sources as we go through our lives, and we need to keep track of these for when we need them.

To do this Dave suggests we require two things:
  • A network of people and a quick efficient way of connecting with them.
  • A mechanism for categorising, storing and retrieving the information we locate.

This is where Web 2.0 applications like Skype and NetVibes come into play.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Media Education

We have recently revised the major in film, media and cultural studies and have introduced a foundation course which all students will take. An important resource in developing the new major, and this foundation course in particular, was Henry Jenkins' report Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.

The report identifies the skills required for effective involvement in the participatory culture of the 21st Century as:

  • Play
  • Performance
  • Simulation
  • Appropriation
  • Multitasking
  • Distributed Cognition
  • Collective Intelligence
  • Judgement
  • Transmedia Navigation
  • Networking
  • Navigation

Jenkins' Project New Media Literacies has put together a video that explains just what they mean by new media literacies, and why they think they are important.

For me they are important because, while not everyone needs to be a producer in this new media environment, we all need to feel we are effective consumers, and we need to believe that we can contribute if and when we wish to.

Jenkins goes on in his blog to interview the researchers involved in the massive Digital Youth Project saying that "what emerges from the report is a complex picture of how [young people] are living through and around emerging technologies, how they are innovative in their use of new tools and platforms, and how they are struggling with the contradictions of their lives."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Online/Offline identities

For Goffman, identity is a series of performances based on interactions with different audiences. So the performance will be different for your fishing mates, the selection panel deciding on your application, and your parents/children.

This gets complicated online where we are unsure just who our audience is, and the boundaries between different audiences is blurred. You might be writing your blog with your fishing mates in mind, but reading it could be members of that selection panel. Just trying to maintain these boundaries can lead to conflict. How do you respond to a Facebook friend request from your boss? Should your parents be able to see your travel photos and blog on Bebo?

A search of Pipl suggests that most of the information on the Web about me, is about my professional identity. But I have been fairly careful about what I publish online. (My early research into Babes on the Web was perhaps a useful personal warning.) Even so I have had someone phone me after deducing my identity by putting together information on a social network site.

The Pew report Digital Footprints divides online adults into four categories based on their level of concern about their online information and whether or not they take steps to limit their online footprint:
  • Confident Creatives are the smallest of the four groups, comprising 17% of online adults. They say they do not worry about the availability of their online data, and actively upload content, but still take steps to limit their personal information.
  • The Concerned and Careful fret about the personal information available about them online and take steps to proactively limit their own online data. One in five online adults (21%) fall into this category.
  • Despite being anxious about how much information is available about them, members of the Worried by the Wayside group do not actively limit their online information. This group contains 18% of online adults.
  • The Unfazed and Inactive group is the largest of the four groups—43% of online adults fall into this category. They neither worry about their personal information nor take steps to limit the amount of information that can be found out about them online.

I'd say I'm a Confident Creative.

On the internet ...

Cartoon by Peter Steiner. The New Yorker, July 5, 1993 issue (Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20) page 61

Thinking about online identity

Influenced by Erving Goffman's 'Presentation of Self', I see identity as an ongoing project. While the notion of an essential self, or an inner core, has a romantic appeal, there is unlikely to be a 'real me' but rather a series of identity performances, through which I control, or at least attempt to control, the communication of information about who I am. In face to face contexts a wide range of identity positions are available to me; mother, academic, circus performer ...

Perhaps a wider range of positions are available online? Without physical constraints it may be easier to perform identity positions that cross not only roles but genders, or even species. But then face to face, as online, the only limitations on the identity positions I occupy is my ability to effectively convince my audience of the consonance of my identity markers with the role I have assumed.

Some identity markers I give out, intentionally. But I also give off information unintentionally. I might tell people that I am Australian, but if I do not they could read that from my accent, the words I choose, or the experiences I discuss.

Peter Steiner’s New Yorker cartoon commented on the invisibility of some identity markers in the online environment, contributing to a utopian view that online we could be free of the constraints of the body as gender, race and class would not exist online. In Babes on the Web I noted that “Theorists writing on computer mediated communication often see it in similar terms to cyber-punk fiction, as providing the possibility of separating an essential self from the body that contains and constrains it."

However research by Amy Bruckman, Susan Herring, Leslie Regan Shade and others quickly identified that embodied identity information seeps through, even when the identity markers are limited to textual cues.

Kibby, M. (1997). Babes on the Web: Sex, identity and the home page. Media International Australia, 84, 39-45

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Information Commons

Imagination is more important than knowledge - Information Commons at the University of Newcastle

Digital Literacy

Wesch graphically illustrates his thoughts about the way that Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, SNSs, RSS, and Wiki have changed the way that people communicate and share information. The video emphasises that digital text is easily captured and transformed, it is moveable and above all 'hyper' - able to be linked to and from infinite sources.

A decade ago I hypothesised that what at the time was called 'electracy' was taking up a position between orality and literacy. Were were seeing a re-techologising of the written text that blurred the boundaries between writing and speech. Web 2.0 apps confirm that belief.

What struck me in the Wesch video was how flexible, moveable, non-linear and above all 'hyper' was the text written in pencil on chart paper. In may be that "digital literacy" does not differ in essence from other forms of literacy, whatever the differences in scope.

Kibby, M. (1998). Web weavers: the gender implications of the (re)technologising of the word. Winds of Change - Women and Culture of Universities, (pp. 749-754). Sydney, Australia: University of Technology.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Machine is Us/ing Us

Download The Machine is Us/ing Us

Transcript The Machine is Us/ing Us

21st Century Skills

While identifying the desirable outcomes of a course of study would seem like an essential first step in the teaching/learning process, there are two trends unfolding in the literature on 'new literacy' or 21st Century skills.

  1. There seems to be an acceptance that there is a finite number of specific skills which will make students eLiterate and equip them for life and work in the 21st Century.
  2. Having drawn up the list of skills, there is a tendency to define, teach, and assess these skills in standardized and universalized ways.

Lankshear and Knobel argue that 'digital literacy' should instead be seen as a shorthand expression for the fluid social, cultural and personal practices that are involved in making sense of the texts that we encounter, and through the texts we create.

Cult Stud Grads

So if cultural studies is about "the notion of discourse and the nature of 'truth', the social construction of knowledge, representation and and the politics of reception, and identity, commodification, and resistance" and if the graduates from our major are to demonstrate "problem solving, communication, receptiveness, information literacy, and self-direction" how are we to combine these in meangingful, appropriate learning activieties for our students?

And how can technology help us do so?

This is what I shall be pondering in this blog.

Graduate Attributes

As the semester winds down, we have been engaged in the task of mapping the University's graduate attributes to the major strands of study in the B.A. and B.SocSci. - a good opportunity to reflect upon just what it is, exactly, that students are learning, and how that meshes with what we think we are teaching.

Our Graduate Attributes Policy outlines how graduates from our degree program will demonstrate professionalism, community responsiveness, and scholarship. That is, they will have an approach to work and activity, to society, and to knowledge and learning, that identifies them as graduates of the University of Newcastle.

Operationalizing this policy is an ongoing process of unsuring that these domains are reflected in the objectives of individual courses, and their achievement tested through the assessment items; and of identifying the specific attributes that will developed in the major strands of study in the programs.

An agreement on these attributes has yet to be reached, but under discussion are the following:
  • Problem solving – an ability to identify problems and seek solutions from a range of sources
  • Communication – an ability to communicate in diverse forums and formats.
  • Receptiveness – an openness to new ideas and a sensitivity to different beliefs and opinions.
  • Information literacy – an ability to locate, evaluate and re-integrate information.
  • Self-direction – an ability to understand, monitor and control one’s own activities.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Start with the pedagogies, not the technologies

As a lecturer in cultural studies at a regional Australian University, my teaching is based on a pedagogy that is consistent with the concerns of cultural studies.

These concerns include the notion of discourse and the nature of 'truth', the social construction of knowledge, representation and and the politics of reception, and identity, commodification, and resistance.

Henry Giroux has, for the last thirty years, been engaged in a sustained attempt to link critical pedagogy and cultural studies in a project aimed at developing a more democratic culture and a politivally aware citizenry. Douglas Kellner summarises Giroux's work, saying that in a time where new technologies, discourses, and practices are emerging almost daily, we need not simply more sophisticated ways of acquiring knowledge about our culture and the society in which we live, we need a critical pedagogy that struggles for democratization and against injustice.