Monday, January 30, 2012

Authentic eLearning and 4MAT

Now that I'm feeling a little more well-informed about authentic eLearning, opportunities to throw it into the conversation seem to be popping up all over the place in my workplace. The first time this happened (about a week ago) I found I was struggling to succinctly articulate what authentic learning is, and yet today a fellow eDesign course participant and I very confidently advised a colleague of ours that authentic learning was an approach better suited to her online delivery plans than experiential learning. We were able to clearly articulate how it might work in the context she was describing, and she liked the sound of it. So for me this was a signal moment in my (authentic) learning journey and it reminded me that often we don't realise how much we have learned until the knowledge springs forth unsolicited!

That joyous realisation is somewhat tempered by the news that the university I work in is giving strong consideration to the adoption of the 4MAT model of curriculum design, to be promoted across the board to all staff, and that as a learning designer I must become knowledgeable and competent in its promotion and application. As I await confirmation of this development, and subsequent 4MAT training, I am already wondering at how the various learning approaches I currently espouse, use or am learning about, will fit (if at all) into this one-size fits all model?

I don't know enough about 4MAT yet to reassure myself on this, and my early self-guided efforts in  finding out more have been resoundingly discouraged before I have done the training(!). Nevertheless I cannot tie down my own spirit of inquiry and I can already see it is going to be a huge challenge to my professional wherewithal to reach a place where I can comfortably and confidently integrate this model into my current advisory role.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Confessions of a linear learner

For professional development purposes I am working my way through a four week online workshop on designing authentic eLearning courses. Aside from the knowledge and expertise gained, I see great value in being a learner again, and being reminded of both the joys and the frustrations of it.

Although we are technically only half way through the course at this point, one of the most powerful learning "moments" has already occurred for me - I have learnt that I am a hopelessly linear learner. In a sense I knew that about myself, and saw it as just a learning preference, but wasn't truly aware of how restrictive and limiting it can be.

What do I mean by linear? I like to know the beginning and end of a process, and all of the steps laid out in between, before I start doing anything. I try to work out at the outset exactly what is required, how it is to be done, and when it is to be done by. I like to be clear on the style, format, length etc. to be sure I do it exactly right. And on top of all that, I like to know what the "rules" are in any given learning situation - and by rules I mean that unspoken understanding of how things are "commonly" done, what is "typically" expected, and so forth. I need to know the right way.

And so I reached a point early on in this course, where I was trying to work all of these things out in relation to a blogging task. Just when when I thought I had it straight in my mind that we were to blog about X, I saw something else in the course that said we were to blog about Y, and something else again said we were to blog about Z. My linear learning cells activated the anxiety alarm and I no longer knew what I was to do, or how I was to do it, and if I didn't know that, how could I possibly do well? My conative processes were withering and sliding into the background.

Immediately I remembered the same sense of (di)stress I had when I attempted a MOOC on Connectivism - that style of learning felt too chaotic for me - and I will be so brave as to confess that I thought "this will never take hold in universities because most learners need more direction, instruction, and clarity of purpose." A gross generalisation, I know, but that's what I thought. I didn't realise that the thought should more correctly have been, "this will never work for me because I need more direction, instruction, and clarity of purpose."

But even that thought is flawed - never say never! This time around I did not just throw in the towel, but rather I expressed my anxiety and confusion to the course convenor. Here comes another confession - because I am such a linear learner, and because I didn't yet fully understand the nature and form of authentic learning tasks, I assumed that the design of this course was a little flawed, because the instructions weren't clear. [I didn't tell the course convenor this bit, but she'll know as soon as she reads this!] But by the end of our conversation, I fully understood the why's of her course design, the essence of  authentic learning and its openness and flexibility, the intended nature of the task, and the challenge to my way of learning it was going to represent. The fact that there is no right way leaves it up to me to decide how I approach it, how I complete it, and what I learn from it. Now I know what I have to do, and how I am going to do it.

The big revelation for me is that even though the only "rule" in this situation is that there are no rules other than those I set myself, just knowing that seems to have satisfied my learning needs, and it seems I am not as linear as I thought! The next big confession will need to be that authentic learning is not what I thought it was - but that's for another post.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Where there's a will, there's learning

Having read Andrew Churches' article titled Bloom's Digital Taxonomy my first reaction was "Wow! What a great resource for giving teaching staff ideas on how to use a huge range of online and offline technologies at all of Bloom's cognitive levels." As a learning designer I often feel more squirrel than human, constantly foraging for examples of sound and effective online learning activities, and tucking what I find into my cheeks (so to speak). So Churches' document seemed like a gold mine of ideas complete with pedagogical justifications, and rubrics.

After my excitement died down a little, a sobering thought popped into my head: "For all the fantastic ideas I collect, the elusive prize remains the secret to willing student participation." A re-reading of Churches' introduction to Bloom and his domains of learning, hoping to find there some kernel to add to my stash, caused me to reflect that the only thing missing in his article was some attention to the conative domain - the will, desire, drive, level of effort, mental energy, intention, striving, and self-determination to perform at the best level. That sent me scurrying off, bushy tail twitching with mild irritation, to Google "conative domain" to be sure I knew what I was talking (thinking) about, and found Tom Reeves' paper on Technology and the Conative Learning Domain in Undergraduate Education.

After a quick scan of Reeves' paper I felt somewhat vindicated in my criticism of Churches since Reeves laments that teaching in higher education institutions is primarily focussed on solely the cognitive domain, and even then mostly on the lower half.

While I am yet to do a deeper reading of Reeves' paper, two golden acorns did peep out at me: his reference to five essential strategies for increasing student engagement; and his attention to the development of valid and reliable assessments for authentic learning tasks that encompass all four of the learning domains. Good fodder indeed, for future blogs.

So although I ultimately feel that this makes Churches' article more of a silver than a gold mine, it is still a resource I am extremely pleased to have become acquainted with - my cheeks are bulging so far I'm in danger of choking on a rubric or two.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

"The golden rule of networks is: Location, location, location".

So says Valdis Krebs in his introduction to Social Network Analysis. SNA is "the mapping and measuring of relationships and flows between people, groups, organizations, computers, URLs, and other connected information/knowledge entities" and is a concept we are contemplating as part of our journey through the fairy-floss haze of connectivism. Krebs gives a very clean description of the elements of a network that warrant analysis - namely the centrality measures of Degree Centrality, Betweenness Centrality, and Closeness Centrality - although as yet I am uninformed as to why they warrant analysis. Further reading in cck11 required...

Wikipedia tells us:
"Network analysis, and its close cousin traffic analysis, has significant use in intelligence. By monitoring the communication patterns between the network nodes, its structure can be established. This can be used for uncovering insurgent networks of both hierarchical and leaderless nature."

Intelligence? As in international espionage? Would I know a hierarchical insurgent network if I tripped over it? I am not sure why we need to know about network analysis in relation to connectivism... yet.


Ok, now I have listened to Stephen Downes' presentation on Learning Networks and as I listened to him talk about his first design principle of a network - Decentralize - the centrality measures of SNA popped into my head and I understood the importance of knowing the strength of a network, and how easily it can, or cannot, be broken. Stephen defined eight of these design principles: Decentralize, Distribute, Disintermediate, Disaggregate, Dis-integrate, Democratize, Dynamize (sic), and Desegregate. As I listened (and learned), I felt suddenly that the value of a learning network, in my profession in general, but also in my own learning journey, was remarkably clear. The big leap for me now is to see and accept that connectivism as a learning theory, and learning networks as a learning framework, are the way to go in terms of teaching and learning in higher education. I can't quite let go of my belief that I need clear organisation and structure to learn most efficiently, and that higher ed students generally need (or at least want) it too.In addition to our teaching institutions, do we have to convince the students that this is a better way to learn?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Understanding connectivism: some first thoughts

If I think about one of the driving factors behind my enrollment in the CCK11 mooc, which is the desire (and the professional expectation) to keep abreast of lines of thought and development in my field, I am making the obvious connection (no pun intended) that this is exactly what lies behind this theory of learning.To quote from George Siemens paper Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age: "Currency (accurate, up-to-date knowledge) is the intent of all connectivist learning activities." Actually I feel quite oppressed by the pressure to keep up, and yet also compelled to do so by my own desire for intellectual stimulation. Why doesn't the latter cancel out the former? Mental laziness perhaps, but part of it is that I really don't know how people can do it! Not literally how, but motivationally how, I suppose. One conclusion I have come to is that I haven't developed the ability, and so another of George's points resonated with me: "Ability to see connections between fields, ideas, and concepts is a core skill." And as an extension of that, in my mind, so too is the seeking out of those connections. Hopefully, as the theory suggests, connectivism will allow me to remain current in my field. :)

I have to say I am struggling with the idea that learning may reside in non-human appliances, or that it exists outside of the person. I can't quite grasp that a mental process could exist if the mind is removed from the equation. To me it seems only information resides in the non-human appliances. Although I suppose I can form a concept of a learning organism that exists out there in the ether, consisting of the information stored on devices, the physical network that connects the devices, the ideas, thoughts, opinions, explorations and observations pertinent to that information that are added to the devices and network, (and the connections that form between the human originators of those ideas, thoughts, etc), and the processes of change and movement that occur within these structures, and finally the impact they have on society and culture, ALL constituting an unnameable learning beast which we can commune with (and influence) on a personal level. Yes, clumsy, but I need to make sense of it.

After reading Stephen Downes' blog post "What connectivism is", I have found I experience a brain freeze when I try to start comprehending the arguments of those digging deep down into the language we use to describe learning or meaning-making . I understand the arguments, and the literal meaning of their words of course, but getting my mind around the concept of learning, creating understanding or meaning-making as a physical process, trying to conceptualise it in my own mind – stumps me. Even in my attempts to write this and choose words to describe the “act” of learning I fear I am tripping myself up by using all the wrong words. It is unnerving, but challenging, therefore to be trying to learn in an atmosphere of trepidation. Learning is a mystery I struggle to make a mental model of. (!!)

A first foray into a MOOC

Instead of standing on the sidelines and watching, or attempting to absorb things vicariously, I've plunged in and registered for George Siemens' and Stephen Downes' MOOC, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge 2011.
Perhaps it is an insecurity in me, but I often view academic discussions in my own field with a sense of awe, as if it is on a higher plane than the one I inhabit, but then surprise myself, when drawn into discussions with colleagues, with just how much I know and can contribute to the collective knowledge. Hence the decision to register for CCK11 and put my knowledge to the test AND learn more, more and more! This blog is going to chart my learning journey over the next 12 weeks, and hopefully become a repository for (regular) musings on learning technologies in higher ed.