Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Zen of Teaching - Clarifying the Myths Around Teaching, Learning and Technology

Today's #change11 session was presented by Antonio Vantaggiato, Universidad del Sagrado Corazon, San Juan, Puerto Rico. His complete presentation, with videos, is here.

In listing and discussing the myths around teaching, learning and technology, Vantaggiato hopes to clarify the issues - since "such myths tend to confuse teachers, researchers and students."

This aim was achieved for me, the discussion of each myth helped me clarify in my mind the issues. Fundamentally, shortcomings of language (in how they describe concepts and ideas, and how these interrelate) do not help to form a coherent argument of where we are or where we are going.

The story is told in this way, in myths [explanations in square brackets]:
  • Learning happens in the classroom, because we deliver instruction. So we lecture.
  • Ergo, identify the correct method together with the right content and the right teacher and: LEARNING HAPPENS! [Without studying and without responsibility upon the student]
  • Subsequently "learning" can be assessed by a test, perhaps standardised.
  • What do we test? We need to have "content". [But content leads to a consumption process, the faculty member is a content provider, the classroom hierarchical and the learning is closed - Luke Waltzer]
  • We can deliver this in a LMS. [But Gardner Campbell writes that we should shut down the LMSs and have "understanding augmentation networks" - moving away from educational assembly lines towards intellectual ecosystems of interest and curiosity]
  • Technology has us in the shallows - Google is making us stupid.
  • Death of the book. [Will evolve into other formats]
  • Death of an industry. [Industry should adapt, change; big publishers behaving like monopolies, seeing the resurgence of this into digimedia, looking to package and control, against our open web principles; Wikipedia did not kill Britannica, Windows did]
  • Teachers can be replaced by machines. [Actually a change of role]
  • Technology in the curriculum. [Always have had technology in the curriculum - language, paper, pencil, book, blackboard; is online learning more or less effective than learning in a classroom? George Siemens: "who cares" - the question is irrelevant]
  • Don't need internet, twitter, whatever - turn off these devices for successful learning.
  • Need STEM. [Actually need STEAM, include the Arts, Liberal Arts]
  • Labels help us in what we are talking about. [e-learning, virtual learning, mobile learning labels do not mean much, are not helping to get beyond those narrow definitions]
So if these are the myths - what helps us establish what learning is?

Learning is ...
  • Sense making.
  • Learners should experience chaos and confusion
  • Teach to think deeply
  • Teach to think rigorously
  • Autonomy is key - in control of their own learning
  • Connections
  • Navigations
  • Openness
The presentation ended on MOOCs, to everyone's delight.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Speed Geeking for quick tastes, leading to a good appetite....

It worked really well. With over 60 participants, the Technology 4 Learning (T4L) session last Saturday seemed to be a great success.
An early breakfast followed by an excellent Keynote from Mariam Mathews (via Blackboard Collaborate) got the event rolling.
Mariam took us through the developments in technology in schools and gave us three trends:
  1. Devices - choice is growing, BYO or school provided?
  2. Pedagogical innovations - Flipping, student response systems (eg Twitter), blended learning, challenges in moving from bricks-and-mortar.
  3. Social Networking in the classroom.
Good session, we learned that we should have shown the videos locally and given our staff some Collaborate training.
The  Speed Geeking session was fun. We had 12 stations with a range of technology on show - four minutes at a time for groups to have a taste:
  1. (Kidspiration) Inspiration 

  2. Scratch Programming

  3. Facebook or Fakebook in the classroom

  4. Simple Booklets

  5. Gaming

  6. Animation / iMovie
  7. Robots

  8. SketchUp

  9. iPads

  10. iPod Touch Apps
  11. VoiceThread

  12. Digital Portfolios
The student presenters were great! Four minutes each presentation proved really too short and, as usual, teachers have their own ideas about which groups they should be in. But it was enough to get an idea so as to return in the later digital playground sessions.
Congratulations to Jennifer Garcia and Judith Shorrocks for all the organising - excellent!


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Stephen Downes on Knowledge

This week's #change11 subject was "Knowledge" and from Stephen Downes himself. His preparation piece (Knowledge, Learning and Community) took us from the traditional model of knowledge (propositional or representative) towards building a model which is about the state of organisation of the neurons of the brain and our of bodies that results after our interactions with the world. This same definition was linked to how knowledge resides in the state of organisation in communities, and how language was also part of this picture, with the rules of language NOT being the rules of the knowledge:

Language follows learning and experience, is reflective of learning and experience, and does not constitute learning and experience. A sentence is like a picture: an abstraction, a snapshot, a moment, an artifice. It is not inherently true or false, does not inherently contain its own meaning. When we read, when we comprehend, a language, we do so by recognizing, and not by decoding.

These are my notes from the Wednesday sessions, with some comments in italics.

What is knowledge? A set of connections in a network. Knowledge IS the network

What is "knowing" ....
  • facts? 
  • laws? 
  • concept of a fact slips away once we analyse language used, once we analyse in any depth
Old: universals
  • rules 
  • categories
New: patterns
  • similarities
  • coherences
This view changes nature of knowledge; how we recognise, how we know.
  • How we perceive patterns of connectivity
    • Take the actual connections, and interpret them as a distinct whole
    • Take the distinct whole, and interpret as a set of connections
  • As Hume would say: our perception of a causal relationship between two events is more a matter of custom and habit than it is observation
  • knowledge as recognition, 
  • knowledge as emergence of patterns, 
  • knowledge as distributed representation.

Distributed representation - a set of connection between neurons = a pattern of connectivity.
Brain is a pattern matching machine; same network is used to remember different entities.

How did you learn that a photo was Nixon? You didn't - you learned it over time, repetition.
You are having an experience, it creates a set of connections, you have an experience and you create a similar set of connections, until this becomes the remembered knowledge.

  • Personal knowledge: the organisation of neurons
  • Public knowledge: the organisation of artifacts
They are different things, made of different things, but they are both networks. People confuse between personal and public knowledge; personal knowledge is not transferred public knowledge - things that make it public knowledge are different from what makes it personal knowledge.

What is learning?
  • creating personal knowledge
  • forming connections of sets of neurons
  • pattern recognition

Downes Theory of Pedagogy

To teach is to model and demonstrate, to learn is to practice and reflect
Personal learning 

Developing personal knowledge is more like exercising than like inputting, absorbing or remembering.

Paolo Friere's views on an act of knowing came to mind (from

"Maximally systematised knowing" could be interpreted as well established networks and the act of knowing achieved through synthesising, is the establishing of the networks in the learner.
Personal Learning Environment: a PLE is a tool intended to immerse yourself into the workings of a community. Physicist learns by being a physicist. PLE allows you to create, participate and engage in the community.

(More notes to come on the collaboration/cooperation distinction)

Openness - do not define it by the walls, openness is about flow, plasticity

We have homework! For Friday - create and present a learning artifact and think about it from the perspective of this theory.