learning, knowledge, process

if you like it then you shoulda put a badge on it… thanks to the tip from Laurie, I did the ‘course’ and now have my first badge, yay (too easy)

I'm a Web 2.0 tools master

but seriously folks… one of the things I’m really here in this mooc to consider is how some of the key words at the centre of a thesis I’m writing play out in an educational environment like this, and I’m picking up heaps of links to blogs that are following similar lines of thought. One I was just reading this morning is from a maths educator who was reflecting on an article she’d read by Elizabeth Ellsworth [(1989). Why Doesn’t This Feel Empowering? Working through the Repressive Myths of Critical PedagogyHarvard Educational Review59(3), 297].

The question of interest arising for the blogger, Angela Vierling-Claassen, is: “can a constructivist MOOC, moocified course, or personal learning network” create an educational experience in which “‘knowing’ doesn’t just describe the speech acts of those in power”… what is the potential of a ‘connectivist MOOC’ in that enterprise…?

Being in the middle of this clearly ‘connectivist’ mooc, I’m listening, watching, thinking about this kind of thing… I’m not personally interested in buzz words and pseudo categories, but am always interested in discussions of the nature of knowledge and how that’s perceived in educational contexts, and in the degree to which educators and learners do or don’t ‘acknowledge’ and manage linguistic processes, networks and social contexts in learning environments…

I like the acknowledgement in this post of the ‘fantasy’ element of certain stories we have in mind in education, notably, that of equity of access or of ’empowering’ the voiceless to participate and make choices, and how the stories that might motivate may also undermine the very endeavour (by being in denial of reality and therefore glossing over the very things that need to be attended to)…

But a keyword in all educational discourse is of course knowledge, and in this moocspace it seems a key consideration how we imagine not only what it is to know and to come to know, but also what technologies have to do with it, with our stories about the experience imagined as noun (knowledge as thing to acquire and possess) or imagined as verb and process, or imagined as space, as circumstance…. how is the experience of ‘learning’ represented, and how do technologies feature in it? I guess these are some of the things that will be represented in my assignment, because they’re certainly on my mind…

Meanwhile, I busy myself playing with the various technologies of learning and with proving that I have them…. off to pursue another ‘badge’ somewhere, perhaps to get lost in space….

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reading the lives of others

just quickly browsing through some of the many, various blogs that colleagues in edcmooc are putting out there, I stopped for a moment to ponder on this one of Chris Swift’s, and of Nigel‘s that it responds to – to wonder about ‘worrying’ about new technologies of literacy…

Apart from all the usual worries about ‘what is who going to do with my identity details and data’ (and what if I lose the address book that has all my fifty thousand passwords in it), like Nigel, I’d also felt a serious twinge of embarrassment in creating a ‘twitter’ account… from the outside, you can easily get the impression (from mainstream media I suppose) that the twittershere is a young person’s thing, so older people getting into it might look sadly ridiculous… like they were wearing baggy pants half way down the bum and riding a long board around their workplace thinking they could be cool… and the names of these online social media are pretty poxxy – twitter doesn’t make me think ‘sweet little birdies chatting’, it makes me think twit – as in moron, air head, plastic person… and why does technology need ‘disney’ logos? I hate having to grin and bear all the irritating mass marketing silly speak in order to explore the software…

BUT, of course, once you’re actually into it, you realise you can just  ignore the idiotic names and logos, it’s about the easy and interesting conversations these tools give you access to, and which help you do what you want to be doing… with twitter you can quite easily and quickly find people who want to talk about the things that matter to you too – theoretical, political, social, serious, silly – you name it – pick a conversation and join in. amazing – and unlike a conference, you don’t have to get on a plane for 30 hours to get there, and it costs you NOTHING! bloody brilliant (and as a language educator, I’m thinking it looks like a good way to develop fluency in the tweeted language, by simply engaging in lots of authentic, meaningful exchange – so I’ll be incorporating it into my teaching this year I think).

As I learn how to use it, I’m thinking twitter’s a great technology for open and inclusive conversation – so thanks to all those nameless people who have been working on its conceptual and material development for countless years and not getting the credit (which is always taken by the person at the end of the process)…

Nigel’s sister may or may not really think that twitter is the work of the devil (!), but media are often reacted to that way when they’re new – TV… the printed book… one person’s salvation and freedom is another’s subversion of semiotic capital and trusted text production and distribution processes…. and another’s business opportunity..

reminds me of when secular workshops took over manuscript production in the 14th century (replacing monastic scriptoria) and the church lost its control of what was written and who was reading it (and how)… and when printing enabled ‘mass’ production and cheaper distribution to the general public… and then, egads, public education brought literacy to the great unwashed – and all hell could have broken loose… (except that schools were more about factory fodder training than enlightenment).

Well you don’t wait to be given power, you have to take it, and this story in the guardian’s poverty matters blog caught my eye the other day, because it’s a good example of how twitter can be used for socially significant purposes. I tend to think it’s fabulously good, for the most part – if new communication tools accelerate the potential for people living in economically oppressive and politically repressive environments to reshape their own circumstances into something livable. But like a sharp knife – I don’t imagine it’s the technology that will be doing good or harm, but the people using it. I guess the point I’d want to make is that ‘twitter’ is a tool, not an activity. We don’t need the tool in order to do the activity, but if we have a good tool, we can do it differently, or better or just much faster and more inclusively.

This pre-course phase of edcmooc is a real exercise in exploration of tools, to work out how they work, and how they compare, and which might suit our individual and variable purposes best. The name of the game isn’t Twitter, it’s conversation – exchange of language.. and it seems to me there are days I learn more via twitter than I do in conversation with work colleagues in a year!

So getting back to the theme of the course that Chris reminds us of… we’re here in edcmooc to learn the tools of trade in digitised education, and to explore common perceptions in our culture of promise and peril with the advent of new technologies – the stories we tell about the use of technology, as either normal and integral part of our development, or as challenge to our understanding of what it means to be human… and to think about how popular ‘cyber cultures’ relate to formal educational practices, and what difference digital makes to the presentation of academic knowledge…

That common perception of conversational tools like twitter (created by marketing and mainstream media) – that it’s ‘light’, silly, intellectually vacuous, frivolous fluff stuff – reminds me how easy it is to focus on a tool rather than what users are doing with it, and how or whether the tool helps… it also has me thinking about how often language is invisible to those who are fluent in it, and how educational talk about ‘learning’ often fails to focus on the nitty gritty of how learners can actually expand their awareness of lexico-grammatical choices to better make sense of information and extend their capacity to make meaningful exchanges in diverse and shifting contexts….

So in line with the course theme, my thought of the day, or plan for the month, is to think very seriously about how I can use Twitter, for example, this year to help my students, in at least one of the subjects I teach, to notice, reflect on and develop English. I work with several groups in different disciplines who have one thing in common – they’re post-graduate students using English as an additional language. I have been using blogs for a few years for introductory and reflective tasks, and to make a suite of online language development tools part of their daily learning environment, but the limitation of 140 characters could be a very appealing thing to those who feel daunted by an expectation to write blog entries, and it could facilitate much more frequent commentary, questioning and language learning, so I want to explore it, along with daily photos of their experience as students – the trail left providing material for reflection later… I just started exploring 140 character fiction as a stimulus – maybe they’ll want to compose their own too, for a lark (there are many sites for this kind of thing), but I’m also thinking they could choose a site a day from the range of resources I put on my teaching blog and tweet about why they find it useful or not…  maybe they could tweet each week about the main thing that was a linguistic challenge to them – that could help me identify patterns and focus my attention where it’s most needed. just thinking – very open to suggestions 🙂

But wait – there was something else in Chris’ post that made me stop and ponder today… the notion that changing the media of communication could somehow do away with ‘mis’-understandings…. that in some future version of communication technology, we might be able to do away with language altogether, so that ‘thoughts’ could be conveyed without ‘error’, and ideas could be exchanged without the muddied waters middlespace of inarticulate you and me imperfect humans… hmmm. I struggle with that basic notion of ‘thoughts’ existing apart from social semiotic, material communicational practices. It seems to be the dominant thinking in our culture (it has a very long history), and it makes education very difficult sometimes, is the way I see it. I dunno – I just feel the world is horribly dominated by Pinker-type discourse and I don’t find it helpful to think in terms of us ‘having thoughts’ and then translating them ‘into’ language, as though there were two separable realms. Unlike the Chomskys and Pinkers of this world, I don’t accept the argument (however venerably old) that ‘thoughts’ and ‘mind’ exist apart from any particular medium of communication. I think language most certainly IS how we ‘have thoughts’ in the first place and that language is all we have to bind us through exchange (‘have thoughts’ being in inverted commas, because we don’t ‘have’ anything – we continually make meaning, and its just the effect of academic writing that abstractions and relational verbs construe experience in static and possessive terms). I don’t see how any two people could ever have the ‘same’ understanding of anything – seems to me we cannot BUT make different interpretations of the same material, because meaning is not ‘in’ what we observe, it’s an effect of our interpretative activity…. interpret that as you will !

disruption as storytelling device

I was just listing to the radio briefly as I passed between rooms and heard a novelist in interview saying how she (and all creative writers) needs to construct a disruption in a situation in order to be able to go on to tell a story, and of course this rings true – we all know narrative technique well enough to know the importance of the initial ‘crisis’… but what interested me was how that obvious truism suddenly struck me as just as true of the sort of creative writing we are engaging in as students in this course, and how the course itself is an emerging narrative enabled by an initial discourse on how ‘disruptive’ the mooc is to everything and anything in higher education: it’s irrelevant whether we take it as ‘true’ or not, we simply need to suspend disbelief in order to engage in the joys of the storytelling… it’s like we need to construct that disruption or ‘crisis’ in our situation so that we can proceed to join in the telling of a big story – which is nothing other than the doing of this course (‘learning’ as it were)…

exploding-brain4

I don’t even see that as an ‘are we in our out of the matrix?’ scenario, because in my old age I have come to see less and less difference between fiction and non fiction, between story and history (or hers), between creative and ‘academic’ writing… it’s all just language, in varying genres and registers…. I’m in the middle of writing a thesis and have taught both creative and academic writing for two decades, to a wide range of students, for various purposes (including to ‘learn English’ and to ‘learn Australian Studies’ and to learn some ‘Science’ or ‘Health’ or ‘Engineering’ discipline they’ve chosen to study) and I believe less and less in there actually being any real difference at all… and to see more and more the cross-over relevance of analytic techniques and developmental strategies I’ve used in one area for others…

just thought I’d share that one 🙂

all we see and seem, is but a dream within a dream, as Mr Poe once so eloquently penned…

either that or I’ve just been thinking about language philosophy for too long….

this is my story:

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changing nature of literacy

Before disappearing from this space for the christmas break, I was just reading a few of the other course participants’ blog posts and this one by Chris made me smile… and then I found myself rethinking what I’ve been thinking for a very long time (well who ever stops thinking what they already know, right? we just add to the mix, we never ‘move on’ – everything important we already learned by the age of 5…), but anyway, ‘literacy’ has been my pet theme since I did a research project on it in an earlier life, and I was taken, back then when I first got deeply into higher ed, with two fields at once – medieval book culture and Halliday’s sophisticated and fascinating theory of language (that just made ‘language’ per se so much more interesting than anything we were ever told about it in school)…. and I’ve remained interested in both ever since.

What I wrote my thesis about way back then was an amusing and extraordinary phenomenon in early 14th English manuscripts, such as the splendiferous Luttrell Psalter….

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imgres-1   imgres-2

where the marginal imagery started to really take off and occupy more and more of the page ‘real estate’… and where that imagery became hilariously bawdy and bizarre (from a 20th century perspective on reading medieval illuminated manuscripts, as filtered by a century of construing book painting in terms of a particular set of ‘fine arts’ discourses)…

anyways, I’m finding now that whatever I see here in our shared MOOCdom, I can’t help but interpret through the filters already implanted in my mind from those earlier educational explorations, which left far more than a trace – they’re my framework. So when I read Chris’ post, thoughts about the pertinent analogy there were quickly overtaken by my usual set of thoughts, stemming from Halliday‘s lovely way of describing three simultaneous operations of language development – how the individual’s language repertoire grows and changes through their life, how a language as a whole, in the collective mind, changes over the centuries, and how any particular text unfolds and its context and meaning changes with each new word and sentence.

I guess I’ve just been ‘trained’ to (well, I like to) take a very long term view of change – I’m just not caught up in the current wave of hype about how the digital environment ‘changes everything’ or forces us to ‘rethink everything’… it modifies things very significantly, sure, but I don’t see a technology (or suite of new technological developments) completely changing the whole game.

I just find it more interesting I guess to look a long way back, and forward, to make sense of what’s happening here and now… what’s fantastic about this digital environment from my point of view is that we can so quickly and easily observe so much of what is going on in all three dimensions or ‘scales’ of operation – the production of each new text being contributed and read; personal development as new media are experimented with and mastered; and collective cultural development as this digital literacy phenomenon emerges and grows rapidly…

I’m just seeing what’s going on in terms of changing opportunities and media for literacy, and literacy (digital or otherwise) as usual, as just part of what we do with language – a major part of what we learn to do in this lovely little bit of life we enjoy for such a brief moment 🙂

pacem et concordiam ad omnes

provoking comment

and while I learn more about twitter (which my research assistant this morning also very kindly taught me a thing or two about today, and introduced me to TweetDeck… which I’ll get back to some day when I need to avoid my day job some more, but right now I’m wanting to get back into some actual work – but just before I do I just have to note that the e-learning provocateur’s post that I read today (as I was munching on my lunch after my fruitful meeting with said research assistant this morning with whom I was actually doing some work, before we got onto the frivolous topic of tweeting, she being the expert and I the utter novice) has stuck in my mind and my mind being what it is these days I figure best strike while proverbial iron’s hot or the thoughts will be thinner than air by the time I get home tonight so here I am posting again – I was planning for just one a day, I feel now like I am binging, like I’m eating the whole packet of timtams in one go… a reference all Australians will immediately understand but others may need explained) well anyway, I just want to comment on one of the many points Ryan makes in his post because it echoes something I was saying to my twitter expert friend and assistant in crime this very day, in qualified defence of moocdom, namely… about the cMOOC.

We are clearly in what George Siemens refers to as a cMOOC, not an xMOOC – or at least, some of us are. That is, one where the focus is on connected, collaborative learning rather than broadcast. I mean, as I was thinking aloud this morning, it is a month before lift off and I have already learned stuff because we’re talking to each other, and I fully expect now that this has set the scene for the whole course – most of the learning we experience will be generated by our own interactions. This interests and pleases me, because the learning experience is the very aspect I joined to investigate. I am thinking of other points raised in Ryan’s post, such as the anticipation within and around the higher ed sector that moocdom will be rapidly occupied by those who have for so long been excluded from higher education, or who have found it absurdly inaccessible (remote, expensive, linguistically challenging), even as the empire repositions itself to remain the font of all knowledge for the foreseeable future – I expect there will be interesting comebacks ahead!

What I’m really keen to observe in this mooc experience we’re about to fly off into is its linguistic nature, the degree of multi-modality, and the potential of the medium to help or hinder those attempting to engage in what is for them a second, or still quite foreign language… there is so much potential for this moocy medium to be brilliant in multi-lingual contexts, and so much likliehood that it won’t be! I wonder when the first multi-lingual mooc delivery will be… there are already moocs playing out with study groupings conducted in languages other than English, but given that the big gun providers are US and UK based, the delivery will be in the firm grip of English for quite some time to come I guess.

there is a lot of commentary about moocs of course (and I’ve just got a grabbag snippet on my moocdom page on this blog, excerpts from a much larger set of bookmarks I’ve been gathering the past few months) – but surprisingly little about the language (or have I missed a ginormous discussion somewhere? – there is this interesting post about the geography of moodcom, but what really seriously is there about the linguistics?) One person I’m aware of who’s discussing the implications is Paul Prinsloo, but the topic will be on my mind throughout this course – be warned!

the twit list

am just trying to get my head around twitter and the list feature – following on from reading Ronald Voorn’s post on his excellent blog (and scoop it page) commenting on the neo-colonialist agenda of US MOOCdom, then finding Eric’s twitter list, and then wondering how you join a list, then googling that, then finding that you don’t add yourself to someone else’s list you subscribe to their list and/or make your own list…. there is of course no end to any of this, and it all just takes me back to the one BIG CONCEPT – recursion – the only thing in Chomsky’s ‘theory’ of language I actually agree with – it’s the game changer alright… but that is another story… perhaps I will storify it, when I learn how to do that…. or perhaps I will just go back to my day job!

twit list

how do you put your twitter link onto your blog? I tried a widget, it didn’t work… rather like my rather pathetic attempt to get flickr happening there on the sidebar – have I failed digitools 201? 😦

one day this will all be history…

So here we are, about to be launched into a 5 week journey into who knows quite where… like most of us in this course I guess, I signed up for it months ago, and wait here patiently for take off… now just a few weeks away… everyone’s starting to be a twit and blogger about it in anticipation, so I’ve joined the ranks. May the force be with us (if that’s a good thing – I’ve never actually seen Star Wars, so I’ve no idea what that reference means… not really into Star Trek either – I’m more of a Dr Who and Life on Mars kind of girl…).

Anyway, so far the genre here seems clear. Ground control has posted some basic instructions, no detailed map yet, but some general directions:

This course will explore how digital cultures and learning cultures connect, and what this means for e-learning theory and practice

The ‘about the course’ blurb says (cut, paste, abbreviate):

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is about how popular narratives shape our ideas of online education. We’ll look at how learning and literacy is represented in popular digital-, (or cyber-) culture…. you create your own pictorial, filmic or graphic representation of themes encountered during the course, using digital spaces in new ways…”.

I went to a bit of an overview and debrief meeting yesterday at my workplace university, where a few people reported their experience doing MOOCs, and there are some clear pattern to these experiences, in terms of duration, design, delivery, collaborative assessment, joys & benefits, overwhelms & disgruntlements… so I know a bit of what to expect.

The first expectation on us is to create a blog (check), and to say hello on the course’s Google Plus page (check), and then create a semi coherent social media habitus, comprising Facebook, Twitter, Flickr etc… (to do)… thankfully I already have all those accounts, and this is hopefully a good reason to use them. So, off I go to do all that and complete task one…

Meanwhile, back to the beginning thought – that one day, this will all be history…. how better to begin a learning journey story than with a brief meditation on language?

In the beginning was the word…. I’m thinking here in terms of Halliday‘s conception of language history in 3 dimensions: how the language system evolves, how the language repertoire of an individual develops, and how specific instances of language unfold –  logogenesis – the semiotic dynamics of text and context changing together as we go with the flow…. to set the scene….

Throughout this journey into MOOCspace, I want to consider these three dimensions of language, as we endeavour to make sense of course materials and engage in conversation with one another… I’m interested to see how the course and the various blogs unfold, how my personal knowledge of the topic expands as I start saying new things, and how doing a course online with a squillion other people does or doesn’t change our sense of what it is to learn, and whether the technology is making significant changes to our collective capacity to interact and make meaning – or whether it’s not just a different mode of literate behaviour rather than a new form of life…