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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reviewing scale & strategy – or, how to remain sane while in a mooc

focus time folks – the sudden upsurge in numbers online in the course this week has been a bit… omg.. from a sort of manageable hundred or so using the social media, to…?? I know we have been expecting this all along, but it still feels like a tsunami when it hits!  I’m not even going to try keeping up with reading discussions now…. Dirk’s cartoon that I quoted yesterday said it all..

So, a different strategy seems called for… which is pretty good timing for me as it happens, because I’ve been feeling guilty spending so much time here the past couple of weeks anyway, and now I have a good reason to change my roaming ways…

speaking of net surfing I just went to find an image and saw that, today’s google image is in honour of snugglepot and cuddlepie (favourite storybook for little Australians, about gum nut fairies in the bush) – how cute is that?

google snugglepot and cuddlepie 2013-01-17

Anyway, I know I’ve been spending quite a bit of time each day browsing around, following links, reading blogs, reading articles, watching videos, because my connection has slowed right down, meaning I guess that I’ve used my download quota for the month –  and it’s only half way through the month!

It’s been great though – I’ve learned a lot from all the reading, and been stimulated to think about some new topics, and I’ve enjoyed it… and whenever I find something of relevance to the thesis I’m writing I can tell myself I’m doing research rather than wasting my time – yay…

As I’ve been thinking about the course objectives and expected outcomes more carefully, I’ve reorganised this blog (again) this morning …. now I think I’ve settled on a structure and a simple routine, that should see me through the five weeks of the course delivery and interaction, and the production of the assessment task. So I guess I’m ‘focused’ now…

I remind myself that the course leaders reckon we should only be spending 3-5 hours per week on this course! So my preparation for the course has far exceeded the time I’m going to spend on actually doing the course…. hmmm

So, no more browsing and contributing to such a range of discussions in Facebook and G+ for me, just a really quick browse of them every other day, grab anything that seems to fit into the story I’m constructing here in this blog, limit my browsing to half an hour max each day, and post a quick message or two to one of the social media to share only the most interesting stuff I’ve found – I don’t have time to check, but I’m going to assume that if I inter-link social media, my one message will appear in all of them automatically…

Anyway, what have I learned so far in these prep weeks? I think this blog represents it pretty much, in its page organisation and their contents, but in short…

toolbox tiny tools for online communication & multimedia text production

I thought I already was tech savvy and had a good collection bookmarked in my personal ‘toolbox’, but I’ve learned a heap from conversations in the social fora of this mooc… and I’m really developing greater proficiency in using media I had accounts with but wasn’t actually bothering to use well…. particularly the inter-linking of social media is becoming an eye opener, now I’m beginning to really see the point of it – it saves time and connects you with masses more people, fast. They may or may not want to connect with me of course, but at least I’m able to give them the choice, and I’ve started following heaps of people on twitter and have started using RSS feeds too – I never really understood what that was all about, but now I’ve started using Google Reader and I get it – it really does save time, and I need that right now.

And that’s the point – you learn at the point of need
(amazing how many educators don’t get that, and construe their students as deficient and unmotivated, when the problem is more likely a lack of discussion and good task design)

I’m becoming a better blogger thanks to this course – I’ve been using blogs for years, but not in a particularly sophisticated way, just as private journals for my teaching and research, or semi-privately to talk with a small number of colleagues.. going ‘public’ with a blog has been something else…

crowd tiny managing conversation in a crowd

trying to participate in conversation with a very large group, in the FaceBook group, has made me feel a bit like I’m back in high school really…. the sense of crowd and competition to have your voice heard… not what one has become used to in professionally organised life… both quite fun at times and quite devastating at others – as when noone listens or talks back to you, and you keep trying to say something that’s intensely meaningful and important to you and it’s either ignored or trodden on, like so many jack boots on a flower…. and then suddenly someone ‘likes’ something you put out there and it makes your day… and then you’re just ignored again…. and then someone disagrees with you in a way that makes you feel things you’re not used to feeling…. and then you have to reconsider how you have worded your own messages and worry about whether you’ve offended anyone and that’s why noone is talking to you… and then you start imagining that everyone else is more ‘liked’ than you are… this can be exhausting!… and then you think, what the hell am I thinking? I’m not a teenager, why am I having all these existential angst moments? and then you take an academic interest in the phenomenon as a coping strategy, and then you accept that this is just an upscaled and fast forwarded version of normal everyday conversational life, and  you empathise with your teenage child’s transition from primary to secondary school coz that’s exactly what it’s been like for them… and then you reflect on how they were friends with everyone in first year, and how second year brought tears and traumas and realignments as people simply had to focus on smaller groupings and make some tough stances to work out who the hell they were and what they really wanted to be talking about, because it’s in the stories we spend our lives constructing that we find the friends who help us ‘get it all together’…

So yeah, streamlined management of the tools of trade is one of the most valuable things I’m learning in this course, because I’m feeling the need to learn that right now…

peeragogy

but the big take home message is the fact that nobody had to ‘teach’ me any of it – just throw resources out there and let me find my own way to the stuff I need when I need it…. relevance of all this to my teaching and research seems clear to me, in that I’ve been thinking for years that design is everything, and this experience confirms it for me – I wanted to do this course in the first place in order to feel what it’s like to be a student again, to better understand my own students… now I’m convinced that this ‘go help yourselves and feed each other’ approach to teaching works well, when the task and conversation are designed and articulated well, which I think they are in this course.

Should I ‘do something’ to up my readership? I really am not good with that kind of thing. I find it excruciatingly  awkward and uncomfortable to be honest – the whole business of going public as a blogger has been a VERY big step and it verges on the traumatic sometimes – but this is very much one of the themes of the course, so I have simply taken an academic interest in the phenomenon and am considering the whole experience as a mini participant ethnography of my own – sort of doing an empire strikes back on the course organisers, and using their course as they are using us who would participate in it… I think their design is brilliant actually, and I am learning from it.. and have now started writing about it in chapter 6 of my emerging thesis…. I have been doing similar things with my students for some years, but not of course on this kind of scale.. but the experiment they’re engaging in, because it’s so open, is very instructive (well that’s what I would think isn’t it? It’s been designed that way…. perhaps I am in the Matrix after all)…

pop sci-fi

I’ve always been keen on science fact, but I’ve never been a fan of science fiction (notable exceptions being Dr Who, Life on Mars and the wonderfully fantastically bad and therefore brilliant Lost in Space) , and so I’ve missed most of the ‘classics’ that everyone else seems to know inside out… so I am now getting familiar with movies I’ve only known the names of in the past, and look forward to learning more

discourses from AI & ‘post-humanism’

I’ve been exposed to a fair bit of communications theory over the years in my work with electrical engineers, and of theories of ‘culture’ in my word with students of business, and always found it interesting how differently technicians and scientists and business folk often view key themes of interest to me (such as culture, communication and language)  which due to my main education I see from a humanities / linguistics perspective…. I grew up in a social-functional theory of language (radically different from the traditions in linguistics that have been dominant in the US), and always find it very easy, shall we say, to critique discussions of communication, ‘mind’ and learning that are based on other, (to me less sophisticated and robust) theories of language (or based on no theory of language or semiotics at all, which is more often the case it seems to me)…. so as I read much of the discourse in the fields of artificial intelligence, I do tend to find myself laughing out loud sometimes…. I really can’t take it seriously… but I read on, hoping to learn and find something that might challenge me and make me really think hard about my own assumptions and beliefs…. haven’t yet, but I am striving to be open minded!… meanwhile, I find that Kress’ writing resonates with me still very much, all these years later…

the mooc debate

I started reading about the mooc phenomenon in earnest about 6 months ago, and it’s from that  general interest that I found my way into this course… and I really like the way having an assignment to do is helping me shape (tame?) my thinking into an exchangeable form of some kind… some kind other than the standard academic paper that is… it’s really rather fun thinking about it I’m finding 🙂

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 !

viral trade in tools

Obviously in a course that is being conducted entirely online and that’s focused on the topic of eLearning and digital cultures there is going to be heavy use and discussion of technologies that were designed for (or can be used for) educational purposes…. that much is to be expected – but perhaps not quite expected by me and other participants, naive little things that we are, was the degree to which, and the speed at which, they’d proliferate!

Writing here in the week before Christmas – a good month before the course even begins – we are compiling an ever growing list of tools that we’re all madly trying out for the first time (or picking up and actually using like never before), in order to prepare ourselves for the learning ahead… well this prep time is itself a significant learning curve – imagine how intense things might become once the course takes off!

Or maybe not – maybe all this orientation stuff is the more time consuming part, and we’ll now just sail smoothly through the learning journey…. huh! somehow I think the recommendation that we spend ’3′ hours a week on this course looks like deliberate marketing fraud :)

Anyways, I’m sure the list will continue to grow as we go, but so far here is the list of ‘essential’ tools that will be in use as we do the course (some for daily communications, maybe others more for comparative and evaluative purposes)…

So far, what’s been new and particularly of interest to me (in relation to the teaching I do) are:

twitter lists (IF I can figure out how to send messages to just one list and not everyone, I can see myself having separate lists for different groups of students, and colleagues, and using twitter for reminders and questions – much more likely to be read quickly than anything that requires them to login to the course website or institutional email)

pinterest (some of these I’ve seen have been interesting to browse, but I haven’t used this tool yet, and so not sure yet whether I’d use it with students – the best application for it I can imagine in my current teaching scenarios might be to share with the class things about academic English in their other classes that I have tasked them to pay attention to and report back about – this noticeboard effect might work well for that, as the posting could then be done on the go and before we meet, and then be looked at in class as the start up for discussion & learning)

scoopit (I’ve certainly seen these, but haven’t made one before this week, and I can see how it could be an appealing and effective way – sometimes – for students to receive new readings of high relevance to something we’re doing that week – as opposed to set readings that I can plan before class begins – would be good for sharing stuff with colleagues too, although most of mine actually prefer reading emails…. ahhh)

storify (have heard of this one in the past couple of years but haven’t yet explored – but as I do like to get students making digital stories of their language learning experience in their first year doing academic work in this language and country, this may be a quick and easy tool for them to use for that purpose? not sure yet)

vimeo (not new to me, but I haven’t been using it for teaching purposes because I am a Mac person and one’s dotmac account – whatever they are calling it this month – has had terrific website and video sharing software as part of the package – but I like Kyle’s movie here and I need to learn more technologies that my students are most likely to know because they are often not mac people and they don’t waste their limited finances on shiny groovy things from apple and I have to speak their language in order to communicate!)

G+ hangouts (have just today had a look at some examples, and the Sara Lipka one that Eric posted in the G+ community for us –  it seems sort of like skype on steroids – up to 10 people can video chat live at once, AND this software has a broadcast option, ie you can save your conversation to your YouTube channel… as soon as I started watching these I thought, wow, what a quick, easy, hassle free way to get mid and end of course feedback from students! and then have it all on record…. there is the question of permissions when it comes to reporting as research of course, but just meanwhile, the immediate use potential in teaching is obvious and terrific to me! – so much better than the rigmarole of getting formal evaluations done… this could be much more spontaneous and authentic for the ongoing quality improvement feedback loop)

mindmomo and mindmeister (I actually prefer cmaptools for online concept mapping, and have various other tools for visualising processes – but I really liked the mindmap Mr Chips I think posted for us – though now I can’t find it! – and I might make my students aware of this software too, if it’s quick and simple and free to use. Cmaptools is my favourite because it forces you to compose a sentence that articulates the relationship between elements in the map, rather than just to connect keywords, and for all sorts of reasons that is what I prefer my students to do in planning their writing – but hey, all visualisation tools are cool with me, I like to explore them all!)

google reader (oddly I haven’t been using this on my desktop, though I have used it a bit on my ipad… must explore further whether this is a good adjunct to my web-based Endnote, or Mendeley or whatever I or my students are using – got to think about not only quick and easy, but also integration with projects and other online systems, like databases…)

evernote (haven’t tried this yet, just noting recommendations by other students in this course – will have to check it out, though, I may not need yet another tool, I think I really just need to browse and then select according the criteria that matter most in my current work, then just stick with a very small number of really effective tools and focus…. I agree with that video about how to succeed in a MOOC!)

to blog, to quad, perchance to deeply learn…

I’ve overspent my time allocation today already and am now getting anxious about my mind being away from my day job as I try and persuade myself that what I do here is all helpful to that, but stop I must – in just a moment, after I’ve had a brief meditation on what’s been going on!

there’s been some discussion today on the course FB page about quadblogging and why we want to give it a go, and how – and terrific contributions to the collective think aloud / write it down…. what I’m wanting to reflect on here now though, in my own blog space rather than the shared FB page, is what I’m learning and what I’m finding it difficult to learn.

I’ve already gleaned a plethora of new edtech tools – more than I can possibly keep up with the documentation of let alone the experimentation with – helpfully, Eric started an edtech Google doc so we can collectively keep the record straightish! (do we give daily thanks for the mighty hyper-link? don’t you just LOVE them?!)

but anyway, all of my explorations and comments in FB and G+ and twitter and whatever the hell else is going on has created problems as it solves others (such is life) in that while I do want to know what the different functions of the various platforms and tool types might be, I also find it extremely irritating when you can’t just find a quick answer to a simple question – like can I (or why can’t I) send a tweet to a list rather than to the entire universe? I am amazed at how quickly this environment with all its wonderful participants informs me of some things, and how difficult it can be to get information of that nature via Google…

What I seem to have learned today (though I am never quite sure really, because I simply don’t have time to read down beyond the first few items that google has engineered it to appear at the top of list when I search for something, and I am always left with a horrible anxiety that the answer I seek really is there but just beyond my reach or my capacity in the moment to think of an intelligent enough search term, and here I am feeling what it is to be a student in the 21st century… which is exactly what I joined the course in order to experience, so what am I complaining about? I got what I paid for… wait, I didn’t pay anything! well that doesn’t mean I got nothing in this case (though who knows, it may well mean I will later when Mephistopheles comes to call…

anyway, it is a good question that has been being asked the pst couple of days in our social network – what are we blogging FOR? and if we’re going to blog on the quad, what should we be writing ABOUT? and as Chris’ mind map shapes our thinking about this, I find myself putting in my ten cents’ worth about modeling literacy practices and the processes of development because that’s what I really want to blog about myself, but what I also really want to read about in others’ blogs – and that’s because it’s my research interest… and I hope I don’t bore others to death with it! but this is what i want my blog readers to read and comment on from their perspective, so that I can develop how I am writing about the things that matter to me most as an educator.

the day job for me is language education across the institution – academic literacy, English language proficiency, communications – call it what you will, I work in an institution that, like pretty well most universities in the Anglosphere these days, has a high and growing proportion of students coming into the system from backgrounds that have not quite prepared them for it, linguistically and culturally, and in which they will inevitably encounter some pretty big fat obstacles along the way, in expected and unexpected places, that they will struggle to name, let alone overcome without trauma….

And where once upon a time (apparently) people thought it would be a good idea to teach students ‘how to write an essay’ for example (or a report, or a blog for that matter) in some random optional class outside the curriculum, or behind a closed door somewhere down  a dark corridor, the trend now is (thankfully) to at least semi-recognise that it makes a lot more sense to pay attention to how literacy develops in the very contexts and moments in which it most needs to… so that ‘language education’ becomes an institutional approach to curricular and pedagogical development by and for all teaching academics across the disciplines – a matter of task and assessment design, and a matter of appropriate support just in time – ie modeling, discussing, demonstrating, engineering social interaction., and paying attention to the language in play and how repertoire might be expanded along the way in order to enable learners to complete challenging and engaging tasks…

anyway back to work for now – and if anyone can tell me how to tweet to my quad list I’m all ears!