November 2008

This concept map is entirely different from the first I tried and published. This time I’ve focused on an issue that has intrigued me for a while and I’ll try to relate it to the connectivism concepts we’ve covered in the last few months. In any case it was very enjoyable going back to cMaps a second time and leveraging off some of the concept maps I’ve seen in various CCK08 posts.

In my work I get to introduce a lot of on-line methodologies and technologies to teachers. Too often the sessions happen in isolation and out of context. For example, I do a lot of workshops on finding digital resources via our corporate portal and search engine. The question then remains “So What? I’ve found this stuff – what do I do with it?” The context is so much bigger than the scope of the individual sessions. It’s often a real Catch 22 situation where it is hard to know where to start. The connections and sense making are not always made.


This concept map is my attempt to provide a framework to assist teachers to better understand the cycle of decisions needed when deciding whether or not to use online resources as part of their practice. In making these decisions a range of concepts related to Connectivism (CCK08) are invoked, for example:

  • in the pedagogy area – teachers will need to make decisions about knowledge, skills and attitudes as well as the approach eg teacher led? learner directed? or a combination of many methods to suit the circumstances. These decisions match the concepts of connectivism, the nature of knowledge and the issues of power & authority.
  • in the resources area – what connections does the teacher make with their colleagues? with corporate systems? with their students? Does the teacher supply all of the resources for students to “learn” or does the teacher create a space eg a wiki, for a group of students to co-create a resource which answers a problem and then becomes available to the rest of the cohort? Could peer assessment be part of the process?
  • in the repositories area – which networks are tapped into to give access to required resources? Or is it open slather and the students learn to sift what is important?
  • in the deployment area – how open will the deployment be? Will the resources be of the CCK08 experiment type or locked behind usernames and passwords for only invitees to use?

One of the overriding questions I’ve talked about throughout this course and also mentioned by George in his Wk 11 summary is: will these new educational technologies transform the way we teach or will they be tools to augment the existing paradigm?  One simple answer is that teachers now have more tools available to them to make a greater range of choices and depending on the context, decide on what’s best for their students, themselves and their colleagues.


When I first visited my physiotherapist, he was bending and stretching my leg in the way only physios can. He asked me to “relax” my leg and knee so that he could assess the range of movement. I thought I did, but he asked me several more times to relax. He then asked “are you a teacher”? When I replied “yes”, he said “we have the same problem with all you teachers – you need to be in control”.

resistanceI wonder if this need to be in control is part of the reason for the resistance we feel when trying to adopt different approaches to teaching and learning? As mentioned in my paper #2 for this CCK08 course, the Australian Vocational Education & Training (VET) sector is now driven by a competitive funding agenda. Training institutions are increasingly funded on their ability to show outcomes based on the national curriculum, responsiveness to customer needs, flexibility and effective industry partnerships. This is a major shift. Like it or not many things have changed and teaching will need to change with it.

A couple of observations:

  • our ageing workforce has meant a large number of teachers continue to teach the way they always have and appear totally disinterested in looking at other ways
  • in many regions the IT infrastructure is a cause for resistance. Too often the IT bureaucracies control the way things are done rather than reacting to the needs of the educationists and truly being an “IT support” unit
  • f2f will remain the predominant delivery mechanism – the new teaching and learning approaches will need to happen in these spaces. Can change happen within in these spaces (Siemens2008)? Will teachers be willing to lose some of their control?
  • there are early adopters of technology but a number of chasms have prevented the mainstream adoption of these innovations.

Marie Jasinski (2007) published a very significant piece of research related to embedding of innovation. She found that 3 chasms prevented the embedding of e-learning innovation into the mainstream:

  1. the chasm between early and mainstream adopters and their varying motivations
  2. the support structure chasm where mainstream needs a good reason to change
  3. the technology – pedagogy chasm where the technology advances have outstripped the pedagogical.


Jasinski tells us that “the best system to enable innovation to thrive is a complex system, which is adaptive, largely self-organised, networked and highly connected, where interactions are fluid and interdependent and there is flexibility to embrace both radical and incremental changes” (Executive Summary p3). Lots of links in this one quote to connectivism. The emphasis is on embedding the innovation i.e. making the change part of mainstream practice rather than introducing innovation.


Despite this apparent doom and gloom, there are many practitioners taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the new technologies to change the teaching and learning paradigm:

  • teachers are supporting others to introduce new technologies, there has been a considerable growth in mentor networks both formal and informal.
  • an increasing amount of teaching is happening outside the classroom in blended formats and in the workplace.
  • the pockets of early innovation are percolating through the ranks – often students are the catalysts when they see one teacher doing something “cool” then the others can be under pressure too.
  • baby steps are important steps – one teacher I know is using wikis as a course management mechanism (much the same as the wiki for this CCK08 course). Students have access to course documents and lesson materials – important needs are being met and the teacher is freed up from admin tasks and can spend more time discussing the important things with students. The collaboration and other technologies will come next now that the ice has been broken.

The quantum of the uptake is also encouraging. The Australian Flexible Learning Framework found in 2005 “6-8% of VET activity involved technology, which rose to 17% in 2006 and now 29% in 2007. This could be in the form of computer-based learning resources, online course activities, using the internet, mobile or voice technologies, or online enrolment and assessment.

The resistors have taught me a number of things:

  • don’t assume anything – often the things I take for granted or get excited about are either new, unintelligible or of no consequence to others
  • provide training opportunities but make sure they are followed up
  • sometimes too much choice is a problem – one group of teachers I worked with told me: “stop giving us choices, just tell us what you want us to do”. The range of new technologies is sometimes overwhelming, many have become paralysed trying to decide.
  • in many places there is no culture of sharing. This one gets to me – I and my direct colleagues have always shared ideas and resources – I really don’t know how I can assist to change this culture apart from constant “nagging”.
  • was Stephen’s use of the “God switch” on the Moodle forum in Week 8 (thanks Bradley Shoebottom for the descriptor) any different to many of our practices in a f2f classroom?

This course has proven we live in spaces with weak ties and easy connections. A number of my colleagues have stopped even lurking – they basically needed stronger (social) ties and fewer connections. All of this despite a deep felt interest in the aims of the course. I would agree with Lisa’s question about the concept of knowledge – is it the content that is important or is it the life long learning skills that now assume much greater importance? Different contexts will require different answers – a training course for triage nurses (strict processes) will look very different to a course for web designers (creativity) even though both require serious problem solving skills.

This paper is written from the point of view of an educator in the Australian Vocational Education & Training (VET) sector. The Federal Government of Australia is pursuing a competitive funding agenda where training institutions will be funded on their ability to show responsiveness to customer needs, flexibility and effective industry partnerships.

In summary my contention is:

  • student outcomes in our courses are heavily prescribed by the national body
  • a lot of the teaching we do in our sector is still of the traditional f2f type in classrooms with lock step curriculum despite the big moves to Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) and workplace delivery and assessment
  • where technology is used, it augments the traditional way e.g. an iPoD for a presentation, an IWB to access some interactivity or internet resources
  • a small but increasing proportion of teaching is blended – but often with an LMS which continues the teacher led paradigm
  • Web 2.0 technologies are used peripherally and we don’t yet have a lot of examples of the paradigm shift to learner generated content and all the other changes possible with Web 2.0 (see Siemens 2008a p.12).

The changing roles of a VET Educator

In one sense the role of an educator never changes – our job is to answer three questions. What is clearly changing is the way we need to answer each of these questions:

  1. what will I teach? should be more about the skills of lifelong learning and employability skills rather than increasingly ephemeral content. How do I teach and encourage students to learn these skills through/despite prescribed and audited outcomes?
  2. how will I teach it? the rise of technology options has the potential to create a real paradigm shift in how we teach
  3. how will I know the students learnt it? again the answer lies in what content/skills/attitudes are important and what types of evidence “prove” these competencies have been achieved?

An increasing number of teachers are embracing new ways of delivering and assessing. “What I am seeing now is that almost every teacher I talk with is practising or in the process of implementing workplace learning and/or project-based and/or flexible or blended learning.” (V. Marchant, personal communication, October 22, 2008).

With an ageing workforce often battered by constant change,  “…. educators, when they are lacking in confidence about new delivery methods, tend to retreat to their comfort zone, which for most is face-to-face, lock-step teaching.  It’s a known quantity, it’s predictable in its results and the teacher feels in control of what’s happening.” (B. Thurlow, personal communication, October 22, 2008).

However, the system and its infrastructure can conspire to thwart the tide of change. “…. lots of resistance related to systems that won’t support the adapters and disincentives from management to get involved.” (A. Bowden personal communication, October 22, 2008).

Siemens (2008b) suggests “New technologies are not necessarily replace existing approaches; instead, they are enlarging the range of options for learners”. These options, for both learners and facilitators, can impact on how we teach (the learning spaces and their ecologies) and how we assess.

Potential roles of a VET Educator

Teachers are big on denial and avoidance. Many are hoping this technology stuff will go away or remain in the background until they retire. It may take a “cataclysmic externally-imposed change that will sweep away the old order..” (Martin Stewart-Weeks in response to Connell 2008). Perhaps the Australian Federal Government agenda will provide that impetus -like it or not.

Brennan’s research (2005 p. 5) into the pedagogical effectiveness of online delivery is very closely aligned to my understanding of connectivism. She found that the most effective practices engaged learners in:

  • constructivist (or should that be connectivist?) approaches which
  • develop cognitive skills through
  • high levels of interactivity between all participants to
  • encourage synthesis and analysis for
  • ‘deep learning’ involving
  • consistent levels of feedback by
  • teachers who are imaginative, flexible, technologically gymnastic, committed, responsible and expert communicators.”

“What could be” for the VET Educator

If the explanation of connectivism is that learning “consists of a network of connections formed from experience and interactions with a knowing community” (Downes, 2006) then the changing role of educators might be summarised in this diagram:


What could be:

  • learners always think critically about the information they encounter (Downes 2008). The conversation related to the “Find X” diagram in the “that was funny” website is fascinating
  • teachers think critically about their pedagogy and the way they use technology to fit their context. Downes (2008) asked “it would appear that web 2.0 is the salvation of education. But what are we basing that on?” What technologies could assist in determining what is “X”?
  • Smith and Blake (2005) challenge teachers to facilitate learning by creating an environment which emphasises the employability skills needed in industry such as problem solving, communication, collaboration and team work. Don’t tell the group what is “X”, rather pose a range of strategic questions and problems to determine more about “X”.

Pelz (2004) contributes three principles for effective pedagogy involving technology: let the students do (most of) the work, ensure interactivity (lots of connections) and strive for presence. It is the three elements of presence that most closely mirror the connectivism concepts:

  1. social presence: where the networks of people assist each other in a community of learning
  2. cognitive presence: where sense making and therefore meaning is established through the connections
  3. teaching presence: where the facilitator creates an environment supportive of these interactions and providing direct instruction when necessary.

The more the learner is engaged with the content, with the teacher as the “guide on the side”, the more learning occurs.


Brennan, R. 2003, One size doesn’t fit all – Pedagogy in the online environment – Volume 1, viewed 22 Sept 2008,

Connell, J. 2008, Teaching at the Crossroads, viewed 31 Oct 2008,

Downes, S. 2006, Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge, viewed 12 September 2008,

Downes, S. 2008, Wasted Time, viewed 3 November 2008,

Pelz, B. 2004, (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy, viewed 20 Oct 2008

Richardson, T. 2008, How Web 2.0 has changed the face of education, BECTA, viewed 31 Oct 2008,

Siemens, G. 2008, New Structures and Spaces of Learning: the systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning, viewed 10 September 2008,

Siemens, G. 2008, Social Networks the Next Educational Tool?, viewed 31 October 2008,

Smith, P. & Blake, D. 2005, Facilitating Learning Through Effective Teaching, viewed 31 October 2008,

Staron, M. 2008, Embedding Innovation – ‘chasms’ as barriers and opportunities, ICVET, viewed 31 Oct 2008,