papers


A difficult task this one. As the euphoria and level of involvement with this course waxes and wanes, it is a complex task to actually sit down and summarise the last 12 weeks. On top of this is the busyness of work at this time of year and the need to wait for and then absorb the feedback on the previous assessment tasks.

Then, there is the intimidation of  seeing the highly creative and polished responses like Lisa’s movie, Bradley’s CMap construction and the Drexler production based on the Common Craft model. All different, all fantastic.

So how do I follow my theme from throughout this course of attempting to apply the principles and learnings to my specific work situation? I decided on a version of a digital story with all its strengths and weaknesses. Like all assignments it helped me to crytallise what I had learnt from CCK08 and well as learning a new set of technology skills I didn’t have before. I created this in Adobe Photoshop Elements (v4.0) and exported it as a pdf.

cck08_final_gc (please click at the end of each slide to advance).

I look forward to any comments.

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.

adopter_chasm_jasinski

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.

choices1

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:

find-x

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.

References:

Brennan, R. 2003, One size doesn’t fit all – Pedagogy in the online environment – Volume 1, viewed 22 Sept 2008, http://www.ncver.edu.au/research/proj/nr0F05_1.pdf

Connell, J. 2008, Teaching at the Crossroads, viewed 31 Oct 2008, http://www.johnconnell.co.uk/blog/?p=782

Downes, S. 2006, Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge, viewed 12 September 2008, http://it.coe.uga.edu/itforum/paper92/paper92.html

Downes, S. 2008, Wasted Time, viewed 3 November 2008, http://connect.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=44304

Pelz, B. 2004, (My) Three Principles of Effective Online Pedagogy, viewed 20 Oct 2008 http://www.sloan-c-wiki.org/JALN/v8n3/pdf/v8n3_pelz.pdf

Richardson, T. 2008, How Web 2.0 has changed the face of education, BECTA, viewed 31 Oct 2008, http://www.nccmembership.co.uk/pooled/articles/BF_WEBART/view.asp?Q=BF_WEBART_305924

Siemens, G. 2008, New Structures and Spaces of Learning: the systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning, viewed 10 September 2008, http://elearnspace.org/Articles/systemic_impact.htm

Siemens, G. 2008, Social Networks the Next Educational Tool?, viewed 31 October 2008, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2008/10/31/social-networks-the-next-educational-tool/

Smith, P. & Blake, D. 2005, Facilitating Learning Through Effective Teaching, viewed 31 October 2008, http://www.ncver.edu.au/research/proj/nd3102d.pdf

Staron, M. 2008, Embedding Innovation – ‘chasms’ as barriers and opportunities, ICVET, viewed 31 Oct 2008, http://www.icvet.tafensw.edu.au/ezine/year_2008/may/article_innovation2.htm

I like photography and would like to take better photos more consistently. Recently I enrolled in a class at the local community college. Here I brushed up on some theory. More importantly the tutor helped us to focus on the key elements of a good photograph. One of his very effective techniques was to bring in photos of his own to show various techniques and qualities. Class members were also asked to bring in their own photos to discuss. Finally, we were encouraged to upload our photos to Flickr where a group was set up for ongoing feedback on our work. I am now planning a wiki as a means to revise my notes and continue the learning.

The last time I did a photography course (in the 1970s) it was theoretical only and text book based – any feedback was usually self imposed or from “adoring” family members. Downes(2007) tells us that connectivism “is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks”. My photography has begun to improve because I now tap into a small part of the distributed photographic knowledge that is out there. It will be my problem if this learning ceases.

As a theory, connectivism gives us a tool to question our current teaching practices in the light of technological advances. The technology provides the opportunity to question our approach to teaching and learning. What is curious here is the varying impacts on the so called Generation Y (most of our students) and the aging population of teachers looking after them.

To give our students the knowledge, skills and attitudes to become lifelong learners is potentially one of the best things we can do as teachers. The potential offered by new technologies, in an age where content is increasingly ephemeral, makes these lifelong skills even more critical.

The so called “Employability Skills” resonate with connectivism theory. Employers are seeking staff who can problem solve, communicate and work in teams i.e. collaboration and networking (Jenkins, 2006, p.4). A lot of vocational education in Australia is now based on skill sets. People don’t enrol in whole courses as much but rather enrol in the bits of most relevance to them at the time. This personalisation is at the nub of many of the readings. In fact an increasing amount of the accreditation for our students is coming from formal processes of “Recognition of Prior Learning” and gap training happening in the workplace (Siemens, 2008, p.14). The networks here are critical.

Geoff Cain (2008) asked “can knowledge exist in networks”? Geoff answered his own question with an excellent Shakespeare example. As teachers in a connected world, we can help our students to sift, incorporate a range of ideas and then somehow validate what they’ve “learnt” against a set of criteria. This validation is one of the challenges of the connectivism “theory”, especially in areas where licensing is required e.g. an electrician.

Another challenge for connectivism was posed by Jenni Parker (2008), who wondered “who in a network would be a good informant”. From a teacher/facilitator perspective the question is how to explicitly “teach” the key skill of discernment. How to make sensible meaning from the huge amounts of information we receive daily? This skill may be more important than the content we are often obsessed with.

For many of our students, it’s also about recognising the challenges of “validating information accuracy and determining quality” (Siemens, 2008, p. 4) to meet the needs of the standards based curriculum. McLoughlin and Lee (2008, p.3) emphasise the need to allow these networks to develop “ while still providing necessary structure and scaffolding.” New technologies can greatly assist the formation of these networks, the structure and the scaffolding.

Connectivism is the process by which we collect all of the information from all of the sources bombarding us each day and then working out which bits we need and making some sense of it. One of the real advantages of enrolling in a course like this is the “pressure” to reflect through things like this paper, my blog, the Moodle posts and reading the dailies. This reflection is critical to making the connections. How can we help our students make these connections?

References

Cain, G. (2008), A funny thing happened on the way to the forum, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Moodle site, viewed 11 September, http://ltc.umanitoba.ca:83/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=599#3084

Casey, G. (2008), Grant Casey’s Weblog, WordPress, https://grantcasey.wordpress.com/

CISCO, 2008, Equipping Every Learner for the 21st Century, viewed 11 September 2008, http://newsroom.cisco.com/dlls/2008/ekits/Equipping_Every_Learner_for_21st_Century_White_Paper.pdf?POSITION=LINK&COUNTRY_SITE=us&CAMPAIGN=Century21Learning2008&CREATIVE=Equipping+Every+Global+Learner+for+the+21st+Century&REFERRING_SITE=NewsatCiscoPressKit

Downes, S. 2007, What Connectivism Is, Half an Hour Blog, viewed 2 September 2008, http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2007/02/what-connectivism-is.html

Jenkins, H. (2006), Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century”, viewed 15 September 2008, http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

McLoughlin, C. & Lee, J.W. (2008), Transforming Pedagogy through Social Software, journal of online education, viewed June 2008, http://www.innovateonline.info/index.php?view=article&id=539&action=article

Parker, J. (2008), What is connectivism?, Connectivism and Connective Knowledge Moodle site, viewed 11 September,

Siemens, G. (2008), New Structures and Spaces of Learning: the systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning, viewed 10 September 2008, http://elearnspace.org/Articles/systemic_impact.htm