Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

Building a Learning Network for Students


As Pew Research Center just published its report on new kinds of learners emerging from ubiquitous mobile connectivity on EDUCAUSE2011 recently. Now learners are self directed, less top down, more reliant on feedback and response, more inclined to collaboration, more open to cross discipline insights, more oriented towards people being their own idividual nodes of production. Because of connectivity, technologies have changed the way we live and learn in this real world. The presentation is embeded as below here.

In this YouTube video “Networked Students”, which has already been watched by over one hundread thousand people, the idea of connected learners in 21st century was explained well in 2008 by Wendy Drexler (you might visit her wiki about integrating Web 2.0 technologies into teaching). Although she had painted the picture of preparing students for this age, still  networking for students in schools isn’t a common ground nowadays, although many students already have facebook accounts. Do they know how to manage their digital foorprints ? Do they know how to leverage social networking tools for learning ?

Connectivism (from wiki page1page2) is an alternative theory of learning developed by George Siemens that addresses inadequacies of current theoretical models such as behaviorismcognitivism,  and constructivism (Alger, 2005). This theory of learning recognizes that technology has impacted society and that thoughts on teaching and learning are shifting. It acknowledges that learning is no longer individualistic but relies on the informal learning that occurs through participation in communities of practices, personal networks and work-related tasks. Simply put, connectivism is about forming connections between people and with technology. To cope with information overload and complexity, teaching and learning in a connectivist learning environment occurs within learning ecologies, communities and networks.These facilitate connections and information sharing while encouraging life-long learning in the individual as well as the group (Siemens, 2003).

Connectivism learning theory suggests that knowledge is distributed across connections. Knowledge is gained through connecting to nodes (any element that can be connected to another element) and providing information back into a network (aggregation of strong and weak nodes), creating a cycle of knowledge development which allows for learning and the ability for individuals to stay current in their field of study. Connectivism states that a leaner must be able to, or learn to filter content based upon information accuracy and relevancy at that point in time. Learners must also be able to filter nodes (as these individual elements can weaken, causing the network to self-organize and adjust) based upon accuracy and relevancy within a network. This constant decision making based on filtered content can change thinking so that future decisions are based on the latest information.
Connected learner, personal learning network, PLN
Previous learning theories were created in a time when “information development was slow” (Siemens, 2004), with a significantly large half-life, as compared to the digital era of today where the flow of information is fast, fluid, nebulous and brief in its accuracy and relevancy. Connectivism aims to address not only this knowledge explosion, but the way technology has changed the way that we “live, communicate and learn” (Siemens, 2005). Connectivism presents itself as a pedagogical approach that affords learners the ability to connect to each other via social networking or collaboration tools. Many theories assume that learning happens inside the head of an individual. Siemens believes that learning today is too complex to be processed in this way and that “we need to rely on a network of people (and, increasingly technology) to store, access, and retrieve knowledge and motivate its use” (Siemens, 2006).

Wendy Drexler provided an argument that the “networked student” of the future will not only still need a teacher, but will require a teacher that fulfills a variety of new modern and contemporary roles as :

  • Learning Architect
  • Modeler
  • Network Sherpa
  • Change Agent
  • Synthesizer
  • Connected Learning Incubator
  • Learning Concierge

Of course, teachers should be life-long learners, or networked teachers, who need to leverage PLN (personal learning network) to grow as new type of leaders in their classrooms.

In the post  A Social Network Can Be a Learning Network by Derek Bruff, he pointed out some interesting findings, and suggested some tools for education.

Research by Richard Light, the author and Harvard University scholar, and others indicates that when students are asked to write for one another, they write more effectively. This is perhaps counterintuitive. Wouldn’t students do their best work for those grading their work? But students aren’t eager to be seen as poor writers by their peers, so they step up their game when writing for other students. Also, they know that their peers don’t understand the course content as well as their instructors do, so they tend to provide better explanations when writing for peers. 

Sharing student work on a course blog is an example of what Randall Bass and Heidi Elmendorf, of Georgetown University, call “social pedagogies.” They define these as “design approaches for teaching and learning that engage students with what we might call an ‘authentic audience’ (other than the teacher), where the representation of knowledge for an audience is absolutely central to the construction of knowledge in a course.”

Social pedagogies provide a way to tap into a set of intrinsic motivations that we often overlook: people’s desire to be part of a community and to share what they know with that community. My students might not see the beauty and power of mathematics, but they can look forward to participating in a community effort to learn about math. Online, social pedagogies can play an important role in creating such a community. 

The finding about “peer learning” seems interestingly resonates with what Hardvard professor Dr.Mazur found in his experiments in face-to-face big classes, with that in his mind he has utilized “peer instruction” for decades. The web2.0 tools suggested by Derek includes Social bookmarking, Back channels, and Collaborative documents.

The Top Five Uses of Social Media in Education briefs 5 uses that social media could offer in education : enhanced collaboration, enhanced flipping, real time information, collaboration between educators, open source social media. A public social media website like Facebook or Twitter may not be appropriate for a classroom setting, but there are some open source social media services that allow collaboration between individuals. Diaspora offers an open source alternative to traditional social media. It allows customization, enabling educators to host the platform on their own schools’ servers. (a review about Diaspora)

What tools are appropriate and how open the networks for students should be depend on the preparation students have had. The role of teachers is so important to facilitate students’ ability to become efficient connected learners.

Photo credit : steven w Attribution Some rights reserved

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  1. Effective Education Fosters Experiences Provoking Quality Reflections | Classroom Aid
  2. Personal learning networks (PLNs) and education « drwilda
  3. Personal Learning Networks - Not just for adults anymore - Keith Rispin » Keith Rispin
  4. Top 8 Key Components and Status in Digital Classrooms | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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