Information ecology at the heart of knowledge

learning

While technology is changing the information environment (including information places and spaces), the transactional nature of information interactions and knowledge flow underpins learning. Information can comprise both physical and virtual parts for operation and interaction.

I see that a  major challenge for education is to enable and facilitate the generation of new knowledge via an appropriate information environment, to facilitate integration of new concepts within each person’s existing knowledge structure.

Information ecology presents the contexts of information behavior by analogy with ecological habitats and niches, identifying behaviours in biological terms such as ‘foraging’ (Bawden & Robinson, 2012. p.199). In this context of adaptive and responsive co-construction of knowledge, we can facilitate a viable praxis in digital environments, influenced by concepts of rhisomatic learning. Seen as a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes hint at the interconnectedness of ideas as well as boundless exploration across many fronts from many different starting points. (Sharples, et al. 2012 p.33).

By creating curriculum and subject delivery which can be reshaped and reconstructed in a dynamic manner in response to changing environmental conditions or the personal professional needs of students, a digital information ecology provides the opportunity to work with information in the construction of knowledge in more dynamic ways, connecting learning experiences across the contexts of location, time, devices and platforms.

Researching how digital technologies may be used to create a more responsive learning ecology both in use of online tools and assessment practices can provide a valid way of examining effectiveness if the link between the use and the learning is explicit. Research to date rarely makes this link explicit and evaluations appear to be based on researcher beliefs about learning which are either not expressed or vague (Starkey 2011, p20.)

Starkey (2011) provides an excellent summary of the key concepts of critical thinking skills, knowledge creation and learning through connections that epitomizes 21st century learning. Technology can be used to evaluate learning, though the link between digital technologies and student performance is complex. Yet the digital age students, who can think critically, learn through connections, create knowledge and understand concepts should be able to connect and collaborate with others beyond a constrained physical environment; understand that knowledge is created through a range of media and created through networks, connections and collaborations; be able to think critically and evaluate processes and emerging ideas. The ability to evaluate the validity and value of information accessed is essential.

In such a context and information ecology, enabling learning involves the creation of assessments and environments for knowledge building to enhance collaborative efforts to create and continually improve ideas. This approach to knowledge building exploits the potential of collaborative knowledge work by situating ideas in a communal workspace where others can criticize or contribute to their improvement (Scardamalia 2012 p.238 ).

A communal workspace, a collaborative and formative framework for assessments, and research into the impact of all this on learning futures – now that would be grand to see!

Rhizomatic learning new to you?  You might like this fireside presentation from Dave Cormier about embracing uncertainty.

References

Bawden, D. & Robinson, L. (2012). Information behaviour. In Introduction to information science (pp. 187-210). London : Facet.
Scardamalia, M., Bransford, J., Kozma, B., & Quellmalz, E. (2012). New assessments and environments for knowledge building. In Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 231-300). Springer Netherlands.
Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., & Whitelock, D. (2012). Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Starkey, L. (2011). Evaluating learning in the 21st century: A digital age learning matrix. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 20(1), 19-39.

Image: Learning (Photo credit: Anne Davis 773)

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs!

Sometimes I feel that we as teachers are constantly 3 steps behind because by the time the whole staff are skilled up on a current technology, it and the students will have already moved on to the next thing.

These words and many more are part of the reflections of my students in INF530 Concepts and Practices of a Digital Age, the foundation subject of the MEd degree in knowledge networks and digital innovation I have been teaching in, since it’s launch this year. Three weeks in and the students have launched their reflective blogs, and been engaging in online spaces and places – some more so than others of course!

Three weeks is a short time, but in that time we have hit those cloudy spaces, and even meatballs (blog post title for one of the reflections – cool!).

Our course participants come from all areas of education: teachers, educational designers, e-learning advisors, higher education, Principals and Vice Principals in schools, and more. With this eclectic and amazing mix, we have almost everything we need in a cohort to challenge our thinking – mine included!

Here are some snippets:

I want to find new and better ways to inspire and motivate teachers to have a go in the networked learning environment, to become “connected educators” – what Tom Whitby defines as “teachers who are comfortable with collaborative learning, social media, and sharing their ideas online.” I share his concern of a “huge gulf now developing between connected and unconnected educators.”

I want to be able to use the right language to convey my passion, to be able to articulate in pedagogical terms why it is important to keep up and to back up what I say with compelling examples from research.

I hope to learn effective research skills that will enable me to find quality, trustworthy information;  develop a professional ‘digital learning’ network; and also build a solid understanding of how positive change can be implemented to help lift education institutions into the 21st century of learning.

Think more on the repercussions of global social networks and become more conversational about creative cultures and ways of doing, such as design thinking.

Develop a more evidence based approach to my teaching practice.

Share my ideas more openly; and learn by doing so.

We have already covered off the major thinkers in the field.  We are beginning our journey into the scholarship that underpins online environments – both in research and use of digital media and resources. We have an Amazon collection reading list for students to dip into and choose just one of these books to rigorously interrogate against the materials they are engaging with.

In another one of our other degree strands (but also part of the new degree), we have welcomed Australia’s teacher ambassador for Evernote into ETL523 Digital Citizenship in Schools.  It’s worth dropping over to Bec’s twitter feed or her post on “Organising my study with Evernote“.

Bec also wrote a post that included the following observationt:

One of the important messages about digital citizenship that we should be remembering and sharing with colleagues is the fact that we as teachers can not effectively educate students about the online world, digital citizenship or the notion of a digital footprint if we in fact are not partaking in the same social networks or using the same tools as our students.

Another important factor to consider, suggested by Nielsen (2011), is the notion of not confusing managing one’s digital footprint with being hidden or private. It is my understanding that a digital footprint should represent who we are and what we believe in a professional manner.

For some of us this seems obvious, yet not so for other educators – yet! We are struggling to encourage a few to understand the difference between privacy and adopting professional communication channels rather than a hidden persona.  Isn’t this exactly what we don’t want our school kids to do…hide… and then be ready to do whatever they like online?  The worse case scenarios are bullying or hacking.

Cloudy, with a chance of meatballs?

You bet – the unexpected is the common denominator in all our encounters in our learning journey together.  Thank you to my wonderful cohort – the world is going to be a better place for the willing engagement and generous learning mindset that you are bringing to your study!

I am so honoured to be able to engage with you all!

Image:cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan

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Global connectedness


Information technology has traditionally been associated with computers and networks, as a result of the original emergence of the power of computing.  But in a wider sense technologies are about information and information networks, as technologies of information have always included all the tools and machines which have been used to create, store and disseminate information throughout the ages.

Paul Gilster (1997) , in his book Digital Literacy, which was a terrifically exciting publication at the time of release,  identified how all information is digital, and that digital environments bring with them interactivity and connectedness.  Now we know that the capacity of digital technologies to influence and facilitate global connectedness is growing exponentially, and is summed up well by Moore’s Law, which states that the number of components which can be placed inexpensively into the integrated circuits which are the basis of all modern digital devices roughly doubles every two years.  This means that processing speed, storage capacity, and other metrics of computer power also increase at the same rate.

Ideas are central to our need to connect and communicate – and technology has become a pivotal process or tool in that social and intellectual process of connectedness. What is so astonishing is the ready acceptance of technologies which, in the overall  history of human communication is a very short period of time.  One of my favourite books, Turing’s Cathedral: the Origins of the Digital Universe by George Dyson (2012) provides the history and the story around Alan Turing’s Universal Machine, a theoretical construct invented in 1936 that was to become among the first computers to make full sense of a high-speed random-access storage matrix, that would break the distinction between numbers that mean things and numbers that do things. Our global connected world would never be the same again.

Many of us hardly go a single day without googling an idea, thought, interest, or question. We may use another search engine, but the fact that the word googling has entered the vernacular, and that we do all google is a dead give-away that something big has happened in our global connections.

The potential of our information and knowledge web is built on an intricate history of science, mathematics and the genius of a handful of men and women, and a bigger  pool of  quite brilliant people. What is staggering is the way data  and data connection has now become a major focus for global knowledge and scholarly, personal or cultural connections. It is impossible to have one without the other, and it is becoming less and less obvious which side of the data/knowledge equation is driving the other!

Remember Tim Berners-Lee vision for the Internet?

If you’ve ever listened to him speak  you will have heard him mention Linked Data, and may well be wondering what Linked Data has to do with it all.  Data, information, information technology  and knowledge are intertwined in our digital world of global connectedness underpinning the shifts that are taking place in learning and education.

But we can celebrate the open communication that the web has come to make possible, and the capacity to share and build knowledge.  A recent report published by Incapsula, a company that helps websites manage their traffic and security, examined the activity across several thousand of its sites and found that humans make up less than 40 percent of all activity in 2013. But even though the bots are more active than ever before, that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Machines are doing the building  of what we think of as the  internet for us almost more rapidly than humans so the next step will be to understand what this ‘building’ means, and how networked communication, information and access is not only about people and information, but also about things. We use the internet to seek, organise, share, and communicate.

So for now, we need to build our understanding of global connectedness and leverage opportunities for learning in our  interactive, digital, search-enabled world.

Dyson, G. (2012). Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe. Random House Digital, Inc.Gilster, P., & Glister, P. (1997). Digital literacy. Wiley Computer Pub.

Image:cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by LEOL30