Meeting future learning needs of education practitioners

Knowledge building, literacy and communication in action now take many forms. When Skype was first released in 2003, the global face-to-face contact began to transform communication and collaboration in ‘real time’. Now Apple’s Face-Time, Skype in the Classroom, and Google Hangouts (to name just a few tools) guarantee synchronous engagement, alongside collaborative text platforms such as Google docs. In other words, the mechanisms for engaging with information and processes of learning in the acquisition of new knowledge has become a deeper process of individual and collaborative learning activities, problem solving and artefact development, through an integration of face-to-face and online interactions within a community, involving absorption, integration and systemisation of the information received by the receiver in their own pre-existing cognitive structure, which are the result of personal experience, and earlier knowledge transactions (Trentin, 2011).

This digital information environment demands a new knowledge flow between content and digital connections. While the bibliographic paradigm created textbook learning, the digital information environment of today indicates the need for educators to understand information seeking and engagement within connected multi-media contexts. Computer and mobile device technology environments, social media, and ready forms of online communication drive our newly emerging knowledge ecosystems. Thomas and Brown (2011), who explored what they described as a new ‘culture of learning’, explained how much the Internet has changed the way we think about both technology and information. In this new culture of learning, information technology has become a participatory medium, giving rise to an environment that is constantly being changed and reshaped by the participation within information spaces. They argue that traditional approaches to learning are no longer capable of coping with this constantly changing world. The information environment is a technology environment, which demands adaptation. As information is also a networked resource, “information absorption is a cultural and social process of engaging with the constantly changing world around us” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p.47).

In other words, our digital information ecology is a remix of different forms of technology, devices, data repositories, information retrieval, information sharing, networks and communication. New technological tools are expanding and continually altering the ways school students, or educators can interact with the world. The implications for education that stem from new means for accessing information, communicating with others, and participating in a community needs a new brand of professional competences to thrive within the changing environment. Haste (2009) recognised the co-construction of knowledge through interpersonal discourse and the tension within pedagogy between a focus on knowledge-based instruction and outcomes, and on praxis-based instruction. “While most pedagogy, of course, recognises the interaction of both in good practice, there is nevertheless an underlying epistemological gap; knowledge-based models are implicitly more ‘top down’ and praxis-based more ‘bottom up’. ‘Knowledge’ implies that the route to understanding is in the structured transmission of information. ‘Praxis’ implies a necessary interaction with materials, actions or other persons as a route to understanding” (Haste, 2009 p.213).

Information ecology at the heart of knowledge

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. 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. This is described as an ‘information ecology’.

“Information ecology examines the contexts of information behaviour 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 rhizomatic 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.

This information ecology also 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, Bransford, Kozma, & Quellmalz, 2012, p.238 ). In this information ecology we also understand that “the development of critical thinking is a key learning objective in education – particularly higher education – [and that] it entails the ability to make reasoned evaluative judgements when making sense of information sources that contain different (potentially conflicting) findings, perspectives and interpretations of a given topic of phenomenon” (Ford, 2008 p. 59). The use of critical thinking has become particularly important as relatively quick access to a wide range of information means that the user needs the ability to critically evaluate the validity and value of information accessed.

The evidence is that technologies and social media platforms are driving an unprecedented reorganisation of the learning environment in and beyond schools and tertiary environments. These disruptive shifts are already reshaping the workforce landscape and the skills required (Davies, Fidler & Gorbis, 2011), establishing lifelong and life-wide learning as the central paradigm for the future (Redecker et al, 2011).

Our work as educators has to centre on helping to meet future learning needs in courses/programs by fostering a culture of enquiry within a sustainable learning ecology that is shaped by the ubiquity of information, globally responsive pedagogical practices, and driven by collaboration and informal learning in multiple access points and through multiple mediums.

Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2012). Introduction to information science. London: Facet.
Charles Sturt University. (2012). Course Approval Document. Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation Articulated Set). CASIMS, Office of Academic Governance.
Davies, Al, Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future work skills 2020. Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute: California.
Ford, N. (2008). Education. In Web-based learning through educational informatics: Information science meets educational computing. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Haste, H. (2009). What is ‘competence’ and how should education incorporate new technology’s tools to generate ‘competent civic agents’. Curriculum Journal, 20(3), 207-223. doi:10.1080/09585170903195845
Redecker, C., Leis. M., Leendertse, M., Punie, Y., Gijsbers, G., Kirschner, P., Stoyanov, S., & Hoogerveld, B. (2011).  The future of learning: preparing for change, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, JRC European Commission.
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.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (Vol. 219). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.
Trentin, G., (2011). Technology and knowledge flows : the power of networks. Chandos Pub, Oxford.

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by katypang: http://flickr.com/photos/katypang/2628074710

Information abyss – in the era of global education

The more I look the more certain I am that I stand at the edge of an information abyss, rather than at the dawn of a  golden age of information and life-long learning powered by the digital environments.

Perhaps there are two sides to this:

The good side encompasses savoring the growth of creative knowledge and nurturing the  understanding for students engaged in the topic of discussion. In this way students can sometimes surprise and delight us with insights and even lead us in new directions taking the teacher mentor along with them.

The bad side encompasses that information abyss that exists, but which is misunderstood,  largely unmentioned, and yet which is creating a new form of the digital divide – content and conversation ignorance in an era of mass information.

Knowledge and creative/scientific  understanding is always at the heart of the educational endeavour. Teachers gnawing at the syllabus bones of their subject may find juicy marrow, but it’s still the same pile of bones.    The officially mandated parameters of accreditation organizations (think departments of school education or higher education) means that content and process may run parrallel to the natural learning needs of students.

Designing any long-term educational action these days (especially in the face of 1:1 computing and mobile devices) involves creating scenarios for acquiring and developing competencies and knowledge in subject domains that are enabled by personalization. Competences are the main element of the learning process and personalization in virtual learning scenarios involve designing and executing learning paths, learning activities within a subject and some kind of analysis that ‘tags’ the success of the particular lifelong learning elements involved.  That’s education, but is that learning?

Ah – here it is again, that information abyss.

Educators were never information experts, but in the era of ‘industrial schooling’ this did not matter.   Information was organized and made available in structured ways, quietly providing access to tacit and explicit knowledge at point of need.

Then technology transformed the information landscape, pushing changes into education. Unfortunately education experts forgot that they were not information experts, and in the age of web-enabled information some educators and educational   leaders, in their enthusiasm and  ‘debunking’ of industrial schooling,  have also advertised their ignorance in how to work with the most precious of all commodities – information!   Did they toss the baby out with the bathwater!  Nope, they actually never did know what information organization was all about, what metadata means, when digital preservation is important, how information access can be facilitated, how information is organized, and what strategies are needed to find, analyze and synthesize information.  Pre the web era , this didn’t matter. There were librarians around to fill the breach and provide the knowledge gap.  Now things are different.

Information (and the knowledge it contains) is the underpinning of society, learning, and future developments. Information is what lead to the creation of the web, and which leads to developments in all forms of our web engagement.  Social networks are enabling information sharing. We need to be able to read, and read well, to access information. We need to know how to find and make available to others the information that matters.

But while educators “toot” the use of web tools, and play with virtual environments, they seem to remain more ignorant than ever about the impacts of web organization on information access and information retrieval.   Only a fool closes a school library down because information is on the web, and fiction books are sitting in a box in the classroom.

How should we ensure we refresh the mental browser of pre-digital thinking to suit the evolution of the web?

What school leaders need to do is to go out and find the best information and library experts they can find to re-vitalize their school library.  What school leaders need to do is to go and empower an information expert within their school to lead in curriculum design, and ensure that it incorporates the required fluency with information access, use, manipulation, remix, and dissemination.  What school leaders need to recognize is that all the reshaping of classroom spaces, and use of tech tools and mobile devices for   curriculum innovation is nothing more than a hollow shiny bauble  (which may well be crushed in the next iteration of the web)  and really useless .

Kids aren’t learning how to be adaptive in complex information environments.



Someone HAS to help the teachers of our 21st century kids understand reading, literacy and information seeking in a connected world.  The information abyss is right there at their fingertips, and each day teachers are doing a great job of throwing kids down into that abyss!  (Test your knowledge of the abyss by perusing Knowledge 2)

Our students now need help in navigating diverse information pathways within their personal and creative learning environments. They need a range of literature and information options, delivered to them via a variety of physical and virtual means, from books to all manner of media and digital objects, via a plethora of digital devices. They need to know how to juxtapose text, sound, media and social connections in real time, and how to filter, then mix and match what they see, hear and experience in order to build personal knowledge and understandings of the curriculum.

Where once the bibliographic paradigm created text-book learning and school libraries, learning today requires that teachers and school librarians understand reading and information-seeking in a connected world.

Deal with the information abyss.  In the name of education, get a new school library!  This is what I’ve already debated in the post  Why Teacher Librarians are Important. 

Essentially though, in this new library we find that the literature, magazines, information, technology, learning and teaching activities are designed to support the needs of the networked learning community, creating a partnership between teachers, students, school, home and the global community.  Moving to a Networked School Community is essential, and is the only way to ensure that a school is dealing with the information abyss.

Images:
1. cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by Ka Rasmuson
2. cc licensed ( BY SD ) flickr photo shared by heyjudegallery

Purpose/ed: Unlocking education, unlocking minds

It’s worth stopping and thinking back to some of the most exciting times in your learning life – to feel once again that cognitive buzz that energized your spirit and made you want to know more.  I mean something deep, visceral, urgent, demanding – like a child building and rebuilding a set of blocks with persistent fascination.  What have these learning moments been for you?

I still feel the utter disappointment of having found only dried macaroni inside the rocking clown that I demolished. I have so many memories from when I was a kid that remain charged with positive frustration (learning) and wonderful, sizzling amazement.   How many of them can I attribute to a learning experience as a by-product of formal education?  How many can you? Honestly!  What about our learners in schools today?

Learning and knowing cannot be separated, and relies on transactions and interactions with information. However, different people, when presented with exactly the same information in exactly the same way, will learn different things. Most models of education and learning have almost no tolerance for this kind of thing. As a result, teaching tends to focus on eliminating the source of the problem: the student’s imagination!

The purpose of education is surely about cultivating the imagination, for without imagination there would be no knowledge, no development, no scientific discovery, nothing. Most of us at some stage in our lives have had the thrilling experience of seeing a new solution to a problem, not necessarily in lofty theories of the professional world, but perhaps in making something, or cooking, or gaming, or solving a social conundrum. You don’t have to be Einstein to experience that wonderful feeling of a strong sense of uniqueness through a new insight or idea – making a connection that you’ve never made before.

For me, this is the challenge and purpose of education – nurturing ‘eureka’ moments for every kid. Not only are Eureka moments extremely exciting, they also reinforce an inner conviction of being special, someone worth having around.

So when it comes to our digital environment, we must work with existing and emerging media tools to promote creative and reflective learning. The challenge is to go beyond the constraints of the classroom and to push the understanding of what is possible. You only have to look at projects like the Flat Classroom Project to appreciate the possibilities.

No-one likes to grow old – but hiding in the 20th century mindset won’t stop you aging!! In fact it will definitely give you digital dementia, and simultaneously disenfranchise your student’s right to learn at the same time.

It’s time to go beyond worksheets, pathfinders, and lock-step learning. We’ve been saying it for years now, but many schools still ‘throttle’ young minds with essays, exams, cross-form marking and more.  It’s not curriculum that’s the mind killer – it’s what teachers do, or are forced to do with it that’s the problem.

I wonder what you could do today to unlock learning and energize the minds of your students?  Eureka!

Learning online through CSU – looking for solutions

This is the first week of the new session at Charles Sturt Uni – and my first week dipped into a fully online world of learning for current and future educators.  I was lucky to meet some of them in O week at the barbeque, and was ‘rocked’ by their aspirations and passion about work in libraries in schools and in the community and public sectors. The conversations covered many things – and of course Twitter and Facebook came into it pretty soon.  Of those starting the course many had a Facebook presence, though only a few were twitter followers.  Never mind…the queenslanders got together for a ‘twitter training session’ to get connected and stay tuned.  You know who you are :-)

This week I began to ‘meet’ my students in four subjects that I am teaching this session.  It’s a time of reflection and re-organisation for me, as I move into the potentially flat-bed delivery of courses that Uni learning managment systems can be.  I’m looking for solutions.

My students in Digital Citizenship in Schools are the ones that I am keen to see what we can do to improve on the way we deliver online courses. After all, understanding digital citizenship assumes a level of interaction with digital content and digital modes of interaction!  Our content is delivered in ‘modules’ and can be quite static text based products. However, there is functionality that allows for online meetings, forums, and shared spaces through Wimba.  The Sakaii platform (latest one is not rolled out yet) does allow embedding of many files, so videos and more can be incorporated – a real plus!

But it’s still not easy to share online learning together, unless we adopt more visual, interactive approaches with our students – who in many cases are teachers or teacher librarians looking for or implementing interactive learning for their students.

So what am I doing with the Digital Citizenship in Schools ETL523 group?  Setting up things that will benefit them, me, you, and model how what we learn today will continue to be part of the learning collaborative that we create.

I’ve created a Diigo group  Digital Citizenship in Schools which not only informs the course work we are engaging with, but becomes a pool of information for anyone, and can continue chugging along.

I’ve created a Facebook Page Digital Citizenship in Schools – with the same mission.

These two plug directly into a blog I have created for the students, as a way of sharing updates in a more interactive way  (not sharing this link yet, as I won’t go live with this for the students until tomorrow).  The feeds from Diigo and Facebook update automatically within the blog too.  The videos I am going to make will also plug into that same blog and update.  So now we will have a nice colourful, hyperlined, information rich  exchange that can be embedded right into our Sakaii system – and bingo – easy, up-to-date communication from me – leaving the forums for the questions, queries, and discussion of the ‘formal’ learning.   We’ll be using a number of other tools too as part of the learning experience.

So a simple little adaptation has created a nice one stop shop in the LMS – that’s actually a composite of many worthy online tools.   I think next time I’ll add a wikispace, now that they have free Wikispaces for the Higher Education.

I’m enjoying this, and really looking forward to working with my students in INF330, INF505, ETL523 and ETL401.  Not sure what adaptations will happen in my other courses yet.  That’s the challenge for Week 2 :-)

Digital literacy across the curriculum

Digital Literacy across the Curriculum (pdf), from FutureLab, UK, is a 63-page handbook aimed at educational practitioners and school leaders in both primary and secondary schools who are interested in creative and critical uses of technology in the classroom. The handbook is supported by case studies (pdf) of digital literacy in practice and video case studies.

The handbook aims to introduce educational practitioners to the concepts and contexts of digital literacy and to support them in developing their own practice aimed at fostering the components of digital literacy in classroom subject teaching and in real school settings.

Developing digital literacy is important  because it supports young people to be confident and competent in their use of technology in a way that will enable them to develop their subject knowledge by encouraging their curiosity, supporting their creativity, giving them a critical framing for their emerging understandings and allowing them to make discerning use of the increasing number of digital resources available to them. p.10

Developing digital literacy in the classroom can allow students to apply their existing knowledge of creating with digital technology to learning in school and in the process be supported to think more critically and creatively about what it is they are doing. p.24

Fostering creativity in the classroom involves applying elements of creativity to subject knowledge. This can be done in all subjects across the school curriculum. p.25

This is an outstanding document that can be used as an information primer for helping schools develop a whole-school approach – particularly relevant in the current 1:1 laptop scenario in Australia.

Good intentions win the (Second Life) day!

I love our online technology world!!  This morning I was up and online at 6 am for the ISTE Webinar From Good Intentions to Best Practice: Teaching with Second Life in Middle School.  I was ready to listen to Peggy Sheehy (Maggie Marat) from Ramapo Island talk about her Second Life work – Peggy inspired the Aussie crowd at NECC, so i knew I would be hanging on her every word . The presentation was all about kids researching, building, discussing, creating, exploring and more, with teachers who are taking excellent pedagogy from their classrooms into a virtual world – in which students can extend their understanding and learning in many different subject areas.

Peggy reminded us that teacher preparation is vital. We need to Get Informed: read second life press and forums; read SL education wikis; and belong to SLED – the educator’s email listserve. We need Experience: get a SL account; tour popular places; visit educators spaces for collaboration and join groups; and start to learn to build simple objects. We need to Develop: identify a learning objective; build curriculum with appropriate space!

She explained that we are not looking for extra time in curriculum, but looking for opportunities to move existing curriculum into a space that will engage students in a more powerful way. We still need structure, feedback and quality assessment.  Second Life is an equaliser – reticent students blossom and converse and contribute. It’s the teacher strategies that count!  The skills learned carry right back into the real world classroom, and both students and parents are reporting profound benefits from having a learning environment that incorporates Second Life.

There was a great deal of superb information in this ISTE Webinar. Follow Peggy’s work Ramapo – Suffern Middle School in Second Life

See and download the full gallery on posterous