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.

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.


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)

Educators as content curators

Just this weekend I’ve finished writing a lead article for my SLANZA friends in NZ for their Collected Magazine. School librarians everywhere are interested in the same things, so I was pleasee to be able to contribute to an issue focused on Content Curation.

This is such a topical area of relevance to teachers and school librarians alike. What is critical for us, however, is that we cast our ‘information literacy’ lens over the whole activity of ‘curation’.

There is a great deal of  rich content available for students and teachers that is collaboratively built and shared, including blogs, wikis, images, videos, places, events, music, books and more. Searching for content requires wise information literacy strategies and tools (embedded in the curriculum learning processes) to avoid being lost in the information labyrinth. Content curation is also  about  organizing, filtering and “making sense of” information on the web and sharing the very best pieces of content that has been selected for a specific purpose or need. It comes down to organizing your sources, knowing which of them are  trust worthy, and seeing patterns. So for teachers and librarians it comes down to  keeping up the pace in adopting these strategies and using tools to publish curated content in the sense of ‘reporting’ what is happening or what is relevant and new on a topic of research or interest.

Right on time to match the thinking time were  two very different but interesting items which arrived in my Facebook and RSS feeds. You’ll want to visit both!

There’s a great set three sketchs about Curators and the Curated from the FueledbyCoffee blog, as a result of a recent conference. So many ideas juxtaposed in the sketches.

There’s also a different but interesting set of ideas presented in this slideshare presentation about Re-Envisioning Pedagogy:Educators as Curators.

Clearly content curation is a topical issue!

cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo shared by Claudio.Ar

New Media for Professional Teaching Assocations

Yesterday was a great day for a group of educators gathered at our school, as a result of an initiative of the Professional Teachers Council, NSW.

I was given the opportunity to lead a day ” Web 2.0 Tools for Professional Teaching Associations” with members from different teaching associations, to consider how new media tools (Web 2.0) can  and should be used to transform professional practice and empower teaching associations to meet the challenges of learning and teaching in an online world.

This was a big ask – it’s amazing how far we have come in terms of possibilities. It’s even more startling to stop and consider the priorities that now face teachers and teaching associations in supporting student learning opportunities in the 21st century.

I prepared a comprehensive digital handout – designed for the participants to be able to use again and again as they have conversations within their own associations about current and future developments. Let’s face it – in one day you can only point to the potential, not make it happen!

I used all online tools for this full day – starting with a google forms survey before the day; google slide presentation to launch the day; and a google site as the digital handout (with all the videos, slideshares, documents and AZ Toolkit embedded to show how!)

Just to prove the point that Judy is not dreaming, we were lucky to have Ross Cartilage from Google come and talk about “The Cloud” – yes folks, it’s real and it’s beautiful!

The Lo-Fi Manifesto

The current issue of Kairos online journal exploring the intersections of rhetoric, technology and pedagogy, has an article by Karl Stolley – The Lo-Fi Manifestowhich I particularly enjoyed, given our penchant for fancy and flexible web tools for connectivity.

Discourse posted on the open Web can hardly be considered free if access requires costly software or particular devices. Additionally, the literacies and language we develop through engaging in digital scholarship and knowledge-making should enable us to speak confidently, unambiguously, and critically with one another……And as teachers, we should actively work to provide students with sustainable, extensible production literacies through open, rhetorically grounded digital practices that emphasize the source in “free and open source.”

Jump over to The Lo-Fi Manifesto and also checkout the substantial explanations in the drop-down panes for each element. Some of these concepts are highly relevant to our discussions about 21st century learning or the digital and design environment within which such learning takes place or is supported.


1. Software is a poor organizing principle for digital production.

“What program do you use?” is a question I often get about the slides I use to present my work. I have concluded that the proper answer to the question is to counter-suggest the asking of a different question, “What principle do you use?” John Maeda, The Laws of Simplicity

2. Digital literacy should reach beyond the limitations of software.

The ability to “read” a medium means you can access materials and tools created by others. The ability to “write” in a medium means you can generate materials and tools for others. You must have both to be literate. Alan Kay, “User Interface: A Personal View”

3. Discourse should not be trapped by production technologies.

In an extreme view, the world can be seen as only connections, nothing else. Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web

4. Accommodate and forgive the end user, not the producer.

Don’t make me jump through hoops just because you don’t want to write a little bit of code. Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think, (2nd ed.)

5. If a hi-fi element is necessary, keep it dynamic and unobtrusive.

This is progressive enhancement: it works for everyone, but users with modern browsers will see a more usable version. We are, in a way, rewarding them for choosing to use a good browser, without being rude to Lynx users or employees of companies with paranoid IT departments. Tommy Olsson,Graceful Degradation & Progressive Enhancement

6. Insist on open standards and formats, and software that supports them.

Because they share a common parent and abide by the same house rules, all XML applications are compatible with each other, making it easier for developers to manipulate one set of XML data via another and to develop new XML applications as the need arises, without fear of incompatibility. Jeffrey Zeldman, Designing with Web Standards, (2nd ed.)

How do we support teachers? – Symposium response

Digital Education Revolution – provide your feedback!

In Australia we have the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program (AGQTP), which includes teacher quality and their impact on student outcomes. Considerable funding has been directed towards this. Rolling out a range of workshops in regional areas, as well as activities with professional associations. Also considering subject-specific standards and on-line professional learning resources.

Suggestions from the floor:

Portfolio of examplars at the national level. Podcasts as resource tools. Fund technology coaches for schools. Consideration for remote areas of Australia – and how to transfer information to regional and remote areas. Collaboration between various sectors. Use technology to assess literacy standards in national testing programs.

Responses to questions from the sessions:

If teachers don’t have time to do it all! Yet we are re-tooling our whole processes of education – the exploration is going to take time – and will make us more efficient and integrated in the end. Any organisation that is going through the process of transformation, will required us to commit. Our pedagogical knowledge has to change – technology can solve the pedagogical issues if we want it to. So bottom line – buy time to learn!

The key issue remains the need to establish collaborative environments. We have more knowledge than we can share with old technologies.  Sessions like this symposium should be streamed, so that educators can talk in the ‘back channell’ promoting the conversation.

Assessment should be a trust relationship between the educator and the student.  It’s a true social network in the making – information should be exposed and developed, and made transparent.  We need to focus on the social networking of education.

The 21st century classroom is a state of mind.  It’s a set of relationships between someone who wants to learn and someone who wants to teach. The relationship is around the transfer of learning.  Education is dead: long live learning!

Photo: Listening to the Stars

Creating possibilities in learning

For two days, we are being engaged in a trip into the roots of education – an important step of revision and re-visioning our ideas and purposes for learning.

Our task? To begin to understand ways of actualising a new Parramatta Catholic Education Framework.

Our leader in this process is Yoram Harpaz, founding Director of the Community of Thinking programme at the Branco Weiss Institute in Jerusalem.

We are doing this in order to help us draw a new conceptual map of education to define our aims and means of education. Schools are in deep crisis – they no longer work effectively for 21C – but for now we don’t have strong alternatives in place.

We need to ask ourselves some fundamental questions – and the most fundamental is “what is education?” and “what does it mean to prepare students for their lives in the 21st century”?.

Yoram mentioned many times that schooling has been a very successful sociological experiment, but a failure for our students because of our inconsistency in our pedagogical frameworks.

Yoram jokingly says that we operate as if it “Doesn’t matter what you teach so long as it’s boring!”

Essentially we have to find, what Yoram calls, “our pedagogical sentiment”. There are lots of slogans, but what is our real authentic pedagogy or stance? How do we turn our classrooms into a community – a community of thinkers? He wants students to experience knowledge as human creation.

The thing we are investigating is Yoram’s Third Model which is about ‘disruptive intelligence’, about sharing ideas, working together because

thinking is a dialogic and societal process.

Our purpose should be about putting dialectic pressure on students. If we are flexible and sensitive then teaching can support learning. I love the idea of ‘teacher as therapist!’

Yoram is also a strong advocate of ‘story’, and the human narrative, which fits very well with digital story in a Web 2.0 context as well. As he explains, knowledge is created by human beings – it is storytelling which helps put order into our chaotic life and insert some logic into the mystery of life. We want our students to create their own stories, their own interpretation, and original ways to solutions.

Knowledge is not an object – Knowledge is a ‘story that works’

The Department of Education and Children’s Services in South Australia provides a good series of informative links for Dr Yoram Harpaz.

Harpaz & Lefstein: Changing Schools – What sorts of changes in schools should we be putting energy into?

I’ve got more to write about this on another day….

Image from jakedobkin.