Education and collaboration
- 1 Abstract
- 2 Introduction
- 3 Line of sight
- 4 Economics and making
- 5 What kind of guidelines are useful?
- 6 Bibliography
- 7 See also
to be added
Open communities and technologies offer an opportunity to participate and use tools which are a good fit for constructivist, connectivist and student centred learning. There are structural tensions between industrial structures in education sector policy and the goals for constructivist or more participatory pedagogies. Education governance through systemic abstracted 'line of sight' defines formal structures and values which reduce flexibility and choice in a classroom context. These same tensions would scope the potential opportunities and benefits possible with use of open code and community practice in schools. This is an exploration of the underpinning ideas which might offer better foundations for innovation, collaboration and student leadership in Australian schools. Concepts which apply in Australia could easily apply in other nations. Specific structures and opportunities may vary.
The overall structure of the Australian education system is defined in an industrial model. Curriculum, learning objectives, standard testing all are optimised for an efficient path through known content. The national system defines what will be covered. Funding for education is tied to compliance with content and testing. A standardised competitive value or score as a final outcome. While an overview of Australia's skills based on summarising across all students in a given year does provide some useful competitive data there is much more that students have to offer in their individual hopes and experiences than can be reflected with this kind of view.
Education is optimised for improving that specific value which reduces possibilities for other kinds of opportunities and choices - for diversity in education, and therefore diversity in school graduate populations in terms of their perceptions about what might be possible for them personally.
Similarly approaches to copyright, insurance and overall timetabling for schools are structured for managing complexity at scale. These policies and patterns make up the organisational framework which shapes the class experience for both teacher and student. They could be re-oriented to support more open collaborative teaching and learning in schools. Unique outcomes based on niche interests or specialised skills developed through trial and error in a previously untried project could result in students who have more independent and adaptive skills. Reduced student participation in science and engineering could well be related to efficiencies of scale and risk averse approaches to education policy which reduce room to move in the school context.
Illich in Deschooling Society recognised the costs of reducing the spectrum of social activity to fit industrial systems and sought more distributed and participative models for learning:
The complement to a durable, repairable, and reusable bill of goods is not an increase of institutionally produced services, but rather an institutional framework which constantly educates to action, participation, and self-help. The movement of our society from the present — in which all institutions gravitate toward post-industrial bureaucracy — to a future of post-industrial conviviality — in which the intensity of action would prevail over production — must begin with a renewal of style in the service institutions — and, first of all, with a renewal of education. A future which is desirable and feasible depends on our willingness to invest our technological know-how into the growth of convivial institutions. In the field of educational research, this amounts to the request for a reversal of present trends.
It is possible with open distributed technologies and open collaboration that we can both refind our full potential and work responsibly with our natural context. To do this we need to examine the aspects of our current systems which reduce participant opportunities and choices.
Line of sight
The natural world is the real. A first generation photocopy of the real can be seen in many traditional indigenous cultures. Line of sight is expressed as a network of relationships between diverse species, seasons and people. People are identified as being diverse and each having value because of that diversity. Diverse elements are seen as required for the whole system. Specific local ecology and geography and regional focus.
A second generation copy could be seen as the humanist world view. This world view could include some of the humanist faith based world views. these brought more information about negotiating with people and less information about the natural ecology. The systems do not rely on or relate to specific natural ecologies. The structures are more about grouping the same kinds of people together. There is value in being the same. These groups have frequently conquested other competing groups. Value is inside with 'other' being somewhere which is yet to be converted into a valuable state.
Global economic rationalism is a third generation photocopy which uses only abstracted values, is hyper-mobile and orients around opportunities to accrue profit for a central entity. Data about ecological or humanist factors is only audible as it applies to central profit. Groups of same are expressed as physical and cultural monoculture. Economic rationalist policy is a very strong method of viewing the world because so many economists and decision makers are trained in these perspectives and methods, because it accrues value for powerful entities, and because the data is simple and does not include any of the diffuse contention which exists in addressing real needs and interests at a social or ecological level. Lessig describes this as listening for value as money would tell it. Lessig Required reading for the next 10 years 2007
Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure re-election. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away from sense, always to dollars.
Our systems are tuned for listening to perspectives which aggregate signal centrally at the expense of listening to the real. This shift in understanding is described by Hoebeke, Against Scarcity In Science And Knowledge Management: Towards A New Enriching Empiricism 2003:
Many times I heard the strange expression that “reality was wrong”, but the information was right. This was quite a shock for a scientist who had been trained in the empirical way of dealing with the world. If a work hypothesis is refuted by an experience, then the work hypothesis is labeled as wrong and “reality” is always right: this is the base of empiricism. In management literature and in economics one re ads now that realities are wrong: the people don’t like the latest management fad, politicians make economic policies impossible, external conditions are not favorable to proof the rightness of our strategies. And this also is called scientific: a strange reversal of empiricism!
While these methods do have 'efficiencies of scale' there are increasingly concerns about the way that real ecological and social costs are dropped out of the abstracted views which inform much global governance and economic thinking. We are also witnessing other kinds of efficiencies of scale made possible by open distributed systems and so there is an interest in finding fidelity of data, together with opportunities for effective distributed participation. Margaret Wheatley 2007:
People often comment that the new leadership models derived from living systems and complexity science couldn’t possibly work in “the real world.” I assume they are referring to their organization or government, which they experience as a pre-designed bureaucracy, governed by policies and laws, where people are expected to do what they’re told and wait for instructions. This “real world” of mechanistic organizations craves efficiency and obedience. It relies on standard operating procedures for every situation, even when chaos erupts and things are out of control. This is not the real world. This world is a man-made, dangerous fiction that destroys our capacity to deal well with what’s really going on. The real real world, not this fake one, demands that we learn to cope with chaos, that we know how to evoke human ingenuity and skills, that we adopt strategies and behaviors that lead to order, not to more chaos.
How do we change our line of sight?
Changing line of sight
Community groups are interesting because they do not inherently need an increase in market share, they often have a comfortable balance about how much time and cost they involve. The primary goal is to be useful to participants and to be sustainable as an opportunity.
The focal length of these groups includes information about people which is more subtle and individual than broader economic rationalist approaches. People may have different skills, abilities, interests and capacity overall. In a community context it is possible to view different kinds of contributions all as being useful. There is no reason to rank or exclude people who are slower or less efficient because the overall participation is valued on its own terms. The overall driver is much closer to the participants.
In an educational context an example of this kind of local value focus is practiced by Narayanan's Project Vision Learning project in Bangalore takes on a new structure and also is integrated with the wider community Nrarayanan describes the project in A Dangerous but Powerful Idea - Counter Acceleration and Speed with Slowness and Wholeness
The Project Vision Learning System is dynamic and is made up of four distinct, distributed, interactive and inter-related components that work in coordination with one another.
- The Community Learning Centres (Spokes-located within each slum community)
- The Idea-Media Centres (Hubs or Workshops-which serve different purposes and are common and shared spaces)
- The Expedition (Using the complexity of the real and the natural as sites for introspection, contemplation and active, participatory learning)
- The Network (Wired/wireless- links that integrate the Drishya Community members with each other and with the outside world)
Narayanan in A Dangerous but Powerful Idea - Counter Acceleration and Speed with Slowness and Wholeness suggests there should be more learning opportunities in smaller groups, slower days, in mixing activities which combine subjects, in mentoring and connecting with students in other places. Essentially in stepping back from the industrial model and looking at what the older community based approaches have to offer and also to examine the way that peers are connecting in new technologies.
Narayanan in addition to specifically looking for socially sustainable ways to organise, is working with the local ecology as a resource, rhythm and context within which the learning and the community exists:
Building on and developing the ideas of Holt (2000), Fuad Luke (2002), Manzini (cited in Thackara 2005) and Capra (2002) and by consciously embracing the core value of slowness – both as way of being and as a way of learning - has created the real capability for substantive change.
The concept of Slow emerged from the Slow Food and Slow Design movement in Europe and the United States and builds and develops on ideas of sustainable living as a desirable future. Slowness as a pedagogy allows students to learn not at the metronome of the school day or the school bell, but at the metronome of nature, giving them time to absorb, to introspect and contemplate, to argue and rebut and to enjoy.
Learning about metamorphosis and about the web of life in real time, by maintaining a butterfly garden, growing larval plants and simultaneously engaging in reflection, role play and scientific observation is powerful indeed. The short flash presentation that accompanies this article illustrates the power of slow pedagogy as a counter to the current culture of acceleration, which is necessitating the rapid learning of more content in less time.
Dee Hock in Birth of the Chaordic Age summarises the need for an ecological holistic perspective to underpin economic and community practice:
"We must seriously question the concepts underlying the current structure of organization and whether they are suitable to the management of accelerating societal and environmental problems - and, even beyond that, we must seriously consider whether they are the primary cause of those problems."
"In the years ahead we must get beyond numbers and the language of mathematics to understand, evaluate, and account for such intangibles as learning, intellectual capital, community, beliefs, and principles, or the stories we tell of our tribe's value and prospects will be increasingly false.
We must understand, evaluate, and account for wholly new, non monetary forms of ownership, assets, and liabilities of great value that have extraordinary effect but no tangible market price or mathematical means of measurement, such as participatory rights, alliances, systemic interdependence, and defined relationships, or the stories we tell of our tribe will be increasingly archaic and misleading.
We must understand, evaluate and account for the full cost of everything removed from or returned to the earth, the biosphere, or the atmosphere, including reversion to natural elements in the original proportions and balance, or our stories will result in increasing environmental catastrophe.
We must conceive of and help implement wholly new forms of ownership, financial systems, and measurements free of the attempt to monetize all values which bind tribes to next quarter's bottom line, gross maldistribution of wealth and power, degradation of people, and desolation of the ecosphere, or our stories will be increasingly immoral and destructive.
And we must interconnect our stories with those of all other tribal storytellers in order to integrate them into a new, intelligible, larger story to inform the global community now emerging, or our stories will continue to set tribe against tribe in ever accelerating economic, social and physical combat."
Students and teachers do often find ways to involve the ecological and community aspects of themselves in their learning and teaching, but the wider system and its values are optimised for industrial efficiencies and for aggregating the value into abstracted summaries of the students' interactions with the school experience. (HSC/TER scores). In The Learning Curve Orr (2004) suggests that:
All education is environmental education…by what is included or excluded we teach the young that they are part of, or apart from, the natural world.
The opportunity to view ourselves as constructive or destructive elements in our environment is a part of the data which is filtered out as noise in the wider economy. This omission is costing our ecologies. Sustainable ecological or social practice is not structurally built in to our systems for profit, tax, market share, except in opt in projects like organic farming or Fair Trade.
Exploring ways to understand real data in our wider educational and economic systems is a shift which could be more possible, even at the scale that we now function, if we recognise the strengths of distributed networks and communities to filter around ideas and connections which are of interest to specific people or communities.
The way we think about monoculture is fundamental. A group of sameness with a fence around which we define as value and use to conquest other(non value) things outside the fence. It applies in almost everything we do. We need to step back from that perspective and look at what might be possible if we value diversity and distributed networks.
Free software communities operate as a network of diverse elements in an unfenced context and memes are adopted as a pull process and not a push process according to local needs rather than central profit. Very different model at that level.
Boyle J., in his responses to 5 Questions to James Boyle made the same connection between ecology as an appreciation of diversity and access to knowledge groups and practices:
At its best, the environmental movement has worked because of the size of its big tent, and the diversity of the approaches being used within it.
Greenpeace is very different from the Environmental Defense Fund, and both are different from the Audubon Society or a land trust. The combination of methods and perspectives is actually a strength not a weakness. The Access to Knowledge (A2K) movement strikes me as having many of the same virtues. As for business models and economic underpinnings, one of the interesting things about this movement is that a set of social justice movements (for example, those focused on Access to Medicines) and a set of groups who are interested in different business models based around distributed creativity (for example, open source software developers) have found common cause in criticizing aspects of the current "1 size fits all" model of intellectual property.
In an educational context our systems use the group approach. Age sorting, subject sorting, level sorting, content blocking, time slicing, grading, strong curriculum and key competency mappings all help to make systemic clarity but tend to support/prefer blocks of predefined monoculture experience at a local level.
There is some research predicting affective responses to different stages of learning and research. This involves collecting statistics and mapping students to expectations about how they will feel at certain phases of their project. For example Kort, Reilly, Picard in Affective Learning Companion External Representation of Learning Process and Domain Knowledge: Affective State as a Determinate of its Structure and Function:
The student ideally begins in quadrant I or II: they might be curious and fascinated about a new topic of interest (quadrant I) or they might be puzzled and motivated to reduce confusion (quadrant II). In either case, they are in the top half of the space, if their focus is on constructing or testing knowledge. Movement happens in this space as learning proceeds. For example, when solving a puzzle in The Incredible Machine, a student gets an idea how to implement a solution and then builds i ts simulation. When she runs the simulation and it fails, she sees that her idea has some part that doesn't work - that needs to be deconstructed. At this point it is not uncommon for the student to move down into the lower half of the diagram (quadrant III) where emotions may be negative and the cognitive focus changes to eliminating some misconception. As she consolidates her knowledge - what works and what does not - with awareness of a sense of making progress, she may move to quadrant IV.
There is a risk that as with other kinds of abstraction the message of the medium can become more audible to our education systems than the voices of the people participating. If people feel differently are they contrary, anomalies, noise in a signal or is there room for a different conversation. We risk losing our capacity to relate to each other and our environment through only being able to hear predicted states or outcomes because the methods we use for validating input are tailored in ways which facilitate and understand majority, monocultural or group responses.
From Cape York Institute, Teach for Australia: A practical plan to get great teachers into remote schools:
There is an educational crisis in remote Australia that is not abating. On the key literacy and numeracy benchmark measures, remote students are well behind mainstream levels. Amongst Indigenous students in remote areas, educational results are at catastrophic levels: the most recent publicly available data shows that only 4 percent of remote, Indigenous students in the Northern Territory passed the basic minimum Year 3 reading benchmark. Students are leaving school functionally illiterate with little or no chance of properly engaging in the real economy.
This paragraph explicitly uses the national standards exclusively as the method of valuing the students in the community schools. There is no mention of language as a dimension, there is an implicit exclusion of skills which might exist beyond those standards as not being relevant to the 'real economy'. Indigenous families living in remote communities are likely to have real interest in skills, language and opportunities which have local value and application. Some remote school websites explicitly state that they work in community languages and that there is a traditional movement of students around a wide area which means that attendance is fluid.
We have technologies and ideas which could work to those realities and interests. We could support dictionary projects for indigenous languages and ways of sharing media which relate to their own concepts but it has to start with a choice about what 'real' value looks like and whether the conversation functions in more than one direction or dimension.
With more capacity to express ideas which are locally real it is likely that there would be a stronger interest in connecting using English to other people and other places. If the literacy can only be supported in English and only around urban concepts it is perhaps understandable that there is a disconnect.
Hoebeke 2003 explains this well:
The managerial tenet that before one can start to take cohesive action, one necessarily has to achieve beforehand a unity in understanding, in language and speech, is bound to fail. Only when one starts to act together with others, to create a common experience, a common language can be generated. This language may be called rich or abundant, because it gives to its users the freedom of interpretation: the experience of having done something together is a guarantee that misunderstandings due to these different interpretations can be dealt with upon a common ground. This ground keeps the system together in spite of the multiplicity of voices. Knowledge is fortunately scattered all over the place, because people are scattered all over the place. And this scattering, this richness and abundance is the prerequisite for
meaningful and constructive interactions. Uniformity kills, diversity creates.
The participation and inclusion of the perspective of the student, the teacher, the specific learning experience and its context is enriching information which can change the value of the education itself. It can bring the value of the community to the educational process where providing incentives for more effective broadcast of a voice and story from elsewhere is not a guarantee of better value. Listening for mutual respect and learning might offer different opportunities for Australia to learn more about other ecological and social patterns which may help us to become more sustainable and inclusive.
Economics and making
Broadcasters and consumers
Current education systems are largely based around industrial models which correlate with traditional publishing practices. Our wider economy is also optimised for central control and consumer culture of broadcast products. These approaches inherently use abstracted values to help with viewing and managing complex markets or communities with a centrally effective signal to noise ratio.
Some of the tensions between a broadcast education product and a distributed learning community are evident in the Ryerson University case against Chris Avenir.
The computer engineering student has been charged with one count of academic misconduct for helping run the group – called Dungeons/Mastering Chemistry Solutions after the popular Ryerson basement study room engineering students dub The Dungeon – and another 146 counts, one for each classmate who used the site.
Avenir, 18, faces an expulsion hearing Tuesday before the engineering faculty appeals committee. If he loses that appeal, he can take his case to the university's senate. The incident has sent shock waves through student ranks, says Kim Neale, 26, the student union's advocacy co-ordinator, who will represent Avenir at the hearing. "All these students are scared s---less now about using Facebook to talk about schoolwork, when actually it's no different than any study group working together on homework in a library," said Neale.
"That's the worst part; it's creating this culture of fear, where if I post a question about physics homework on my friend's wall (a Facebook bulletin board) and ask if anyone has any ideas how to approach this – and my prof sees this, am I cheating?" said Neale, who has used Facebook study groups herself.
If the university is providing education as a social function, a public good, then the study group is a natural extension of the communities which form around the university hub. This action suggests the university is thinking only of the education product controlled by the university and viewing the student only as a consumer.
While economic rationalist approaches have been very pervasive, some people, communities and organisations do function with their focal length much closer to the actual. Not-for-profit and community projects do often have a balancing commitment to seeing specific value in individual human terms as a range of cultural and ecological practices which inform community practice. Makers are people who participate actively in the materials and culture around them. People who participate in hands on creative work, on making, recycling, helping others do often find their primary 'reality' in physical tactile interaction with their environment. The right to participate is explicitly valued:
Lakhani and Wolf, 2005 in Why Hackers Do What They Do: Understanding Motivation and Effort in Free/Open Source Software Projects:
We used a Web-based survey, administered to 684 software developers in 287 F/OSS projects, to learn what lies behind the effort put into such projects. Academic theorizing on individual motivations for participating in F/OSS projects has posited that external motivational factors in the form of extrinsic benefits (e.g.; better jobs, career advancement) are the main drivers of effort. We find in contrast, that enjoyment-based intrinsic motivation, namely how creative a person feels when working on the project, is the strongest and most pervasive driver. We also find that user need, intellectual stimulation derived from writing code, and improving programming skills are top motivators for project participation. A majority of our respondents are skilled and experienced professionals working in IT-related jobs, with approximately 40 percent being paid to participate in the F/OSS project.
Make magazine manifesto:
If you can't open it, you don't own it: a Maker's Bill of Rights to accessible, extensive, and repairable hardware.
Jungnickel includes an ongoing review of the role of make culture in Australian society in her blog MakingWifi.
This contrasts with a consumer culture where the 'market for eyeballs (Moglen 1997) is explicitly scoped so that the audience is technically and legally discouraged from making. This is to ensure that, in a world where the distributed connected audience is very able to make, the broadcast based industries have their own mode of production protected from the competition of a new generation of active participants. Eben Moglen unpacks the way that people innovate using the resources that are lying around and the challenge for industrial broadcasters who are unable to do a better job of distributing music than 12 year olds can do.
Participative 'make' culture is oriented around opportunities for all people to have a go. Community wireless groups, crafts groups, vintage vehicle clubs, open source community technology projects, volunteer groups – all the myriad range of social and cultural dimensions are oriented around making it possible for people to participate with peers. These groups are optimised for a richness of experience and collaboration at the individual and community level. Participants learn skills, share ideas and opportunities, have fun, stretch what they are able to do with local peers, or with distributed communities of interest using digital networks.
Barcamp unconferences are also all about active audience.
Margaret Wheatley recognises self organising natural communities in Australian termite mounds.
Teachers and students could be viewed as partners in making. This kind of approach is consistent with constructivist thinking. There are teachers partnering with students in making and digital communities, but how does the wider education system appreciate this more diffuse kind of value and support time space and resources for experimentation and collaboration. The challenges in providing wider systems support and policy for collaboration and openness are largely around line of sight issues.
School technology systems are frequently broadcast structured. Read/write internet spaces are often blocked.
The MiniLegends are a recent example, but the underlying thinking is more systemic.
Alexander Hayes provided these links re: MiniLegends;
Risk and insurance are strong scoping factors for schools.
Unfortunately in online contexts the approaches to managing risk have been very top down restrictions on what is possible in schools. Because read/write spaces are editable and the content is variable, these spaces are often blocked. These writeable spaces are also the opportunities for student voice and leadership, for learning how to manage your identity online. In the case of the above blog, the voices are from students supervised by a teacher and the comments are encouraged from mentors chosen by the teacher to collaborate. This seems an effective way to facilitate student voice and literacy in sharing online spaces.
How can student voice and collaboration be empowered online? How do students learn the literacies about choosing what is useful and what is rubbish, what is sharable and what is not for online use. MySpace and Facebook are very commonly used at home by school students. These spaces are not scoped for education, but students are very likely to be using them and to be defining themsleves quite specifically online by the time they are in high school. Supervised blogging seems like a very sensible first step to learning about privacy, identity and voice online.
Bullying face to face and online or through mobile technologies is also a challenge for schools. It could be argued that approaches which define safety only in terms of fences around a cohort of students are missing the social aspects of the risking and skills required within the community itself. It is possible that an inverse duty of care is not being considered, in that while schools are safer by not participating in read write activities, the students themselves have one less avenue for safe and supported development in a facet of their lives which is becoming increasingly important. Neill includes a very useful comic in [his writing] on risk which suggests that a committee has examined all the potential risks apart from the risk of avoiding all risks.
Insurance risk profiles and fear of litigation play a very strong role in decision making. This sets a scene for this vvery kind of risk avoidance. It could be argued that this provides a safety for the systems and organisations but increases risk and reduces safety as a social phenomenon because there is reduced opportunity for dialogue, negotiation and practice of constructive participation skills in open community contexts.
If skill based safety is important to a healthy growing community then it will be important to develop processes whereby schools, parents and students share responsibility for the kinds of risks which enable development. In this kind of balanced context the commitment to provide reasonable care and clear processes for negotiation become the new methods for defining what is possible.
What kind of guidelines are useful?
Constructivist and connectivist methods suggest that the students role in learning should include some responsibility for the direction of the journey and also can involve exchanges of literacy's between student peers and between students and teachers. These ideas are actively promoted but the structure of school from a systemic perspective does not appear to have changed in ways which reflect more distributed or networked approaches. Value is explicitly defined in a uniform manner and there is little room for recognition of student leadership in ways which are beyond the expected scope or experience of the education system itself.
The Artichoke blog suggests
This relentless referencing of constructivistic pedagogies (learning_theory) and associated jargon in the conference presentations by New Zealand schools is not matched by an equally relentless unpacking of what these terms might mean to students - nor by any clarity of how we can design learning activities to achieve them in school.
For example a student who participates in wikipedia as a bureaucrat will have extensive experience in working in open collaboration and in resolving conflict by using 'fit for project' criteria. These same skills can be used in other kinds of collaborative practice. How do students and teachers find room to explore those kinds of social spaces where the student might have answers to contribute which are new to the educational context. How can a school take on board the 'Chewbacca defence', NPOV, disambiguation. These are useful skills.
As Rushkoff states in Open Source Democracy:
The very survival of democracy as a functional reality may be dependent upon our acceptance, as individuals, of adult roles in conceiving and stewarding the shape and direction of society. And we may get our best rehearsal for these roles online.
Similarly students working in open code communities may again be developing skills in contributing bugs, code or community support in contexts where all participants may be volunteers. The kinds of ways that communities structure or work through contention in volunteer communities is weighted towards an appreciation of the value of community momentum, the costs of forking or losing participants, and the value of contributors who may initially have a high level of contention but may either find a way to contribute to existing thinking or to bring something new to the project. These kinds of balances are not inherent in a class context because participants are generally participating in compulsory education and there is a clear source of authority which works to criteria which are not generated in partnership with the participants.
Said Hamideh made a suggestion in the wiki research email list:
As someone who has worked with Jewish and Muslim school children for a conflict resolution NGO, I had always envisioned extending our collaborative writing projects into Second Life. For one, I always thought that a group of Israelis and Palestinians could attempt to build a state entity of some sort within Second Life. With documents, such as national constitutions and civil codes being critical to a collaborative nation building project, this is where a wiki would mesh perfectly into the scheme.
This suggestion is interesting as an example of shift of focal length and locus of control. If students are able to participate in defining the goals and criteria for participation the learning becomes an environment and a structure they are participating in engineering. The Australian project Beyond beliefs tackled similar issues by encouraging people to meet and work through from starting perspectives towards a new day, or a new possibility.
The Reclaiming Youth Network similarly uses ways of valuing youth perspective which situate them as participants in making the cultural fabric. Belonging, mastery, independence and generosity are starting points for their approach to learning.
Mistakes and assessment
Working in a way which is teacher led and which follows a known path provides a low contention way to manage a larger group of students and to progress reliably through pre-planned curriculum. This approach can be matched readily against quantitive criteria for success and which also fits readily into a tight timetable. There is a low level of risk because the path is planned and has possibly been run successfully for previous cohorts. It is a very 'system friendly' way to engage in education. The success rate is clearly visible in a simply expressed manner which aggregates into standard measures and statistics. This provides a scalable way to manage through normalisation.
Student independence, choice, negotiation skills are not necessarily easy to accommodate in this context. Teachers and students are likely to face resistance for new ideas because the system is optimised for sameness rather than for a 'preference for yes'. A considered approach to constructive risk would enable teachers and students to innovate more readily at the school level. The systems around the school may need to reconsider assessing mistakes as a negative outcome. In an experimental context the learning experience includes trying new things and making mistakes as well as making a successful experiment. This requires a different kind of appreciation of the effort the student has contributed.
A mistake might include an experiment to see if volume of water flow has an impact on local frog populations. It might be a low rainfall year or the frogs might not respond as expected. The unsuccessful result might provide useful data to the community and to the student. These outcomes do happen in research and higher education projects and dealing with them is a part of the process of scientific enquiry. If students are able to access those wider scientific communities it is perhaps possible to participate in authentic questions about their local environment and to contribute information to other researchers. Designing and participating in distributed computing projects is another way that students could find connected value in what they are learning.
No fault insurance models as used in New Zealand provide better foundations for innovative practice because there is less focus on seeking blame and more of an understanding of the requirement for constructive risk as well as prudence and coverage.
There are proposals in Australia to use a one size fits all content blocking model to filter out unsavoury sites. This approach has been tried in China and Finland with contentious results. It is a clear example of finding a top down broadcast(or censor) approach to an issue which has a complex local impact.
Peer review and book marking communities which are emerging on sites including del.icio.us could be used to structure school based search around materials which teachers and students have ranked for themselves. If rubbish drifts to the bottom of a search because the education community has not selected it there is more effort required to find it. If traffic is traceable then activity is likely to be less noisy. It also means that results which are interesting or useful are likely to be more readily found. In contexts where some teachers, students, university researchers, need access to materials that others would not look for they would be able to rank it for their local purposes. This is a natural process of selection which engages communities in making their own quality information spaces. A skill which would be useful in later careers and in any nation.
Similar cross comparisons of material and development of ways of grouping information into families which represent equivalent resources in different formats would also help make educational researches more available for adaptive use and more accessible for people who need specific formats.
School spaces express the same kinds of assumptions about numbers of students and structure of learning in physical form. How might they be adapted for more flexible use. How do students and teachers mashup their architecture for informal purposes in schools now?
Again the formalism of school space reflects similar practice in our wider community. There are few social spaces in a modern city which are designed for community collaboration and making with the inherent expectation of mess and experiment. By comparison there is a great emphasis in physical expression and in law of sales and consumer spaces and visual information. We are optimised for efficient consumption at the expense of opportunities for participative practice. For schools this means that public art and space for making could be a challenge which is tackled in partnership with other organisations.
Copyright and access to knowledge
It was a revelation, a liberation. Physicists, mathematicians, astronomers, logicians, biologists, all were here at the University, and they came to him or he went to them, and they talked, and new worlds were born of their talking. It is of the nature of idea to be communicated, written, spoken, done. The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on cross-breeding, grows better for being stepped on.
If students and teachers as creators are able to license their works with personal attribution it would provide a connection between the originators of the idea and other people who might be interested in the same kinds of works and ideas. If there is recognition of individual participants there is also a need for agreed ways to share. Sharing of ideas and information in an educational context is pivotal. Collaborative work is especially dependent on copyleft approaches which are specifically designed for community participation in information and technology.
The NEALS approach to Australian education licensing has been a step forward however it relates specific material from specific institutions in written and image formats for use in education in Australia only and defined around the user's relationship with an institution which participates in education rather than including home-schooling or lifelong learning. ie It is an approach which works with the existing industrial entities and provides efficiencies in licensing between them. For teachers and students an approach matched to the social function of information and ideas in education would be more useful. Access to knowledge and copyleft models provide more coherent room to move with information regardless of format, nation, institution, item.
Technology and connectivity
Locus of control for technology choices and for copyright licensing define the degree of flexibility for opportunities. Currently the technology options are frequently systemic choices and copyright is largely institutionally defined. In the education systems in Australia there has been a tendency to view software and network policies as systems which are scoped, defined and purchased once centrally with minimal adjustment in a school context. This is an approach which strongly re-inforces the broadcast industrial approach and directly works against students and teachers exploring adaptive and locally interesting technologies and communities.
Teachers and students are exploring computer recycling, international blogging, learning about currencies, contributing to images, media, and coding competitions online, but technology, timetable, copyright and valuing policies could support that kind of curiosity and participative practice more effectively. Some people see this as doing away with formal standards like taxonomies.
Jenny Ambrozek Just do it!!
I worked with a wonderful colleague at PRODIGY whose mantra was “don’t overbake it”. As I watch the explosion of today’s easy to use collaboration tools, and work with them, I increasingly believe the “not overbaking” wisdom.
It’s my sense, and I’m interested in reader reactions to this, that using 21st century social tools requires a mindset change. With centralized enterprise technologies like knowledge & learning management systems control lies in the hands of programmers and administrators who determine structures and taxonomies and how the system can be used. With the low overhead, easy to install and use generation of social tools Andrew McAfee calls “Enterprise 2.0″ increasingly control, much to the chagrin of enterprise IT groups, is increasingly in user hands.
So if you use good judgement about the content you post and respect with which you treat readers and fellow participants, how much damage can you do? It’s my sense that the current generation growing up online believes sharing online is simply the way the world works and has no fear of the technology. I think that is the mindset required to embrace tools like wikis, blogs and social networking platforms like Facebook. Just do it.
I think that systemic thinking and standards are important, but that they need to be openly expressed, negotiated and to be structured to facilitate collaboration rather than broadcast control.Standards as infrastructure can be the underlying conduits which make it possible to make adaptable and flexible choices at a local level.
It is possible to use taxonomies, folksonomies, technology and document standards to provide an explicit information web which makes it possible for people to just do it and to still be able to share their works with others, for them to be able to find their peers in ideas effectively, to be able to understand what projects are freely licensed.
The shift is not from systemic thinking to individualist thinking, it is about finding ways to best make connections and infrastructure which 'gets out of the way'(mbauwen) of collaboration and which makes the kind of standards which are needed a part of the negotiated space which defines the community. Accessibility standards are a good example, copyleft, open document format, CSS and html, svg, XML, TCP/IP, are all standards which make it possible for people to just do it.
There are always aspects of exclusion or contention about agreeing to a standard eg. IPv4 provides far greater internet access to USA entities than to entities in other nations. IPv6 is emerging with a different emphasis.
Criteria regarding which standards make it possible for *all* people to have the opportunity to just do it are likely to be increasingly important. Open and effective standards processes are vital for quality inclusive and safe standards.