The Wise Learner of the Digital Age

November 23, 2010 § 2 Comments

Wisdom is a process that brings together the rational and the transcendent, the prosaic and higher virtues, the short- and long-terms, the contingent and the absolute, and the self and the collective rather than being only concerned with rational processing of knowledge. Wisdom accepts the complex, cuts through ambiguity, and derives its energy from the uncertainties of a complex world. So, wisdom involves both complexity/nonlinear unpredictability and discernment/clarity/knowledge.

Given today’s social networks, one of the most important challenges for learners is to manage well in this context of shared knowledge. Knowledge can be characterized as pluralist, socially constructed, fragmented and discontinuous and having an axiological dimension. This complex system is the learning environment of the millennial learners. Wisdom enables today’s learner to both see more complexity and know how to respond appropriately in such complex learning networks. The capacity to simultaneously discern the technical complexity, the social complexity and the cultural complexity of such social networks is crucial to gain wisdom through learning.There is significant knowledge in these networks, but more importantly learners need to deal effectively with the shifting nature of knowledge. This requires artfulness and craft that are also implied by some of the wisdom characteristics.

Knowledge is not a unitary thing, but a complex network of facts, ideas, beliefs, memories and intuitions (Rooney, Hearn, Mandeville, & Joseph, 2003; Rooney & Schneider, 2005; Saul, 2001). Ideas need to be connected to other ideas to create meaning and to find answers to problems. So, knowledge networks are not static as one’s state of knowledge is constantly changing. While knowledge helps us to decide and solve, it also produces ambiguity and complexity. For example, research can produce radically different knowledge about a particular question and some people who are creative might produce knowledge that is simultaneously imaginative and insightful by pulling together disparate ideas. Dealing with the extent and scope of knowledge systems can therefore cause as many problems as answers. So, digital learners who pursue wisdom are those who apply creativity, vision, foresight and insight to knowledge issues. Given the central role of knowledge in learning networks – collective knowledge- and the complex nature of knowledge, it is crucial that knowledge is characterized in a community context that is relevant to a wisdom-oriented view of learning.

In the digital age, wise learners must have cognitive complexity; a capacity to deal with complex and ambiguous phenomena in complex environments. Secondly, wise learners must be rational and deep thinkers; having a capacity to seek out and understand the facts of a situation and to deal with them rationally, but also to understand and question the ontological basis of these facts. Thirdly, a wise learner displays creativity and draws on the non-rational as appropriate; having a capacity to think creatively and to acknowledge the potential worth of one’s own instincts in making judgments. Fourth, a wise learner displays long-term vision; having a proven commitment to life-long learning. Finally, a wise learner is articulate; having a proven capacity to reach people online.

Quick Response required

November 12, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of years ago I remember a colleague telling me about a new technology that was going to be used everywhere in education and would change things forever. My normal response in these situations is to tune out for a few minutes and rejoin the conversation when they have stopped telling me about “the next big thing”. Thus it was that the QR code passed me by, until last week when one of my students asked if he could use them in a project he was doing for his Foundation Degree. After some quick catching up I almost , but not quite,regretted my less than evangelical take on every new technology I am told about. The great thing about QR codes however  is the ease with which they can provide access to a variety of information types, especially from a smartphone. They look a bit like this:

Image of QR Code

Oxedtech Blog QR Code

If you have a smartphone, and have downloaded the QR code reader app from your favourite app store, then you can scan this code and find your phone’s browser taking you straight to this blog. They are basically 2 dimensional bar codes and are thus easily reproduced and easy to copy onto a wide range of physical objects.

Although some research of their potential for use in education has been carried out (JISC have produced a number of informal case studies  at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/whatwedo/programmes/elearning/ltig/qr.aspx) they are not a mainstream tool yet. The Horizon Project annual report feels they are still 2-3 years way from entering the mainstream of educational technologies  (http://wp.nmc.org/horizon-k12-2010/) although this may prove to be an optimistic assessment.

In terms of usefulness then a range of possibilities in areas such as museum education, where QR codes can add significant information on artefacts without needing expensive in-situ technology, are early candidates. There are also more prosaic but extremely useful applications such as the assignment cover sheets now being trialled at Bath University. These allow for fast processing by administrators of student assignment submissions and provide instant confirmation for students of submission. It has speeded up the process whilst reducing the number of potential errors. Although not always viewed by researchers into educational technology as an area where learning and technology interact these types of administrative system help improve the speed of availability of feedback.  This plays a valuable role in providing students with a richer learning experience and gives lecturers early notice of students who struggle to hand work in on time.

I don’t know if QR codes are a technology that will be part of classroom life in the future but I can certainly see them creeping in to the education system slowly and incrementally as more uses for them are uncovered. When they were first developed for the car industry by Denso Wave (a Toyota subsidiary) I doubt they thought they would be printed on plates used in conveyor-belt sushi bars, but they are such a resilient and flexible data storage medium that a little imagination might yet see them becoming a core technology without anyone realising. That makes them one of my favourite types of innovation.

When Worlds Collide

November 10, 2010 § Leave a comment

In Saudi Arabia, gender-separation is applied to almost every aspect of private and public life. In higher education, for instance, although the two sexes can belong to one university and to one organisational hierarchy, different campuses are built for each. The female campus, unlike the male one, is surrounded by long concrete-opaque walls which ensure privacy and disconnection. This gender-separation, moreover, is applied to all levels of the hierarchy, which means that academics and managers cannot see their ‘colleagues’ of the other gender.

However, Saudi academia is experiencing a distinctive phenomenon whereby the two genders are becoming electronically connected while remaining physically separated. This connection means introducing the two genders to each other, thereby opening up new opportunities, restructuring academic society, bridging two heterogeneous cognitive cultures, creating new power relations and therefore transforming Saudi academia into a political battleground. This battle is likely to be fierce, since it involves highly educated parties and therefore is politically sophisticated and involves those who will directly seek to shape happenings for their benefit. Nevertheless, this battle may turn out to be relatively static, considering the highly structured and male-dominated society it takes place in, wherein one does not possibly know or even has never thought about why one is, for example, privileged or disadvantaged and how to uphold or transform this status.

The observed phenomenon, which lies at the interface between education and politics, means that, in the domain of educational technologies, there is a need to widen the scope of analysis by looking beyond learning, considering more the role that social, cultural and political values play in shaping educational life. The integration of politics into educational experience, moreover, can present an educational opportunity, given that learning can emerge from involvement in politics. This integration, which can be achieved by viewing higher education as a political activity and examining educational technologies through a political lens, can encourage a new generation of graduates who are politically literate citizens, critically reflective thinkers and therefore independently life-long learners.

Moreover, as the observed phenomenon also lies at the intersection of education and gender, this can inspire a new educational field that lies on the border between single-gender and mixed-gender education. This new field – which can be called ‘bridged-gender education’ – has its own distinctive features, such as the authority to filter out, monitor and control the communication channel between the two genders. Research is therefore needed which looks at how distinct this emerging field is from the other two and discusses the advantages and disadvantages that it can bring to educational experience.

Naming

November 5, 2010 § Leave a comment

Douglas Rushkoff, a new media guru, coined the term screenagers back in the 1990s. It is a truly horrendous neologism, a real stinker, which amazingly found its way into the OED (check the online version). It was an early shot at the notion which later worked only too well when Prensky came up with “digital native”, giving apparent substance to the science fiction fantasy that digital technologies have somehow short-circuited evolution and transformed young people into a new species, on the basis of their capacity to play Doom and download illegal files.

Neither Rushkoff nor screenagers are the point here, but rather the whole business of trying to make up new words to cope with a changing world. It doesn’t happen overnight. Television is a great case in point, although actually the word was invented before the thing itself, which was clever: the word means seeing at a distance, and was first used at the 1900 World’s Fair. Despite the first TVs being made in the 1920s, there was still uncertainty about its name in 1936, when a competition to find the best TV system threw up all sorts of arguments about what to call it, leading to alternate suggestions such as radioscope, farscope, mirascope, optiphone, and lustreer.

The name of something matters and, like babies and goldfish, new things don’t tend to arrive already named (well babies sometimes do in fact, but I reckon people should wait to see what they look like). It is not as obvious as it seems what something should be called: just using it or looking at it won’t necessarily make it clear either. Bicycles, for instance, were once called pedestrian accelerators, and velocipedes (same thing I think), and you can see the point. But once someone came up with the name bicycle, the search was over. It only took sixty years.

It’s been a bit of a struggle too to find a way of talking about educational technologies. ICTs. Technology Enhanced Learning. Digital literacy. New media literacy. Computer Assisted Learning. Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Blended Learning. eLearning. I long held the belief, wrongly I now realise, that if you can’t name something with any certainty it means that you don’t know what you are talking about. But actually trying to find out what to call something is all part of the process of gradually learning what that thing is, because all new things take a while to reveal themselves; you have to work at it. There is no single good term as yet for what we do, which is to investigate and illuminate how digital tools and networks, and the practices surrounding them, change education and learning in various ways. eLearning used to feel like a respectable shorthand for that, but its connotations have become more specific and limited, which is why we changed the name of our research group  to Learning and New Technologies. Actually, the Learning And New Technologies Research Network. Look out for our logo, coming soon.

Learning something new on the Internet: One hour, one task and one massive bank of information

November 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

Have you ever had an experience of wanting to learn something new, but just never got round to doing it? The reasons are aplenty: time is always scarce, procrastination is a huge inertia and the difficulty of the task kills the initial enthusiasm pretty quickly. So the question I asked myself today is whether all these could be overcome with a little help from technology. In an attempt to answer this, I decided to do a little ethnological study of my own. More specifically, I set myself a difficult task, in which I had no prior knowledge, and evaluated whether the material found on the internet can make the process easier. All I had was an Internet connection, an enthusiastic mind and an hour of a Sunday afternoon to kill, and the objective: to learn how to make an app for Apple or Android phone in less than an hour.

17:15 – Started with google. I typed in the phrase: “How to make an App for iPhone”. Most of the hits offered some clues about how to create an apple application, using either third party software or the original software development kit. However a common denominator in all of them is the monetary cost of using these facilities. This is something which I am not prepared to invest yet, given the uncertainty of not even knowing whether I am going to survive the first hour of my Apps making endeavour.

17:30 – Tried googling “Apps for Android phones”. The good thing with Android Apps was that the software development kits appeared to be free. I also came across a couple of You-Tube videos and a step by step guide on how to create a simple code. I started first with the videos, thinking that the multimodal means of communications might make the learning easier. The videos started off making you feel confident that this was going to be a breeze, but quickly escalated into a lexicon of computer jargons which even repeated pauses and rewinds could not help. Verdict: Videos are easy to watch but difficult to understand. The nature of videos is such that multi-steps instructions can be swiftly condensed into few seconds of motion pictures. This makes learning difficult for me.

17:55 – I decided to switch to a more conventional way of learning by following the step by step procedure detailed in one of the websites. The instructions were straightforward to follow, though I did not understand 90% of the commands I was typing in. Having said that, I definitely found it easier to follow the instructions than when I was watching the You-Tube video. It felt almost like reading one of those “For dummies” books. However, I could not escape from the fact that there were a lot of programming jargons I did not understand. Verdict: Learning through text / image based websites are definitely easier than videos. However, the information is usually segmented, i.e,. it is difficult to find a website that continuously take you from a beginner stage to more advanced programming. Furthermore, the notes are also not as meticulous written like a book, where difficult technical terms are usually highlighted and explained.

18:15 – After much reading, searching and constant looking at the clock, I’ve finally reached the end of my one hour journey.

My overall verdict: I think I have learned a thing or two, but definitely not enough to make an App independently, not even close. It takes time to locate and make sense of the readily available information. To me, the Internet is useful if you want to get quick information or learn to do something you already have a prior knowledge of. As for starting something from scratch, I still prefer to learn the conventional way – taking a course and be guided/coached by an instructor or having an instructional book in hand and a coffee by the side. However, I know that if I need additional information or need help with troubleshooting, I can log on to the Internet.

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