First Day of ECE2011

I am sitting here reflecting on the first day of ECE2011 at University of Salford and feeling slightly dazed to be honest.   Much of the day was taken up with registration, keynotes and panels: and these were very valuable.  Martin Hall situated us in the current UK HE context (more of his ideas here), Glynis Cousins gave us a masterly account of a research project, simultaneously exposing us to a delightfully different approach to research.

The panel session was broad-ranging and participative, tying the ideas of creativity into the current HE context.

However, for me, the highlight of the day was the session I chaired for the last 90 minutes of the day (Paper Session 1 here).  I have worked on the research papers strand of the conference since at least May 2010 (according to dates on my filestore).  Initially I had modest expectations of the quantity and quality of papers we could expect (since this is the first ECE conference where we have called for full papers) but these have been exceeded massively.  Today, the first eight of the 31 full research papers accepted were presented, four in the session I chaired.  The room was full, the presentations were excellent and the discussion was wide-ranging and challenging.

It was a very sweet moment to realise that the quality of the content we had already observed was exceeded by the reality of its performance at the conference.  As my co-editor of the full papers, Moira McLoughlin observed in our editorial “the meaning of conference is ‘meeting for consultation or discussion’ or ‘an exchange of views’ “.  Well, let me tell you, the first paper session had real exchange of views, as I am sure the other five paper sessions do too.

I heard that the Pecha Kucha session went very well so I can retire to bed happy that our authors and delegates have another two days inspiring, being inspired and learning – I know that I will.

Bring on Day 2!

Knowledge Transfer: old wine in new bottles or how many contentious statements can I make in one blog post?

Punning wine

Punning Wine By Mike Knell

(includes edited content from a comment I made to Stephen Downes blog post)

I have been watching a ‘debate’ unfold over the weekend with increasing mystification.  I even posted a couple of comments but I didn’t really feel that there was much idea exchange taking place. If you want to check it out, George Siemens has some useful links here .

For me the first old wine in new bottles (itself a fairly stale metaphor but I love the picture)  is the idea of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) – I thought that open fora and ‘free’ courses had been around for a  long time for example WebHeads in Action since 1997, open learning environments have been under discussion since mid 1990s at least (though open learning variously defined) e.g. http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bwilson/wils95 and I am sure (though I can’t find links at present) there have been free courses online (e.g. in HTML) since mid 1990s too.  Don’t get me wrong the recent crop of MOOCs has generated a lot of interest and experimentation but this will be more informed if they acknowledge their heritage.

The second old wine in new bottles is the terminology and paradigm debate.  Quite a lot of the talk was about the meaning of learning, knowledge and even the term ‘knowledge transfer’.  This one really made me smile, as the term ‘Knowledge Transfer’ has a fairly well-defined meaning in UK HE, as it refers to a funded graduate recruitment scheme where businesses, graduates and academic work in partnership to transfer knowledge between them – very contextual and processy, unlike knowledge transfer as item of ‘knowledge’ passing from sender to receiver . The knowledge transfer being discussed this weekend sounded more like ‘transmission mode learning’  about which acres of text have been written, and clearly linked back to earlier work on communication, explained and critiqued rather well here in the transmission mode of communication.

This critique also neatly demonstrates how a model originating from a viewpoint different from one’s own can still be useful (up to a point) in one’s own meaning-making.  I am very interested in how those to whom ‘learning’ means something different can still have a productive and meaningful dialogue. I think participants would have to start by trying to explain what the word means to them and then listen to what others have to say. It would also help participants (especially given the context of openness) to enter the dialogue with the possibility of changing their minds even if only in a small way.  Maybe what is important about theories of learning and knowledge is what they mean to learners and teachers, as we personally theorise the world around us. Since that can often be in a social context we need to get the knack of sharing theories in dialogue. I have observed over a long period (and on CCK08 in particular) that teachers use theories in a very pragmatic way (connectivism being a good example), sometimes thinking about transmission modes of learning, other times using constructivism and in our digitally-saturated environment, turning to connectivism to help them practice and reflect.  I spent a short time as a Maths teacher in school and saw the twin disadvantages of knowing your times tables without understanding how they were constructed and vice versa, whereas what practice of numeracy requires both that you know your times tables and understand what they mean.  This may be achieved by combining rote learning and discovery learning.

The last point I wanted to make was about the general tetchy tone of some of the contributions (notable exception being @dkernohan 😉 ) Stephen Downes using the term nonsense and David Wiley identifying a comment as the ‘snob’ response. Just what is this ?  are the writers claiming ‘truth’? ownership of ideas or concepts like MOOCs?  This seemed to me to a very ‘masculine’ debate (OK that’s my interpretation) both in terms of style and inclusivity.  I would playfully prescribe that the main contenders in this weekend’s debate assign themselves an OOC on Belenky’s Womens Ways of Knowing, since Belenky’s work challenged and grew out of Perry’s Model of Intellectual Development which emerged from a very restricted sample of white  middleclass male MBA students and was then generalised to others.

So here is my contention:

that if we want to grow and explore concepts like informal learning online, MOOCs and OERs for the benefit of all, we need to involve all – men, women, young, old, from different philosophical and religious perspectives, from countries all over the world, and acknowledge the contributions of earlier scholars.

Now that isn’t going to be easy, inclusivity never is, but I don’t think this recent ‘debate’ has contributed much – however good some of the individual contributions were, the whole left a sour taste, in my mouth at least.

Looking backwards, looking forwards

I am on a bit of a “Back to the future” theme at the moment and so when I volunteered to interview for the current purposed campaign, I decide to do a bit looking back as well as forward.

The instructions were:

For our next campaign we want to you to spread the Purpos/ed message by asking somebody two questions and recording their answers:

A) How should we educate people in the future?
B) What do we need to be doing now to enable that?

We’d like people to use Audioboo to record audio for these.

I interviewed my friend Marian who left school at 14 1/2 and, as an added bonus, her partner Ray  arrived part way through the interview.  Unfortunately we had barely got started when the 5 minutes were up but here is the first part of our discussion http://audioboo.fm/boos/388699-interview-with-marian-and-ray.

The sound quality of the last part is not improved by the dog barking in the kitchen – Billy wanted to see Ray too.

After we had run out of audio boo, we had a really interesting discussion, covering the following points.

  • at the time Marian and Ray left school, jobs were in abundance (contrast that with now) but it wasn’t possible for either of them to stay on past the school leaving age even though they regret that now
  • they both learned a lot in their workplaces but have also learned other things e.g. Ray learned to play the guitar through a correspondence course
  • they don’t have access to the Internet but are beginning to be interested though starting digital photography and hearing so much about it

I am very interested in how the generation approaching retirement can gain access to the Internet, learn how to use it and learn through using it at a time in their lives when they will have more free time but less money.  As NIACE tell us,

“Those who are not online are older, in lower income brackets, and are less likely to have formal qualifications. It is estimated that households can save around £500 a year by being online, and one in three internet users say they use the web for learning and finding information online.”

When we are thinking about the purpose and future of education, let’s not forget about the generations who missed out the first time around and are in danger of missing out on new ways of learning.

The Paradox of Openness: The High Costs of Giving Online

The following abstract is for a Symposium that will be presented at ALT-C 2011 by

Frances Bell, Cristina da Costa, Josie Fraser, Richard Hall and Helen Keegan

It is considered, eclectic and interesting and we hope it will attract rich discussion before during and after ALT-C 2011. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to guess who wrote which part (and I have to say one of them is pretty easy to guess), and then to go on to engage in meaningful discussion.

Abstract:

This symposium will examine the paradoxes of giving and receiving online in education in a changing economic climate.  Each of the panellists will briefly address topic areas within the symposium theme, followed by an opportunity for present and at distance audiences to contribute, concluding with a 25 minute plenary discussion.

Symposium delegates will be provoked to reconsider the costs of participation online by paid and unpaid participants in ‘open’ discussion and sharing of resources.

Open Educational Resources exist within communities that create, use and sustain them (Downes 2007). When ‘communities’ in Higher Education break down due to redundancy and casualisation of labour what happens to OERs? Are they sustained? Can they reach out to other contexts?

All areas of education, including the school sector, currently face significant financial challenges and uncertainties. Institutions are increasingly reviewing the provision of devices and services, and looking at learner owned devices and commercially owned ‘free’ cloud-based services. What is the real price of an education system supported and transformed by embedded learning technologies?

Ownership in the age of openness calls for clarity about mutual expectations between learners, communities and ourselves. Ideas and content are shared easily through open platforms, and yet attributions can be masked in the flow of dissemination: does credit always go where it is due?

Openness in the production, sharing and reuse of education/resources is meaningless in the face of neoliberalism. Where coercive competition forms a treadmill for the production of value, openness/OERs are commodified. Control of the educational means of production determines power to frame how open are the relations for the production or consumption of educational goods or services, in order to realise value. The totality of this need, elicited by the state for capital, rather than the rights of feepayers, parents, communities or academics, shapes how human values like openness are revealed and enabled within HE.

Scarce research monies focus attention on impact factors, arguably stagnating practice. For publications, Open Access can increase wider societal impact but at the expense of career progression.We explore the tensions, paradoxes and professional costs on societal benefits, individual agency and academic progression.

The purpose of education

 

Education, 1890, by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios

What is the purpose of education?

Well, of course that raises more questions:

What is education? I refer you to the stained glass window above see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_%28Chittenden_Memorial_Window or my interpretation that it is an activity involving serious angels and though which light can shine.

Whose purpose are we talking about? Well I think we just have to agree that there is a variety of purposes, and I’ll say more about that later.

Why are we asking the question?

Purpos/ed seems to about working to raise the position of education on the political agenda.  It also seems to be located within the learning technology community. This suggests to me that educational funding is seen to be under threat and that the role of technology in education is important.

Fred Garnett referred us to Mike Wesch’s inspirational ideas on the need for educators and learners to (re)gain a sense of the purpose of education. Stephen Downes and Lou McGill showed how educational system can go awry.

Ewan McIntosh persuaded me that we should be “giving up the artificial reins we as teachers, parents and governments use to strangle those passions and the  creativity that lends itself to their growth.” Other contributors stress the need for passion and creativity, and the agency of learners (and teachers).

My own view

Passion about solving the current problems in education and excitement about the possibilities offered by web and network technologies can tempt us to think that current educational systems can somehow be replaced by technology.  This could be a risky experiment!

Conscious of a slightly anti-teaching tone creeping into debates about networked learning, I ran an online seminar where participants explored the role of teachers in learning networks and what happens when they disappear. My conclusion was that good teachers know when to disappear, or give up the artificial reins.

My two applications did not result in a National Teaching Fellowship but the reflective writing I did for them helped me develop my philosophy of education, based on my experiences as student, mother, teacher and researcher in secondary, further and higher education. So I do believe that thinking about and questioning the hows and whys are very important parts of education.  Education is in constant flux: within families, institutions, networked publics.  Keri Facer stressed the “urgent need to have a serious public debate about the purpose of education that builds bridges between students, educators and the wider public”.  Perhaps the purpose of education is to construct a participatory dialogue about the purpose of education: a dialogue that makes a difference to what learners experience throughout their lives.

Education has four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.  I believe its impact depends on its ability to enable all of us to shape it.  Purpos/ed is doing a great job of involving educators in the dialogue – the next challenge is to involve the learners.

International Women’s Day 2011 – make a small difference

International Women’s Day is on 8 March 2011.

Happy International Women's Day
Photo from Katkura

Although this day has been celebrated since 1910, there is always a danger that it provides a ‘warm glow’ moment and does not make any difference to what we do or think.  Not aspiring to revolution #egypt style, and partially prompted (but not managed!) by Fred Garnett, I have thought of something that we can do that can make small local differences to women, and possibly shift the tenor of online connections.  My other prompt was receiving a touching private  message from a former student, thanking me for helping her achieve promotion.  When I shared this on anonymously on Facebook, I got more props (not my intention!) and a general affirmation of the importance of positive feedback.

This left me pondering on the knotty question of Linked-in recommendations.  My personal policy on this is to make unsolicited recommendations whenever I think of them, but I have noticed recently that the number of requests for recommendations from male colleagues has been increasing (including from one for whom I had already written an unsolicited recommendation- you know who you are!!). I haven’t been able to find any research on gendered recommendation behaviours on Linked-in but would not be surprised if they are what we might expect based on what happens elsewhere – that women tend to get less glowing recommendations.  I also wonder who makes more recommendations – men or women.

So what I am asking you to do for International Women’s Day is to look at your acknowledgement behaviours  and make sure that you credit the wonderful women that you work, play and live with.  Who knows? you may already do this or you may do it in future.

Here are some concrete suggestions:

1. Look at your blogroll – are there any great women bloggers who should be there?

2.  When you visit a woman’s blog, go on – post a comment.

3. Retweet good posts you see from women.

4.  Follow some interesting women on Twitter that you see in a hashtag stream.

5.  Recommend some great women on Linked-in without them having to ask you.

6.  Tell the women in your life when they do something great or useful or that makes you happy

In general – spread the love!

Warning:  Please don’t do any of the above to me unless you were going to anyway or want to make me very embarrassed;)