In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

536068094_69f72b259f_mRhizomatic learning is a variation of ‘open networked learning’, I stated in part one of this series of blog posts while looking into what a pedagogy of abundance might look like. At first sight this might not seem the most likely conclusion to make, but to me the design for learning laid out in Dave Cormier’s conception of rhizomatic learning is in alignment with the definition of networked learning:

Networked learning is learning in which information and communications (ICT) is used to promote connections: between one learner and other learners, between learners and tutors, between a learning community and its lear-ning resources. (Goodyear et al 2004, p.2) (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

In their focus on communities, networks, participation and participatory culture, collaboration and negotiation of meaning the four examples of rhizomatic learning and networking across the educational system, presented in part two and part three of this series, show that the educational and pedagogical values in rhizomatic learning as a pedagogical approach overlap the educational and pedagogical values in networked learning as a theory and a pedagogy:

…networked learning can be seen to be derived from critical and humanistic traditions (e.g. those of Dewey, 1916; Freire, 1970; Mead, 1934) and that learning is social, takes place in communities and networks, is a shared practice, involves negotiation and requires colla-borative dialogue (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, 2012). (Hodgson, De Laat, McConnell and Ryberg 2014:2)

So while seeing the world, including learning and teaching, from a socio-cultural standpoint, networked learning “offers the theory and practice for a pedagogy that is appropriate or suited to live in a digitally and networked world where sharing and collaborative ways of working are the norm rather than the exception”, as it is defined by Vivien Hodgson, David McConnell, and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:292). Hence, my comment on rhizomatic learning as ‘open networked learning’ seems to be an unnecessary doubling, as openness is to be seen as an inherent and implicit characteristic of networked learning today:

Over the years, interest has widened to include the social aspects of networked learning, with a focus on building and cultivating social networks and seeing technology as a part of the phenomenon rather than as an end in itself. Networked learning focuses therefore on the diversity of social relationships that people develop, the strategies that they use to maintain them and the value that the relationships creates for learning. (De Laat 2012:27)

So let me rephrase my statement: rhizomatic learning is a variation of networked learning, as I see it.

The landscape of networked learning

The landscape of networked learning is formed by shared pedagogical values, although the shared values can lead to a variety of learning designs. Nevertheless, Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld estimate that most networked learning practitioners agree in valuing these aspects of networked learning:

  • Cooperation and collaboration in the learning process.
  • Working in groups and in communities.
  • Discussion and dialogue.
  • Self-determination in the learning process.
  • Difference and its place in a central learning process.
  • Trust and relationships: weak and strong ties.
  • Reflexivity and investment of self in the networked learning processes.
  • The role technology plays in connecting and mediating. (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

And they suggest that the practice of networked learning should be seen from a holistic perspective, where each aspect of networked learning has to be present and integrated in the practice and has to contribute to the educational values underpinning networked learning (Hodgson, McDonnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:295)

Originating as an approach and a theory interested in understanding the developments in technology to support learning and engrossed in exploring socio-cultural designs of learning, networked learning is linked to the traditions of open education and to radical emancipatory and humanistic educational ideas and approaches such as critical pedagogy and democratic and experiental learning, as referred to in the quote earlier. These educational values of dialogue, independence and interdependence become visible in the six areas of pedagogy that David McConnell has emphasized as areas that need to be addressed when designing for networked learning. And of course, the shared pedagogical values mentioned earlier must be contained in these six areas of pedagogy, too:

1 Openness in the educational process.

Openness leads to meaningful learning and can be facilitated by the development of a learning community, where one works for oneself and for others and where development occurs.

2 Self-determined learning.

Self-determined learners take primarily responsibility for identifying their own learning needs, and help others in determining theirs. In these processes, learners become aware of how they learn, and develop deep approaches to learning.

3 A real purpose in the cooperative process.

Much higher education learning is abstract and often unrelated to real situations, and many students struggle to see the purpose of it. If learners have a real purpose in learning, they engage with the learning process in a qualitatively different way.

4 A supportive learning environment.

A supportive learning environment is one where learners encourage and facilitate each other’s efforts. Being supportive does not, however, mean a lack of intellectual challenge.

5 Collaborative assessment of learning.

Collaborative self-peer-tutor-assessment processes are central to networked learning: they are a corollary of cooperative learning and support the cooperative process.

6 Assessment and evaluation of the ongoing learning process.

Assessing and evaluating the networked learning course is also a cooperative tutor-learner process. Learners must feel that there is a real opportunity to change the design of the course; this can be achieved by the tutor and learners working together in regular group processing. (McConnell 2006)”(McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:8-9)

Accordingly, in order to sum up, collaborative and cooperative learning, learning through dialogue and group work together with online resources and collaborative knowledge construction is the hearth of the matter in networked learning (McConnell, Hodgson and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:10). With Web 2.0 the participatory aspect of networked learning gives possibilities for focusing on the learner as a node in a network while designing for “the relational interdependencies and connections between learners in their mutual meaning construction.” (Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:300). This way learning and knowledge construction happens in a dynamic, ongoing process of connecting knowledge and negotiating meaning:

However, the ideas of relations and connections suggest that learning is not confined to the individual mind or the individual learner. Rather, learning and knowledge con-struction is located in the connections and interactions between learners, teachers and resources, and seen as emerging from  critical dialogues and enquiries. As such, networked learning theory seems to encompass an understanding of learning as a social, relational pheno-menon, and a view of knowledge and identity as con-structed through interactions and dialogue. (Ryberg, Buus and Georgsen 2012:45)

This is what Maarten de Laat terms ‘learning as a social network relationship’ (De Laat 2012:27). And rather, this intersection of networks and community leaves space for rhizomatic learning to fit in: the focus on independence and interdependence underlines my view, I think. But there needs to be some kind of balance to see rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning: a balance between the messy and sometime chaotic self-directed learning processes where individuals form and determine their own routes and learning through connecting to people and resources, and the open and mutual engagement in a learning community based on participatory culture and knowledge construction. And in Dave Cormier’s case the motto “The community becomes the curriculum” is the expression of this. With Cormier the community is a community of practice (Wenger 1998), as introduced in part two of this series of blog posts, but networked learning does not privilege a particular pedagogical model, so the kind of community that can be applied in networked learning might just as well be:

  • A learning community with a focus on learning together, sharing and developing relationships.
  • Communities of inquiry with a focus on inquiring about issues of common interest.
  • Knowledge communities with a focus on developing knowledge.(Hodgson, McConnell and Dirckinck-Holmfeld 2012:297)

So needless to say, but still, designing for rhizomatic learning must 1) take the structures, principles and attitudes of networks and a community of practice into account, 2) while implementing the six areas of pedagogy in networked learning and creating learning activities that support them, 3) and seeing to that the shared values of networked learning end up being a part of the basis of the rhizomatic learning processes. It almost seems like an act of bricolage itself that must also activate and embody the rhizomatic vision in order to make rhizomatic learning happen:

In the rhizomatic view knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by Constructivist and Connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. (Cormier 2008)

Networking

As a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes are based on the interconnectedness of ideas, on the boundless exploration across many domains with many different starting points (Innovating Pedagogy 2012:33) and on serendipity and bricolage. While accepting complexity as a condition, the focus on connectivity and networks is making the rhizomatic learning process multi-nodal, multi-directional and multi-perspective: the rhizome is navigating the complexity as Dave Cormier expresses it in his talk in the video “The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance” (2015). Here Dave Cormier challenges the problem of abundance and points out that:

“…a weird historical process has happened: as we have got a more abundant access to knowledge, we have reduced the complexity of the teaching.” (Cormier 2015)

Rhizomatic learning is working on reinstalling the complex domain in disciplines and subject matters and on being an innovating pedagogy in an era of knowledge abundance. Maarten de Laat has characterized this as “New Learning” in his talk on “Networked Learning in Open Practices” (2015):

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-slide1

In the talk De Laat presents the results of research on teachers’ professional deve-lopment that was introduced in his address “Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?” (2012). The research has been based on a networked learning perspective, and although it focuses on teachers’ professional development, I think quite a few of the insights from the research are relevant and useful to teaching and learning in schools and higher education as well – and especially relevant to understanding rhizomatic learning as a variation of networked learning. De Laat defines networked learning as a perspecitive:

…that aims to understand social learning processes by asking how people develop and maintain a ‘web’ of social relations used for their learning and development (Good-year, Banks, Hodgson & McConnell, 2004; Haythorn-thwaite &  De Laat, 2011; Sleeples & Jones, 2002). (De Laat 2012:26)

De Laat suggests to combine formal and informal learning, and with an emphasis on participation, construction and becoming as metaphors for learning (De Laat 2012:26) he identifies these aspects as important for learning in an informal-formal environment – much in alignment with rhizomatic learning and with Martin Weller’s educational model of abundance introduced in part one of this series on knowledge abundance:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide2.jpg

Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices

Networking and communities are inevitable here, and in an interview with Steve Whee-ler after the talk, Maarten de Laat emphasizes the importance of learning networks to education and learning today:

As De Laat puts it:

“Networks are everything. I don’t think you can do anything on your own anymore, so for me networked learning is about creating a social web around you, if you like, so you have access to people who you can talk to, who you can share issues with, who you can do things together with….In terms of educational future I think it is very important to learn and teach those learning and thinking skills in order to participate in the debate and being able to contribute. So for me networking or communities or any social circulation is a very important part of education.” (Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler EDEN Conference 2015)

Apart from being networked, the skills we need to equip learners with in an age of digital abundance are the skills and the competences that are necessary for learning in the 21st century. De Laat refers to the framework of Partnership for 21st Century Skills which is one of the 15 frameworks analysed when establishing the model of the 21st century learning, I presented in the last blog post. And although social networking and technology are not identical, Web 2.0 and Learning 3.0 has placed social networking online as a part of networked learning. And likewise, De Laat explains in his address:

By social networking we mean the configurations of con-nectivity that exist when people interact with each other by communicating, sharing resources, and working, learning or playing together, supported through face-to-face interaction as well as through the use of information and communication technology (Hay-thornthwaite & De Laat, 2011). Each interaction defines a connection between people, known as a social network tie. These ties vary in strength from weak to strong according to the range and types of activities that people engage in. In other words, networked relationships – ties – connect the dots between otherwise isolated people. (De Laat 2012:23)

Here Maarten de Laat refers to Mark Granovetter’s theory of the strength of weak ties (1973/1983):

“In a favorite article on the strength of weak ties, Granovetter (1973) demonstrated that weak ties are important for gaining access to new knowledge, perspectives and alternative conversations. Strong ties with those who are close to you, on the other hand, are needed to deepen and embed knowledge closely related to day-to-day shared practice, as well as commitment to joint activities.” (De Laat 2012:27)

Communities of practice are often based on strong ties as the process of moving towards full participation usually builds on strong relationships, as I mentioned in part two of this series, but as Maarten de Laat defines it in the interview and Wenger–Trayner has said it: “Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there…it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity.” (Wenger 2010:10)

This way networking can be seen as both an important aspect of self-directed learning and of developing communities or communities of practice as places/spaces for practicing self-directed learning: the relationships and resources in a personal learning network (PLN) can be put forward as challenging or confirmatory perspectives in the negotiations of meaning with peers and facilitators/educators in a domain and in the community or the community of practice.

Personal learning networks – on the road to collaboration

In their article “Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and the networking skills needed to optimally use them” (2012) Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep engage in defining networks that support individuals’ learning:

In our understanding, the skills at the centre of network-ing involve an ability to identify and understand other peoples’ work in relation to one’s own, and to assess the value of the connectivity with these others for potential future work. The result of networking is a personal professional network, i.e., an egocentric, personally and intentionally created network of people set up by an individual specifically in the context of her professional activities. This network gathers a heterogeneous circle of people, distributed across different groups and places, and connected to the individual with connections of varying degrees of strengths (Granovetter, 1983; Nardi, et al., 2000). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

For personal networks, Grabher and Ibert (2008) propo-sed a three-layered approach, consisting of a communa-lity layer (strong ties), a sociality layer (weak ties) and a connectivity layer (very weak ties)…By including weak links in their personal networks, learners can create an envi-ronment for learning (Kester and Sloep, 2009). We be-lieve the intentionality of the professional is the strongest at the sociality layer, as contacts in this layer are the most mobile within someones’s personal network. Depen-ding on the intentions of the professional, these ties have the potential to become stronger connections or develop into even weaker ties. An individual can therefore create and orchestrate ties to effectively support learning needs and potentially use technology to support this network, effectively making it a personal learning network (PLN). (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

And so the focus on social networking seen from an individual’s personal perspective offers bridges to collaboration and participation in communities and communities of practice:

“Both strong and weak connections contribute to the individuals’s learning: strong ties allow for active collaboration on knowledge creation, whereas weak ties are sources for new information, knowledge and ideas (Bell, 2010; Gargiulo and Benassi, 2000; Jones, 2008; Jones, et al., 2008; Ryberg and Larsen, 2008; Wenger, 1998).” (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

A personal learning network requires, as mentioned, all three types of ties: strong, weak, and very weak, and while both Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep and Maarten de Laat focus on the importance of weak and strong ties for learning, I think the very weak ties are equally important to rhizomatic learning as they might lead to serendipity and growing networks in a ‘nomadic’ fashion. And this is a real potential for new learning, too.

According to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep the following factors influence the choises taken in each of the three stages of building, maintaining and activating personal learning networks:

  • Communality
  • Organisation of the contact
  • Network of a contact
  • Reputation
  • Benevolence
  • Like-mindedness
  • Real potential for collaboration
  • Real potential for learning
  • Trends in work environment.

Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep conclude, that ”…networking for networked learning is not only a skill to be developed, but also an attitude towards learning to be cultivated…networking revolves around a complex ability of (i) recognizing and identifying the other’s qualities; and, of (ii) making (valuable) associations of these qualities with the learner’s own qualities that could take place when interacting with a contact or even in the contact’s absence. Learners have different levels of proficiency in this skill, but can also differ in the actual application of the skill, due to the attitude with which they approach learning.”  (Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep (2012))

Networking is crucial to Rajagopal, Brinke, Van Bruggen and Sloep not only as a key skill for individual learners but also as a starting point for learning to learn and for future collaboration. This is also what Maarten de Laat hints at in the interview with Steve Wheeler quoted earlier. I would add, that this is the basics learners need to know about networks and networking, so that they can understand and practice the skills, the strategies and the attitudes required “to adopt a networking style” for their learning as De Laat calls it (De Laat 2012:29), and so that they are able to participate, collaborate, reflect and construct new knowledge – eventually through serendipity, rhizomatic structures and bricolage.

In his talk De Laat mentions the close relationship between networked learning and open practices, while he presents his model of education as “New Learning”. As mentioned earlier it is a model that resembles Martin Weller’s educational models of scarcity and abundance described in part one of this series. But De Laat’s  model of “New Learning” is also a model that includes perspectives and understandings from the theory of communities of practice and maybe from rhizomatic learning, as I see it. I think learners need to know these educational models and their implications on teaching and learning as part of the basics of networks and networking, too, and Maarten de Laat has summed it all up in these slides:

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide3.jpg

maarten-de-laat-networked-learning-in-open-practices-Slide4.jpg

Maarten de Laat: Networked Learning in Open Practices 

But how to get started?

Being a student entering a domain, a discipline or a subject matter, one of the first nodes in the network could be the educator opening up his/her professional network for students to connect to online. In many ways there is nothing new in educators introducing their students to resources, interesting people, stakeholders and different positions in a field, but the accessibility, the spreadability, the searchability and the ease and speed with which connections can be made is new and made possible by social media and participatory environments. Starting this way, the students get to know experts, members of communities, resources, ideas and links while they are getting a grip of networks and networking in the domain or the discipline, and they can begin exploring and networking across domains and disciplines from a diversity of starting points. As in rhizomatic learning. And as Dave Cormier exemplifies in his article “Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum” (2008). And eventually, the student turns into a learner who discovers that there are different kinds of problems and knowledge in education, and that they call for different types of networks to make collaboration emerge in a productive fashion. This must also be practiced and taught as part of digital literacies and networked literacies in the domain or discipline along with foundational knowledge, meta knowledge and humanistic knowledge due to the model of 21st learning presented in the last blog post.

And so, once again I have met the challenge of Martin Weller and have tried to look into to what extend rhizomatic learning can be regarded as a pedagogy of abundance, as Weller suggested in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

“Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:233)

But what then, when Martin Weller also mentions these two characteristics of the fundamental change in education, he is mapping in his educational model of abundance:

  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:228)

Well, then there are still issues to return to and to explore while asking: where do different types of network fit in in a pedagogy of abundance, and – apart from what has already been said  – how does rhizomatic learning realize this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed? And is rhizomatic learning really a version of networked learning, as I have been claiming until now?

This blogpost has been edited on 14. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages and in order to make my exploratory approach more visible in another two passages.

Further reading:

Dave Cormier (2015): The rhizomatic lense – seeing learning from the perspective of abundance. IATED talks

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum, Dave’s Educational Blog

De Laat, Maarten (2012): Enabling professional development networks: How connected are you?, Open Universiteit, The Netherlands

Granovetter, Mark (1983): The strength of weak ties: A network theory revisited, Sociological Theory, volume 1, pp. 201-233

Granovetter, Mark (1973): The strength of weak ties, American Journal of Sociology, pp. 1360-1380

Hodgson, Vivien, De Laat, Maarten, McConnell, David, and Ryberg, Thomas (2014): Researching Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning: An Overview. In V. Hodgson et al. (eds.), The Design, Experience and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 1-26, Springer New York

Hodgson, Vivien, McConnell, David, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): The Theory, Practice and Pedagogy of Networked Learning. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 291-305, Springer New York

McConnell, David, Hodgson, Vivien, and Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2012): Networked Learning: A Brief History and New Trends. In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 3-24, Springer New York

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat – Interview with Steve Wheeler #EDEN15, EDEN Conference 2015

Rajagopal, Kamakshi, Brinke, Desirée Joosten-ten, Van Bruggen, Jan, and Sloep, Peter B. (2012): Understanding personal learning networks: Their structure, content and networking skills needed to optimally use them, First Monday, Volume 17, Number 1-2 January 2012

Ryberg, Thomas, Buus, Lillian, and Georgsen, Marianne (2012): Differences in Understandings of Networked Learning Theory: Connectivity or Collaboration? In L. Dirckinck-Holmfeld et al. (eds.), Exploring the Theory, Pedagogy and Practice of Networked Learning, pp. 43-58, Springer New York

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wenger, Etienne (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice, pp. 179-198, Springer London

Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press

Photo by Kris A on Flickr – CC-BY-NC-ND  Some rights reserved

Networks are Everything – Maarten de Laat Interview by Steve Wheeler #EDEN15 on YouTube – CC-BY-NC-SA

Elna Mortensen

 

Advertisements
In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 4

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 3

5892092671_6b6be05e9a_m“What else could rhizomatic learning look like across the entire educational system from primary school to higher education?”, I wondered in my last blog post after having discussed a campus course by Dave Cormier founded on rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance.  Rhizomatic learning is one suggestion for a learning theory and a pedagogical approach that has been recasted and reimagined towards building learning on connections, on networks and on participation in communities of practice in order to match a more participatory and socially constructed view of know-ledge. To answer my own question I’ll introduce three examples of educational practices that to different degrees build on rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance or an approach to open pedagogy. The three examples are situated in educational institutions ranging from university to K-12 schools.

Relevant, rhizomatic and recursive learning in higher education

A few months ago Robin DeRosa and Scott Robison noticed and rejected the way educa-tion adopts new technology just because it is there in their article ”Pedagogy, Techno-logy, and The Example of Open Educational Resources” (2015). Instead they promote open educational resources (OERs) as an area to work in while discussing the motiva-tions behind adopting technology in education. They argue for pedagogies to go before tools and technology – that is, choosing a pedagogy to suit your goals and your context before choosing which tools, which media, and which digital spaces to integrate into your course – and they focus on OERs in higher education because the use of OERs makes the possibilities for pedagogical change explicit:

“New tricks and tools, shiny new apps and devices, should not motivate us to integrate technology into our courses. Instead, we should start with a vision for our courses and curricula, and then identify the technologies or strategies that can help us achieve or further develop that vision.” (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

Along with the vision of pedagogical change DeRosa and Robison advocate a view of open pedagogy that stresses learning as a learner-developed process which is relevant, rhizomatic, and recursive:

 

This view on rhizomatic learning, influenced by the definition of ‘critical digital pedagogy’ by the Freire-influenced Jesse Stommel, very much fits in with what has already been said about rhizomatic learning in the first two blog posts on an era of knowledge abundance, although Robin DeRosa doesn’t specify how she defines community when she emphasizes “community and collaboration” and “power of the community as a 21st century model” in the slide presentation above. Nevertheless, the example of working with OERs is to me a version of Dave Cormier’s motto: “Community is the curriculum”:

By replacing a static textbook — or other stable learning material — with one that is openly licensed, faculty have the opportunity to create a new relationship between learners and the information they access in the course. Instead of thinking of knowledge as something students need to download into their brains, we start thinking of knowledge as something continuously created and revised. Whether students participate in the development and revision of OER or not, this redefined relationship between students and their course “texts” is central to the philosophy of learning that the course espouses. If faculty involve their students in interacting with OER, this rela-tionship becomes even more explicit, as students are expected to critique and contribute to the body of know-ledge from which they are learning. In this sense, know-ledge is less a product that has distinct beginning and end points and is instead a process in which students can engage, ideally beyond the bounds of the course. (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

And they add while highlighting aspects of rhizomatic learning processes:

OER makes possible the shift from a primarily student-content interaction to an arrangement where the content is integral to the student-student and student-instructor interactions as well. What we once thought of as pedago-gical accompaniments to content (class discussion, stu-dents assignments, etc.) are now inextricable from the content itself, which has been set in motion as a process by the community that interacts with it. Moreover, stu-dents asked to interact with OER become part of a wider public of developers, much like an open-source commu-nity. We can capitalize on this relationship between enrolled students and a broader public by drawing in wider communities of learners and expertise to help our students find relevance in their work, situate their ideas into key contexts, and contribute to the public good. We can ask our students — and ourselves as faculty — not just to deliver excellence within a prescribed set of parameters, but to help develop those parameters by asking questions about what problems need to be solved, what ideas need to be explored, what new paths should be carved based on the diverse perspectives at the table. (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

With the gain of fostering empowerment in their students DeRosa and Robison see working with OERs as a way of evaluating the role of tools and technology in education, too:

“Essentially, this is a move from thinking about tech tools as finished products to thinking about them as dynamic components of our pedagogical processes. When we think about OER as something we do rather than something we find/adopt/acquire, we begin to tap its full potential for learning. The same lessons apply to any ed tech considered for adoption in the classroom. If we start with questions related to our vision, we can pull in the tools to help us realize it.” (DeRosa and Robison 2015)

Working with OERs this way moves students from consumers into producers and participants engaging with tools and technology in order to question, explore and create knowledge. And this is a non-linear, experimenting, multi-perspective and participatory approach to learning that is characteristic of rhizomatic learning.

But rhizomatic learning is a pedagogy that comes from higher education. If and when rhizomatic learning is a pedagogy of abundance, its role as an approach to teaching and learning in a digital society cannot just be limited to higher education where its values can be seen as well-known educational values such as independence, critical thinking, reflection, ethical awareness and coping with change. An important aspect, though, is that rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance in many ways turns the ‘end goals’ of a traditional learning process into its starting point: to know what you have come in to learn implies critical thinking, reflection, and independence, but that is paradoxically also what and why you have come in to learn. This way rhizomatic learning resembles the ideal of the Humboldtian model of higher education where students learn by being a part of the research processes integrated into the studies.  So in an educational context I think that educators will need to help providing content, resources, and experts at the beginning of the course in order to make rhizomatic learning be based on a subject matter, a theme, cases or questions of interest to investigate. After all there needs to be roots to grow from to make rhizomatic learning happen, and in his campus course Dave Cormier in fact lets his students evaluate a textbook for the course and have them connect and collaborate as a starting point for his course.

Educators will also need to learn students how to collaborate as many students are not very good at it, and collaborative competences are necessary for students to be able to move from legitimate peripheral participation to greater participation in their course as a community of practice and to get to know what it is to know inside this space, as Dave Cormier has put it. So in order to have students engaging in a rhizomatic learning process it requires that the teacher/educator turns into a facilitator who supports the students through scaffolding, modelling, facilitating, and providing feedback and feedforward as a way of getting the community of practice going while the students are broadening their understanding, are becoming learners in their domain through peer-to-peer feedback and peer-to-peer feedforward, are getting a voice and finding their way.

Although rhizomatic learning is about students taking control over their own learning process and about changing the relationship between educator and students into more of a partnership where educators and students are co-learners, the educator will still most often be the one setting up the framework for a course or a subject matter. And the educator will also still be the one that negotiates or decides aims for the course or the subject matter, negotiates or sets up the criteria for assessment, and the one who has the responsibility if there are national or institutional curriculums and learning goals to comply with. A lot can be initiated, discussed and negotiated with students and a lot will still be decided by the educator and institutional policies.

Both the demands for participation, knowledge generation and self-directed learning can cause frustration in students in higher education. So the question is now: how can rhizomatic learning as a pedagogical approach be filtered down to schools in primary and secondary education?

Reimagining school in K-12 schools

Some people don’t hesitate seeing rhizomatic learning as a possibility across the educational system.  Dave Cormier has himself mentioned Monika Hardy and her work with reimagining school as an example of rhizomatic learning in K-12 schools. In a series of blog posts Monika Hardy has presented and documented the project she was involved in, and in the blog post “Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations” (2011) she presents her vision of education:

To succeed in our fluid/agile world, we need to think less about defining/measuring a fixed content/curriculum, (less about worrying and playing defense), and more about creating some overarching patterns evidenced in the process of learning to learn. Not only does that make learning/life more fun, intellectual learning and affiliated capabilities are amped as the motivation is intrinsically driven by the pleasure of finding things out and by understanding wicked problems. (Hardy 2011)

One of the cornerstones in the project is “rhizomatic learning/thinking/doing”. As an entry into the rhizomatic learning process Hardy focuses – with inspiration from Dewey – on facilitating curiosities. And as far as I can see in the section “city as floorplan” in this slide presentation, the project has attached importance to games, logic and programming in pre-school–grade 5, while one of the projects in grade 6-8 has been “be you”, where students have been working on small personal networks, and “detox” has been an approach designed for grade 9-12.

Monika Hardy comments on the idea of detox this way:

Detox is a jump start of sorts to get back to our natural curiosities. It’s a means to focus/pause/reflect on things that matter, to be mindful, rather than following a well-trodden road map. It’s a means, in public education even, to facilitate the chaos of personalization, in order to awaken indispensable people. (Hardy 2011)

In the video below Monika Hardy explains the ideas and the thinking behind the project:

To me this is a catching example of future-faced education driven by a version of rhizomatic learning and with a vision of education as emancipation, another well-known educational value, not to forget.  But also a vison with a maybe different conception of community: “Community as one school”.  In many ways Mimi Ito captures the intentions of Monika Hardy’s work on reimagining school, when she talks about the quite similar perspective in her own work on connected learning in “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era” (2016):

“The core of connected learning is this understanding that it takes relationships to open up opportunity. That’s why the focus is on learning within the context of social engagement and shared purpose, where young people are learning to get things done with both peers and adults. It’s not enough to push content and skills at kids, or to say that there’s knowledge out there on the internet. If young people don’t have relationships with peers and caring adults with whom they identify, and who can build those paths to opportunity, then the content and skills don’t do anything for them.” (Jenkins, Ito, boyd 2016:86)

Social media use in K-12 schools

But what do you do, if you haven’t got the whole school district backing you up? As an example of ways of engaging with social media in a K-12 school that can be seen as a starting point for developing digital literacies and creating networking experiences relevant to rhizomatic learning, I will turn to a recent article by Michael Nantais: “Creating an empowering school environment” (2016). In the article Michael Nantais presents his research on the use of social media in a K-12 school, and the impact the use of social media has had on building a culture of trust and empowerment:

“This story is about technology and how its use can contribute to building a culture of trust and empowerment. It is a story about allowing students to embrace their hybridity, as described by Jesse Stommel. One starting point is to recognize that students are more than just students; their online lives are a part of who they are, and it cannot be ignored. They live a hybrid life; in school/out of school, online/offline. Can we honour this hybridity and give them the power to engage in all aspects of their world?” (Nantais 2016)

Nantais is interested in the “what” and “why” of social media pedagogy and in the effects the use of social media has on practice:

“The popular and academic literature is replete with both utopian and dystopian visions of using technology in schools. It seems that dichotomous views are plentiful. For some, technology will be a “disruptive” force that will transform education, and for others, it will have negative consequences. It seems rare that the shades of grey that surround technology use in education are explored. Much has been written about its “affordan-ces”, but what actually happens in the day-to-day reality of schools?” (Nantais 2016)

The teachers participating in the study perceived a positive change in the school culture after allowing an almost free use of social media:

Several media were being used by the teachers: some used Twitter, some blogging, others used Facebook. One preferred a more closed medium and used Edmodo. Regardless of the medium used, the most common response to the perceived effects on the school culture was centered on increased communication. In particular, the most interesting responses were about how social media use led to increased connections with students. These responses were contrary to much of the prevailing criticism of social media. This criticism often characte-rizes social media as isolating and that those indulging in its use often ignore those around them. When we as teachers actually stop and explore, rather than condemn, good things can happen. (Nantais 2016)

It seems that having the opportunity to use social media in school, to connect and communicate, and at the same time being given more responsibility for their own learning provides students with experiences and practices that are crucial as starting points in rhizomatic learning:

Interestingly, several of the teachers talked about “a sense of empowerment”, “more freedom”, autonomy, and “giving kids as much choice and control as you possibly can.” As a result of giving students more responsibility and more control, teachers helped them to be “more accountable” and responsible. In this way a more trusting and caring school environment seemed to grow and develop, engendered by new ways of connecting and communicating. (Nantais 2016)

With all of these ideas in mind as I reflected on this particular school’s experience, I concluded that it was not simply the act of allowing social media use, or personal devices, that led to this trusting school environment. It is more the act of changing “traditional classroom hierar-chies” by releasing some traditional authority and power, by trusting students, and enabling them to embrace their hybrid selves, that has led to increased connection, a sense of empowerment, and a positive school culture. (Nantais 2016)

Emphasizing the changing relations between teachers and students through allowing social media use as part of the learning processes, Michael Nantais’ research supports Dave Cormier’s idea of giving students control over their own learning process.  Nantais’ example might not be able to imitate in Europe due to the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation prohibiting youth under the age of 16 to have a profile on social media without their parent’s consent no matter what the age limits are on the social media sites. And although member countries can lower the age limit to 13, this effort of connecting and communicating to give students networking experiences might have to be practiced in closed spaces or class spaces until almost high school in many European countries.

The model of 21st century learning

I have introduced three examples of rhizomatic learning across the educational system in this blog post. Each example blends community, networks, collaboration, participation and knowledge creation to different degrees, and even though the pedagogical practices found in Michael Nantais’ research can’t really be regarded as rhizomatic learning, a changed school culture seems to nurture the kind of pedagogical mindset that is a precondition for rhizomatic learning, and it can be practiced from grade 1. So all of the examples can be seen as answers to Martin Weller’s double challenge to educators in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

“The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance.” (Weller 2011:232-233)

I have already stated in an earlier blog post in this series that digital literacies and networked literacies are answers to the second challenge – and they are more than just digital skills. But there is more to it, of course. Maybe a critical review of the literature on 21st century knowledge frameworks can help identifying the skills, the competences and the knowledge that are needed to learn, to know and to understand in an era of knowledge abundance. In their article “What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning” (2013) Kristen Kereluik, Punya Mishra, Chris Fahnoe and Laura Terry establish a framework of frameworks that defines what 21st century learning means, and their 21st century learning framework can be seen as a broader and more general answer to Martin Weller’s challenge about how we best equip learners to make use of knowledge abundance.

Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry have analysed 15 key documents presenting 21st century knowledge frameworks from education and economic organizations worldwide in order to understand what 21st century learning actually means:

…because it will aid in determining what and, just as important, how we teach our students…(Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:128)

Technological modernization and globalization are the two main reasons for the need to rethink the types of knowledge that are required for learning in the 21st century according to the 15 knowledge frameworks analysed. The analysis and the review of the frameworks resulted in a framework of frameworks consisting of three major categories with three subcategories in them:

 

21st Century Learning Framework

Adapted from Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry (2013) 

Each of these major categories can be seen as what we need to know, how we act on that knowledge, and the values we bring to our knowledge and action. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:131)

The categories in the model are overlapping and are to be seen as complementary categories that support and inform one another. And as a result of the review Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry call attention to two important findings:

Two key contributions emerged from this review. We argue that our analysis indicates a somewhat para-doxical state of affairs when we think about 21st century knowledge. First, we argue that our synthesis of these different frameworks suggests that nothing has changed, that this tripartite division between what we know, how we act on that knowledge, and what we value has always been important. That said, though these foundational ideas have always been key to learning, in some vital ways (particularly given advances in technology and globalization), everything has changed. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:131)

The changes to foundational knowledge that Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry point out are:

  • Technology in the foundational realm asserts itself as something to “know”. The internet and digital media represent a new realm of interaction where new skills and knowledge are necessary to collaborate digitally and contribute to the collective knowledge base.
  • Content has been altered with the rapid advancement of technology in terms of both access to information and how information is represented: the amount of information necessitates the ability to synthesize information and derive meaning.
  • The nature of disciplinary knowledge itself and the methods for requiring it have changed significantly due to the advent of digital technologies: the methods and techniques of acquiring, representing, and manipulating knowledge have changed in almost all disciplines.
  • Most of the progress in the recent past has been in areas that cut across traditional disciplinary boundaries: people need to have deep knowledge of more than one discipline and the ability to see connections between these disciplines. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:131-132)

As changes to meta knowledge they emphasize:

  • Technology in the meta realm asserts itself as knowledge “to act” with foundational knowledge and technology. This includes the ability not only to use technology in basic, predetermined (by the designer) ways, but to reuse and repurpose technology to meet specific educational needs and teaching/learning goals.
  • Problem solving and critical thinking are transformed by technology as the unprecedented access to vast amount of information on the internet place a greater burden on individuals accessing information: they must possess the ability to distinguish between high-quality information and information of questionable quality.
  • Technology changes communication and collaboration, because ease of access has made large-scale communication and collaboration across thousands of miles commonplace: with increased globalization and affordances of new technology, individuals from diverse cultures are exposed to one another on an unprecedented level. Successful collaboration – and consequently cultural competence – is essential.
  • Communication and collaboration serve as an effective bridge between meta knowledge and humanistic knowledge, as cultural competence is necessary for successful communication and collaboration. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:132)

And this leads to the changes they see for humanistic knowledge:

  • Technology in the humanistic realm asserts itself as something “to value” both in others and in the possibilities of technology.
  • The ability to regulate one’s effort has become a multifaceted effort that necessitates organization of one’s demands in personal and professional realms of life to successful ends.
  • Ethical and moral questions arise, also in areas that have not typically been areas of doubt or discussion: individuals have to develop fine-tuned ethical and moral modes of thought and action whether considering issues of privacy and intellectual property or bio-technology and stem-cell research.
  • Ethical and emotional awareness are uniquely important when working with diverse groups of individuals in an increasingly globalized and interconnected world: it is important to develop a value system that respects differences and at the same time maintains a core of empathy and understanding. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:132)

Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry conclude, that “Our analysis indicates that this seeming paradox of “nothing has changed” and “everything has changed” provides us a way forward. It suggests that, though the 21st century is different from previous times, it does not mean that our core roles (to know, to act, and to value) have changed. So, in that sense, there is no disjuncture between what we have been doing as educators in the past and what we do today (and in the future). That being said, it also indicates, even as we hold onto these core ideas, that we have to continually shift and come up with newer ways of instantiating them.” (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

And thus, they end up with three key suggestions for teachers and teacher educators that are based on the educational goals inherent in the model of 21st century learning. They build on the pedagogical possibilities that are provided by the shift from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’ which Martin Weller anticipated in his article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011):

1   The need for students to develop deep disciplinary knowledge has always been important; what has chan-ged is access to disciplinary knowledge and authentic disciplinary inquiry made available through technology and subsequently experts and resources…Students and teachers must work in purposeful learning communities, engage with questions that require reflection, defend conclusions, and problem-solve like detectives while responding like investigative reporters. Therefore, the current base of disciplinary knowledge that the Common Core expresses encompasses both traditional content knowledge and concepts forwarded in modern frame-works, such as students having strong communication skills integrated across content areas, being metacog-nitive in an iterative process, engaging with complex texts and complex problem solving and developing a world focus. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

2   Second, knowing the technology is important, but knowing when and why to use it is more important…digital literacy skills are essential for both students and teachers. Knowing when to use a particular technology for activities such as collaboration, or why to use a certain technology for acquiring specific disciplinary knowledge, is a vastly more important, transferable, infinitely relevant type of knowledge, one that will not quickly become antiquated with ever-changing techno-logical trends. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

3   As a result of the increased opportunity for interaction across countries and around the world, teachers need to know how to foster cultural competence, emotional awareness and leadership skills to facilitate not just interactions, but meaningful interactions and relation-ships. Interestingly this specific type of knowledge is largely absent from the “standards-based” movements in education and not always seen as worthy of prolonged instructional time and effort. (Kereluik, Mishra, Fahnoe and Terry 2013:133)

So there is correspondence between Martin Weller’s list of assumptions for any pedagogy of abundance presented in part one of this series on knowledge abundance, the model of 21st century learning just presented here, and the social, situated and open networked approach to learning in rhizomatic learning – with a lot of focus on meta knowledge – as it is conceived by Dave Cormier. They have all focus on the need to rethink, reimage and recast our existing learning theories and our approaches to teaching and learning for a world of abundance. And in combination they frame the educational values, the pedagogical possibilities, and the skills, the competences, the knowledge and the cultural understanding needed in an era of digital abundance. The educational practices documented by Robin DeRosa and Scott Robison, Monika Hardy and Michael Nantais are examples of this: these practices are a way to see the world and a way to see learning in a context starting with asking why, what, how, who and where.

And yet, there is still a question left: what do students actually need to know about networks to be able to participate in rhizomatic learning?

Further reading:

DeRosa, Robin and Scott Robison (2015): Pedagogy, Technology, and The Example of Open Educational Resources,   Monday, November 9, EDUCAUSEreview

Hardy, Monika (2011):  Wanted (And Needed): ‘Radical’ Collaborations, Monday, August 01, dmlcentral.net

Jenkins, Henry, Mizuko Ito, danah boyd (2016): Participatory Culture in a Networked Era, Polity Press

Kereluik, Kristen, Punya Mishra, Chris Fahnoe and Laura Terry (2013): What Knowledge Is of Most Worth: Teacher Knowledge for 21st Century Learning, Journal of Digital learning in Teacher Education Volume 29 Number 4  

Nantais, Michael (2016): Creating an empowering school environment , Hybrid Pedagogy 02 Feb

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Photo by Alice Lim on Flickr – CC-BY  Some rights reserved

‘Open Pedagogy for eLearning Pioneers’ by Robin DeRosa CC-BY 

Elna Mortensen

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 3

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 2

6130319471_25e42ebc0a_q“What does a pedagogy of abundance look like?”, I asked in part one of this little series of blog posts following in the footsteps of Martin Weller’s article “A pedagogy of abundance” (2011). I suggested that rhizomatic learning might be such a pedagogy of abundance, a pedagogy based on a multiplicity of theories of learning: social constructivism, connectivism, and communities of practice that are combined into a situative and social learning approach.  ‘Community’ and ‘networks’ are equally important to Dave Cormier’s conception of rhizomatic learning, and this is my continuing investigation of how rhizomatic learning can be evaluated as a pedagogy of abundance. Rhizomatic learning fits into an era of knowledge abundance: a world of complexity where knowledge is emergent, contingent and contextual, and a world where a move from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0 has its focus on connecting knowledge.

As mentioned, the idea of a community of practice plays a central part in Dave Cormier’s understanding of rhizomatic learning, and he has stated the social aspect of rhizomatic learning this way:

In the rhizomatic view knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by Constructivist and Connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. (Cormier 2008)

Cormier has more recently collected a series of texts on rhizomatic learning in a work-in-progress, the e-book “Making the community the curriculum” (2016). In the introduction of his book, Cormier has embedded “A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC” (2013), a video where he points to the important place communities of practice has in his thinking.

While a rhizomatic environment could seem to be a totally wild, self-directed and experimenting network-thing going all in for chance, heterogeneous perspectives, evolving knowledge and cultivating multi-diversity, Cormier lays bare in the video, that in fact there is a ‘framework’ to engage within while connecting, communicating, collaborating, cooperating, sharing and reflecting throughout the whole learning process.  And that framework is a community of practice. So even if rhizomatic learning isn’t normative as a learning approach but is defined as non-linear and non-hierarchial with no exact starting point or end due to the rhizome as a metaphor for the learning process, the community of practice is a form and a framework to understand rhizomatic learning as social learning within. In the video Cormier says:

The hope with rhizomatic learning is to take some of the great creative output that comes from communities of practice and apply them to a structured classroom…How do I take these things and apply? First rule of community learning is to give up control… (Cormier 2013)

And although all my sympathy toward rhizomatic learning, this is where I can’t help asking: wouldn’t a community of practice need some kind of balance between structure and chaos? And my answer would be, that understanding what a community of practice is, could help explicating how and why a community of practice gives direction to the learning processes taking place while engaging in finding, investigating, contributing, negotiating, collaborating, reflecting and producing knowledge.

Communities of practice

Etienne Wenger’s (now Wenger-Trayner) theory of communities of practice is a social learning theory. The concept of community of practice was initially coined by Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger-Trayner in their work on situative learning (Lave and Wenger 1991) where they defined learning  as a process of social participation:

…learning does not rest with the individual but is a social process that is situated in a cultural and historical con-text. (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner 2016:2)

As an approach to knowing and learning Wenger-Trayners theory of communities of practice from 1998 set off from the initial work with Jean Lave, investigating and defining how communities of practice are formed and developed:

Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly. (Wenger 2013)

In other words, to constitute a community of practice it requires a shared domain of interest, a community concerned about connecting and building relationships so that participants can learn from each other, a shared repertoire of practice and someone to take leadership in shaping a social learning space and seeing  to that resources are available (Wenger 2010:12). So learning happens through participation and negotiating relevant competences and meaning in the community with a core of people initiating the process and keeping it going. And moving from legitimate peripheral participation to full participation happens while you engage in the community of practice so you can get access to the knowledge of the community and take part in negotiating which knowledge is relevant and can count as knowledge in the context of that specific community of practice. In other words: moving towards full membership of a community of practice involves connecting and building competences so that the necessary cultural knowledge and experience is available to be able to participate in the ongoing negotiation of competence, knowledge and meaning.  In a recent interview Wenger-Trayner comments on the concept of community of practice this way:

“The notion of community of practice does not primarily refer to a ‘group’ of people per se . Rather it refers to a social process of negotiating competence in a domain over time. That this process ends up structuring social relationships among people involved in various ways is a secondary phenomenon. And this structuring process entails a specific type of relationship. For instance, there is a distinction between a community of practice and a team.” (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner 2016:5)

In the interview Wenger-Trayner also states:

The theory is an attempt to place the negotiation of meaning at the core of human learning, as opposed to merely the acquisition of information and skills. And for human beings, a central drive for the negotiation of meaning is the process of becoming a certain person in a social context – or more usually a multiplicity of social contexts. That’s where the concept of identity comes in. And because this is a learning theory, identity is theorized with specific reference to changing ways of participating in a practice. (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner 2016:7)

So learning is connecting and belonging – just as much as it is learning by doing and participating – and just as much as it is becoming through interacting and constructing identity – and likewise just as much as it is experiencing through interpreting and negotiating meaning. And these aspects of learning are all elements integrated in Wenger-Trayner’s social learning theory: learning as community, learning as identity, learning as meaning, and learning as practice.

communities-of-practice-and-professional-development-of-teaching-in-he

Enhancement Themes: Developing communities of practice

In the perspective of the digital era, the concept of community of practice has been challenged by the concept of network, and in a 2010-article, “Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept”, Wenger-Trayner has his conception of communities of practice up for evaluation (which I have written about earlier on this blog). Here Wenger-Trayner explores the uses of the concept of communities of practice, and among the perspectives that make him evaluate the concept is the critique, “…that there is too much emphasis on community for an adequate account of learning in a web-enabled globalizing world.” (Wenger 2010:10). Wenger comments the critique by saying:

“Again there is an important insight to this critique. Some of us have probably overemphasized community in our attempt to account for the directionality of learning. But it is a mistake, I believe, to think of communities and networks as distinct structures. I am often asked what the difference is between a community and a network. Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there, I think it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity. The two usually co-exist. Certainly communities of practice are networks in the sense that they involve connections among members; but there is also identification with a domain and commitment to a learning partnership, which are not necessarily present in a network.” (Wenger 2010:10)

“More generally, I find it more productive to think of community and network as combined in the same social structures – but with more or less salience. So the question is not whether a given group is a network or a community, but how the two aspects coexist as structuring processes. This is not only a richer way to think about social structures, it also has useful practical implications. Network and community processes have complementary strengths and weaknesses; they are two avenues for enhancing the learning capability of a group. If a community becomes too much of a community, too strongly identified with itself, prone to groupthink, closed or inbred, then fostering connectivity to generate some networking energy is a good way to shake it up and open its boundaries. There is something random and unpredictable about the dynamics of networking processes, which is a good counterpart to community.”(Wenger 2010:10)

This way new knowledge and content of a subject matter or a discipline could be the result of challenging the regimes of competence in a community of practice through negotiations of knowledge, competences, identity and meaning:

“Note that what is included in a curriculum is usually called knowledge, but knowledge is not a technical term in the theory. We talk about practices, regimes of competence and knowledgeability, but we refrain from defining knowledge. Whose practice and competence gets to be viewed as ‘knowledge’ is a complex historically, social and political process that it is not in the scope of the theory to define, at least in its current state.” (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner  2016:7)

It is in this space, opening up between existing knowledge on the one hand and developing practices and competences on the other hand, I see rhizomatic learning taking place, and to me it fits very well with Dave Cormier’s idea of what education is for: “We need to make students responsible for their own learning and the learning of others”, as he puts it in the video “A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC”. So when dealing with education the rhizomatic way, students have to develop an understanding of the learning process they are going through while they are going through it. As Cormier highlights it in the video:

  • Students have to understand what they are looking for when joining the course.
  • Students have to take it upon themselves to engage and to continue to grow.
  • Students have to choose and to make a syllabus for themselves through connecting, responding and collaborating.
  • Students have to understand what it is to learn and what it is to know in a subject matter or a discipline and to be able to make decisions about how to create their own learning within that process. (Cormier 2013)

The open syllabus is, as far as I can see, what Wenger-Trayner calls ‘a living curriculum’. It frames the relevant knowledge and competences that emerge in the intersection between community and network and it is the result of the interaction with the regimes of competence and knowledge while developing new knowledge. The learning processes Dave Cormier describes – from students are entering a course and engaging with foundational knowledge through to a level where they have acquired the meta knowledge and the humanistic knowledge that is necessary to handle and engage in an era of knowledge abundance – are parallel to the learning processes participants have to go through while building identity in a community of practice. It takes a journey through three modes of engaging with the world – imagination, alignment and engagement – to know what you are looking for and to keep you going (Farnsworth, Kleanthous & Wenger-Trayner  2016:12). That is for example the imagination of becoming an online learner or educator, the alignment of what you need to go through to reach your goals and finally the engagement in the practices and the regimes of knowledge needed in the domain. As mentioned earlier, participation doesn’t just mean being active, it is also about being part of a shared practice and a culture. And that is what Dave Cormier tries to achieve, as I see it.

The aim of a community of practice is sharing and creating new knowledge in order to develop the domain, in the case of rhizomatic learning a complex domain, and in order to spot how the community of practice is intertwined in Cormier’s thinking about rhizomatic learning, it might be interesting to compare the list of important aspects in communities of practice with the three key elements in rhizomatic learning as they are presented in “A Talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC”: the complex domain, the community of practice where people work collaboratively, and the rhizome that moves in different directions and at the same time is resilient while people are responding.

“Communities of practice are important because they:

  • Connect people who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interact, either as frequently or at all.
  • Provide a shared context for people to communicate and share information, stories, and personal experiences in a way that builds understanding and insight.
  • Enable dialogue between people who come together to explore new possibilities, solve challenging problems, and create new, mutually beneficial opportunities.
  • Stimulate learning by serving as a vehicle for authentic communication, mentoring, coaching, and self-reflection.
  • Capture and diffuse existing knowledge to help people improve their practice by providing a forum to identify solutions to common problems and a process to collect and evaluate best practices.
  • Introduce collaborative processes to groups and organizations as well as between organizations to encourage the free flow of ideas and exchange of information.
  • Help people organize around purposeful actions that deliver tangible results.
  • Generate new knowledge to help people transform their practice to accommodate changes in needs and technologies.” (Cambridge, Kaplan, and Suter 2005:1)

A real course

Working with complexity and problem-solving, while connecting to knowledge and responding to the unknown and to uncertainty, is at the core of the rhizomatic learning process according to Dave Cormier. But what does it look like when the principles behind it are transformed into a course design for a course in higher education?

Dave Cormier gives some insight in his own campus course – not to mistake for his cMOOCs – which he presents in his e-book, “Making the community the curriculum”. Here he not only introduces the principles behind rhizomatic learning and gives practical guidelines for a rhizomatic course, but also stresses that his focus is on the generative knowledge of networks to drive the collaboration, participation and the knowledge creation in the course as a community of practice. This is the vehicle for understanding knowledge as contingent and complex and an answer to a situation of knowledge abundance. ‘Old’, validated knowledge meets new information and data not yet evaluated, interpreted or negotiated and forms new knowledge, new approaches, new competences, and new understandings. This is echoed in the contract and the tasks for the course that require that the students engage in a rhizomatic learning process that is self-directed and based on collaboration and peer-to-peer learning: a learning process that has no marked route to follow but several pathways to try out, and also has no simple or correct answer but a multitude of answers depending on context.

So the concept of content is evolving in rhizomatic learning, and Cormier demonstrates this in the chapter “Moving your teaching up the collaborative continuum” where he explains:

I would posit that the ‘content’ of a course is just an excuse, or at least just a foundation, for getting accus-tomed to a context for a given field or discipline. We do need to get a sense of how language is used, and how concepts recombine in any new discipline, but definitions will hardly allow us to do that. We need to try things out, to test drive them, to see how they work out in conversa-tion to really round the edges of our understanding. The content is part of that ecosystem, but not the goal of it. (Cormier 2016)

This way of defining a subject matter or a discipline mirrors two of the assumptions about a pedagogy of abundance, Martin Weller has put forward:

  • Based on a generative system, unpredictability and freedom are essential characteristics of the internet.
  • The ease of content generation will see not only a greater variety of formats for content, but courses being updated and constructed from learner’s own content. (Weller 2011:229).

Moving up along Cormier’s collaborative continuum – from a content perspective – ending up at the student-centered end would meet these assumptions while building on the advantages of them in a course, so that students not only discover and master content together, but  also create and use new knowledge in the world. Social practices and new technology give possibilities for a radically different pedagogy, and that is what rhizomatic learning is about:  a pedagogy of investigation, serendipity and networking set within a community of practice, where Cormier’s  idea of ‘an open syllabus’ aligns with Wenger-Trayner’s concept of ‘a living curriculum’.  And as Wenger-Trayner has said it himself in a brief introduction to communities of practice: “However, the very characteristics that make communities of practice a good fit for stewarding knowledge – autonomy, practitioner-orientation, informality, crossing boundaries – are also characteristics that make them a challenge for traditional hierarchial organizations. (Wenger 2013)

Dave Cormier warns, that rhizomatic learning is not for any course, and I would say that it is only for subject matters and courses that can cope with the epistemological challenge that knowledge is under dispute, and that we don’t have a uniform agreement about what the facts are, as Henry Jenkins has put it.

And this just leaves the question: what else could rhizomatic learning look like across the entire educational system from primary school to higher education?

Further reading:

Cambridge, Darren, Soren Kaplan, and Vicki Suter (2005): Community of Practice Design Guide, EDUCAUSE

Cormier, Dave (2016): Making the community the curriculum, davecormier.pressbooks.com

Cormier, Dave (2013): A talk on Rhizomatic Learning for ETMOOC

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum , Dave’s Educational Blog

Farnsworth, Valerie, Irene Kleanthous & Etienne Wenger-Trayner (2016):  Communities of Practice as a Social Theory of Learning: a Conversation with Etienne Wenger, British Journal of Educational Studies, DOI: 10.1080/00071005.2015.1133799

Lave, Jean and Etienne Wenger (1991): Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wenger, Etienne (2010): Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice, pp. 179-198, Springer London

Wenger, Etienne (2013): Communities of Practice: A Brief Introduction

Wenger, Etienne (1998): Communities of Practice. Learning, Meaning, and Identity, Cambridge University Press

Photo by KamalJith –  CC- BY  Some rights reserved on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

 

 

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 2

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1

2061381703_a57d8d4cb4_qWe live in an era of knowledge abundance – but what does that mean and what are the impli-cations for learning and education? In his article “A pedagogy of abundance”, Martin Weller stresses that “We are witnessing a fundamental change in the production of knowledge and our relationship to content. This is producing an abundance of content which is unprecedented.” (Weller 2011:232). Weller strives for mapping and conceptualizing the effect the abundance of lear-ning content and resources has on how we approach learning and education, while he presents the assumptions that any pedagogy of abundance must take into account. This perspective of abundance extends the presen-tation of the Visitors and Residents framework and  the discussions about credibility and what counts for valid knowledge in an age of digital abundance, I wrote about in my most recent blogposts.

As a background for his examinations of how education may shift as a result of abundance, Martin Weller anticipates and describes a shift in education from ‘a pedagogy of scarcity’ to ‘a pedagogy of abundance’.

A traditional model of education is based on that:

  • Expertise is scarce.
  • Learners come to the place where the experts are located.
  • The lecture is the place for students’ physical interaction with the expert.
  • Content – books and journals – are manufactured according to demand.
  • Access to content is scarce and only accessible through libraries. (Weller 2011:226)

and hence a pedagogy of scarcity has developed promoting:

  • A one to many model to make the best use of the scarce resource – that is the expert.
  • The lecture.
  • An instructivist pedagogy as a direct consequence of the demands for scarcity. (Weller 2011:226)

Now facing a necessity for education to be relevant to the digital society, another model of education emerges  where:

  • Expertise is still rare, but access to content associated with it is now much easier – e.g. resources, critical analysis, dialogue, discussion and reflection are abundant.
  • The traditional model of supply-push needs to be replaced with one of demand-pull due to the growing demand for education and lifelong learning.
  • A shift to active participation will characterize students’ interaction with content and expertise.
  • A change to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge is needed to suit a demand-pull model of education.
  • New technologies are the basis in realizing this new conception of knowledge as networked and socially constructed. (Weller 2011:226-228)

This view on new technologies as the cause of a shift from an era of knowledge scarcity to an era of knowledge abundance is elaborated on by Bonnie Stewart:

“Prior to the digital era, scholarly knowledge was traditionally organized around the premise that knowledge is scarce and its artifacts materially vulnerable. Eye’s (1974) seminal article on knowledge abundance asserts, “[M]aterial can be transformed from one state to another but the original state is diminished…materials are exhaustible “ (p. 445). Manuscripts and books as knowledge artifacts are exhaustible, and costly to produce and distribute. Digital content, however, is persistent, replicable, scalable and searchable (boyd, 2011, p. 46); digital knowledge artifacts can be distributed with negligible cost to the originator or user, and without being consumed or diminished in the process. Thus widespread and increasingly mobile access to digital knowledge artifacts in “an abundant and continually changing world of information” (Jenkins, 2006, Netwotking section para. 1)) marks a shift from an era of knowledge scarcity to an era of knowledge abundance, even though access remains inequitably distributed.“ (Stewart 2015)

The shift to an era of knowledge abundance leaves Weller with one key question:

This scale and range of learning related content at least raises the question of whether we have developed the appropriate teaching and learning approaches to make best use of it. In short, what would a pedagogy of abundance look like? (Weller 2011:227).

Assumptions for a pedagogy of abundance

In order to pin down the assumptions for any pedagogy of abundance, Martin Weller provides a list to reflect on when looking for a pedagogy of abundance:

  • Content is free – not all content is free and not yet.
  • Content is abundant.
  • Content is varied – content is no longer predominantly text based.
  • Sharing is easy – through the use of tools like social bookmarking, tagging and linking the ‘cost’ of sharing has largely disappeared.
  • Social based.
  • Connections are ‘light’ – as with sharing, it is easy to make and preserve connections within a network since they do not necessitate one to one maintenance.
  • Organisation is cheap – Clay Shirky (2008, 31) argues that the ‘cost’ of organising people has collapsed, which makes informal groupings more likely to occur and often more successful.
  • Based on a generative system – Zittrain (2008) argues that unpredictability and freedom are essential characteristics of the internet and the reasons why it has generated so many innovative developments.
  • User generated content – related to the above, the ease of content generation will see not only a greater variety of formats for content, but courses being updated and constructed from learner’s own content. (Weller 2011:228-229).

This list might seem obvious to many, but I think it is important to keep it in mind to be able to figure out what abundance in all its complexity means to teaching and learning. Weller points to that we may not be needing new pedagogies to meet the assumptions on his list, although we can’t just continue designing and practicing teaching and learning the traditional scarcity way in an era of knowledge abundance, and to stress this apparent contradiction he quotes  Grainné Conole (2008):

Arguably, then there has never been a better alignment of current thinking in terms of good pedagogy – i.e. emphasizing the social and situated nature of learning, rather than a focus on knowledge recall with current practices in the use of technologies – i.e. user-generated content, user-added value and aggregated network effects. Despite this, the impact of Web 2.0 on education has been less dramatic than its impact on other spheres of society – use for social purposes, supporting niche communities, collective political action, amateur journalism and social commentary. (Weller 2011:227-228)

Weller concludes while pursuing this line of thinking:

Many of our approaches to teaching and learning were developed in a different age, and this basic shift from moderate scarcity to excessive abundance constitutes a challenge to higher education, and to individual information processing abilities. It may well be that our existing theories are sufficient, they just need recasting and reimagining for a world of abundance. (Weller 2011:232)

iIn his article Martin Weller examines some of the pedagogies that emphasize the benefit of social and situated learning and also meet at least some of the assumptions on his list. Problem based learning, Constructivism, Communities of practice and Connectivism end up being the ones that are positively evaluated as pedagogies suited for recasting and reimagining for a world of knowledge abundance. All  of these pedagogies and learning theories are convertible into supporting participatory culture as well as collaborative and situative learning as key ingredients in any pedagogy of abundance, although connectivism has been criticized for not being a theory of learning but rather a theory about education. These theories can be recasted and reimagined towards building learning on connections, on networks, in communities and in communities of practice in order to align with a more participatory and socially constructed view of knowledge. Anyhow, the quest for a pedagogy of abundance resembles the move from Learning 2.0 to Learning 3.0 as Steve Wheeler has described it:

Learning Modes Grid

Steve Wheeler: Next generation learning

And indeed, the shift from moderate scarcity to excessive abundance is a challenge, not only to Higher Education but to the educational system altogether. Martin Weller comments the challenge this way:

The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do they best equip learners to make use of it? It is the second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. Exploring pedagogies of abundance will be essential for educators to meet the challenge and equip their learners with the skills they need in an age of digital abundance. (Weller 2011:232-233)

This final challenge leaves all the hard work to the educators, so I think it is only fair to give further attention to the double question put to educators by Weller and recast the two questions within the mode of Learning 3.0 dominated by learner-centered learning, networks and communities, and rhizomatic structures.

Rhizomatic learning

Rhizomatic learning is Dave Cormier’s metaphor for ‘chaotic learning’ (Wheeler 2015:42-43), that is learning that takes you across borders when hyperlinks take you to places, content and things you didn’t expect to learn, or connect you with people you have never heard of before:

Rhizomatic learning invokes the biological metaphor of a rhizome where the stem of a plant sends out roots and shoots, each of which can grow into a new plant. Rhizomes resist organizational structure and have no distinct beginning or end; they grow and propagate in a ‘nomadic’ fashion, the only restrictions to growth being those that exist in the surrounding habitat. 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. (Innovative Pedagogy 2012:33)

Cormier describes these rhizomatic processes as a way of going beyond the canon of what has traditionally been considered knowledge and the way knowledge traditionally has been validated and verified in an era of scarcity:

“In the rhizomatic view, knowledge can only be negotiated, and the contextual, collaborative learning experience shared by constructivist and connectivist pedagogies is a social as well as a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises. The rhizome metaphor, which represents a critical leap in coping with the loss of a canon against which to compare, judge, and value knowledge, may be particularly apt as a model for disciplines on the bleeding edge where the canon is fluid and knowledge is a moving target.” (Cormier 2008)

And so, rhizomatic learning is Cormier’s theory of learning in a time of abundance. In the video “Rhizomes and Open Learning”, Dave Cormier introduces rhizomatic learning and how he sees it in relation to education:

With the rhizome as his metaphor for learning in an era of abundance, inspired by Deleuze and Guattari, Dave Cormier draws on pedagogies and approaches to learning like connectivism,  paragogy based on peer-to-peer learning and knowledge exchange, and distributed cognition including communities.

Self-directed learning is a keyword in this landscape of pedagogies meant to accommodate and deal with knowledge abundance. How to find, handle, interpret, validate, negotiate, create, improve, apply and share information and knowledge through connecting, communicating  and collaborating with online resources, experts, peers, networks, communities and communities of practice is essential in the processes of knowledge creation. They are also an inherent part of current practices in the use of technologies and emphasize the social and situated nature of learning in a culture of knowledge abundance.

In connectivism learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources (Weller 2011:231), and Dave Cormier takes the idea of connectivism a step further when he introduces rhizomatic learning as a learning theory underlining a non-linear, experimenting, multiperspectivist and participatory approach to learning. In rhizomatic learning serendipity, that is accidental discovery, is an important dimension of networking, and bricolage becomes an aspect of knowledge creation within the context of a community that helps finding, interpreting, validating, negotiating and sharing informations and knowledge while co-creating new, accurate and up-to-date knowledge. As Dave Cormier says it in the video:  “to know what it is to know inside this space” is what you need  to learn, whether it is a subject matter, a problem based task, a case or a theme that is your common purpose and the reason why you got together in the community. This way ‘the community becomes the curriculum’:

In the rhizomatic model of learning, curriculum is not driven by predefined inputs from experts; it is constructed and negotiated in real time by the contributions of those engaged in the learning process. This community acts as the curriculum, spontaneously shaping, constructing, and reconstructing itself and the n subject of its learning in the same way that the rhizome responds to changing environmental conditions… (Cormier 2008)

And so, rhizomatic learning is a variation of open networked learning and a model for the construction of knowledge suited for an era of ever changing knowledge.

I think rhizomatic learning is one way to go, when it comes to finding a pedagogy of abundance that corresponds with the affordances of Web 2.0 and Web 3.0 while predicting and shaping Learning 3.0. But I don’t think rhizomatic learning is an as seamless process to engage in for many people as it might seem. In Bonnie Stewart’s opinion it requires networked or digital literacies to navigate in an open networked  learning environment, and she has nicely put this into words in “Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities”, a blogpost written some years ago:

“But I believe learning – whether in online social networks or straight from the canon, bound in leather – involves being able to read and make sense of the codes and signals being given off by those you interact with, particularly those you expect to learn from. These are what I refer to when I talk about “legitimacy structures” within academia and networks…” (Stewart 2013a)

Screen-shot-2013-02-10-at-4.15.47-PM

Bonnie Stewart: Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities

These two sets of legitimacy structures and practices are reflected in Cormier’s traditional and rhizomatic models for knowledge validation – and they are both essential to understanding the pedagogies and the two models of education, the traditional scarcity model and the model of abundance and open practices, that are up for discussion in this blogpost.

As Bonnie Stewart says, her legitimacy structures and practices are in a sense literacies, and to me the challenging part for education is to make students  and learners embrace these digital and networked literacies that belong to networked learning while learning how to engage online in a Residents mode as mapped by Alison Le Cornu and David White and presented in my most recent blogposts . Bonnie Stewart talks about these digital and networked literacies as new literacies of participation in relation to learning in MOOCs in her article “Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?”. As I see it, this also applies to rhizomatic learning:

“The studies in new literacies (Barton, 1994) established the use of the plural “literacies” rather than the singular “literacy” in order to push beyond the binary of “literate” and “illiterate” that still shapes our cultural threshold-based conceptions surrounding literacy (Belshaw, 2012). Lankshear and Knobel (2007) frame new literacies as follows:

The more a literacy practice privileges participation over publishing, distributed expertise over centralized expertise, collective intelligence over individual possessive intelligence, collaboration over individuated authorship, dispersion over scarcity, sharing over ownership, experimentation over “normalization,” innovation and evolution over stability and fixity, creative-innovative rule breaking over generic purity and policing, relationship over information broadcast, and so on, the more we should regard it as a “new” literacy. (p. 21)

… Belshaw (2012) notes that skills are subject to objective thresholds, whereas “literacy is a condition, not a threshold … you cannot become literate merely through skill acquisition – there are meta-level processes also required”…

To be digitally literate is to be able to engage the connections and communications possibilities of digital technologies, in their capacity to generate, remix, repurpose, and share new knowledge as well as simply deliver existing information. Many people have no experience or conception of these types of possibilities: simply being online does not necessarily build social and communicative familiarity with what Lankshear and Knobel (2007) refer to as the “distinctive ethos” of participatory culture (Jenkins, 2006). But interacting within an environment that exposes and encourages meta-level processing as well as knowledge generation, remixing, repurposing, and sharing can help create that condition of literacy.” (Stewart 2013b)

These digital and networked literacies correspond with Le Cornu and Whites definition of the Resident mode and with my own views on digital and learning literacies, and they can be results of rhizomatic learning as a pedagogy of abundance, too, but they are also learning literacies and dimensions of social and situated learning that needs to be deliberately and consciously developed to keep rhizomatic learning a relevant  pedagogy of abundance. I think this focus on digital and networked literacies could be an answer to Martin Wellers second question to educators: how do you best equip learners to make use of abundance?

Rhizomatic learning is a suggestion for a pedagogy of abundance that has been born of open networked learning and Higher Education, but this leaves an extra question for educators, as I see it: Is it possible to introduce rhizomatic learning and the principles behind it as a pedagogical perspective on knowledge abundance across the entire educational system from primary school to Higher Education?

This blogpost has been edited on 5. June 2016 in order to make the distinction between ‘community’ and ‘community of practice’ clearer in three passages.

Further reading:

Conole, Grainné (2008): New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies, Ariadne, 56

Cormier, Dave (2008): Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum

Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., Mor, Y., Gaved, M. and Whitelock, D. (2012): Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1, The Open University

Stewart, Bonnie E (2015): In Abundance: Networked Participatory Practices as Scholarship, The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Vol 16, No 3

Stewart, Bonnie (2013a): Learning in the Open: Networked Student Identities

Stewart, Bonnie (2013b): Massiveness + Openness = New Literacies of Participation?, MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, Vol. 9, No.2

Weller, Martin (2011): A pedagogy of abundance, revista española de pedagogia año LXIX, no 249, mayo-agosto, 223-236

Wheeler, Steve (2015): Learning with ‘e’s. Educational theory and practice in the digital age, Carmarthen

Photo:  AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by . .Jef Safi.  on Flickr

Elna Mortensen

In an era of knowledge abundance – Part 1

Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies

We live in a mediatized world, I stated in a previous blogpost. And mediatization is to be understood as an overarching and ongoing process of modernisation like individualisation, globalization and urbanisation. Often these processes intertwine and are labeled processes of ‘networking’ and ‘connectedness’, and from these processes challenges and possibilities arise that can be answered by flexibility in learning and education. Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies are key terms in this discussion.

The Higher Education Academy addresses flexible learning and flexible pedagogies in their report “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013), where “…’new pedagogical ideas’ are explored with a focus on building the capability of learners to anticipate and engage with the future and to navigate through complexity, uncertainty and change.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:4). The development in higher education is triggered by technology changes, rising participation, changing employer expectations and globalization of the sector, which has been resulting in growing diversity in learner profiles and pathways through higher education.  Several of these challenges are challenges across the educational system in a globalized world, and the conception of the need for flexibility in education in the future is as compelling for schools as for high schools and higher education.

In the report, flexible learning is defined to be about pace, place and mode of learning, and the term ‘flexible learning’ is introduced to be “about enabling choises and responsiveness in the pace, place and mode of learning.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:8)

The opening up of the learning process, extending access and improving inclusivity are core issues to flexible learning, and they implicate changes in pedagogy. So here flexibility of learning and pedagogical needs are connecting with each other:

”What kind of curriculum wil prepare gradudates for an uncertain global future – a future in which their capacity for commitment, agility and boldness will be tested to its limits?” (Ramsden 2008:7)(Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9)

And so the report calls for education to:

“…equip people to operate more flexibly in the societies of the 21st century. This includes the flexibility to work across systems; to think critically and creatively; to engage at multiple levels; to develop inter-cultural competence; to propose alternatives; to adapt to changing circumstances and propose alternatives; to develop skills that will support transition to a ’green’ economy; and to demonstrate ‘moral compass’…” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9).

And it puts a demand on the educational system to reflect:

“Exploring the democratic and emancipatory potential of flexibility in HE [Higher Education] requires approaches that both preserve and rethink what is meant by educational value amidst the extensions of choise that often drives the flexible agenda.”(Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9).

And thus, the report “…views flexibility through pedagogical lenses and the ability of people to think, act, live and work differently in complex, uncertain and changeable scenarios.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:4).

The following ‘new pedagogical ideas’ were identified “…for the future of an increasingly ‘flexible’ HE [Higher Education] which offer new pathways for graduate attributes and capabilities:

  • learner empowerment – actively involving students in learning development and processes of ‘co-creation’ that challenge learning relationships and the power frames that underpin them, as part of the revitalisation of the academic project itself;
  • future-facing education – refocusing learning towards engagement and change processes that help people to consider prospects and hopes for the future across the globe and to anticipate, rethink and work towards alternative and preferred future scenarios;
  • decolonizing education – deconstructing dominant pedagogical frames that promise only Western worldviews, to create experiences that extend inter-cultural understanding in the HE [Higher Education] system and the ability to think and work using globally-sensitive frames and methods;
  • transformative capabilities – creating an educational focus beyond an emphasis solely on knowledge and understanding, towards agency and competence, using pedagogies guided by engaged, ‘whole-person’ and transformative approaches to learning;
  • crossing boundaries – taking an integrative and systemic approach to pedagogy in HE [Higher Education] , to generate inter-disciplinary, inter-professional and cross-sectorial learning, to maximize collaboration and shared perspective, while tackling bias and differences of perspective;
  • social learning – developing cultures and environments for learning that harness the emancipatory power of spaces and interactions outside the formal curriculum, particularly through the use of new technologies and co-curricular activities.” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:5)

flexible pedagogies

In the diagram, the idea of learner empowerment is placed at the center to exchange with the other five pedagogical ideas to point out the variable relationships between them and to show that they are implicated in dynamic discussions on flexible learning and flexible pedagogies. Aspects of these six pedagogical ideas are incorporated in the digital literacies, I presented in an earlier blogpost, and these digital literacies are also to be seen as feasible inter-related components that will influence the ideas of flexible pedagogies.

What makes up good online learning?

The opening up of higher education has given new educational structures with online courses, MOOCs, blended learning and Open Educational Resources.  This will place an emphasis on course quality. Among the parameters of course quality in an open educational world are completion rates, and according to Alastair Creelman and Lena Reneland-Forsman the key factor to good completion rates in online courses lies in design: “Courses with the highest completion rates had three things in common; active discussion forums, competing media and collaborative activities”: (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman (2013).

“An alarming issue arising from our study was the significant lack of represented structure and orientation guiding students through a course. There are different ways of addressing the question of making visible a course structure and epistemology. This could be done using visual clues in the interface, such as a study guide or using a question approach as examples. The function however is crucial (cf. Mårald & Westerberg, 2006; Moore, 1993)….The same problems probably occur in traditional distribution forms but are often resolved in physical encounters and activities which provide orientation for students. Programs with higher completion rates than traditional distribution forms all had a long tradition of providing students with structured guidance in good time and a vocational orientation (based on the overall completion rate analysis, see also SCB 2012).” (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman 2013)

“Courses and programs had a strong linear text-orientation. Few other representational modes were used for students’ active content processing. Courses therefore lacked variations in terms of resources that could be used for jointly constructed meaning (cf. Pelletier, 2005). With few exceptions PDF files were piled in virtual learning environments. When film was used these were filmed lectures that can be viewed over again. Summing up, analysis confirms known pitfalls (Jones & Isroff, 2007; Krejins et al., 2003, Pelletier, 2005). The use of technology reinforces a traditional content distribution model of teaching rather than supporting the students’ learning process. A recent Norwegian report on the use of IT in higher education indicates that technology is mostly used to support a traditional content delivery mode rather than developing collaboration and student-driven learning (Norgesuniversitet, 2011; see also Pelletier, 2005)” (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman 2013).

In their analysis of online courses with the lowest completion rates, Creelman and Renland-Forsman find, that these joint features characterize the online courses, as they:

  • have no synchronous meetings;
  • are text-oriented;
  • have no guideline;
  • are static environments;
  • have invisible individual processes;
  • offer no peer feedback.

So it becomes obvious that the connectivity, interactivity, dialogue, feedback and facilitation that seems to be crucial to a successful online course also needs to be taken into account when designing courses. The lacks mentioned in the list above need to be replaced by the reverse characteristics to make a design suitable for flexible learning and for flexible pedagogies, so that an open online course:

  • has integrated synchronous meetings;
  • is not just text-oriented but also includes videos and digital presentations and tools;
  • has a guideline for students to find their way through the course, to know how to start the course and to be helped by rubrics or a Problem Based Learning model as guidelines for each topic;
  • has dynamic learning environments  and creates communities of practice where dialogue, collaborative work, co-creation and sharing can take place;
  • makes students’ individual learning processes visible on blogs and in digital productions;
  • encourages peer feedback.

So the opening up of higher education also implies for a need of change in pedagogical approaches, as I mentioned earlier: an insight and respect for the consequences of online pedagogical practice and its grounds according to Creelman and Reneland-Forsman, as well as thorough reflections on the consequences of flexible pedagogies on subjects and educational structures. Creelman and Reneland-Forsman’s answer is this:

“Let’s call in the HEROEs (Highly Empowered Resourceful Online Educators) which means once and for all abandoning a consumerist approach to education applying a meaning-oriented approach. Acknowledging the design effects of learning environments means using a variety of means to trigger students’ cognitive resources. The focus on students’ active social and knowledge building processes regardless of distribution form also highlight the use of digital media in higher education as opportunities to provide experiences and orientation in a course or program. HEROES would analyze the conditions for knowledge building processes regardless of pedagogical practice. HEROEs would invite students to drag material into a learning environment, thus opening up the oyster – making students co-creators. As Wiley (2007) concurs, for the educator much of the learning, both about the subject and how to teach it, comes from the process of creating the object. Co-creation of knowledge using course wikis or by students collaborating around the creation of user-generated content are examples of such processes. Thus we move from the linear, content-based course to a fundamentally different model; the creation of a learning arena where assessment is based on successful completion of projects and where networking and dialogue are essential success factors. In such a connectivist environment the traditional learning hierarchy is evened out,  and students take more responsibility for their learning.” (Creelman and Reneland-Forsman 2013).

So it seems, we must consciously start designing teaching and learning for both the physical and the virtual learning spaces, and here educators and the institutions of higher education have to reconsider the meaning of educational values from an individual, a didactic and pedagogical as well as an organizational perspective, as Ryan and Tilbury advocate for in “Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas” (Ryan and Tilbury 2013:9). And I would add: from a subject didactic perspective, too.

Asynchronous and synchronous e-learning

I will now address especially two aspects that are relevant for creating dynamic online learning environments and help creating communities of practice where dialogue, collaborative work, co-creation and sharing can take place. The first aspect has to do with integrating synchronous meetings in online learning, and concerns the two basic types of online learning: asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. Stefan Hrastinski defines the two types of e-learning in an article presenting his research, while asking why, when and how to use the two modes of delivery:

Asynchronous e-learning, commonly facilitated by media such as e-mail and discussion boards, supports work relations among learners and with teachers, even when participants cannot be online at the same time. It is thus a key component of flexible e-learning…Asynchronous e-learning makes it possible for learners to log on to an e-learning environment any time and download documents or send messages to teachers or peers….

Synchronous e-learning, commonly supported by media such as videoconferencing and chat, has the potential to support e-learners in the development of learning communities. Learners and teachers experience synchronous e-learning as more social and avoid frustration by asking and answering questions in real time. Synchronous e-learning sessions help e-learners feel like participants rather than isolates…” (Hrastinski 2008:51-52)

And Hrastinski concludes:

“The research discussed here demonstrates that asynchronous and synchronous e-learning complement each other. An implication for instructors is to provide several types of asynchronous and synchronous communication so that appropriate means are available for different learning activities. The combination of these two types of e-learning supports several ways for learners and teachers to exchange information, collaborate on work, and get to know each other. As stated earlier, many learners enroll in online courses because of their asynchronous nature, which needs to be taken into account. For the discussion of complex issues, synchronous e-learning, by media such as videoconferencing, instant messaging and chat, and arranging face-to-face meetings as a complement, may be essential as support for students to get to know each other and for planning the tasks at hand. However, when discussing complex issues, in which time for reflection is needed, it seems preferable to switch to asynchronous e-learning and use media such as e-mail, discussion boards, and blogs. Table 3 summarizes when, why and how to use asynchronous versus synchronous e-learning” (Hranstinski 2008:55)

SyncAsyncE-Learning

And Hrastinski reflects, that the development in social media match the development of flexible pedagogies:  “The media investigated in this article have been key in transforming the focus on e-learners as individuals to e-learners as social partcipants.” (Hrastinski 2008:55).

Collaborative learning

The second aspect of importance for creating dynamic online learning environment and ccommunities of practice is collaborative learning. Hrastinskis view on learning is complemented by Jane E. Brindley, Christine Walti and Liza M. Blaschke who are concerned about creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment:

“Access to education should not mean merely access to content (which is readily available without formal enrollment with an educational provider); rather, it should mean access to a rich learning environment that provides opportunity for interaction and connectedness. Quality learning environments include opportunities for students to engage in interactive and collaborative activities with their peers; such environments have been shown to contribute to better learning outcomes, including development of higher order thinking skills. Specific pedagogical benefits of collaborative learning include the following:

Development of critical thinking skills,

Co-creation of knowledge and meaning,

Reflection,

Transformative learning. (Palloff & Pratt, 2005)” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009)

“In a collaborative learning environment, knowledge is shared or transmitted among learners as they work towards common learning goals, for example, a shared understanding of the subject at hand or a solution to a problem. Learners are not passive receptacles but are active in their process of knowledge acquisition as they participate in discussions, search for information, and exchange opinions with their peers. Knowledge is co-created and shared among peers, not owned by one particular learner after obtaining it from the course materials or instructor. The learning process creates a bond between and among learners as their knowledge construction depends on each other’s contribution to the discussion. Hence, collaborative learning processes assist students to develop higher order thinking skills and to achieve richer knowledge generation through shared goals, shared exploration, and a shared process of meaning making …” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009)

The aspect of collaborative learning as part of flexible learning and flexible pedagogies also address the question of how to teach students and participants to handle collaborative learning in groups and developing ability to act, navigate, select and choose between materials, perspectives and pathways in an environment where learning online is also concerned with fostering rhizonomy. I think you have to scaffold students in how to work with collaborative learning, and when they learn to use digital tools, social skills and processes of working that are useful for collaborative learning, they will gradually take over and be self-governing, participate because it is meaningful to them, and they will collaborate, learn from each other and teach each other, whenever there is a need for that in a group or a problem based learning project.

I have been used to teach students to work collaboratively in problem based projects following  KUBUS, a Danish model  for problem based learning (1).  By following the model, the students learn to exchange expectations to the work they are going to do, to make a contract with their agreements and their critera for success or failure in the collaborative process, to work with two mediators of their group meetings – the one an ordinary mediator and the other with social obligations like ensuring that everybody is heard etc. As an educator, you can then integrate different kinds of guiding and facilitation in the design, and teach the students how and when to use guiding, facilitation and feedback, so they gradually learn to develop critical thinking skills, learn how to co-create knowledge and meaning, learn how to present their work and how to reflect on it. And somewhere along the line you build in goals, that have to do with creating and sharing using digital tools and remix, into your design, too (Mortensen 2002). That would be some of the tools and social skills, I would think lead to self-governance, enhance learner empowerment and eventually can be fostering rhizonomy through working with collaborative learning. And a way of teaching modes of participation and creating awareness of what participatory culture is about.

1) KUBUS is originally developed by Henrik Herlau and Lotte Darsoe.

Further reading:

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3)

Creelman and Reneland-Forsman (2013): Completion Rates – A False Trail to Measuring Course Quality? Let’s Call in the HEROEs Instead.European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning

Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning. Educause quarterly, 31(4), 51-55.

Mortensen, Elna (2002): At gribe kompleksiteten. Æstetiske læreprocesser og IKT In: Gramkow, Lindhardt og Lund (red.): Innovation, læring og undervisning, Systime Academic

Ryan and Tilbury (2013): Ryan, A., & Tilbury, D. (2013). Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas

Elna Mortensen

Flexible learning and flexible pedagogies

The art and meaning of collaborative and peer learning

Participatory culture is one way to label and characterize the art and meaning of collaborative and peer learning in a digital age. Participatory culture has a focus on creating and sharing productions with others and by being prosumers – being producers and consumers in one and the same process responding to productions of others and remixing, repurposing or circulating them. As prosumers people find ways of expressing themselves artistically or engaging in civic matters, people become co-creators and part in a participatory culture where problem solving and the ability to meet challenges are key competencies. To learn yourself to write fanfiction, to play a certain massive online computer game or to learn how to make a film very easily involves participatory culture today, as you reach out online to find peers to share and discuss your work with. Both making content, evaluating it, remixing and reusing content and sharing it is part of online life today, and participatory culture is one place to meet collaborative and peer learning at work in shaping participatory culture as a networked online space for learning.

Participatory culture is collaboration through online communities across distances and within “structures of informal mentorship, mostly involving learning by doing and creating within a shared social context.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:8). So participatory culture can be seen as communities of practice where people are connecting with each other through technology and social media, creating social knowledge at the same time. This makes it obvious to see participatory culture as informal networked online spaces for learning that could have a positive part to play in formal learning in schools and education, as Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley and their collaborators in New Media Literacies point out in their book “Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom” (2013).

I introduced Jenkins, New Media Literacies and very briefly the book in my last blogpost. The book outlines basic principles of design, implementation and assessment when you want to draw on students’ social knowledge and expertise with communities of practice to develop a “community of readers” in your classroom building on participatory culture. In many ways the real thing is happening online, when it comes to the New Media Literacies’ project on how teachers can change how they teach canonical literature in schools, and the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” for working with Moby-Dick is to be found on the web alongside with the open educational resources, “Flows of Reading”, developed for the project. This intention to work with participatory culture in school and education is going to be my example for discussing collaborative and peer learning in participatory culture as communities of practice in this blogpost. But first to the concept of communities of practice and learning in a digital environment.

Communities of practice and learning in a digital environment

Participatory culture can be seen as communities of practice where there is a shared interest in a knowledge across the community and in the community. And as such communities of practice are communities of learning and to be realized as “part of a broader conceptual framework for thinking about learning in its social dimensions.” (Wenger 2010:1). In his model of the progression in modes of learning from Learning 1.0 to Learning 3.0 due to the development in society, technology, media formats and platforms and education, Steve Wheeler posits communities of practice as a mode of learning belonging to Learning 2.0 and developing into Learning 3.0:

Learning Modes Grid

The model is also to be found on Wheelers blog “Learning with ‘e’s”

A community of practice extends good collaborative learning according to Wheeler, in the sense that people situate themselves as learners while moving from a legitimate-peripheral position, observing and learning from their peers, to become full participants who have gained access to all the knowledge the community can offer. To be full participants mean, that people have acquired the skills, competencies, ways of participation and producing resources (words, tools, concepts, methods, stories, documents, links to resources)(Wenger 2010:1) and have obtained insight and understanding of the culture, so that they can take part in negotiating the meaning of personal experience in relation to the social defined competencies. That is the essence of communities of practice, and the platform where collaboration practice is deep and meaningful according to Wheeler. To become an apprentice of tailoring and learn how to make pants in Algeria, to learn to become an east coast rapper in the USA, or to become a self-guided student in school and higher education, all of these learning processes involve situated learning, collaboration practice and the development of skills to become full members of and participants in communities of practice.

These continuing processes of situated learning constitute what communities of practice are to Etienne Wenger in his exploration and evaluation of the concept proposed and elaborated by Jean Lave and himself (Lave and Wenger 1991).:

“Participation and reification represent two intertwined but distinct lines of memory. Over time, their interplay creates a social history of learning, which combines individual and collective aspects. This history gives rise to a community as participants define a ‘regime of competence’, a set of criteria and expectations by which they recognize membership. This competence includes

  • Understanding what matters, what the enterprise of the community is, and how it gives rise to a perspective on the world
  • Being able (and allowed) to engage productively with others in the community
  • Using appropriately the repertoire of resources that the community has accumulated through its history of learning.

Over time, a history of learning becomes an informal and dynamic social structure among the participants, and this is what a community of practice is.” (Wenger 2010:2)

Wenger explores the uses and the critiques of the concept of communities of practice in his article “Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept” (2010), and among the perspectives that make him evaluate the concept is the critique, “…that there is too much emphasis on community for an adequate account of learning in a web-enabled globalizing world.” (Wenger 2010:10). Wenger comments the critique like this:

“Again there is an important insight to this critique. Some of us have probably overemphasized community in our attempt to account for the directionality of learning. But it is a mistake, I believe, to think of communities and networks as distinct structures. I am often asked what the difference is between a community and a network. Rather than contrasting a community here and a network there, I think it is more useful to think of community and network as two types of structuring processes. Community emphasizes identity and network emphasizes connectivity. The two usually co-exist. Certainly communities of practice are networks in the sense that they involve connections among members; but there is also identification with a domain and commitment to a learning partnership, which are not necessarily present in a network.” (Wenger 2010:10)

“More generally, I find it more productive to think of community and network as combined in the same social structures – but with more or less salience. So the question is not whether a given group is a network or a community, but how the two aspects coexist as structuring processes. This is not only a richer way to think about social structures, it also has useful practical implications. Network and community processes have complementary strengths and weaknesses; they are two avenues for enhancing the learning capability of a group. If a community becomes too much of a community, too strongly identified with itself, prone to groupthink, closed or inbred, then fostering connectivity to generate some networking energy is a good way to shake it up and open its boundaries. There is something random and unpredictable about the dynamics of networking processes, which is a good counterpart to community.”(Wenger 2010:10)

Thus, Wenger acknowledges the existence of an approach to learning like Connectivism, with a  concept proposed by George Siemens. Connectivism recognizes the impact of technology on society and ways of knowing, and so connectivism is a theory of or an approach to networked learning where the individual is at the center like a node in a network: “From his viewpoint, learning in the digital age is no longer dependent on individual knowledge acquisition, storage and retrieval; rather it relies on the connected  learning that occurs through interaction with various sources of knowledge (including the Internet and learning management systems) and participation in communities of common interests social networks, and group tasks.” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009).

The main goal in connectivism is to establish your own personal learning networks, to find current resources and to integrate them in your own learning network. The resources can be other learners, ‘peers’, experts, online resources like documents and other digital services (Krokan 2012:130). Knowledge does not just exist in our head but among us, and if we can connect to others who know something different from us, communities and networks facilitate important information and knowledge sharing and enhance co-creation of knowledge (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009). But the main issue must be a question about the quality of access to distributed knowledge:

“From this perspective, learning consists of retrieving information from self, others, and machines, collaborating to create knowledge, and applying information to current contexts. Hence, Siemens’ (2005) learning theory is about individuals connecting with each other and with technology. Effective learners are those who can cope with complexity, contradictions, and large quantities of information, who seek out various sources of knowledge, and who can create and sustain learning communities and networks. According to Siemens (2005), learning ecologies (communities and networks) facilitate important information sharing and co-construction of knowledge while encouraging life-long learning in the individual as well as the group.” (Brindley, Walti and Blaschke 2009).

A landscape of learning in an online networked world appears, and Wheeler maps the various positions like this (Wheeler 2014):

Connectivism                                                                                                                    Paragogy

Distributed cognition

– among others communities of practice –

All of the three positions have emerged from the mode of Learning 2.0, and there are similarities and overlaps between them, but according to Wheeler all three are suited for developing into Learning 3.0. With Wengers combination of community of practice and network in the article mentioned above, the concept of communities of practice can adapt to the mode of Learning 3.0 dominated by rhizomatic structures (Wheeler 2014). In the line of Deleuze and Guattari, rhizomatic structures go everywhere and mean exponential growth that results in exponential connections in multiple directions in multiple levels.

So communities of practice are still adequate forms for analyzing and understanding collaboration practice and pathways of learning in a digital age, but they are also practical guidelines into establishing learning partnerships:

“The concept of community of practice is a good place to start exploring a social discipline of learning. From an analytical perspective, it is the simplest social learning system. From an instrumental perspective, a community of practice can be viewed as a learning partnership. Its learning capability is anchored in a mutual recognition as potential learning partners. The discipline of such a partnership deepens and builds on this mutual engagement:

The discipline of domain: What is our partnership about? Why should we care? Are we likely to be useful to each other? What is our learning agenda? What specific set of issues does it entail?

The discipline of community: Who should be at the table so the partnership can make progress? What effects will their participation have on the trust and dynamics of the group? How do we manage the boundaries of the community?

The discipline of practice: How can the practice become the curriculum? How can it be made visible and inspectable? What should participants do together to learn and benefit from the partnership?

The discipline of convening: Who will take leadership in holding a social learning space for this partnership? How can we make sure that the partnership sustains a productive inquiry? Who are the external stakeholders and what are their roles? What resources are available to support the process?” (Wenger 2010:12

To Wenger the focus is on “understanding and enhancing learning capability in a social system” (Wenger 2010:11-12), and this is the reason why participatory culture as communities of practice become relevant to schools and higher education: working with participatory culture in education is a way of negotiating what the meaning of network, collaboration and peer-to-peer learning is and can become in the context of school culture and education, and a way of developing digital competencies, curriculum and the design of learning opportunities in school subjects. In other words, working with participatory culture is a way of developing subjects, schools and education as communities of practice and helps developing regimes of competencies in the ongoing social history of learning. And here New Media Literacies take off:

Moby-Dick and reading in a participatory culture

In their project on Moby-Dick, New Media Literacies are taking steps towards reading in a participatory culture by forming communities of practice:

“In this view, the new media literacies could supplement and expand traditional print literacies in ways that enriched our culture and deepened our appreciation of classical stories. New media platforms and practices were giving students much greater opportunities for communication and expression than could have been imagined by any previous generation. But to participate meaningfully, young people needed to be able to read and write; they needed to know how to connect their contemporary experiences to a much older tradition, and the literature classroom represents a particularly rich environment for fusing these different ways of learning.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:5)

“Our students need our help in making sense of a period of profound and prolonged media change that has affected every subject we teach. Ideally, each teacher would take ownership of those new media literacy skills that are part of his or her professional and intellectual domain. The literature teacher, thus, has an obligation to help young people think more deeply about what it means to be a reader and an author in a world where more and more of us can create and circulate what we create with others. To do this, though, we need to negotiate a new stance toward both print and digital culture, embracing new opportunities, even as we preserve older practices, texts and values.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:9)

“The new media landscape has as much to do with new social structures and cultural practices as it does with new tools and technologies. And as a consequence, we may be able to teach participatory mindsets and skills even in the absence of rich technological environments. Teaching the new media literacies means helping young people to acquire the habits of mind required to fully engage within a networked public.” (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:10)

New Media Literacies lean on collective intelligence as a core concept in their understanding of learning, and state “…that a networked society is one where each participant develops a distinctive  expertise that can contribute to the group’s common ventures. People working together and sharing information are able to address questions far more complex and arrive at answers far more quickly than any single member could do. Such a social structure places great value on diversity: If each member contributes his or her own expertise, the community is strengthened by the diversity of its participants.” (Jenkins 2013:86). And in this passage, Jenkins also implicitly celebrates distributed cognition which he and New Media Literacies also state as a core social skill, as I mentioned in my last blogpost. In their project, New Media Literacies  use collective intelligence as an organizing construct while they change from “…a traditional conceptualization of reading as an individual practice and toward a conception of reading as a collective, and even networked, activity” (Kelley, Jenkins, Clinton and McWilliams 2013: 27)

The project “Reading in a Participatory Culture” intend to form the classroom as a ‘community of readers’ with Moby-Dick as their model text. And at the center of the effort to develop curriculum and participatory practices while fostering traditional reading and writing, too, is the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” , where a visualized model of The Participatory Model of Reading is to be found at the last page of the Introduction to the Reading Teachers’ Strategy Guide.

In addition to the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” the open educational resources contain of four units:  1) “Motives for Reading”, 2) “Appropriaton and Remixing”, 3) “Negotiating Cultural Spaces”, and 4) “Continuities and Silences”. Each unit has links to a detailed lesson plan, to a part with related expert voices and background material for the teacher, and to “The Network of Cultural Materials” with videos to integrate in the lessons. The crucial unit to start with is Unit 1: “Motives for Reading” .

Each lesson plan includes descriptions of the design for the unit, background information on core concepts and perspectives on subject didactics and worksheets to the activities in the suggested lessons. The lesson plan is not meant as a normative plan to follow for the teacher, but a suggested plan to develop and discuss with in developing participatory practices and ‘a community of readers’. Some of the videos mentioned in the lesson plan for Unit 1 cannot be found by clicking on the links in the plan but can be found by searching for them online. I add a few links here to make an impression of the lesson plan for Unit 1 more accessible:

New Media Literacies actually manage to design a lesson plan for Unit 1: “Motives for Reading”, that succeed in what it aimed for:

“This expanded conception of reading thus allows students to understand the reading they do in the classroom as a particular reading practice with its own rules and goals. Rather than judging students’ reading practices from the standpoint of a hierarchy, whereby students are taught to devalues the forms of reading that they do in their everyday lives, a participatory understanding of literacy recognizes that there are many ways of making meanings with a text and that all “count” as valid forms of reading.” (Kelley, Jenkins, Clinton and McWilliams 2013: 28)

Connectivity and dialogue are essential to this expanded conception of reading, and the core principles that has guided the design of the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide” set off from them:

Adress the Participation Gap

Access to technology is necessary but not sufficient: all learners must be supported in learning how to contribute, in believing that they can contribute and that what they contribute will be appropriately valued.

Bring New Expertises and Perspectives into the English Language Arts Domain

There are many different forms of literary scholarship, and ‘literary analysis’ is not a monolithic set of practices and skills.

Begin with Core Literary Concepts/Practices and Expand

Traditional literacy practices take on new meaning when extended into participatory cultures.

Media Studies Approach

Comparative perspectives encourage an exploration of the intersection between literature and other media, often deepening an appreciation of the cultural impact of classic texts.

Stance on Popular Culture

Popular culture offers a culturally contested and therefore valuable and necessary avenue for developing new media literacies skills.

Stance on Technology

There are multiple avenues to participatory culture, and many barriers that limit students’ access to these cultures. Our hope is to offer a range of activities, both high- and low-tech, to support as many different kinds of classroom communities as possible. (Clinton, Jenkins and McWilliams 2013:14-20)

When it comes to a question of the ability to building learning partnerships through working with Unit 1: “Motives for Reading”, Wengers four disciplines of partnership mentioned earlier can be used as the analytical lens: 1) the discipline of domain, 2) the discipline of community, 3) the discipline of practice, and 4) the discipline of convening. And it turns out, that Unit 1: “Motives for Reading” works thoroughly on establishing an understanding of these four disciplines of learning partnership with the students. Unfolding participatory culture also implicates building a community of practice and getting aware of its elements while becoming a member. The process of elaborating the meaning of collaborative and peer learning in a digital age has begun.

This leaves the concepts of culture, the intertextual practice, the comparative readings and the building of a historical consciousness with students to be discussed in evaluating the “Teachers’ Strategy Guide”. But that must be some other time.

This blogpost has been edited on 4. December 2015 to remove a link.

Further reading:

Brindley, J., Blaschke, L. M., & Walti, C. (2009). Creating effective collaborative learning groups in an online environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 10(3).

Clinton, Katie, Henry Jenkins and Jenna McWilliams (2013): New Literacies in an Age of Participatory Culture In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Jenkins, Henry (2013): Motives for Reading In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Kelley, Wyn, Henry Jenkins, Katie Clinton and Jenna McWillams (2013): From Theory to Practice. Building a “Community of Readers” in Your Classroom In: Jenkins, Henry and Wyn Kelley (eds.): Reading in a Participatory Culture. Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom, Teachers College Press and National Writing Project

Krokan, Arne (2012): Smart læring. Hvordan IKT og sosiale medier endrer læring, Fagbokforlaget

Wenger, E. (2010). Communities of practice and social learning systems: the career of a concept. In Social learning systems and communities of practice (pp. 179-198). Springer London

Wheeler, Steve (2014): Learning with ‘e’s

Elna Mortensen

The art and meaning of collaborative and peer learning