Skype, Socrates and how learning 2.0 will marginalize the ivory tower and bring back the symposium

I was listening to Etienne Wenger’s presentation today at the Nordic Voice conference and it helped me bring things into focus. I’ve spent much of the last couple of weeks babbling about knowledge and what it means to know, and not really considering what this will mean.

Boring historical background stuff that i find fascinating

Socratic symposium
Imagine trying to be ‘intelligent’ or ‘informed’ in the time of Socrates. This was a time where there was no real writing, people still got most of the their information, political or otherwise, in person or through a friend, second or third hand. Imagine how this would work out in reality. If you wanted to be informed about everything that was going on, not only in Athens, but in other cities as well, you would have to have a vast network of people that you knew, and trusted, who would come by your house regularly to tell you about it. (Of course, you could go to their houses, and this would certainly be a cheaper proposition, but not nearly so convenient.) Plato’s ‘the symposium’ stands as the best recorded example of this.

How would one acquire these ‘friends’? Well, it was possible to acquire them by money; if you were the sort of person to put on lavish banquets, to attract many people and hope that some of the informed people would come, this might work. But you would also attract very dull people, and this would obviously only work for the very rich. For most people, you would have to have something to exchange, you would want to BE one of the people who would be invited. This would force all but the most fantastically brilliant in a society (say… Socrates, who could be a little odd, and condescending, but was still on the whole charming) to be polite, to be interesting: that is, to do things that made people want to be involved with them.

Silent reading and 2500 other years of stuff
Enter the book. Socrates hated the idea. He thought it would upset the fabric of society, and make people lose the ‘real’ things they needed, like oratory and memory. With the coming of St. Augustine, some 800 years later, you have the first recorded instance of a person reading silently, and the transition was complete. Learning became anti-social, instead of supremely social. Something that happened in quiet, dank rooms instead of in the open air over beer. People still gathered together to do it, but one person talked about material they’d worked on in their room for a year and hundreds of people listened.

Skype and the backchannel
Now, we have a free Skype presentation (really a conversation) with people on a backchannel, all live. We have all the people who’ve heard about it and are interested coming over to join in on the fun. The meaning that is being made here is far more complex and contextualized than any that could be made in an office by a single person, or even by a group of people at a single institution. This morning, on the Etienne Wenger conference, there were people from all the continents (save Antarctica, reticent those Antarticans, penguins not being very interested in things other than fish). They were cross-examining and adding their own opinions, their own context, to the conversation.

How could the ivory tower possibly compete with this? Indeed, how will they even know, or get invited to join in the conversation that goes on if they remain aloof to the meaning that is being made in this kind of webcast? They will have to learn to communicate their ideas so that practitioners of their ideas (and now I’m sliding over to ed-theory particularly) if they want to be part of the conversation. They will need to be like the Greeks who wanted to be informed, they will need to be polite, inclusive and willing to be part of a larger community, or they will be left behind.

I don’t mean to say that academics aren’t polite, I’m sure they’d offer you a coffee if you went to their office. But they will need to bring learning, philosophy and they’re unique brand of intepretation back to the people for it to be valid, and to do so, they will need to learn the new way of speaking…

2 Responses to “Skype, Socrates and how learning 2.0 will marginalize the ivory tower and bring back the symposium”

  1. Will R. Says:
    Hey Dave…Skype as Socrates…hmmm…you’ve got me thinking. Speaking of which I can no longer Skype you or Skypechat with you because it says your settings aren’t allowing it. Something on my end? I have questions!!!


  2. barbara Says:
    When did “backchannel” become a word?


    Barbara in Maine (snowing here too)

Feedbook – An easy solution for applying it in a classroom

I’m very excited about the program that jay cross has told us about called suprglu. I think that it will allow teachers to set up a feedbook with relative ease, from delicious accounts flickr accounts and host of other sources at the click of a button. It’s ease of use is the real draw for this program, and i think it would also serve as an ideal introduction to new tech in a classroom. And a transparent one, which is the key.

So, what I’m going to be doing for my next class is sending students to this site to sign up for an account. I will get them to include a delicious and, say, a flickr account specially designed for the course (including my own blog, and hopefully the blog of other instructors). Some materials that are going to be especially relevant to the material we will be covering. Each student will have access to their own feedbook from any computer… and I will have all of my coursework available for projection on the big screen. All images, video, text… whatever, will be available for manipulation by me, or the students, in class.

As the course progresses i will encourage students to develop their own feedbook as their projects develop… I will also encourage students to start their own blog which will be included in the feedbooks of students. The feedbooks will progressively diverge from each other as each is configured to that student’s taste, while still keeping the essential content from the original delicious account.

Problems – well… once could say that this just sounds like a BIG blog… and i guess in a sense it is. But I think it does a couple of things. It allows instructors who are forced to have a textbook of somekind to have something to point to. It also gives the students a sense of control over their own learning, a place where they are the prime movers of what gets to be included in ‘what is important.’

More babbling about what it means to know

Great week of thoughts fired from everywhere… always the hardest for me to approach the screen when i have too much i want to say. I want to talk about how cool barbara ganley’s classes must be, but the truth is, the show does that much better than i can. For me to simply repeat her words here won’t do them justice. I want to talk about the Cross/Siemens interview… I also want to talk about philosophy, about how it gets confused with sophistry (i’ve written a two page piece i’ve decided not to publish), and how if we really talked about the words we’re using and what they mean it would clear up alot of disagreement… I’m going to talk about the latter.

I promise that there is a long line of cool people who think these kinds of questions are important, and not just a waste of time: Socrates, Erasmus, Wittgenstein and a whole pack of postmodernists. We use words all the time where we don’t pay attention to the meaning (nothing like teaching English to teach you that!) or where the meaning changes when we changed the context. love. i love my house, my cat, my partner, my computer chair, fall leaves, the smell of roast chicken, and a whole host of other things in very different ways. I don’t need to explain them, because the contexts are probably familiar to you. But. But if I say, I love Bonnie, you are left asking, who is bonnie and what do you mean love? Words like weird, nice, fun, deadly, terror, smelly and easy are also like this. They require context before they have meaning. If I tell someone that my quodlibetal was fun… they will probably be confused.

What is learning?
The simplest definition of this is – acquiring knowledge. A slightly longer definition would be To gain knowledge, comprehension, or mastery of through experience or study.

Either way, we have the words ‘acquire’ and ‘knowledge’. Other definitions could be found, but, probably, they would leave with some version of ‘get knowledge’. Getting is an action verb, it leaves us with the question ‘how to we get’. Knowledge is a noun… we need to know what it means.

What is knowledge?
This is the tricky part. I like this definition from “Familiarity, awareness, or understanding gained through experience or study.” Essentially – what you get from learning.

We’ve created a circle, and quickly. That’s why i told you it was a waste of time. someone might say at this point. But lets ask the question another way.

What does it mean to know?
This depends on what we are talking about.

    know what…

  • If we are talking about “the generally accepted fact about an issue” like “who is the president of the united states”… to know is to have the information ‘George W. Bush’ somewhere in you head. This kind of knowledge is as old as recorded (see the word recorded) history. (often called ‘know what’)
  • If we ask about a current phrase like “what is web 2.0″ we are going to get a different kind of knowing, as George Siemens says “Choosing what to learn and the meaning of incoming information is seen through the lens of a shifting reality. While there is a right answer now, it may be wrong tomorrow due to alterations in the information climate affecting the decision.”
  • know how…

  • If we are talking about “to know how to fix my car” this may involve knowing how to combine the information form my instruction manual, with my knowledge of how to use tools, and my experience doing it before (often called ‘know how)
  • if we are talking about “do i know how to blog” the answer changes again. The answer to the car question has a limited number of responses. There are a certain number of parts to a car, and a limited amount of ways they can break down. A blog runs on a completely different set of rules. You can add links to other places, images, audio, video, wikis, rss or a bunch of other things that I can’t think about. The technology does limit you, but among the things that are possible are an indefinite amount of choices.

What it means ‘to know’ is very different in both those cases. In the case of the president, it is to remember a recognized fact. In the case of web 2.0 it is a far more complex ‘decision’. It is actually a decision about what definition to give. In the second set of examples, what it means to ‘know’ has far more to do with ‘decisions’ about assembly, rather than ‘interpretation’ or what would be the ‘correct’ thing to do in the case of the car.

So, let’s return to our original questions.

What is learning, when we are talking about learning how to ‘decide’ about blogging?

What is knowledge when we are talking about things that shift instead of things that are solid?

What happens to Jeopardy! if there are no right answers? There are certainly right answers… as long as quantum theory doesn’t disprove 2+2=4 (whether this is knowledge or not is a whole other ball of twine the cats played with) and we leave sarcasm out of it, facts will not disappear… we are, however, adding a new kind of knowing, and many things we used to think of as Truth will become ‘truths’. A kind of knowing that we will all have to get used to.

I was having a skype discussion at the same time… and this is what I got from barbara sawhill
Barbara Sawhill Reminds me of the argument I have with people about learning a language vs acquiring a language…being proficient in a language vs being communicatively competent.
[21:25:24] … we need to get our terms straight, although i fear that means that we spend 20 mninutes of preamble for every point we want to make setting out the context so we don’t offend, confuse or be misinterpretted
[21:26:01] dave cormier true… but were not arguing about table… we’re educators arguing about learning and knowledge
[21:26:09] … that’s a good point[you made]… i’m going to add that.
[21:26:15] Barbara Sawhill table?
[21:27:25] … When there is no right or wrong, no right answer no wrong answer, it can be a very linberating thing for students and a very terrifying thing for teachers. But what i have learned in my 300 years as a language teacher is that unless you make mistakes, take risks, piss people off, wjatever, learn ing does not happen.

5 Responses to “More babbling about what it means to know”

  1. barbara Says:
    After the Barbara Garvey conversation I picked up Pierre Levy’s “Cyberculture”. I am sure you have read it, but here are some quotes that I think follow with what we were talking about before..

    “The faster technology changes, therefore, the more it seems to come from somewhere outside. Moreover, the feeling of strangeness increases with the separation of activities and the opacity of social processes. It is here that the central role played by colective intelligence is felt most strongly, for it is one of the principle engines of cyberculture. the synergy of skills, resources and projects, the constituion and maientance of shared memories, the activation of flexible and non heirarchical modes of cooperation, the coordinated distribution of decision centers stand in sharp contrast to the hermetic separation of activities, the insularity and opacity of social organization, As the process of collective intelligence develops–which quite obviously calls into question relations of power–individuals and groups will more easily appropriate technological change, and the ability of accelerating technosocial movements to cause human destruction and exclusion will diminish.”

    from Pierre Levy “Cyberculture” translated by Robert Bononno, UMinnesota Press, 2001, page 10.

    (gosh how -does- one do citations on a blog? MLA Style? Chicago Scientific?) :-)

  2. Clarence Fisher Says:
    Many of the people who work at OISE, (Ontairo Institute for Studies in Education) have performed and captured a lot of ground breaking research on knowledge and knowing. Their definition is that knowledge is a “conceptual artefact that can be improved upon.” The idea being that knowledge is something that can be changed, improved, and refined. Check out their website for further information:

  3. dave Says:
    Hi clarence…

    Any chance of you pointing me a little closer to that ‘ground breaking research’? The website that you included seems to have a barrier up for certain pages, and it would be easier to peruse the research if I could get a little closer to it.

    and, since i haven’t been able to see any of it, i will comment anyway :)

    The idea of knowledge as artefact has always had a certain appeal, and the addition of ‘improved upon’ does allow for some subjectivity in the truth variable, but it does suggest an evolution from ‘worse’ to ‘better’ and that seems to imply a value judgement on knowledge. I’m not sure what position that value judgement can be taken from. Improved in whose eyes i wonder. I can imagine any number of things that I would be loathe to call a ‘conceptual artefact’ and would still count, or would have counted as knowledge, say, before the invention of the printing press.

    But this, in itself, does not get us anywhere. I would guess that this definition is of use when speaking about knowledge transference… but i’ll look forward to specifics (from someone i hope), and thereby find out if i’ve been silly in assuming what you meant…

  4. Doug Symington Says:
    Scardamalia and Berieter speak of the intentional learner and the fact that Knowledge building is a process of improvement and revisiting and working ideas in a “public” forum. And that’s the issue that continues to trouble me. Because the “knowledge forum” communities are in “walled gardens” are they really public?

    The longer that I study about, and work in online education the more that I see that the “public/private” argument is the one that needs to be addressed by any stakeholder in online education.

    I’d suggest that until one is able to wrap one’s head around the notion of the “public voice” and how important this is to the process, one doesn’t really reach the potentila of what’s possible in terms of “building knowledge in public.”

    As someone who has been blogging since early ‘02 while a student at OISE I can tell you that was a distinct differnce in how wrote for the web and how I wrote my posts in course “Knowledge Forums.” I think I’m a better writer for my blogging. It’s said that the prime consideration for any write should be the audience.

    I’d suggest that there’s nothing like the “Submit” button in a blogging application to accentuate this for the writer, and speaks to the “ownership and responsibility” that Barbara referred to in EdTechTalk#24

    I’m happy to report that steps are underway at OISE/UT to take the conversation online and to me this means that the “public” nature of the process Scardamalia mentioned can begin to take place.

  5. Doug Symington Says:
    Visit Knowledge Building wiki for CTL 1603:Introduction to Knowledge Building this semester at OISE/UT.

Informally connecting connectivism and informal learning

Great mind day here in front of the computer… have spent a bunch of the day thinking about the things i’ve been reading. We’ve got an interview two very cool people tomorrow and i’ve been reading these two things – over and over Jay Cross and George Siemens. The things that they are writing about have that smack myself on the head ofcourseness about them that calls the mind out of slumber.

But it’s not really all that obvious. I think that society has been fighting back from ’specialisticalismism’ for the last 10-20 years or so. We’re slowly starting to integrate attitude into healing the body for example, moving away from cold scientific experiments. Professional athletes are being told that serenity, rather than violent intensity, is the way to prepare for their sports. And we are slowly starting to accept that the way we learn to drive, the way that we learn to get along, to be funny, to deal with society… that these are learning systems (if the word ‘learning’ isn’t already too tainted to be used in this way) That expirigence(made that up on the spot), that the intelligence/experience separation should really go the same way as the mind body separation. A useful tool to help us describe ourselves in the infancy of our post-superstitious selves, but not really a meaningful separation.

Too big a conversation to start this late at night… come by tomorrow (november 3rd) if you have a chance…

The interview is at 7pmGMT, and everyone is invited to come join the chat room for the live broadcast, or skype in for some Q&A.

Elgg – an intro or A teacher, A techie, A flower making bask(i)et

So it doesn’t rhyme… That’s one of the things I love about writing my own blog… no one to tell me I’m being silly and unprofessional – well, except me, but I don’t listen to that voice very often.

Nice Saturday afternoon here on the East Coast, and a very interesting day of talking to some very nice people in Europe about the upcoming nordic conference, and how to make money at this edtech stuff… I have a ton of things i’m playing around with, which is part of what makes all this so fun. One of the things that keeps coming up on my radar screen is Elgg. For those of you who listen to the webcast/podcast, you know that I am very fond of the program for many reasons. As Harold Jarche said on the brainstorm on Thursday night “elgg is the first program to really invert the paradigm, to allow the user to create their environment, to choose to create their own groups etc…(pardon the pitiful paraphrase harold)” So…

Who the %$@ am I to talk about it?
Contrary to what people might imagine considering how much I talk about this program, i have no formal affiliation to the elgg community. I’m a teacher and an edtech who started looking for software for my own students a few years ago, and just came across this in a conversation with Nick Noakes in edtechtalk #5. I installed it, instantly liked it, and have been playing with it ever since. I’m currently edteching for 2 installations, both K-12, teaching a university level course with it as an adjunct to moodle(comparing its usage to blogger in a comparable class) and hopefully will be a member of it in another, continuing-ed context. Four elggs, four different situations. I have experience, not knowledge. This is not meant to be a definitive post, but more the opening of a conversation on four fronts, with pieces filled in as I go.

What is it?
Elgg is, in the words of its founders, a personal learning landscape. In the words of others, it’s a multiuser blogging platform with FOAF capacities, and still others an e-portfolio platform. It supports tagging and podcasting, as well as RSS. The installation has a couple of thousand members, and is by far the largest installation i know about. It’s being used for communication between professionals in companies, for students in a classroom, as a meeting community for people of various interests, as a blogging platform, and as an eportfolio environment. It has a couple of really cool features which facilitate this, everytime you post to the site or add a file, you can mark it as public, restricted(to a particular group) or private. It also very easily facilitates the creation of impromptu groups by people who are members of the site allowing for a very natural layout, controlled by users. It will not grade tests for you, or allow you a great deal of control over other members of the site.

A teacher
This is something that I have just started, and I actually moved the class to a computer lab for the first go at it. They registered and were up in about 10 minutes. They posted quite easily… and seemed to have a good time for a first day, I’ll update as we go.

It can offer some much needed security if you are looking for a private environment, and also has one feature that really sells it as a blogging platform for students – at the click of a button, you can see all the posts made by everyone on the site.

A techie
The install into a root directory is pretty straight up. mysql database (import the .sql file), includes.php file, a couple of chmods and you’re ready to run. If you want to install out of root, there’s a couple of minor adjustments that need to be done, but not a big deal. It has a simple, effective admin panel. More than you’d expect from a 0.3 release, but not what you’d get from something like moodle (which i like btw, the less control the admin has over somthing like moodle the better, although there are a couple of features like more control over registration that I’m hoping for for 0.4, also possible with a little playing around) There are apparently still serious issues if you wish to play outside the English language. I’m told they are working on it, but it’s an important consideration.

If it’s so cool where can i get one?
Last i heard, the elgg guys were offering elggs for people to try out. Go to and post on the site. It’s the best way to get started. If there’s a more formal way of registering I’ll find it and post it…

The Project
Over the next few months, I’ll be talking about the relative success of the different projects… I’ll keep basically the same format, and we’ll see if it’s any use to anyone.

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2 Responses to “Elgg – an intro or A teacher, A techie, A flower making bask(i)et”

  1. Ben Werdmuller Says:
    Dave –

    Thanks for the great weblog article! It’s interesting to hear about your experiences; we’d love to hear more about what you’re doing with your four installations and how the students get on.

    Regarding the admin panel, do the kinds of things you’re talking about include being able to toggle open registration? That will certainly be customisable within the 0.4 release, and I can send code to anyone who wants to do this in 0.301.

    Regarding language issues, it’d be useful to have more details. There are a number of installations in Europe running in Dutch and French (with Greek and more to follow), and so far there have been no major issues. There is a system requirement for the gettext library which is unavoidable at present, but I’m working on ways to get round that too. If anyone has any specific issues we’d be glad to help.

    Finally, there is a patch available on that will allow the system to run properly in a subdirectory. It replaces the weblogs unit and can be downloaded from . If you have a RewriteBase declaration in your .htaccess file (in the root Elgg folder) you’ll need to remove that too.

  2. barbara Says:
    In the words of audioblogger (or at the very least, in the words of their mass- produced emails): “You are revolutionizing the revolution”

    Keep up the great work. You are an inspiration to the rest of us who are frantically trying to stay on top of the wave (vs being pulled under)

Wikibooks – lions and tigers and bears, OH MY!

Will has focused another conversation for me here, on another gloomy morning on the red dirt island. Although my kitten is desperately trying to flay the flesh from my thighs (that or she’s trying to jump up on my lap to find out what all the clicking is about). Will’s post is about the feedbooks less blog focused sister, the wikibook. I’m going to try and tap out a few ideas…

single author
I worry about the loss of the ability to read a single author. Maybe this is my sacred artifact that I can’t let go but it seems to be there’s something in the single voiced bard/storyteller that needs a certain literacy that students will lost without that (Eric Hobsbawm comes to mind (Will’s comments a couple of days ago about not reading books anymore strikes an even deeper chord).

current textbooks
Of course, most textbooks are already really multivoiced, which is why they are so dead sounding. They’re written to deadline, see bunches of editor/censors and are designed, for the most part, to toe the line. Not very inspiring stuff.

wikibooks once the big guys get involved
I think that the wiki-stuff will be BETTER researched than the textbooks, especially after a year or so, once everyone has edited out the errors, gotten rid of the boringly written parts, and added the best annecdotes from hundreds of teachers around the world. Imagine it, all the coolest stories made up of the experience of all those teachers…

deep knowledge
As to deep knowledge. Wikipedia isn’t designed that way. Not too difficult to get an expert driven wikibook. Imagine if Eric Hobsbawm started an FOAF community to ‘writing’(sic) the definitive wikibook. Sound pretty cool to me.

Feedbook – 1 month anniversary

After a month of reading people’s responses and thinking the idea of a feedbook over in my head, I’d like to sort of address the issue again. There are, as I see it, two issues that are of interest to people… the first is, how exactly is this going to look when it’s done and the second, is what are the implications of doing it.

In addition to the freshness of the material, the multiplicity of voice and perspective and the fact that your textbook will never be out of date, one of the first things that would happen is a decentralization of the instructor. While the instructor would usually be responsible for the basic set of links (although I believe I’m going to be in a class soon where we start with none) gone will be the rabbit out of a hat magic that comes from controlling the flow of knowledge. Students will actually be able to add to that flow of knowledge as their research brings up new sources of course material.

What’s it going to look like
Some of the ideas I read and have been discussing are…

  • You could just use an open source aggregator like rssowl on each person’s desktop
  • bloglines
  • [ eduforge] has a an example very close to what the content of my own feedbook would look like
  • So far the solution I like best is a combination of delicious and some program or website. I’m currently playing with [ aggrssive] a great little product from UBC but the install is giving me some problems – i doesn’t come with instructions.
  • My ideal would be to plug into elgg. That would be my dreamteam for the feedbook…

If you wish, post your responses and additions here, or go over to the wiki

Some of the more interesting comments on feedbooks…

Scott Wilson OPML is fine if its just resources being shared; FOAF:Group with dublin core metadata is a better model when mixing both resource information and participant information

Hanoi ICT I think the feedbook might partly be a solution to my attempt to introduce VLE in the IMIH project. What if Ms Quy and myself set up a blog on the integration of ICT in education that is translated into Vietnamese by Ms Hong (possibly in collaboration with other VVOB project on the integration of ICT in education in HCM).

Gardner Campbell I’m thinking that college is now the opportunity not only to begin one’s personal library, but also to build one’s personal suite of trusted and inspiring experts. That of course is what already happens to some extent, but now it need not be confined to the campus. The campus is where the beloved local professor simply starts the ball rolling.

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2 Responses to “Feedbook – 1 month anniversary”

  1. Martha Burtis Says:

    Your comment inspired me to take a look at ELGG. I’m intrigued, not only in light of the feedbook conversation but because of how it seems like such a compelling e-portfolio solution.

    The FOAF component is particularly intriguing–and one that I think students could get very excited about.

    Thanks for pointing me towards this!


  2. Josh Forest Says:
    A common interest in aggrssive brings me by. I have searched UBC site and net for installation info, and found the wiki in the meantime.

    I would like to know if you get aggrssive up and running public. I have found it odd that the two main aggressive installs – and the one at have undirected links at the top. Searching UBC I find very little docs on the project.

Learning 2.0 – why bother? – A classroom example, no E necessary.

Cold, windy and rainy… me and the rest of continental North America I guess. Nice to see so many new faces on the website over the last 24 hours, that Stephen guy sure has alot of friends… It’s weird though, kinda like being a ghost in an odd, pleasing dream where crowds of people you don’t know show up for your birthday party, and you wander from room to room, wondering who they are and unable to ask them. So it goes. I think i’m far too spoiled by the ‘right now’-ness of the internet. This is probably good practice for me.

Loved Will Richardson’s post yesterday. He was saying that a teacher was complaining that students were blogging the Questions and answers to tests between classes. I couldn’t help think of my rotters in Korea. Long before i was introduced to anything other than ’survive the day’ teaching, I realized I couldn’t stop 40 students in a classroom from cheating. It’s a science there, from writing on the inside of the label on the coke bottle, to actually keeping your notes on the wall of the classroom, you could track it, but never beat it. So I started writing tests that couldn’t be cheated on… There’s a problem with this… they take forever to grade. Nothing like a nice multiple choice test for getting in and out of grading (especially if you’re using a test engine).

But here’s the question… why test them at all? In will’s words

  • ” why, if the answers are already out here, are we asking our students to give them back to us on an exam? I can understand why we used do this, back in the days when the answers were difficult to find.”

But now what it means for a student to ‘know’ something has changed. Imagine, using our examples drawn from the article I referenced yesterday, how great someone’s memory had to be to recite the Iliad. They did it from memory. Those long descriptions of the people who were present before the gates of Troy were meant as a test of that memory. Being able to do it would get you a few nights in a castle, a bunch of wine and some decent food… now? If it were a child, maybe a trip to Letterman(the special 12 hours Letterman devoted to little Chrissy who can recite the entirety of an old, old play), but you’d be an oddity. A curiosity. That form of knowing is outdated. Sure it’s neat, and we can imagine a situation where having that kind of memory would be useful, but you ain’t getting into a castle with it.I still think that multiplication tables should be memorized… i use mine all the time. ABCs… sure. I’m sure we could come up with a list of things that would be useful to keep a permanent place in my mind. The dates of the Prime Ministery(sic) of Margaret Thatcher? Takes two seconds. There is, in my mind, no conceivable purpose for memorizing this information. In an age where people are bombarded with data from a hundred sources… There’s an old line from Sherlock Holmes that comes to mind in talking to watson he says “your mind is like a lumber room, things wanted always buried.” We need to organize information, to find it, to assemble it – not memorize it.

Lets look at the sabotaged test a little closer. If the students are blogging the answers, and this is bad, that means that these questions have one (or potentially a couple) of right answers. That would mean we’re probably talking about definitions, or something similar. Freely available all over the internet. If the students are blogging the questions, and this is bad, this means that the teacher is not telling the students what is on the test. This implies that the students are expected to study, and remember, a great deal of material that won’t even be on the test. Not only is it possible that remembering it (as opposed to storing it in a convienient digital location) will be useless, they won’t even be able to use it on their test!

What good does this do? Well, it helps memory practice. It encourages students to do meaningless tasks and obey. there are some problem solving skills involved in learning how to beat such tests. I guess the make up of a plant cell might come up in conversation some day (not that I can remember which part is which) And on this point… they always had the diagram in their textbook! Why did i memorize something that i had a book to read from dammit!
What bad does it do? More than anything else, it leads to alienation. Alienation from the system, from people in positions of power. Force someone to do something without purpose and watch their trust in you and/or your system fade.

The Learning 2.0 that I’m talking about addresses the literacies that the students are going to need (indeed, have always needed). The people who are successful, whether in charity work, business, politics or family life are not successful because they remember things (except the last and laundry, remembering this being very important i’m learning…) They are successful because of their creativity, their ability to adjust to change, to get along with others, to sway people’s opinions… If we really want people to be able, for instance, to out-think commercials (think of how much money Oscar Meyer has made over the years with that damn song they’ve put in so many children’s mouths) they need those same old literacies, the successful ones, to be able to navigate what knowledge means today.

Our testing should reflect this. But how, how oh how, can we test and not test memory, while still leaving teachers the time to cut their lawns? The way good teachers have been doing it is balance the creative learning against their schedule. Do as much as they can handle, and draw the line… or burnout and face ‘reality’. The reality that the way the system is constructed does not allow for the teaching of many of the more useful literacies. This is where all this tech comes in… We can set up a whole new set of goals, not test goals, but accomplishment goals, and use the digital slave to do the work. In this world, the kid who was getting the answers on the test from his classmate gets a C, the one sending the questions a B and the students sending the answers an A. The C for finding information, the B for for helping focus the conversation, and the A for giving people exactly what they need to succeed. This is knowledge, as it exists today.

hard on the head.

E-Learning 2.0 – Why bother? – or “A rant on how techknowledge changes everything and always has”

I kinda think that what I want to say should particularly not be said in this format. It really should be a well researched essay. Now, while I understand that this would lead most people into stopping what they were doing, and were I someone else I would agree with myself, given similar situations, there is also that slight chance that I’ll say something that is really worth reading. Imagine me as the longwinded drunk in the bar who stands up for a moment, sways slightly and says “I’ve got something I wanna say,” in a slow, over pronouced kinda way and then proceeds to tell everyone exactly what’s on his mind. Most of that stuff isn’t really worth listening to, and i hope that you have a coffee to sustain you until you can judge it’s merit (or relative interest).

These are the things i wanna cover (blog style). What does it mean to know, right now? What does it mean to be literate? What are these modern literacies? What, if anything, do these questions have to do with e-learning 2.0?

This article that started many things for me. It opened my mind to the question of “what it means to know”. I had studied philosophy, but most of it was old and/or anglo-american, this was my first trip into the postmodern. The article traces the history of some of the tools that are associated with knowledge use: writing, the printing press and now the computer. Think about the transition from Socrates to Plato. Socrates is supposed to have complained that writing would ruin discourse as well as ruining people’s ability to remember. For him, memory was everything. There was no other way to record things, and therefore it was the primary ‘literacy’ that people needed. Follow that thought through the written word, past the mass production of the printing press (see reading/memory) and on to our era of hyperinformation. Too much of everything. What are the modern literacies?

I was talking to a teacher friend of mine Christina Forgeron tonight about teaching, elearning 2.0 and why it matters. I was saying that knowing is changing, and that soon what’s taught in school will have very little relation to the world at all. Not a new topic, I know. David Warlick and Sara Armstrong wrote a very interesting article on how traditional literacy was perceived and how it needs to be updated. There position is that now there are new literacies that students need to learn, that the world is changing at a wicked pace and “how the traditional 3 Rs, naturally and out of necessity, evolve into 4 Es to define literacy in an increasingly, and soon to be exclusively, digital and networked world.” The word ‘literacy’, as it is inherited from the old education system, seems too conflicted to remain in its singular… how does one, for instance, relate the root of the word literate with numbers? Are we reading numbers? We are moving to 4, why not five or six, and why keep using the singular? I fully agree that the idea of digital storytelling, scanning, processing should be included in our conception of literacies… but i’d like to talk about how we got here, and the foundational issues that this transition away from old-literacy ‘bring up’.

So again, here are the questions I want to talk about. What does it mean to know, right now? What does it mean to be ‘literate’? What are these modern ‘literacies’? What, if anything, do these questions have to do with e-learning 2.0?

In the old model of the classroom, we have experts at the front of the classroom, who taught students the things they needed to learn to work in a factory: be on time, accomplish your task, listen to authority, to read, to write and to count(notice our 3 Rs). This model worked well with the original intention of these schools, to teach the poor the necessary skills to be able to work in the factories of industrial revolution England. We had the cane, instructions to ’speak when spoken to’, and a strict set of rote things to learn. Ideal training ground. Over the intervening years (dave treads quickly, trying not to exhaust his audience, I have this research around if anyone’s interested) we moved away from that initial conspiratorial beginning, but have never really replaced its goals with new goals. This leaves us, I argue, with a new school system without any clear goal. By this i certainly don’t mean that teachers or administrators don’t have goals, I mean the system itself… the testing, the learning the memorizing the succession of ‘grades’ to pass through don’t have any purpose. Why do we send students to school? What is the purpose of it?

If we call the reading and the writing and the rithmatic ‘literacy’, we have the same conception of literacy that we see in these initial ‘poor’ schools, the schools that were designed to keep the poor, poor. But what does it mean to be literate. To read. But what does it take to read a society? If I give you a book by Chomsky (or the article by b. stewart above for that matter) and you don’t have access to the technical or social language, can you ‘read’ it? When someone who hates Goerge Bush writes something to someone who loves him, can they really read it (or vis versa)? When you look at a tag cloud for the first time, or you ‘google’ someone, are these simply skills that you are using. My position here is no. Literacy has never only been about the 3 Rs. It’s always been about a set of cultural understandings, social and personal skills combined with some very basic sign reading. Or, to put it another way, very complex sign reading of simple signs.

This is backed up by the experience of most teachers. The single most important skill a student needs when they start school is to be able to sit in a chair. After that, maybe focus on a task. Ability to work on groups, play fair, take criticism. Where, in this group, is ‘read letters’? Any teacher worth anything can teach a student that the letter ‘a’ sounds like it does when spoken, but it’s them knowing how apple sounds that really brings you over the top. It’s the cultural knowledge that allows people to learn. Ask a child to do a science fair project… is it their handwriting or addition that matters… or is it their experience project managing? These are real literacies. These literacies have not changed in the over-information age. There are a few new ones, but for the most part, those that are going to be successful will succeed on the same set of skills that they did 50 years ago.

Warlick/Armstrong also say “Some months back, Michael Cox, a chief economist for the Federal Reserve Bank, predicted to a group of students that they would have at least five jobs after they graduate, four of which haven’t been invented yet.” I agree. And the pace of change is increasing. What used to take 3 generations, now takes 1 or even half a generation. But my job didn’t exist when I was born. Nor was anything I was taught in school designed to prepare me to meet it. School has NEVER filled that role. It has filled the role of controlling the populace. Teachers who have been successful with their students, have, on their own, added a purpose to their teaching.

As I see it, we have reached a crisis point in modern education. We are reaching a point where the students in our classrooms have more literacies than their teachers do. We are also reaching a point where the disciplinary ideas of that original ‘military model’ classroom have completely broken down. Students now understand their rights as citizens and are no longer staying in their place when they are told. They now speak before they are spoken to, and often. They are sceptical, and cynical… and too often violent. For many of us we see the way out to give them a voice, give them a purpose at school. I certainly see publishing (blogs, vlogs, podcasts etc…) as offering this. What I’m saying here is that the reason it works is that at this moment in time, there is no ‘reason’ for school.

We used to transfer knowledge onto the next generation. Lets take a look at this knowledge, and think about how it would look to somone pulgged into the world. In the united states, the second world war started in 1941. In Canada, 1939. One could argue that for the Italians it started in 1935, and Eric Hobsbawm argues that the first world war never really ended, and that what we had was a 31 years war. Who is right? No one really. It’s all a matter of perspective. I will accept that the sentence “WWII started in 1834″ is incorrect, but there is no way to navigate through the other ideas without context.

This is what the internet offers us, infinite context. We have to navigate through it all to judge what is right for us, and for the people we live with, love and care about. In my mind, every time someone learns something new, thinks a new thought, changes their mind on a long accepted position, listens to a speech and decides whether it is valuable, or true for them, they are using a variety of literacies. The literacies that I learned as a child, I’m using to navigate this big beautiful beast. We all are. They are cultural literacies. They are our self confidence. Our audacity. Our ability to work together, to learn from others. Why would we imagine that the next generation needs anything different. What we need to do is decide what we want our schools to be. No one wants the military model. But do we want a system without a clear goal, or do we want to try and figure out what ‘good global citizen’ means to us, and figure out how to teach it. This is the opportunity given to us by elearning 2.0…

The skills, or literacies, haven’t changed. What has changed is what it means to ‘know’. We will still learn this knowledge using our ability to work together (now more important than ever) and our memory will definitely be used diffently, but knowing is about connection. It’s about communities of knowing…

gotta stop, I’m getting carried away.

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6 Responses to “E-Learning 2.0 – Why bother? – or “A rant on how techknowledge changes everything and always has””

  1. Brent MacKinnon Says:
    I liked your article Dave. It rings very true to me and points a way to move out of a going in circles process where connecting and meaning get lost or forgotten about.
  2. cj Says:
    A couple of thoughts. When mulling questions around knowledge it is always useful to go back to knowledge being something that is social, i.e. it takes people. That leads into such juciy questions such as ‘what counts as knowledge?’ and perhaps ‘what is worth knowing?’, and your question, ‘what does it mean to know?. I am drawn to ideas that think about these things not just socially but sociotechnically (lots of names here: Latour and co. Jan Nespor’s Knowledge in Motion etc.) Nespor’s argument goes basically like this: what you know is more about the stuff you have at your disposal as well as what is supposedly somewhere inside your head. Thus, what you know in a bar is not the same as what you know in your office, with various resources. The other interesting point is that a few folk argue that knowledge that exists in bit-space ain’t the same beast as knowledge that exists in atom space – a mate of mine coined the term digital epistemologies (plural) to try and represent that notion. This, I think, further complicates your question. As for schools, well….
  3. Bryan Menell Says:
    I enjoyed reading this. Many homeschoolers would agree with you. How much longer are textbooks really necessary? Does the public “fool” system have any relevance for me from age 18 – 95?

    It’s not just about E-Learning 2.0. Lets get rid of the “E” and just call this new emerging model Learning 2.0.

  4. dave Says:
    I love it when people do their research… :) look at the next post Bryan!
  5. Trisha Says:
    Interesting reading! I think for one to be literate today, they have to be able to navigate the Internet with intelligence, know how to research and solve complex problems, be culturally aware and be able to multi-task.
  6. Art Gelwicks Says:
    Not to sound cynical, but based on that definition there are lots of illiterate people in the world. I agree with two of the four…research and solve complex problems and be culturally aware. I’m not convinced yet that internet navigation and multitasking are core literacies…yet.