What is this whole school thing about anyway?

Brisk sunny day on the east coast, cold enough to freeze the ground around here today. Had a lovely night with an international group last night, all the international students from UPEI put on a cultural evening for all the people that work with them. (I try to teach them academic writing) The food was fantastic alot of smiles and laughs, and hundreds of pictures taken, A real sense of community, where people get a sense of what other people are like. I found myself moving from table to table, trying to mix some of the groups, strangely trying to set an example of cross cultural belonging and friendship… strange to have finally moved to that role…

Which bring me to Leigh Blackall’s
against the LMS/VLE/PLE. I’m a big fan of Leigh’s writing, but i have to say that this time, i have a few problems with his position, and i’d like to start a little healthy debate on the subject. I have two main subjects that i’d like to cover, one concerning relative computer literacy and the other about what the school and learning is all about.

Who needs ALL of the internet

Why do we need a PLE when we already have the Internet? The Internet is my PLE, ePortfolio, VLE what ever. Thanks to blogger, bloglines, flickr, delicious, wikispaces, ourmedia, creative commons, and what ever comes next in this new Internet age, I have a strong online ID and very extensive and personalised learning environment.

I think that Leigh’s logic here is solid insofar as his ‘I’ is concerned. This is true for me as well, and for most of the people that are likely to be reading this blog. The majority of people will NEVER have an internet presence. By definition, there is no room for the ‘presence’ of 6 billion people. Some people, like Leigh, will do enough good work to have room on the internet for Stephen Downes to read their work and post it, most will never. Community environments like elgg allow for them to be noticed, and interacted with, by their peers. It’s a safe, controllable environment, away from the chaos and uncertainty that is that rather long list of tools listed. The PLE and to a lesser extent the VLE/LMS provide some security, some much needed structure and most importantly guaranteed interactivity. Technorati is claiming 21 million blogs or so (i have 4 or 5) where will the interactivity be when there are 200 million or 2 billion. A PLE like elgg allows for focus.

Learning from life

My thinking is that we need to build media literacy in our institutions, and not prevent it by building replicas.

A PLE is not a simulacra. There are many instances in this ‘real world’ that Leigh is refering to where the PLE is being used. I have several friends who have installed moodle and elgg as training and communication platforms for companies, from restaurants to government agencies.

So while I whole heartedly agree with the PLE and Scott’s reasoning for rejecting the LMS/VLE, I can’t say I’m with them on their alternative. In my view, the VLE, LMS and PLE are the same. A suggestion that the Internet, and informal networked learning are not enough. That people still need to come to school to learn. That people need to distinguish learning from life, that people need to download and install an application that will solve their learning needs.

If I understand correctly, ‘informal networked learning’ as it appears in the internet context, is ‘real life’ and the LMS/VLE/PLE are artificial. I’m not sure that i understand how someone would start informal learning in a ‘natural way,’ but i would love to have this further elaborated on.

My real objection to this is the part about ‘coming to school’. I don’t think that people come to school to gather knowledge in the traditional sense. In an ideal world they learn how to learn, they learn to work together, they learn how to kiss behind the water filtration system, they learn how to fight… and eventually how not to… they get the opportunity to know more than their parents do on all the above subjects… school still has this power (if used) to level the social classes. Now weather or not we replace the military classroom with another free, government sponsored place that isn’t called school but still allows them to do the things above and many more, we still need them.

A friend of mine was called by another parent from the community about something her son was doing on the internet. Suffice it to say that he was about ten and he was emailing porn to his buddies… This will happen. Kids will publish porn, just for fun, to push boundaries, to experiment, all part of the natural experience. How do we teach appropriate behaviour on the internet? How do we pass our cultural values on to the wired generation? In these PLE/VLE environments, where we guide by example, where we lead… where we teach.

12 Responses to “What is this whole school thing about anyway?”

  1. Bud Hunt Says:

    Interesting stuff here. I’m not sure I quite understand the argument, but here’s what I’m thinking after I read both your post and Leigh’s. (Disclaimer — I am on some cold medicine right now, and that might impact my judgment a little bit.)
    Aren’t PLE’s constructed out of bits of the Internet? For example, I use Bloglines to bring to me the stuff that I consider my “personal learning environment.” The advantage of something like Bloglines is that it siphons off a manageable drink of the fire hose that is the Internet. But I’m still a public participant.
    Because I have such a tool, the entire Internet can be a place where everyone has a presence — I simply take in the stuff I’m interested in.
    Of course, there are advantages sometime of having the learning spaces be private. That’s why I use a Moodle — to work online together in private. I don’t think either space is inherently artificial — I suspect that Intel is not using a blog to discuss the latest tech specs of its newest processors. But they might be using an in-house electronic communication tool.
    Aren’t both valuable, and can’t we teach (and learn via) both? Did I miss the entire argument?

  2. Leigh Blackall Says:
    Hi Dave, Bud. Thanks heaps for continuing on this topic, its rare that I get to read a rebuttal to what I think up – perhaps leading me into a false sense of security with my points of view – so thanks.

    If I may, I’ll use some of my experiences with online learning, both as a student and a teacher, to try and nut the argument out a bit.

    Firstly, as a uni student in 1995 I was given a student email account, my email address was somthing like s95034790@studentmail.com (actually, I think it was worse than that, something like s95034790@alinga.studentmail.com, no wonder noone on email took me seriously ;) . 3 years later someone showed me Hotmail, and I wondered why I was putting up with the student mail with its 1meg or less limit for so long – or why I even needed to be using student mail in the first place… I think it was a student management thing.

    Then, as a student in 2001 I was asked to participate in an online course (teacher training actually) using Blackboard. I knew a little about computers and the Internet by then, but spent most of my time trying to explain to my classmates just how Blackboard worked. At least 1/5th of the class dropped out of that course, sighting Blackboard as the issue… Than a friend showed me Blogger, and I got to wondering again…

    When the 2001 course unenrolled me and the remaining classmates, they deleted our forums. That sealed it for me – I swore I would never use a ’system’ to communicate and conduct my online learning with again. At best, I might post into a forum a link to my blog or what ever.

    After teacher training, I found a job in an innovations unit trying to help teachers get a grip on another LMS being used. The poor teachers hated it, but they had been told in no uncertain terms that online learning was the future, and learning how to use this LMS was the way to the future. Then I met a teacher who showed me Moodle, and I got to asking why on earth my organisation was spending millions of dollars on this LMS, when Moodle was free. I realised that the LMS we were using would not be around for much longer. I couldn’t face all those teachers trying hard to learn our present system, knowing that no sooner would they have worked it all out, than I’d be showing them a new LMS.

    In the end, I decided that it would be better to teach teachers and students how to use tools that would be relevant to them outside of school and work as well. I started showing teachers how to use Blogger – most loved it! I showed Gmail and GoogleGroups – everyone asked why they were settling for an email service so inferior! I started showing Del.icio.us – most loved it! I showed Bloglines – most were amazed, but few took the leap to RSS I must admit.

    Why, I asked myself, were the teachers who were so resistant to the LMS stuff, suddenly so keen on these tools? Why could they so clearly see that these tools were better? I’d say it had a lot to do with the speed in which they could get their stuff online. They didn’t have to negotiate with IT support for server space, no QA process, just them and the Internet – nothing in between.

    So, I have a choice. People only have so much handling capacity for the new technology. I could keep showing people how to use the LMS and suite of tools that would be of use to them only when within the organisation, or they could start learning tools that would be useful to them outside as well. I don’t think both would’ve been OK. Too much to take in and all that. The answer was obvious.

    This, and many other reasons is why I make the classroom/real world analogy. The extra curricular activity that you mention and credit school for Dave, occurs in may other places besides school. And with school banning iPods, IM, most social softare, and probably blogging, I think the school environment is less and less likely to have such a role. Our kids will have to learn how to fight, and how not to fight in some other place.

  3. Harold Jarche Says:
    Reminds me of this comment I made, on the fact that the new media can’t fit into the classroom:
  4. dave Says:
    Thanks for chiming in gentlemen…

    First, sorry for spelling your name wrong Leigh… seems i’ve been doing that for a while. Blackall. Got it.

    Bud – Yes. I agree. Tools are just that, regardless of how they are packaged. Some of the packaging is better, some not so good. but…

    Harold – yes, no telephone. :) and it’s taken years to get the computers in there. And, for now, the training isn’t even in the BEd programs. The academics are the one’s who need the push… at the end of the day, they are the only one’s who influence both the teachers and policy. It can be changed, but it’s gonna take a long time.

    Leigh- I think we’re talking about power here… it always comes back to this one way or the other. Who controls, who designs, who has the power to delete. My experience has been very similar to yours. Some rebuttals.
    1. I’m certainly not suggesting that people ONLY use ?LEs. In my writing class my students have our blocked VLE (class negotiated) and i’ve set them up with their own blogs and encourage them to work on their assignments on forums elsewhere on the internet. That way, the things they learn in my class they will be able to use out in the internet. Some external things are better. I don’t even use my university email account… when i start at a new school, i get them to put a forwarder to my personal account. Gmail is better. no doubt.
    2. That’s why we need to take the PLE off the school server. I’ve started a pilot project with 8th graders to do just that. Would love to have your input on it. Would also love to have you come on the show someday, we could ‘talk’ about some of these issues…
    3. (same as two) We definetely need continuity. We also need publishing of work. This is the final step after the ?LE work is finished. Students need to be encouraged to take their essays, research etc… out of the moodle and then onto blogger.

  5. Bubbling Minds » Blog-arkiv » LMS, VLE, PLE Says:
    […] Der er en meget spændende debat i gang i øjeblikket om LMS (Learning Management Systems), VLE (Virtual Learning Environments) og PLE (Personalised Learning Environment) her, her og her. Leigh Blackall indtager det mest radikale synspunkt og erklærer død over LMSer, VLEer og PLEer – hvad skal vi med dem, nÃ¥r vi har internettet, mens Dave Cormier klapper hesten og mener, at det overvejende flertal aldrig vil fÃ¥ en “Internet presence” (eller blive læst af Stephen Downes) – der er simpelthen ikke plads…… […]
  6. Miguel Guhlin Says:
    Howdy…wrote a response back to you at http://www.mguhlin.net/blog/archives/2005/11/entry_731.htm

    Thanks for the great conversation!! Leigh is right on target.

  7. Leigh Blackall Says:
    Hi again Dave, Harold, Bubbling Minds, Miguel.
    I remembered to come back. Sustaining conversation in the comment areas of blogs can be difficult hey! Why all blogs don’t have email pluggins I dunno… You’re right, I should just track back to a post, but for some reason it doesn’t work for me…

    I think Downes covers some exciting terrain about the classroom in his recording of eLearning 2.0 Alberta Cut. I’m not sure if that’s what Bubbling Minds was pointing to, I don’t understand the language of the comment :(

    Dave, I totally agree that its about power. Ain’t it always! Its also political. Not much dif really come to think of it.

    I’ve been meaning to read more on anarchy, looking for anarchist views to education. As it strikes me that the natural politics of the Internet is anarchic. I’m not talking black shirt, bomb throwing, anti christ anarchy – I’m sure there’s more reason to it than that. Which is why I think a bit of historical research is needed on this topic.

    Know any well informed anarchists to bring into this? I would be very interested to see if new thoughts and directions could be spawned from such a different angle..

  8. Leigh Blackall Says:
    not sure if my comments are getting through, but wikipedia has quite a massive entry on anarchism, quite interesting…
  9. Andy Roberts Says:
    I’m not an anrchist but I do agree with Leigh on this one, having dipped into the conversation via Downes


    and just noted that Siemens has picked it up as well.


  10. Leigh Blackall Says:
    what I’ve found so far on anarchism… no ideas yet, but it fits at least.
  11. Mona Says:
    Hi all,

    An interesting debate on LMS and VLEs. I would like to add my comment over here, at first I asked myself why would we use lms? Are VLEs important in the learning process? Actually they are when we talk about Distance Education or Blended learning. It is more like managing the learning process. It is true that some are difficult to use or even makes the user annoyed but at the end, who would benefit from it? Is it the learners? Why would we go against them, while we can develop or give our opinions on what can be added to LMSs.

    It is true that learners can learn from the internet and other people, still it is important to learn from the instructor or other learners who takes the same subject, and contribute with them.

    Why don’t we just integrate Blogs and the other interesting tools with the LMS to make the learning more exciting and learner centered. Wouldn’t be a good Idea?

    Every technology and tool has its advantages and disadvantages, we can benefit from the advantages and try to reduce the disadvatages of it by developing or adding what we need or what is the Learner need, since he is the ONE we care and try to facilitate his learning.

    I might misunderstood the argument, but thats what I came up with when I read your interesting article. Lets not say Die LMS, lets just wait for the new LMS and Blogs, del.icio.us, bloglines’s Baby :)

  12. Virtual Canuck » PLE’s versus LMS: Are PLEs ready for Prime time? Says:
    […] I’ve been trying to get my head around the viability of moving educational programming from institutionally centered Learning Management Systems (LMS) systems, or even institutionally owned and controlled educational social systems like Elgg or Barnraiser, to a distributed and likely syndicated set of tools often referred to as Personal Learning Environments (PLE). The recent postings by Leigh Blackall, response by Dave Cormier and the work of Paul Trafford and his RAMBLE project at Oxford got me thinking. James Farmer’s pioneering 2004 work applying our Community of inquiry to blogging and Michael Hotrum’s comments on that work are also incorporated in the ideas below. […]

Mac, Windows or Linux – thoughts from an educator without a country

It’s been seven days since my last… mmm… nice morning here on the east coast of Canada, as long as you don’t mind it being -1C. The leaves have all succumbed to the wind and frost of late fall here on Prince Edward Island, and the shrill whine of electric leaf blowers tell us that it’s time to tidy our lawns so the snow won’t be offended. I’ve been fighting with computers for the last couple of weeks, and for those of you out there considering it, i thought I would drop a few words your way.

I started all my computer stuff on a Commodore Vic-20, which while i don’t advise you to try and purchase one it was a really good system, didn’t crash and you had nice cartridges that you could plug into the back. I grew up and got my first 8086, and then a 486 and then went through the pentium strain… I was windows only… then i got a consulting gig that forced me to learn linux, and i’ve used it as my desktop software for the last year and a half, and now, 2 days ago, I bought an apple Ibook. My father called me a traitor. Someone told me my computer was ‘very cute’. Very cute, i mean, how can you do any serious writing on something that’s ‘very cute’. Is it any wonder that i ended up talking about leaves falling in the intro paragraph?

My transition to linux had been part learning experience, part psychological breakdown. I do alot of work on these little beasties… i develop curriculum, i communicate with my friends, i test software, i do a radio show, i consult with those who are kind enough to consider my advice worthwhile… I need a computer that will work, and that has the range to perform a vast quantity of tasks RELIABLY. And i don’t have time to spend a whole weekend figuring stuff out. Linux is, right now, an excellent solution for a couple groups of people. If you can get someone to set one up in your office (which i can now do, thanks to the last 2 years) it can run exactly like your XP or Mac with far fewer problems than the first, and cheaper than the second. It is by far the best option for a computer lab, a distro like edubuntu set up in a computer lab would be ideal. Super cheap(you could easily get the computers second hand for 200 bucks (or less and have good use out of them), all the functionality you need, and the students will be unable to mess it up… Two great uses, desktop you’ll never touch or computer lab. For me, it’s just been plain murder. Crash, blank staring, crash. Skype crashed about a million times, it didn’t like my usb mic, java had to be installed by hand, etc… the linux people tell me – go check it out, figure it out yourself. Well… i have. and for either of the two groups mentioned above, you’re good, for me… i just can’t do it anymore. I waste hours some days looking for that perfect piece of information that will get me what i want. I’m keeping my linux desktop, but it’s going to second place… a testing area…

Windows, well, most of you are familiar with it. It’s buggy. It crashes alot (my linux crashed too, more than i figured it would) it gets more viruses than a 2nd grade teacher, and they charge silly amounts for their software. Now, with all the open source software you can get around some of that stuff. Using firefox or opera will help alot, openoffice.org makes a great office package and most other software can now be downloaded leagally for free (see gimp and others… ) it is however what people know, and there is a great deal to be said for using what you are familiar with. That and almost everything works with it. Some things you just can’t do with Linux or Mac unless your willing to ’spend a whole weekend with it… although this is far more true of linux)

I was worried about the mac. I remember all the propaganda about how expensive they were, how hard it was to get the software, how it didn’t perform as well as the PC unless you were doing ‘artsy stuff’. Two days in… i’m cautiously converted. The damn thing crashed twenty minutes in… and has been singing along perfectly ever since. (now mac-heads are coming out of the wooodwork and saying that their’s only crashes a couple times a year… and not – never) The transition was pretty painless, installing software is pretty hilarious, download, click and drag, ‘thank you for installing your software’. The service is different. they actually seem to care if my computer crashes. They offer advice in a non-condescending manner. But here’s the clincher, for all the stuff that i do, in 48 hours, i have only once wished i was using XP. I wanted to install openoffice.org and i needed X11(whatever that is, windows emulator of somekind) but then found neooffice, which seems to do everything i want. That’s it, once, and i found a solution. Be not afraid windows user, come over to the white side… it’s… very cute.

4 Responses to “Mac, Windows or Linux – thoughts from an educator without a country”

  1. Harold Jarche Says:
    Neo-Office, hmm, perhaps that could make me switch to a mac. I notice that it’s based on OOo v 1.1. Is there something in the works to match it with OOo 2.0 and the open document format?
  2. Tim McKean Says:
    I was listening to your podcast tonight and was very interested to hear about your experience, especially your frustrations with Linux.

    I switched to the Mac side a year ago, and as you experiened, have wished for my windows applications just a few times. I am interested to learn more about this neo-office. Also wondering if you have tried any windown emulators on your Mac like virtual windows to get access to those few applications that just aren’t available?

    Thanks – Tim

  3. Rob Wall Says:
    With the preponderance of great, cross platform application like OpenOffice (yeah – I know, its not totally, transparently cross platform, but let me go with it for the sake of example), Firefox, Gimp, and a host of others being developed every day, I’ve been feeling for a long time that operating system is pretty irrelevant for most people; in fact what most people get attached to is their GUI. Even there, the differences are not significant – once you get used to one GUI, you’ll probably find it to be the “best”. If a user is moderately intelligent (such as don’t run Internet Explorer or Outlook, use a home router to provide a hardware firewall), I don’t even find Windows ist too much of a security problem. (But don’t tell anyone I said so – I used to be president of a Mac users group).

    To be honest, all the action for the interesting development seems to be online with the growing prevalence of web applications. My favourite operating environment? To be honest, I guess it would be Firefox which happens to run on any operating system in any GUI. Its where I do most of my work (and play) on the computer these days. But I’m certainly not a zealot – Flock looks interesting, and some of my best friends are IE users – just not on my computer. ;^D

  4. Ed Says:
    Yes, a good MS alternative Office suite on the Mac is a whole waiting to be filled. I tried using NeoOffice for a few months and I wouldn’t recommend it. It seems to work fine, but it’s slow. Everyone thinks Apple is going to further develop their own office suite, so therefore have not supported getting OpenOffice working on a Mac. It’s a shame, because it’s a truly cross platform application.

    If you can handle not using OpenOffice, I would suggest Apple’s Office suite, iWorks. It cost’s $80 (less with an educators discount), but it’s worth the money. It’s fast and it “just works” (the beauty of using a Mac).

    By the way, I’m new to your blog and enjoying it. Thanks.

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 dictionary.com “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 elgg.net 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 elgg.net 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 elgg.net that will allow the system to run properly in a subdirectory. It replaces the weblogs unit and can be downloaded from http://elgg.net/elggcoding/files/553/1628/weblogs.zip . 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
  • [http://planet.eduforge.org/ 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 [http://aggrssive.net 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 del.icio.us 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 feedbook.org 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 – aggrssive.net and the one at olt.ubc.ca have undirected links at the top. Searching UBC I find very little docs on the project.