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.

Brainstorm wrap up – Bud-the-teacher joins the edtech brainstormers

Had a really great chat with a bunch of people last night on the show. Bud the teacher, Todd Vanek, Ant Jackson, Jeff Lebow and Jeff Flynn, Learndog and Pete Pasque all joined us at different times to talk about all kinds of stuff including the private public blog e-portfolio debate and what each of us has been doing over the last week trying to pull our edtechs together. Bud was telling some great stories about directing student blogs toward the guidance councillors in order to create some safer and more honest dialogue. It did alot to quell some of my fears from the post I made a couple of days ago. I’m still “scared of the people who are going to be scared of the honesty,” but as there is nothing that can be done, it’s just a question of being ready to face it when it comes.

If any of you are interested, feel free to join the live shows… times at edtechtalk.com

I’m also working with Jeff F. trying to put together some online feedbook examples. The wiki has just been put up, feel free to put up any feeds that you like, and either put them in their catagory, or just leave them lying around and I’ll put them away. A quick copy and past from delicious accounts or something more focused, any help would be appreciated. Bud was talking about how he works to get the people around him using the new technology, which is what got Jeff and I thinking about getting these feedbooks ready.

Great open source for education article tagged by Stehen downes. If you are trying to convince your people to go open source…

Post a Secret… Education and the ‘Real’

Strange thoughts strangely fitting for a night spent refreshing a resume. It is a strange process of ever increasing ‘truthiness’ the older you get… No longer do I have ‘worm farmer’ or ‘house painter’ on my resume, I don’t need to stretch the teaching credentials anymore, and that feeling like I need to describe the way I walked around the work site to fill up that extra two lines is gone (”and I always put my tools away”). I now shrink the font, instead of enlarge it. But there is very little ‘real’ in a resume. I try to sneak some in, but I have, once again, decided that that would have to wait for a future interview process.

It’s the blog real that it gets me thinking about. Much of the things that I hear myself and others smarter than I say about blogging is about students ‘getting a voice’ and being empowered. I wonder about students ‘getting a voice’. We live in a culture of repression, where our feelings are governed by propriety, by the necessity to conform to given situations. Something that came into full focus upon reading technorati’s second highest rated blog Post a Secret. Some of the posts are no doubt people playing around, trolls in the blog as it were, but some have that real feeling of truth. That kind of truth that binds us together with people at the oddest of moments, when eye contact is followed by that rare pronoucement of truth. I remember my first one as an adult “we really don’t like each other alot of the time, if it weren’t for the kids we wouldn’t be together at all, are you REALLY sure you want to get married.”

There is a natural restraint in much of the blogger universe, particularly amongst teachers. We are a wary crowd (wary used in lieu of more direct and honest terms that I wont use without three paragraphs of context). What happens, I wonder, when the ‘I want to kill myself’ posts start showing up in the classroom blogs. (I’m sure it’s happened somewhere by now, with all the accompanying questions about what the poster ‘really’ feels) I remember being a teenager, my voice wasn’t very happy. And I, for one, am quite pleased that there isn’t a portfolio of all the silly things that I wrote and felt at that time. While I do see my identity as one created by my history, I also wonder about my history never going away… There’s something about all this ‘publicness’ of the private that scares me. The honesty doesn’t scare me, I strive for that kind of honesty. It’s other people’s reaction to honesty that scares me… and i really don’t know why.

late night, and good night to all of you.

My Secret Postcard for tonight – I always wonder where you all are, and if you are happy when you are in front of your computer screens… I sometimes feel a little addicted.

Edtechtalk – a brush with two very decent people

Had a great show today with Will Richardson and Stephen Downes on Edtechtalk. They were very interesting, brought up some great points, and really quite a coup for us to have them on the show today. The thing that struck me the most was how nice they were. This is something that I have found consistently inside the blogging community (so far), everyone is willing to listen. They are willing to let people make mistakes. In talking about the software they like, and don’t like, they are always respectful of the work that people have done, whether it’s by Microsoft or billy joe rubberboot from down the street.

The other thing that struck me (and i mean in terms of personalities, they said lots of tech and ed things that struck me, but I’m going to need more time to process that) was their talk of the roles that they fill inside the community. Stephen as researcher and philosopher and Will as teacher and practitioner. I didn’t explain it very well during the show but I can’t help but think that these two groups NEED to come together to produce ‘official’ material that can trickle down to the public that isn’t ‘wired in’. An invitation with the authority of the academic and the wisdom of the practitioner…

Education and postmodernism – a toolkit of plenty – or how i learned to stop worrying and love the postmodern

I once hated postmodernism… at a real, visceral level. I didn’t like the word, I didn’t like the smug looks on the faces of people who used it, I didn’t like the way they used the word ‘text’. “Well, this painting makes a very interesting text blah blah la la (insert snooty tone).” That was ten years ago. In the interim, I’ve studied a little, and thought a little, and become alot less confrontational and have found myself quite liking this new thing (it’s at least over 40 years old) that I’ve discovered. The problem is, by the very nature of what it is, you can’t say ‘postmodernism is this’. It isn’t one thing. Not everyone even agrees on what it isn’t. It’s very different in architecture, for instance, than for educational theory. A more useful way of thinking about it, I’ve found, is not asking “what is it?” but rather “what can it do for me?” Over the next few months I’ll be delving occasionally into this uncertain word to talk about my understanding of this ‘toolkit’ that is postmodernity, no doubt incurring the boredom of some readers, and the scorn of others. But it does make sense to me somehow, and that’s what I’ll try to work out here. First some quick thoughts and then a layout of the plan for the short term.

My concern, and indeed my fear, of postmodernism is that it does away with any clear, definable truth. Truths are dependant on context, and power structures and hierarchies PoMo tells us, the Truth that you believe in (sometimes ‘common sense’) is usually one of a group of dominant narratives of a society at a given time and therefore not really True in the sense that there aren’t other ways to do it, but more true from a certain point of view. Take the idea that ‘history is written by the victors’ and expand it to society as a whole, so “The truths in society, is what is true for the people with the most power.(that is not necessarily a single group, but the more powerful for a given situation)” Trickle down economics is a great example of this. According to wikipedia Trickle-down or Reaganomics are “is the view that to benefit the wealthy is to benefit the middle classes and even the poor. These benefits then trickle down.” The benefit to the wealthy is easily measured, the rest, well, is more a matter of opinion. But there are many people who still consider this to be ‘True’ even though “Reagan’s Economic Advisor later characterized supply side economics and trickle down economics as rhetoric.” (both quotes from here. Why, you might ask would people continue to believe in it? It is a dominant discourse. It is a narrative that is equated with power. To agree with it, is to agree with ‘common sense,’ a common sense that one of the people who created it calls ‘rhetoric’.

In the past fifty years we done away with many of these dominant narratives in the classrooms. They are things, for good or bad, that aren’t true for us anymore.

  • corporal punishment
  • the military classroom model (desk rows)
  • transmission style teaching
  • The Three Rs (although this little nugget seems to have staying power)

all once thought true and right, and now things of the past. We can all recognize them now, we can see them for what they are. Some of the changes of the dominant way things are done (often dominant ways, the powerful do not always agree, nor is there only one layer of hierarchies) we may not agree with, but, like it or not, they aren’t ‘the way things are done.’

The next question then is, “how can we judge the things we are doing now?” How can we look at our practice and decide which things we do are good, and which are not good. RESEARCH is the most obvious answer. Get some experts to test it. Problem is, we don’t really believe in experts anymore. When a doctor says “take this medicine”, we now say “what is it?” If someone tells us 300 students were tested and we found that those who scored high in Math scored low on the ‘english aptitude test’. We ask “what was on the test?” There are always variables, and always contexts that can affect a given study (not to metnion out and out bias) that affects the ‘truth-value’ of any research.

Enter the toolkit version 0.1
Jacques Derrida is solely responsible for some of the best sleeps I’ve ever had. There’s nothing like an incredibly dense bit of material writing in response to something that you haven’t read. He was deconstructing ‘modern’ narratives. This idea of deconstructing a ‘text’. I wont do Derrida the disservice of trying to shorten the tool to a short description…

Jean Beaudrillard is still alive and kicking. His take on the term simulacrum gives us another tool to interpret our world. A simulacrum is a copy of a copy etc… of something until the copy no longer represents the original, but represents something entirely new. Think of the ‘mainstreet’ in Disneyland where everyone is happy, there is no crime or poverty. This is meant to resemble the ‘good old days,’ which, if you talk to someone who grew up in the depression, weren’t really all that good. These similacra own central places in many dominant narratives.

action research
In reality, that’s not how we do most of our adaptation anyway. If the person at the workshop says “wow, i tried this new trick on my students and it really worked.” we listen, we ask questions, we tune in. Action research is designed like this. A researcher, usually a classroom practitioner, follows their way through a project, using their PoMo toolkit, and talks about how things go. Are they making truth… no. Nor do they need to.

oh… even in writing them, i feel like I’m on shaky ground. But I feel like there is an honesty to writing this way. cheers for making it this far!

Project updates

We interrupt your regular scheduled programming to bring you this Dave’s Ed update…

Saturday morning of a very solid week. Worldbridges New Media Offer has attracted another pretty interesting project. Student language and culture exchange between Oberlin College in Ohio and an all women’s College in Jedda Saudi Arabia. Have had some great chats with some cool people and for this Sunday it looks like Will Richardson at 10am EST and Stephen Downes at 11EST live on the show.

The New Media Program that I’ve been working in and around over the last several months seems like it will make is to its alpha run, which is good. Jevon MacDonald, Rob Paterson and Tim Carroll were kind enough to invite me to sit around their table in their planning sessions for this course. The details are still not nailed down, indeed, keeping them in the air and letting them develop naturally is part of the plan. Essentially it is a course, designed to bring people together to learn to use new media by working on projects together. The idea is to keep the tech itself as transparent as possible and have the collaborators develop new media literacies ‘as they need them’. Unofficial start date is November 2nd. They’ll be regular posts for anyone interested.

The first entry in my ‘blog novel’ is posted on my personal site. I kinda like the idea of trying to do it in this medium. I’m also hoping for some comments along the way, and am interested to see how comments would affect the direction of the novel… there is a plan, but i’m not committed to it.

Teaching is great. I like blogging. Most other things are still ‘in the fire’… back to your regular scheduled programming.

Cheating, intellectual property, privacy and the read/write classroom

Tuesday, October 11th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

I’m sitting at an old computer, in a windowless room at the university where I teach ESL students. It reminds me of my old university days in the rat warren, otherwise known as the ‘Life’ Science Centre at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Legend has it that the architect committed suicide after building that coffin. I’d […]

Who is powering the publication?

Monday, October 10th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

A nice weekend away from the computer, chilled out a bit, and refocused myself for the coming weeks. We’ve got a bunch of stuff we’re doing, including the moodle moot some curriculum development not to mention my classes and the shows. But i’m looking forward to it all, which i suppose is a good sign.
I’ve […]

Patience in Podcasting

Friday, October 7th, 2005 (cut off in the great server crash of ’06)

Got brought up short tonight on the show by Jeff Flynn(gently as always, what a great guy)… I was ribbing him about podcasting in his new moodle installation, and about just doing his podcast with a microphone from his laptop. He says, “then it’s going to be about the technology, the kids are going […]
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