image of network of people

Thinking About Learning Webs

Why webs for learning?

In designing the Teaching With WordPress course, we ran across a notion proposed by Stephen Downes that open course design should be more about creating a web than a website. The idea, as I understand it, is to create opportunities for cross connections between ideas, resources, people and their networks. The course is a connection point for people to share their thinking, ideas in progress, experience and learn from each other. We consider ourselves learners and teachers together.

This notion helped us make decisions about how to build in opportunities for people to connect with each other through comments, posts, tweets – inside and outside of the course hub. Many people connecting with #TWP15 seem to understand the value of connecting, sharing links, ideas and works in progress. Many of us subscribe to open practices and have had enriching experiences as we have exchanged with our growing and changing networks over time. Through practice, we’ve found deep and enduring value in those exchanges. We could relate to the idea of webs for learning mainly because our experiences helped us make the connection.

How do learners relate to/ connect with this vision for learning “webs”, networks and communities?

In my own conversations with a handful of very bright, motivated and sensitive learners lately, I have learned that their engagement with learning communities (associated with their formal learning courses) involve the following concerns:

  • what the teacher wants: what requirements to I need to meet for discussion and “participation”?
  • what the community offers: who knows what and what do I know that can help others?
  • insecurities about self: online learning communities are big – it’s intimidating.
  • how much time will I need to spend on this?

In short, the goal for many learners, is to maximize learning and make friends without the high cost of extra effort or public embarrassment.

So, I am thinking about this as I am considering whether/how we might use Twitter to connect learners between courses. I think appealing to the “maximizing learning” idea – may be a way in for some students. I want to pose three questions to students (and others who want to play):
* why would (or would) you contribute to an open, learning community/network online?
* how might an open, online learning community/network help you maximize your learning?
* what would you consider before using Twitter to connect with a learning community?

There may be other, more interesting, pertinent questions. If you have any, let me know.

I am starting an open G-doc to collect responses.

Further thoughts on trust, learning communities and our role as mentors and facilitators.
Amanda Hayden, grad student at CSU, Chico in California, posted an excellent and insightful video blog on Speaking Openly UK, where she shares some of her thoughts on barriers to and opportunities for the development of trust in a learning environment. She is my teacher for this piece. Some thoughts:
* institutional barriers to students developing own learning paths and practices. Students don’t trust themselves to “get it right” “learn what they need to fulfill a requirement”.
* teachers hold the power – as long as grades are currency – implications for peer assessment?
* vulnerability in learning – need to establish caring culture, mentor relationships with faculty, shared vulnerability.
* when students focus on self (and their own learning) it leaves very little room for creating meaning with peers.
* trust can happen quickly among students (think MMPOG). Needs: shared goals, reputation built on skill to help and support each other achieve goals.

Via my expanded Twitter network (thanks to #TWP15) I came across Laura Gogia, who shared this excellent resource on Twitter and learning – something I plan to propose to students as a resource for the blended learning course we are creating together.

I am thinking about my responsibility as a collaborator with students on the design of learning environments for their peers. I’m looking for approaches to scaffold networked learning and learning in the open.

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this old learning community

Early this year, it became apparent that, as faculty were figuring out what it meant to create a flexible learning environment, many would turn to media development as a place to begin a whole series of DIY experiments in “transformation.” That meant, despite the prevailing atmosphere of competition and confusion, we, as a community of learning designers, technologists and media producers (who are accustomed to fee for service arrangements) needed to bring our collective skills to the table and figure out how to support a community needing consultation, curated/crafted resources, and inspiration. We felt like we were standing on quicksand and we needed a branch – that was the birth of the DIY Media Learning Community.

Learning communities aren’t really anything new. We have a long tradition of coming together and learning from each other – guilds as far back as the Middle Ages brought members together to exchange ideas and best practices of the day. Today’s learning networks mean that we can leverage online spaces for collaborations without the burdens of time and distance. But effective learning networks also require shifts in thinking. In a dated but succinct summary of this shift, authors Angehrn and Gibbert offer up:

The main shifts involved in the emergence of LNs are from

bureaucracies to networks,
training and development to learning, and
competitive to collaborative thinking.

Read more: Learning Networks – INTRODUCTION, BACKGROUND, Shift from Bureaucracies to Networks, Shift from Training and Development to Learning – Knowledge, Value, Lns, and Collaboration – JRank Articles http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/6655/Learning-Networks.html#ixzz34Cg7zlBe

So, we decided to meet monthly in order to do three things:

  • exchange news
  • share something to get feedback on
  • create something together

We created a wiki space where we could easily collaborate on content for feeding into a website – which I created the structure for over the winter break. And we are creating in the open – so that anyone can re-use what we develop/curate.

Successes?
People show up. Every month. People contribute content to the wiki (some people – this is still a bit of a hard sell). People are taking on roles (running focus groups to get feedback on the resources we are creating, trying out various tools and approaches for creating learning resources for different purposes and writing about the process). Boundaries between traditional roles and turf is breaking down just a smidge. And, it seems like there is less of an air of competition and more an intention of collaboration. People seem OK with a website that is “in development” – building as we go.

Challenges?
Navigating the politics of collaboration with senior management – more on that sometime later. Spoiler alert: when boundaries break down, everything shifts and new value propositions may need to be articulated.

My most favorite thing…leads to my least favorite thing

My most favorite thing about my job is when I have the opportunity to facilitate a great discussion.  I got the chance to do this, World Cafe style recently with colleague Jan Johnson and assisted by our intrepid co-op student Victor Ng.  We posed 2 questions to learners and teachers on separate occasions:

  • what are the qualities of a really great learning (or teaching) experience you’ve had lately?
  • what are the necessary ingredients to make a great learning experience from your perspective?

Here are some of the results in graphic form (thanks to Victor and Wordle). Teachers on the left – learners on the right.

Detailed results were assembled on our  wiki

And talked about (yes, this was my least favorite part) during the Learning Conference last week – here’s the video:

If you have any responses to those questions – I’d love to hear them.

Mapping Continued

Here are a few observations and updated resources from a recent workshop I delivered on mindmaps and concept maps. The goal was to have people try out the process (on paper), consider advantages/disadvantages of online formats and experiment with a few online tools.

Workshop outline (using Novamind) – (which is a good personal tool, less good as presentation tool):

Supporting wiki resource: Mind Mapping Resources (in progress).

Handout (some people love this stuff):

What I learned:

  • faculty not so keen on free form experimentation with tools  (this needed more structure maybe?)
  • best to stick to demo of one tool in depth when time is short – I tired to show 3 for different purposes – think it was too much
  • would have been better to have faculty who use a mapping tool co-present.
  • some people like to know exactly how it applies to their context – not sure how to deal with this – sometimes need to let people sit with their questions for a while?

Backcasting and PLE building

At UBC’s annual Educamp session yesterday, I listened to keynote, Duane Elverum talk about sustainability education, and was particularly intrigued by the concept of backcasting – a term I hadn’t heard before but an approach I use often in my own life.

Where forecasting imagines a future based on the way we are currently operating and are likely to operate in the future based on the technologies available to us, backcasting works from the ground up. It recognizes that tools and solutions to problems are never pre-determined, and so starts with a stated vision and then invents/adapts/leverages technology to achieve that goal.

Although the strategy is used often in design, urban planning and resource management, I think it can be highly effective for personal development and learning as well. In the context of thinking about and developing a PLE, here’s how it might work.

  • imagine/envision a future picture of yourself that you like.  What kind of work are you involved in? What are your interests? What qualities/attributes/skills do you have? How are you contributing to a world you want to live in?
  • consider your current situation.  Where are the gaps?  What do you need to do to develop into the person you imagine yourself to be?
  • employ or invent the approaches/technologies/learning resources to support the path to that vision.

For me, the process of decision making, thoughtful planning and conscious reflection are central components in the making of my own personal learning environment.

As Duane points out, students “see the things they are learning as disconnected from the increasingly urgent and dire warnings they hear and talk about everyday.”  At some point, those of us who have the potential to help learners grow into their responsibilities as citizens in an increasingly complex world, need to be stepping up as guides and facilitators in this process.