Why Networked Learning?

Jeff Nugent, Joyce Kincannon and I sat down this morning to record a podcast that riffed off of our GRAD-602 class last night.  We had continued our exploration of digital practices, focusing on communication and collaboration. We started last week with a Shirky quote last week on the largest increase in expressive capacity ever.  Another quote that inspires us and aligned with last night:

“In conversation we think out loud together, trying to understand. … The Web releases thoughts before they’re ready so we can work on them together. And in those conversations we hear multiple understandings of the world, for conversation thrives on difference. ” (David WeinbergerEverything is Miscellaneous (2007, p. 203)

podcastIn that spirit, we looked at practices associated with communication, such as email (parodied as the breakthrough communication that opened the professor’s door…but continues to be primarily a broadcast mechanism), video conferencing, and networked communications such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook.We then shifted to digital collaboration, noting the overlap in many of these processes / practices we have already covered.  One example we showed was Mike Wesch’s class wiki, tying in student-generated content with tweets and blog posts and empowering students to co-construct their course.

We were trying to move our students beyond new ways to do old things.  Mike Wesch‘s open class offered up new ways to do new things…such as his World Simulation.  Another example of digital imagination is Wikipedia.  At the same time that Microsoft was spending massive dollars to create Encarta – a CD based encyclopedia produced by known experts, Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger launched Wikipedia, letting anyone collaboratively write and share articles.  There are now 4.4 million articles in the English version alone … though Wikipedia is now in 287 languages.  Globally, it is now the fifth most heavily used website.  This departure from “expert-driven” style took digital imagination.

This morning, we discussed the “So What?” question.  What makes networked learning compelling?  Take a listen…and add your thoughts using the comment feature below.

{Photo courtesy of Bud Deihl}

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30 Day Question Challenge – Day 2 – Hyperlinked Course

Yesterday, Enoch Hale started us on a 30-Day Challenge to post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for thirty days.  I responded yesterday with a question about design and whether it was complicated or complex.

reimaginetextMy question today really dates back to a wonderful book by Tom Peters, who in 2003 published Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age.  Tom crossed the Atlantic to find a publisher (Dorling Kindersley) that would publish the book the way he wanted.  And what Tom wanted was a print book that acted like a hyperlinked website.  Every page had sidebars with dashed lines linking to points in the text.  Every page had a variety of fonts, colors, and icons…drawing your eyes and moving you in different directions.  Tom recognized back eleven years ago that the world was morphing into a hyperlinked world.

So my question: Day 2: What would a course look like if its premise was the hyperlink rather than a linear chronology?

Michael Wesch in a delightful Youtube video “Information R/evolution (embedded below) noted that digital text is different from print text.  Hypertext has the ability to separate form from content on the Internet. Once form and content have been separated, users on the web with no previous coding experience are able to upload content (text, photos, video, etc.). Hyperlink fundamentally changes user interaction with digital media. Think about the implications of this as a premise for a course.



For me, a hyperlinked course would be a course of discovery.  It would use as a foundation a constructivist approach…but shift into connectivism as networks were built out.  It opens up new opportunities for dialogue and new challenges for assessment.  It would also shift the power structure in the course, empowering students for more self-directed learning.

And it could be a blast to teach!

Thoughts?  What are your questions for today?

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Our Class Technology Journey

journey2Over the past five weeks, the graduate students in my Educational Technology and School Leaders class embarked on a journey into cyberspace  – a first for many of them and one for many of them as mystical as the illustration here.  Five weeks ago, my students were self-described technophobes.  They were worried not only about taking an online class, but particularly worried about the requirement in this class to blog and, in the first four weeks, to post online a web tutorial that they individually developed to explain to their classmates how to use a Web 2.0 tool in their classrooms.

It frankly was overwhelming to most of them.

tutorialsFive weeks later, all students have begun to blog.  Last week, all students successfully posted in their blogs their multimedia presentations on their web tool.  Their tutorials covered a variety of web tools that could be used instructionally, as shown on the list to the left.  You can see their tutorials aggregated in our class Google Site page.

I was pleased with the results.  As would be expected, the quality range varied, but each student showed considerable growth in their own learning.  The students primarily used Jing for their presentations, but we had a couple of Camtasia screencasts, one Youtube video and one Screenr.

This past weekend, they each reflected on their journey in their blogs.

I had to smile at one observation.  She noted that she goes to Quote Garden whenever she is stressed and needs inspiration due to feeling overwhelmed…and my course had driven her to this site more than she cared to admit!  Many of my students talked about their initial fears, anxieties, stress, and even tears, but then remarked on the joy they felt as they achieved success.  As one noted:

“…At first, I was sceptical and was of the opinion that this [class] should have been a face to face class where we are actually taken into a lab and shown how to use {these} tools.  But I will retract on that; one of my most satisfying moments was actually when I did the first recording and playback after many failed trials…”

What was most interesting was the shift in tone in their posts.  The tone had shifted from concern to elation and confidence.  As one noted, “Who knew web 2.0 tools could be so cool?”  This Wordle below is a compilation of their 13 blog posts, and I cannot find any negative words listed.  What I see are positive action words.


“Use” and “Using” are two words that stand out, as does the word “students”.  Several members of the class discussed how they were already incorporating some of these tools into their teaching practice.  I loved the fact that one first-grade teacher was having her 6 year olds develop Jing videos!  Others had begun to experiment with wikis, photostories, and Glogster.

Several noted that their exploration of blogs in this class had opened their eyes to the use of educational technology by other teachers.  They also had been surprised when they approached their local school technology people and found that these “experts” had never heard of Jing, Slideshare, or other web tools we were exploring.  What I liked was that they felt empowered to share their learning with these people and their fellow teachers.  More than one noted that they had approached their principal about sharing and found their principal supportive.

We had mixed reviews when it came to the question of openness on the web.  One noted that she had become “more open minded about technology and that using the web to communicate and share information doesn’t have to be a scary experience.”  Another said that she was “a little more open minded about the use of technology not only for my own personal growth but in the classroom and in sharing with my students.”  But another candidly noted that her “reluctancy is not in the use of technology but in making my page public.”

Several commented about how I had organized this online class and introduced the topic of Web 2.0.  One said that she was looking for more scaffolding of her learning from me but learned that I wanted her to explore…and she learned that she could explore and learn.  Another remarked that she had put down YouTube in the past, but never realized what a wealth of knowledge could be found there.

This course ultimately explores how schools plan for and fund technology for their schools.  It could easily be a fairly dry course about boxes and wires.  By introducing Web 2.0 as the first module, I believe that my students are in a more knowledgeable position to wrestle with the ethical, legal and political issues associated with the use of the web instructionally, and therefore better able to articulate a vision for educational technology in their schools.  To borrow from Michael Wesch, these future administrators have moved from knowledgeable about educational technology to knowledge-able.

{Photo Credit: Rig329}

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The Interconnected Tool Set

It has been a busy week but I have had some enjoyable experiences.  Last night, I covered Jeff Nugent’s class, Learning with Digital Media, while he was at the POD Conference. Today, I worked with the faculty of the Occupational Therapy program on instructional uses of the web.  In both cases, I got to see light bulbs come on as people realized that it was not blogging, or twittering, or screencasting, or Slidesharing, or any specific tool – it was the mix of tools that made the difference.

With the Mass Comm class, we spent time talking about YouTube and Michael Wesch‘s An anthropological introduction to YouTube.  This class of juniors and seniors were pretty insightful in examining how YouTube, which has only been around less than 4 years, has become a cultural landscape where people are connecting, communicating, and sharing multiple aspects of their lives.  Several of Jeff’s students blogged about the video in his class sandbox.  I particularly liked how one of Jeff’s students, Frances, stated it:

“Throughout the course of the semester, I have been looking at the tools we learn about on an individual level, interacting with them accordingly. I appreciate how Welsh shows the audience how all the tools really connect as a user-generated machine. A video is created in Youtube and tagged through user-generated aggregation sites like Digg and Delicious.  RSS feeds then serve as user-generated distribution. Content can ultimately get more and more views depending on what users like and find interest in. It is truly a massive user-dependent media machine. This knowledge makes me feel like my interaction makes me a part of the process.”

This morning, I met with the OT faculty as part of their every-two-weeks professional development.  A month ago, Jeff had spent time with them discussing what the research suggested about how people learn and how students are using technology.  My job was to follow up with a discussion on instructional uses of tools.  I therefore surveyed them this week to see their level of interest on ten different web applications.  The results were mixed, but in general the interest across the board was high.  So we spent two hours today playing.

We started by creating a wiki in Wetpaint to hold the resources we found.  We then spent time discussing possible uses of blogs.  One faculty is taking some students overseas this summer and saw the blog as a way these students could both reflect on their experience and stay connected with their peers back home.  Super idea!!!  From blogs, we played with Twitter (with a tweet arriving from Jeff at POD).  From some of the tweets they saw, we jumped into Flickr, which led us to SlideShare, and then back to Delicious.  Lee Lefever’s CommonCraft videos got quite a workout!  What they began to understand was how interconnected my network was across all of these tools…and they began to conceptualize how that fit their world.

As I said, a fun day!

{Graphic developed by Jeff Nugent}

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