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 Challenge – Day 9 – Student-Generated Textbook

softchalkadDisclaimer – I have friends that work for Softchalk.  One of their recent ads suggested that “If Content is King, shouldn’t it be RICH?

There seems to be this assumption that content is indeed king.

Google “Content is King” and you get a bazillion returns.  One I liked was from Socialmedia Today, which quoted Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed saying that “Content is King, but Distribution is Queen and She Wears the Pants.” At another site, David Callan of AKAMarketing.Com noted that:

“On the Internet content is king and always will be. This is because the Internet is the information superhighway and most people use it for information of some sort.”

Content may be king for web design and marketing, but should content be king for college classes?  Jeff Nugent led a great learning path session today for a room full of faculty on the changing nature of the web. In the session description, Jeff noted:

“Web-based technology and new media continue to shape the teaching and learning landscape in higher education. Things like learning management systems, wikis, blogs, social networking sites, and ubiquitous access to information have opened new opportunities for collaboration, content creation and learning that only a short time ago were unimaginable. Indeed, over the past few years we have witnessed the rapid growth of tools and practices that facilitate web-based interaction and exchange among individuals and groups. Now nearly everyone with a computer, Internet access and freely available software can communicate with text, images, audio and video to audiences that comment, vote, rank, exchange, link, share and connect. In addition, course content from a significant number of colleges and universities has become organized and openly available on the web, spawning new opportunities for both formal and non-formal learning. In short, the web has become a social and participatory space that serves as a platform for community building and learning…”

This suggests that the content is already “out there.”  If this is so, then why are we as faculty providing a textbook to our students to – in many cases – passively read?

Day 9: What would teaching and learning look like for students if classes emulated the crowdsourced concept behind Wikipedia to co-develop the class textbook, rather than purchasing an already printed book?

Co-developing a textbook would factor in both the platform of participation, as Jeff calls it, and the open educational resources readily available.

wikipediaI suggest Wikipedia as a model intentionally.  Wikipedia has certainly been a disruptive force in collective knowledge making.  Launched thirteen years ago, it now contains over 30 million articles in 287 languages (4.4 million articles in English alone), the vast majority developed by volunteers.  A comparison of 42 science articles by Nature in 2005 found the quality to be comparable to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wikipedia has created an interesting process of article development in the open and crowd assessment for quality.  One of the better descriptions of that process can be found in Jon Udell’s screencast on the heavy metal unlaut.

Could such a process be used to crowdsource a textbook for a class by the students taking that class?  Doing so would seem to meet some of the principles laid out in Susan Ambrose’s book (2010) How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.  Susan’s seven principles are:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can serve to help or hinder learning.
  2. Students’ organization of knowledge impacts how students learn and apply what they know.
  3. Motivation determines, directs, and sustains what students learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must develop the skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances learning.
  6. Students’ current level of learner development interacts with the social, emotional and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed, learners must be able to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

It could early on identify faulty prior knowledge.  It would help students find and organize knowledge.  Giving students some ownership over the process could increase motivation.  It is certainly goal directed and will require the mastery of curation skills.  As a crowdsourced process, students would be monitoring and adjusting their learning as they developed the course textbook.  Finally, as a web resource, the students would have access to their own work after the course was completed, something sorely lacking in most LMS course sites.

I am not suggesting this for every class…though I could make the case that just about any class would have learning enhanced if the students – as part of their learning path – sought out, organized, curated, and published on the web a visible compilation of the topic under discussion.


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