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Posts Tagged ‘social networking’

The Gap: Web 2.0 & Higher Ed

June 20th, 2008 jonmott Comments

Just read an excellent post by Martin Weller over at e-Literate. Weller makes the excellent point that instituting social learning technology (Web 2.0 apps) in higher ed is not merely a matter of technology–it is (surprise) just as much a social and cultural issue. (Weller is from the Open University and is one of the key players behind SocialLearn.)

Weller invites us to “think of the learning systems we use as the metaphor for the way we approach pedagogy, the learner experience and the role of the educator.” This is a thought-provoking exercise that reminds us that systems should be here to serve us (learners and those who facilitate it) not the other way around.

The biggest “social” obstacle to the implementation of networked learning environments in higher ed is, as Tevye would have put it, “Tradition!” There will undoubtedly be “bottom-up” pressure from students to evolve, but the transition is also likely to be generational as newer, younger faculty members, raised in the Web 2.0 world, begin to change the practices of the academy.

Participatory Learning Culture & the CMS

June 19th, 2008 jonmott Comments

Henry Jenkins was the closing keynote at the NMC Conference last week. Jenkins provided his latest thoughts and observations about today’s “participatory culture.” While individuals have greater capacity than ever before to appropriate, repurpose, remix and publish “new” content, Jenkins argues that this phenomenon is not as new as sometimes think. In fact, he argues, Herman Melville “remixed” themes from the Bible, Shakespeare, Milton and whaling culture to create Moby Dick. Today’s participatory culture, though, differs from what prevailed in Milton’s day in several important ways. Today’s culture is characterized by:

  • Relatively low barriers for engagement
  • Strong support for sharing creations with others
  • Informal mentorships
  • Participants believe their contributions matter
  • Participants care about others’ opinions of them and their work

In the world of social networking and self-publishing, traditional definitions of “teacher” and “learner” and the relationships between them are passé. Jenkins is fronting an important and promising effort to address the “new media literacy” competencies that are required to flourish in today’s participatory culture. But what I found most striking as I listened to his talk was the gap between the technologies that are most readily available on most college campuses today and the technologies that under gird the participatory culture of the “real world.”

I have argued in a previous post that course management systems are generally ill-designed to facilitate a transformation of teaching and learning practices. Jenkins’ keynote served to further crystallize this view in my mind. To illustrate just how far the average CMS is away from providing the infrastructure for a participatory learning culture, think about how students, teachers and learning activities are defined in most CMSs. First students only exist inside courses. They have no presence (i.e. roles or relationships) outside of a course. There is no learning space that bridges or transcends the course. At most institutions, when a semester is over, the student might well have never existed in the system. He or she cannot login and see past course work, reconnect with classmates, etc. One promising change in this equation is the emergence of e-portfolio tools (especially when integrated with CMSs) which allow students to collect artifacts of their learning as they go along, maintaining a record of their learning across courses. On balance, however, the technology still doesn’t do much to foster an environment in which learners are active, creative participants in the learning process. (Think about what about when students graduate. What happens then?)

The role of teachers is much the same. They don’t exist outside of a course. And courses are generally the be-all and end-all of “learning act ivies” inside CMSs. There’s no space for learning that transcends and aggregates learning from individual courses. There’s little if any space for programmatic learning, support of general education, metacognition, informal learning, lifelong learning, etc.

In the future I see, course management systems will not (or at least should not) exist. They should be replaced with learning management systems or, better yet, with learning network environments in which students can create and manage their own personal learning environments, unlimited by course schedules, course rosters, etc. Academic technologists (and software developers) should quit looking for new and more efficient ways of automating the past. Instead, we should be facilitating more open, flexible and dynamic learning environments.