Posts Tagged ‘Learning’

Social Media in Education, Disorganizations and the Lifecycle of Emergence

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

5 years ago a small group including me and Teemu Leinonen formed the Finnish Association of Free, Libre and Open Source Software in Education (FLOSSE). Although we did some great things the effort didn’t last because the people involved were not that interested in running a traditional association. As in Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital, internet enables individualization of leisure time via the Internet and as a result, participation in traditional formal associations is in a decline.

As Clay Shirky outlines in his book Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, as the transaction costs (in reference to British guru on economics Ronald Coase) for cooperative work drops as a consequence of internet enabled mass collaboration, things tend to happen in a decentralized way without the need for centralized formal organizations. There are many examples of such forces at play, e.g. Wikitravel or OhMyNews.

In Finland we have witnessed the emergence of a decentralized virtual organization called Sometu (sosiaalinen media oppimisen tukena – social media in support of learning). This (dis)organization consists of over 3000 teachers, researchers and other people interested in social media in education. Sometu was formed in the end of 2007 and has grown rapidly since. Their main tool is Ning, but they use a wide variety of other social media tools to carry out educational experiments.

Now that Ning is going more commercial and social media conversation is becoming more overheated and tiring on the educational sector, people like Teemu Leinonen (at ITK-conference) and Tarmo Toikkanen have started to question the aim of Sometu and its mission. Sometu has started to live a life of its own as an echo chamber for educational social media fanatics with their own little experiments with a questionable degree of impact. With a more clear purpose such a (dis)organization could become much stronger and meaningful force in transforming the educational sector. Will it be capable for this?

With great interest I read Dave Pollard’s post on the Lifecycle of Emergence. He talks how intrigued he is of “flow” models depicting the dynamics and cyclic nature of complex systems. He talks about the details of his discovery of Meg Wheatley and Debbie Frieze’s (Berkana Institute) model of Lifecycles of Emergence and explains the model with the following picture:

lifecycleofemergence1 Social Media in Education, Disorganizations and the Lifecycle of Emergence

The Lifecycle of Emergence. Illustration: Dave Pollard, original by Chris Corrigan

When I saw this picture Sometu network immediately came to my mind. As I see it, it was set up by pioneers who named the network. Then it started rapidly evolving as a network as other enthusiasts joined, eventually emerging as a community of practice for using social media in educational practice. A lot of attention and success stories were built, illuminating the (dis)organization’s activities. As more newcomers joined and as the activity and transparency of the group’s activities grew, it became a major system of influence for educational transformation – until someone said that the emperor wears no clothes.

As with anything, technology is like a chair without two legs if the cultural transformation underlying it is missing or unclear for the user. If things get technologically driven – as Sometu seems to be too much so for some people – the question then becomes what is the cultural innovation behind the scenes. This could be concentrated as a mantra, mission or vision for such an organization, but such statements may become empty in meaning.

Influencing real change in education is exceptionally hard. Networks like Sometu need to carefully examine the real competencies they have and focus on those to avoid decline and jump to a new cycle of opportunities. This will be hard, especially if even the originating founders don’t know themselves what would be the forces that will keep their vague network together in the future – simple interest in tools for education is not enough.

Just as Bruce Sterling said to mobile developers at the Mobile Monday Amsterdam:

“I want you to think real hard about the values you are going to save and stop worrying about the plastic”.

Six Non-Thinking Socks

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Six Thinking Hats is a well known brainstorming method designed by Dr. Edward de Bono. Six Hats aims to help a group to think more effectively. The idea is to use different hats symbolically, in order to take different productive points of view to a conversation such as positive thinking, information & fact driven argumentation and critical judgment.

But what would be the opposite of Six Thinking Hats, points of view to a conversation that would be damaging and non-productive from the group effort point of view. Something that would eventually bring the conversation to a halt, a dead-end or even a fight? On a long lunch today with my colleagues we designed just that.

thumbnail 300x187 Six Non Thinking Socks

Six Non-Thinking Socks

How to destroy a potentially fruitful conversation and brainstorming session by just being present.

1. White Socks – Direct Interruption

What ever is being said is being interrupted by speaking over and loud. If someone starts to interrupt you too, just rise your voice and continue.

2. Red Socks – Getting Personal

Every point that is provided is cleverly turned into a personal assault targeting the character and personality of the fellow team player.

3. Black Socks – Unthinking

Use every logical fallacy in the book to confuse the conversation with arguments that first sound reasonable but turn out to be totally flawed in the very details.

4. Yellow Socks – Blatant Ignorance

When someone is speaking, just pretend that you are not listening. Look at the walls, at your clock and knock your fingers on the table. Moan.

5. Green Socks – Extreme Pessimism

It is the worst possible day of your life. Everything that is being said is viewed through lenses of absolute negativity and likelihood for failure. Cast a dark shadow on the whole conversation and start speculating what could most possibly go wrong.

6. Blue Socks – Unreasonable Haste

You are in such a hurry that there is no point in thinking about anything longer than a second – maybe two on a good day. No time to think – decisions are made based on intuition alone.

So, there you have it. Not too far away from your typical meeting.

Now go on and use this method in your next meeting and report back the results!

Experiential Learning Cycle & Social Technologies

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

In this video I will talk about David Kolb’s experiential learning cycle and how to consider the role of wikis, blogs and other tools in social reflective practices.

I would love to hear what you think about it. Should I do more of these?

Tools for Learning: Trends and Implications to Language Education

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I’m here at CCN Arctic Think Tank – Talking the Future: Languages in Education, a two day conference in Levi, Lapland. The weather is well below freezing and the landscape from the conference window looks pretty awesome. It was great to think about ideas with a horizon like this.

levi snow Tools for Learning: Trends and Implications to Language Education

Here are some notes I just produced with Emily Rosser from Macmillan Education, UK and Oliver Meyer from Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt, Germany regarding the future of online tools in language education.

Tools for Learning: Trends and Implications

Everything that can become digital, will rapidly become digital. Everything that could be automated by computers, will be automated. The amount of information in explicit form is increasing exponentially. We are moving towards an age of transparency: people produce user-generated content in the form of status updates in social networks, videos, interactive content, podcasts, blog posts, links and commentary.

The dynamic web fueled by social media is affecting content in real-time. New approaches to information visualization and categorization (e.g. with bottom-up categorization methods like tagging) are needed. Approaches like commons-based peer production enabled by technical architectures of participation in combination with open content licensing schemes (e.g. Creative Commons) changes the role of consumers into active participants – or prosumers.

The hardware capabilities, internet access, content production, content distribution and underlying educational methodologies are constantly improving and changing. We are in the middle of a paradigm shift regarding online learning. Traditional books are becoming non-linear, embedded in the very fabric of the network architecture. Paid content alone is no longer relevant enough. Publishers need to come up with added value services, extending their offering and role beyond traditional realms.

Technology takes content out of the classroom to the very context where learning happens. Smart internet enabled technologies will be embedded in our environment on e.g. walls and tabletops. Portable devices like e-book readers, tablets and next generation mobile computers make content available and integrated to the environment everywhere and anytime.

Opportunities for Language Education

Digital content and delivery will help enrich the pillars of language learning:

1. Enrich input

Content that should be made available to teachers and learners needs to make full use of the multi-sensory potential that digital formats and digital delivery offer to facilitate language intake. It also allows to deal with different learning styles.

2. Enhance interaction

New forms of communication allow instant cooperation between teams within a class and beyond.

3. Provide opportunities for dynamic output

Microblogging, tweeting, social networking and other Web 2.0 applications provide an authentic setting for output and communicative tasks in real-time.

4. Tailor scaffolding to individual needs

Non-linear learning environments allow for various kinds of scaffolding with respect to different learning styles and individual preferences.

5. Provide continuous and end-of-task assessment to give individualized feedback and offer individual learning pathways

Teacher qualification and new literaricies:

The increasing amount of available information will make it paramount for teachers to know how to select quality materials in the appropriate format. Teachers and/or material writers will need to design scaffolding and communicatively and cognitively challenging tasks around any available content. Teachers have to become literate in digital technologies.

Ideas for facilitating the above:

  • Development of a hub for teachers to link them to quality resources, planning and assessment tools online (e.g. to join an interconnected web of learners online).
  • Development of a hub for students which gives them access to resources and tips on how to make best use of new communication tools (e.g. to build a personal learning environment).
  • Personalized, flexible and delocalized online training services.

Fractal learning

Sunday, October 11th, 2009

One day I asked myself the question, what would learning look like if it could be visualized?

322px Mandel zoom 00 mandelbrot set Fractal learning

A fractal. Latin fractus, meaning fractured. It is recursive by definition.

What comes to my mind is the Mandelbrot set. In 1975, Benoît Mandelbrot first coined the term fractal. Mandelbrot emphasized the use of fractals as realistic and useful models of many “rough” phenomena in the real world. In The Fractal Geometry of Nature (1982) he writes:

Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in a straight line.

If something is rough, that’s learning. As you approach a new topic, you start from a fuzzy idea of what it could be. As it comes into focus, new details expose themselves on the fringes, enabling you to discover even more interesting perspectives you were not aware beforehand.

Fractals are seen in many parts of nature. Even fractal cosmology exists as an area of study. In a New Scientist article (2007) Labini & Pietronero asked the question, “Is the universe a fractal?“. Their study of nearly a million galaxies suggests that the matter in the universe is arranged in a fractal pattern up to a scale of about 100 million light years.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the total entropy in the universe increases over time, as change happens. In layman terms that would be analogous to a room getting messed up over time as people live in it. In thermodynamics, entropy is a measure of the amount of energy in the system that is no longer available. As entropy increases in the universe, at the same time incredibly intricate and detailed order emerges from the details. Think of the human brain on planet earth for example.

250px Fibonacci spiral 34.svg Fractal learning

Fibonacci spirals also depict the fractal pattern of beauty in nature. Golden ratio is a very well known principle in mathematics and art, first originating in the Liber Abaci (Book of Calculation) in the 13th century. Good examples of forms with Fibonacci spirals include the spirals of shells, various flowerings, the branching of trees and arrangement of leaves on a stem.

The internet looks like a fractal.

So what do fractals have to do with learning?

When considering learning, we are pattern recognizers. Just like fractals, our neural networks evolve over time and extend outside of us. As our environment changes, so do we.  As we process information, in addition to entropy, new patterns emerge. By increasing the ammount of information, you increase the possibility of new patterns to be recognized by people.

In the digital world, entropy is information overload and order is the pattern that emerges from the interconnection of such information.

Knowledge is like a hologram. In holograms, even smaller pieces of it include the picture of the whole object. Knowledge is like a hologram. The experience changes as your point of view towards the object changes. The knowledge is not in a single image, but distributed on a network.

This is pattern recognition. And it’s the culmination of fractal learning. It’s a Mandelbrot set that zooms into the details indefinitely. Universe is fractal by nature. So is learning fractal by nature. It’s rough, it’s self-similar, it’s recursive and increasing the likelihood for serendipity is key for building higher structures.

Here is a recent Finnish presentation recording of my talk on the subject at a conference (Verkkoja kokemassa):

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Here are my slides from the Distance Education & Teaching conference in Madison, USA (still waiting for the presentation recording to be published):