Jargon at JISC Innovating e-Learning 2011 Online Conference

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CCL Kevin Spencer at http://www.flickr.com/photos/vek/4997286231/

The issue of jargon came up at the JISC online conference more than once today.  This was my first involvement at the conference, and I was asked to contribute to 2 sessions on digital literacies. Despite many other commitments and a stinking cold, I enjoyed both sessions that seemed to generate a rich discussion amongst participants (as it was a closed conference, I can’t share the recordings or discussion links with you).

Of course, my view of the sessions was not universal;)  It became clear that some participants  found the terminology being used inexact and alienating (smiling as I realise this term may be deemed to be jargon).  One particular issue was around the terms (digital) competency and digital literacy(ies). In my job as facilitator, I picked up a reference to this from the Elluminate session chat and fed it back as part of a reply.  This thread developed and highlighted that competence and literacy are terms used in very different ways in different communities.  Some participants from FE (for non-UK non-education folk that means Further Education, tertiary education, vision outlined here) found the use the terms ‘literacy’ and ‘competence’ as being completely different to how they are used in FE sector. At the Friday session, I was ticked off in the chat for using the term ‘user’ as it has connotations of drug user.

So why does any of this matter?  If we come together at conferences, in order to share ideas about ( in this case) innovating in e-learning,  then real dialogue has to take place if we are to achieve this.

I am using the term ‘dialogue’ in the sense that David Bohm used it – briefly, to share and create meaning through words rather than to argue and debate our own ‘truths’, short explanation here, entire book here

It is clear that different vocabularies (particularly when terms are used in contradictory ways) can be obstacles to dialogue but I sense that some of the complaints about jargon are pointing to wider frustration about communication processes.  As Paul Becque says ” Bohm may have suggested that we are often talking about the same important things but get psychologically trapped in attacking and defending how we define and articulate these things.”  I wonder if we were all talking about the same things but the process was somehow faulty at times. I am pleased that the exchange caused me to think about my own communication (I was supposed to be a facilitator after all), and I’d like to offer the space of this blog post, if anyone wants to share their thoughts.  Who knows? we may create some shared meanings.

And now I think it’s important that we iterate multidisciplinary paradigms – just kidding;) I got that from plugging ‘digital literacy’ into http://www.sciencegeek.net/lingo.html.  Here are some of my thoughts about communication with respect to ‘digital literacies’ – whatever that means.

Yesterday’s exchange me to think about why I use the term ‘digital literacy’.  I was definitely using it in 2009, and think that I adopted the term to cover work that I was already doing in curriculum development, based on my beliefs in the need for experiential learning of new technologies, and the value of such learning activities in providing opportunities for critical reflection (studded with my then educational jargon).  Adopting the term led me into writings and communities that resonated with me and helped me to develop my thinking and educational practice. I know that I would not have used the term ‘computer literacy’ as for me, that had negative connotations from my own children’s experiences at school and college in the 1990/2000s.

I re-read my recent blog post on digital literacies as constructive dialogue and realised that although I use the term Digital Literacies in the title of the model, I don’t use it within the model, nor is it a term I would use with students. I wonder what jargon I use with them – ‘digital media landscape’ is a contender.

My last thought is about the feasibility of a common agreed vocabulary – I don’t think that is feasible or even (probably) desirable). Different communities do use different vocabularies, and when they get together for a project, they might usefully agree a glossary of terms for the project but vocabulary standardisation would be just too controversial and too much effort, I think.  In 2007, Stephen Downes posted on Why The Semantic Web will fail and I suspect that there more reasons than he identifies.

I would love to hear what you think, particularly anyone who was at #jiscel11.

It’s mine – or rather, it’s his: other ways to talk about changing practice

This blog post is a reply that I posted to Stephen Downes’ review of Anya Kamenetz’s booklet on Edupunk, and a celebration of finding David Jenning’s blog.

@Stephen I think you make a valuable distinction in your first paragraph between learning by doing and DIY learning that is useful to anyone learning or trying to help others learn.
I found myself wondering why Anya Kemenetz didn’t refer to the provenance of the term Edupunk or FWIW cited OLDaily as a resource but then I checked out the comments thread here and began to think that maybe Anya would be damned if she did try to acknowledge the ‘origins’ of Edupunk just as she has been damned for not doing so.

It's Mine
This blog post is a reply that I posted to Stephen Downes’ review of Anya Kamenetz’s booklet on Edupunk, and a celebration of finding David Jenning’s blog.

@Stephen I think you make a valuable distinction in your first paragraph between learning by doing and DIY learning that is useful to anyone learning or trying to help others learn.
I found myself wondering why Anya Kemenetz didn’t refer to the provenance of the term Edupunk or FWIW cited OLDaily as a resource but then I checked out the comments thread here  and began to think that maybe Anya would be damned if she did try to acknowledge the ‘origins’ of Edupunk just as she has been damned for not doing so.
I think Ed Webb made a good point on the same comments thread.

Ed Webb says:
February 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm
I can’t be doing with all this movement theology. The spirit of the thing seems to be the most important. If it’s no fun any more, if the thrill is gone, then the breakup makes sense.
Also, this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkdqCTcDkbc

I do wonder about the value of trying to pin down and own the term Edupunk see http://bavatuesdays.com/edupunk-or-on-becoming-a-useful-idiot/

I agree with @David that it is quite a useful booklet.  I would think that if I directed two resources – Anya’s booklet and your Future of Online Learning article- to new students thinking about how be effective learners in a changing sociotech landscape, they would find hers much more useful. Whereas learners researching online learning would find yours useful at a much deeper level.

As an idea Edupunk is clearly inspirational and motivating but it’s not a completely fixed thing where you need to check all the boxes.  If it were, you couldn’t really ‘claim’ your (excellent) MOOCs as part of it.  I remember in CCK08, you and George clearly positioned yourselves on occasions as ‘teachers’ teaching a ‘theory’ despite the rhetoric of teaching by modelling practice
Being a teacher myself I felt a mixture of sympathy and amusement when you were moved to reply to a participant:

“I’m sorry to be snippy – but I’m getting very tired of students in this course saying “I disagree” or “You’re wrong” without giving me even the faintest clue about what it is that seems wrong much less concrete evidence that they’ve read the work they’re disagreeing with).

This isn’t a confessional course. You do not need to profess your faith one way or another. I don’t care whether or not you agreee or disagree with me or anyone else. What I do care about is that you have understood the theory sufficiently as to have some reason for disagreeing.” http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=956#p5802 (scroll down)

What I suspect is at the bottom of this is captured in @David’s last 2 paras how do we critique ideas and practice of learning (like MOOCs , connectivism and Edupunk) in this changing socio-technical landscape. As I commented here , I don’t find the occasionally tetchy tone very helpful.  Also, I think we should guard against the premature stabilisation of ideas .

Stephen’s post has also been valuable to my networked learning as it has helped me to find David Jenning’s blog  – so thanks to both of you for that.

Knowledge Transfer: old wine in new bottles or how many contentious statements can I make in one blog post?

Punning wine

Punning Wine By Mike Knell

(includes edited content from a comment I made to Stephen Downes blog post)

I have been watching a ‘debate’ unfold over the weekend with increasing mystification.  I even posted a couple of comments but I didn’t really feel that there was much idea exchange taking place. If you want to check it out, George Siemens has some useful links here .

For me the first old wine in new bottles (itself a fairly stale metaphor but I love the picture)  is the idea of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) – I thought that open fora and ‘free’ courses had been around for a  long time for example WebHeads in Action since 1997, open learning environments have been under discussion since mid 1990s at least (though open learning variously defined) e.g. http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~bwilson/wils95 and I am sure (though I can’t find links at present) there have been free courses online (e.g. in HTML) since mid 1990s too.  Don’t get me wrong the recent crop of MOOCs has generated a lot of interest and experimentation but this will be more informed if they acknowledge their heritage.

The second old wine in new bottles is the terminology and paradigm debate.  Quite a lot of the talk was about the meaning of learning, knowledge and even the term ‘knowledge transfer’.  This one really made me smile, as the term ‘Knowledge Transfer’ has a fairly well-defined meaning in UK HE, as it refers to a funded graduate recruitment scheme where businesses, graduates and academic work in partnership to transfer knowledge between them – very contextual and processy, unlike knowledge transfer as item of ‘knowledge’ passing from sender to receiver . The knowledge transfer being discussed this weekend sounded more like ‘transmission mode learning’  about which acres of text have been written, and clearly linked back to earlier work on communication, explained and critiqued rather well here in the transmission mode of communication.

This critique also neatly demonstrates how a model originating from a viewpoint different from one’s own can still be useful (up to a point) in one’s own meaning-making.  I am very interested in how those to whom ‘learning’ means something different can still have a productive and meaningful dialogue. I think participants would have to start by trying to explain what the word means to them and then listen to what others have to say. It would also help participants (especially given the context of openness) to enter the dialogue with the possibility of changing their minds even if only in a small way.  Maybe what is important about theories of learning and knowledge is what they mean to learners and teachers, as we personally theorise the world around us. Since that can often be in a social context we need to get the knack of sharing theories in dialogue. I have observed over a long period (and on CCK08 in particular) that teachers use theories in a very pragmatic way (connectivism being a good example), sometimes thinking about transmission modes of learning, other times using constructivism and in our digitally-saturated environment, turning to connectivism to help them practice and reflect.  I spent a short time as a Maths teacher in school and saw the twin disadvantages of knowing your times tables without understanding how they were constructed and vice versa, whereas what practice of numeracy requires both that you know your times tables and understand what they mean.  This may be achieved by combining rote learning and discovery learning.

The last point I wanted to make was about the general tetchy tone of some of the contributions (notable exception being @dkernohan 😉 ) Stephen Downes using the term nonsense and David Wiley identifying a comment as the ‘snob’ response. Just what is this ?  are the writers claiming ‘truth’? ownership of ideas or concepts like MOOCs?  This seemed to me to a very ‘masculine’ debate (OK that’s my interpretation) both in terms of style and inclusivity.  I would playfully prescribe that the main contenders in this weekend’s debate assign themselves an OOC on Belenky’s Womens Ways of Knowing, since Belenky’s work challenged and grew out of Perry’s Model of Intellectual Development which emerged from a very restricted sample of white  middleclass male MBA students and was then generalised to others.

So here is my contention:

that if we want to grow and explore concepts like informal learning online, MOOCs and OERs for the benefit of all, we need to involve all – men, women, young, old, from different philosophical and religious perspectives, from countries all over the world, and acknowledge the contributions of earlier scholars.

Now that isn’t going to be easy, inclusivity never is, but I don’t think this recent ‘debate’ has contributed much – however good some of the individual contributions were, the whole left a sour taste, in my mouth at least.

Looking backwards, looking forwards

I am on a bit of a “Back to the future” theme at the moment and so when I volunteered to interview for the current purposed campaign, I decide to do a bit looking back as well as forward.

The instructions were:

For our next campaign we want to you to spread the Purpos/ed message by asking somebody two questions and recording their answers:

A) How should we educate people in the future?
B) What do we need to be doing now to enable that?

We’d like people to use Audioboo to record audio for these.

I interviewed my friend Marian who left school at 14 1/2 and, as an added bonus, her partner Ray  arrived part way through the interview.  Unfortunately we had barely got started when the 5 minutes were up but here is the first part of our discussion http://audioboo.fm/boos/388699-interview-with-marian-and-ray.

The sound quality of the last part is not improved by the dog barking in the kitchen – Billy wanted to see Ray too.

After we had run out of audio boo, we had a really interesting discussion, covering the following points.

  • at the time Marian and Ray left school, jobs were in abundance (contrast that with now) but it wasn’t possible for either of them to stay on past the school leaving age even though they regret that now
  • they both learned a lot in their workplaces but have also learned other things e.g. Ray learned to play the guitar through a correspondence course
  • they don’t have access to the Internet but are beginning to be interested though starting digital photography and hearing so much about it

I am very interested in how the generation approaching retirement can gain access to the Internet, learn how to use it and learn through using it at a time in their lives when they will have more free time but less money.  As NIACE tell us,

“Those who are not online are older, in lower income brackets, and are less likely to have formal qualifications. It is estimated that households can save around £500 a year by being online, and one in three internet users say they use the web for learning and finding information online.”

When we are thinking about the purpose and future of education, let’s not forget about the generations who missed out the first time around and are in danger of missing out on new ways of learning.

The purpose of education

Education, 1890, by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Tiffany Studios

What is the purpose of education?

Well, of course that raises more questions:

What is education? I refer you to the stained glass window above see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_%28Chittenden_Memorial_Window or my interpretation that it is an activity involving serious angels and though which light can shine.

Whose purpose are we talking about? Well I think we just have to agree that there is a variety of purposes, and I’ll say more about that later.

Why are we asking the question?

Purpos/ed seems to about working to raise the position of education on the political agenda.  It also seems to be located within the learning technology community. This suggests to me that educational funding is seen to be under threat and that the role of technology in education is important.

Fred Garnett referred us to Mike Wesch’s inspirational ideas on the need for educators and learners to (re)gain a sense of the purpose of education. Stephen Downes and Lou McGill showed how educational system can go awry.

Ewan McIntosh persuaded me that we should be “giving up the artificial reins we as teachers, parents and governments use to strangle those passions and the  creativity that lends itself to their growth.” Other contributors stress the need for passion and creativity, and the agency of learners (and teachers).

My own view

Passion about solving the current problems in education and excitement about the possibilities offered by web and network technologies can tempt us to think that current educational systems can somehow be replaced by technology.  This could be a risky experiment!

Conscious of a slightly anti-teaching tone creeping into debates about networked learning, I ran an online seminar where participants explored the role of teachers in learning networks and what happens when they disappear. My conclusion was that good teachers know when to disappear, or give up the artificial reins.

My two applications did not result in a National Teaching Fellowship but the reflective writing I did for them helped me develop my philosophy of education, based on my experiences as student, mother, teacher and researcher in secondary, further and higher education. So I do believe that thinking about and questioning the hows and whys are very important parts of education.  Education is in constant flux: within families, institutions, networked publics.  Keri Facer stressed the “urgent need to have a serious public debate about the purpose of education that builds bridges between students, educators and the wider public”.  Perhaps the purpose of education is to construct a participatory dialogue about the purpose of education: a dialogue that makes a difference to what learners experience throughout their lives.

Education has four pillars: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together and learning to be.  I believe its impact depends on its ability to enable all of us to shape it.  Purpos/ed is doing a great job of involving educators in the dialogue – the next challenge is to involve the learners.

International Women’s Day 2011 – make a small difference

International Women’s Day is on 8 March 2011.

Happy International Women's Day
Photo from Katkura

Although this day has been celebrated since 1910, there is always a danger that it provides a ‘warm glow’ moment and does not make any difference to what we do or think.  Not aspiring to revolution #egypt style, and partially prompted (but not managed!) by Fred Garnett, I have thought of something that we can do that can make small local differences to women, and possibly shift the tenor of online connections.  My other prompt was receiving a touching private  message from a former student, thanking me for helping her achieve promotion.  When I shared this on anonymously on Facebook, I got more props (not my intention!) and a general affirmation of the importance of positive feedback.

This left me pondering on the knotty question of Linked-in recommendations.  My personal policy on this is to make unsolicited recommendations whenever I think of them, but I have noticed recently that the number of requests for recommendations from male colleagues has been increasing (including from one for whom I had already written an unsolicited recommendation- you know who you are!!). I haven’t been able to find any research on gendered recommendation behaviours on Linked-in but would not be surprised if they are what we might expect based on what happens elsewhere – that women tend to get less glowing recommendations.  I also wonder who makes more recommendations – men or women.

So what I am asking you to do for International Women’s Day is to look at your acknowledgement behaviours  and make sure that you credit the wonderful women that you work, play and live with.  Who knows? you may already do this or you may do it in future.

Here are some concrete suggestions:

1. Look at your blogroll – are there any great women bloggers who should be there?

2.  When you visit a woman’s blog, go on – post a comment.

3. Retweet good posts you see from women.

4.  Follow some interesting women on Twitter that you see in a hashtag stream.

5.  Recommend some great women on Linked-in without them having to ask you.

6.  Tell the women in your life when they do something great or useful or that makes you happy

In general – spread the love!

Warning:  Please don’t do any of the above to me unless you were going to anyway or want to make me very embarrassed;)