On teaching/learning in the network age

Alec Couros’ talk on teaching & learning in the network age (http://lisahistory.net/mccpot/newpages/courosvideoannotated.html) covers a lot of ground regarding tools and concepts underlying the cultural impact of the emergence of social media. I don’t think I have a problem with any of his major points. My sense of his audience at the conference is that they were very receptive – educators who are interested in technology and innovation. Unfortunately, I think many typical educators would be a bit lost in this talk.

A recent piece in the NYT on “What will schools look like in 10 years?” (http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/09/03/what-will-school-look-like-in-10-years/) featured five “experts” and none of them spoke specifically about social media. Their focus was primarily on content and subject areas. As long as education is driven by outdated (IMO) paradigms based on scarcity of information resources and expertise, and assessment/accountability regimens designed for those paradigms, all the cool tools will have minimal impact on our systems. My fear is that our education systems are so completely intertwined with those non-network paradigms that evolution simply won’t happen. What would a new paradigm look like?

Differences between Instruction Paradigm and Learning ParadigmNote the citation: this is from 1995. Still waiting … and the tools perhaps provoke some to think more about this shift … but pedagogy first!

Dear reader, if you are a teacher, have you made this shift, or are you in the midst of it? What helped you? What made it difficult?


15 thoughts on “On teaching/learning in the network age

  1. My view of this is complex. This is not a shift I think should be made lightly or swiftly, though the intentions of moving from the left column to the right are extremely important and need to be examined by all teachers AND learners. I’m remaking the chart, though, to make my view more clear…

    • Lisa, not sure whether you are saying the shift at an individual level (vs. institutional or across all notions of education) should be not light/swift, but I think the more critical concern is whether the shift is made at all (at any level). These are not new notions by any means. Further, there are complex contextual considerations in terms of teacher and learner characteristics, subject matter, and so on, as well as many roadblocks to change.

      A ProfHacker post that I collaborated on earlier this year explored some of the barriers to this shift, and a few ideas for overcoming them: http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/revolution-or-evolution-social-technologies-and-change-in-higher-education/29304 (Also embedded in that post is a link to the full Barr & Tagg article, which includes a much more extensive version of the chart above – well worth a read if you aren’t familiar with it. The comments on the ProfHacker article, now closed, are quite a good read, too.)

      Also worth a read from Change magazine in the mid-90s is an article by Steve Gilbert, Making the Most of a Slow Revolution: http://tltgroup.roundtablelive.org/resources/documents/slowrevolution1996.pdf

      • If the shift we’re looking for is cultural, I do believe that is happening, albeit slowly. If it’s institutional, the issue is much more complex. But what I’m looking at is the content of the chart, so I’m going to post a “middle ground” chart on my blog today to show my view about the shift itself.

        Looking at the ProfHacker article, I have seen many times people who are aware of the affordances of these technologies trying to figure out how to get faculty to adopt them. Yes, some adopt them when they see a cool tool used well, certainly. But I feel the process is backward: techie types saying “how do we get faculty to use this?” when the question is “what problems are faculty having that this stuff might solve?”. At the moment, that question is being answered by faculty saying “My problem is I don’t understand all this stuff”, which does provide a starting point for discussion. But what I’d like to hear is “I have this problem — how do I solve it”?

      • Completely agreed, and I would add to the “faculty problem” question one that is more student-centered. (Hopefully, a prof asked what problems they are having might jump to, “well, my students seem to struggle with …”). In my experience, the conversations with faculty who have decided to learn more about educational technologies usually are oriented around either efficiency or effectiveness. Efficiency questions might include, “How can I manage my grading workload?” “How do I deal with a larger class and still maintain quality interactions with students?” “How can I teach my class even though I’ll be away at a conference?” etc. Effectiveness questions are more student-centered: “How can I help my struggling students with concept X or skill Y?” “How can I teach a class of students who come in with very different skills & knowledge?” “How can I facilitate group projects?” “How can I make the assignments in this class more relevant for my students?” At an institutional level, the concerns that might prompt these more specific questions are probably framed around access and success, or perhaps accreditation/accountability.

        These kinds of questions have answers that might be answered purely via pedagogy/instructional design, or via a combination of ID and technology. But I do not think they can be answered solely through some new tool. If the starting point for change is “gee whiz I (or you) really need to understand all this tech stuff,” then the change is not likely to go very deep in addressing the types of problems described above.

  2. There’s nothing in the right column that necessitates a technological interpretation. Indeed, there’s nothing exclusively contemporary about the points really. Didn’t Dewey say the same things?

    I’m not suggesting we can exorcise the Zeitgeist that compels us to spew all kinds of “things are never like they were before” axioms, but my guess is that 20 years from now (I’m accounting for the accelerated rate of change we’re told we live in); people will be saying more or less the same things they say today, and said more than 100 years ago, things like “kids can’t read or write,” “why aren’t schools preparing students better for the workplace” and “things are never like they were before.”

    • Exactly my point, Suzanne, and I just was hoping for a little bit more of the big picture, right column, historical context, “just good teaching” stuff from Couros. I am torn, though about the whole “things are never like they were before” thing … I think I’ll write a follow-up post on the idea of disruptive innovation …

  3. Hi Jim,
    I think you raise interesting questions as you share your take on the issues here. I have to agree that while I found great resources in Alec’s keynote, without taking notes, I would have been overwhelmed. I don’t think this talk is for newbies.
    I work with school districts through the Hudson Valley Writing Project. Recently I was the keynote at their opening day of school. 120 teachers and administrators were polite and enthusiastic about my work with digital storytelling and most of them left with the story to create their own piece but then the next question: Where do we go from here? Can the district support them in their need to play with media? And then how do they bring it to their students and should they?

    For me, as I made my move deeper into the new technologies, it was with the excitement of digital storytelling and in my process of taking it on with support and then bringing it to a small group of students led me to next step, so that I never felt overwhelmed, but I wonder if other teachers are as lucky as I was.

    Thanks for giving me something to think about,


    • Hi, Bonnie – thanks for sharing your story. I am a big fan of concrete on-ramps for teachers – project-based learning, essentially, in the context of a supportive community. For the average teacher, showing up at a “cool tools” workshop without follow-up support has little effect, unless their prior knowledge and experiences have put them in a place where they’re ready to run with that kind of information. Digital storytelling is a great on ramp in many ways, but also is a complex one … can be very challenging to some teachers in terms of technical skills, pedagogical approaches, or both. Figuring out the intermediate steps to help teachers get from their current state to one where they embrace digital storytelling pedagogies is tricky – but isn’t that the heart of the work of educators – designing learning experiences & environments that help learners build new skills, knowledge, and dispositions?

  4. Agreed, totally. My initial focus was helping teachers find their writing identity, a big tenant of the National Writing Project: We are all writer and every teacher is a teacher of writing. Still hard for most to buy into. So the group wrote a lot with the intention of moving one piece to a DS. The issue then becomes that all-precious time. It will take time and patience and will the district really support them in that need? We just spent time as a writing project leadership team on that very issue: how do we help the school administrators support their teachers effectively so that their work as learners will find its way into their classrooms as well.

    It’s a tall order the this strange world of shrinking budgets and teacher bashing.

    But it’s so good to be using this online space to think together.

  5. Jim,
    You have raised an interesting concept! I have little ones (ages 7 and 9) in regular ed public school. While their school is based on the traditional model of public school, our teachers and school administrators have taken it upon themselves to embed technology into every class from K-5th grade. We are stocked with computer lab technology, have online programs for learning, participate in a web-based math program…my 4th grader even has a classroom website to upload his assignments. So…the cultural shift that needs to happen for technology to become a place of learning across the board has started…at a very young age. My children are better equipped to navigate online teaching and technology than I am.

    • Thanks for your story, Shellie. My question: In your kids’ school, is technology simply a different “place of learning,” but the fundamental approaches to teaching and learning remain the same? If so, then I don’t think the technology is really being used to its full extent. Another way to put it – how does the technology enable teaching/learning that, without the tech, would be very difficult or impossible to accomplish? Is it simply another way for students to receive information and complete assignments, or are there significant differences in what and how the students learn compared to schools that are not as well equipped? And if there is a major difference, is that technology-driven, or does the technology serve a different vision/philosophy for what education should be?

  6. Jim – that was an interesting piece from NYT. To your direct question – have I made the shift, am I in the midst of it, etc… I think I am in the middle and constantly negotiating that space as I take in all of the pros and cons. Of course there are certain parts of the left column I feel are terribly outdated (the view for example that any expert can teach), but there are other portions (improving the quality of instruction) that should not be done away with in order to shift to something, perhaps, equally as important not MORE important. I feel a bit limited by the paradigms presented.

    In terms of social media, you bring up a very good point – why aren’t these “experts” discussing it? They seem focused on the technology of teaching rather than the technology that our students are engaging with everyday outside of school. At the beginning of the semester I actually spoke with a colleague about the use of Twitter. Another colleague of mine regularly used Twitter as a means of sending updates to students regarding due dates. I felt, perhaps wrongfully, that tweeting updates meant that she was giving in to the fact that the majority of college freshman do not regularly check their email anymore. My initial reaction was that in college students are given a student email for a reason and instructors should not have to go join Twitter (as I would actually have to do) because their students refuse or forget to check their email accounts. One of my other colleagues agreed with my point, but the Twitter colleague felt strongly that instructors had the responsibility to make their courses accessible and current – and one of the ways of doing this was reaching out via a medium her students use regularly. I am still on the fence about the value of this, but can see her point clearly and feel she has some valid arguments. The conversation also led me to question whether my own views were a bit too traditional or even outdated. ~ Erica

    • Thanks, Erica, for grappling with the question, which I now realize was very loaded, since the description of the paradigm shift is quite incomplete here. I cherry picked some of the most provocative items from a very long list in the original article. Perhaps the most succinct description of the “shift” is contained in Chickering and Gamson’s 7 principles for good practice in undergraduate education (here’s a link with a brief discussion of their relevance to online education: http://www.vcu.edu/cte/resources/OTLRG/03_05_7Principles.html). I think every educator who grapples with bringing these ideas to fruition will confess that they are in the midst of the shift – that it is extremely difficult, and perhaps not completely desirable, to utterly move from one side to the other.

      I do think that educators who feel motivated to use new technology primarily because they perceive that it’s what students are using need much more than just that motivation to create successful learning environments & experiences for their students. Rather, they may simply be moving old wine to new wineskins, and may find that either it’s not a fit, or that little changes in terms of the student outcomes. As Lisa has said earlier, the important thing is to figure out what problem you’re trying to solve. Is there an issue with students not communicating sufficiently? Then that should be the starting point for exploring root causes and potential solutions. And solutions may be much more about instructional design than technology, and more than likely it will not be about discarding something entirely in favor of something new, but rather expanding the options for how faculty and students engage.

  7. Pingback: A paradigm of moderation and cooperation « Lisa’s (Online) Teaching Blog

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