Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Don't let the brown eyes fool you. Inbox: more than a love story. #edcmooc

Such a feelgood film to watch, pretty girl, awkward guy, paths cross, a twist of fate, simple, delicious visuals, uplifting music and a happy ending. This film has many layers, and I don't believe there is much about the production and storyline that is accidental. So it's safe to say that inferences can be made about almost every aspect, with the assumption that there is an underlying message embedded.

In Inbox, the utopian ideas are very much about the nature of relationships: that communication between people is complex and that spoken language is only one means by which we can come to know another person.  At the very simplest level, two people who have not met in person engage and connect through "technology" in the form of mysteriously connected red shopping carry bags through which they are able to send notes and small personal items. They grow their relationship by first exchanging personal external manifestations of their identities: the teddy (youth, immaturity, naivety), the makeup (female, sexual)), the underwear (male, mature, sexual). As time progresses, they explore each other's level of interest in short exchanges before participating in friendly, arm's length games and eventually committing to meet one on one.

Technology plays a supporting role in the very human centred interchange, and the visually appealing metaphor of the red bags and the post it notes represent the functional, spacial and temporal aspects of social media. It reminded me of those awkward early teenage relationships before sms and social media, where an intermediary was used to pass on little messages to gauge interest and facilitate that nerve racking first date. In the past, relationships were often "mediated" in written exchanges that preceded an introduction, and even this may have been orchestrated by others so that only "suitable" relationships were pursued. Letters were laced with perfume, adding another sensory layer, something depicted in the film as not necessarily always getting the desired result when the woman reacts badly to the scented objects she receives in her red bag.

In this respect, the film reminds us that in establishing relationships we feel vulnerable and those early exchanges are fraught with danger as we decide which aspects of our persona we will lay bare for another to either accept or reject. This is clearly depicted in the scenes where the man in his comfortable home environment is without clothes, his fundamental self, but puts on his glasses, as if through them he may gain insight of sorts. Into what we don't quite know at that moment. When the time comes when he realises the potential for some sort of relationship with a woman, there is a frenetic moment of dressing, creating a persona that is crafted to impress. In this representation of technology, we sense that "digital dualism", the separation of the"real and the virtual" in online identity plays no more significant a role now than it did in the past, and that contemporary technology may be intrinsically neutral in this regard. 

The dystopian ideas are embodied in the plethora of images of consumerism and financial transactions. The opening scene uses the apparel store as the setting for face to face opportunities for relationship building. This scene is a powerful representation of how consumerism is intertwined with relationships, technology, identity and social interaction. The couple holding hands are shopping together. The men who work in the store are highly attuned to the presence of unaccompanied women and either make unwelcome suggestions, or in the case of our awkward hero (a customer), see his attempts at quietly observing a woman in the store come unstuck as he knocks over the whole display of underpants. Fabulous images of packaged masculinity tumbling like dominoes. And a clear statement of the shortcomings of technology free human interactions. There is a sense that relationships may be purchased, and I am not sure if there is a suggestion of arranged marriage and dowry payment given the cultural context of the film, 

In that scene alone, we hear the sound of the receipt printer (above the music) and are bombarded with consumerist images of advertising, the computer, the printer (which is a repeated zoom image) and the processes of social and financial transactions enmeshed with technology. As the story unfolds, we see that the exchange of objects and messages through the "inbox" are still connected with economy as messages are written on the receipts. Finally, when the technology "fails" and the lines of communication are cut, we are presented with another powerful image of the man returning to the closed apparel store. I interpret this as meaning that technology will only be available when there is money to be made from it. No shop, no technology and dystopically, no relationship.  We are left with the idea that something else, even fate, will serve us better than technology which has one fundamental purpose in being a tool of capitalism.

OK, that sounded very much like Marxist technological determinism, and that's exactly how I see it being depicted in the film.

How does this translate to online learning?

I think that if we agree with the ideas in the film, then technology itself will be neutral in the social interactions required for social constructivist or connectivist pedagogy. The film suggests that the tool is immaterial. However the warning is clear, that technology will be a driver for the most economically beneficial model, which is a gloomy vision for the future. But this I will explore more fully in another post after I have reviewed all the films for this week.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Our Chemical Selves: The Biology of Connectivism

 Connectivist Learning: course Prerequisites: 

your own device, internet connection, oxytocin and adrenaline

This is my last post before the edcMOOC course starts tomorrow. Through this blog, I've been living out the connectivist experience of not one, but two MOOCS, both which are experimental in the connectivist "genre".

According to the good folk at ETMOOC, the key principles in the design of such a MOOC are:

•  The course is developed with a weak ‘centre’. While etmooc.org will provide a level of aggregation, detail, and direction, the majority of interactions are likely to occur within groups & networks, facilitated through various online spaces & services.
•  Participants are strongly encouraged to develop their own reflective, learning spaces. We’re hoping that every learner in #etmooc creates and maintains their own blog for continuous reflection, creativity, and resource sharing.
•  Sharing and network participation are essential for the success of all learners in #etmooc. Thus, we’ll be needing you to share your knowledge, to support and encourage others, and to participate in meaningful conversations.

To fellow students who will embark on eLearning and Digital Cultures tomorrow, this is a familiar scenario. With an email to participants suggesting some online platforms, the two themes for the course and an artefact which is to be produced, course coordinators left us to our own devices for nearly 3 months and look what happened! All of the above and more, not a teacher in sight! (Not quite true, most of us are educators of some sort). Students have been blogging about this extraordinary experience, and those who have become part of the group later in the piece say they have never seen anything like it in other MOOCs. 

I will don my academic hat and hopefully write something of a more scholarly nature a bit further down the track.  But for now, I'd like to consider my experience as a person, what it feels like to do a connectivist MOOC and what my concerns are for those students we might recruit to learn in this way. Yes, concerns.

Firstly though, what does the connecting in connectivism mean? How do we learn by connecting? Are we talking "connecting" as in the Matrix where Neo and friends plug into a computer to enter a virtual world where skills and knowledge are "learned" through the uploading of programs direct to the brain? I don't think that is the intention of a MOOC. But I will come back to this point.

The Matrix: Trinity cares for Neo's physical body while his conscious self lives out an adventure in the constructed virtual realm of the matrix.

I understand the philosophy behind connectivism to be based on collaborative learning where we need to connect and engage with other people, and in the process, create personal learning networks (PLNs)

"The PLN consists of relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning.  It is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other",  ETMOOC reminds us.

Herin lies my concern. The bit about connecting, trust and reciprocity. Going to do my science thing now, but I'm only going to ask some questions. As reductionist as it sounds, I think we need to pay attention to how humans, and in fact most (or maybe even all) mammals connect with one another. Without suggesting that we are just a stack of chemicals with no free will, I believe that much of who we are and what we do depends on biological substances which play a huge role in shaping our social behaviour. 

Two of the big guns are oxytocin and adrenaline. 

Most of know about adrenaline, it's the hormone that gives us a pleasurable rush in response to stress; quite addictive for some, gaming software companies depend on it! The pounding heart, the rush, the feeling of power, the excitement, we've all felt it. It's true, studies show that internet addicts have a much higher "sympathetic nervous system activation" (ie adrenaline) when surfing the net. It's measurable, real and problematic that we can become addicted to our own adrenaline through our online activities.

And oxytocin? It's known as the "love hormone", best known for its role in reproduction, birth and maternal bonding. Huge surges in oxytocin ensure a new mother only has eyes for her baby: it is one of the most powerful human bonding responses we see. We're only just beginning to understand its role in romantic attachment, stress reduction and tribal bonding. What is even more interesting when we consider "connectivist learning", is that oxytocin is known for  increasing trust and activating the neuroplasticity required for learning. Paul Zak reports that online social activities such as facebook or twitter interactions cause measurable oxytocin surges, so one would assume that the social activities required for bonding, connection, engagement and trust combined with the brain stimulation of the learning process would all involve a strong, complex partnership with oxytocin. 

This is absolutely not my area of expertise, but I don't think it takes too much to join the dots and realise that we are playing with some pretty significant biochemical processes here.  I've felt them. I've bonded with my "peeps" as Laurie refers to us. I look forward to our online interactions, reading their blogs, being inspired by their writing, their use of tech tools, their enthusiam for learning and their leadership within the group. We've all fully embraced the premise and actions of connectivism, and I'm 100% certain I'm not the only one in the group who might be just a teeny bit guilty of neglecting some real world activities like sleep, conversation, social interaction, and OK, laundry. But mainly those oxytocin related bonding things that are the glue that holds relationships together.

And today, I had another edcmooc hormone response in the tweetchat. Talk about adrenaline! Those tweets were coming at us so fast it gave me a rush! And again, I know I am not alone in that response because I sent out a short survey and results that have come in already are littered with words like "buzz", "excitement", "exhilaration". Fellow student Chris confirms it. Adrenaline!!!!!!

I  think when we ask students to enroll in connectivist courses, we should perhaps warn them that the pedagogy requires hormonal input. We need to warn them that these activities might be addictive and that nothing is quite like the deep pleasure of the oxytocin driven social bonding experience or the rush of our own adrenaline. And importantly, that we don't yet fully understand the health and social implications of activities which are part of the learning environment which depends on those and other hormones. (well we have a few clues that too much time online is not healthy for real world activities, so we can't plead ignorance)

Has anyone at the helm thought this through yet, or are they so busy getting a rush out of watching enrollments climb to tens of thousands in a matter of weeks that they have missed this? And so immersed in the engagement and social experience themselves that it hasn't occurred to them what this might mean for students, for families and communities in the greater scheme of things. 

Maybe I've jumped the gun in exploring some of the things that make us human, and what that might mean in the online learning context. But I have spent some time reflecting on my evolving connectivist experience and I couldn't help looking at Trinity in that scene from the Matrix and wondering of there is any real difference in the disconnect that exists between Neo's consciousness and his body and the resulting disconnect from Trinity and what students may experience with online learning, not through a direct wired in physical connection, but a biochemical one.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Lost In Translation: Understanding Digital Identity and Connection

One of the great joys of participating in edcmooc and etmooc is reading everyone's blogs. I'm an avid reader, a voracious learner and often lose myself for hours, completely immersed in everyone else's thoughts (usually way past midnight). One of the topical themes this week is digital identity (springing forth from etmooc) and there are no shortage of links on twitter to a range of publications on the peculiar ways our many different personas come to life in this curious space. I'd like to tease out my thoughts on digital identity by thinking about not only the way we write in our blogs, but what we write about and how digital identities might shape the kind of connections we form as students in these courses.

This week, I stumbled on etmoocing colleague Catherine's post on "Enacting Digital Identity" which looked at "digital dualism", the idea that there is a clear separation between the "real" and the "virtual"and the complexity of interaction between student and teacher in those contexts where the enactment of digital identity poses some interesting questions. Catherine writes wearing her educator's hat, and although this post (and other excellent entries in her blog) was written before etmooc, I gather there might be some discussions happening in the mooc where her experience in teaching about this has been harnessed within the learning community. For me, etmooc is so nebulous that I really struggle to find where these conversations occur and I sense them only through the ghostly digital footprints they leave in the twitter and blogospheres. One day I hope to nail one down and join in, but that's another story....

Also this week, fellow student Ary, in her unmistakably intimate style, delved into how others may perceive and judge us through the identities that we project in the digital realm. "To Cyberspace with Love" is a very reflective piece which takes us on a journey from identity in the real world (as seen through the medium of film) to cyberspace where, through the opportunity for self discovery, we might find a comfortable niche in which aspects of self which struggle to thrive in the world of light and air can blossom. (Woah, long sentence)

The other post I really enjoyed was written by Susana. "A general idea" is a philosophical discussion about the way knowledge is constructed and how that relates to the revolution in education of which we are all part. Whilst not about digital identity, Susana is unleashing her inner English speaking self, hoping that her Spanish friend sits quietly in the background. And although a bit of Spanish thinking finds its way onto the page, nothing is lost in translation: the messages in this article come through loud and clear. In fact, I just love reading the thoughts of people for whom English is not their native tongue. They often have the ability to drill straight to the point without the extravagant excesses of verbal profusion. And besides, it is often poetically beautiful in its simplicity and unique expression.

And so to myself, what have I chosen, subconsciously or otherwise, to project through what I write and how I write about it? I have consciously decided to steer clear of my academic persona. It's pretty dry (I have one of those highly focused scientist's brains) and if that was what I chose to present, then nobody would give my blog a second look and I'd be friendless in this community. Besides, it's too boring and requires too much brain grinding for a summer holiday activity.

Much of my life's writing has been as a ghost writer. Now psychotherapists could have a field day with that one, especially since I write for my husband, whose unstructured, humorous and highly unconventional, engaging style I can emulate with such similarity that his editors cannot tell which is his and which is mine. Actually, they have never known it wasn't him, so fortunately I use my own name (not my married title) in my online projections of self. Please keep my secret safe. Actually, that's not entirely true. I use my own name because it is my own name and in cyberspace, I can choose whichever name I want. Period.

Do I write as a teacher? Maybe I identify myself as one, but I write with such lack of discipline here on my blog, that I certainty don't sound like one. Anyhow, I'm not really a teacher, I'm a tutor, a mentor a facilitator. That's the conscious way I choose to tag myself.

So who am I here? I don't actually know, I think it's me. It's a journalling me, thinking aloud in words, thrashing an idea out on a keyboard. I thought there was only one me, but I can see there are many, all those different people in my head! When we hook up on our MOOC journey, which person will it be that others think they are connecting with? And which of their selves will I make friends with?

I'm drawn to Ary's writings because they are personal, vulnerable and inviting.They don't exclude you, they draw you in and inspire you to question. I've talked with her online, and she's actually a lot like her writing self. I'm drawn to Catherine's writings because they are interesting and authoritative. I kind of trust that what she says is well informed and "right". I'm drawn to Susana's blog because I'm intrigued to follow her development through the course, to see how her ideas emerge as she develops fluency of thought and language. I haven't had the opportunity to find out if Catherine and Susana are their moocing writing selves. I guess we are an aggregate of our personas, so that "writing self" will be in there somewhere.

I'm not in this for grades or a job or to use my writings for another course. I'm here for fun, intellectual stimulation and to learn some practical things about eLearning and develop some insight into the humanity of our relationship with technology. So I guess I will be drawn to those who it seems will partner me in that quest, whether just by virtue of their online presence or perhaps by a more connected relationship which may develop in whatever way. It will spring first from what they write and how they write it. If I don't understand what they are talking about, or if I don't identify with the person who emerges from that writing, then we won't connect. I suppose those who will connect with me will do so for reasons I will probably never know, although it will be someone who isn't put off by the rambling self indulgent nature of my blog. 

Either way, it will be because what we write will need no translation, whichever one of our mulitple identities is putting it out there!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Gatecrashing a MOOC: #etmooc & #edcmooc

Woah, this was scary but I survived.
Skip to the end if you just want the bottom line:

Scenario 1 edcmooc: 

Intro letter in November, course starts January 28, nearly 3 months of student led networking community building, all 150 of us, slowly coevolving together.

Then the next course email and within a week there were 2000 on fb. Those coming in were overwhelmed by what we had been done already and felt that they had come late to the party. Those of us already there felt swamped by the sheer size of the sudden influx, flailing arms and legs in the whirlpool.

Much tweeting and blogging about this development. Seems we are too hung up with technology, having conversations in too many places, focusing on the tools not the course content (I'm fine with that, I think we should leave it until we start or we will be "talked out"). Seems some are feeling invaded, others don't know if they will find their new study buddies in these giant forums when the time comes.

As a teacher, I have learned much about student engagement and am building a new orientation module into the units I help teach, so far all based on my edcmooc experience. You guessed it, Chris's map, longer lead in time, social networking, more opportunities to connect, more explanations of the pedagogy, some new curation activities based on scoopit and diigo and yes, even a sketch video.

Scenario 2 etmooc:

Less than a week ago, a fellow edcmoocer lured me to join ETCMOOC. The course had already begun, I was a week late to start, short of time with other commitments, not to mention sporting a monster headache from digital overload.

I went to the website, the g+ and twitter where I'd already been exposed to the etmooc hashtag, so that was slightly comforting. Apparently the first activity was to do an introductory blog, so within a few hours I had whipped one up, complete with embeded youtube slideshow video (with a soundtrack) and added it to the blogroll. Lots more views, so they must be able to see it. Phew...... done.

Now to work out what the heck is ETMOOC. What is ETMOOC? Who is running the course, which people, which uni, is it a uni, do I get a funky Coursera certificate, how long is it, what the hell am I supposed to do?

Now I'm the gate crasher. Most confusing. I feel like the new kid at school who has to walk in to a full class and find a seat. I know I have some friends here somewhere, but where are they? Where do I go, what do I do? But I've learned a lot of connection skills in edcmooc, so today I spent about an hour reading student blogs, checking twitter and finding the links to the activities I've missed, because for the life of me, I couldn't find out where to go from the website. Tried to access blackboard, no java on my laptop, no problems been there before. Watched last weeks tut, sorted the calendar, installed a world clock so I don't have to keep working out the time difference.

So now to my point. Fate has sent me a kind of inverse experience, two flipped scenarios operating in parallel. I'm in a freaky multiverse where everything is upside down and inside out. Same same but different.

Scenario 3 Angela:

So now how is my orientation module looking for my own (online) course? This morning, I was thinking about those who might come late to the course, how I could link them up with a pal to hold their hand through the experience, help them find a seat in the classroom and show them to their locker kind of stuff so they don't feel stranded, the way I was feeling.

But you know what, I've decided that fortune favours the brave. Today I've been pretty brave for a less than socially competent person. Today I learned that I can do "connectivism". I'm glad my little whimpers for help on g+ went unheeded because I was forced to do what I want my students to do, and that's to CONNECT and ENGAGE.

I'm going to add mark 2 of my video (it's all still in my head, I don't have to redo anything) to the initial list and it's going to be about connecting no matter when you join, no matter who is already there, no matter what they have already done. And when new people join, reach out and connect with them too. It's going to be about taking responsibility for your own learning experience, from woah to go, from making connections, to finding your own way around to working out your own goals to MAKING IT HAPPEN for yourself. And in doing that, you become learner and teacher: we all learn together. Because the support is there, you just have to connect to find it.

I've learned something valuable today. Connecting with others is our responsibility. If we sit back like a wallflower and wait to be rescued we will be waiting all our lives. And that goes for the virtual world as well. Ahhhhh, digital cultures, eLearning, technology and media, enough to give me brain explosion.

p.s. I still don't know what etmooc actually is and all those other questions! Perhaps I'll find out tomorrow. 

Sunday, 20 January 2013

12 steps to Addiction Recovery? I Just Want to Have Fun

Hi , I'm Angela and I'm  a MOOCaholic.

That's the first time I've said those words. They don't sound as bad as I thought they would. Maybe I can live with that.

I've completed one MOOC with Coursera (Introduction to Sustainability), I'm about to start two more within a week. I have another one beginning in February another in March and another two at dates yet to be announced.

So when fellow edcMOOCer, Ary asked me to join ETMOOC, I said, "No, I'm sorry, I'm too busy".

"C'mon",  she said, "it will be fun, we can do it together, you, me and all our other edcMOOC fraingers".

So I looked at my diary. I'm in the last 3 days of a long, searingly hot summer holiday, about to restart work where I tutor in a fully online post graduate course at the University of Western Australia. We have 4 x 14 week units to update, several more to put together and only 4 weeks in which to do it. No problems.

What about family life, remaining activities for school holidays, my huge 11 acre farm that I maintain and those other MOOCS?

And that PhD I'm meant to be starting?

Within 12 hours I had registered with ETMOOC, messaged Ary to tell her I'm in, hastily put together a slide show with the wrong music and here's my intro.

In writing it, I realise that not only am I a MOOCaholic, techaholic and OK, chocaholic, I'm also totally addicted to learning. I don't care if I'm a teacher or a student or just mooching around, I always have an insatiable desire to know things, how things work, what things mean, how we learn, how we can inspire others to learn, how we can know the truth, what might the future hold, how can we make the world a better place.

I know things have a good chance of going pear shaped. There are not enough hours in the day to do what I want in the next two months, but hey, I'll deal with it all after that.

I used to be addicted to lateness, but I overcame that and now it causes me a great deal of anxiety to be coming into ETMOOC at the end of the first week, but I've been following those tweets that have hashtags to edcmooc as well as etmooc, so there are familiar faces and I've probably scooped most of the articles people have put out there in twitter. I'm also blogging already (sorry, I'm using my edcmooc blog) and use blackboard, so I'm hoping all will be fine if I jump on board and have some fun.

As for my addiction, 12 steps just ain't gonna be nearly enough!

Here's a slideshow with some of the things that really matter to me in my life. Sorry Ary, I had to emulate your concept due to time constraints (imitation is the most sincere form of flattery) but I just couldn't match your wonderful audio.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

My #edcMOOC Freakout

This is the bit I'm not sure I can cope with. Happily bumbling along with 160 odd pre-edcmoocers when suddenly, with the arrival of an email, it's 32,000, or maybe even more.  Leaping into the facebook group faster than several of us can click "add"!

The people joining the group share the same enthusiasm as those of us already engaged, and many are commenting that previous activities and discussions are useful in terms of both content and creating a buzz for the course start in 2 weeks. It's great. New conversations, new perspectives, new talents. 

Google+ has taken on new meaning giving it the much needed boost by creating the critical mass required to get it going.  Fantastic.

In one respect it's very exciting, it's what MOOCs are all about, lots and lots of us connecting, sharing, inspiring, learning. But as I have articulated in earlier posts in this blog, my comfort zone lies really in a SMOOC, a SMALL MOOC, oxymoron though that may be. I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by the sudden enormity of our group and wondering how that might impact on my ability to function in the online social context of edcMOOC.

The safety of our little bubble has gone, and our very encouraging frainger group, as Ary has christened us, will integrated into the larger whole. Or maybe not. Perhaps it's the creative element of the course that has me feeling a bit tentative. Will we still be able to find Chris's suggestions which encourage us to take baby steps towards something new and challenging? As adults, we can feel very exposed when we have to create something for others, especially when one is not so creative....

Image Courtesy Dr S Seay, Licensed Psychologist.......

However, I can't retreat to a corner and do quizzes, only one way to participate in this course, and that's together. So I think I've just got to let go of whatever I'm snagged on and go along for the ride, after all, that's what I signed up for!

There. Done it. Heart on the sleeve and got it out. Serious journalling going on in this post. I might make a new video,"On Second Thoughts", that transforms us of the "32000" into  "real people", and not just a MOOC statistic! All part of the MOOC learning curve.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Left brain, right brain, no brain #EDCMOOC

Inspired by Chris to create an image, I've made a video. Only because I couldn't think of a still image, but rather something that was arrived at. So thanks to Chris and Elena, I've discovered a new tool, VideoScribe.

Chris invited us to contribute to his flickr group by creating an image of "what a MOOC means to you". Well at the moment, I'm only thinking about edcMOOC, although I am enrolled in another one, to which I have given absolutely no thought.

My vision is going up to a friendly place in the cloud where we can do all this wonderful stuff together through edcMOOC and have fun and achieve some inspirational results.

So here is my image, this is what MOOC means to me right at this moment. I had to stop adding names, because it was getting out of hand, but everyone who is engaging in the course is in my heart, sorry I couldn't put all our names there!

This was a hell of a challenge for me. I can't draw, and whilst I am a keen photographer and enjoy capturing images, I'm hopeless at creating them. So I'm grateful for the prompt to do something along these lines. 

I've also been struggling with my disappointment at not being able to create a sketch video as Kyle showed us (sorry Kyle, just realised your name isn't in my pic), due to no sketching skills. So when I saw Elena's video, it looked like the tool meant for me. 

Took a couple of hours to master, there are great tutorials on youtube. I hope I can make another one while I am on a roll, because there is a lot of potential do do some pretty good things once you get the hang of it. I did encounter a few issues with freezing, and developing some camera view skills to make it smoother is something I will need to work on. But all in all, a right brain task for a very left brain person....I'm reasonably happy with my first throw.


Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Pushing the Envelope

21st century education. It’s as conceptually different from 20th century education as one could imagine. As teachers, we are preparing our students to learn and function in a world which is experiencing rapid change, a big part of which is revealed through the virtual environment. The overall rate of technical progress (the paradigm shift rate) is doubling every decade. The technological progress that will occur in the twenty first century will be equivalent to the changes that would have taken place across 200 centuries at the rates of change prior to this acceleration. Our modern, highly connected culture is experiencing a phenomenon known as “space time convergence” where the space between people and ideas is compressing. It’s a fast world, and getting faster. In light of this, apparently, much of what was taught in the twentieth century is no longer relevant. Students need different skill sets which include a more collaborative approach to problem solving, the ability to evaluate vast amounts of readily available information, a capacity for critical and reflective thinking as well as a creative approach to meet the new challenges of a living in a rapidly evolving global community. They need to be adaptable, resilient, empathic, connected, flexible, communicative. As teachers, we need to facilitate learning so it is appropriate for this exponential age in which adaptability will be crucial.

In this post, I'd like to explore my own (never ending) learning journey in this extraordinary era. Maybe some clues will emerge, and if not, at least I will have raised some questions.

A few mornings ago, I had an abrupt, early awakening, with my nine year old son asking, “What is eight times nine?”

In a semi lucid state, before dozing back to sleep, my instant answer was seventy two  At breakfast, I asked if he had woken me with that question, (in case it was a dream) and indeed he had.

“Why did you ask me?” I enquired. “Don’t you know the answer?”

“No Mum, I have to work it out and I couldn’t be bothered,” was his reply.

So the assumption was that I just “knew” the answer. Which of course I do, because I am of a generation that rote learned, amongst other things, my times tables, to be regurgitated without thought when awake, asleep or semicomatosed.

But for a child in year three, apparently, eight times nine is really eight times ten minus eight. Or possibly eight times eight plus eight. Perhaps seventy two is a side issue. Our start at a Steiner school, where the philosophy is very much about teaching children a love of learning and how to learn, made me comfortable with the priority being “working it out” rather than memorising. Even if working it out means asking someone else who knows. The basis of collaboration.  Fine. We’ve all come some distance since rote learning of everything was THE way, even if Steiner thought of teaching people how to learn as well as what to learn way back in 1907.

As a scientist, (albeit not a practicing one) with extreme left brain style cognition and all that comes with being a visual, object oriented learner, a return to higher education 3 years ago caught me somewhat off guard when I experienced a very different way of doing things.
I’ll share an excerpt from my learning journal in the second week of my fully online post grad course (a baptism of fire, l can assure you)

Week 2:
Education has changed a great deal since I was last a student, and although I have observed those changes through involvement with my children at high school and university, it is a little different when one is in the driver's (or passengers) seat. I’m not sure which one it is yet. Much of learning these days is about learning. It has been an adjustment to give appropriate priority to content and process.I have been inclined to approach content as though I was going to have to sit an exam the following week, and have realised fairly quickly that the lesson is as much about ways of considering that content (and that is quite outside of learning about study methods such as interdisciplinary methodology etc) as it is about the content material itself, particularly as this unit is an introductory or orientation to the course. So I am trying to keep a broad perspective so I don't miss the "lesson".

And by week 10:

I am enjoying the very broad range of perspectives of the group. So many factors come into the equation: lifestyle, where we live, our stage of life, our age, our views and backgrounds and and and. I see my way of thinking changing by having been challenged by the views of those younger, those with strong religious conviction, those way more educated than myself, and of course the profs.It seems to be very beneficial to collaborate with people of such diversity, and how easy it is becoming over time to explore ideas quite openly through forum discussion, whether one believes those thoughts with conviction or not. 

By second semester, I was asked to give an orientation talk to new students. To break the ice, I told them that in preparation for starting the course, I had purchased a pack of A4 envelopes for posting my essays for assessment. I initially had no concept of what online learning was about, in either the practical sense nor in terms of a very different way of learning, you know, the one where you work it out, WITH OTHERS! The one where memorising isn’t really important, but collaborating, communicating, discussing, experiencing the different perspectives shared by both teachers and other students. All this was essential for developing evaluation and thinking skills which could be creatively harnessed to produce things like critical reflections, shared through wikis and discussed in forums but certainly not printed out and posted in an ENVELOPE!

Fast forward two years and I am now tutoring in the same said course and about to embark on a PhD, most probably about learning outcomes. To diversify, fill in the gaps learn more about online learning and keep intellectually stimulated during the semester break and until I organise myself to be a good doctoral candidate, I’ve embarked on this MOOC journey. My own personal foray into the exciting, virtual wonderland of connectivism. My post grad course, although fully online, global in nature and wonderfully stimulating, is a bit of a blend, very much the social constructivist experience, but kind of in house. 

MOOCS, on the other hand, and especially EDCMOOC, are really propelling me into the social sphere of connected learning. In my first Coursera experience, I couldn't handle the forums. There were too many people. I couldn't make the connections. It was overwhelming.
So I did my 20th century default number, watched the lectures, did the readings, learned the material and took the quizzes, learned a lot about sustainability and felt very good when I got my certificate.

Not so in EDMOOC! I’m connected, talking, synchronously and asynchronously, with people from different cultures, of all ages (well a few ages, mostly adult one would assume), from all manner of backgrounds, interests and skill bases. Together, even though at this stage we are really a SMOOC, we are discovering much about learning, teaching, social networking, different social media platforms, digital cultures, sharing, cooperating, collaborating, enthusing, encouraging and helping. I love this way of learning. And THE most amazing thing……no teacher! Well not yet. How very un20th century is that!

I see connectivism as a means of learning where we might like to think about the depth, beauty and application of mathematics, the aesthetic pleasure to be derived examining patterns and form, or from the multitude of ways one might arrive at a result. In this context, seventy two could represent something cultural, artistic or even spiritual. The connected experience of discussing seventy two can build new understandings, forge new connections and build bonds to help us work things out together. And other cultural perspectives may shed new light on seventy two or nine and eight. And 9 x 8 may or may not still equal 72, but we might arrive at a better understanding of this equation.

This is a long post, but what I’m really trying to do here is think out loud about my learning journey and in this context, explore the need to prepare students for a changing world. Adaptation is what makes humans so successful. How much do we really need to be prepared for coping with change, even rapid change? After all, it’s what our species does best is it not? The thinkers will think, the inspired will engage, the resilient will bounce back, those who don’t compete will cooperate, those who love to learn will embrace new technologies, challenges and ways of learning  in a changing environment regardless of how they were taught.

I’m quite astonished at my own adaptability, my rapid exploration and uptake of new technologies, software ideas, methods and ways of thinking. 9 x 8 = 72 has served me well. It hasn't prevented me from getting the most out of the social learning experience or the connectivist adventure. I cope well with the pace and nature of 21st century challenges. Maybe for a 20th century person, this is pushing the envelope although I'm more inclined to think its just an example of how we all respond to change regardless of the pedagogy of our formative learning experiences.