Intentional learning: reflecting the discussion in the blogsphere

Intentional learning requires reflection and meta-cognition. Blogs are a great tool for this. Still tools are just tools. The skills of using them are at least as important as the actual tools. To nail you need a hammer but also the idea and skill of hammering. To build a chair with your hammer you need even more: you need a hammer, the idea of hammering, the idea of a chair, the idea of sitting and where the sitting will take place. The artefact becomes a tool.

My own reason to write to this blog, and to follow tens of other blogs, is my desire to understand and to make meaning on the multi-disciplinary field that can be located somewhere to the crossing point of education, learning and ICT. This is my chair. With a relative long experience in the field I naturally want to preach my conceptions and insights of these topics, too. I already have made some chairs of my own. But still my primary motivation to participate to the discussions in blogsphere and to write to this blog is to learn more. I believe that I can still make better chairs.

Meta-cognition, the process of thinking on your own thinking and learning, is seen critical in modern theories of learning. To take most out of the learning in (or shoud I write with?) the blogsphere one should step back once in a while and think what am I thinking about all this, what I already know about the topics and what should I learn and study more. This way the learning process with blogs may become intentional. Blogs and blogsphere are some of the tools I use to build my chair(s).

Some months ago I wrote an entry about interesting ideas heard from people I had met lately. I’ll now try to reflect some discussions and thoughts I have read from the blogsphere and web lately.

Learning objects and context. Learning objects are not dead. But the king is still naked. There is a community that is dedicated to work hard to make the modular and reusable LO’s reality. I see value in the LO thinking. Actually it is very close to the original idea of the Web. But this can be its main problem, too. There is maybe nothing new in the LO thinking. We already have the Web where content is as reusable and modular as it can be. My colleague, psychologist Tarmo Toikkanen – a guy who is fluent in UML, OOP and number of programming languages – said it very well in his comment to my earlier entry: “Learning for humans happens in context. Having complete reusability means having no context, and vice versa. Modularity and reusability is great when the material is to be used by a machine, but not when the user is a human brain – our brains need concrete, memorable, weird things that are anchored to our previous experiences and linked to our motivations and goals.”

Personal and networked learning. I find it very hard to understand why so many people in the field of education technology, especially with technology background, think that learning primary happens in the head of the learner. This is a mystery for me. I think that as timesharing and networked computing have been around already since 1960’s it should be easy for computer scientist to understand the value of distributed cognition among human beings. In the field of computer science nobody is questioning the power of distributed computing, but when talking about human agents many clever people surprisingly think that learning is only, or at least mainly, an individual process. I think this major misconception is the main reason why the history of ICT in education is pretty sad story.

Learning and standards. Standards are good but they are never value free. In the Internet era they are also formulated in a new way. This should be understood especially when we think on them for areas that are close to the core of a human existence. One should ask the question what kind of way of living the proposed standards represent and are promoting? An analogy: are the standards forcing us all to have a German car and to drive on autobahn or do they offer me a train to travel from one location to another and some kind of “all mans right” with freedom to walk around on other people property? Why I like the World Wide Web standards / recommendations is the simple mission statement behind them: “The social value of the Web is that it enables human communication, commerce, and opportunities to share knowledge. One of W3C’s primary goals is to make these benefits available to all people, whatever their hardware, software, network infrastructure, native language, culture, geographical location, or physical or mental ability.” What about IMS, SCORM and other learning technology standards? Richard G. Baraniuk from the Rice University’s Connexions project answers to the question in his slides, as follows: (1) don’t standardize but build a community, (2) work grassroots rather than imposed top-down, (3) notice the lesson from the open-source world where standards are rough consensus and working code (compare SGML vs. HTML) and (4) work toward common formats which are semantic, open and extensible (XML). IMS and SCROM? hmm…

CSCL research community. More than seven year I have been more or less involved in the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) research community. I highly appreciate the work of some of the founding scholars of the CSCL research, such as Marlene Schardamalia and Carl Bereiter. To get an idea what do I mean you may for instance have a look of their article published in 1994: Computer Support for Knowledge-Building Communities. Today it looks for me that the current people active under the label of CSCL are pretty much lost when it comes to computers and technology trends. If you have a look the web site of the CSCL conference 2005 you will notice that not a single person of the community is having a blog (give me a hint if you know someone), the proceedings of the CSCL 2005 conference (800 pages) do not have a single research paper about social software or free/open source software/content, and the paper version of the proceedings costs 155$ (CD-Rom 49.95$, no online version). Nice computer support for collaborative learning, isn’t it? 🙂

5 thoughts on “Intentional learning: reflecting the discussion in the blogsphere

  1. Hi Teemu,I want to respond to your comments on the CSCL research community.
    I think you are right. I always thought CSCL is a very old fashioned verb. "Computer Supported" while we have Internet in education for more than 10 years! Several researchers on ICT in education hesitate using weblogs. They think it is very time consuming. And in fact it is! Nevertheless I believe that we, who are providing consult about ICT and learning and doing research on this broad subject, are obliged to experiment with technology and use it ourselves ('practice what….'). Furthermore, I am learning a lot using my weblog. And I think it is great to share your ideas and insights with others.
    I spend a lot of hours on reading weblogs and writing weblogs. My weblog is in Dutch. The only CSCL-community member with a weblog, that I know, is Jakko van der Pol (PHD-student Utrecht University): http://www.bloglines.com/blog/jakko

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  2. The concept of CSCL is not old fashion at all. Computers are the "basic backbone" behind the Internet, Word Wide Web, blogs, mobile phones etc, modern technology. For this reason the term CSCL is a great umbrella term for research focusing on these technologies' ability to support learning. And by the way: Internet is 36 years old. 🙂

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  3. Yes, but we use Internet in education for about 10 years. I am not convinced that CSCL is a great umbrella term. I prefer technology enhanced collaborative learning (tecl?). It's about how you can enhance collaborative learning with ICT. There is far more than computers (are they the backbone of smartphones etc ?).
    By the way:
    Jakko van der Pol just told me that two PHD-students of Pierre Dillenbourg are fanatic webloggers.
    Nicolas Nova (http://tecfa.unige.ch/perso/staf/nova/blog…) and Mauro Cherubbi (http://www.i-cherubini.it/mauro/blog…).
    Furthermore, I discovered a CSCL-blog: http://www.diplom-paedagogik.de/… (in German). Gerry Stahl nowadays is using wiki's: http://www.cis.drexel.edu/faculty/gerry/index.html
    There is hope…. 😉

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  4. Thank you for the links.I don't want to split hairs, but yes, in every smartphone there is a computer (processor, memory, operating system, software).The term "technology enhanced learning" is a useful term, but if you take it literally it includes also such areas as school architecture, furniture and interior design, blackboard (the chalk one), overhead projectors etc. I am interested in these, too, but my primary focus is on digital tools (=computers).

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  5. Dear Teemu,I'm a frequent reader of your blog and would like te react on your recent post on intentional learning. Concerning the reusability paradox (as Peter Baumgartner calls it), the way you see the web as a giant repository of LO's is partly correct. In effect the web consists of giant, partially tagged (like furl or flickr), collections of information objects. It is the way how these IO's are connected (for example through RSS) to any learning context that makes them functional LO's. That's the rip-mix-burn paradigm, where the interaction of blogs, wiki's and other tools falls in place. Maybe the web is the better repository because the objects and the educational context are separated like the way people try to separate form (css) and content (html). Any repository that's purposely being build, incorporating the educational information/metadata and the information object, makes the paradox more persistent. The same goes for the use of top-down proposed educational metadata (industrial standards) as opposed to the use of bottom-up emerging tags (folksonomy). When Baraniuk states that one should build communities he seems to forget that one of the main characteristics of communities is that these communities build shared beliefs, values and concerns, construct common ground, purposely define rules (read Shirky's piece on "Flaming wars") and so doing elaborate 'standards'. The main difference is that communities are more self-directed and unpredictable. So there is not telling which direction standardization will take. That uncertainty is slowing down the major producers of proprietary software in the adoption of standards like IMS. But that's also the beauty of it. I guess the adoption of the "OpenDocument Format for Office Applications" is one excellent example. It's the way how communities of practice function (Wenger) or the way how developercommunities of FLOSS function. The main drawback however is 'balkanization'. With kind regards,
    Paulo Moekotte

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