Monday, 20 October 2008

cck08 - Week 6 - Complexity, Chaos and Teachers

Cck08 week 6 focus was on Complexity and Chaos: a very interesting matter!

George Siemens asked: "In what way is learning complex? In what way is it chaotic?"
My answer is: in many ways. Learning is complex and chaotic because life and world are. And because learning is a social activity, and social activities are complex and chaotic.

Jon Kruithof wrote: "Learning is complex not because of the subject matter but because of the learner. There's emotional connections to learning. When you get several complex people in a room with different agendas, different expected outcomes and different needs, that I would say is chaotic".
I partially desagree: it's also a question of the subject matter. The more the "object" of learning is complex, the more learning is; the more the "object" is simple, limited and localised, the more learning is not complex nor chaotic. Ie: learning computer science is chaotic, learning how to attach a file to an e-mail isn't.
But Jon is right: also if the subject is simple, human aspects of learning can make learning complex. Question of emotions, of different goals/expectations, of different use of the same terms (it's what Tim Gillibrand note for the discussion started from George's question: "… we are each using these terms in an imprecise and personal way").

Pat Parslow wrote: "If you think of chaotic systems in terms of the path followed by an "actor" through a 'landscape', the unpredictability occurs because you cannot precisely know the forces acting on the actor. …
… we each act to reduce the level of complication of things we interact with (by using our own filters). one thing we might want to do is find ways to help people engage their filters to focus on a domain - it is easier for them to navigate their learning landscape if they have landmarks".
I have appreciated his propositions. Learning is complex/chaotic as shown by its unpredictability. But then: what the role of teachers? In my 30 year teaching experience - as I wrote in a previous post - I tried to promote processes (learning experiences) renouncing to know which long-terms effects they can produce.
But I think that we are, rightly, required to produce some verifiable results. If I propose my students to project and realise a web site, I will not be able to know how such a work produce results on the capabilities of each of them, on their planning skills. But I must guarantee that they become able to use an HTML editor and to present a documentation of the work done.
Using Pat's terms: I propose them a landscape to be explored, but I must provide them some landmarks.
It's a question of filters (thanks again, Pat). My task is to help them in growing their own filters, but to do that I have to propose them some filters to make easier their exploration.

Carlos Gonz├ílez Casares wrote: "A good teacher is the teacher who let you thinking about what he/she says. A great teacher is the teacher who start a process in an individual context and he/she doesn´t know really what it is going to be in the future with this process, because it is a chaotic process.
Learning is always a path without a predictable end. Learning is movement.
I learn, I know something and that is the little fire that can change all your complex personal context".
I strongly agree. But I think it's necessary to repeat: teachers have to play inside a contradiction. They must promote processes that they don't know where are going to, but they must also guarantee the fulfilment of limited goals/results. Changing the order: they must guarantee the fulfilment of specific goals/results but that is not sufficient, they must promote learning processes.

Do you agree?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

cck08 - Week 6 - Complexity, Chaos and Research

On Sunday, I posted the photo of my grandmother Maria - schoolmistress at the beginning of past century - with her little-schoolchildren in their white smocks.
A good introduction for this week subject! ☺

Have you read Renata Phelps' article? Citing Lee she says: "the two learning systems and cultures, that of school and of the Web, are fundamentally different; one has a basis in control and structure, and the other is seemingly unstructured and chaotic." The photo I have published perfectly visualises the idea of control and structure, order and directive-style typical of the traditional school. (Any element of chaos, in some way present in any classroom - also at the time of my grandmother, I suppose - has been eliminated at the moment of the photo, that means "at the moment of the formal representation").

In my thirty-year experience as a teacher - without having read Doll, Bjork, Honebein, … - I have, step by step, shifted from a directive-style, focused "on objectives and learning outcomes," to the promotion of processes: use of the laboratory, projects activities, working experiences out of the school, also out of Italy. I strongly agree with the statements: "Rather than simplifying the environment, the goal of educators should be to aid the learner to function in rich learning environments" and "education should be process-oriented and students must be actively engaged".
In the lab, teaching Electronics, I asked my students to design, realise and test simple, or more complex, circuits; teaching Automation, to write programs for a PLC in order to control motors or other devices. In the last course year, generally, I proposed to my students to choose a project and work on it for many months.
It's a way to capture students interest, to promote their creativity, to develop their problem solving capability, to learn through "errors, mistakes and difficulties" (see Bjork quoted by Phelps).
I have also spent a lot of my time organising working experiences, exchanges with foreign students and working experiences abroad. Wonderful learning experiences - in the real, complex, environment - for my students!

Thus: it's not only a question of digital environment and of digital natives. I did such experiences 20 years ago, and I found them useful for my (not-yet native) students learning.
Obviously, with digital native students it's much more crucial to leave the old - linear and teacher centered - school.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

cck08 - week 5 - "Groups & networks" ... but I speak about school-uniforms

Oops. It seems that I'm not a well-behaved student ☹.
It's Sunday evening and, during this week, I have never attended the course. I have read just now the posts in the Italian Community.
I'm not in the condition to write anything on the theme of the week.

But an answer by Jenny Mackness to my previous post - she says: "We (teachers) will need to rethink our role" - gives me the cue for sharing an idea coming to me from this photo (not a new idea, just a new visualisation).

The schoolmistress on the right is my grandmother, Maria, in the school year 1925/26. I used this photo for a polemical post, on my Italian blog, towards the Italian Ministry of Education, who would like to reintroduce the use of "grembiulini" (school-uniforms) for the schoolchildren (and unfortunately that is not her worse measure).
Watching the photo I thought that my grandmother was able to handle all the communication tools at a level higly superior then the lovely little girls in their white uniforms. She was higly superior to them in using the pen and the ink, books, the enciclopedia, newspapers … she was native in all such technologies. I don't know if she was native also on regard of the crystal radioset … but anyway, children were not allowed to use it!

Obviously, things are changed.

Friday, 3 October 2008

cck08 - week 4 - "Learning networks" ... and my mind wanders

CCK08, week 4: History of Learning Networks.
I think to "learning networks" in my history, to my use of the net with my students … and some images appear in my mind.

Computer lab. My students are working in group. Now I don't remember the task; anyway a traditional problem: a group can't work because what done in the previous week is on the floppy of the absent girl student.
Jessica: "Prof, can I use my mobile to send a message? I write her to send me by e-mail".
No sooner said than done.

The same computer lab: they have to produce some web pages (once again I don't remember the matter). I look at Sofia's monitor: clearly she is not using the web editor nor seeing her pages; she is browsing elsewhere.
"Prof, I would like to use a water effect. This site explains how to do it".

I enter into the classroom. Katia: "Prof. I'm sorry. I haven't done my homework. I've seen it only at midnight … it was too late".
I expected they see it today, once in the lab. I have sent it about 20 minutes before midnight.

Epiphanic moments for a digital immigrant. Thus I have tried to exploit my students' use of the network to change my teaching and to boost their learning.

I send to my students marks, corrections and new tasks into our eLearning environment. And I'm surprised by the speed of their feedback. It seems they are there, waiting for my message (but I'm sure they aren't so interested).
One, two minutes: one of them send me a question, another calls me for a chat. Half an hour: some one send me the homework!

They are not waiting for my messages. They are online to download music, to upload photos, to chat with friends, to see a video, …: not only one of these activities, but all of them at the same time. Having so many windows opened, they open also our learning environment, probably because there is a pub, where to joke with the schoolfellows.
Thus it happens - surprise! ☺ - that my message takes her/his attention off eMule or YouTube … and she/he corrects the mistakes done, or carry out a new exercise.