Keeping learning going in Christchurch

I spent some time this weekend thinking about ‘how to keep learning going’ in Christchurch – as an educator I would like to do my bit and contribute where I can even though I’m in Auckland and not able to get there.  There will be thousands of kids unable to go to school for the next few weeks, and many of their parents unable to go to work. The earthquake has radically and tragically ‘de-schooled’ Christchurch. Now – as with the facilitation of emergency services (RiseUp Christchurch, Rangiora Earthquake Express ) by social media – we could do the same for ‘keeping learning going’ – creating ‘learning webs’ where learners could be connected with teachers (from all over NZ if not the world). I don’t know the extent of damage to internet connections though but I’m sure there will be ‘hubs’ and ‘zones’ where groups could cluster around a connected computer and continue their learning – linked in with functioning schools …

One way to do this would be to create a Moodle instance where the entire NZ curriculum could be listed as Moodle courses – i.e Year 1, Year 2, Year 3, etc up to NCEA level 1, level 2, level 3 (with the specific subject specialities).  Any teacher in NZ could enrol on the site and provide teaching on the classes they are already doing.  Christchurch students could enrol into their current year of study and be linked with a teacher.  Classes could be streamed live from any school in NZ and/or recorded.  Parents, teachers and other students (from both schools and uni) could also enrol and provide help with homework.

It would take a bit of coordination – perhaps led by the Ministry of Education? – a uni (I could put my hand up here) / company or Moodle partner could host the site for free, and experienced educators / Moodle admins could help maintain and administer the site.  Telecom, Vodafone and other CHCH ISPs could come to the party and provide free access for that site for kids in areas where schools are closed.  Homes with a good connection could then be a ‘hub’ or zone where learners could gather to access their ‘classes’ – a kind of blended homeschool idea…

Will float this idea around some of my networks – I’m sure that it or variations thereof are already in the air so maybe it could happen ….  I see that some schools in the CHCH district are due to re-open either tomorrow or next week but many more will be out of action for longer.

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The nexus is learning – but what about technology ?

This is the outline of a presentation (somewhat hastily cobbled together) for the AUT Faculty of Design & Creative Technologies – at the Learning and Teaching day on Wed 16 February 2011.  First off I think it’s great that Faculties are organising days like this – and I’m looking forward to making a small contribution to the event.  I’ve been asked to run a session in the theme “The teaching / research nexus in practice”.

The organisers asked me to think about the role of technology in relation to the ‘teaching/research nexus’ and since my PhD has a couple of chapters that explore the link between teaching and research – from the perspective of the ecological model of learning and teaching that I developed in the study – I thought I would use this to generate some discussion at the session about the broader question of technology.

And it is a broad question. Heidegger wrote a major essay on the question concerning technology. I left out heaps of stuff about technology, flexible learning, etc in my thesis because I wanted to explore the deeper issues of learning without getting drawn into the technological hype that was happening at the time – when the web went through the dotcom boom & bust and emerged as web 2.0, with a parallel morphing of flexible learning / elearning into ‘learning 2.0’, and now the personal learning environment mediated by the infinite connectivity of the social network.  I guess the conclusion I came to was that, following a point made by Sherry Turkle, that the internet as a technology was making visible and concrete an understanding of learning that had been developed prior to the technology.

In her analysis of internet culture and identity Sherry Turkle argued that the earlier theories of Jacques Lacan were given concrete and immediate form in the worlds of online multiplayer chat games, where users adopted different identities in the medium of onscreen text.  The internet made Lacanian theory visible in a compelling and unexpected way.  In the same sense one could argue that the discourses of phenomenography, the relational perspective, and the systems view of constructive alignment are forerunners of a new understanding of learning ­­– now manifesting via the internet in the increasingly networked world of a university that is rapidly changing in response to new technologies, global issues, and increasing demands for relevance and innovation in the curriculum.  So the internet makes the deep/surface understanding of learning visible in a compelling and unexpected way – pointing towards the kinds of pedagogy that best fit with the affordances of a fluid electronic medium that is many streams of information flowing through time.

So the question concerning technology for the ‘teaching/research nexus’ that I want to explore in this session is varied:

What is the nexus – is ‘research-informed teaching’ truth or political rhetoric  ?
How do we as researchers ‘keep up’ with the fire hydrant of information that is flowing through time and supposed to be informing our academic practice, and indeed trans-forming the experience of learning ?

To address the first part – in the paper below (a summary of the thesis chapters) I argue that the nexus between teaching and research is a symbiotic relationship with learning as the ‘missing link’.

The symbiotic relationship is characterised by the notion of learning as the common denominator of research and teaching, where learning is seen as the process of conceptual change through enquiry into the subject.  In this sense then it could be said that the nexus between research and teaching is learning. Brew (2003) develops this idea by proposing a new model of the relationship between teaching and research based on the central concepts of academic communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998), the revisioning of the nature of research as scholarship proposed by Boyer (1990), and phenomenographic studies of academics’ conceptions of teaching, research and scholarship (Prosser & Trigwell, 1999;  Brew, 1999; 2001).  In this new model,

research and teaching are both viewed as activities where individuals and groups negotiate meanings, building knowledge within a social context.  What researchers understand research and scholarship to be are key influences in how we conceptualise the nature of student learning …. teachers’ and students’ activities are not seen as separate. In engaging in research, scholarship or learning, they engage as legitimate peripheral participants in academic communities of practice (Brew, 2003: 12)

So the first challenge is to cultivate the communities of practice in which a real ‘nexus’ can be developed through a more authentic process of relationship in a particular conception of research, teaching, and learning as process of dialogue and scholarship.

And the second challenge is to leverage the affordances of the ‘fire-hydrant’ lifestream of technology-mediated information into our teaching and research practices for the benefit of learning and learners.

Slides for the discussion and embed of the PDF of the paper are below:

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