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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‘Lifestream’ as alternative to PLE/PLN – from static diagrams to dynamic flows

I dipped in to the streams of information flowing through the #plenk tags, blog feeds and Moodle forums in the first week – i’m finding now in my third iteration that in the MOOC space the first week is about orientating one’s self to the flow and finding some nodes of stability from where to make some sense of it all.  I began to realise that some of the discussions about ecology in relation to the PLE in this thread were pointing towards a more dynamic way of representing the PLE – not that I don’t find some of the static diagrams useful – but as Scott Wilson already said in 2005 – we need to think about content in a PLE as a flow rather than static bits of information.  We probably all experience our PLE’s as a flow (probably more like a fire-hydrant than a babbling brook in a peaceful meadow 🙂 but have some difficulty in representing this in a dynamic way.

As an example of how PLENK2010 and tapping into this flow can have an immediate effect in a physical learning setting – last week Thursday 16 Sep I facilitated a workshop for our School of Communication where the Journalism and Public Relations majors are doing really interesting work on integrating social media into their courses.  I had the opportunity to ‘demo’ PLENK at the stage where the lecturers were discussing the shape of the graduate profile for the ‘digital graduate’ or as Martin Hirst defined it – the notion of ‘professional fluency’ for graduates from the School and how to develop this in the undergraduate programme.  I had given an overview of how a MOOC works with each participant sharing their own PLE about the course across a range of different social media tools – my colleague @jswann was in the audience and plenking away on her iPad, and was immediately able to contribute a very useful link harvested from her PLENK feeds on the concept of the digital graduate.  This was a really valuable contribution and helped crystallise the thinking at the right time.

There are many pointers to a more dynamic concept of the Internet as flow – for example as David Gelernter has prophetically suggested in his concept of the lifestream:

“The Internet’s future is not Web 2.0 or 200.0 but the post-Web, where time instead of space is the organizing principle — instead of many stained-glass windows, instead of information laid out in space, like vegetables at a market — the Net will be many streams of information flowing through time. The Cybersphere as a whole equals every stream in the Internet blended together: the whole world telling its own story.”  (Kevin Kelly is also excellent in expanding on this idea.) Now there are profound implications for higher education there – not the least of which for me is the resonance between this vision and an ecological understanding of learning.

So instead of a diagram – my emerging concept of a PLE as lifestream is a bit like this crude attempt to model the evolution of PLE tools using time instead of space as an organising principle (with sincere apologies to Sheldon and Leonard 🙂

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