Monday, 9 April 2012

Changing views and systems: we’ve got a long way to go! – Week 12 - CCK12

George Siemen’s article, “New Structures of learning: The systemic impact of connective knowledge, connectivism and networked learning” (http://elearnspace.org/Articles/systemic_impact.htm) made for a fascinating read between Barrie and Kingston this Easter weekend. Between stopping to view various wildflowers (Spring Beauty, Dutchmen’s Breeches, Hepatica, Bloodroot and a very early Trillium…), I learned a great deal about connectivism and learning.

Specifically, I learned that while technology has made it possible for massive shifts to be made in how education is delivered, educational institutions have typically been extremely slow at adapting to the exciting possibilities for teaching and learning offered by the digital age. Opportunities include “global classrooms, shared curricula, complex problem solving through collaboration, and new relationships between educational institutions and society” (page 6).
The article overviewed some of the challenges to traditional education, including:
·         A transition from a solid knowledge base of information to a wide and wild array of information and resources which must be assessed and contextualized by an individual.
·         The global campus – where people can easily access learning via non traditional sources of education (informal education via podcasts, online videos, the Khan Academy, GCF Learn Free, etc.  or via universities and colleges without walls such as Athabasca University or Contact North)

The question was then asked “how does change impact institutions”. It would appear that while there are small pockets of innovation brought about by early innovators and champions, that overall, the opportunities offered by digital technologies have not resulted in a transformation of the way we learn. Typically, the traditional classroom model is still the model most valued by educators and the public. New tools, old strategies. New possibilities, old thinking. 
For example, here in Ontario, educators often seem to think that the use of a SmartBoard is an incredible innovation. And, while SmartBoards do indeed provide access to helpful resources and tools, this technology is essentially merely the automation of a blackboard. No changes or new opportunities in classroom learning have in fact been made. Standard classrooms, standard curriculum and hierarchical teaching practices remain in place.

To use another example: this spring comes the time most dreaded by shy children: speeches!  In 2012 in Ontario, my terribly shy Grade 8 son and all of his compatriots are required to write out their speeches on FLASH CARDS, and deliver them verbally in front of the classroom. Can you imagine the alternate possibilities? Even PowerPoint would be a huge innovation here. How about YouTube, podcasts, animations? The learning would be equal or greater than delivering a speech via flash cards (I used that decades ago, as did my parents – I mean, this is stone tablet technology!), and it would meet the learning styles of individual students. Even the teacher (perhaps ESPECIALLY the teacher) would learn a thing or two!
Some other concepts I found interesting in this paper were: open versus closed systems, expertise versus amateur content creation, and open versus closed educational resources.

Let’s hope in the coming years that educational institutions are more open to change and to adapting so that they and their students can benefit from the possibilities offered by digital technologies. Ideas can take time, but if they hold on, even despite the odds, they can grow and flourish. Here is a great illustration of this: look at this beautiful wildflower from my Easter hike (it is a native Canadian plant called Spring Beauty). It is growing in the crevice of a rock. There is almost no soil, but still it persisted and from a tiny seed it germinated and grew into this beautiful plant.

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