In examining the current physical space Wesch (2008) asked students what a lecture hall ‘said’ about learning, in essence what were the affordances (Gibson 1979; Norman 1988) of the standard learning environment. They listed the following:
- To learn is to acquire information
- Information is scare and hard to find
- Trust authority for good information
- Authorized information is beyond discussion
- Obey the authority
- Follow along
These are obviously at odds with what most educators regard as key components in learning, such as dialogue, reflection, critical analysis, etc. They are also at distinct odds with the type of experience students have in the online world they inhabit regularly, particularly the social network, read/write web. These environments are characterised by
- User-generated content
- Power of the crowd
- Data on an epic scale
- Architecture of participation
- Network effects
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When it was necessary for education to be performed face to face, a number of services were bundled together. When it becomes digital and online, this may no longer be the case, as we have seen in most content industries, such as music and newspapers (education has some similarities with content and also some significant differences). The first round of learning tools replicated the centralised model, but as the tools have become easier to use, and the methods for integrating them simpler, so this centralised approach seems less applicable. Clay Shirky (2008) argues that the ‘cost’ of organising people has collapsed, which makes informal groupings more likely to occur and often more successful:
"By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management, these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort"
Part of the function of universities is to provide this organisation, for example by grouping individuals together to form a student cohort who are interested in the same subject. But as this grouping becomes easier to do online, it becomes less of a valued function of the university - ie you don’t need to go to a university to find like minded people. Education then faces the same challenges regarding the cost of organisation that, say, the Encyclopedia Brittanica faced from wikipedia. Returning to the theme of this paper, Shirky’s argument can also be applied to technology, namely that the ‘cost’ of integrating technology has drastically reduced, meaning it is now feasible for individuals to do this, thus alleviating the need for centrally provided pre-integrated solutions. For example, we could reword the above quote to read:
By making it easier for tools to (self) assemble and for applications to contribute to the environment without requiring integration, these approaches have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of any individual to create their own environment
Projects such as SocialLearn, illustrate that the conceptualisation of a learning environment goes beyond technical, or even pedagogical considerations. In a digital society it comes to represent the institutional response to changes in the nature of knowledge creation, sharing, and participation, in short to the nature of education itself. Shirky argues that ‘when we change the way we communicate, we change society’, and the new socially based technologies we have today are doing this in fundamental ways. It is only by exploring their potential that universities can remain relevant to the society they are helping to shape.
shared by Tarmo Toikkanen on 23 Oct 09 - Cached
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