Rhizomatic Learning – too cool for school? February 10, 2013Posted by ianinsheffield in Musings, research.
Tags: #etmooc, informal learning, rhizomatic learning
It doesn’t usually take me this long to get down to writing a post, but reflecting on the Rhizomatic Learning (RL) session with Dave Cormier has had me stumped … as indeed it did Dave. It’s not that it’s a particularly difficult idea, making as it does a metaphorical link with the way certain plants propagate as part of their growth process.
The main aspects include how easily and rapidly rhizomes spread, how haphazard growth can be via multiple paths (responding as they do to local environment) and the degree of resilience they exhibit (when rhizomes are severed, the parent plant continues to grow and the severed sections can form new plants). These factors are also found in certain learning situations, MOOCs in particular, but community-centred situations in general, which means RL can provide a model for describing learning under these circumstances. I can also see how learning rhizomatically helps deal with complex situations and help prepare learners for uncertain futures. Having telegraphed its arrival I’m going to jump in with the ‘BUT’ (and this is I guess why it’s taken me so long to write this post), there are aspects of RL with which I feel less comfortable. These fall into three camps: the first being how far the rhizome metaphor holds up in describing learning ecosystems, the second in how applicable it is to my continued experience in pre-higher education and the third is that RL might just be a bit of a cop out.
When rhizomes grow, though they do respond to their environment, the degree to which they interact with it is questionable I’d suggest. There’s no interlinking, no connecting, no collaboration, co-operation or symbiosis as there might be in a learning community. Indeed this can be taken even further and rhizomatic growth (or learning) can have destructive effects as Kaska discussed here. I also wonder too about the true resilience of rhizomes; clearly they are incredibly persistent within their own niche, but what is their fate if transplanted to a completely new environment? And I guess that takes me to my second point …
Too cool for school?
Primary and secondary education (K-12) is dominated by formal learning and whilst a little non-formal might sneak in the back door, there is neither room for, nor acceptance of informal learning. Organisational structures, timetables, schedules and calendars, externally mandated curricula, school buildings, cultural inertia, educational dogma all serve to exclude informal learning. I’d argue its an environment entirely hostile to rhizomatic learning. Or to flip it around, the needs of the learners might not be best served by applying the principles of RL; they are after all dealing with neither complex nor chaotic circumstances, their curriculum is not ‘the community’ and though we might wish to ‘make them responsible for their own learning,’ whilst teachers and schools exist to take the fall, that’s going to be an incredibly hard sell to society. In all fairness, Dave C is not claiming that RL applies in all circumstances and maybe I simply have to accept that unlike behaviourism , cognitivism or constructivism, I’ll struggle to find a place for RL in school. Yet perhaps this is the source of the discomfort and disconnect I feel; the tension that I know exists where the immediate future of our learners is pre-ordained and clearly laid out, yet the future beyond their school is far from certain and their learning needs might be better served by a more rhizomatic approach.
Having an ‘open syllabus’ where the ‘curriculum is the community’ and where learners determine their learning paths and success criteria, are all highly laudable aims, but I wonder to what extent they shift the responsibility away from the ‘course’ leader, thereby making their job a whole lot easier. No syllabus, no learning outcomes, no testing. It sure makes it a whole lot harder to be called to account by your line manager/employer if the learning experiences of your learners are less tangible. Or maybe it’s actiually the opposite and proponents of RL have a much tougher job justifying their existence when the evidence of their learners’ progress doesn’t conform to conventional structures (strictures?)?
Perhaps then I’m looking in the wrong place for instances and applications of RL? I simply need to content myself with the fact that my own learning is often rhizomatic. It’s often chaotic, dealing as it does with complex issues in preparation for unclear futures. I determine my learning pathways, explore a plethora of different avenues and decide for myself when journeys are complete. My curriculum is indeed my community and maybe that’s enough … for now.
On the level? September 15, 2012Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, research, Teaching Idea.
Tags: Bloom's, learning theory
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I always enjoy reading posts on learning theories and concepts; it’s an area I’m still exploring whilst attempting to develop a deeper understanding. It was perhaps that then that attracted me for my first visit to the Pedagoo site:
Pedagoo is an attempt by a loose collection of educators in Scotland to move beyond the rhetoric and inevitable negativity that surrounds most new initiatives in education. If we stand for anything, it is making sure that those we teach are given the best preparation possible for the future.
A recent post on Pedagoo provided a useful introduction and ‘user guide’ to Bloom’s Taxonomy. A quick Internet search for Bloom’s Taxonomy will return a wealth of different sites and posts¹ describing and providing practical examples of Bloom’s in action. The one thing I’m still struggling to resolve though, is when we dig right down to practical illustrations of activities (or questions) indicative of a particular level within Bloom’s, have we oversimplified?
Giving exemplars of activities pitched at the different levels helps people address and reflect on their own approach perhaps with a view to enhancing or extending what they do. I’ve always wondered though whether siting (and citing!) an example of an activity at a particular level introduces challenges? Take producing a mindmap on the topic.’ Now this clearly involves some element of recall so is rightly at the ‘Remembering’ level, but I’d suggest we could perhaps make a case for that activity to require different levels of demand. Making a mindmap also requires the learner to ‘understand’ the information in a topic in order that their creation accurately summarises and structures the sub-topics within the overarching theme. Might we not also argue that this deconstruction of prior knowledge, then reconstruction or sense-making to create their own interpretation involves some elements of ‘analysis.’ And finally choosing an appropriate layout, thematic design, possibly introducing rich media (if using a digital app) could require a degree of ‘creativity?’
So maybe the value of Bloom’s is that it provides a framework for us to interrogate what we do and how we do it? Through the very act of analysing an activity and making a choice of an appropriate level, we better understand the appropriateness of the tasks we set our learners. Or as Gareth outlined in his post, the better our learners are able to interpret what they are doing and consequently challenge themselves with activities of higher demand. It’s perhaps less about what they’re doing now and more about what they’re going to do next.
¹There’s a really informative post by Donald Clark which provides a useful introduction to Bloom, his taxonomy and how it influenced education.
eAssessment Scotland 2012 August 31, 2012Posted by ianinsheffield in CPD, research.
Tags: #eAS12, assessment, conference
It’s a different way to spend one of your days of annual leave, but since it was the school holidays and I wouldn’t have to seek permission to be absent, I took the opportunity to attend the ‘live’ element of the eAssessment Scotland 2012 Conference. I have to confess the cost was a major factor in attracting me (free!), though the opportunity to come north of the border and visit Dundee, a city with which I have little familiarity were also strong draws.
The day consisted of a series of keynotes and optional seminars/workshops so the programme I enjoyed looked like:
- Keynote from Prof David Boud (Uni. of Technology, Sydney), on New Conceptions of Feedback
- Seminar from a team at Edinburgh Napier Uni., on online assessments to support progression in professional practice
- Seminar from Colin Maxwell (Carnegie College) on the challenge that MOOCs might be offering
- Keynote from Russell Stannard (Warwick Uni.) on changing the way we provide feedback
- Seminar from Dr Sue Timms (Bristol Uni.) outlining research into factors affecting transformation of assessment and feedback mechanisms
- Seminar from Cherry Hopton and students (Angus College) on socialising assessment
- Keynote from Cristina Costa (Salford Uni.) on the role of the participatory Web in providing feedback
The delegate list was dominated by colleagues from the tertiary sector, so I was slightly worried I’d turned up to a formal dinner wearing a batman costume. Though the content leaned towards tertiary, it was more than possible to find relevance for the findings and observations from that particular context in my own experiences in secondary. There are after all some universals and it is those general principles that I’ll outline from here.
Though the event sponsors were largely companies providing products which offer technological solutions or support for assessment, I felt the ‘e’ that headed the conference title was small both in actuality and in its intrusion into the main theme of the conference. The focus was clearly on assessment and more especially (if you look at the three keynotes) on formative assessment processes. As Sue Timms’ findings showed, assessment is a rather ornery beast, not keen on being pulled in another direction. When you couple that with technological enhancements, you’re in some ways doubling the factors which some might use to resist any form of transformation, rather than potentially making life easier or more importantly, learning more effective. We saw plenty of examples of new ways in which assessment can be enabled, enhanced or extended through the use of technology. Though we also saw people in organisations (Napier & Angus) who had the freedom to change their assessment regimes in such a way as to provide positive experiences for their learners, it is here where the major problem pops up for me. In the secondary sector, the major influence on assessment strategies is the examination system. High-stakes, summative, largely externally assessed, behind closed doors and most importantly of all, entangled with accountability, of schools and the teachers within them. In the minds of the majority who work under those constraints, there is neither room, nor incentive for innovative or transformative forms of assessment. It will come as no surprise that there is also a minority who experiment with interesting alternative forms of assessment and are often also those experimenting with new technologies. It’s not that ‘e’ and assessment go together (though in the context of the conference, they clearly do!), it’s more that the educators for whom these things are important are the ‘tinkerers’ and explorers who want to know if there is anything better out there. They’re open to new ideas, enjoy a challenge and are prepared to fly in the face of convention. If the progress many of them are achieving is to gain wider acceptance, I feel that the constraints the ‘system’ is imposing (whether actual or perceived) need loosening so the actors in this arena feel empowered to explore more progressive assessment techniques. Sadly, that politicians of whatever hue continue to use data from traditional assessments as their weapon of choice doubtless means that progress will be … steady.
(For ‘steady’ read glacial!)
On a separate issue, it was great to hook up with friends from north of the border, Colin Maxwell, David Noble & John Johnston and also to hear about Doug Belshaw’s new exploits.
Information … graphically? August 18, 2012Posted by ianinsheffield in research, Resources, Teaching Idea.
Tags: BYOD, BYOT, data handling, design, infographic, visualisation
I outlined in the preceding post the results of a survey of our students; one aspect of the preparation for our forthcoming BYOD programme. But how to reflect the outcomes back for the various constituents? A report for the Senior Leadership Team? A blog post for the staff? A poster for the students themselves?
And that’s when I realised here was the authentic opportunity I’d been looking for to create my first infographic. A single output suitable for all audiences … and therefore a challenge indeed. So what would be my weapon of choice for such an undertaking. Well the data was already in a Google form, which has its own output option; whilst this isn’t too bad for the numerical aspects of the survey, it’s less than good in showing the free-text responses. Of the other tools, Infogr.am has been stealing the march on generating data visualisations just recently, but didn’t quite offer the features I needed to display the two different data types. In the end another imperative drove my choice and nudged me towards the ‘old-school’ approach with an offline application. A good few years ago, I became quite adept in using vector graphic applications and specifically CorelDraw (if I tell you I was using version 8, this article will give you a clue as to when that was!). I’ve allowed those skills to decline, am in great need of a refresher and recently became aware of Inkscape, an open source vector graphics editor. Reasons aplenty then.
Then reality kicked in! My ‘designer gene’ has always been somewhat dormant and inspiration often eludes me, though as I learned on “edtechcc“, having never really studied nor mastered the design process, there’s an awful lot to it (kudos to Design Tech teachers!). In the end then, it was more a matter of synthesising the data, translating into a more visual form and reducing its complexity somewhat, rather than making it as beautiful as David McCandless might. I hope however that I’ve at least started my journey towards making data more accessible by thinking about:
the creative organization, styling and presentation of information with the goal of increasing interest, readability and comprehension beyond that of pure text.
Knowing the time it took to put together even this simple affair, the skills I had to develop with Inkscape, the interpretation and reimagining of the data and especially the creativity (albeit limited in my case!) involved in choosing and deploying a design, making an infographic would surely provide a worthy challenge for our students?
Wisdom of the many? July 7, 2012Posted by ianinsheffield in Management, Musings, research.
Tags: BYOD, BYOT, polling, students, wisdom of crowds
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I got the following response to a question I asked about BYOD during the week:
Would they be covered on the insurance? Where would they be stored? Overall I remain unconvinced. It is probably a good idea for 6th formers but certainly not for younger students.
This was a verbatim response … from a student!
We’re launching a BYOD pilot programme across our 6th form in the Autumn term, but with the intention of extending it across other years following an evaluation of that pilot. Our preparations have included discussions with staff, and with the students who will be included in the pilot. We also wanted to ‘test the water’ with years 7 to 10 though and find out the level of technology to which they had access, their attitudes to using it in school and if indeed they had any desire to use it. Rather than the face-to-face discussions we’ve had with other constituencies, we felt a short poll would suffice at this stage and I’ve just begun analysing the results.
In addition to finding out the types of device they have, their confidence with them and whether they would bring them to school, we also asked an open-ended attitudinal question:
Have you any thoughts at all about the possibility of being allowed to use mobile devices to help your learning? Good thing? Bad thing? Possible problems?
Bear in mind this was done in a few minutes during morning registration, there was no preliminary discussion and this was the first time any of them would have heard about the possibility of BYOD. Without performing a numerical analysis of how positive or negative the responses to this question were, I got the impression that they were largely favourably inclined to the possibility of BYOD. Some students provided positive responses, some negative and many produced balanced returns. However, whilst the general feeling was positive, it was nowhere nearly as focused and specific as the concerns they expressed:
- Batteries often go flat.
- You could lose them or have them stolen.
- Not everyone has their own device.
- Might be problems connecting to the wifi.
- Can sometimes get distracted and go off task.
- I wouldn’t want someone else to borrow my phone.
- My mum wouldn’t let me bring it.
- Some people would text rather than doing what they should be.
- Where would be able to store them?
- I wouldn’t want it to cost me money.
- I prefer not to use mobile devices for learning, although laptops are OK.
- What programmes students use wouldn’t be controllable.
- With everyone using it, it might slow up the Internet.
- If it breaks, you wouldn’t be able to do any work.
- Although a good thing, we should still be allowed to use pen and paper if we want.
- Different students might have different programmes.
How amazing that with so little preparation, forethought and time, students should come up with almost the same list of concerns that educators did during an hour-long #ukedchat on BYOD. I was stunned! And I’ve only analysed half the returns so far! The positive responses, though less clearly focused towards specific aspects of learning than the educators, nevertheless pointed towards familiarity, ease and speed of use and increased level of access.
Knowing the concerns that students actually have, rather than the concerns that we think they might have … or that we have as staff, means we can redouble our efforts into resolving them. We can then make sure that prior to taking the next steps, we ensure students are aware of how their concerns are being addressed. The one issue that still bothers me above others however is that of equity, but maybe here’s an opportunity to engage the students yet further – how would they prefer to see the equity gap narrowed. Maybe the Wisdom of Crowds could help out here too?