Saturday, October 07, 2006

What would it be like to be the rain

A few days ago I posted an idea called out from under the umbrellas, of why and how educational institutions should decentralise

Tonight is an idea of how formal teaching and learning, assessment and accreditation might occur in that decentralised educational context.

I was reading Artichoke's latest post, Nobody owns it, everybody can use it and anybody can improve it that motivated me to stop reading and start typing. However typical of the feeling after reading any Artichoke posts I'm left astounded at how much Arti can fit into a single sentence, let alone a post chock full of quotes, references and links! and bewildered on what I might say when it seems as though it has all been said.

But it is that sentence that Arti uses as the over all theme to her post that rang bells for me most. It reminded me of the Linux ads IBM is running on Youtube - but more importantly how amazingly possible, if not already true the statement is.

I dunno why really, but it makes me want to imagine what would it be like to be the rain...

If you've read my post about decentralised education, out from under the umbrellas, then the title of this post may soon make more sense.

So, we have teachers with strong Internet presence. They point to, discuss, demonstrate, collate prolific amounts of information about their subject/s. They model the best practice possible, and lead by example. They share all that they know, and actively seek out what they don't, they are endorsed, supported and promoted by the institution/s they use as a base... in doing all this their Internet presence is strong, as it needs to be for this:

We have people all around the world, using the worlds biggest and most successful training provider (Google + wikipedia + youtube, etc) to access information and wherever possible communication, around what it is they are wanting and needing to learn. With a strong and established Internet presence our brave new teachers get found.

It is here I start to think about ways to try and match institutional learning pathways to this informal and self paced learning method through Google et al.

Let's start by reminding ourselves how Ask Ninja explains podcasting:

I hope you managed to watch that movie. Basically Ninja describes the world of the person seeking ideas, entertainment, information and the like online. That person wanders the landscape of search results, random links and posts, surfing... they happen across a single piece of content that grabs their attention (be it because of the entertainment value like Ninja, or because of its perceived value in answering a question or problem, or both..)

The challenge for teachers I think, is how to develop a web presence in such a way that this person will want to come back, subscribe, or otherwise tune in to what you are doing.

For example, if I was exploring an interest in lets say...architecture, and happened across something you (a teacher of it) had pegged - a quick video demonstrating how I might go about measuring my house and using Google sketch up to draw my dream renovation... I could be made interested by this. Now that I'm interested, things that would draw my interest further would be if at the end, or attached to the video somewhere was some advise on what my next steps could be and how what I just learned relates to what I could learn more of.

Those suggested next steps would draw me into more of your work - micropedagogical dumps as Brent says, bite sized chunks of things that would make me want to stay or come back. Things that would maintain my interest would be more of those seemingly random content feeds relating to architecture, and ending in next steps and suggested relationships to various life contexts... more video demos, short audio recorded interviews with practitioners (5 - 10 minutes) from NZ, India, South Africa, Brazil, China... a nicely designed text for print that inspires me to think differently about architecture and its importance in web design... recordings of your 10 - 15 minute lectures (goodbye 1 - 2 hour lectures)...

Along the way I have come to realise that you are a lecturer in architecture. My eyebrows lift at this realisation and I instinctively compare you to my past experiences with teachers.. "man! this person is onto it!" I'd think. I'd start to become more impressed by your passion for the subject as I see that you post a new thing every second day or so. I become even more impressed when I come to learn that some of what you post refers to your students work! I follow the links into your students, and see how they blog about their work with you. I am allowed to see the conversations and authentic learning that you are facilitating with these people and I start to relate myself into the experience. No enrollment fee, password and login profile to block me there... I start to see that becoming a qualified architect may be a possibility for me, achievable in my spare time after work.

So I make contact with you. A few days later you reply. Not with an enrolment form and an 0800 number, but with get-to-know-ME questions. Genuine, personal. I reply with questions about your work, you reply with answers and pointers to other work. You ask me if I'd like to join a web conference with your class! I bork and get shy, you say, "no worries - just listen in if you like" and give me the time and link. I do listen in, and see that the group you are communicating with are people just like me, and once again I think how possible it might be for me to study to become an architect. I go away for a while and see what else I can find, but inevitably I keep falling back to your blog, looking for more of that initial experience.

Weeks later you send me an email with an assignment attached. You explain that you thought I'd be interested in having a go at it, and if I wanted to I could send it in when I finished it. No mention of a fee. I'm surprised by this, even a little suspicious, but on reading the assignment I am curious.

I few weeks later I build up the courage to send you my attempt at the assignment. A few days go by and you respond with an impressive amount of feedback, written not with a teacher voice,but with progressive discourse as Konrad calls it. As an equal - respectful, sensitive, and personal. You then point me to your own attempt at the same assignment and I find it amidst many others who have attempted the assignment in the past, some only days before me. I even comment in on some of them, and get responses asking to see mine. You ask me if you can put my assignment up with the others...

This goes on for sometime. The teacher has to manage quite a bit of online social activity around their subject area, but avoids forming groups or classes, always treats people as individuals, respectful of each individuals capacity and time frames. The teacher is basically nurturing people into a relationship with them and their work as teachers in the field. Teachers as equals, as participants in their own courses, participants in a network.

Let's review that. Individual teachers have strong, networked, Internet presence. Their presence is built on the basis of micro content. The potential student is looking at this world of information networked communication. They draw focus on a particular element of content and find that it is networked into a chain of content. At any point, opportunities to communicate around that information is available. When the communication starts, so does the relationship, and the prolonged learning. I think this is starting to look like Stephen's picture of an alternative state education system posted October 6th.

but who pays?

Well, it's for free!! But some may choose to pay. Eventually many people will come to a point in their learning this way where they either need to be accredited or want to be. Some want recognition for their work, others legally require it to do further work. When they are at that point is when they (their employer, government or scholarship) pay. When the time for accreditation is agreed on (in other words when the teacher and the student agree that both are ready) the student enrolls and pays a fee, and the teacher introduces a team of independent assessors and everyone goes through the work that has been done. All the assignments, communications if need be, readings that were read and considered, portfolio, work experience, interviews, all of it is looked at to make an assessment for qualification.

It is at this point where payment is made, the learning was free. Education costs, learning is for free.

So there it is, what I think it might be like to BE the rain.

Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.


Bee said...

This and the previous post feel like rain washing my soul. Listen to this

Leigh Blackall said...

Thanks Bee, I'm listening to this as I stain the floor of my house. I'd very much like to network myself into more of a South relationship. South Africa, South, and South East Asia, Australia, Pacific and South America. There is such an amazing range of language, perspectives, economic condition, and unheard voices in the South.
This audio is a start, and I'll be sure to follow all the mentioned links after staining...

pete said...

Tell 'im he's Dreamin'!........:)

Who pays indeed. there are some really good ideas and description of an educational landscape I'd like to work in, but the reality i have to teach in would never be able to move that far.

But i do like some of the ideas you've outlined here.

Just like all change management strategies, I'll take some of these ideas and implement them in the framwork I work in, little by little I'll work toward that dream.

Parag Shah said...

Hello Leigh,
I was delighted to read this post. It shows a grand vision for what is possible in years to come. And I am certain that it will. Subtle changes towards decentralization can already be felt.

A long time back I had read an article about how organizations can expand, not by employing more people, but by striking alliances with independant workers specializing in their own fields. This is almost the same concept applied to the corporate world.

Open source technologies, blogs, podcasts, video, tagging will take the decentralization concept a step further. But the main change will happen when the students themselves can break away from the shackles of "wanting to be taught", to "going out and learning". They need to imbibe the psychology of an adventurer, who knows that the information, mentors, and knowledge is all out there. All they have to do is start the ride and seek what they want. In my opinion this aspect is the one that is changing the slowest of all, and it is the one aspect that can have the biggest impact.

Would like to know what you think.

Leigh Blackall said...

Yes, the expectations of learners already fully socialised through 13 or more years of school, are certainly geared towards 'just wanting to be told in the most efficient way possible'. That is why I think it is urgent that teachers go first. The more teachers that go and learn what is like to learn this way, the more that will come back with ideas on how to help resocialise - or deschool society.. see Illich

Carole @ Wodonga said...

Hello Leigh, I am impressed with this latest 'out in the rain' analogy and it really resonates with me. It would be great if a few more innovative thinkers were leading our educational institutions and could see the immediate benefits of this model. Love the final quote, Learning is free, its education that costs.
BTW if you're reading this message today, Monday October 9, please contact the Knoweledge Bank Networks organisers regarding your presentation with them this Thursday, October 12.
Regards from Coach Carole

Stanley said...

hi Leigh
there's a lot here that resonates with my view of where education should be going - I like the images of umbrellas and rain, and how they convey the tensions that exist in this new networked (or ecological) world of learning. I do think though that there's heaps that can be done to transform our existing insitutions. The notion of teachers developing a more tangible internet presence is one, as you rightly point out. But after working in academic staff development for many years I sometimes wonder if this kind of transformation is actually possible for the majority of teaching staff in tertiary ed. Then there is also the major issue of the political and economic systems that support the present structures - or can it be that the 'rain' will simply wash these away ?
I also found it interesting that you used architecture as an example. Both Donald Schön (The Reflective Practitioner) and John Seeley Brown have used architecture as examples of an educational approach that is transferable and scalable across other disciplines - but I think that both of them would insist that the studio model of learning would not be replicable online (but perhaps 2.0 tools make this a possibility?) ... anyway, I personally like the idea of being both the rain and the umbrella - heralding a new approach but also giving some strategies and tools for teachers on how to cope with it - as Dylan sang "it's a hard rain a gonna fall" :)

Merrolee said...

Hi Leigh
I really enjoyed your story and could see how learning could be.....
I just have two questions - one is who pays the wonderful facilitator of this person's learning - you mentioned that the student pays for the assessment.... but what about the hours that the facilitator has put in???
And.. I also struggled with the notion of how someone's skills when working with people? We have many hours of fieldwork in our programme where students work under the direct supervision of a registered therapist - they put their learning into practice..... Its not always safe to have patients/clients/consumers receive services from non-skilled professionals. I've seen the model where OT assistants are able to keep working as assistants and under the direction of a supervisor while they complete their theory..... and that works fine - because there are only 1 - 2 assistants and anywhere between 3 - 20 therapists.... so the services for the clients are still offered by registered staff. in health we couldn't have 20 students providing the service???? So your thoughts???

Leigh Blackall said...

Answering your first query regarding who pays - I don't think it would be a mistake to see this model as a replacement to current models, I see it more as a complimentary practice in the first instance. Basically opening up courses a lot more, enabling self directed learners to have as much access as is possible.

A lot of people think that making resources available is all that is possible. Personally I don't think that goes anywhere near far enough. The Internet is chock full of resources for that type of learning, but scarce in availability of real contact and support.

I think that in many cases it is possible for a person who teaches something face to face, to also support people online. That person may use strategies such as establishing the class as a support group for people online. I look at the opportunities to communicate wider than a little class as a rather rich learning opportunity - so look at it as a learning resource.

In the long run, the class model has to go. It may well turn out that the teacher becomes a mobile teacher, where someone coordinates a visit by that teacher, and the teacher maintains a strong online presence to both support distance learners, and to market themselves in the process.

As for you final query - I'm not sure how the model I propose can't be adjusted to accommodate this need.