I'm going to use this blog post to pick up on a few threads that Stephen Downes wove into his tapestry during this May 2013 open discussion on OERs and MOOCs. I'll likely return to these as I continue to open my own teaching and learning.
Conditions for a Constructive Dialogue
Downes suggested these as both conditions for a constructive learning dialogue and design principles for a MOOC: autonomy, diversity, openness, interactivity. S. Downes, May 25, 2013, #OLTD505 I wanted to look more deeply at these conditions in reflection of my own teaching and learning theory.
Autonomy: The Greeks define autonomy as "self law". While Martin Brokenleg and William Glasser use slightly different language (independence) they both highlight autonomy as a fundamental human need. So often learners are directed and prescribed what to learn and how to learn it. BC's Ministry of Education even describes provincial learning outcomes as "prescribed". As an educator who values personalized learning, the autonomy of learners is crucial. While it might sound oxymoronic, I believe individual autonomy and a collaborative community are essential for not only constructive dialogue but also for optimal learning.
I have a student this year who resists any learning that is imposed or prescribed. He makes up his own rules and plays to his own tune. At first I saw this as a challenge to our classroom community - the child would paddle in the opposite direction of the community "flow". I struggled to find ways to engage this child and finally, in frustration, I let go. All of a sudden the boy was inventing math games and sharing them with his friends, taking a leadership role during computer time and drawing beautifully complex patterns in art. Observing this child thriving in a learning situation he had created I realized the importance of autonomy.
Diversity: People are diverse and communities are diverse yet we are all share basic emotional needs: independence, belonging, a sense of freedom and fun (see my eLearning theory for more details). Though fundamental, they are expressed and met in diverse ways. Diverse learners require diverse teaching strategies, diverse projects and diverse ways to make their learning visible. This means providing choice but also being open to new options.
Openness: Openness means letting go of control. In a learning situation it means not being attached to specific outcomes or ways of reaching an outcome. Openness means sharing and remixing and making something new out of existing ideas.
Interactivity: Connectivity. Connectivism. The internet has made connections with more people and across longer distances not only possible, but natural. Learning has always been about making connections between self and text, self and the world and self and prior experiences, dreams and the imagination. The internet expands the possible connections infinitely. John Abbott states simply that "education is the ability to perceive connections between phenomenon". Stephen Downes echoes this idea: learning is the creation and adjustment of connections between entities. I like how the word adjustment is included in this description. Change is constant and connections fluctuate.
"If you don't have the means to access it, it's like it doesn't exist." S. Downes, May 25, 2013, #OLTD505
I guess this answers the old question about the tree falling in the forest. It all depends on one's perspective. I would love to be a teacher of a class where each student has access to a device that can access the internet. So far in my career this hasn't happened. Nevertheless, I've brought my own devices into the classroom so I can share accessibility with my students and I can access videos, photos, podcasts, blogs, etc. to enrich the teaching and learning in my classroom. This raises an issue: if I'm "in charge" of accessing information on the web and "controlling" what gets posted on my students' behalf - is this open learning?
Without student access to open learning resources and open-ended inquiry-based projects, how can learning truly be open?
What is Learning?
"Learning is not the possession of a collection of facts, it's an expression of capacity."
S. Downes, May 25, 2013, #OLTD505
I have to acknowledge some of the little voices in my head as I learn openly, write my blog posts and respond to others. "Is this what my teacher wants?" "Will I pass this course with what I've said?" "Am I getting it?"
This kind of thinking reiterates the fact that I am a product of the education system of which I was a part growing up. In many ways this system continues to replicate itself. I'm trying to change this. I don't want to worry about what others think and nor do I want my students to participate in learning that pleases others. And yet this way of thinking pervasive. To answer my question with a non-example: learning is NOT following a teacher's script. It is not for external reward. It is not uniform or predictable. As Alfred North Whitehead wisely quipped in The Aim of Education at the turn of the 20th century: "Culture is activity of thought and receptiveness to beauty and humane thought. Scraps of information have nothing to do with it. A merely well-informed man is the most useless more on god's earth."
While I'm quoting the "greats" of educational theory, I must include John Milton, a favourite of John Abbott. In Of Education he says "I call therefore a complete and generous education that which fits a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all the offices of both private and public of peace and war." This reminds me of how George Siemens' describes the purpose of education in this 2010 TEDxTalk. First he quotes Edgar Morrin: "Education has one vital task: to prepare individuals for the vital combat for lucidity." In another presentation Siemens describes the purpose of education as suggested by Harvard University: education prepares learners to be part of society by creating, sharing and interacting; education helps learners understand themselves as products of and participants in traditions of art, ideas and values; education prepares learners to respond critically, creatively and constructively to change; and education develops learners' understanding of the ethical dimensions of what they say and do in all aspects of their lives.
Stallman's 4 Freedoms
I'd never heard of Richard Stallman until today when Steven Downes mentioned his Four Freedoms. Stallman developed these Four Freedoms in relation to software. Nina Paley, in her blog, applies these freedoms to culture:
Four Freedoms of Culture (Nina Paley)
- The freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
- The freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
- The freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
- The freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works
It sounds to me like the foundation of Creative Commons and the foundational theory behind open learning.
MOOCs and Gift Economy Theory
During the course of our discussion, the reality of the sustainability of MOOCs was addressed. What are the costs of MOOCs? Who absorbs them? This started me thinking about generosity and gift economies. I found this fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review. What stood out for me was when the author made the distinction between a market economy and a gift economy. A market economy focuses on transactions; a gift economy focuses on relationships. In some ways, the difference is subtle. In gift economies, which I'm relating to open learning communities, relationships are paramount. Learning is about the meaningful, humane and generous connections made between learners.
I'll pick up on these threads as I continue my open learning journey.