Learning 2.0

screen shot from Miller's MLA talk, This is how we dream

In this week’s materialsMichael Wesch talks about how new social media environments have amplified what he refers to as “the crisis of significance” in education; where in a world of “nearly infinite information” we should be teaching subjectivities, not subjects. Richard Miller challenges us to “push ideas into our culture”, by placing them out on the web, thereby “showing the world what the university is for and that’s for ideas that belong to no one.” Alex Reid expands on Miller’s talk and suggests what needs to happen for digital humanities to thrive. John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler envision a new form of apprentice learning in which open, online social networks leverage the power of social learning for all participants. Finally, in his TED talk on the child-driven education, Sugata Mitra shares his initial research findings that seem to indicate that “education is a self-organizing system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon.”

What does it mean to educate in this way—for learners, for teachers, for communities? Who benefits within a paradigm in which collaborative, constructivist sense-making dominates? How does this measure against your own experiences, pedagogical philosophy and future?

When we meet on Friday, we’ll explore examples of student-collaborative and student-generated work. We’ll also finish editing our ‘about the bloggers’ section since next Thursday (September 30th) we will host a discussion in LearnCentral on online learning with our guest speaker, Nicole McClure. We can talk about the kinds of questions we’d like to ask her. We’ll also start brainstorming our classroom project ideas and familiarize ourselves with our wiki.


11 Responses to “Learning 2.0”

  1. carsten01 Says:

    In his very touching presentation on his research outcomes about self-organizing systems, Mitra presented just staggering results of an even more staggering approach. He defines a “self-organizing system” as one “where the systems structure appears without intervention from outside the system.” Thus learners on the inside of that system organize themselves as well as organize their ways to acquire certain knowledge by using the web’s resources. In other words there is no authority of knowledge and no hierarchical system where knowledge is passed from top (teacher) to bottom (students). Students engage on a task in proactive, interdependent way, undisturbed from outside influences (i.e. teacher).
    In similar fashion, Michael Wesch argues in “From Knowledgeable to Knowledge-able.” He makes his point by saying that Students want to find their own ways of getting to information.
    My question is: “Do they really?” More precise, “To what extend to Students expect an authoritative structure? And why is that?” Thinking about implementing a self-organizing system into our classrooms would mean to go against a structure students grew up in, with, and are used to. It would also mean that students would need to organize themselves as it is such a fundamentally new approach. And ultimately it would mean that students are responsible for the outcome. That is a lot of work compared to just come to class, sit there for 50 minutes, listen to the teacher or do the task the teacher gives in the way the teacher want it to be done and at the end of the semester evaluate on how the teacher did.
    I don’t want to say that this is the attitude of every student, but I do want to say that it takes motivation to be proactive. As an example, I observed a significant different attitude towards learning German by students participating in an exchange or language programs. Whereas in a classroom environment here, we very often have students who just want to check-off their language requirement. Exposed to a self-organizing system these students might be more motivated to engage in the language and in practice with other students beyond classroom times. But what if not? In a way the administrative structure is, it is not the student who is primarily responsible for failure, it is the teacher.
    Implementing self-organized systems successfully would mean to change the instructional system throughout the academic career of a learner. It would need to “teach”? students to be self-organized and to take responsibility for their own education and results.
    I do believe that the concept of self-organizing systems is just a wonderful and very rewarding way of teaching, but in ways of implementing it as an educational structure it needs more work and time to be achieved.

    • Eleonora Boscolo Camiletto Says:

      your comment reflects my thoughts exactly. I too thought Mitra’s presentation was lacking something; it was pretty much based on using technology to “teach” (although he didn’t really teach but promoted learning instead) students who never met technology before (Delhi) or never actually used it to learn (Milan) and therefore are eager to use it.
      Our situation is different, our students already have access to this kind of resources and therefore we, as teachers, need to approach teaching in a different way from what Mitra proposed.
      If I would do with my students what Mitra did with the Italian children my students would probably consider it a total waste of time.
      I think we also have to presuppose that students WANT to learn, and what we can do is motivate them to. But I do think the teacher role won’t die off. I TA for a Spanish Literature class of 83 students. Most of them use laptops in class, they have to read at most 100 pages per week, in English (and this is literature, not Biochemistry!), all the books we read are very famous and there is a lot of information on them on the Internet. Well, I still get emails with questions…

      • aljarrash Says:

        I agree with you that Mitra’s idea isn’t working with American students ,it is as you said ‘going to be considered a waste of time’ .But we can do something out of it .If we try to make it more challenging to students.I remember when I was in the school ,the teacher was giving only headings of chapters in literature books and then he had a website on which he puts all other websites addresses and then asks students to get through to finally write a summary with photos which is gonna be corrected systematically in the teacher’s website the time a summary is submitted .It was interesting to do that in a very short period of time .What I want to say is ,even if students got used to it ,still we have something to make it more interesting and useful ‘not a waste of time as students think’

  2. Karen Zook Says:

    carsten, I agree with a lot of what you had to say here. I loved Sugata Mitra’s talk, but I found myself thinking, over and over again, “this wouldn’t work with American students.” The impression I was getting from the presentation was that these students were, in large part, from areas/families where out-of-school access to the internet was limited (at best); they wouldn’t get an assignment like, “spend two months trying to figure out biochemistry,” shrug, and take the time to watch funny videos on YouTube instead. Absent an authority figure, a lot of students in an American classroom would.

    That being said, I think that has a lot to do with the way classrooms are currently structured–learning environments in which teachers’ directives are imposed on students, and students have little to no say in the direction their own education is taking. If we’re following this whole Web 2.0 (or 3.0) thing to its likely in the new pedagogical zeitgeist, though, a lot of educational material is going to be student-generated content… so they have the opportunity to direct/organize their own educations, which might provide them with more incentive for self-propelled learning.

    It’s funny, because I think of my high school students and think “this is impossible, they wouldn’t do anything I didn’t force them to,” and yet here we are, in graduate school (we could have quit several years ago and still walked away with at least one degree, after all). Students opt to take electives all the time. It seems like this sort of self-directed/interactive learning is necessarily a product of sparking an interest. That’s the challenge that’s going to be facing educators now.

    I think my favorite part of Mitra’s talk was his discussion of the SOLEs, and the necessity of student interaction. He’s absolutely right that this type of deep learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum.

    I also thought it was interesting that the experiment in Delhi ended with one of the students casting herself in role of teacher; it seems that some kind of authority figure is necessary, after all. I wonder if expecting someone so young to take on that responsibility might be placing an undue burden on her, emotionally–after all, just physiologically speaking, the part of the brain that directs impulse control doesn’t finish maturing until someone is twenty-four years old, so expecting on ten-year-old to be the impulse-control center for an entire classroom is perhaps asking a bit much–but that might be a topic for another discussion.

    In addition to which, Web 2.0 might honestly save the humanities. Alex Reid touches on this, a bit, with his talk. There is a legitimate need for science labs in a physical space, for example; the humanities can move increasingly online, and in doing so can allocate our (vanishing) funds to producing quality instructional material, rather than having those funds eaten up by the demands of a physical instructional space.

    • melinaanne Says:

      I agree with all of you (Karen, Eleonora, and Carsten) who, while intrigued, were a little bit skeptical of what Mitra had to say, when put into the context of the American system of education. I would assume (though I could be completely wrong) that children in the majority of schools have already been exposed to computers and technology from a relatively young age. This exposure, though, could mean that they need our guidance more than ever. For a lot of American students, I think the Internet represents a million options, but also a million distractions. Would it be possible for a group of American students to teach themselves biochemistry when youtube/chat/facebook, etc…were lurking in the background, tempting them at every turn? Logistically, I see it being difficult. If I think of the actual educational implications, though, I’m in agreement with what he had to say. I do think students are more invested when they are part of the decision making process and when they have a certain amount of responsibility in the outcome. I agree with Karen: Sometimes I think we as educators make the parameters of learning too tight and too controlled, guiding students to a point in which they follow our lead like zombies but don’t manage to gain anything truly meaningful from the learning process. I know in my experiences teaching both high school and college level I have complained on many an occasion about the lack of creativity in the students, or their inability to think “outside of the box”. Maybe this is because many of them have grown accustomed to the standards-driven way of teaching that seems to prevail in this country, as opposed to a student-driven—or even a “learning”-driven approach like the one that Mitra proposes. As it stands now, I think students are aware (most likely on a subconscious level) that creativity and resourcefulness are not rewarded, at least not in terms of assessment (which leads to grades, which leads to college, which leads to a “good” job…). Like we saw in Mitra’s video, the students were clearly invested in the project and proud of the results they obtained. They had ownership of that knowledge and therefore that knowledge mattered. But how do we incorporate these single experiences into a whole curriculum? How do we change the fundamentals of the ways students have always been “taught” to “learn”?

      • Karen Zook Says:

        the Internet represents a million options, but also a million distractions.


        I’m a big fan of devices like the Kindle and the iPad, which give students access to books in a format that uses a smaller amount of resources than traditional paper-based publication, but it does eliminate the “lock myself in a room with a book” method of getting work down. When you sit down with an iPad, sure you have your book… but the internet is always there, right behind the page you’re reading, tempting you to lose your concentration. It may just require students to develop a different sort of focus; after all, when we started school the internet wasn’t readily accessible for most people, so we didn’t learn to educate ourselves with and/or despite it. Students growing up now will have to learn to manage their relationship with the web during their early years, something we never had the opportunity to do. Maybe it’ll be easier for them than it is for us.

  3. claudiopi Says:

    As regards the material we have gone through this week, I agree with many of the points Michael Wesh has shed light on in his article “From Knowledgeable To Knowledge-able.” When he says that “Nothing good will come of these technologies if we do not first confront the crisis of significance and bring relevance back into education,” he is right. It shouldn’t even be questionable whether we as educators should give as much information as possible or give focused digestible information, which is not closed in itself, but open to further subjectivities (as opposed to study as embedded in a subjects-based scheme).
    Switching to Sugata Mitra and his statement, “Education is a self organising system, where learning is an emergent phenomenon,” I have the general impression that he is a very original and clear-sighted man. However, I agree with you who posted before me expressing your skeptical thoughts on the question. Mitra is definitely generalizing and wants to broaden his experimental view to sort of the rest of the world. However, the experiments he did were addressed to particular cases, where technology had a minor or an absent role. I still remember me in middle school looking at the computer as a magical and fascinating instrument. I could have looked up at every single word from my book on the Internet only for the curiosity of seeing what would pop out. Now, with technologies being something taken for granted for many, I am not so sure that education can be totally self organizing.

  4. beatebirkefeld Says:

    I’m not sure if I share some of your doubts on Mitra’s presentation. I think that the idea behind Mitra’s project would be very feasible at any kind of institution and in any country of the world. His point is to challenge children. Many times, I enter my classroom thinking I overestimate my students, but then I see that students start using their brains, work collaboratively, and pose questions: my students become active participants and content creators. Mitra challenges children even more by completely disappearing from the classroom stage, saying: “This is biochemistry, you’ve never heard about it, and it’s in English – Good Luck.” Who wouldn’t feel motivated to prove him wrong if not a bunch of six year-olds? Next, he provides them with the necessary tools. In his case internet, which really could also be twenty books, but the internet just happens to filter out the very important information from the not so important information within seconds. And finally, Mitra creates an atmosphere of curiosity. For the Dehli children this happens to be computers, which they are unfamiliar with at that point. For American kids this could be trip to a farm and find out where milk comes from. Ok, where do farms fit into our discussion? And here is where I interpreted Mitra’s approach differently. Claudio said that “many children take technology for granted” and I would definitely agree. But again, they are kids. And it doesn’t matter if they are kids from the US or India – we just have to motivate them. Every child will be thrilled to ride a bike without their parent’s help for the first time, and any student of French will be proud to buy a French baguette speaking French in France for the first time. We love the feeling of accomplishment. I don’t think Mitra’s only point was to show how new technologies can transform our classroom, but rather what is possible if we provide students with the right tools and motivation to want to learn by themselves. And that’s exactly our role as teachers.

    • Karen Zook Says:

      Who wouldn’t feel motivated to prove him wrong if not a bunch of six year-olds?

      You know, that’s a really good point (and this is where the practomimetic approach to learning gets really cool): perhaps approaching education as a sort of collaborative challenge (“prove me wrong!”) is the right way to take the lead under the new pedagogical model.

  5. Karen Zook Says:

    You know, the more I think about it, the more I think the internet as an educational tool was foretold by Sean Connery’s character in Indiana Jones: “I wrote it down so I wouldn’t have to remember!”

    Our brains can only hold so much; outsourcing some of the knowledge (especially as the internet becomes more globally ubiquitous, as it is) makes sense, because it frees up neurons for deeper critical thinking. Memorization will become a lost art, and that’s almost certainly a good thing.

  6. aljarrash Says:

    I think that with this great expanded access which has come a growing pervasiveness of technology in the society and internet in particular that has assumed a substanial stake in students educational life ,we should have on going professional development to help teachers learn more on how to provide meaningful instructions and activities using the technology in classroom and help students not to get bored or being distracted and waste their time on watching movies on youtube instead of studying .

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