Friday, September 5, 2014

The SHARP learning cycle

Just knocked this up for use in a session in a couple of weeks. I like it - wish I had time to say more. Perhaps will come back again and do that. For now, thanks to Peter Goodyear! Here's a 'bit more'...(updated 22/10/2014)
The fairly subversive pedagogy of a networked learning activity rides bareback on the conventional hegemony of the student/staff dichotomy where the students are 'encouraged', almost as an act of faith, to take up the reflective and generative practice of knowledge work; through internalisation and externalisation, they bring their own practice under the reflective scrutiny of authoritative theory. They 'feel their size', and this brings on a minor crisis: it is expected that they will not understand everything they read, they realise that the bar is significantly higher than they had appreciated. Coming to terms with this discomfort is an important aspect of 'affect' in learning. Even to appreciate that 'higher ground' exists may be novel and generative in itself. But, more significantly, the mind is piqued into confusion, frustration, arousal and enquiry. Sense/meaning-making can commence, even if only through a stumbling advance. The 'stumble' metaphor here intentionally implies an iterative wobble 'back and forth', attempting stability, between the theory-laden artefact and the learner's own reified, tentative understanding. It may only be after this that the 'third space', an online forum, is deployed and the shared object(ive) of the scripted task invokes a collective sharing of the experience, providing the learner with contextually rich alternative attempted 'takes' on the theory and its application in practice, not least the practice of learning.
These 'affective' elements of learning are vital for what Illeris (2008,p13) terms,
"accommodative or transcendent learning.", where "one breaks down (parts of) an existing scheme and transforms it so that the new situation can be linked in. Thus one both relinquishes and reconstructs something, and this can be experienced as demanding or even painful, because it is something that requires a strong supply of mental energy... In return... (the learner has) understood"

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When 'good enough' is actually 'best'

At Cardiff we've had a long-running 'pilot' of persistent group chat (PGC). Chris Graves has been instrumental in this. PGC is like a chat room but a history is kept in the room of previous conversations so the experience is in between synchronous and asynchronous. There is also an element of presence awareness.

Pidgin Instant Messenger screengrab
We've used the free Pidgin software to access XMPP 'rooms'
Yesterday a colleague was telling me about a time when they had spoken about the use of persistent group chat for tutorials at a conference for Welsh Further Education staff. Another colleague was explaining how they had found that holding tutorials in Second Life helped students to express themselves. If education is fundamentally conversational then conversations are useful to that end. However if education is fundamentally about collaboration (I think Andy Blunden makes this point but need to read more!) then evidently you need to be building something together, a conversation can certainly be supportive of that, wherever/however it happens but talking will only get you so far.
Our PGC advocate explained how their live demo did not start well when they were unable to connect with the student that they'd planned to. However, coincidentally, a colleague was online and doing a tutorial at the time. All agreed to help with the live demo and the audience watched as the live conversation continued. As the remote tutor was signing off, literally just triggered by the text displayed on the screen, members of the audience at the presentation instinctively voiced their goodbyes. Some of them then caught themselves doing that and felt daft realising that they were waving at some text on a screen. This demonstrated very much how vivid the experience of humble text-based communication can be, especially synchronous or near-synchronous.
Where the academic practices of the given discipline or field are primarily text-based, that is really where the focus should be, around developing confidence, style and sophistication (even epistemic fluency!) with that mode of communication. When 'voice-to-voice', it is easy to enter into almost a therapeutic relationship with students and talk with them and to them for hours, whereby they may indeed reveal all manner of interesting details and walk away having had a lovely time. But that is very different to developing writing skills by practising them. Writing is very difficult. Focusing on writing, even deliberately limiting students to writing, may not be very glamorous but it cuts right to the beating heart of an apprenticeship in knowledge work. Second Life, second best IMHO.

Monday, August 4, 2014

VR+gdoc - helped Damien and I converse

Taking a stroll with Damien, Tag and Neil
I was really pleased to meet up with Damien again last Sunday. Damien is a remarkable young man, having gained a first class honours degree in computing in spite of being profoundly deaf. My brother had persuaded him to stay over and catch the morning service. Funnily enough the sermon was all about 'ways of hearing', of which there are an amazing number: e.g. partial and hearing for someone else to name just two!
Damien uses a Galaxy Note to help him and those he's conversing with to hold conversations without reaching for paper and pen. I had hatched an idea to show him. I like taking reflective notes by dictating into Evernote via voice recognition - it's much faster than typing. Now transpose that to a situation where a synchronous editing application like Googledocs can relay the dictated text onto the screen of anyone with the link to that Googledoc and you have a new way of the deaf keeping track of what is being said. I'm looking forward to finding out if Damien has found an application for this next time we meet up.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

'In it to win it?'

Healthcare professionals as a group have polarised attitudes towards social media. Quite a lot of the time the scare stories that emerge are genuinely terrifying. Then there is a cadre of people who are working from within to leverage the benefits. For example, #wenurses - a weekly twitter-based chat around professional issues. I have tried to encourage students to consider their role in this through an online workbook (see
The newly announced study by group gives another reason why we should be encouraging students at all levels to engage purposefully in social media.
I was struck by the following quote by Dr Pete Burnap Computer Science and Informatics who said:
"Social media has often been associated with the spread of malicious and antagonistic content that could pose a potential risk to community relations.  We frequently hear about trolling and social media being used to harass members of the public or certain groups in society. However, this research provides some evidence that suggests it is actually the more positive and supportive messages that spread to a significant extent following events of this nature."
As we consider a new social media policy for the new School of Healthcare sciences, we will be trying to counter the usual list of 'donts' and 'dread' with the view that Healthcare professionals have a role here, to add their electronic voices to make a positive contribution towards shaping emergent social media activity.
There are plenty of benefits for professional use of social media afterall... see Cooper and Craig 2013 for example. I've adapted their 'figure 2' for our use. They used the term 'digital native', which is generally thought to be a flawed concept by now. Also, I prefer the term 'digital fluency' as it is more reflective of the how people come and go, gain and lose 'working knowledge' (ie. as per Goodyear et al. 2001) of things digital. Also, given that we are dealing with students who will see themselves as quite a way off from 'senior professional', I've dropped the 'senior' to help them relate to the idea of aiming to be a professional.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Peter Goodyear comment in response to Neil Selwyn

I decided to post from the conference having greatly enjoyed Neil Selwyn's keynote. I had been anticipating his session with Chris Jones for a while and would have loved Chris to have been able to participate more rather than keeping to the chairing role. Anyway, there were some useful contributions from the floor and one of those was from Peter Goodyear...

Pictures from Networked Learning Conference 2014"I enjoyed that talk much more than I really wanted to. The point that I keep grappling with is that if you've got the luxury of working for a living where what you have to produce can be critique then there is not so much of a problem with this. 
Many people who work in the edtech area do not earn their living in that way and they have to engage in various forms of action, and that action is very constrained by the politics, the economics, etc.  of the circumstances in which they're operating. And so, the question for me then is to what extent can a critical perspective, disposition or midset, become a resource for action in those constrained circumstances and it seems to me that part of the answer is to develop an ability to understand what the scope for action is in a specific set of circumstances so that one can ask questions about what is doable amongst a range of things that might be doable and what action one might then take.
And I think that gels with your notion of being modest about the effects that we can have and not trying to be revolutionary and change all the world.
The one thing I do then worry about is that if you've got the freedom to act as a critical commentator you can always trump that local action, you can always say, "hey, yeah, but it's pointless really'."

There were several other contributions from the floor which amounted to a plea along the same lines from where each person was speaking. Someone even admitted that pessimism was getting the better of them...

Friday, January 31, 2014

The ZPD is different to scaffolding, different enough to matter

This post will (may) grow over time but for now I just need to dump some quotes and resources in a place where I can find them again and point 'someone who wants to know more' at with relative ease.

I have found that LS Vygotsky's concept, the Zone of Proximal Development is confused with the concept of scaffolding. Some are prepared to openly assert and strenuously defend the position that scaffolding is Vygotsky's concept. In my reading, it is not. Does this really matter? In my sense of things, yes it does and here's an idea of why... Thankfully, both questions are answered lucidly by Seth Chaklin: here are some extended quotes from a chapter of his from 2003:
I also want to highlight and recommend the paper by Verenikina (2003)... in which she points out, citing Stone (1998), that metaphors, such as 'scaffolding', have the capacity to augment understanding but also to constrain it. That, is a problem. Here we go with Seth anyway:

"Popularity has its price, however. Wertsch (1984) suggested that if this theoretical construct was not elaborated further, then there is a risk that "it will be used loosely and indiscriminately, thereby becoming so amorphous that it loses all explanatory power" (p.7). Mercer and Fisher (1992) believe that "there is a danger that the term is used as little more than a fashionable alternative to Piagetian terminology or the concept of IQ for describing individual differences in attainment or potential" (p. 342). Palinscar (1998) suggests that in the context of research about the negotiated nature of teaching and learning it is "probably one of the most used and least understood constructs to appear in contemporary educational literature" (p.370).
Critique of the common conception:
"If Vygotsky's intention was to use the concept for all kinds of learning, then why not name it the zone of proximal learning?" p40
"Vygotsky..., concluding that there is a unity but not an identity between learning and inner developmental processes. Vygotsky (1987) disctinguishes instruction aimed "toward [the child's] full development from instruction in specialized, technical skills such as typing or riding a bicycle" (p.212). In short, zone of proximal development is not concerned with the development of skill of any particular task, but must be related to development." p40
Assistance assumption
"In other words, it is not the competence per se of the more knowledgeable person that is important; rather, it is to understand the meaning of that assistance in relation to a child's learning and development." p43
p57: "In relation to the school age, the theoretical function of Vygotsky's zone of Proximal development research can be understood as a search for identifying a principled way for conceptualising schooling in relation to the whole child and not just the child's performance on a single task" (as with IQ)
p57 " The zone of proximal development is not simply a way to refer to development through assistance by a more competent other. This assistance is meaningful only in relation to maturing functions needed for transition to the next age period".
p59 most work that refers to zone of proximal development does not have such a developmental theory, even implicitly.
Why not imitation, assisted instruction, or collaboration? Is it because neither of these terms hold the same scientistic mystique necessary to attain the desired level of rhetorical capital needed so as to bolster their argument?

Chaklin, S. (2003). The Zone of Proximal Development in Vygotsky’s Analysis of Learning and Instruction. In A. Kozulin (Ed.), Vygotsky’s Educational Theory in Cultural Context. Cambridge University Press.
Stone, C. (1998). The metaphor of scaffolding: its utility for the field of learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 31(4), 344–364.
Verenikina, I. (2003). Understanding scaffolding and the ZPD in educational research. PDF file. Retrieved September 24, 2013, from

Friday, January 17, 2014

The digital literacy of controlling attention and focus

As I am about to embark on some serious study I have been thinking a lot about enhancing the small amounts of time I do get to spare on reading and scholarship.
Apart from sheer 'interest/motivation' as a dominant factor in directing attention, with more than a nod to Prof Goodyear, there is more to books than mere nostalgia and aesthetics, there is ergonomics. A book will not bleep or blink at me. Taking the fight to the technology, so often the source of distractions, if it's a 'digital book', it may even read with me. I have been recently interested in the idea that getting the computer to read aloud as I read the text may help attention, engagement and cognition. What do you/others think? Am struggling to locate research about it... along the lines of Driver and Noesselt 2008.
This new paper in JC-MC by Courbet et al is heading in the right direction before concentrating on advertising:
Faced with an abundance of advertising messages, Internet users occupied with their current task activate selective perception and processing strategies that lead them to allocate only minimal cognitive resources to advertising, which generally interests them very little.  (p274)
In psychology, we have the concept of flow, a phenomenon studied by Csikszentmihalyi in artists who were so immersed in their work that they ignored bodily needs for food or sleep. Flow is one of a range of psychological states, see the image below (souce: wikimedia commons), indicating the strong links with this 'ideal' state and motivation. Sadly, students are often faced with learning episodes that do anything but encourage flow.