Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Reflections on Social Learning (EPSY590NET)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009, 11:43 pm

What is learning and how do we get it? What is the best way to teach? What is the best way to learn? How did I learn? Was the system I experienced effective? Did it teach me to think? Did it teach me to be creative or did it stifle my creativity? How has my educational experience affected my teaching? What’s the difference between formal learning and informal learning? How much should be formal and how much informal? Is learning social? Has learning changed? How has teaching changed? What effect does technology have on the way we learn and teach? How will technology change teaching and learning? How much control should teachers relinquish to get the most learning? If all information is available, do I really have to memorize things? Is more information better? Is the sage on the stage dead? Is it true that “plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose?”

After reading this weeks articles, I guess you could say it made me question a few things. What was interesting to me was that as I read most of the articles, I kind of said yeah that’s right, that’s logical; but afterwards I questioned how I got to where I am from whence I came. I am a product of the “old school” where we were told what to learn and how to learn. There was a fair bit of memorizing of things and I have to admit I tuned out sometimes as concepts were repeated over and over, and once found my desk out in the hall because of my constant chatter. Having said that, I did like school. I wonder if that was about social learning or is it that I was always just curious?

When I began reading The Children’s Machine by Seymour Papert, I was at first a little upset that he believes that the teacher who traveled 100 years in the future would be able to take over a class but the time traveling surgeon would not. I wondered whether I was being protective of my profession in believing that that might not necessarily be the case. I immediately thought what if he/she had landed in Second Life. I realized too that he had written this article in 1994. His piece was about the potential for a kind of magic Knowledge Machine. Of course I went immediately to the magic knowledge machine- Google and did a search of 1994 technology.

Since when did 15 years seem so long ago? Here’s what I found -- In 1994 Netscape navigator was released and was becoming the place to browse the web. Java programming was released and in 1993 the term “Information Superhighway” was declared the "Word of the Year.” That’s a long time ago!

Considering the date of the article, Papert certainly hit on some of the developments that have taken place. It just didn’t take a hundred years. His distinction between the Schoolers and Yearners is still here. I saw it in a meeting in my department at my college last week. It is true that students are less able to sit through old style curriculum, and the video game has changed how students learn. In my experience students today are more comfortable with trial and error than written instruction or logic and when given the chance they will readily create rather than just consume knowledge. Why memorize things; the half-life of information is short, and it’s all available and mostly free.

Papert’s idea that children can learn in the more informal ways of the “unschooled toddler” innately appealed to the rebellious toddler in me. The idea of the “most learning for the least teaching’” has an appeal to many, but as I have experienced in my college, many are unwilling to give up the control. Many enjoy being the sage on the stage, the master, and the boss.

The Millennium Teacher takes us through some of the technology we have available to us today and shows how that technology can facilitate social learning and create communities of practice. I am using several of the technologies Tony Hursh mentions in my college courses and am finding them invaluable and students do become engaged. The Wikipedia page on Social software gives us history and definitions of various types of social software. A key point in this article from my point of view is the link between social software and constructivist theory--the importance of how “expressing knowledge aids in its creation” and how “conversations benefit the refinement of knowledge.”

Coming from an advertising background and teaching the subject, I am reminded of an idea current in that field. In the past marketers were concerned with “PUSH.” In other words, pushing information onto people through means such as Television, newspapers, and radio.

While these are still of use, the goal for advertisers today is to get consumers to “PULL” In other words, it’s not enough to push information. You have to engage the consumer, make them choose you. That is done through user generated content, viral communications (a revival of old style word of mouth) and guerrilla marketing to name a few. In these cases the consumer engages with the product. In a simple example, a consumer may make a commercial for a contest; this message can then be spread through some social media and end up talked about on the nightly news. The advertiser has spent very little but gained a lot. (A little bit like Papert’s “the most learning for the least teaching) In marketing this is called engagement. If we consider Push and Pull in education, we might see a similar distinction. It is not enough to just stand and push information anymore. Students are demanding engagement.

I learned a little bit about ship navigation in Edwin Hutchins “Learning to Navigate” and a little bit more about how learning can be seen as a social interaction. Using the metaphor of the ship’s navigation system to show how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, we see how distributed knowledge is applied to solve problems. In this learning system, no one individual knows everything, or is in contact with everyone, some can have varying levels of expertise.

If we look at Wenger’s “Communities of Practice” we can see how learning can be seen as a social phenomenon. “ What if we assumed that learning is as much a part of our human experience as eating or sleeping, or that it is both life-sustaining and inevitable, and that given a chance- we are quite good at it.” (Wenger, 3) His idea of communities of practice has been adopted widely in fields from education to anthropology to business. We can learn, problem solve, save time, and create new ways of doing things as a group especially if we choose to and if we are in on the creation of the community. Humans are social creatures so it is not an unnatural idea that we would learn from these social interactions. The proliferation of Web 2.0 tools and applications demonstrates this demand. The millennial generation has been described as social, peer oriented and multitasking. If we want to engage them, it is important to acknowledge social learning and provide opportunities for authentic real life learning. If we look at the course that we are in, we can see that the structure for a community of practice has been set up. The outline for the course guides along the way; the teacher and TA’s facilitate the learning keeping us on course. The excursions will be together and alone. We are a community of practice.But we are a group that is older-some of us really old (me!). Does this make it more likely successful compared to a younger group? How much control can we relinquish with a younger group?

There are great advantages to social learning, and peer learning. But there are also a number of social experiments that show us that the group may not always be right and can have negative effects. We have Solomon Asch’s experiment that demonstrated many would question their own idea when the rest of the group has an alternate idea. (See: http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/psychology/social/asch_conformity.html ) There is also “group polarization” or “risky shift” where people in groups, may make decisions about risk differently from when they are alone. When everyone wants to get along they could be subject to Group Think. In collaborative situations the leader may not always be the smartest just the loudest. Bullies can prey on weaker members. Having brought up these issues with groups, I will answer, that is where the teacher, facilitator or guide comes in to moderate or guide.

It is my belief that there is no one answer; there is no one right way. Teaching is a journey and as we travel conditions sometimes change, something new happens that has never happened before. We have to adapt, change and be open to new possibilities. Technology offers a vast social playground; we can all learn and play here.

In closing some words from a wise woman written in 1946

“Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society”

Maria Montessori, Education for a New World 1946

And one more interesting link -Overview of Social Learning - Jane Hart

From E-Learning to Social Learning from Jane Hart
Papert, Seymour. (1993) The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/stemnet/papert.html 

Social Conformity Solomon Asch http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/psychology/social/asch_conformity.html

Wenger, E. Communities of Practice 

No comments:

Post a Comment