Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Integrating Ubiquitous Fragments of Knowledge

The idea that learning can be embedded in many contexts, setting and experiences is among the most powerful ideas related to new media and education. Cope and Kalantzis in their chapter on an agenda for educational transformation, suggest that educational transformation needs to blur the boundaries between institutions, space and time in an effort to create learning opportunities that are embedded in many other parts of life.

At one level this seems exactly right. I don't want to have to attend a class every time I have a question or want to learn something. There are a lot of advantages to me learning it at the moment, in the setting I happen to be in. However, as we unpack learning from classrooms, curricula and face-to-face teaching, how to be retain the "structure" of instruction and guidance that were woven into these learning experiences? We still need structures and scaffolding for learning experiences in many cases. Each learner should not have to find their own path through the thicket of fragmented bits of of "ubiquitous" learning. Likewise, teachers (both formal and informal) should all have to build their own learning platforms in order to teach.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Ubiquitous Learning: An Exploration

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the College of Education has launched an initiative to explore "ubiquitous learning."

As a part of this initiative Bill Cope and Mary Kalantzis edited a book that begins to explore the idea of ubiquitous learning.

Beginning today and over the next several weeks, I am going to read this book and comment about the ideas.

First, what is the definition of "ubiquitous learning?" Several definitions are offered by the authors of this book.

1. the definition of "ubiquitous" [learning] include[s] the idea that learners can engage with knowledge about "anything", and that this learning can be experienced by "anyone" (Kalantzis & Cope, 2009, p. x).

2. "the process of learning and the products of learning are rapidly merging into ubiquitous knowledge engagement" (Kalantzis & Cope, 2009, p. x).

3. "Ubiquitous learning is more than just the latest educational idea or method. At its core the term conveys a vision of learning that is connected across all stages on which we play out our lives. Learning occurs not just in classroom, but in the home, workplace, playground, library, museum, nature center, and in our daily interactions with others. Moreover, learning becomes part of doing; we do not learn in order to live more fully but rather learn as we live to the fullest. Learning happens through active engagement, and significantly, it is no longer identified with reading a text or listening to lectures but rather occurs through all the senses-- sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste" (Bruce, 2009, p. 21)

So do we need a new term for learning? There many other new terms-- elearning, mobile learning, "learning anytime, anywhere," etc. Bruce's definition above captures for me the central idea that term is trying to convey-- this idea that learning is not set apart from the other parts of living. And, of course, it never was except that as education was formalized and led by professionals, we have tended to ignore the vast amount of learning that was taking place outside of classrooms and formal institutions. Using today's technology tools we can begin to rebuild an integrated learning platform that bridges informal and formal learning opportunities in new and and interesting ways-- this is ubiquitous learning.

But as Cope and Kalantzis note, "Digital technologies arrive, and almost immediately, old pedagogical practices of didactic teaching, content delivery for student ingestion, and testing for the right answers are mapped onto them and called "learning management systems" (2009, p. 4). In short, despite the opportunity to create learning opportunities that are different from our current classroom-based, group instructional model, we use our new tools to create the old model. So how do we do something different, some better? This is the problem that this book is designed to explore.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Informal Science Education--Could this be the future?

"The seemingly endless debate about how to improve US science education seems to make the tacit assumption that learning happens only in the classroom" (p. 813) So begins an interesting editorial in Nature, April 2010, titled, "Learning in the Wild" that suggests that we need to be paying much more attention to informal science learning. The authors go on to write,
"researchers who study learning are increasingly questioning this assumption. Their evidence strongly suggests that most of what the general public knows about science is picked up outside school, through things such as television programmes, websites, magazine articles, visits to zoos and museums — and even through hobbies such as gardening and birdwatching" (p. 813).
This goes right to the heart of the idea that we need to build alot of science microlearning opportunities that engage people's interests and lead them into deeper more complex learning activities. In the editorial the author's note,
"This process of 'informal science education' is patchy, ad hoc and at the mercy of individual whim, all of which makes it much more difficult to measure than formal instruction. But it is also pervasive, cumulative and often much more effective at getting people excited about science — and an individual's realization that he or she can work things out unaided promotes a profoundly motivating sense of empowerment" (p. 814).
I am in agreement with this statement:
"education authorities need to recognize the importance of informal science education and do more to promote it — if only as a way to motivate students in the classroom" (p. 814).
Rather than thinking of science education as either formal or informal, we need to build learning systems that move easily from the informal playful educational experiences to the deeper, richer experiences. This will both foster better learning, but it will be much more fun.