New Places to Learn

Yesterday I tweeted:

“Annoyed by the ‘Digital Natives’ idea? Explore alternatives: ‘New Places to Learn’ Oxford Apr19

The (free) event I’m referring to is being run by the HEA and is using the Visitors and Residents metaphor  as a broad framework to explore the implications of the web as a ‘place’ for the education sector. The intention is to break away from outmoded age or tech skill related correlations to discuss new modes of engagement which are emerging based on co-presence online. To put it in ‘Visitors and Residents’ terms: exploring pragmatic approaches to operating at the Resident end of the continuum.

Visitor restrictions
CC: A-NC-SA Flickr: 'Celita'

The danger when learning is moved online is that the focus tends to be on curriculum and content rather than the less instrumental aspects of what makes a course work such as social cohesion and a sense of belonging. The traditional lecture in a physical space may not be pedagogically ideal but it has inherent co-presence, giving students the sense that they belong to a particular cohort and that they are legitimate members of their institution. These ‘side effects’ of traditional modes of engagement are easy to take for granted and often forgotten in the move online.

This move is a response to increasing student numbers, the need to deliver learning with greater flexibility, the availability of online resources (some of which are in ‘beyond text’ formats) and the desire to attract oversees students. The underlying drivers here are efficiency, flexibility and scalability. As we discovered in our HEFCE Study of Online Learning one of the key pedagogical design approaches that can address these drives is that of peer learning.  This is a form of inter-student support and collaboration that is well supported by the physical institution. The library, the coffee shop, the pub etc have all evolved to create ‘places’ for, amongst other things, peer-learning. As a sector we haven’t been very successful to-date in creating or using similar places (or places which facilitate similar forms of interaction) online and we often underestimate the importance of co-presence when trying to encourage peer-learning on the web.

It is  generally accepted that it’s  easier to discuss learning with a fellow student you ‘know’ than with a stranger so if that learning is taking place predominantly online it’s crucial that your fellow students have an online social presence. If the majority of a cohort have a social presence online  it is more likely that individuals will feel that all important sense of belonging and accountability which will support them though the challenging aspects of their study (especially when the course is large scale and tutoring staff don’t have the time to keep a close pastoral overview).

Understanding the role and value of Resident/presence based modes of engagement should be a high priority for a sector that is moving online. It should no longer be the exotic preserve of the ‘high tech’ or the ‘innovator’ and needs to be taken up by the ingenious pragmatists amongst us. I am very happy to say that the ‘New Places to Learn’ event has secured the services of a number of these ingenious characters who will discuss the challenges of working at scale online from different perspectives:

  • Dave Cormier comes to the ‘web as place’ as one of the early instigators of the ‘MOOC’ format which builds on the inherent connectivity of the web to form agile learning scenarios. I think of this approach as highly Resident, emerging from the culture of the web and loosely tethered to the traditional institution where necessary.
  • Martin Weller has been involved in moving large scale Open University courses online as well as initiatives such as Open Learn. He understands what is involved when a large organisation reaches out into the web and what it means to be a ‘Digital Scholar’ online.
  • Lawrie Phipps and Ben Showers from JISC will be facilitating an activity which aims draw on the collective expertise in the room to map the pros and cons of Resident modes of engagement.

Alison Le Cornu the academic lead for Flexible Learning for the HEA will be chairing the day and drawing together the thinking to inform the strategic direction of the academy in this area.

I myself will be picking up on the themes in this post and discussing our JISC funded Visitors and Residents project which is in the early stages of describing educational/online ‘genres of participation’ and mapping the associated literacies which learners use.  We also hope to hear about the progress of  projects in the JISC Developing Digital Literacies strand.

If you are interested in the web as a place for learning or you have your own thoughts or practice to share then sign-up. If you can’t make it to Oxford then visit the HEA booking page on the day for a link to the live stream.

3 thoughts on “New Places to Learn

  1. Pat Parslow Reply

    A quick response, apologies for brevity (although it will probably be quite long, it won’t be able to go in to the depth I think the subject deserves)

    Firstly, it is such a shame that this clashes with Pelecon.

    This is not ‘new’ – these places to learn have been around since before the Web in the form of bulletin boards and usenet groups.
    Yes, coffee shops and pubs etc. have evolved to provide places where people can collaboratively learn. Exactly the same has happened on-line (there are any number of such places embedded in Facebook, for example). Probably one of the main strengths of these places is that have not been developed by the academic community, and are the result of the learners subverting the ‘place’ for their own ends, which gives them the sense of ownership and control they need to be able to make use of it.

    “It is generally accepted that it’s easier to discuss learning with a fellow student you ‘know’ than with a stranger so if that learning is taking place predominantly online it’s crucial that your fellow students have an online social presence.” by whom is this generally accepted? Most of the good learning conversations I see take place tend to be between people who do not know each other (certainly not ‘well’), as people tend to be embarrassed about their lack of knowledge or understanding. What is important is that the ‘other’ has a social presence – there is no way to gauge whether you can trust the ‘Visitor’ style of participant who drops in, acts, then drops out.

    Hope to come back and contribute more later 🙂

  2. David White (@daveowhite) Reply

    @pat The use of ‘New’ here is partially meant as ‘new’ to us (or some of us). – I agree that the best online ‘places’ might well be ones institutions don’t own. Even if we go with the idea that the online places in which learning happens are ‘out there’ on the web I think it’s still important to have a good understanding of how those places are being appropriated.

    – Also take your point about the ‘known’ vs ‘stranger’ issues. It’s not as simple as I presented it (I was trying to keep the word count down). I like your emphasis on trust/accountability rather than er, intimacy(?)

  3. Pat Parslow Reply

    Hi Dave,

    I agree, it is (or rather, would be) very useful to have a good understanding of how, and why, places are being appropriated. What makes one more desirable than another, for instance? It often doesn’t seem to be what we might consider to be its affordances, and I suspect often comes down to a choice based on what the early adopters in the group have started using. How easy is it for a group of learners (assuming they form into a group) to move to a different place if they choose?

    Obviously it would be great if people were able to be well enough informed to pick the ‘best’ tool/place to enable their learning, but that is clearly not possible with the rate of change in terms of availability of tools. If, when, and how, to migrate are decisions which people need a fairly high level of digital literacy to make.

    As to the ‘new to educators’… well, I guess whiteboards are still new to some people too 🙂

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