Educational machines and how they work

Educational machines and how they work

These are my presentation slides from a talk I gave today for the AU Research Centre, on the nature of technologies and why that is really interesting from a learning perspective. A clear understanding of the nature of technologies, especially the ways that we coparticipate in them in the highly distributed teaching that occurs in educational systems, helps to explain why bad teaching or even no teaching at all can sometimes work better than good teaching (depending on what we mean by ‘bad’, ‘good’, and ‘works’), the origins of the no-significant-difference phenomenon, why Bloom’s 2-sigma challenge can never be met, why learning styles research makes zero sense, and why we might need to rethink the value and purpose of reductive research in education (all it can ever tell us is whether the machine is working as intentended, and it is not and cannot be generalizable beyond that).

A video capture of the talk itself is available at (link).

Self-referentially, I should note that I didn’t realize that, in this capture, the video of me would appear in the bottom corner of the screen, roughly the size of a very small postage stamp, nor that the chat alongside the presentation would not be captured. Those who were there hopefully got to see me gesticulating and showing off things to do with chopsticks a bit better than this, and they definitely got to see and participate in the chat. Basically, in many ways, they got a different technology altogether than what you will see in the video, and not just because they were there and able to interact. This relates closely to one of the big points that I am making: Microsoft Teams is only part of a whole, and the ways it works within that whole both affect and are affected by the rest of the parts. The whole, how the parts relate to the whole, and how the whole relates to the parts are what matters, not any of the parts in isolation.

Original file on the Landing

BOOK: Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media

About the Book

Within the rapidly expanding field of educational technology, learners and educators must confront a seemingly overwhelming selection of tools designed to deliver and facilitate both online and blended learning. Many of these tools assume that learning is configured and delivered in closed contexts, through learning management systems (LMS). However, while traditional “classroom” learning is by no means obsolete, networked learning is in the ascendant. A foundational method in online and blended education, as well as the most common means of informal and self-directed learning, networked learning is rapidly becoming the dominant mode of teaching as well as learning.

In Teaching Crowds, Dron and Anderson introduce a new model for understanding and exploiting the pedagogical potential of Web-based technologies, one that rests on connections — on networks and collectives — rather than on separations. Recognizing that online learning both demands and affords new models of teaching and learning, the authors show how learners can engage with social media platforms to create an unbounded field of emergent connections. These connections empower learners, allowing them to draw from one another’s expertise to formulate and fulfill their own educational goals. In an increasingly networked world, developing such skills will, they argue, better prepare students to become self-directed, lifelong learners.


Address of the bookmark:

Transactional distance and new media literacies

Moore’s theory of transactional distance describes the communications and psychological gulf between learner and teacher in a distance education setting. The theory was formulated in a correspondence era of distance learning and matured in an era where discussion forums and virtual learning environments reduced transactional distance in a closed-group setting that enabled interactions akin to those in a traditional classroom. In recent years the growth of social networking and social interest sites has led to social forms that fit less easily in these traditional formal models of teaching and learning. When the “teacher” is distributed through the network or is an anonymous agent in a set or is an emergent actor formed by collective intelligence, transactional distance becomes a more complex variable. Evolved social literacies are mutated by new social forms and require us to establish new or modified ways of thinking about learning and teaching. In this missive we explore the notion of transactional distance and the kinds of social literacy that are required for or that emerge from network, set, and collective modes of social engagement. We discuss issues such as preferential attachment, confirmation bias, and trust and describe social literacies needed to cope with them.

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Agoraphobia and the modern learner

Abstract:Read/write social technologies enable rich pedagogies that centre on sharing and constructing content but have two notable weaknesses. Firstly, beyond the safe, nurturing environment of closed groups, students participating in more or less public network- or set-oriented communities may be insecure in their knowledge and skills, leading to resistance to disclosure. Secondly, it is hard to know who and what to trust in an open environment where others may be equally unskilled or, sometimes, malevolent. We present partial solutions to these problems through the use of collective intelligence, discretionary disclosure controls and mindful design.

Address of the bookmark:

Teaching Crowds: Learning and Social Media

The free PDF preview of the new book by me and Terry Anderson is now available from the AU Press website. It is a complete and unabridged version of the paper book. It’s excellent value!

The book is about both how to teach crowds and how crowds can teach us, particularly at a distance and especially with the aid of social software.

For the sake of your health we do not recommend trying to read the whole thing in PDF format unless you have a very big and high resolution tablet or e-reader, or are unusually comfortable reading from a computer screen, but the PDF file is not a bad way to get a flavour of the thing, skip-read it, and/or to find or copy passages within it. You can also download individual chapters and sections if you wish. 

The paper and epub versions should be available for sale at the end of September, 2014, at a very reasonable price. 

Address of the bookmark:

On the Design of Social Media for Learning

A paper by me and Terry Anderson that draws ideas about soft and hard technologies and our model of social forms together.

Abstract: This paper presents two conceptual models that we have developed for understanding ways that social media can support learning. One model relates to the “social” aspect of social media, describing the different ways that people can learn with and from each other, in one or more of three social forms: groups, networks and sets. The other model relates to the ‘media’ side of social media, describing how technologies are constructed and the roles that people play in creating and enacting them, treating them in terms of softness and hardness. The two models are complementary: neither provides a complete picture but, in combination, they help to explain how and why different uses of social media may succeed or fail and, as importantly, are intended to help us design learning activities that make most effective use of the technologies. We offer some suggestions as to how media used to support different social forms can be softened and hardened for different kinds of learning applications.

Address of the bookmark:

The Distant Crowd: Transactional Distance and New Social Media Literacies

This is a paper for IJLM that I wrote with Terry Anderson, exploring how the distributed nature of teaching and learning in social technologies significantly messes with Michael Moore’s theory of transactional distance in all sorts of interesting ways. In it, we ponder on the literacies learners need in order to take best advantage of social media; we describe the different social forms of groups, nets and sets, and the emergent collectives that develop around them, that together form the backbone of our forthcoming book;  and we discuss different kinds of teaching presence that emerge in each form, suggesting ways of addressing the potential lack of reliability and credibility when the teacher (and thus transactional distance) is distributed (in a net), anonymous (in a set), or emergent (in a collective).

According to the date of the special issue of which it is a part, MIT Press impressively managed to publish this paper nearly two years before we finished writing it. It is true that we sent them the first draft in 2012 but it was not actually published till this month. Hard to know how to cite this.

One of the things that the paper mentions is that learning through networks can, under the right conditions, be more effective, timely and relevant than traditional group-oriented methods. This was rather delightfully and self-referentially brought home to me by the fact that I learned of the paper’s actual publication (as opposed to predicted date) via Twitter. 

Address of the bookmark: