Sunday, November 16, 2008

CCK08: How connectivism changes my teaching practice

Over the last few weeks I have been running a short postgraduate course for midwives looking at reflective practice and ePortfolios. I have been focusing a lot of my energies on thinking about tools and technologies, and how I can encourage the students to interact with them. But have I been looking in the wrong direction? Should I not have been looking at myself, as a teacher, and my role in relation to connectivism?

Not just content
The first thing that has struck me is that teaching isn't just about providing content, but facilitating the means for students to connect with each other so they can learn from the content together. D'arcy Norman (2008), in his post 'Content is not enough' says

"Content is the least important part of education. What is far more important is what takes place between and among the students. The activities of the community of learners. What they actually DO with the content and with each other.

Great content IS important, but only if there is also a functioning and active community working together to learn, create and share. Otherwise, all that takes place is content dissemination. And that’s not education..."

So how do I encourage, facilitate or support the formation of a community of learners amongst my students? If knowledge is in the network, how do I work with the network in my role of a 'teacher'?

Being a networked teacher
I think it is time for me to review how I 'teach' and how I am as a 'teacher'.

I have been thinking for some time about my role and it has been interesting to chart my thoughts about this over the last year. Last November I was questioning how open I am with students, feeling a huge degree of reluctance to reveal myself as a person as opposed to a 'professional' teacher. I came to the conclusion that I need to be more willing to share who I am in order to break down some of the teacher/student barriers. Bit I continued to recognize that there was a tension in this at times because the issue of power does not go away very easily.

In January this year I was asking myself if I was a web 2.0 teacher, but at this point I was focusing very much on the online technologies. But just because I have a blog and Delicious account doesn't mean I am an effective teacher.

So maybe I need to get away from the idea of being a teacher who 'teaches'.

Teacher as steward
One way to align the use of technology with networking and learning is in the role of technology steward as defined by Nancy White (2008) in her presentation 'Stewarding technologies for communities' and blog post ' Definition of a community technology steward'. Nancy says that a technology steward is a person

"with enough experience of the workings of a community to understand its technology needs, and enough experience with technology to take leadership in addressing those needs. Stewardship typically includes selecting and configuring technology, as well as supporting its use in the practice of the community."

With so many of my students having minimal knowledge of how to network and with what tools, I feel it is vital for me to recognize what technology is appropriate, and lead and support the students as they identify what tools they require for effective networked learning.

Teacher as curator
Over a year ago I heard George Siemens (2008) talk about the teacher as curator. He says in his paper
"Learning and Knowing in Networks: Changing roles for Educators and Designers".

"a curatorial teacher acknowledges the autonomy of learners, yet understands the frustration of exploring unknown territories without a map. A curator is an expert learner. Instead of
dispensing knowledge, he creates spaces in which knowledge can be created, explored, and
connected. While curators understand their field very well, they don't adhere to traditional inclass teacher‐centric power structures. A curator balances the freedom of individual learners with the thoughtful interpretation of the subject being explored. While learners are free to explore, they encounter displays, concepts, and artifacts representative of the discipline. Their freedom to explore is unbounded. But when they engage with subject matter, the key concepts of a discipline are transparently reflected through the curatorial actions of the teacher."

I have to admit that when I first heard George present this idea of the teacher being a curator, I didn't fully understand the concept - I had images of rarefied museums where visitors were kept well away from the exhibits. Even now, I'm not 100% sure I fully grasp the concept because I think there are times when students need very strong guidance and direction as opposed to being left to freely wonder around. And I struggle with the tension between facilitating fully autonomous learning and trying to adhere to learning outcomes, timetables, program rules and curriculum, not unlike Dean Shareski (2008) in his blog post "I'm sure I'm doing it wrong" and Sarah Horrigan "Learning outcomes and random musings....". Nevertheless, I totally agree that part of my role is to provide access to learning resources, support students' networks and support students as they critique the resources.

Teacher as jack of all trades?
What I am rapidly beginning to think is that we cannot truly label what a connected teacher does or is because I think teaching is a constantly evolving role depending on any given context at any given time. What a teacher does need to be able to do is quickly adapt to her rapidly changing environment:

  • "Content and course materials are no longer necessarily something to be owned and hoarded, but freely and openly shared;
  • Curricula is no longer centrally organised and dictated, but instead contextually interpreted and adapted;
  • Enrollment is no longer controlled, but instead open to all ages, levels of experience or existing knowledge, and geographical regions;
  • Information no longer flows one-directionally from an expert to a novice, but is instead discussed, interpreted and negotiated by a network of its participants…"
Mike Bogle (2008) The Role of the Educator and Institution in a Changing Educational Landscape.

So are we actually jack of all trades? Wendy DG (2008) in CCK08-Who is Teacher in a Connectivist Framework?' talks about the teacher as being a "modeler, network administrator, curator, concierge, community leader, technology steward, information filter, Sherpa, researcher, change agent, learning entrepreneur, and evaluator". Whilst Maru del Campo (2008) in Formal CCK08 2nd paper. Shorter version. suggests a teacher should be a lurer - luring students to learning.

What I feel confident about is that while I may be a 'jack of all trades', it doesn't matter if I am a 'master of none', because I will surely find that 'master' somewhere in my network, and be able to direct my students to the 'master'.

Teacher as learner
The other facet of my role as a connected teacher is of learner. And along with Elizabeth DG (2008), I am "open minded, confident, ready to experiment, and prepared to learn from my mistakes".

Image: 'When it all blows over' davebluedevil


Leigh Blackall said...

and what about teacher as dead?

Sarah Stewart said...

I've thought about that Leigh, but I still think that are instances when I 'teach', especially when there are things like clinical skills to get across to students.

I make no apologies that there are times when I really drill students (rote learning if you will) with things like management of post partum hemorrhage. Yes, I am the expert guide, curator, whatever, who leads them to evidence about this, that and everything else pertaining to PPH, but bottom line, I want them to do step 1, 2 & 3 almost without thinking in that particular emergency situation- almost like brain washing, I'm afraid to say.

Leigh Blackall said...

umm, I think we're talking past each other. I thought I made it clear in the talk that teaching actually lives on, but you're certainly not the first person to only read the title...

Sarah Stewart said...

OK> I confess. I promise I'll read it properly tomorrow - I'm off to bed now cos I'm really tired.

Last thought though - is it no longer cool to be a teacher?

Sarah Stewart said...

I've read your article on wikispaces & listened to your talk & mostly understand what you're saying. In some ways, isn't it all semantics? Does it matter what we call ourselves as long as learning happens? And as I said before, styles and methods will change according to context, students etc

Leigh Blackall said...

Well, one thing - semantics are very important. If you can't say accurately what you mean, then you probably can't mean what you say.

By saying teaching is dead, and relating that to other professions that have been disrupted by communications technology.. and then in the same breath saying "long live learning" I would have thought the title said exactly what you have said.. it is about learning.

But I reckon teaching has very little to do with learning and more to do with assessment, administration, timetabling, department politics, school processes, institutional traditions, getting paid, etc.

If it WAS all about learning, then I think we would be investing a lot more into our time in understanding it for real - informed by more useful research and practices than the classic 50 - 100 year old psychology theories of which nearly all educational literature is based! We might reference marketing research more, and their infinitely detailed understanding of how people react to information. Just as an example. Or we might actually entertain the idea of doing our business in environments that might be more conducive to learning.. such as outside the hospital ward of H Block... I guess some people are doing that, as a special case and exception to the rule

Anonymous said...

Is it possible to analyse too much about your teaching?(Educating & facilitating).
I'm not suggesting that teaching methods shouldn't develop and adopt new technology etc. but these are adult learners who have chosen to become midwives and should, therefore, be eager to learn and grasp at every learning possibility for themselves.
You have identified that as a teacher you are continuing to learn and these students need to acquire that mind-set for themselves, they should actively seek information. I believe that a midwife who thinks that she has no need to assimilate new information following qualification is a dangerous midwife. However, if much of her learning has been directed and pre-prepared she will not have the tools for this.
Just a thought!

Sarah Stewart said...

Hi midwifemuse,

Yes, you're right - its like thinking about our midwifery practice - we can think it to death some times. But at the same time, it's good to take a breath every now and again and reflect on what being a midwife is about, just as the same as it is about thinking of our practice of being teachers. And I say 'our' because even though midwives may not be teaching in a class room, they'll be teaching in some context.

Life is extremely busy in academia (just as it is in practice) and time goes by in a blink of an eye, and years can go by without thinking about one's role and performance, so I'm just taking a little time out to navel gaze before the next academic year starts up. And the next few posts are very much the product of two courses I am doing; one as a formal student and the other is as an informal student in the CCK08 course.

That being said, I totally agree with you that the purpose of undergrad education is to make/form/facilitate/mould autonomous learners and practitioners. And again, totally agree that midwives who do not continue to update themselves etc are dangerous midwives. So that is what this post is about - how I can support autonomous learning.

But the reality is that many students come to us (and this is true of students in any sort of program - this has been the theme of an education conference I have just attended) unable to search and process information. They generally have very basic information and digital literacy skills. And it's been my experience that you have to do a lot of teaching/guiding/facilitating etc before they know where to go for midwifery information and what to do with it when they have found it. In fact, I would say that it is not until end of 2nd year that this starts to fall into place. I would go so far as to say that this continues to be a major problem for midwives. I would bet you that if I walked into our local hospital, at least 50% midwives there would not know what NICE was.

And, being a life-long learner isn't just about knowing about NICE or Cochrane, but about building networks that will sustain your continuing learning, and it's been my experience that student midwives need a lot of support to build their own networks and know how to use them effectively, which I see is a vital part of my role as 'teacher'.

Ray Tolley said...

In response to Leigh,

I am a TEACHER, and thus a scene-setter, facilitator, challenger, thought provoker, questioner... and a help when needed.

Inevitably, at times I am an administrator and an assessor, both formative and sumative. But I am not a lecturer.

However, as Sarah indicates, there are times when I am recognised as being the expert, when a logical order must be adhered to, where there is no roome for serendipity or experimentation.

On the other hand, I see no better description of the modern teacher but as one who uses a modern Socratic Method. We ask questions in order to understand where a student is coming from in order to best extend their thinking. Similarly we encourage our students to ask questions, they compare sources and come to a better understanding etc etc.

Ray T