PLENK, Network Literacy and the Future of Education

This week I came across a few interesting links that served to gel some ideas, or at least confirm the importance of engaging in and understanding networked learning. The first was an open course being taught by George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier called PLENK 2010. This 8-week open course covers some pretty interesting topics and provides links to additional readings and resources. Spending some time on this site provided me with some insights about how learning is increasingly more open, connected (networked), and social.

The other piece was an interview that Will Richardson did for EdWeek. In the interview, Richardson touches on the idea of “network literacy” – an idea that really resonates with me – and shared some views about why the teaching of this new literacy is important. While his focus tends to be on the K-12 context his ideas are equally important in higher education. The PLENK 2010 course is a meaningful response to what Richardson is calling for, but I’m wondering where else this is happening? The concept of networked learning remains a bit of a fringe idea when I talk with other faculty about it…and as such it often gets easily dismissed. At the same time, I can’t help but sense that there is a profound transformation taking place right in front of our eyes, and too few people in education seem to be taking notice and considering the implications for education. I just don’t see this as a pervasive conversation in broader education circles… Should it be?

It seems to me there is a gulf of understanding between what many in higher ed. are seeing and thinking and what is happening around them. I liken it to what has happened to traditional news media in the wake of web publishing…none of them (editors, periodicals, newspapers, etc.) saw their own demise coming. Some were nimble and have adjusted…others are still scratching their heads.

A current example of the kind of change that is underfoot is the Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival. This “festival” (read conference) is one of the most interesting I have seen to date in terms of pushing the conversation about the Open Education and networked learning. Combine this with the the announcement this week that OpenStudy is partnering with MIT OpenCourseware and you begin to get a real glimpse of how traditional notions of course-based learning are morphing here. Some very interesting stuff in my opinion.

It seems to me that these examples of changes taking place….(Peer2Peer U., badges for recognizing informal online learning, open courses, open source learning content, etc.) represent a whole different ballgame. Perhaps a bit radical for those with a conservative lens…but I think any position / view of the future of education needs to take into account the changes taking place here.

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The Power of Open

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to ask students to reflect on and share some of their learning in the open. I endeavor to do this myself in some of the writing I do about teaching because it pushes and refines my thinking.  I try to be there with my students as a fellow learner in the process…to model what I’m asking them to do. Sometimes I think it works.

I know I’m not alone in this endeavor; there are other folks who’ve been doing this for a while and trying new things that I find to be wonderful examples of teaching and learning in the open. So I wanted to share a few examples that illustrate what I think is particularly cool and powerful about the process.

One of the gurus for me is Gardner Campbell, who seems to constantly be pulling off amazing learning wherever he goes. He recently described his experience at the OpenEdTech 2010 conference, and shared a story about how he tapped into conversations unfolding in Barcelona and connected them to students at Baylor who in turn amplified and added to the ideas and sent them back around again. His post – The global nervous system worked like a champis thick with meaning for understanding learning that is open, connected and social.

In another example, a colleague of mine here at VCU, Jon Becker, has encouraged his students and his network at large to engage in the learning of the course by sharing the living syllabus on the web, inviting tagging of resources, and reading / commenting on the blogs of students. The opportunity for learning here is amplified and extended by being in the open. Educational leaders not  “officially” in the course can contribute and learn with those aspiring to be school leaders…it becomes a community of practice.

My current favorite is by another VCU colleague, Scott Sherman, who has cooked up a great blog that is his reflective space for sharing ideas about teaching advertising.  Scott has embarked on a very cool project with his students this semester where over 100 students are curating content on the web related to advertisements for Life Savers. They are doing this in the open through individual student blogs aggregated on a Netvibes page as Project54. When the course comes to a close this project will not only be one of the largest collections of curated material about a brand on the web, it will be a learning resource for exploration, dialogue and critique.

Open amplifies learning.

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