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Connectivism Blog

Connectivism is a learning theory for the digital age.

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June 2007 Archives

June 12, 2007

It's not about tools. It's about change.

Since I've started blogging and playing around with social technologies, most of my connections and contacts have been made within the educational or technology field. I connect with individuals who are aware of blogs (or might even be bloggers) and what's called web 2.0...and more recently expressed as Personal Learning Environments. When I step outside of this fairly insular network, I need to operate on an entirely different set of assumptions and language. Have you tried sitting down with a colleague and talking about using Pageflakes to aggregate distributed/fragmented conversations through RSS? How about telling them that the best way to stay informed about emerging technology and trends is to use "live" search engines like Technorati or Icerocket? Use Google alerts to stay informed on a subject of interest? Use Trailfire to share browsing habits/history/commentary? StumpleUpon to comment on websites? Social bookmarking with Tags? Folksonomies? Creative Commons? Let's not even get into digg or social news sites and user recommendations and ratings. Oh wait, I know, how about we tell them how to create and edit a podcast with Audacity? Better yet, the value of collaborative work with wikis...or more precisely, with Coventi. Or lets really let loose and tell them how easy it is to mashup data with Pipes? Or how to dress their avatar in Second Life? And, for good measure, let's share with them how all of this relates to Vygotsky, Papert, or Piaget. Wow, what fun we can have with family and friends!

It is worth noting that those of us in the educational technology space draw on terms and concepts straddling numerous disciplines - psychology, learning theory, technology, and social trends (Freire/Illich-type power issues with a smattering of democracy and undertone of power and opression thrown in) - each generally viewed to be fairly incomprehensible, but when carefully blended, is absolutely alien to the daily thinking habits of most people.

If your experiences mirror my own, chances are you have only a few colleagues within your organization where you can have a conversation of this nature. Most of your "intellectual colleagues" are probably part of a social network you have created through blogs or other social technologies. So, here we are - more optimistic than educators have been in a long time, feeling that many of the tools we have at our disposal represent the beginnings of a true revolution in education (though we are periodically rebuked by those "who have seen it all before" and are happy to remind us that the same conversation was happening with radio, TV, and whatever else). Our experience confirms the tremendous values of connecting with others, forming networks, sharing and reusing content, collaborating, building together, fostering a crescendo dialogue threatening at any moment to break from our secluded networks into the broader consciousness of society. We already see these spikes of our dialogue moving into conferences, education reports, and university curriculum. But the victories feel a bit hollow. Teachers are talking blogs. We want them to talk educational reform. Administrators are talking about "learner-centric". We want them to talk policy, faculty contact hours, preparation time, and open networks. It seems, in our edublog network, that transition and uncertainty have set in. Now the talk is on Personal Learning Environments (on a personal note, I'm becoming as impatient with this term as I was with Learning Management Systems six or seven years ago). We are at a point of transition - will our tools be absorbed by education systems, and then become part of the problem? Or do our tools result in real change?

I personally would like to see change. At deep levels. How we design curriculum. How we teach. How we assess. Our classrooms (break down the four walls...). But the language of our discipline will continue to render our activities impotent. Will the change come only from conference-tour academics that adopt current trends and present them without passion for change to an audience seeking to hear what's new in tools, but not what's new in process, knowledge exchange or society? I'm concerned that the current tone of talk about read/write web tools in the conference circuit is one of shoring up an approach to teaching and learning that is fundamentally at odds with how people learn and interact.

Or put another way - we are seeking a window dressing solution when it is the house that needs to be renovated. If we present blogs and wikis as ways to improve education, our aspirations are noble. If we present them as ways to fundamentally alter the system to align it with the knowledge needs of the next generation, then we are fighting for real change. Sure, people like Andrew Keen (erroneous though he may be) suggest it is all hype. And it is. Or, at least the tools are.

It's the change underlying these tools that I'm trying to emphasize. Forget blogs...think open dialogue. Forget wikis...think collaboration. Forget podcasts...think democracy of voice. Forget RSS/aggregation...think personal networks. Forget any of the tools...and think instead of the fundamental restructuring of how knowledge is created, disseminated, shared, and validated.

But to create real change, we need to move our conversation beyond simply the tools and our jargon. Parents understand the importance of preparing their children for tomorrow's world. They might not understand RSS, mashups, and blogs. Society understands the importance of a skilled workforce, of critical and creative thinkers. They may not understand wikis, podcasts, or user-created video or collaboratively written software. Unfortunately, where our aim should be about change, our sights are set on tools. And we wonder why we're not hitting the mark we desire. Perhaps our vision for change is still unsettled. What would success look like if we achieved it? What would classrooms look like? How would learning occur? We require a vision for change. It's reflected occasionally in classroom 2.0 or enterprise 2.0 projects. But the tool, not change centric, theme still arises. We may think we are talking about change, but our audience hears hype and complex jargon.

What is your vision for change?

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