teaching

Performing in the world as learners

For over a thousand years a formal curriculum has been conceived of as an organized and logically-sequenced march from the basics to advanced knowledge. … [T]his works fine if the present is just like the past; if ideas turn into competent action automatically; and if theory, not effects, matters most. … So, suppose knowledge is not the goal of education. Rather, suppose today’s content knowledge is an offshoot of successful ongoing learning in a changing world – in which ‘learning’ means ‘learning to perform in the world.’ … In other words, though we often lose sight of this basic fact, the point of learning is not just to know things but to be a different person – more mature, more wise, more self-disciplined, more effective, and more productive in the broadest sense. Knowledge is an indicator of educational success, not the aim. – Grant Wiggens

Grant Wiggens expounds on this idea in much more detail in his set of posts on curriculum. He points out that, as Dewey wrote in Democracy and Education, learners must first interact with new things, ideas, concepts, etc., in a trial and error way. They try to do something, make something, work with something on their own terms and then pay attention to what works and what doesn’t and how they connect.  The goal then of “instruction” is to give learners “something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking, or the intentional noting of connections; learning naturally results” (Dewey).

Busker in Ignoreland

Photo Credit: tochis via Compfight cc

Laying out a body of knowledge in pre-scripted chunks to be walked through in pace in an effort to save time and energy doesn’t give learners the opportunity to work with the concepts and tools in authentic ways. However, working hands-on with content doesn’t automatically equal authenticity. Are learners being asked to address real problems, issues, and challenges or artificially simplified ones that take naturally ill-structured problems and clean them up for easy grading?  Are they being asked to show a real-world performance?

And where does all that content that you need to “cover” fit in?  Anticipating common misconceptions and missteps offer opportunities to to provide scaffolding to support learners as they note connections and encourage them to further investigate the connections and the contradictions that arise. Those carefully chunked lessons can make more sense and be more meaningful to the learner *after* they experience a need for the information.  For example, all those web pages you bookmark to “read later” are like lessons provided before you have an experienced need for them.  I think that someday I’ll really want to learn about font kerning but if I read about it now I’ll have only a marginal chance of remembering it when a time comes that I need to know about it. (If that time ever comes!) The challenge is in introducing problems and opportunities that require learners to know about font kerning or the Krebs cycle or internal combustion engines that learners care about.  In the case of adult learners that usually involves problems or opportunities that they find authentic; that are readily applicable to their life outside of the formal educational setting; ones that give them the chance to learn not only content, but also how to be more productive and more effective performing in the real world.

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Learning, development, and transformation

A student in one of my classes asked a question about how are learning and change, transformative learning, and development are connected and yet different and that’s one that I’ve pondered while teaching the learning and development class.

Piaget talks about developmental learning where one must be at a proper developmental stage to learn certain things. Vygotsky talks about learning leading development. Some of Baxter-Magolda’s writing suggest that learning and development are basically the same thing with development subsumed into learning. I tend to fall into the camp that sees learning and development separately -mainly due to the directional nature of development.

At the basic level development can be described as directional growth and adaptation to be more effective in the world. Learning can be described as change in knowledge, skills, attitudes, behavior, or beliefs. The difference being that learning can be maladaptive as well as adaptive. As the example later on in Julie Dirksen’s book (which we’re using in the course) shows, someone texting and driving repeatedly with no incident is learning that despite all the evidence to the contrary they can text and drive safely even when no one else can. That is something they learn from experience and maintain as a behavior and belief until they have a wreck. It would be learning but not development.

On the topic of transformational learning, Mezirow and others describe it as something substantially different from “normal” learning but in my opinion, it’s more a matter of degree. If you look at schema theory and accommodation it looks a lot like transformative learning on a less extreme scale. I don’t think that transformative learning is so different as to be a whole new type of learning when you look at it in the context of what has been discussed in educational psychology for decades. So, I suppose I’m assimilating tranformative learning theory instead of accommodating it because I don’t see it as being substantively different enough to warrant accommodation.

As an example, when the texting driver does have a wreck they could assimilate it by blaming the other driver (an external, uncontrollable attribution for those who remember attribution theory from Bandura).  Alternatively, they could consider it a “disorienting dilemma” or cognitive dissonance and begin to accommodate the experience by first recognizing that there is a problem with the way they are conceptualizing the issue – ie. “Maybe I’m not an exception to the rule after all. – and considering alternative explanations. The resolution of the accommodation could be as simple as not texting and driving or it could be the beginning of a larger life-review. If the person is someone who believes they are *always* that exception and rules don’t apply to them, choosing to accommodate instead of blaming someone else might trigger an experience that alters their self- and world-view. The question is, would that be an extension of accommodation (extreme accommodation?) or something completely different called transformative learning?

Thoughts? Examples?

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Teaching and Learning – what is it?

This is the first in a series of posts based on things I’m thinking about in relation to the courses I’m teaching this fall. One of the courses is titled the “Teaching/Learning Transaction” and since I inherited the title and description I’m starting out by exploring what the term “transaction” might mean in the context of adult teaching and learning and how choice of terms can influence how we think about what we do.


According to Merriam Webster:

  • Transaction is defined as a business exchange where goods, services, or money are passed from one person, account, etc., to another and the communication involved in that exchange.
  • Relationship is defined as the way in which two or more people, groups, or organizations talk to, behave toward, and deal with each other and the way in which two or more people, groups, or things are connected. 

Taking these terms at the “definitional” level, transaction is more a one-time interaction where relationship implies an ongoing connection. Jarvis (1995) argues that transactions are about self-interest while relationships are about connections and humanity. To muddy things a bit more Merriam Webster adds that:

  • process is a series of actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result or a series of changes that happen naturally.

When we talk about learning we can do that without bringing teaching into the picture at all. Learning is on the learner’s end. What they do. What they know. How their synapses wire together. How their behavior adjusts or skills improve. We spend a good deal of time in adult education talking about self-directed learning and at times it seems like there is an assumption there that no teacher is involved – only a learner and material resources and other people in a more “consulting” role. But when we talk about teaching and learning we bring a more complex interaction into the picture. Whether the context is a community college classroom, a community workshop, an academic or career advising session, an online class, or a private piano lesson the interpersonal interaction drives the process.*

Dees, et. al. (2007) define transaction merely as “the ‘back and forth’ or ‘to-and-fro’ quality of the teaching/learning experience.” (p. 131) and picture an “overall instructional transaction” as a container holding the teacher, the learner(s), the environment, content, assessment, mode of instruction, and teaching style but it’s all crystallized in a specific moment of teaching (and presumably learning). Their purpose is to encourage in-the-moment reflection (likely reflexivity) in faculty so focusing on an individual transaction makes sense there.

Kansanen (1999) talks about this as a teaching-studying-learning process which describes teachers’ activities as teaching, learners’ activities as studying, and the outcome (hopefully) being learning. The description of this interaction is set firmly in an institutional classroom setting but the point that talking about a teaching-learning interaction brings up an impression of the teacher as active and the learner as more passive. While active learning and active construction of understanding/schema/neural networks is much more effective than passive “absorbsion” the language we use influences how we think about concepts and how we act on them.

* An aside: Zürcher (2010) suggests that technically the resources used in more individual self-directed learning can be considered limited “teachers” in an informal learning context and expands the concept of teaching/learning to include things such as videos, books, and study guides. Within the scope of this class many of the topics and strategies we will discuss will be applicable to these non-human interactions but the focus here is on human-human interaction – albeit mediated by time, distance, or mode of communication.

Bradford, L. P. (1958). The teaching-learning transaction. Adult Education Quarterly, 8(3), 135-145.

Dees, D. M., et al. (2007). A Transactional Model of College Teaching. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 19(2), 130-139.

Jarvis, P. (1995). Teachers and learners in adult education: Transaction or moral interaction? Studies in the Education of Adults, 27(1), 24-36.

Kansanen, P. (1999). Teaching as teaching-studying-learning interaction. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 43(1). 81-89

Zürcher, R. (2010). Teaching-learning processes between informality and formalization. the encyclopaedia of informal education.

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Visualizing information design

Something I’ve been thinking about since I started working on the Visual Design course for this summer is, when you’re designing instruction or job aids or other learning support materials do you rely on text or graphics to tell your story?

Mayer and his followers will tell you to use images and words and not just words alone – whether the words are spoken or printed. However, it’s not that simple.  Normally graphical representations are better at certain things while verbal (printed or spoken) descriptions are better at other things.  Graphics, especially diagrams, schematics, models, maps, and the like, are reductionist in nature.  They constrain the inferences you can make about the content which is good for well-structured problems or when you are trying to help learners understand basic systems or processes.  On the other hand, textual presentation of content allows for more ambiguity and dimension than you can present visually.  Presenting information in context, with subtleties, and/or at a more complex, expert level may work better using more text.

While language has the ability to convey more complexity, there are certainly times when you want to convey  less complex and more action-oriented messages.  You want to pull out trends or patterns for learners to see clearly.  You want to emphasize certain aspects of information in a way that is easy to understand and apply.

TacticalTech has a 25 page pdf booklet titled Visualising Information for Advocacy: An Introduction to Information Design that can be helpful in thinking about organizing and displaying information in these situation. They describe information design as:

telling a story with pictures. It can tell “how many?” “when?” or “where?” It can show trends over time, compare elements or reveal hidden patterns. Information design brings form and structure to information. It is not the same as graphic design, nor is it only about making something aesthetically pleasing. It’s not about branding, style, making a glossy product or something that looks “corporate.” Information design is about making your data:

  • Clear: It makes complex information easier to understand.
  • Compelling: Visuals grab people’s attention.
  • Convincing: People who might not be persuaded by raw numbers or statistics may be more likely to understand and believe what they see in a chart or graphic.

While you may not think about what you are doing as advocacy in a “social change” sort of way, I challenge you to consider that any structured, objective-based instruction is advocacy. You are actively supporting a set of concepts and a recommending that learners adopt the same views (for the most part). It’s not normally thought of as advocacy when what you are teaching is considered “true,” such as grammar rules or safety information or how electrical circuits work or how to format a table in Excel.  However, if you’re presuming that your learners don’t already know how to safely handle dry ice, for example, you have to convince them that wearing gloves is important.  You’re advocating for safety.

So how can information design help you to better advocate to support learning?

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Some light summer reading

I ran across some posts from others in learning areas sharing what they have on their bookshelves and I thought I’d share my reading/to read shelf as well.

Books for class prep for fall:
I wish our library had some of these in ebook form to check out.  I like *having* paper copies but it’s a lot more convenient to *read* ecopies when I have my tablet stuffed in my bag and the book is on my desk. 
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Multi-tasking in multi-layered conversations in multiple contexts

This interview is actually a nice bit of introduction to what I’m trying to do in my Introduction to Distance Education Systems course. I’m trying to situate the technology (and a fairly wide variety of technology) in meaningful practice. I’m trying to encourage people to be creative and generative and to reflect on both their generativity and the technology they used to accomplish it.

Where I’m still struggling is how to really encourage them to use the “cultural practices that have started to emerge that help us to navigate though those new technologies, and to engage more fully in participatory cultures” in a transparent manner so we can all learn and reflect on them together. Things like:
  • deciding where it makes sense to pay attention
  • scanning the environment looking for relevant data, digging deep, and engaging with it as needed
  • seeing that we communicate information across multiple channels and in different information contexts
  • working with multi-layered conversations, reading across multiple topics and trying to learn how to connect pieces of information together

Jenkins points out that:

those people who come to technology as adults are going to learn how to use technology when it is meaningful for them to do so, when it is embedded in a community practice that allows them to use the technology as a vehicle towards a set of meaningful goals.  They’re not going to learn how to use technology when they’re asked to use technology in the abstract, and that’s where I think the panic comes in, “I’m not very good at technology.” And I have the same problem as most of the people I work with: If I presented a machine and said, “Learn how to use it,” my first question is, “Why? What is it I want to use it to do?” And that’s a totally legitimate question to ask. So for many of those people, it’s that they haven’t been exposed to something they meaningful want to do using this technology.

I’m seeing that reflected in some of the reflections the students are writing here at the end of the course.  Some of them didn’t think they were “good at technology” but when they diagram their personal learning networks they see there’s a lot more virtual interaction and digital information mining going on than they realized.  As they lay out what tools they’re using they also see how some tools have expanded from the academic area into other areas of their lives as they see the utility of it in various contexts.
I’m hopeful that one thing this class has done for most of the students is to provide a safe opportunity to explore some of the many options for researching, creating, collaborating, and learning that can be used in  elearning.
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They say a picture is worth a thousand words

How many words is a good infographic worth?

This is a guest post by Sneh Roy, a graphic/web designer from Australia, who’s  personal design blog Little Box of Ideas is also well worth a look.

The Anatomy Of An Infographic: 5 Steps To Create A Powerful Visual

If you have something that could be a job aid, I’d challenge you to try Sneh’s 5 steps and make an infographic with a very small amount (if any) of related text. Try it with something that is a continual, repeating issue and see if you don’t get more “ah ha!” moments than you do with a page of text.

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Deliberate design, andragogy, and social media applications

Both Tony Bates and Janet Clarey are thinking here about elearning but the discussion is applicable to blended learning and f2f learning as well.

When you begin to think about providing a structured opportunity for learning is it all about delivery? How am I going to present content? Or is it about interaction and collaboration? How are the participants going to work with this content and each other to learn to apply it?

To start, you may want to unpack “learner-centered social constructivist approach” a bit. (You’ll also see social constructivist referred to as sociocultural though there’s a bit of a difference I don’t nit-pick at this level.) To do this, I’d recommend reading what IMHO is a classic overview of the topic: Searching for Learner-Centered,Constructivist, and Sociocultural Components of Collaborative Educational Learning Tools (and not just because it’s by two people I know and have worked with).

Curt and Don note that “Theory certainly cannot operate within a vacuum. Views on questions such as the nature of mind are developed by considering not only philosophical questions like the form of underlying mental representation, but also the world within which learners function. . . . If learning is predominantly a sociocultural dialogue, then instruction should provide opportunities for embedding learning in authentic tasks leading to participation in a community of practice. . . . But [this] presumes the availability, in the world of experience, of tools and structures to support them.” (p. 26).

As an adult educator you’ll notice that a lot of this learner-centered social constructivist approach sounds like andragogy. While some of it is dated please read through to the second half for their take on theory, principles, and collaborative learning tools. Given the advances in technology since 1998, there are many more collaborative tools available for use in any mode of learning (f2f, distance, or blended). How can you design deliberately to support adults and how can you leverage social media and applications to connect them to a larger community of practice?

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maintaining a presence

Presence. Something to think about on many levels.

Here and now however I’m thinking about online presence.  How present am I in the online classes I teach, in the CritLit2010 course I’m participating in this summer, on this blog, on my Amplify blog, on Twitter and so on?  This is not a post about the Community of Inquiry Model – though that is certainly one way to look at presence and one I have used before.  This is more of a personal look at presence.

What do I do and what are others doing when I really *feel* present in an online environment?  What do I need to do for some critical mass of others to *feel* that I am present and an active participant in community?  Here on this blog and other blogs I have had in the past it’s mainly about me taking the time and energy to post something substantial on a regular (at least weekly) basis.  If I stray too long it’s very hard to come back round and re-engage.  (Note to self for dissertation progress as well. ) I like getting comments but I’ve never had a lot of comments on a blog and I don’t tend to comment on others’ blogs.  It’s just not a conversational place for me.

When you go to a class – either physically or in a synchronous online setting – you interact and get feedback and stimulation immediately.  There has been much written about the rapid give-and-take of synchronous meetings versus the time delay of asynchronous ones.  It’s the whole delayed gratification issue.  You send something out and by the time someone replies you may or may not have forgotten where your train of thought was going.  However, the anytime-anywhere flexibility of asynchronous is what attracts many people to online classes and communities in the first place.  And there is a line between being an active presence in a community/class and feeling tied to it 24/7.  I have spoken with faculty who are present in their online courses 7 days a week because they want to be and those who are because they feel they *have* to be and those who state up front that they will only check in the course 4 or 5 days a week and that specifically excludes weekends and holidays.

I was involved in a discussion recently about the minimum size for an online class to run and the real crux of the matter was how many people does it take to carry on a reasonably-paced conversation to maintain interest and motivation for learning?  Of course it depends entirely on how active the participants are but since there is no way of knowing that in advance you have to pick a number and live with it.  (we picked 8.) In the CritLit2010 class, there is not a lot of discussion going on in the course Moodle site but there is a lot of posting going on outside on blogs, Twitter, etc. I have blogged but haven’t participated in any discussion so I don’t really feel like I have a presence in the course yet. 

I had another dissertation interview yesterday and we talked a bit about hand grading papers versus typing in comments.  Is part of “presence” really about, as Virginia Shea would say, remembering that (normally) every user ID in an online setting is a real, live human? I hand wrote comments for one assignment this past spring, scanned them in and uploaded them to the course. It made me feel more present but does it help the students?  Most of the faculty I have interviewed record audio or video for their classes.  Some studies have found that students connected more to online classes if they could see the instructor.  In a smaller-enrollment graduate class (as opposed to a 50+ roster undergrad class) I wonder about the possibility and practicality of having students record audio or video on a regular basis?  It would certainly increase my perception of their presence but it would also increase the amount of time it would take to process their work – both for me and for the other students.  Reading is faster than listening. Are the trade-offs worth it? Is file size still an issue?

I could go off on a tangent about legitimate peripheral participation here but this is long and rambling enough so I’ll save that for another day.

If you’ve actually read through this far please leave a comment so I know someone is present 🙂

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