Posts Tagged ‘learning’

Two Kinds of Knowledge

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Stephen Downes’ article for the Huffington Post is brilliantly encapsulated in this paragraph:

“Two different types of knowledge. Two different sets of skills. If we want people to socialize, to conform, to follow rules, we’ll focus on the repetition of the symbols and codes that constitute explicit knowledge, to have them become expert in what Wittgenstein called “language games,” the public performance of language. But if we want people to learn, then we need to focus on the subsymbolic, the concepts, skills, procedures and other bits of tacit knowledge that underlie, and give rise to, the social conventions. We cannot simply learn the words.”

This makes a lot of sense. But from a learner’s perspective – and maybe I’m drawing too much from socio-cultural perspectives here – it often seems that we need to become skilled in the former to be able to gain access to the latter.

Social Media, Disciplinarity and Research Cultures

Monday, July 5th, 2010

A number of recent activities has made me engage with the issue of academic disciplines in relation to my work and studies.

At last month’s JTEL Summer School in Macedonia, I participated in a group task based on one of the three grand challenges, Strengthening Learning Contexts. In presenting disciplinarity as a learning context, I drew largely on Tony Becher’s book (revised with Paul Trowler in 2001), Academic Tribes and Territories, which adopts a geographical metaphor to describe how historically defined academic disciplines and specialisms are perpetuated by the cultural values, norms and traditions which reside within them.

I recently came across a paper by Kuang-Hsu (Iris) Chiang (2003), in which she proposes that disciplinary diversity in doctoral education is engendered by the research training cultures, which she argues, are highly influential, not only in establishing the PhD students’ research environment, but also in their research processes and learning experiences. Taking the research training in Chemistry and Education respectively as examples, Chiang makes a clear distinction between a ‘teamwork’ structure and an ‘individualist’ structure. The social media sessions I’ve been running with LeRoy Hill at Graduate Centres in the University of Nottingham have been delivered to cross-disciplinary audiences (PhD and Early Career Researchers) from a number of Schools and Faculties. There are clear indications that disciplinary cultures may affect (though not exclusively) their attitudes to adopting and using social media in their studies.

I’ve commented before on the ‘privileged positions’ those who work in or study learning technologies have in using social media. The advantage I feel, is not so much in our familiarity and confidence with using the technologies (though that is clearly a factor), but more so in the richness of networks and communities we can rely on in which to participate. If students from other disciplines and specialisms do not have access to critical numbers of fellow academics within their fields who are using these tools – a concern raised by a number of attendees at our sessions – should we expect them to engage with social media at all?

Neil Selwyn’s excellent keynote address to the Ed-Media Conference in Toronto last week no doubt ruffled a few feathers, but his remarks serve to remind us of the clear disconnect between the potential of social media for learning and the reality of current adoption rates. If we are to engage with students and educators outside the ‘ed-tech bubble’, we can demonstrate the tools and establish best practices, but these need to be contextualised within the academic disciplines and research cultures of those we are trying hard to convince.


Becher, T., & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic Tribes and Territories (2nd Ed.) Buckingham: Open University Press.

Chiang, K.-H. (2003). Learning Experiences of Doctoral Students in UK Universities. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 23 (1/2). 4-32.

Visitors and Residents

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

In an entertaining webinar, Dave White of the Department for Continued Learning at Oxford University, enjoys a beer while he presents findings from Isthmus, a JISC-funded project. He describes how Marc Presky’s outmoded pre-Web 2.0 concept of digital natives and immigrants became largely interpreted in generational terms, and offers an updated concept for the social web; suggesting learners engaging in social media fall into two distinct groups – visitors and residents.

Residents see the web as a space, in which they develop a visible social presence, creating digital profiles as a form of individual branding.
Visitors may use the web in sophisticated ways but remain largely invisible. They see web as a toolbox to dip into and use without leaving a digital footprint.
  • Residents see the web as a space, in which they develop a visible social presence, creating digital profiles as a form of personal branding.
  • Visitors may use the web in sophisticated ways but remain largely invisible. They see web as a toolbox to dip into and use without leaving a digital footprint.

In reality, these two groups exist on a continuum, which White subsequently maps onto a professional-private axis.

Motivation to use social media is not related to competences, age, or experience, but is rather influenced by learning ecologies. Visitors, it would seem, are goal-orientated; viewing learning as content delivery, and valuing the role of the expert. Residents see learning as a social activity, in which identity propagation plays a key role.

White suggests we are entering a postdigital era – in which tools are becoming culturally normalised – and argues the tools and applications themselves can be seen as either residential or visitor orientated.

A video based on White’s ALT-C 2009 presentation is also available.

Pedagogy of the Senses

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

sensesNorm Friesen’s recent draft essay recalls Marshall Mcluhan’s pedagogical perspective based on the effects of media on the human senses. Mcluhan argued that the sensory impression of a medium (i.e that asociated with it’s production or output) does not necessarily equate to the sensory effect (or impact on the receiver). Radio, for example has an auditory impression, yet it’s effect – through the imaginative processing of the listener – is frequently visual. In other words, media affects senses other than those with which it communicates.

In fact, Mcluhan suggested any media affects all the senses to a degree, and that an individual’s ‘sensorium’ is ideally in a state of balance or equilibrium.  The media process is described as a ‘translation’ of the senses, which can distort this equilibrium or ratio of senses by amplifying some and attenuating others. These processes not only affect the aesthaetics of the media but potentially the consciousness and rationality of the receiver, leading Mcluhan to define pedagogy as a ‘training of senses.’

As our learning content and interactions become increasingly diverse and complex, how might this perspective affect our understanding of multimodality and cognitive overload?

Friday, March 13th, 2009

In the latest edition of Analysis on BBC Radio 4 (available as a podcast for the next seven days), Kenan Malik explores the rise of the digital generation and the question of whether new technologies are actually ‘rewiring’ the brains of young people.

Author Don Tapscott is typically optimistic about the effect of new technologies, and their capacity to encourage new ways of thinking, problem solving and collaborating. Yet Tara Brabazon, Professor of Media Studies at Brighton University, is damning of the dumbing down effect of technologies which encourages the ‘grazing’ or ‘skimming’ of information resources, arguing it prevents higher education students developing deeper processes of enquiry which question and challenge.

This is largely backed up by Professor David Nicholas from University College London, who questions the increasing superficiality or shallowness of so called ‘horizontal’ knowledge acquisition. He suggests that it is actually older learners who are empowered by new technologies because they already have a ‘framework’ developed through traditional methods of reading, research and thinking; processes to which younger learners are becoming increasingly excluded.

Brabazon’s approach of banning her students from using Google and Wikipedia therefore seems justified. Yet I would argue such broad-brush reactions overlook the potential of using technologies in a more focused and supportive pedagogy, where appropriate tools can be facilitated at a micro-level around personal and collaborative enquiry that may support and encourage deeper learning processes.

Malik concludes by suggesting new digital technologies are not the problem, rather that the social and cultural practices that have emerged around their use have not been sufficiently challenged by pedagogical approaches which readily adopt them.

The programme transcript is available here.