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Getting in Flow With Information

“The tools that consumers need are those that allow them to get in the flow, that allow them to live inside information structures wherever they are and whatever they are doing.  They need tools that allow them to easily grab what they want and to stay peripherally aware without feeling overwhelmed.”

Danah Boyd  – Streams of Content, Limited Attention:  The Flow of Information through Social Media

I took a weekend break with some friends to Elkins, West Virginia.  This we do at least once a year to lose whatever is making us feel overwhelmed at the time.  To get to Elkins, you drive up 81 to Harrisonburg and take Hwy 33 through three mountain ranges.  It was sunny, crisp, and absolutely alive with color.  Our cabin rental is on the Lower Cheat River.  We watched, beer in hand, as several men spent the weekend fly fishing in the stream.  I don’t think we saw a single catch, but the world was aligned and everything did feel just right.  Danah Boyd suggests that when we consider being in this type of flow, we will see where Web 2.0 is taking us:  “to be peripherally aware of information as it flows by, grabbing it at the right moment when it is most relevant, valuable, entertaining or insightful.”

It seems as if we are starting to get this picture.  Many recent posts, including mine, are less critical of the information overload and more focused on the insights.  In particular, I am beginning to associate specific tools and affordances of Web 2.0 with their ability to transform the instructional experience.  I found and read several articles this week about web based continuing professional development in the context of our classroom design scenario.  These were not necessarily recent articles, but studies completed within the last five years.  They discussed the general architecture of quality web-based workforce development in several contexts, including teacher education and nursing.

Practice is catching up with theory.  In all cases, the findings indicate that the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson & Archer 2000) introduced last semester consists of all the important learning elements:  social presence, cognitive presence, and teacher presence.   They talk about the merits of communities in the learning process for gathering and sharing information, relevant and rigorous content, and the attention to continuing content flow and communication by the instructor.  In Virtual Learning Communities as a Vehicle for Workforce Development, Allan and Lewis (2006) provide important insight about the awareness of time management for professional development.  They state, “Participation is a complex matter and involves individuals in negotiating a work/life balance that is dependent on their motivation, time management and access to ICT.”  To me, it goes even further than that – work/life balance also means achieving the flow – the ability to sit by the river once in a while, to let the stream flow without interruption.  I can relate to this need because I am experiencing the effects.  Not all workplace managers are as savvy.

If you mention online learning in a crowd, you are likely to get a variety of responses, based on the experience of individual. Most conjure up an image of sitting in front of a computer screen, reading content and responding to questions with a click.  Boyd states, “If people are going to try to get in flow with information, we must understand how information flows differently today.”  It is bi-directional and multi-directional.  It is not always lack of experience that keeps us from understanding this concept – it is when we put the word ‘learning’ in front of online that our experience limits our understanding.  Only by increased use of collaborative tools that are available today can this mindset be changed.  I watched the video Wikis in University Teaching and Learning by Richard Buckled and thought of recent conversations I’ve had with my children about college coursework – and even my own program of studies.  This type of technology is not at all a practice, let alone a common practice, in learning – and that is unacceptable if we are trying to find ‘the flow.’

Buckled calls a the use of a wiki  ‘the ultimate in democracy.’  While he touts the merits of the tool for both personal and collaborative use and interface between a teacher and student, he discusses in great deal his favorite use of the tool – a student-built ‘text.’  Over the course of the semester, students create a retrospective textbook by the practice of collaborative note taking.  At the end of the semester, the students receive a bound copy of their work – their ‘text.’  The student experts all participate in its making – with writing, with music, with graphics.  And while the students are allowed an open-book final exam, most do not need the notes.   This is their work, they have ownership and knowledge – the wiki allows them to live in the flow.  The work doesn’t disappear the next semester.  Bonus – they don’t have to pay for a very expensive textbook authored by their professor.

Social presence, cognitive presence, and teacher presence for learning and teaching at its best.  I think I’m sold.

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One Response to “Getting in Flow With Information”

  1. I think that you’re absolutely right: we need to flee the Internet, computers, and computer-mediated teaching for a few hours a day and, perhaps, one full day a week or so.

    Practice is catching up with theory? That sounds great. This means that theory will be based on practice, and not the other way around. Sometimes this is a healthy model, because teaching and learning are not two bacteria or viruses that can be grown in a lab. There are so many variables and unexpected problems and gratifications that it is impossible to just read something and apply it in class.

    Great photo!


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