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Learners Need a Cleared Path

“If, when and how students and teachers choose to take advantage of these opportunities will define the future of networked learning and personal learning environments within the structure of school.  However, the nature of personal learning is such that students with Internet access can choose to participate without that structure.”     – Wendy Drexler

Last Saturday night I went to the Richmond Forum.  The speaker for the evening was Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and first woman head of state of an African nation.  As is customary with my friends, we strive to connect dinner somehow with the speaker, landing us at Nile Ethiopian Restaurant .  Both of the evening’s events were learning experiences.  At Nile, food is served family style and all use injera (flat bread) as the only eating utensil.  First, we had to learn how to order, second we had to learn how to eat.  Our waitress was very helpful, but did not do our ordering for us, nor did she demonstrate the use of injera as a utensil.  We figured it our ourselves, collectively in our ‘network’ at the table.

Sirleaf’s talk was not embellished by technology, it was plain and simple delivery of information.  Sometimes this is a great learning experience – no ‘noise’.  I leaned that a) 40% of the African population within the next few years will be under the age of 15, b) China has had a strong presence and influence in the country’s rebuilding for many years and are considered a great partner.  The U.S. not so much, and c) that if you want to send change complacency, you dismiss all those contributing to it around you and set out to create new ideas and goals.  This last point, referring to her recent decision to ‘fire’ her entire cabinet, is an important message when considering the question

What do learner’s need?

Learners need a cleared path out of complacency.  We need to learn how to learn all over again; how to really learn.  Digital literacy, unlike test-focused factoids, is not something that a teacher can provide for us.  Like eating Ethiopian food using injera, we need to get messy in it ourselves.  Teachers need to clear the path and get out of the way.  Every now and then, when the path gets cluttered, it helps to have the bulldozer back.

After viewing the YouTube video on the connected 7th grade student last week, I wanted to learn more.

  • I discovered that the video was created as part of a doctoral dissertation by a woman named Wendy Drexler (who also created The Networked Student that we viewed last semester).
  • I used the VCU library to look up and download her dissertation, fresh off the press in the spring of this year (gotta take advantage of that $150 technology fee). Her dissertation is entitled The Networked Student:  A design-based research case study of student constructed personal learning environments in a middle school science coursePLE in K-12 – she is singing my tune.
  • I also found Dr. Drexler on Twitter, and
  • shared some of her links on our class Delicious site.
  • I registered as a member of a wiki that discusses the networked student and PLE concepts and posed the question, ‘what do learners need’,
  • As the result of noting one of his principal’s tweets about developing a PLE, I spread the word to my progressive superintendent friend who is beginning the conversation of teacher and student developed PLEs in his district as they move to a 1:1 computing environment, and
  • I discovered PLE Inquiry will be the topic of an open course in the spring that I plan to ‘attend.’

These are the digital literacies of Alkalli and Arnachi-Hamburger (CyberPsychology & Behavior, 7(4) 2004) outlined in Dr. Drexler’s dissertation:

Photo-visual – the ability to make sense of graphical representations.

Reproduction – create new artifacts from existing content

Branching – knowledge construction from hypertext

Information – evaluating content

Socio-emotional – interacting effectively with others online

Have I practices these literacies this week?  I believe so.  Is this what the learner needs?  I’m pretty sure it is – I am creating a PLE!

“Once a student has learned how to construct a personal learning environment, he or she is left with a model of learning that extends beyond the classroom walls, one in which the learner assumes full control.  The students’ success will depend on how well they have been prepared in the processes that support learning in an ever changing, increasingly networked world.”     – Wendy Drexler

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2 Responses to “Learners Need a Cleared Path”

  1. I love the connection with learning how to eat Ethiopian with learning networks and taking responsibility for our own learning as adults. I’ve also had the awkward experience of eating in an Ethiopian restaurant. I must admit I prefer a fork to dipping my fingers in food with nothing but spongy bread in between.

    What I struggle with in my students is they are hesitant about “getting messy” in learning in the classroom. I constantly tell them that there is no one way to check a prescription. I give them a checklist of what needs to be reviewed and they have to develop their own system that covers the list. They get frustrated and confused and give up. They look to me for the “right” answer. Is it because of our current systems of assessment and evaluation? Taking a multiple choice test reinforces the “right” answer. In a survey of these same students almost 90% of them considered themselves “self-directed” learners. Perhaps they have a different definition of this term.

    • Perhaps there is actually some validity to this notion of adults and self-directed learners. Perhaps they aren’t really adult learners yet? Maybe they were told they were self-directed so they know that is the ‘right’ answer. The funny thing is they get messy in other areas of learning, I am sure.

      Will be interesting to see what happens over the next decade in higher ed. Read a great quote in an article recently:

      The biggest danger is that higher education may be the next railroad industry, which built bigger and better railroads decade after decade because that’s the business it thought it was in…The reality was that it was in the transportation industry, and it was nearly put out of business by airplanes…Colleges and universities are not in the campus business, but the education business. (Arthur Levine “The Soul of a New University,” The New York Times, 13 March 2000)

      With all the recent building of student centers, student gyms, dorms that are like luxury hotels, etc. you get the sense that the ‘education business’ is changing quickly around them, and going unnoticed. Notice the date of this publication!

      Keep fighting the fight – they will look back on your instruction and realize how far they came as self-directed learners as a result!


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