Networked Scholars – From K through 12 and to Higher Ed

Bringing Up Three by Bringing Up Madison:CC-BY
Bringing Up Three by Bringing Up Madison:CC-BY

One of my teacher credential students asked me recently why our course, Teaching in the Age of EdTech, had focused on theoretical concepts through the first third of the course and seemed to ignore the more practical, toolkit uses of technology.  To paraphrase, the student was interested in the theory and the content, but as a student teacher looking to launch into a hired position this student felt the course would be more beneficial if its objective was geared around learning how to utilize tools such as Moodle, Interactive White Boards, iPads, Virtual Field Trips or Google Docs into curriculum, and not finding educators to chat with on Twitter.

I believe I surprised the student when I said I appreciated their candor and honesty, and was positive about their interests and course objectives.  This student has a valid point:  today’s K-12 job market desires people with specific skills, and within education there is a tacit sale of educational technology as a tool belt for an intrepid teacher to wield effortlessly, one that allows teachers to integrate Common Core State Standards into any formal learning situation.  Schools have spent a considerable sum of money outfitting their classrooms and students with IWBs, tablet computers, and various learning management systems designed to digitize the classroom and create innovative and efficient learning.  It behooves teacher credential candidates to be up-to-date on how technology works in the classroom and how to incorporate the various items a district has to offer.

I told the student we would get to the toolkit:  learn about existing technologies like the IWB and the App Builder, as well as forecast the horizon of EdTech with things like wearable computing and the Internet of Things.  But, from my perspective, the toolkit should be the result of an approach to technology that, ironically enough, resists the assumption that EdTech is a teacher’s tool belt.  Rather, technology is a revolutionary opportunity for people to communicate, collaborate and create without many of the obstacles inherent to the past 1000 years of education.  To take from Dave Cormier’s rhizomatic learning, the learning community defines the toolkit rather than the toolkit defining the learning community.

This approach is not new; 25 years ago EdTech pioneers such as Tony Bates, John Daniel and Soren Nipper saw telecommunications as the revolution of learning, the opportunity for the manner in which we conceptualize education to transform.  Slowly, and with many hiccups, this idea has begun to gain momentum within various education networks and subcultures.  #scholar14, the MOOC out of Royal Roads University facilitated by George Veletsianos, is a great example of the growth of this belief:  a course that sees learning as a situated experience facilitated by notions of community, environment and identity.  Week 1 of the course looks at how a scholar can negotiate a digital identity through presence, branding and visibility.  This, as Dr. Veletsianos notes, is important for doctoral students or upstart professionals eager to stake their place in the academic landscape: “By maintaining a web presence, scholars may express their opinions, solicit feedback, reflect, share information pertaining to their professional practice, network with colleagues, reach multiple audiences, and cultivate their identity as scholars.

I agree with all Dr. Veletsianos says here, and was impressed with the course readings on how to develop an online presence, both via Educause and the Open UCT Initiative.  I would like to explore how we can promote this concept of learning-as-identity (see Etienne Wenger) with K-12 teachers.  The position of the University academic is different from the responsibilities of the elementary or secondary teacher, and such bureaucratic and autonomous differences make initiatives such as Networked Scholarship difficult to even begin; rare is the case a burgeoning college professor or administrator need showcase a competency in Moodle.  However, the concepts around networked scholarship (personal learning networks, connectivism, digital identity, ownership of digital architecture, Open Education Resources) are at the cutting edge of learning theory and pedagogy in the digital realm.  If the suggestion from Stanford President John Hennessy that K-12 schools must do a better job of preparing graduates for college in order for academia to remain viable, this change should start with a holistic approach to digital learning that values the individual and provides them agency to communicate, collaborate and create in ways impossible just two generations ago.  When the toolkit is the focal point, technology remains the tool that drives the schools to perform at levels we have labeled as crisis for almost 60 years.  When the toolkit comes as a result of the elements inherent to Networked Scholarship, each application of technology is rooted in a transformative learning environment and experience.

There are political and practical obstacles for K-12 to incorporate the tenets of Networked Scholarship.  But the starting point for any movement is to begin to engage the new in a positive and open manner.  My students will not only get to their toolkit, but it will be a primary tangible takeaway from this course.  It is vital to their careers to have skills in the technology of the day. Rather than have it imposed by a teacher who says what is important and what is not, however, the students will build their own toolkits based on what they think is important from a pedagogical perspective.  I will provide facilitation and scaffolding to help them cut through the obstacles of their journey, and encourage them to record their experiences and what they learn so others can learn too. Moreover, the artifacts of those toolkits can reside on their personal web spaces to be shared by other networked scholars, and the experiences shared in their networks and communities.


Posted on: October 20, 2014admin

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