Thursday, July 23, 2015

Social Learning Trajectories: A Response to Lankshear & Knobel Chapter 8

Digital Storytelling For The Illiterate Generation(s)

The eighth and final chapter of New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning Third Ed by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel was like reflecting on the past seven weeks of my life from a programmatic point of view as a digital storytelling student. My first response to this was “Why didn’t I read this chapter first so I knew what I was getting into?” Then I realized, I probably would not have understood any of it had I not experienced ‘digital storytelling.’ As I was reading the chapter, I was constantly analysing the program Lankshear & Knobel suggest, and comparing to what I am experiencing in current curriculum. The first major difference in the curriculum noted in the text versus what students at CU Denver Masters in Information and Learning Technologies program experience was some limited face to face and group instruction. The MA program at CU Denver is completely online. Students may meet face to face if they reside in the same relative geographic location, however many students in the program live in various ‘out of state’ locations. This changes the dynamic of the course. We did not work in groups in face to face or even telecommunicative means. We instead, entered a much broader network more similar to a MOOC. Where students created their blogs, set up Twitter accounts, and participated in the online practices as described by ds106. None of which are centralized in a typical classroom or even online practice of a university such as the use of a LMS. Canvas was used in the course as the LMS but it wasn’t by any means critical to the course and was only seldom used for logistic reasons. By doing this, students were expected to ‘pull’ information and resources from any number of places in the larger network of online social learning. In fact, in many instances fellow ‘ds106ers’ contributed to the more intimate conversations and inquisition on Twitter #CUDenver15 or on personal blogs of students. In essence, the course experience by CU Denver masters students can be viewed as many overlapping networks and communities of practice.

Although students did receive, help, guidance, comment, and critique from fellow students and members of the broader communities of practice online, there is a sense of isolation. This, at first, makes engagement challenging, especially during the first two weeks when ‘learning to be’ a digital story teller. However, reflecting upon the solitude of the experience in digital storytelling with CU Denver, I appreciated the autonomy and ability to ‘win or fail’ through my own desire to ‘pull’ in various directions. This of course, creates a more stressful situation perhaps, but the reality of the situation rapidly prepares students for meaningful participation on their own terms. Successes and failures are our own publicly seen. There’s no ‘secret’ LMS hiding intellectual gems from the world. This motivates participators to succeed because anyone, co-workers, colleagues, classmates, future employers, and the like, may have the ability to witness the products of the course, and perhaps it will mean something to someone else. In final reflection of this, I prefer to engage with ‘the rest of the world,’ instead of limiting Discourse and discourse to the secret minds and murmurings of the few who would choose to take a digital storytelling course that only uses a LMS.

“Because the ‘natural home’ of social learning is the everyday world of social practice at large, it maintains points of connection to human lives as trajectories in ways that are often lost by hiving off formal education into contrived spaces, time frames, and idiosyncratic ways of doing things.”
(Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 248-249).

Preparing The Next Generation

The second interesting part of chapter eight in Lankshear & Knobel describes scenarios in which ‘new literacies’ and social learning is deployed in K-12 settings. In short, this is inspiring and fascinating to me because what is described aligns with the focal topic ‘the importance of creative arts in education,’ and prepares young students for the world in which they live, whether they intend to go to college or not. According to Ken Robinson,

“In practice, teachers in all disciplines usually do, and should, use a wide repertoire of approaches. Sometimes teaching facts and information through direct instruction, sometimes facilitating exploratory group activities and projects. Getting that balance right, is what the art of teaching is all about.”
(Robinson, Ken Ph.D. 2015, Ch. 6).

What Lankshear & Knobel describe as ‘gamelike’ instruction at the Quest to Learn school, exemplifies social learning practices that are engaging both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ influences. Essentially, a pedagogy that is ‘balanced’ and relevant to the everyday practices of the times. Students understand complex identities in situated learning scenarios where they must assume the roles of designers, scientists, historians, mathematicians, inventors, etc. These roles are assumed by the deployment of various quests that include group and solitary activity. (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 247). What’s really inspiring, is the curriculum spelled out in the Lankshear and Knobel text. In summation, I have taken points from the text to provide in list form. This can be understood as:
  1. “Five key conditions for learning: sharing, reflecting, responding to and providing feedback, evaluation, and distributing knowledge and understanding.”
  2. “Three competency dimensions: Civic/Social-Emotional Learning, Design, and Content. Across these dimensions include: learning for well-being and emotional intelligence; design and innovation; complexity (or ‘systemic reasoning’); critical thinking, judgement and credibility; learning using a design methodology; and learning using smart tools (ibid.: 46).”
  3. “Five learning practices: system thinking, play design, intelligent resourcing, meaning production, and tinkering (ibid.: 66).” (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 248-249).
The list is impressive by higher education standards let alone K-12. If these things are truly engaged one can see extreme value of pedagogy that brings these things out through social learning and creative thought processes. All of these things are, in essence, designed to develop one’s way of ‘doing or being’ along the trajectory of their lives. The ultimate goal of this trajectory is to become mature learners who can engage by various means and roles necessary to solve problems, or at the very least, be literate or know how to become literate in ‘new literacies.’ (Lankshear & Knobel, 2011, p. 252-253). Additionally, these learning trajectories, in theory, should create ‘prepared’ students for college or life in general.

Designing To Learn

It is in these practices of social learning and ‘new literacies’ that I find great passion and motivation to implement new pedagogy into the design classes I teach. The next semester is just around the corner but there is still some time to plan and implement a few of the many great things I learned this semester. Although I am not sure it is possible to do so, I am starting to think through some of the questions I have about applying social learning and online practices such as: Can students set up blogs to post and discuss their assignments? What platforms and social networks are best for design students to engage? Other than the LMS, how can I engage students outside of the classroom in hybrid courses? Will these social learning practices be accepted by the college where I teach? Will my students be motivated to engage in social learning? How does this all align with the competencies of the courses I teach? In truth, to address all of these things may be a huge undertaking. For the moment it is worth focusing on a few things that will promote engagement and relevance to ‘the everyday lives’ of design students. For the future, I dream of design MOOCs and ‘game like’ scenarios. I know if I continue on my own ‘trajectory’ by designing to learn, many great things are possible.

New Literacies: Everyday Practices and Social Learning Third Ed by Colin Lankshear and Michele Knobel. McGraw-Hill Education 2011.

Aronica, Lou; Robinson, Ken Ph.D. Creative Schools the Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. 2015. Narr. Robinson, Ken Ph.D. Tantor Media. May 8, 2015. Accessed June 20, 2015. Digital File.