Tag: complexity

Digital myths, digital pedagogy, and complexity

I’m currently doing some research with Sarah Horrocks from London CLC for their parent organisation, the Education Development Trust. As part of this work, I’m looking at all kinds of things related to technology-enhanced teacher professional development.

Happily, it’s given me an excuse to go through some of the work that Prof. Steve Higgins, my former thesis supervisor at Durham University, has published since I graduated from my Ed.D. in 2012. There’s some of his work in particular that really resonated with me and I wanted to share in a way that I could easily reference in future.


In a presentation to the British Council in 2013 entitled Technology trends for language teaching: looking back and to the future, Higgins presents six ‘myths’ relating to digital technologies and educational institutions:

  1. The ‘Future Facing’ Fallacy – “New technologies are being developed all the time, the past history of the impact of technology is irrelevant to what we have now or will be available tomorrow.
  2. The ‘Different Learners’ Myth – “Today’s children are digital natives and the ‘net generation –they learn differently from older people”.
  3. A Confusion of ‘Information’and ‘Knowledge’ – “Learning has changed now we have access to knowledge through the internet, today’s children don’t need to know stuff, they just need to know where to find it.”
  4. The ‘Motivation Mistake’ – “Students are motivated by technology so they must learn better when they use it.”
  5. The ‘Mount Everest’ Fallacy – “We must use technology because it is there!”
  6. The ‘More is Better’ Mythology – “If some technology is a good thing, then more must be better.

The insightful part, is I think, when Higgins applies Rogers’ (1995) work around the diffusion of innovations:

  • Innovators & early adopters choose digital technology to do something differently – as a solution to a problem.
  • When adopted by the majority, focus is on the technology, but not as a solution.
  • The laggards use the technology to replicate what they were already doing without ICT

In a 2014 presentation to The Future of Learning, Knowledge and Skills (TULOS) entitled Technology and learning: from the past to the future, Higgins expands on this:

It is rare for further studies to be conducted once a technology has become fully embedded in educational settings as interest tends to focus on the new and emerging, so the question of overall impact remains elusive.

If this is the situation, there may, of course, be different explanations. We know, for example, that it is difficult to scale-up innovation without a dilution of effect with expansion (Cronbach et al. 1980; Raudenbush, 2008). It may also be that early adopters (Rogers, 2003; Chan et al. 2006) tend to be tackling particular pedagogical issues in the early stages, but then the focus shifts to the adoption of the particular technology, without it being chosen as a solution to a specific teaching and learning issue (Rogers’‘early’ and ‘late majority’). At this point the technology may be the same, but the pedagogical aims and intentions are different, and this may explain a reduction in effectiveness.

The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology:

Overall, I think designing for effective use of digital technologies is complex. It is not just a case of trying a new piece of technology out and seeing what happens. We need to build on what is already know about effective teaching and learning… We also need to think about what the technology can do better than what already happens in schools. It is not as though there is a wealth of spare time for teachers and learners at any stage of education. In practice the introduction of technology will replace something that is already there for all kinds of reasons, the technology supported activity will squeeze some thing out of the existing ecology, so we should have good grounds for thinking that a new approach will be educationally better than what has gone before or we should design activities for situations where teachers and learners believe improvement is needed. Tackling such challenges will mean that technology will provide a solution to a problem and not just appear as an answer to a question that perhaps no-one has asked.

My gloss on this is that everything is ambiguous, and that attempts to completely remove this ambiguity and/or abstract away from a particular context are doomed to failure.

One approach that Higgins introduces in a presentation (no date), entitled SynergyNet: Exploring the potential of a multi-touch classroom for teaching and learning, is CSCL. I don’t think I’d heard of this before:

Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a pedagogical approach where in learning takes place via social interaction using a computer or through the Internet. This kind of learning is characterized by the sharing and construction of knowledge among participants using technology as their primary means of communication or as a common resource. CSCL can be implemented in online and classroom learning environments and can take place synchronously or asynchronously. (Wikipedia)

The particular image that grabbed me from Higgins’ presentation was this one:

CSCL

This reminds me of the TPACK approach, but more focused on the kind of work that I do from home most weeks:

One of the most common approaches to CSCL is collaborative writing. Though the final product can be anything from a research paper, a Wikipedia entry, or a short story, the process of planning and writing together encourages students to express their ideas and develop a group understanding of the subject matter. Tools like blogs, interactive whiteboards, and custom spaces that combine free writing with communication tools can be used to share work, form ideas, and write synchronously. (Wikipedia)

CSCL activities seem like exactly the kind of things we should be encouraging to prepare both teachers and young people for the future:

Technology-mediated discourse refers to debates, discussions, and other social learning techniques involving the examination of a theme using technology. For example, wikis are a way to encourage discussion among learners, but other common tools include mind maps, survey systems, and simple message boards. Like collaborative writing, technology-mediated discourse allows participants that may be separated by time and distance to engage in conversations and build knowledge together. (Wikipedia)

Going through Higgins’ work reminds me how much I miss doing this kind of research!


Note: I wrote an academic paper with Steve Higgins that was peer-reviewed via my social network rather than in a journal. It’s published on my website and Digital literacy, digital natives, and the continuum of ambiguity. I’ve also got a (very) occasional blog where I discuss this kind of stuff at ambiguiti.es.


Photo by Daniel von Appen

Badges: talking at cross purposes?

Over the weekend I had a discussion with Dave Cormier in the comments section of my DMLcentral post Gaining Some Perspective on Badges for Lifelong Learning. I wanted to capture it here and add a couple of additional comments.

Dead Parrot Sketch

Dave seems to have taken issue with the ‘over-simplification’ of badges. I think he’s arguing that (informal?) education is too complex a problem for badges to be the solution.

The more I think about it, the more I think we were talking at cross-purposes. He was (again, I think) talking about explaining complexity whereas I was talking about solutions towards solving complex problems. I may be wrong.

Additionally, I have read precisely zero articles or books on complexity and chaos theory. Dave probably has read lots.

I’d love to know what you make of it.


Dave:

Hi Doug,

Thanks for the foil. Everything i see here, however nicely argue and layer out, still leads to the same thing. Someone has to agree on what the targets are.

In the ‘automatic/skill’ sections, they are only automatic in time, at some point, someone had to create an artifice that separates the world into things that ‘can be reached’

In the application/Community section, the rewards are going to be as much about sociality and power than they will be about ‘recognition’. The problem with the badge in this case, is that it divorces the ‘reward’ from the context of power and sociality.

I don’t see how any of your practical applications allow us to apply badges to complexity. Given this… we move things towards simple knowledge. This is not the direction I”m hoping to go in… how about you? Do you see a way that badges can support complexity?

Doug:

Hi Dave, thanks for the comment.

In response:

1. For something to be credentialised there has to be a ‘thing’ to be credentialised. That can be a target set by anyone – but yes, there needs to be a target. Otherwise there’d be no point in the credential, right?

2. I find the ‘X will be Y’ part of your position problematic. As I’ve argued above, I see badges as an emergent ecosystem. I agree there’s going to be issues around power and control. But then, *every* system has those issues. Don’t they?

3. I believe that the ‘answer’ (if there is one) to complexity is simplicity. It’s something tangential to badges, as far as I see them, but to assume that complex problems require complex answers needs a bit more explanation/evidence to my mind.

I’d love to discuss this synchronously sometime. 🙂

Dave:

Hey Doug,

1. Credentialing requires a thing to be credentialised. Maybe not… at least not rings in terms of small pieces of knowing. I’m not purposefully trying to split hairs here, but I feel comfortable with someone who knows how to do something saying “that person over there can now do this thing”. That’s how mentorship and apprenticeship tends to work. We went down the DACUM road, for instance, to try and break that into pieces that could be ‘things to be credentials’. Many colleges have moved away from this because it kinda misses the point of knowing things. I see badges as a potential return to the DACUM view of the world.

2. Badges may or may not be part of an ’emerging ecosystem’ whatever that might mean, but no, not every system has the same issue. Some systems try to leave things IN their context so they can be understood as part of a whole. Others are designed to REMOVE them from context. I think that’s pretty different.

3. I don’t know what “simplicity is the answer to complexity” could possibly mean… so i’m assuming we don’t mean the same thing when we say complexity. If answering the question “how do I raise my child to be a good person” (in my mind, a very important, and obviously complex question) has a simple answer I’d love to hear it.

I imagine the ‘parenting badges’ that would be the response to that, and I imagine them forcing ‘parenting types’ and ‘parenting stages’ and ‘child types’ and ‘child stages’ on the world.

Doug:

Hi Dave,

1. So the person over there who can now do this thing gets the Dave Cormier seal of approval. That may or may not be a badge. I don’t know.

2. I’m unsure of your point here – especially given that there’s an evidence layer to badges? Isn’t that the context right there?

3. I’m guessing you haven’t got a parenting manual. Certainly my two didn’t come with one. So I’m approaching them with love. A simple answer to complex behaviours. Working OK so far…

I’m definitely *not* of the opinion that badges are the answer to everything. Nor do I believe that badges should replace the existing qualifications/credentials/awards we’ve got. What it *does* provide, however, is an alternative that we all get to shape.

And I can’t see how that’s a bad thing. 🙂

Dave:

Well… a little rhetorical bantering and heart string tugging.

On twitter… you say “i’m falling into the either or camp”

Whether i am or not is not relevant to the discussion here. It’s a nice rhetorical move, but it doesn’t change the discussion. I have concerns about badges and the oversimplification of knowledge and attainment particularly as it decontextualizes power, social-ness and privilege.

1. Yes. a dave cormier seal of approval (assuming a community thought i knew anything) would be just fine. I don’t think that’s ‘badge’ as you have defined it here. Badge, as I understand your interpretation, is an ‘agreed upon standard’ by some standard agreeing upon group.

2. No. an ‘evidence layer’ is not what i mean by context. Context is the space in which the learning/knowledge/thingy was negotiated. Not the ‘things that the standards group decided was evidence’.

3. Love is a very nice sentiment… but all it means is that i have to move to a different example. How about the world energy issues or something else. Do you comune with love to decide whether it makes sense for you child to have a cupcake… or do you think about the balance between their wanting it and enjoying it and the sugar it contains.

I have in no way suggested that they aren’t an interesting option we should try. You have read that on to me. I have said that in your commentary you haven’t addressed complexity. You have responded by saying ‘complexity doesn’t exist, your jus tasking the question wrong’.

If that is your position… cool. But is it really? Do you really think the world is a simple place where simple answers to questions like poverty, overpopulation, education i the third world will actually work?

I got asked recently “how do we go about training 500 million new people in the next 9 years?’ Complex problem. Simple solution?

Doug:

Hmmm… this is exactly the kind of thing I want to avoid. :-/

“I have concerns about badges and the oversimplification of knowledge and attainment particularly as it decontextualizes power, social-ness and privilege.”

If you say that ‘X means Y’ and I disagree, then we’re falling into opposing camps. Neither of us can point to any evidence. Because there isn’t any. Yet.

“I have said that in your commentary you haven’t addressed complexity. You have responded by saying ‘complexity doesn’t exist, your jus tasking the question wrong’.”

Where/when did I say ‘complexity doesn’t exist’? I’m fairly sure I said that the way to approach complex problems is to try to apply simple solutions. That’s vastly different.

And the answer to your question about training 500 million people in the next 9 years? One person at a time. Not as facetious as it sounds. 😉

Dave:

doug.

Re: x means y. There is always and never evidence. I have described how i think it moves towards the simplification of knowledge. Badges are not exactly ‘new’ in concept just because they’ve been branded differently.

re: complexity – if you are saying that ‘there are simple answers’ then we aren’t using the word ‘complexity’ the same way. If you say ‘apply simple solutions’ you are changing the meaning of complexity. Something that is complex, like a weather pattern, doesn’t have a simple explanation. If you say it does, we’re having two separate conversations.

Saying it has a ‘simple solution’ is saying it is not ‘complexity’.

If it’s not facetious, i don’t know what it is. 1 at a time isn’t not a scaling solution for India’s education problem.

Doug:

I’m not quite sure how we got from alternative forms of credentialing to weather patterns, but hey.

You’ve subtlely shifted from ‘solving problems’ to ‘explaining them’. They’re two different beasts. I can go to umbrellatoday.com to solve my immediate problem of whether to take an umbrella to work with me or not. I don’t need to explain how weather systems work to do so. It’s a simple solution to a (potentially) complex problem.

I don’t think India’s education problem has much, if anything, to do with badges directly. If you’re saying that it’s an example of a complex problem then, yes, I’d say that you/they/whoever are looking at it in the wrong way.

I’m out. Perhaps we could follow this up with blog posts? 🙂

Have YOU got any comments on our discussion? I’d love to hear them!

Image CC BY-NC-SA Dunechaser

PS The exchange inspired Terry Wassall to write this post.

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