As a student, participation in NGL was useful for me

As a student, participation in NGL was useful for me

The journey undertaken as a student of this course might best be described as a roller coaster ride.  A ride with seemingly endless twist and turns, new learnings and discoveries filled with great highs and great lows.  The ride can be thrilling, even exhilarating, or, on the other hand, terrifying and unsettling.  Therefore in endeavouring to evaluate my position concerning the effectiveness of networked and global learning (NGL) in my journey as a student I am somewhat torn. The experience has proven to be, unexpectedly, a very personal journey, albeit in a public setting.  The challenge for me has been to resolve the tension between this new learning experience and my professional experience to date, together with the long held beliefs and views that have generally served me well.  I found some comfort in Kligyte’s (2009) words that this uncertainty is somewhat common in the NGL experience stating that “[h]owever unsettling other learning and teaching ideas often feel…networked learning and network literacy consistently receives the most extreme reactions from the participants; either absolute enthusiasm or complete rejection.”  This is where my journey began, surrounded by uncertainty, missing a more formal course structure, questioning myself, my beliefs and even my capabilities, hanging on for dear life and hoping things would get better.  Throughout it all I clung to Kligyte’s (2009) words that it is participation in a program that “encourages academics to question their teaching practice and beliefs, examine their biography as a learner and take a reflective approach to developing their teaching, which, although initially quite challenging and confronting, often results in transformative learning experience.”  In the end, I have concluded that  the challenge of the NGL ride has in fact proven to be the catalyst for the transformative change I had been looking for on my return to higher education.

A hybrid model of the NGL experience

The debate surrounding connectivism and constructivism aside, the nature of the NGL learning experience in this course has been intriguing.  Over time my understanding of this experience has led to a pooling of ideas, a hybrid blend of ladders, thresholds—a much loved childhood game.  Regardless of ideology or pedagogical preference, the lessons for learning, I believe are universal.

Wittgenstein’s ladder (Perloff 1996 as cited in Bigum & Ronin, 2013), consists of the simple idea, that the process of learning something new can be seen as the successfully complete of a series of steps.  Learner progresses to the next rung of the ladder when they have successful mastered the skill or acquired the knowledge needed to take that next step.  The poignancy of this analogue becomes clearer when combined with Meyer & Land’s (2003 as cited in Kligyte, 2009) five threshold concepts; troublesome, discursive, liminality, integrative and irreversible.  I have come to understand that threshold concepts are “akin to a portal, opening up a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about something” (Meyer & Land, 2003 as cited in Kligyte, 2009).  Thus when combined with the ideology of Wittgenstein’s ladder, threshold concepts could also be seen as steps, the rungs of the ladder a person much climb in order to achieve transformation.  The blending of these two key learnings has enabled me to better visualise and place my current learning on that continuum.  Previously I have identified as sitting just over half way up this hybrid ladder of NGL learning –teetering between the ‘discursive’ and ‘liminality’ stages. The ‘liminality’ stage “involves messy journeys back, fore and across conceptual terrain” (Cousins 2006 as cited in Kligyte, 2009) and while I believe I have made significant progress and am almost ready to cross the threshold and take that next step, I still, at times, find myself at the mercy of the final component of my hybrid model of the NGL experience—that much loved game of ‘Snakes and Ladders’.  In her web log, Marincowitz (2014) describes the learning process:

as a series/network of ladders connecting vertically, horizontally and diagonally, like the board game snakes and ladders. I thought of how one would often climb up the ladder of learning, just to realize at the very top that one has missed some important step at the bottom. One would then slide down and start all over again. I think it would be useful to think about learning as a game that could be played over and over and not to see losing one game as failure, but rather as a motivation to immediately “start a new game.” At some point you’ll win the battle!

Much of my learning and efforts to embrace NGL have felt much like the ‘game’ Marincowitz describes; several steps forward only to sometimes feel like you have suddenly lost ground and embark on the climb again.  These key learnings, however, have helped me to better focus on the process rather than the outcome, and through that reflection, begin to see the progress that I am making.

Building a network – unexpected benefits

While I have generally seen learning as a very personal and private endeavour, I have come to appreciate how embracing a more connected and networked approach to my own learning can lead to unexpected benefits.  My personal philosophy has been that “[l]earning requires active participation by the learner [after all] [l]earning is not passive” (Bonzo & Parchoma, 2010).  Though, not yet a convert to constructivism or connectivism, I do now see that “[m]eaningful learning occurs with knowledge construction, not reproduction; conversation, not reception; articulation, not repetition; collaboration, not competition; and reflection, not prescription” (Jonassen et al., 2003 as cited in Drexler, 2010).  The blogging component of this course has encouraged participants to construct knowledge through articulation, conversation and reflection.  The reflective nature of the blogging experience, however, made for public learning (Bigum & Ronin, 2013), an aspect I found difficult.  The desire to create posts worthy of other’s consideration and to present polished articulate viewpointswith what I began to perceive as the ‘messiness’ of my thinking , contributed to the struggle.  However, as difficult as this process has been, upon reflection of my working within the classroom, I can now encourage and celebrate ‘messy learning’.  I truly believe that learners need more ‘aha’ and ‘click’ moments and these come through exploration where the learner has the time and space to make mistakes, reflect upon them and learn from them (Bigum & Ronin, 2013). If “[h]aving the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them becomes a key element in ladder climbing” then it seems reasonable to permit myself the same freedom to learn – walk the talk, so to speak!  After all “[p]rogress is so much closer to learning than who’s got the top score!” (Nottingham, 2012) a sentiment shared by Mitchell (2014) in which she draws on the work of George Siemens –

there is a grand narrative that asserts “learning is a wonderfully smooth process of running through meadows.” “No,” he asserts, “learning is violent.” The paradigm shifts and “restructuring” of neuro-pathways, or of just conventional ways of thinking causes the learner to initially feel “frustrated” or “irritated.” (I know I have certainly felt the former.) However, he says, when the learner persists he or she will become active “sense-makers,” meaning connected individuals who contribute to learning rather than “duplicate” what is known (Mitchell, 2014)

A key component of this has been that the course structure has placed learning in the “contexts and relationships rather than merely in the minds of individuals” (Anderson & Dron, 2012).  While again, this has taken some getting used to, the opportunity to ‘eavesdrop’ on the learning of others has provided me with valuable insights and perspectives which have enhanced my learning experience.  The learning network created by this course, while social, provides the “means to follow, query and reflect upon topic with significant others as well as the undifferentiated crowd” (Anderson & Dron, 2012).  As time passed and the blogging terrain became more familiar, I began to find my tribe (Godin, 2009) – those who seemed to share a similar ideology to myself (Goodyear, 2014).  There were key moments in our exchanges that were truly exciting as we began to build on one another’s ideas and steer our learning is a direction of our choosing.  It was here that I began to truly understand NGL’s potential.  Given the time and freedom to explore further, I wonder if this circle—this tribe—would have continued to grow, or whether it would have become increasingly insular and disconnected from those who think a little differently (Goodyear, 2014).  An important consideration to take away in looking to develop and/or participate in NGL in the future.

Student characteristics and NGL success

In evaluating the effectiveness of the NGL experience for me as a student, I believe that a certain skill set would be beneficial, if not essential, to assist students to navigate these waters successfully.

The nature of online learning differs significantly in structure and format to the traditional schooling with which most learners are familiar and, as research suggests, success in the traditional setting may not equate to success in online learning (Cheung & Kan, 2002; Phipps & Mertisotis, 1999; Tucker, 2001 as cited in Wojciechowski & Palmer, 2005).  This is an important distinction as, while certain skills maybe transferable, deficits in reading, writing and computer literacies, the ability to learn independently, self-motivation (Kerr et al., 2006) and self-efficacy could prove counter-productive to the learning experience.  Though as Palloff and Pratt (1999 as cited in Kerr et al., 2006) also suggest, “by the end of an online course, a complete novice is likely to have gained enough skill to continue to engage with technology with some degree of confidence”.  It would seem “learning as one goes is a viable and successful strategy for improving one’s online computer skills” (Kerr et al., 2006) and one does wonder if the same might be said for other areas of deficit.  Still, as an educator I cannot help but find myself dwelling on this aspect of the student experience and is this something that I can afford to leave to chance?

Li and Beverly (2008 as cited in Thomson, 2010) noted that “in the online environment there is a much greater potential for misunderstanding” as there “tend to be fewer opportunities for the sort of informal interactions between students and between teacher and student that serve to reinforce expectations and clarify misunderstandings” (Dykman and Davis, 2008 as cited in Thomson, 2010).  I certainly have found this to be the case in my own experiences with NGL and while I have generally been able to work through these difficulties, it has at times impacted on my self-believe, forcing me to question myself in ways that have not contributed productively to my learning experience.  Again, while we are all learn in different ways, this is an aspect of NGL that I would certainly give considerable consideration, due in no small part to the influence and needs of my area of speciality within the classroom.

“Many of the terms used to describe the 21st-century educator—facilitator, guide, coach, curator—imply an effort to connect learners to the world they are learning about. Of course, that part of our job description requires us to be learners ourselves.”  (Warlick, 2009)  While this may be confronting it reminds us of the importance and value in providing learning experiences that are not ‘tidy’. Experiences that allow ourselves and student the freedom to explore, makes mistakes and wrong turn, abandon ideas and paths to pursue other lines on inquiry (Bigum & Ronin, 2013).  NGL has “emerged as new learning paradigms that reflect the ability of today’s learner to access endless sources of information, build relationships with others, and collaborate and develop knowledge, all often done outside the formal education environment, on a scale not seen before” (Siemens 2005, Blackall 2007 as cited in Kligyte, 2009).  Recognising that perhaps one of the most valuable tools available to assist us in our learning “is the network itself” (Anderson & Dron, 2012).

Nine weeks on, the ride has not necessarily been enjoyable, but I increasingly see where it might led and more importantly what impact it might have for my students in the future.  There is no doubt that NGL has been a disruptive force in my life as someone who “(h)istorically [does] not cope well with disruption, especially in the short term” (Bonzo & Parchoma, 2010).  It has put pressure on me in ways I never imagined when enrolling in this course.  It has forced me to step beyond my comfort zone.  It has challenged me to strive to maintain a growth mindset (Dweck, 2010) as I grapple to find order in the old and the new.  With that in mind, I continue to strap myself in and look to the next phase of this NGL rollercoaster, hopeful of  a little less bumpy in the week ahead!


REFERENCES

Anderson, T. & Dron, J. (2012). Learning technology through three generations of technology enhanced distance education pedagogy. Retrieved July 29, 2014, from http://www.eurodl.org/?p=archives&year=2012&halfyear=2&article=523

Bigum, C and Rowan, L. (2013). Ladders, Learning and Lessons from Charlie: exploring the potential of public click pedagogy. Working Paper (2). A paper submitted as part of an actor-network theory double symposium organised by Steve Wright for the 9th International Networked Learning Conference 2014.

Bonzo, J., & Parchoma, G. (2010). The paradox of social media and higher education institutions. In Proceedings of the 7th international conference on networked learning (p. p917).

Drexler, Z. (2010). The networked student model for construction of personal learning environment: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. In Australian Journal of Education Technology, 26 (3), 369-385.  Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/drexler.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

Dweck, C. (2010). Mindset. Retrieved September 8, 2014 from http://mindsetonline.com/whatisit/about/index.html

Godin, S. (2009, February). The tribes we lead [Video post]. Video posted to https://www.ted.com/talks/seth_godin_on_the_tribes_we_lead

Goodyear, P. (2014), Productive Learning Networks.  The Evolution of Research and Practice. In Carvalho, L. & Goodyear, P. (Eds.), The Architecture of Productive Learning Networks. (pp. 23-47). New York: Routledge.

Kligyte, G. (2009). Threshold concept: A lens for examining networked learning. In Same places, different spaces. Proceedings Ascilite Auckland 2009. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/auckland09/procs/kligyte-poster.pdf

Marincowitz, M. (2014, August 1). Week 1 Minute Paper [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://mari4art.wordpress.com/2014/08/01/week-1-minute-paper/

Mitchell, A. (2014, August 9). A sea of information: run! [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://lifechanginglearning.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/a-sea-of-information-run.html

Nottingham, J. (2012, October 25). Labels limit learning [Video file].  Video posted to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=viHaslVc9cc

Thomson, D. L. (2010). Beyond the classroom walls: Teachers’ and students’ perspectives on how online learning can meet the needs of gifted students. Journal of Advanced Academics21(4), 662-712. Retrieved September 8, 2014 from http://joa.sagepub.com/content/21/4/662.short

Warlick, D. (2009) Growing your own personal learning network: New Technologies Can Keep You Connected and Help You Manage Information Overload. Learning and Leading with Technology. 12-16. Retrieved from  http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.usq.edu.au/ehost/viewarticle?data=dGJyMPPp44rp2%2fdV0%2bnjisfk5Ie46%2b%2bN49vsRuvX54as2%2baH8eq%2bUK2nskewpq9Mnqu4SLewrlGet8s%2b8ujfhvHX4Yzn5eyB4rO0Uberr0uyq7Q%2b6tfsf7vb7D7i2Lt98N%2fhPvLX5VW%2fxKR57LPDYrapr0yxq6R%2b7ejrefKz5I3q4vJ99uoA&hid=410

Wojciechowski, A., & Palmer, L. B. (2005). Individual student characteristics: Can any be predictors of success in online classes?. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration8(2).

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