Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Reply to Stephen Downes' "The Knowledge Hunters"

This is a reply to Stephen Downes who kindly took the time to address some of my criticisms on his blog, Half an Hour, in his posting entitled, "The Knowledge Hunters".


Hi Stephen

I've read back over my review and cannot find a reference to any "Downseian fanatical training agenda".

What I did say was :

"an attempt was made at ConVerge 2010 to promote and massage this Downesian connective knowledge theory into the government's fanatical training agenda."

I am not accusing you of fanaticism. The point I was making is that an educational theory espoused by you is being tailored to fit the questionable and narrow educational agendas of others ie. the entrepreneurs of a particular eductional ideology endorsed by Govt/Industry. No great surprise. A reduced, simplistic version of what you are talking about sits very nicely with the e-learning sales pitch of most institutions here in Australia : learning what you like, when you like, wherever and however you like --- making sure of course you do it on their platform, using their software, working within the parameters they allow, conforming to the rigid, received competency standards they articulate ... and most importanty, paying big bucks for the privilege!

This is not "Open Learning" as far as I am concerned. It is also contrary to any tradition of Open Source sharing, free exchange and social networking.

You say, and I totally concur :

""we are probably very much in agreement - there is very much a contradiction between what I would encourage in an educational system and what those who envision a fleet of learning management systems, core vocabularies and competencies, and standardized assessment mechanisms would envision."

In your reply you hone in on my mention of observing students note taking, give it a interesting twist and transform it into evidence of questionable practice on my part.

You say:

[what you do] ... "sounds like a desire to engage students in creativity and participation, but is actually a countervailing edict. Unless there is an active discussion taking place (in which case we might still see some note-taking, but demonstrably less) what is being lost is rather their rapt attention as someone feeds them 'the facts'. That's not engagement, activity, or anything of the sort. It's receptivity."

Are you suggesting that any kind of explicit instruction or presentation when it is required (eg. a sentence written on a whiteboard by the teacher to illustrate a part of speech, verb tense or language point for the purposes of explanation/clarification and ultimately practise by the students ) is not kosher?

It's easy to characterize presentation as ineffectual, boring, "receptive" or as just "feeding facts". It is often a small part or lead-in to the staging of subsequent interaction or other more engaged activities. Let's be honest -- presentation, as a time honoured technique, is used by a range of teachers (and others - you?) across a range of teaching situations.

My students have at best a very confused knowledge of these lingustic "facts". In the first instance, the information presented to the group does indeed require some attention, thought and engagement with the one person in the room who actually does have a thorough knowledge of it -- the native speaking, English teacher. I don't see anything particularly contraversial about that. I'd hardly describe this as craving "rapt attention". Many language learners - often with little experience of the classroom - copy the board because they think that's what students are meant to do or what the teacher expects.

Personally Stephen I have no trouble with PLENK. As I said in my initial post, it's an approach for people like you and me, for those who already have had the opportunity to acquire a solid educational foundation. The approach, it seems to me, requires a capacity to explore and exploit the tools, to access and criticially sort social networks, to have the wherewithal to negotiate new media and genres productively and independently.

You say:

"... I am dismayed when people say that students today just don't have the chops to manage their own learning. It's a denial of the sort of education, of the sort of life, that is worth living. It is to suggest, contra all the evidence to the contrary, that there's no point teaching them to live their own lives, because they'll never learn."

I agree, questions of learning run deep. There is, therefore, a serious responsibility for teachers to ensure learners are not left floundering -- as was often the case in the 70s under the regime of what you call Discovery Learning.

I am not opposed to supporting students in "learning to learn", of helping them establish the foundation they need to function and participate in a complex 21st century society. My own work in this area has been pretty substantial - any doubts check out this link.

Students do, however, need that initial foundation (literacy and numeracy, technology basics). And dare I say, this might involve some form of traditional work in the classroom and computer lab - with the teacher (God forbid)taking the lead!

You say:

"I know, oh I know, that many students and even adults are not in a position to manage their own learning. They do not have the skills and discipline. This is unfortunate, because it leaves them dependent and unable to adapt."

Even in that admission I pick up a hint of hostility to the idea that a "teacher" might be needed? (They - the students - will always be "dependent") Would it be better to leave them to their own devices?

Since there seem to be problems in your scheme associated with learners "without skills and discipline", I wonder then if you really believe PLENK is universally applicable?


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