Attending the IOC 2006 Conference – some highlights

Last week, I attended the Illinois Online Conference 2006 where we also created a web poster session (asynchronous format) on the International Collaborative Literature Project between two schools in Israel and my school in Montreal. While I was not able to get to very many of live synchronous presentation using Elluminate, fortunately all of the sessions were video-captured and can still be viewed when I login to the conference site. I have been able to visit a number of the presentations later this way and was impressed at the scope of the conference and encouraged to see so many other teachers also using technology tools, such as moodle, podcasts and wikis.

As I have listened to the various presentations, I now find myself trying to connect the dots between web 2.0, pedagogy, multiple literacies, critical thinking, self-reflection, metacognition, and the new learning theory of connectivism. George Siemens had an excellent (though much too brief!) presentation on his new learning theory of connectivism and it provided much food for thought.

Some of the highlights of his presentation that I found interesting:

Educators are nervous about democratization of the classroom and learning environments

Democracy is irritating – classrooms are the last bastion of ultimate communist or dictatorship – we teachers are accustomed to control

Technology/web tools push control to end user – eliminate need for instructor to key point from whom all information flows

Acceleration of information – knowledge growth is accelerating to the point of doubling in very short periods of time. This raises the question of how do we cope with the volume and diversity of information which is stunning and overwhelming? More than ever, we educators need to be spending a lot of time reflecting and thinking about our thinking (metacognition).

And further, how do we train our students to cope with the volume of information?

Half-life /shelf life of knowledge – knowledge has shelf-life, particularly practical implementation knowledge – theoretical knowledge has longer shelf-life – this should have implications on what we choose to teach to our students

How to learn is more important than discrete info being learned.

Siemen’s presented the five C’s of today’s learning climate:

Continual suspended certainty – we don’t know how long knowledge will last
Connected specialization – as indiv., we are no longer able to entirely possess specialized knowledges in ourselves – we need to be connected to a network of knowledge
Chaotic (diverse and messy)

He complained that our courses as a mode of learning provision do not function in dynamic environments and do not adapt rapidly. The flow is still from instructor to learner. Siemens argues that we need courses with less content and more reflection. I think I concur with that. While we still need to teach the lower-end of Bloom’s taxomony, perhaps we need to teach less content and provide more opportunities to reflect so that our students have time to engage in critical thinking activities that represent the higher order thinking skills of the taxonomy.

I particularly liked his idea that learning is a network creation process where educators serve the role of enabling connections to content (“create the pipe”). We should be in the business of providing “metaskills” for continual learning. Know-how and know-what should be replaced by know-where.

When I was attending his presentation, I raised the question of where standardized testing fit into this model of learning. He responded to my question by stating that standardization has value for certain types of knowledge; however, are we understanding the right tool for the right process?

Later, I attended a presentation by Chris Sutton, an Australian online educator, on multiple literacies. Literacy is defined as making meaning from written and spoken language. Currently, we have a complex set of multiple languages – meaning from sounds, signs and symbols in many modes of publication – written, spoken, highly visual, spatial, linguistic, iconic/signistic. She pointed out that learning styles are evolving as a result multiple literacies. Her challenge to present our students with digital literacy opportunities has had me thinking through how much and in what ways our current lesson plans are reflecting this.

Lastly, I had opportunity to listen to a number of podcasts recently about Web 2.0 and its implications for education. Stephen Downes presented a good definition of Web 2.0 – and there are many available on the web. Web 2.0 represents webpages that are interactive and content is distributed all over. The webpage is more than static information but acts as an application. Web 1.0 represents earlier webpages that are independent of each other while 2.0 is interoperable with other webpages. Blogs, wikis, and even Gmail are examples of Web 2.0 tools.