Thursday, August 17, 2006

Closing the gap between informal and formal learning (not to mention uses of technology)?

I went along to a lunchtime elearning seminar at University of Canberra today, where Robert Fitzgerald and Lynn Sheridan shared their research and teaching of pre-service teachers using some social web tools in conjunction with their LMS based courses in their PICTL Project. They have used Elgg to encourage students to share their work and develop e-portfolio style information in conjunction with their practicals and assessment work. They also used Zing, a computer based visual brainstorming program, which was used for sessions within schools with year 7 and year 10 student groups.

I was interested in the recurring comments by Lynn and Robert, as well as from their students, about how difficult it would be to implement these new technologies in schools, given the heavy restrictions placed on web-based activities in schools. Robert recounted one instance where teachers in a school had to apply three weeks in advance of a class in which they wanted the students in their lesson to use Google for some internet searching!

One concluding point Robert raised that struck me was the fact that (they noticed) there was a gap between the informal and formal uses of the technology by school students. For example, students used services like MySpace at home, but at school there was no way MySpace was used (access of course was denied). It begged the question about the impbalance of 'policing' of internet use by children which showed the gap between home use (who's managing the use?) and school use (almost nil).

Pre-service teachers wondered how they could possibly bring such technology into the classroom when there was obviously a lack of support and understanding at government department levels as well as within schools themselves. Some schools were opting to take responsibility for student (and staff) use of the internet to a degree, despite the 'zero tolerance' approach by state government levels to minimise internet access for schools.

I see that the lines between informal and formal learning are blurring somewhat, which is interesting in comparison with the notion that the gap between informal and formal uses of technology is widening. It does call for more research and evaluation in the area, but I also think it is symptomatic of the way in which our education institutions are perhaps not responding as quickly to changes in learners, as much as the technology itself is rapidly changing. I think there is a big call for changes in the way we (prefer to?) administrate, given that our governance is what tends to mediate other 'systems' (like security, information management, records management, etc).

This discussion reminded me of an earlier discussion I've had with others (like Susan Smith Nash and her article at Xplana) on the future possibilities and potentialities of education. I've revisited this, and picked up again on a post by Nash, as well as Tama Leaver, who asked what will elearning loook like in 2016?

Seimens is on the right track, I think, in theorising new ways of learning in order to keep track of the way people are in fact learning.

How can we learn from the ways in which technology is changing people's behaviour, as well as how people are innovating ways to use technology to address or mediate their everyday needs (including learning needs)? Does this necessarily mean that digital natives are also 'learning natives'?! [hmmmm, maybe?... humans are curious beings aren't they :o)!] There are ways by which technology can metaphorise a transferability of learning, as Kay and Goldberg discussed back in 1977:

"Devices" which variously store, retrieve, or manipulate information in the form of messages embedded in a medium have been in existence for thousands of years. People use them to communicate ideas and feelings both to others and back to themselves. Although thinking goes on in one?s head, external media serve to materialize thoughts and, through feedback, to augment the actual paths the thinking follows. Methods discovered in one medium provide metaphors which contribute new ways to think about notions in other media (my emphasis, Kay and Goldberg 1977, reprinted in Wardrip-Fruin and Montfort, 2003; p.393).

I have always thought that to learn is to understand why we do the things we do, and how we can do things more efficiently; at the same time increasing our understanding of ourselves and the dynamics of the world around us. Learning how to learn is surely all the more important in today's world with the increased openness with and networked ways in which we live!

So if our education institutions seem less relevant, does this mean 'schooling' dead? Are our institutions irrelevant, if so, what needs to change? How do we make learning (and our institutions) sustainable? Who is accountable for developing strategies for enabling a future of learning? What's at stake right now... and down the track?


Kay, A. and Goldberg, A. (1977). "Personal Dynamic Media," Computer 10, 3 (March 1977), 31-41. Reprinted in Wardrip-Fruin & Montfort (eds.) The New Media Reader, MIT Press, Cambridge & c, 2003.


Robert Fitzgerald @ Elgg
'Faster van' by science duck
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