13 April 2012

Welcome to the Online Seminar series of the Cross Fields course Doctoral School on informal learning


Welcome all to the Online Seminar of the Cross Fields course Doctoral School on informal learning! In the weeks to come, I will share specifically with the students of this course some of my ideas about informal learning, or non-formal learning, as I prefer to call it. More about this at a later stage in the course, though. To show my cards immediately, I am convinced that informal learning stands to profit immensely from a networked approach. That is, I believe that the usual ways in which we educate and train people, using schools, curricula, exams, etc. are ill suited for non-formal learners; and this is particularly so for advanced and lifelong learners. This has always been the case, but it was difficult to act upon it due to all sorts of practical constraints. However, at present, with the advent of the Internet, the information web (1.0) and particularly the social web (2.), we have the tools at hand to create entirely different and in my view much richer and more effective learning environments, learning environments also that can cater for the needs of non-formal learners. This may to some extent be an unproven assumption, but that should not detain us from trying to build such environments and experiment with them. I call them Learning Networks and in this course we will try to come to grips with what they are, what pedagogical principles could underpin them and what technological tools could sustain them. We will be exploring these questions in a learning environment that itself in many ways resembles a Learning Network. That is, we will not just talk the talk of non-formal, networked learning, but also walk its walk, even though four weeks hardly suffice to do so!

In these four weeks we will first address the issue of the pedagogical challenges of non-formal learning (week 1), then its technological challenges (week 2). In both weeks you will be asked to read a blogpost of mine (for details, see below) and provide extensive comments on the questions/topics for discussion I identify in it. Of course, when doing so, you will identify topics and issues yourself and these should be the basis of comments too. The blog merely forms the starting for collective reflections by you, which should help you make sense of such notions as non-formal learning and networked learning. In addition to the blogpost I will recommend one or two papers for further reading. I urge you to read these as they provide a different or more elaborate angle on the topic of the blogpost. The recommended papers will sit in a private Mendeley reading list (it is recommended that you get a Mendeley account). There also is an extensive, public list on Mendeley with background materials on networked learning. Apart from commenting on the blogpost, I urge you to send out tweets, for instance when reading the blogpost or the papers, using the group hashtag #XfieldDS (requires a Twitter account, which I urge you to get). These tweets will be automatically collected and fed back to you (probably using HootSuit), so you have a sense of how the group feels and thinks about how things are going. Each week is closed off by an online seminar, in which we can discuss things in real time. The tool to be used - Flashmeeting - allows turn taking when speaking, but a chat is always available as a back channel. So even if someone speaks, all others can comment immediately. Both the audio and chat will be recorded so that they are available after the session.

Are the first two weeks mainly devoted to consumptive learning, even though admittedly commenting and tweeting are productive forms of learning, the final two weeks are devoted to productive learning mainly. That is, you will be asked to pick a topic for a short paper (week 3) and write a short essay about it (week 4). The essay should have a length of about a 1000 to 1500 words excluding references (really not so much, if you consider that the above already amounts to almost 600 words!). At the end of week 3, a Flashmeeting is scheduled, but it will be an unsupervised one. That is, you as students should organise and moderate it yourselves, I only have reserved a slot. Furthermore, you should all start writing in your individual Googledoc. document, so that others can easily read it, comment on it and also see its revision history. Also, I urge you to keep tweeting at #XfieldDS to maintain that sense of collaborative learning. Share your thoughts, questions, moments of elation and despair. The papers are due Monday, May the 21st. I will then read them and give feedback to you on them. They also form the basis of the assessment of your performance in the course, for which the executive director of the Doctoral School of course carries the final responsibility. As far as I am concerned, your grasp of the theoretical issues of non-formal and networked learning matter, but no less does your attitude of actively trying to figure out how networked learning can be made to work in an environment like the present one.

After the course's ending, when I send you my feedback, I intend to also to ask you to fill out a short questionnaire with questions about the course topic and the technical infrastructure used. Below I have summarized the course schedule for your benefit.

Course schedule

week 1: April 23-30

week 2: April 30 - May 7

week 3: May 7 - 14

  • study load: 4 hours
  • topic: picking a topic for the paper, 1000 to 1500 words excluding references; start writing using Google docs
  • reading material: blogpost at http://pbsloep.blogger.com called week 3, picking a paper topic 
  • interaction: tweets to #XfieldDS, keeping each other posted about your progress; joint Flashmeeting, in which every student should spend maximally 5 minutes to explain her/his paper topic. May 11 from 2.00 pm to 3.00 pm at  http://fm.ea-tel.eu/fm/e17a45-298http://fm.ea-tel.eu/fm/e17a45-2982525 Please note, changed starting time.
  • background material: public Mendeley group on networked learning

week 4: May 14 -21

  • study load: 5 hours 
  • topic: finishing the paper
  • reading material: blogpost at http://pbsloep.blogger.com with some trips and tricks called week 4, writing the paper 
  • interaction: none as this is work done best alone, but the usual channel of tweets to #XfieldDS is available 
  • background material: public Mendeley group on networked learning
  • paper is due Monday, May 21, at midnight

Finally, please note that not all posts have been written yet, I will do so as the course unfolds. Second, I am using my regular blog for this course, so you will also see posts in this blog that are not course bound. Ignore them, but feel free to peruse them though.

Acknowledgement This blog has been written as part of a course in the online Cross Field programme (CROSS-FertilizatIon betwEen formal and informal Learning through Digital technologies). The doctoral programme is lead by Prof. Lorenzo Cantoni (Universit√† della Svizzera italians), involves Prof. Dieter Euler (University of S. Gallen) and Prof. Pierre Dillenbourg (EPFL) and is managed by Dr. Isabella Rega, its executive director.

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Please, leave your comments. I do moderate comments, only in an effort to blog spam. That's all. So rest assured, I'll only weed out off-topic comments but emphatically I will not block comments that are critical or negative. The one exception to that rule is if the commentator hides in anonymity. I see this blog as a way to air my views and engage with others on them. But what is the point of a discussion if you don't know with whom you are talking?