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Social Software, Personal Learning Environments and Lifelong Competence Development- Graham Attwell

Social Software, Personal Learning Environments and Lifelong Competence Development- Graham Attwell

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Published by: Graham Attwell on Jan 07, 2010
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Social Software, Personal Learning Environments and LifelongCompetence Development
Graham AttwellPontydysgugraham10@mac.com
The industrial revolution and the challenge to education
Industrial revolutions are epoch forming events, leading to fundamentalchanges in the way society is organised. Traditional industries andoccupations disappear, new industries and occupational profiles are born,large scale population movements take place and there are profoundchanges in the way in which we manage our everyday lives. We are atpresent undergoing a deep and prolonged industrial revolution based ondigital technologies on which the development of the World Wide Web anddigital communication devices are only two of the more dramatic signs. The reform and reshaping of social systems and institutions has tended tolag behind in periods of rapid technological change and education is noexception. It is arguable that in the UK the response to the first industrialrevolution of the 1840s was not seen at least at policy level until the 1903education Act which legislated for free universal primary education.Of course the new technologies have impacted on education with variousphases on innovation, culminating in the present wide scale adoption of Virtual Learning Environments. It is another feature of industrial revolutionsthat profound innovations in technology tend to be reflected in olderparadigms. thus the motor car was first entitled a horseless carriage and inthe UK early adapters were forced to employ a person to walk in front of thecar carrying a red flag! Similarly in education we have attempted to adaptthe technology to the existing paradigm of schooling with the resultingvirtual classroom and virtual college.But it is not the development of technology per se which poses such achallenge to education systems and educational institutions. It is thechanging ways in which people are using technologies to communicate andto learn and the accompanying social effect of such use. Whilsteducationalists struggle to develop popular, functional and compellingeducational technologies, young people are in their thousands signing up tosocial networking sites such as MySpace and Bebo, writing and maintainingweblogs using Open Source Software and hosted services, sharingphotographs through Flickr, participating in 3D immersive worlds like SecondLife and above all forming social communities using different on-line
messaging services such as MSN. It goes without saying that none of thesehave been designed as educational software. Of course it can be organisedthat these are just trends, in one years time MySpace will no longer be cooland the kids will be somewhere else. That is probably true but misses thepoint. Even if MySpace is no longer a cool place to be seen, the young peoplewill still be using social networking and social software for communicationand for organising their lives. The reaction of education systems and institutions to the rise of socialnetworking has been at best bewilderment, at worst downright hostility. Inthe USA an act in going through congress banning access to socialnetworking sites form publicly funded education systems. In most schoolsstudents are banned from using mobile telephones for communication inschool. Of course, their are many problems - some connected to the so called‘duty of care’ entrusted to schools - as well as many issues related tosecurity and to the longevity and ownership of data. But a refusal to engagein these issues risks school becoming increasingly irrelevant to the everydaylives of many young people and particularly irrelevant to the ways in whichthey communicate and share knowledge. Web 2.0 and social software areparticularly important in this respect. Whilst Web 1.0 was essentially a pushmedium and therefore an extension of more traditional means of communication like books or television Web 2.0 allows young people (orlearners of any age) not only to consume information and knowledge but tobe active co-creators of knowledge. Thus young people are turning awayform television - a medium for passive consumption - towards video sharingsites such as YouTube and GoogleVideo which allows them to themselvesmake and share their own content and to rate and discuss that content. The potential impact of such changes in social forms of communication canalso be seen in the furore in the UK over the (US based) web siteRateMyTeacher. Whilst previously quality of education in the UK has beenthrough external inspection by Government (indirectly) appointed ‘experts’ -Her Majesties Inspectors - students are now able to themselves rate theirteachers on-line. O(f course there are questions over the validity reliabilityof such ratings (but the validity of previous inspections could also bechallenged). But ignoring such developments and hoping they will go away -or it will just be a craze kids are going through - will not help. The changingways in which technologies are being used for (informal) learning andknowledge sharing requires a fundamental review of our entire approach t oeducation and learning including the industrial schooling model itself, theorganisation of institutions and pedagogy and curriculum. Given that deeplying reforms can take time, such a review needs to be started now.But it is not just young people who are using social software for learning. Aseven country study of the use of ICT for learning in Small and Medium
Enterprises, carried out over the last three years, found a number of surprising results There was little use of ICT for formal learning in the SMEs (in fact there waslittle formal learning taking place at all). In contrast to the paucity of formallearning provision in the SMEs studied, there was a great deal of informallearning taking place. From the study most informal learning appeared belearner driven, rather than planned in conjunction with others in theenterprise, and was problem motivated, although some learners weremotivated by their own interest rather than in response to any specificproblem. In many cases ICT was being used as part of this informal learning. The main means of ICT based learning was Google key word searches.Managers were often unaware of this learning, although they were frequentlyaware of the problem which inspired it. There were considerable differences in the use of ICT for informal learningbetween different enterprises. It would be tempting to ascribe thesedifferences to age, sector, size or occupation but it is hard to discern suchcausal factors from the case studies undertaken.None of the employees in the enterprises studied had attempted to claimrecognition or accreditation for the skills and knowledge gained throughinformal learning. It is not clear if this is because they are not interested inpursuing further formal qualifications or if it is because they are unaware of any opportunities of claiming accreditation for informal learning. The use of the Google search engine as the major tool for learning isinteresting. It raises the question of how people are framing their searchterms, how they are refining search strings, how they are selecting from theresults of search queries and how they are following hyperlinked texts. For asearch result to be useful it needs to both produce materials, ideas andconcepts which can connect with the learner’s existing knowledge base of the one hand and approach the issue or problem being addressed on theother. The ideas of legitimate peripheral participation and proximinaldevelopment may be helpful for explaining this process and of understanding how people are making sense of knowledge.Lave and Wenger (1991) propose that the initial participation in a culture of practice can be observation from the periphery or legitimate peripheralparticipation. The participant moves from the role of observer, as learningand observation in the culture increase, to a fully functioning member. Theprogressive movement towards full participation enables the learner to piecetogether the culture of the group and establish their identity.“Knowing is inherent in the growth and transformation of identities and it is

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