Systems V Networks

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(…) systems matter more than networks. Networks don’t exist in a vacuum. They exist and are shaped by the environments in which they exist. Networks are ephemeral. Systems exist to preserve. Systems exist as predictive agents. It’s hard to control people in networks – they have too much agency, they can do what they want. The lack of controlability makes it difficult to achieve intended outcomes in networks. When agents want a clear outcome, they turn to systems. Systems preserve power.

George Siemens, (2019). I was wrong about networks. Full article available here

“Networked Learning Communities–The Benefits for Continuing Professional Developmentof Virtual Learning Environment Teachers”A Critical Literature Review by Chris O Tool

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Review covers literature for the period from 1996 to 2018: What are the benefits of networked learning communities for continuing professional development sharing and learning?
In the area of teacher professional development, research has shown that teacher networks add value for their development, the implementation of changes, leadership, and improved teaching practices. Four main themes emerged in response to the primary research question. These were:

  • Enhanced social learning processes for CPD: learning communities help participants in this study to develop their competencies by sharing information and collaboration / helps to minimize the isolation that learners may have due to cultural, social or geographical reasons
  • Greater use of formal and informal learning for CPD: Communication, collaboration and learning between individuals occurs both through formal and informal networks/ Yet, formal learning paths are rarely designed to meet the demands VLE teachers face in professional practice
  • Learning across barriers in time and space for CPD: Networked learning communities provide a means for supporting the development of professional development learning communities across states and countries
  • Increased levels of interaction for CPD: By cultivating interaction among CPD learners, networked learning communities support profound learning and greater levels of professional practice

Networked learning theory suggests that the real power of networked learning communities rests primarily in “collaborative inquiry that challenges thinking and practice” based on the richness of VLE teacher professional knowledge sharing and creation (Katz, Earl, & Jaffar, 2009, p.21) and that this type of collaborative inquiry rests on the strength of the relationships between the actors or nodes in the network (Church et al., 2002; Haythornwaite, & de Laat, 2010)

Full article available here

Student resistance to curriculum changes

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Sometimes, when we talk about learner independence, active learning or agency, we forget that this is not always for granted. Student consensus can not be considered a given. Trying out new things in a course (changing formats, layouts or mediums) produces changes that can be met with resistance and suspicion and it usually takes time until the cohort is convinced that what you are doing is actually working for them.

Student-Centered Learning and Student Buy-In article in Inside Higher Ed shows the results of curriculum change in a Biology course over a period of four years in relation to student satisfaction and acceptance. Pre- and post- course surveys show that student resistance decreased over the years and while grades did not change, the students’ perception of their gains has.

I remember that when we first introduced networked practices in an undergraduate design studio, students were terrified of the idea that their preliminary research and drawings would be published online for everyone to see. When talking about this, some expressed the fear that their ideas would loose their originality or that by the end of the semester everyone would converge to a single design idea/concept. Of course, none of this happened: in fact, it was quite revealing to see how diverse the research approaches and their respective representations actually were from a very early stage in the design process.

But there is also another interesting aspect in this article: the very fact that there was no single teacher but 13 of them. Now, I think this severely enhances the idea of a learning community. It’s not just about changing the format, it is about how you do it. By opening up the curriculum to more researchers and more teachers and by presenting the students with a course that is founded on a collaborative effort you ultimately denounce the idea of the expert and what comes along with that. And it is not by chance that grades have nothing to do with this. The very act of learning and being part of a learning community luckily can never fall into the hands of assessment.