On “Digital learning environments, the science of learning and the relationship between the teacher and the learner”

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Under what conditions do these technology tools lead to the most effective learning experiences? Dο they serve as a distraction if not deliberately integrated into learning activities? When these devices are incorporated deliberately into learning activities, how are students using them to make sense of ideas and apply them in practice? (…) It is much more complicated and difficult to develop an environment that can facilitate learning in complex conceptual domains (…) while adaptive systems have taken some forward leaps, there is still some way to go before these environments can cope with the significant diversity in how individual students make sense of complex ideas (…) Depending on how students structure related ideas in their mind, that structure will limit the way in which new information can be incorporated (…) The problem with providing personalised instruction in a digital environment is therefore not just about what the overall level of prior knowledge is but how that knowledge is structured in students’ minds (…) Technologies that are and will continue to impact on education need to be built on a foundation that includes a deep understanding of how students learn (…) teachers are constantly navigating a decision set that is practically infinite (…) The question becomes one of when and how technologies can be most effectively used, for what, and understanding what implications this has for the teacher-student relationship (…) there are two central narratives about what learning is: the first, acquisition, is vital but the second, participation, is even more powerful for learning (…)

There are several key areas helping students work with technologies:

  • Informing the development of and evaluating new technologies: research examining the effectiveness of the tools lags well behind the spread of their use (…) there is a clear need to draw on principles of quality student learning to determine how best to effectively combine the expertise of teachers and power of machines
  • Helping students to work with technologies: it is critical to determine how best to support students to do so in the absence of a teacher to help with this
  • Determining how technologies can best facilitate teaching and learning: the science of learning will assist in understanding the changing student-teacher dynamic in education is through the implications on broader policy and practice (…) The increased use of these technologies in classrooms must be driven by what is known about quality learning and not about financial or political motives.

Full article available here

VUCA

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Complexity is one of four challenges expressed in the acronym VUCA — Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity (…) VUCA has largely been adopted in the business world to refer to challenges which traditional leadership models find difficult to address (…) it requires different skills, structures, modus operandi, mindsets and organisational principles from those currently taught and practised (…) current leadership approaches are counter-productive, even harmful, to working with uncertainty and complexity. In trying to gain control of complexities, in trying to get a grip, our management methods are actually making things worse (…) the cumulative effect of applying the wrong management practices to complexity has exacerbated the challenges of VUCA (…) (complexity management) can only be achieved by including and integrating the perspectives of all the people affected (…) wide-scale conversations in the form of what he (Stacey) called “reflexive inquiry” (…) VUCA skills include: interpersonal skills (e.g. active listening), perspective coordination skills (complementarity), contextual thinking skills (shifting perspectives according to context) and collaboration skills (inclusive decision-making) (…) VUCA requires the integration and fusion of different perspectives, and not alpha heroes with all the ‘right’ answers (…)  What we should learn, instead, is how to respond to complex problems from a vantage point of not knowing, probingly approaching inquiry with an empty mind and humility; likewise we need to learn how to integrate seemingly polar opposite perspectives collaboratively (…) Some of the ways suggested to learn these VUCA skills include design thinking and practicing Sociocracy. We should take note, however, that one cannot learn integration skills by oneself, these have to be practised and refined in groups. We therefore need to create more Communities of Practice where people can hone these new skills (…) Uhl-Bien defines complexity as ‘rich interconnectivity’. Interconnecting parts become complex when the parts interacting actually influence and change each other (…) what complexity calls for are deeper conversations that matter

Full article by François Knuchel available here

The ‘Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning’ program

Full report available here

The project team for ‘Disrupted Classes, Undisrupted Learning’ ran by the Chinese Ministry of Education reviewed the international literature relating to skillful remote teaching, identifying some of the characteristic challenges that needed to be addressed. The Chinese project team advocated schools designing a blend of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and identified four essential technologically enabled pedagogical techniques that should be used in combination:
Live-streaming teaching (lecture format)
• Online real-time interactive teaching
• Online self-regulated learning with real-time interactive Q&A
• Online cooperative learning guided by teachers

For each method, associated benefits and risks were identified – such as the fact that live streamed lessons were technologically challenging and that the real-time class discussion in a synchronous ‘lesson’ could be of a poor quality (…) To recreate the learning atmosphere of a face-to-face classroom, three pedagogical priorities were promoted: Building a sense of belonging to a community/ Providing timely feedback to learners/ Encouraging learners to relax and not be preoccupied with competitive achievement.

Cedrik Price: the architecture of the individual and its social relatedness, The McAppy Project

In 1973, following the strikes that beset the British construction industry during the early 1970s, Alistair McAlpine commissioned a design program for his construction company, Sir Robert McAlpine & Sons, that aimed to increase production efficiency and improve labour relations. Cedric Price’s proposal took the format of a two-volume report and a Portable Enclosures Programme (PEP) which, while presenting a critical view of building sites, also demonstrated his ambition to go beyond the immediate brief, employing architectural knowledge and thoughtful design to respond to pressing societal issues and human necessities.

Excerpt from the 2017 CCA Exhibition Catalog entitled: What About Happiness on the Building Site?
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The project emphasizes “the social role and responsibility of the architect by rethinking traditional field practices and pursuing strategies to initiate social progress through critical research, new tools and experimental attitudes” (Domus, 2017). The designer becomes the moderator of social activity (Herdt, 2016).

To qualify labour on building sites, Price acknowledged the need to reframe the relations between the multiple actors involved, from government to service suppliers, from technical staff to workers’ unions. He often stressed the importance of communicating to everyone, from the workers to the administrative personnel, the purposes and goals of the report, introducing “a participatory form of Company planning” and resisting the tendency for decision making to be “too top heavy.”

Full text available here
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The value of detailed maps at the neighborhood level

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The author claims the need of a systematic approach “that brings together the design of built environments with the best scientific knowledge of processes of change in complex natural and social systems.” Urban planning must work within these systems that require local info (through participatory practices) and the creation of technical solutions. He thinks the challenge is mapping informality as cities grow in unpredictable ways. He also claims that cities are about connections: “the socioeconomic and physical links that allow each one of us to make a living, obtain services that make our lives easier, and learn and invest our time and resources.”

The effects of connections can be traced as the concentration of social networks in space and time where the value of a group is not proportional to the group’s numbers, but to its interactions. GPS tracking, and smart phone technologies can help track the networks.

New methods from urban science allow the accelerated evolution of these neighborhoods to follow natural urban processes. They are based in part on the mathematical analysis of detailed maps, including the development of algorithms to optimize building access, delivery of services, formalization of land, and taxation, with minimal disturbance and cost.

Planning through the development of detailed maps at the neighborhood level is also an effective way to capture local, person-centric knowledge, providing a clear vehicle for better local politics via the coordination of priorities and action from communities, local governments, and other stakeholders. The convergence of a networked science of cities, quantitative methods of spatial analysis, and information technology tools is key to allow users to participate.

Full text available here

Luís M. A. Bettencourt (2019) Designing for Complexity: The Challenge to Spatial Design from Sustainable Human Development in Cities Technology|Architecture + Design, 3:1, 24-32, DOI: 10.1080/24751448.2019.1571793

“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.

Where do trees come from? Graphs!

TREES & GRAPHS

Trees start from a root node and might connect to other nodes, which means that could contain subtrees within them. Trees are defined by a certain set of rules: one root node may or may not connect to others, but ultimately, it all stems from one specific place. The tree follows one direction and cannot have loops or cyclical links.

Graphs are non linear structures: their data doesn’t follow an order. Trees will always be graphs, but not all graphs will be trees. Graphs do not have a concept of a root node. They can have a direction or not or they could have some links that have direction and others that don’t. Every graph must have at least one single node. (a graph with one node is called singleton).

Edges (sometimes referred to as links) can connect nodes in any way possible. Edges are what differentiates graphs. There are two types of edges: a edge that has a direction or flow, and an edge that has no direction or flow. We refer to these as directed and undirected edges, respectfully. In a directed edge, we can only travel from the origin to the destination, and never the other way around (digraph). However, it’s an entirely different story with undirected edges. In an undirected edge, the path that we can travel goes both ways. That is to say, the path between the two nodes is bidirectional, meaning that the origin and destination nodes are not fixed.

In mathematics, graphs are a way to formally represent a network, which is basically just a collection of objects that are all interconnected. For example, in mathematical terms, we describe graphs as ordered pairs. Remember high school algebra, when we learned about (x,y) ordered pair coordinates? Similar deal here, with one difference: instead of x and y, the parts of a graph instead are: v, for vertices, and e, for its edges. If our graph has more than one node and more than one edge that ordered pair — (V, E) — is actually made up of two objects: a set of vertices, and a set of edges. The “unordered” part is really important here, because remember, unlike trees, there is no hierarchy of nodes.

Facebook, a massive social network, is a type of graph. Twitter, on the other hand, works very differently from Facebook. I can follow you, but you might not follow me back.

References+Image

Vaidehi Joshi, A Gentle Introduction To Graph Theory. In Medium, Retrieved from here

Networks as predictive tools

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Networks play a key role when there is no objective way to determine performance, claims Barabasi in his new book called: “The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success.” Barabasi examined the career paths of scientists and artists both successful and less successful ones by tracing their networks.  While performance is about each individual, their success is about the people they connect to, therefore for Barabasi, success is a collective measure.

However appealing this research may be I resist the predictive character the author implies. I’d love to read the book eventually, but still, this bothers me. Networks are the very representation of complexity and it is inconsistent to consider them as normative tools where quantitative/statistical data can lead to predetermined results. Networks are all about emergence; thus the inability to predict how and when they will evolve. Sure, sometimes it could be that some patterns reappear, but just like the author says, networks are bigger than us or our ability to control them.

I also fail to see the relevance of the term success in this context. It looks so arbitrary and shallow. As much as I would love to see some professionals’ networks and the way they penetrate society, I’d rather the research focused on their ability to change the world for the better. If success is a collective measure, then it should be evaluated in regard to α collective benefit.

 

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Bruno Latour

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  • His early work had done more than that of any other living thinker to unsettle the traditional understanding of how we acquire knowledge of what’s real
  • In a series of controversial books in the 1970s and 1980s, he argued that scientific facts should instead be seen as a product of scientific inquiry. Facts, Latour said, were “networked”;  they stood or fell not on the strength of their inherent veracity but on the strength of the institutions and practices that produced them and made them intelligible. If this network broke down, the facts would go with them.
  • Founder of the new academic discipline of science and technology studies
  • The mid-1990s were the years of the so-called science wars, a series of heated public debates between “realists,” who held that facts were objective and free-standing, and “social constructionists,” like Latour. If scientific knowledge was socially produced — and thus partial, fallible, contingent — how could that not weaken its claims on reality?  Lately, however, these debates have begun to look more like a prelude to the post-truth era in which society as a whole is presently condemned to live.
  • By showing that scientific facts are the product of all-too-human procedures, these critics charge, Latour — whether he intended to or not — gave license to a pernicious anything-goes relativism that cynical conservatives were only too happy to appropriate for their own ends (…) But Latour believes that if the climate skeptics and other junk scientists have made anything clear, it’s that the traditional image of facts was never sustainable to begin with.
  • With the rise of alternative facts, it has become clear that whether or not a statement is believed depends far less on its veracity than on the conditions of its “construction” — that is, who is making it, to whom it’s being addressed and from which institutions it emerges and is made visible. 
  • In Abidjan, Latour began to wonder what it would look like to study scientific knowledge not as a cognitive process but as an embodied cultural practice enabled by instruments, machinery and specific historical conditions.
  • Day-to-day research — what he termed science in the making — appeared not so much as a stepwise progression toward rational truth as a disorderly mass of stray observations, inconclusive results and fledgling explanations (…) During the process of arguing over uncertain data, scientists foregrounded the reality that they were, in some essential sense, always speaking for the facts; and yet, as soon as their propositions were turned into indisputable statements and peer-reviewed papers — what Latour called ready-made science — they claimed that such facts had always spoken for themselves.
  • In the 1980s, Latour helped to develop and advocate for a new approach to sociological research called Actor-Network Theory (…) Latour had seen how an apparently weak and isolated item — a scientific instrument, a scrap of paper, a photograph, a bacterial culture — could acquire enormous power because of the complicated network of other items, known as actors, that were mobilized around it. The more socially “networked” a fact was (the more people and things involved in its production), the more effectively it could refute its less-plausible alternatives.
  • Latour believes that if scientists were transparent about how science really functions — as a process in which people, politics, institutions, peer review and so forth all play their parts — they would be in a stronger position to convince people of their claims
  • Whether they are conscious of this epistemological shift, it is becoming increasingly common to hear scientists characterize their discipline as a “social enterprise” and to point to the strength of their scientific track record, their labors of consensus building and the credible reputations of their researchers.

Excerpts from: Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science, By Ava Kofman published in New York Times, full article available here

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