Criteria for interesting learning in the course

This time I want to write because of Alan Cooper’s blog post about Assessing learning and Stephen Downes post Having reasons: parts of the long discussion devoted to the question if interesting learning happened in CritLit2010. I have written two final assessments and answered research questions. I should be able to tell if I had interesting learning experiences.

In my former post I reported facts about my participation. Google gives that information. I also told something about the content of my blog posts. I am in advanced age and I have 40 years of work life behind me, most of it in universities and education. I used my expertise of course. I came to check if I can learn to understand the critical literacy needed in web, better or deeper during this CritLit2010 course. My first summary in 10.7. tells that I haven’t learned what I expected and I suppose that I will never again study in this linguistic way. I agree with that but I try to say it more accurately now.

Downes: we established whether learning has occurred by observing the totality of the learners activities in a network. We could (I’m thinking aloud here) probably identify some metrics describing this activity that might give us an assessment profile:

– participation gap – the degree to which a person participates in the activity of the network, as opposed to merely observing it; participation would be measured not only as numbers of contributions but also engagement or response rate

– dissonance – the degree to which a person uses works, phrases, etc., in a manner that does not create a lack of comprehension (‘dissonance’) on the part of other members of the network

– resolution – the number of positive contributions to the network – problems solved, disputes adjudicated, etc.

In my former post I showed evidence about my activity, as a matter of fact this blog is the evidence. But how about the quality? There was some positive contribution but mostly I wrote alone and I am not sure if this is a problem. I have problems to follow the dissonance principle, I don’t know what is the aim: to agree or disagree, to build or questioning or. What is possible between very different expertise, I do not know. In the last 9.7. session I found discussion about the weaknesses: the course was more presenting than practice, more documenting than producing. I was normal then ๐Ÿ™‚

I think Alan Cooper continues well in his blog

.. it requires quite sophisticated observation to confirm that the behaviour is based on beliefs that are founded on good reasons as discussed in this posting. (For example it might involve observation of exchanges between members of the network when solving problems together and evaluation of the explanations given to one another in that process.) Also, there would have to be a change of behaviour (beyond that attributable to increasing familiarity with that specific network) in order to infer that the demonstrated knowledge was newly acquired and so evidence of learning.ย  Given the looseness and scale of the network involved it would be a huge task to sift through all of the exchanges to identify signs of increased knowledge in even just a few of the participants.

I don’t want to read my own postings so accurately that I could find the moments of new learning. I have to trust my intuition where it happened. My intuition worked well in my first final: I learned about connectivism, my interest to semantics lowered etc. But it is too simple to claim that someone could see only by reading blogs that we have learned.

Downes:ย  I’ve observed the discussions, aggregated blog posts, had discussions in the synchronous forum. So I’ve seen that personally.

In addition, we (NRC) are conducting surveys of the course participants. So we will have additional evidence of learning.

I can pretend whatever I want and I behave positively and politely when discussing with people I have never met in real life, I don’t want to hurt anyone. I am more critical in my mind than what I say aloud. I express only positive comments.ย  Alan spoke about sophisticated observation, it is not simple. It will be interesting to see the results of the survey, I am not sure they can get evidence of learning. They get evidence about the course and our likings, not learning. But time will tell, it is not easy to follow learning happenings. I cannot follow mine and I should be expert. Stephen Downes answered to me that

the aim is to achieve expert status in the various literacies described in this course, and in the case of semantics particularly, in evaluating and assessing for truth, value, motive, or objective.

Really? And the survey had PLE as an objective. The course blog tells us that:

The purpose of this course is two-fold. First, the design of the course is based on an understanding of the skills and capacities required to effectively learn using a PLE. Second, the offering of the course is intended to test whether learners can employ a PLE environment in order to develop those capacities.

So am I just doing the inquiry when I am writing this blog post, telling more about my personal learning experiences. I should combine my learning in this course to my learning history and expertise. I tried it many times, during first two weeks I did it using Mezirov and my psychological knowledge. I have evaluated and assessed my truth, values, motives and objectives during my long life many many times. I love to analyze and conceptualize .. but why I have a feeling that it was not allowed here in CritLit2010? I should have been an excellent student but I only gave some fragmented knowledge and occasional comments. What is my problem actually? Fine question ๐Ÿ™‚

Or what is our problem? Why didn’t we practice critical literacy when we had this great possibility? To whom we presented what? Why? The end is always the same: we can describe external behaviors but not the internal actions. Now I refer to he end ofย  CCK08+09 courses: learning disappears somewhere, we cannot touch it but some intrinsic motivation brings us to courses again and again. Is there any problem? Connectivism hype was in 2008 and now we live a new hard work phase and time will tell if it survives, to which purposes it survives to whom..?

5 thoughts on “Criteria for interesting learning in the course

  1. > I love to analyze and conceptualize .. but why I have a feeling that it was not allowed here in CritLit2010? I should have been an excellent student but I only gave some fragmented knowledge and occasional comments. What is my problem actually? Fine question ๐Ÿ™‚

    Interesting question. It certainly isn’t because you were not allowed in CritLit2010 – there was no prohibition whatsoever against analyzing and conceptualizing.

    Because it was a small course, much of your interaction would have been with me. So perhaps you felt that analysis and concepts would not have been an effective strategy in our interactions? If so, you may have been correct.

    Let’s consider the question of whether interesting learning happened in CritLit2010. The usual, traditional, method of addressing such a problem is to seek out some evidence, and to infer, through a process of analysis and conceptualization, to the existence of some instance of learning (perhaps a second calculation would be required to show that it is ‘interesting’).

    This reflects an approach to learning where what is learned is observable, and measurable, is discrete wholes – precisely the sort of things that reveal themselves through analysis. It is, if you will, an atomistic definition of learning, where after learning we can observe some sort of increase in the mass of atoms (or perhaps an exchange of atoms, if we have had to reject old concepts along the way). These atoms (by definition?) would produce some evidence of their existence, given an appropriately designed experimental mechanism (which, in learning, is called a ‘test’ or ‘assessment’).

    When I am asked to account for whether interesting learning happened in CritLit2010, I don’t want to commit myself to any such picture. Not because I think connectivism resists such an approach – I’m sure we could probably build it in, and I see no shortage of efforts among my colleagues to do exactly that (“where is the ‘learning’ in the PLE,” they ask me, as though assuming we could add some atoms of learning to the mix and detect them coming out the other end). But because the idea of ‘atoms of learning’ runs contrary to the idea of a learning network.

    Let me offer an analogy to explain what I mean. Imagine that you have travelled to a new city for the first time. Imagine, especially, that it is based in a culture different from your own. You return home from the city refreshed, exhilarated. Clearly, you have “learned” from your visit. But what is the evidence that interesting learning happened in your visit to the new city?

    If you were asked such a question, you would find yourself almost at once fishing for particular things you might have learned: the foreign word for ‘please’, perhaps, or the existence of a festival, or the funny way people there line up for and order food. But even were you to be able to elicit the totality of such atoms, it would still not constitute what you learned. Indeed, it would actually misrepresent what you really learned.

    Moreover, even if you were not able to come up with any atoms of learning, it would be incorrect to say you hadn’t learned anything. As a result of your visit to the new city, you see food slightly differently, your understanding of social organization has become more sophisticated, your expectations of behaviour slightly changed. It may be that you cannot even articulate these new bits of learning (this is what it sounds to me like when you say “it is not easy to follow learning happenings. I cannot follow mine and I should be expert”). But this is not grounds for believing that learning did not happen, only that it is not atomic and identifiable through analysis.

    What did you learn from travel to a new city? You might not be able to articulate it at all. An observer might be more perceptive, noticing perhaps a slight change in the way you pronounce words, or slight variations in your menu selections at restaurants. It would be difficult, even impossible, to articulate, and it would definitely not show up over a short period of time – some things might not become evident until you have visited your second, or third, new city.

    So my response to the question “how do I know whether interesting learning happened in CritLit2010” is that the whole model of “discrete cause -> discrete effect” is mistaken here. Asking “did interesting learning happen” is an inappropriate question to ask. It treats learning as (a) something concrete, and (b) an effect, that can be reliably produced by a cause. Yes, you may be able to identify concrete things that were produced by a cause. The mistake lies is saying “aha! *this* was what I learned.” When in fact it is probably the least important of the things you learned.

    So how do you know? Never mind the quest for discrete bits of learning, how do you know whether taking the course was a valuable activity. As I suggested before, an observer, familiar with your behaviour before and after, may be able to detect slight changes. Your use of language, your behaviour in certain communities, may have become more appropriate in ineffable ways. And your perceptions (untrustworthy and unreliable as always) may also offer clues: you feel a sense of dissonance, which means your existing thought patterns have been challenged, or you feel more comfortable with a group of people, or you feel a sense of exhilaration similar to what you feel after visiting a new city. Or something else.

    What *would* show that learning occurred, if we could measure it, would be the formation of new connections, or strengthening (and weakening) of existing connections, between neurons in your brain. Your neural network was altered by the experience of taking the course (and, concurrently, by everything else that happened to you over the six weeks). What *would* show that learning occurred would be an isolation of those changes that happened as a direct result of the course, a comparison with prior states, and then some sort of semantic measure such that the new neural state contains ‘more truth’ than the old.

    Barring such an account (and sketching the account reveals some of the absurdities, such as the idea that one neural state contains ‘more truth’ than another) we are left with vague generalizations.

    But this, at least, seems true: there is no correct one-to-one mapping between (1) a verbal description of facts retained, propositions now believed to be true, or other atomistic bits of knowledge, and (2) the full description of the change of neural state that occurred as a result of the learning. We can’t get from ‘content language’, which is atomistic, to ‘neural language’, which is not.

    When you think about this, you see that this is true, I think. When you think of the proposition that “Paris is the capital of France,” you see that there is no neural state that corresponds to ‘knowing’ or ‘having learned’ this proposition. Ergo, if we say that learning is the change of neural state, then it is inaccurate and wrong to say that we “learned” that “Paris is the capital of France”, and that it is a mistake to treat utterances of such as evidence for that.

    Learning is not atomic. There are not ‘atoms’ of learning. Learning is not something we can count and measure, as though it were cumulative. The assessment of learning through measurement of ‘bits of knowledge’ is fundamentally in error. A connectivist course does not try to teach ‘bits of learning’ and hence to ask ‘what learning happened?’ is the wrong question to ask. At best, we can ask only whether a person is more of a certain sort of person – are they ‘more German’ for having stayed in Germany for a month, are they ‘more of a physicist’ for having stayed in the community of physicists for a month. Knowing that there are no necessary or sufficient conditions for being ‘more’ of any of these, knowing that there is no gauge that measures being ‘more German’ or ‘more of a Physicist’.

  2. Thanks for a quick comment, Stephen.
    Noticed this text is in your blog, too. So I can answer here shortly and more in your blog perhaps.
    You use lectures, you teach people. I am wondering to whom you speak in this comment, because I do not need that lecture. It does not touch me at all, I have never thought as you suppose. Perhaps someone needs that lecture, I don’t.
    I don’t know whom you are fighting against? And why?

    You appreciate Dreyfus description of expertise and I have used it many times, too. It is working. But there are many ways to participate and connect in networks, not only one. And it possible to examine without believing in atomistic learning. Self assessment is necessary and I will continue my journey…

  3. If my response did not address your comment then I did not understand your comment correctly.

    Perhaps I am reading into to your words and seeing one criticism where something else was intended. I don’t know. I’ll watch for your future contributions.

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