I have been reflecting both on the first part of the EVO2007 Open Webpublishing Session that I co-moderated with Barbara Dieu and on the Connectivism Online Conference that took place from February 2 - February 9.
As I was listening to Will Richardson speaking at the conference, I noted down his thoughts. He pointed out that teachers are networked learners, flexible and nomadic learners, reflective, social, and passionate learners. As I was listening to his discussion, I was thinking about EVO2007 Open Webpublishing Session and drawing parallels there.
When I found out about the EVO sessions the first time, I did a bit of research to see what all the fuss was about. From the EVO website, I traveled to previous EVO sessions offered in years before. My overall impressions about the initiative can be summarized in a couple of words: I thought it was a good example of a comprehensive, innovative, and in-depth discussion of the newest technologies and their application in language learning. As I was looking at the pictures of the experts and the sea of text below, I also thought it was a pretty static, overwhelmingly textual (very linear, it seemed), and, I thought, probably a 'top-down' approach to learning.
Now, at the end of Week 4 of the EVO2007 workshops, I would definitely scratch the 'static, overwhelmingly linear, and top-down' descriptors and add new ones that emerged for me while the session was in progress. Now, in retrospect, I would describe it as participative, cooperative, dynamic; a very social network of passionate learners engaging in flexible learning and co-construction of knowledge. The deeply social and participatory aspects of the EVO workshops were not that clearly apparent to me until I immersed myself in one of them. Learning by experience!
For me, the most fascinating aspect of the Open Webpublishing Session was the gradual emergence and the subsequent evolution of the social dynamics of this network of learners. The beginning of the session reminded me of the careful appraisals one experiences during the first half hour of a party when strangers and semi-strangers lurk and try to get the feel for each other. That's how it all began at the Open Webpublishing YG with individual introductions and short and curt exchange of pleasantries.
Then, with the discussion moving to participants' blogs, longer and more interesting discussions ensued. The problems, challenges, questions, and solutions arose; initially, those were addressed to and answered by the moderators. However, as the workshop progressed and the networked ties strengthened themselves, the participants began to engage in the process of collective knowledge building. Thus, there was a more dynamic discussion; everyone shared ideas, tips, solutions, and frustrations. It was clear that the network was becoming so much more dynamic; a larger discussion with smaller, more active networks becoming stronger. Some participants joining only sporadically; others leaving the environment altogether. But it was clear that the dialogue was becoming more dynamic; there was a greater number of daily posts and comments; they had the characteristics of a real life community; some were supportive, congratulatory, critical, analytical, others questioning and doubting. One thing for sure: the discussions were dynamic, the voices were too.
What was most fascinating for me, however, was that the voices of the moderators began to fade away as participants' voices grew stronger. The learners then began to eclipse the mentors. This evolution into a dynamic, egalitarian, and democratic forum from one of careful detachment characteristic of the first couple of days was quite fascinating. It was reassuring and fascinating to watch. It was networked learning at its best. It was what Will Richardson described in his theoretical discussion; the difference here was that it was clearly observable in practice.
The Open Webpublishing Session grew to become a community of people who never had a chance to meet each other in person, but who, given the possibilities offered by digital technology, were able to co-construct and co-create knowledge together in a community of learners. Those were George Siemens's ideas; ideas that he expressed in his talk on Connectivism: Learning Conceptualized Through the Lens of Today's World. In this talk, Siemens discussed the concepts of co-constructing and co-creating knowledge as well as the value of what emerges when one creates knowledge in a networked environment. What did we co-construct, co-create? What emerged from the Open Webpublishing Session?
We started by looking at the tools: wordpress, bloglines, flickr, 43places/people/things, flock, and suprglue. We constructed our personal learning spaces with text, images, and hyperlinks. Then, we engaged in dialogues. Through the discussions of these tools and by sharing our perceptions of the methodological possibilities and limitations these tools bring, we co-constructed our pedagogical knowledge. The phenomenal value of the co-construction of this knowledge base lies in the fact that it was an egalitarian process, a process unlike the processes that are so characteristic of most standard TESL teaching programs. In such programs, the designated experts comment on the applicability of various tools and the passively listening flock of learners absorbs the knowledge (I even vaguely remember the instructor, there were so many people that I continued to get stuck at the back of the room).
The EVO2007 knowledge co-construction was phenomenal because it does not yet exist in any methodological textbook as it is a rather uncommon thing for 15-something people to co-author a methodological text together. It was phenomenal because it was a discussion about tools that are not even discussed in any text on SLA (see my post: "CALL: from "drill-to-kill" exercises to Mobile Assisted Language Learning"), let alone a methodological textbook. It was also phenomenal not only because it was social and spontaneous but also because it was democratic. We agreed, we disagreed, we compromised; we looked at these tools and assigned them similar/different/conflicting values, a great deal of value or no value at all. Most of all, we continued to critically and democratically discuss their pedagogical applications; we didn't preach, we didn't impose. We negotiated the value of these tools, and by doing that, we really negotiated our knowledge base.
So, what really emerged from these past three weeks of the Open Webpublishing Session knowledge co-construction and co-creation? A valuable lesson for me:
- we need to engage in learning together because that way we can understand the value of democratic and egalitarian learning
- we need to engage in learning together because that's how we can begin to understand the changing dynamics of the 21st learning
- we need to engage in learning together because that's the best way for us to observe and understand how to change our teaching practice.
Most of all, by looking at the patterns and the dynamics that have emerged during the Open Webpublishing Session, we can see that the world of learning is becoming very different.