Thoughts on: Learning in the digital age


The system in which we learn and teach any discipline tends to value originality and “the next big thing.” I have recently begun to wonder if that system has started shifting ever so slightly toward a mentality that values one’s ability to cultivate knowledge and meaning from the plethora of already existing sources of knowledge. In general, a vast knowledge pool is available on any topic via the seemingly infinite online network of information that is the Internet. The knowledge that is static (think concrete events) has been discussed and rediscovered over and over by people via collaboration tools like Wikipedia. Even historical events, information that has been long accepted as static, have been questioned and discussed through new lenses. The book A New Culture of Learning by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown is something I’ve mentioned before, but I can’t help but think of their vision of our constantly changing world and how we continue to adapt and learn within it after reading a review of the book Uncreative Writing by Kenneth Goldsmith on Brainpickings. Uncreative Writing seems to address the abundance of information (texts) within the literature world and how “genius” is no longer defined by adding to that pool of information, but by effectively navigating through the information and cultivating new literary insights. It might also address how new skills are being used to redefine literature and how people engage in the field of literature.

In my mind, the consequences of this line of thinking with regard to education would at most lead to an overhaul of the entire education system and its values, and at least lead to the consideration of the skills that we teach our learners (in any discipline). It seems that the “traditional” view of the learner is no longer valid in this world of infinite information and collaboration. Ok, then which skills should be imparted to our students in a new vision of education?

With an ever changing blob of constant information being evaluated and reviewed by people around the world with myriad perspectives, is it reasonable to ask students to treat knowledge like a static entity?

Perhaps the skills needed to effectively navigate information in the digital age are very similar to those discussed in Kristen Swanson’s Professional Learning in the Digital Age: curation, reflection, and contribution. Curation is a buzzword that can be defined as the careful collection of relevant sources (relevant to whatever it is you desire to learn). Along with the collection of information, one must evaluate the validity of the sources of information (that’s a whole other blog post). Once information is collected, the learner can engage with it by actively reflecting on how the information applies in their context. Reflection can take on many appearances, but it ultimately means sifting through the information gathered and applying it to your own experiences. After (and perhaps during) the reflection process, the learner is free to contribute to the online discussion and add his or her perspective to the pool of information. This collaboration and user-driven framework is not something that appears predominantly in the current state of education.

Questions to consider:

There are plenty of implications to considering these skills as valuable in education. First, while this framework may provide a place in which learning is facilitated for topics like history, math, and the like, would this system of information exchange and negotiation of meaning benefit language learners? Next, how would this method of learning account for the various learning styles of students? Within this new system of values, what is the role of the teacher? Would taking up this perspective put me out of a job? What impact would this collaborative view have on the strict lines of authenticity and ownership that prevails in the written world (think plagiarism)? Last (for now), what are the benefits and limitations of putting all our eggs in the technology/online information basket?

More thoughts to come, I’m sure.

Self-Directed Professional Development


I have become somewhat enamored with the use of digital media in relation to professional development. The idea that I can create a personal learning network that will allow me to connect and collaborate with teachers around the world from all walks of life and levels of experience using social media and other digital tools amazes me!

During my practicum experience last year where I was paired with a mentor teacher, I really began to appreciate the value of connecting with more experienced teachers within my field. I sometimes feel like teaching can be a pretty isolating profession, unless teachers reach out to others within the field and share their ideas. While this may seem obvious, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day operations of being in the classroom. Having the opportunity to teach alongside my mentor teacher and get valuable feedback from him was an awesome experience. However, engaging in a mentor/apprentice sort of relationship seems like the analog version of an experience that can be so much more fulfilling and enlightening within a digital medium. Having said that, I don’t think that one experience should replace the other, but that having a wider vision of what it means to develop professionally and collaborate with fellow teachers might be more beneficial than engaging in the traditional practicum experience alone.

If collaborating and expanding my ever-changing personal learning network is good for my own education, couldn’t it be said that such a network might benefit my learners as well? This is a line of thought I have yet to dive into, but with the hopes of cultivating learning and creating a space in which my learners can use English freely, I have created a class wiki. I’m sure there will be more meditation on this matter to come.

My mind has been buzzing with these ideas recently, and in an attempt to self-educate I have begun collecting some resources that address the topic of collective learning and self-directed professional development in the digital age. Here are a few of the books I’m exploring now:

Professional Learning in the Digital Age: The Educator’s Guide to User Generated Learning by Kristen Swanson

A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown

The Digital Divide: Arguments for and Against Facebook, Google, Texting, and the Age of Social Networking

From Fear to Facebook: One School’s Journey by Matt Levinson