Can Social Network Analysis Help Teachers Change?

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Edited by Alan J. Daly. Harvard Education Press, 2010

Recent education studies underline the value of strong social networks among teachers for the spread of reform implementation and innovative climate…and their capacity to change” — Moolenaar & Sleegers, chapter 6: Social Network Theory and Educational Change

“Social Network Theory and Educational Change” is a collection of case studies that describe the impact of change efforts in schools through analysis of social networks. Using social network theory is a unique way to analyze reform initiatives within education settings—more so given social interactions among stakeholders is key factor in any type of change initiative within an organization. The studies examine teachers and education leaders communication patterns and behaviors within their school or district’s social networks; with each case measuring a different aspect of change or reform effort.

“Drawing on the work of leading scholars, the book comprises a series of studies examining networks among teachers and school leaders, contrasting formal and informal organizational structures, and exploring the mechanisms by which ideas, information, and influence flow from person to person and group to group. The case studies provided in the book reflect a rich variety of approaches and methodologies, showcasing the range and power of this dynamic new mode of analysis” — Harvard Education Press

Examples of studies in the book include one that examines a new “ambitious” district-wide math curriculum accompanied by a comprehensive professional development program for teachers. The purpose of this study was “exploratory and theory building”, researchers sought to demonstrate the value and applicability of social network analysis in education reform efforts (p. 36). Other studies delved further into teachers’ perceptions of change. Chapter five—’Peer Influence in High School Reform’ focused on measuring teachers attitudes towards reform efforts in order to “better understand the variables that impact the implementation of reform programs” (p. 82).  The study’s data came from surveys administered by Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE) across nine high schools, each who had implemented externally designed reform programs that aimed to bring about significant changes in teachers’ classroom practice.

Social Network Analysis Defined
Social network theory and analysis is the study of how people, organizations or groups interact with others within their network. Social Network Theory  has its roots in sociology where graph theory was used as an analysis tool in research; it’s now an established research method used in biology, anthropology, economics, management, and is gaining momentum in education (pg 4). The focus of social network analysis (SNA) is on relationships; the flow of information within social network structures, where the structure is a collection of individuals (nodes).

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‘Social network analysis requires an understanding of how independent people related to each other, affect each other’s views, and interact together’ – Susan Fant (2013). Slide 8, 10

Methods for Collecting and Visualizing Data
Methods of SNA include identifying the actors—the individuals within a workplace network and implementing a questionnaire with each. Questions within a survey tool might be: “to whom do you turn for work-related information?” or “with whom do you collaborators regarding instructional issues?” or “how often does your interaction with colleague increase your energy level?”.  The purpose of the survey instrument is to determine: the flow of information, mode of communication, frequency of contact, strength of ties and the structure of relationships within the network.

Data is complied and transposed using analytic software to create network visualization. Visual representations of networks can be a powerful method for conveying complex information. Chapter 13 outlines best practices and methods for collecting and managing high-quality data for SNA, and provides readers instructive guidance to overcome the main challenges with SNA which according to the chapter author includes, 1) the quality of data, where there’s a concern that the survey-respondents don’t provide responses that accurately reflect social interactions, and 2) quantity of data—where target response rate from actors in a network should be close to 100%.

Networks-1
Diagram above: “Visualization of data from a district-wide study examining the exchange of ‘expertise’ between central office and site administrators. Findings indicate great deal of expertise sharing between the central office administrators (red nodes) and limited expertise exchange between principals (blue nodes)”. (Shanker Institute, 2014).

Conclusion
Revisiting the question—can social network analysis help teachers change?   Social network analysis is a useful tool for providing insights into the complexities of change, into school-wide and organization learning, into how relationships influence education practices, and new initiatives. Yet on its own SNA won’t help teachers change, but serves as a tool for education leaders to help teachers changeby helping leaders to understand the flow of information, to identify how to support the relationships responsible for change, and determine the critical resources needed. SNA is not a solution but a unique tool to consider and evaluate. More so now given the increasing number of applications in our workplaces that facilitate social and informal communication and collaboration.

Resources

Three Trends That Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2015

Vector 2015 Happy New Year background

There is no shortage of predictions for the upcoming year of 2015. Micro-credentials, digital wearables and mobile learning are just a few of the many. Yet predictions are notorious for misleading and even wildly inaccurate assurances. But analyzing trends across industries in conjunction with developments within a sector—the education sector in this instance, is far more constructive and strategic than considering stand-alone predictions. There are themes and patterns worthy of educators, administrators and stakeholders investment of time and consideration. This post examines and explores three trends that meet the worthy criteria. The three: 1) Skill-specific education also known as competency-based education (CBE) is expanding to institutions and generating new education technology products and platforms, 2) Social learning facilitated by technology and the acceptance of MOOCs is a new and viable instructional method, and 3) Learning-on-the-go supported not just by mobile devices and internet connectivity, but by the availability of sophisticated applications with few barriers will expand learning to students seeking flexible access to education.

Sources for Trends Affecting Education in 2015
There’ve been several articles and reports written and shared by organizations, education entities and news agencies that highlight trends, developments, and hot topics to watch for in 2015. Not all are specific to education, but reading between the lines there are subtle implications that suggest which potential developments will affect if not change how people learn. The sources chosen for this post are few but solid. A key source and excellent resource for the education community is the NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition Wiki which provides insight into educational technology trends. Its content is used for the annual NMC Horizon Project which uses the Wiki for the panel of experts to exchange ideas and engage in discourse. Another report rich in data is the 2015 Digital Trends Report created by GSW a communications agency working within the health sector. Additional sources include Innovating Pedagogy 2014 published by Open University, EDUCAUSE Review November/December 2014, among others. Collectively these sources and events over the past year (2014) in education provide a window into new developments in teaching and learning to watch for in 2015 .

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example of how competency education works

1) Skill-Specific Education
The most significant innovations in education programs of this past year are those that focus on a specific skill set or knowledge area. These programs fall under the banner of micro-credentialing or competency-based education (CBE) and will be more disruptive to traditional education than anything we’ve seen to date. Traditional education in this context is defined as for-credit education measured by instruction time and grading of students work by teacher/instructor/faculty. Outcomes of traditional education typically are credentials in the form of a degree, diploma or certificate and are recognized by employers and institutions. On the other hand, skills education facilitates student’s learning technical skills or knowledge in a specific topic area that is measured by criteria-specific performance. Typically assessment is an observable outcome(s) that demonstrates mastery in the form of an e-portfolio or interactive transcript. Examples are competency-based degree programs such as the one offered at Purdue, or nano-degrees offered by Udacity, mirco-credential programs offered by edX or Coursera, certificates by Alison, and Mozilla’s Open Badges program. 

We can expect more institutions offering competency education programs and employer involvement in skill-specific education this year, as in the example of AT&T giving funds to Udacity and Georgia Tech for development of online programs. We’ll also see companies serving as advisors for curriculum and program development for courses of study at institutions.

Drivers of Skill-Specific Education

  • Pressure on education institutions from Department of Education and/or other government entities to offer more accessible and shorter education pathways (to a credential) to accommodate non-traditional learners. The non-traditional segment is a new and growing market of adult learners with prior skills and experience
  • Expanding non-traditional student population who seek open, flexible learning
  • Skills gap identified by employers
  • High cost associated with higher education

Developments in Skill-Specific Education

  • MOOCs on institution-affiliated platforms focusing on skill specific training in partnership with companies (edX offering Teacher PD)
  • Courses focusing on skills with input from employers who have a hand in developing curriculum, e.g. Nano-degrees (Udacity), and professional courses for a fee — targeting professionals (edX and Coursera)
  • LMS platform providers creating specific platforms that accommodate competency specific learning e.g. Helix LMS (Phil Hill on Helix LMS)
  • Digital badges, e.g. Mozilla Open Badge Project
  • Brandman University’s competency degree program incorporates digital badges for students to demonstrate skills to potential employers
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Gaming is just one area of social learning that is being used as pedagogical method. Screen shot of slide 42 from “2015 Digital Trend Report”

2)  Social Learning as a Pedagogical Method
Social learning is not a new concept, but social learning as a method of instruction is. We are beginning to see social learning adopted by education institutions as a method for learning through peer collaboration for instance, and in Human Resources departments as a method for employee training. Also technological advancement in the form of applications—mobile apps that support learners not just through collaboration but by learning core concepts through innovative software design. Gaming too has become more social, as well as learning management platforms (LMSs) which are incorporating features that support and promote interactivity and social connections among students.

The aim [of social learning] is to engage thousands of people in productive discussions and the creation of shared projects, so together they share experience and build on their previous knowledge  — Innovating Pedagogy 2014, The Open University

Drivers of Social Learning

  • Advancements in technology have lowered barriers to learner connectivity
  • MOOCs uncovered a new demographic of learners—non-traditional students with a thirst for knowledge and learning
  • Dissemination of knowledge—learners can now access knowledge through networks rather than institutions
  • Companies seeking alternatives to traditional employee training and development leveraging social platforms and tools
  • Bring your own Device (BYOD) policies in education institutions

Developments in Social Learning

  • Features within Learning Management Platforms that facilitate social interactivity
  • Smart phone applications (apps) that support learning with and from peers and/or tutors, e.g. P2P Chat
  • Businesses using social media platforms for employee learning and development, e.g. Cisco introduces Project Squared a service delivered via an app or the Web that offers an online gathering place for getting work done.

3) Learning-on-the-Go
Mobile devices along with low barriers to connectivity and the choice of hundreds of new apps specific to education puts access to education in the hands of learners making learning-on-the-go a reality. Learning-on-the-go, also known as mobile learning or m-learning is also not new, yet recent advancements in network capabilities and applications makes learning exclusively from a mobile device a reality.

Mobile Learning
Ideas from Mobile Learning

Brandman University for example recently launched a competency based degree on a mobile platform where students have access to 30,000 pages of course material from a tablet or smart phone.  Other education institutions are following suit by making education accessible to students from their mobile device for un-tethered learning— students aren’t bound by a physical institution or even a desktop computer.  Numerous apps for mobile devices also support access to knowledge sources via video tutorials, lessons on topic-specific modules, or to access tutoring support, study resources etc.

Drivers of Learning-on-the-Go

  • Non-traditional students looking for flexible learning that fits their busy schedule
  • Low barriers to owning mobile devices
  • Higher quality applications and infrastructure systems that deliver user-friendly learning options

Developments in Learning-on-the-Go

  • Education institutions offering degree programs fully online with mobile friendly resources
  • Sophisticated applications available for mobile devices that provide quality education options
  • Apps that satisfy a variety of education needs including degree programs, developmental education programs, one-on-one tutoring, academic advising

Conclusion
Though we can’t predict exactly what will happen in 2015, we can make informed decisions and be strategic for the upcoming year. Nothing is certain in the future except change as the saying goes, yet being proactive rather than reactive will put educators in the best position for a successful and effective 2015.

Update: See my 2016 post: Three Trends that Will Influence Learning and Teaching in 2016

References

What’s Next for Education? Answer: Follow-the-Learner

follow-the-leader-sign-620x250Most readers are likely familiar with the childhood game follow-the-leader. The ‘leader’ would lead doing various antics while the ‘followers’ would mimic the leaders’ every move. Players who failed to follow risked elimination from the game, typically an insignificant consequence from what I remember. It’s not unlike what’s happened in higher education in the last two years with the MOOC phenomenon. A handful of elite institutions began to offer Massive Open Online Courses [MOOCs] taught by the best-of-the-best faculty, for free to the world, and the me-too race began. Now there are over 119 institutions worldwide offering MOOCs via for-profit and not-for-profit MOOC providers (Haggard, 2013). It’s apparent that many institutions that played follow-the-leader, weren’t quite sure why they were in the game in the first place.

I attended several conference sessions in 2012 where I had opportunities to pose the question “why are you offering your MOOC[s]?” to institutional representatives—typical responses were ‘to promote the institution brand’ and/or to ‘participate and experiment’.  It turns out that much was for naught given that most learners enrolled in the MOOCs [known as xMOOCs which differ significantly from the initial constructivist MOOCs] were not the university’s target market in the first place. The majority of learners [typically 90%, if not more] didn’t complete the courses, and were in fact quite well-educated, holding at the very least an undergraduate degree. Reasons for taking the courses varied, but usually learners cited ‘personal interest’ or to ‘upgrade skills’ (Haggard, 2013). Yet higher education administrators [and the media] viewed MOOCs as panacea for its woes, despite reports emerging early on from various institutions with insights into student demographics.  As readers might remember San Jose State University tried the MOOC format for undergraduate courses with Udacity that failed quite spectacularly. This was just one of several efforts by various institutions to use xMOOCs for undergraduate education. Thousands of hours [and dollars] later, many institutions are entering into 2014 wondering what do we do now?  The answer lies with the learners.

The pressure is greater now than ever before for higher education to reform in some way—cut class sizes, reduce tuition fees, reduce administrative costs, attract students, etc. Numerous US colleges and universities are entering the New Year with varying degrees of angst. According to the report The financially sustainable university by Bain & Company, one in three colleges and universities are spending more than they can afford; these schools are financially unsustainable.

Leading change is challenging in any organization. But in higher education, it’s markedly more difficult. If the stakes weren’t so high, incremental improvements might be enough. But they aren’t, and that’s become abundantly clear. Change is needed, and it’s needed now. (Denneen & Dretle)

As the Bain report infers it’s time to stop following and start leading—time for a bold, fresh approach. Addressing finances is one facet, but a proactive plan that meets learners where they are is critical for long-term viability. That bold approach begins with understanding the learner; how they learn, communicate and interact in our digital culture. We need to look to learners’ actions, and behaviours—examine and analyze potential, existing and target students. It’s not uncommon for education decision makers, administrators and/or leaders seeking to reform education in some way, to implement strategies or plans that don’t take into consideration behaviours patterns and actions of the students they ultimately serve. 

Why Study Learner Behaviours
The approach I’m suggesting, considering behaviors, is similar to Clay Shirky’s instructive description of a scenario coined the Milkshake Mistake in his book Cognitive Surplus. Shirky describes how the fast food chain McDonald’s hired researchers to determine how to increase sales of its milkshakes by examining the shake characteristics, sweetness, thickness, flavors, etc. to appeal to customers. Yet one marketer chose a unique approach; he started by examining customer behaviours— when customers purchased milkshakes and why—essentially asking the question “what job did the customers hire [buy] the milkshake for?” [Shirky, p 12-13].  It turns out researchers were missing an opportunity for innovation by focusing on the product [milkshake], assuming that everything important was implicit in the attributes of the milkshake.

Researchers missed examining the behaviours and actions of the customers, i.e. how, why, and for what purpose was the product used [which turned out to be a for a quick, easy breakfast food to consume during the commute to work]. The key takeaway here is not to focus on a solution before examining the problem one is trying to solve. We can apply this analogy to the recent phenomenon with xMOOCs.  Institutional leaders of public higher education, the media, even state officials, focused on the how the product, xMOOCs, could solve a problem within higher education given its mass appeal and ability to reach thousands of learners. Yet what were the behaviours of the majority of students? What did the student ‘hire’ the MOOC to do? What we know now, as mentioned already, is that the majority of learners completing MOOCs were not potential or existing students of post-secondary education.  Unfortunately, numerous institutions and stakeholders viewed xMOOCs as a solution, creating policies and programs to solve a complex problem with a complex product.  An example of the Milkshake Mistake in action.

Four Learner Patterns of 2013 
Below I’ve identified four student behaviours patterns of 2013 that appear significant when considered in conjunction with several reports and predictions of societal, technological and even political events and trends. Considering one report or trend in isolation, for instance the Bain report mentioned above, does not provide scope for a thorough analysis. Yet when synthesizing student behaviour patterns, advancements in digital infrastructure, trends in education, shifts in cultural norms for instance, there is potential to be proactive rather than reactive, anticipate what the future may hold for education and plan accordingly.

I’ll highlight another valuable resource before moving to learner behaviours of 2013, which is a series of reports, collectively called The Shift Index published by Deloitte’s Center for the Edge. It provides further insights about learner behaviours, even though it’s geared to non-education sectors. Updated each year, the indices seek to help leaders understand and take advantage of the changes around them.  An excerpt:

The world around us is changing. Long-term trends, driven by public policy and the exponential rate of change in the digital infrastructure, are fundamentally altering the global business [education] environment. We initially respond to these changes by working harder within existing institutions and practices. The result is diminishing performance and mounting stress. Until we understand the nature of those changes and evolve our institutions and practices accordingly, we won’t be able to effectively harness new capabilities and turn stress into success.  Report 4, The Shift Index

1. Learners acting as savvy consumers. During the last few years’ business has changed its model, shifting from a product-centric framework to a customer-centric one. The End of Business as Usual by Brian Solis describes how customers, with their constant access to abundant information flows transformed how organizations conduct business. This same transformation is now affecting education institutions as students drive change, and influence the traditional model of education. The model is morphing to a learner-centric one as students behave more like customers, and savvy ones too. They shop schools—compare facilities, residence halls and cafeterias. As tuition prices become more transparent and comparison-shopping is encouraged—yet again students are in the role of customer with access to numerous tools and sites that facilitate ‘shopping’.

Students are also balking at buying textbooks, discouraged by hefty price tags. Renting is becoming increasingly attractive to students as is buying used books and comparison-shopping through online sites.  In some instances, students are choosing to do without.

2. Learners connected to friends, peers and information anytime, anywhere. And it’s not just learners that are connected, it’s the majority of the population in numerous countries, not just the United States. Constant access to flows of data, information, and people is facilitated not just by mobile devices connected to the internet, but by applications [phone apps], social and other innovative platforms. The traditional boundary between work, school and life is rapidly dissolving.  The next generation of learners, will not only expect to use devices and applications in and out of school, but won’t know any other way.  And, the Internet of Things, we’ve just started hearing about, is not too far off.

Seventy-one percent of students in Grades 3–5 use the Internet from home to help with schoolwork; and within that same cohort, 40 percent have smart phone access, and 41 percent have tablet access. gettingsmart.com

3. Students are value conscious – avoiding private, four-year institutions and seeking alternatives.  Post secondary age students are avoiding high sticker price of private four-year institutions. From 2010 through 2012, freshman enrollment declined at U.S. private four-year schools by ten percent. The trend continued into 2013, enrollment was down at for-profit, private education institutions. The increased transparency of college costs, and the media’s emphasis on the cost and value of college likely influenced students.

Students also appear receptive to, and eager to explore alternative types of higher education. An example is Quest University, a new concept institution that far exceeded enrollment expectations last year with increasing student demand (read more here from a recent blog post).  Another type, founded by a college drop-out, Dale Stephens is the UnCollege experience, encouraging students to seek alternative and diverse higher education experiences. Stephens also wrote a book, Hacking your Education, which appears highly regarded if one considers the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as a benchmark.

4. Learners are customizing their learning paths, by choosing courses from various institutions, creating their own digital transcripts—essentially becoming untethered to any one institution. Badges, another form of credentialing is a route some learners are following, as well as gathering certificates from various MOOC platforms, such as Signature Track with Coursera or others through Alison.com.  New platforms are satisfying student needs for recording and showcasing their learning accomplishments with sites such as Degreed.com, and others including Linked In. Another term for this concept is personalized learning, we will likely hear more of personalized learning in 2014.

Conclusion
Following-the-learner is a concept that seems counter-intuitive. Yet I’m convinced that in order for education institutions to remain viable and relevant in the future it is essential to analyze its learners, behaviours, and actions, in conjunction with an analysis of societal and cultural trends and events. The traditional method of education needs to change, and has changed with the technological developments and digital infrastructure available, yet it’s apparent we need to focus on learners, and not technology to solve education problems and challenges. Though there is not a one-size-fits-all solution for each institution, there is a solution that lies within its learners.

Further Reading

Three Social Trends That Will Influence Education in 2014

8540717756_396867dbab_cThere are patterns within the trend predictions for 2014 that are worthy of paying attention to. There is strong, if not overwhelming evidence that behaviour patterns of students, educators, employees and professionals are moving towards the use of social tools for learning, working and teaching. Collaborating seamlessly face-to-face and at a distance, bringing the human element to virtual interactions, and personalized learning will prevail in 2014; each facilitated by technology. But it’s not going to be about the technology, it will be about making connections by voice and/or visual, contributing to new knowledge, and learning with and from others—all mediated through social media. It will be the behaviours of students, lifelong learners and educators—their use of technology, specifically social media applications that will influence education in the upcoming year.

To date there have been a handful of predictions made by business and education entities about trends that will impact education in 2014; of the few there are common themes. What dominates is the idea that social media will serve users’ [employees, students, educators, administrators, etc.] needs for getting their work done (whatever that may be)—seamlessly and virtually.

Sources for Social Trends Affecting Education in 2014
The following post delves into the three social trends and the influence each will have on education sector. The sources chosen for this article are few, but solid (and are listed at the end of the post). The majority are from the education sector. The NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki for example, provides excellent insight into educational technology trends for 2014 (and is an interesting read). The majority of the content used for the Horizon Report published each year is generated in this wiki where education experts exchange ideas and engage in discourse. An article from the Nov/Dec 2013 EDUCAUSE Review provided yet another viewpoint on social media in education, suggesting that media ‘is coming of age’. Collectively the sources mentioned here, and the events of the past year provide a window into what we can expect in 2014.

The Three Social Trends 

images1)  Collaborating seamlessly whether at a distance or face-to-face, without technological barriers to get in the way is becoming a reality for professionals, students and educators, and will be integral to the education experience. With the selection of free and numerous high quality applications, and with a record of conversations and work stored ‘in the cloud‘, projects are available to access anytime, from any device. Google docs for example, allows several individuals to collaborate on one document; notes can be made, audio feedback incorporated, and team members can chat in real-time while editing the doc. Collaboration done remotely or within institutions is becoming synonymous with working and learning. Even more of a driving force for teamwork and creating knowledge though, is our current culture which embraces a global mindset. Collaboration today is becoming a necessity, not a nice-to-do.

Over the next year, students will drive the collaboration movement forward through peer projects, virtual study groups, and self-directed learning via their personal networks, though educators shouldn’t be far behind. One unexpected yet positive side effect of the MOOC phenomenon for some institutions, has been the positive outcomes from the collaborative experience among faculty members and institutional staff within and outside the institution. As a recent article in Forbes states, the silo mentality is challenged by social media—it’s not just about social anymore, it’s about creating something that reflects diversity.

 “Social is no longer just about collaboration. Social today is enabling businesses to break down organizational and hierarchical silos and barriers. It’s providing employees an opportunity to share knowledge and locate expertise.”  Forbes

The article in EDUCAUSE as mentioned earlier describes how social media tools are becoming viable methods for education endeavors.

“Social media tools will continue to evolve and flourish because they are not so much about the platform as they are about the content and about the credibility of the individuals producing and sharing the content.”  EDUCAUSE

2)  Humanizing interactions in online learning, meetings, presentations and classroom learning is an unmet need, soon to be addressed by the many new and improved synchronous and asynchronous tools. The lack of a ‘human touch’ has long been a criticism of online learning, but now as tools get better and the cost barrier falls, the ability to connect face-to-face virtually is becoming a reality in education, and will only expand over time as the comfort levels with the technology increases among educators. Tools used for synchronous chat and video conversations are Google+ Hangouts, FaceTime, WhatsApp, and Skype to name a few. It seems that students seek not only a connection with faculty and peers, but want a humanized experience, including personal feedback, especially in online learning. Asynchronous interaction (not in real-time) that is facilitated through other programs and applications, such as applications that record audio and video, are much improved and conducive to providing students with audio feedback. Learning Management platforms (LMS) also have improved substantially, many include robust tools for asynchronous communication.

Face-to-face interaction will not disappear; though as one educator stated in the New Horizon wiki, educators will need to create meaningful and rich experiences when  teaching in face-to-face environments. Lectures that are a one-way mode of communicating content will be a thing of the past. “I think this means that we simply need to make our face-to-face interaction more meaningful”, Sam in response to the notion that digital delivery will be the norm resulting in less face-to-face interaction.” NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki

Selection of Humanizing Tools

  • SlideKlowd an application that captures audience attention levels and incorporates audience feedback
  • Google Docs – Directions on how to incorporate audio feedback for student assignments
  • Twitter for Education, Center for Instruction & Research Technology, University of North Florida

3) Personalizing learning experiences where learners are taking control of their learning, not relying upon institutions or companies for providing education and/or vocational development they want and need, is just beginning—in 2014 the movement will continue. This applies to graduate students, educators seeking professional development, professionals, employees in the workplace, and life-long learners. The growth of MOOC platforms and Mozilla Badges, along with the ability to record and document alternative learning through various platformsLinked In, Degreed, for example, demonstrates how life-long learners are taking charge and engaging with education via social media, as well as using it for documenting and sharing.

“With the explosion of web 2.0 and social media tools and the integration of these tools into learning, it is no longer sustainable, economical, nor logical to leverage an internal faculty development staff to develop training resources for these technologies and train local faculty” Eva, NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Education Edition Wiki

globe_mouseProfessional development for educators will shift to a personalized approach, where educators build a personal network using social media tools, connect and collaborate virtually with other educators to fulfill their own learning needs.

There is much discussion among educators about how effective undergraduate students are at self-directed learning; how capable are young adults who don’t know what they don’t know? This point is debatable. However an emerging trend in undergraduate education is what might be called ‘alternative learning’, where the learner gets to choose his or her own learning path based upon their interests. Many readers may be familiar with the UnCollege program, which I wrote about last year. There are many variations of the ‘uncollege’ learning path, and this too will grow over time, however, this is another trend to cover in another post.

Conclusion
Though we can predict and make an educated guess what the year 2014 will hold for education, we won’t really know until we are in it—knee deep. The year 2012 named by the New York Times as the Year-of-the-MOOC, shook the foundations of education, and no one saw it coming. Will social media influence education by increasing collaboration, humanize the learning experience, and support personalized learning in 2014? Time will tell.

Sources:

Image Credit: Social learning, MKHMarketing Flickr creative commons

What do Curators, e-Educators and Constructivists all have in common?

“A curator (from Latin: cura meaning “care”) is a manager or overseer [educator] of a collection [e-resources], traditionally a museum or gallery and is a content specialist responsible for an institution’s collections [educational resources] and involved with the interpretation [constructivist] of material.”

I’ve inserted my own words into Wikipedia’s definition of curator, as I’ve been exploring the term ‘educator as curator’, an emerging concept I’ve noted based on blog discussions and social learning tools developed within the past twelve months. Scoop-it and Curatr both describe learning with the adjective ‘curate’ and discuss educator as ‘curator’.

I’ll admit, I was stretched to see the connection between real learning and ‘curating’ in this context, though after viewing Corinne Weisgerber’s (St. Edward’s University) slideshare presentation  (below), I [finally] could see the connection — in essence, curating is a dimension of social learning, and with the expansion of web 2.0 tools, has tremendous potential for engaging students. However….

Educator as curator, is about social learning, and has great potential with the explosion of social learning tools – yet, I predict, will face acute resistance in higher education circles.  Adoption of ‘social learning’ will face barriers, as the concept collides with traditional teaching methods.  (onlinelearninginsights)

Corinne Weisgerber  (Associate Prof. of Communication at St. Edward’s University, presentation at SXSWedu, March 6, 2012.

Social learning is Constructivist Approach
I found this slideshare intriguing – the focus is on students’ creating, collaborating and learning through sharing. This approach emphasizes social, using web 2.0 applications and tools to create knowledge, with a byproduct being student engagement. This smacks of the constructivist learning theory, of which many higher education educators are wary. Though as mentioned in my post, sage-on-the-side, there is a clash between the objectivist (behavioral) theorists where learning believed to be transmitted from teacher to learner, is passive,  with the inquiry based learning or constructivist approach where the learner is thought to construct knowledge through inquiry, discovery and experience.

The future for Social Learning?  Resistance by Higher Education….
Why am I pessimistic about the adoption of the constructivist approach any time soon? It’s the divergent philosophies about knowledge acquisition held by traditionalist and progressives in higher education institutions. Post-secondary  institutions (in the USA – at least), are objectivist theorist, and though there is progress, change is slow. For example growth in online learning stalled in 2010, in part due to slow adoption (and continued resistance) of higher education institutions and faculty (I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, 2011).

Author and researcher C. Payne puts it this way in her book Information Technology and Constructivism in Higher Education, “The problem of the unwilling students seems to be fading away [using web 2.0 applications] while the hostile colleagues and the land of rigid institutions are likely to become the most important obstacles to deal with“. Ouch! To be fair, not all post secondary institutions fall into this resistant category, in fact there are several progressive higher-ed institutions which embrace and embody the student center approach for undergraduate and graduate programs. These schools discussed in-depth by Payne, however are outnumbered, and the ‘outliers’ in higher ed.

How to make Social Learning Effective
Jerome Bruner is considered one of the founding fathers of the  constructivist theory, influenced by Jean Piaget, a psychologist, founder of the developmental stage theory which describes the nature of knowledge and how humans construct it. E-learning and online educators would do well to review the concepts and principles of the constructivist model —  it provides a foundation for sound and complete instruction for putting the learner in the center, and for creating a framework that allows the learner to construct their own knowledge. I would like to emphasize, that the teacher is not absent from this model, in fact it is only through careful course design and with thoughtful selection of learning activities, can learning be effective and focused.

Principles for effective E-learning design using the Constructivist Theory
A successful e e-learning course is most effective when developed using a course design model, and with consideration of principles of a given learning theory, such as the constructivist theory (core principles below).

  • Emphasize the affective domain, make instruction relevant to the learner, help learners develop attitudes and beliefs that will support both present learning and lifelong learning, and balance teacher-control with personal autonomy in the learning environment.
  • Provide contexts for both autonomous learning and learning within relationships to other students. Group discussion, projects, collaboration as well as independent.
  • Provide reasons for learning within the learning activities themselves. Have students identify relevance and purpose.
  • Use the strategic exploration of errors to strengthen the learners involvement with intentional learning processes and self-feedback.

I look forward to the evolution of ‘educator as curator’, and constructivist – I am sure there will be more to come.  Keep Learning 🙂

Sources:

Image representing Curatr as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Curatr: Create rich and active social e-learning
Scoop.it: Business and Economics: E-learning and Blended Learning

I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman. Going the distance – Online education in the United States, 2011. (2011), Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC.