Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Hard is Easy, Soft is Hard

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

May 04, 2011

Partial summary of presentation by Terry Anderson and George Siemens of Jon Dron's preconference workshop.

The topic is basically around finding the right balance between Moodle and alternatives.

We began by talking about pedagogies we've used or have had used on you. The first comment was that the pedagogy has to adapt to the tools - and the students. Moodle can shape the availability of material, can make delivery more flexible. It meant structuring forum questions better.

George: if you're going to show, you should have an attitude of participation.

What is a technology? They pick up a stick and ask what could be done with it. People made suggestions – toast marshmallows, create heat, find water, etc. This ties into the concept of ‘affordances' – "the action potential of a tool." A second camp (Kaufmann) employs the idea of ‘adjacent possible' – what is possible once you've done one thing.

We see this online. Once you're there, you duplicate your classroom activities. But then you think about what you can do that's new.

A ‘technology' generally is an instantiation of technique. From AECT, 1972: pedagogy is "a field involved in the facilitation of human learning through the systematic identification, development, organization, and utilization of learning resource and through the management of these processes."

Moodle was designed to support a constructivist pedagogy. But it can be used with other pedagogies. Clarke: technologies are "mere vehicles that deliver instruction, but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in the nutritional." (1983)

In addition to this that of social determinism – the way you use a tool is the way everyone else uses it. Which leads to the idea of the idea of ‘technological determinism'. "We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us." This was a view of David Noble, a strong critic of e-learning. "Online education is not a progression to a new era at all" but rather a return to the mass production era. (All this from Heather Khnika's chapter in Theory and Practice of Online Learning).

Brian Arthur – almost all technologies are assemblies. Rosen: there are thousands of thinkers, thousands of innovations that have come together in this one device. Innovation is really more about novel connectedness rather than about novel ideas. So, what of pedagogy?

The systems theory idea is that one tool leads to the next tool, or stops the next environment. That's why Moodle 2.0 changes things – like Elgg, it is a plug-in based environment, so your Moodle 2.0 won't look like someone else's Moodle 2.0. The Moodle world, as a system, is becoming much more complex. And people and institutions need to ask what level of complexity they can, and can afford to, invest in.

There are different ways of setting up educational technology – on the one hand, you can use an entire system, like an LMS. On the other hand, you can use a number of smaller single-use technologies in combination. That's easier to do – until you end up with a dozen single-use technologies.

So we have:
- hard systems, like Yahoo's predefined indices, which was easy to use
- soft systems, like Google, with no predefined categories, but was harder to use

Example: Elgg at Athabasca. Professors had been making full use of Moodle. But there was the need to be more innovative, to move beyond the LMS. But the ‘softer' (less predefined) system of Elgg is harder to use, especially within a hard (entrenched, institutionalized, calcified) system like Athabasca. Even harder was to develop a system (Athabasca Landing) based on iterative user input – there needed to be a development plan in order for computer services to be able to adapt.

Three generations of distance / online learning – instructivistm constructivist, Connectivist. You can ‘soften' a system designed for an earlier pedagogy, but it gets harder as you go along. Generally, as you move to a new pedagogy, you move to a ‘hard' tool designed for that new pedagogy – the way Moodle was designed for constructivism. It implements the design strategy of that new pedagogy. Where is the design strategy of connectivism? Looking for that to be implemented in a tool.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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