Learning in Digital Worlds: What are we talking about?

Prof Josie Taylor inaugural lecture, liveblog 7 April 2009.

Two great realisations. Looks at people doing stuff with things – it’s really about conversations. Diana Laurillard’s work. The greatest challenge for those involved in the communication revoulution is not technology but communication between people. Link to Pask’s Conversation Theory. Converse of control, deregulation, enrichment by divergence possible, cybernetic – participants could be computers as much as people.

Second realisation: Abduction (Peirce). Used heavily in design. Inverse modus ponens.

The ‘computational aura’ – dialectical relationship between technologies and conversation takes us forward; digital artifacts and humans jointly construct, divisions blur.

Prolog learners with Ben du Boulay, 1984-87. people not systematic in their logical thinking. Interpretative framework for people trying to understand complex machine behaviour is the human social framework.

Communicating through videotunnels (88-90), with Tim O’Shea, Eileen Scanlon, Claire O’Malley. Mediated eye contact and role in establishing collaboration on problem-solving.

Physics problem solving (90-94) – collaborative undestandings established through dialogue – negotiations around agreement.

MENO: Multimedia, Education and Narrative Organisation with Diana Laurillard et al (96-2000) – Narrative guidance, narrative construction.

Mobile learning (2005-2009) – Conversaional processes, Pask again. Conversation is means by which we negotiate differences and form transiently stable interpretations of the world.

So … established enough about the nature of human learning to support it through use of digital devices. But technology always changing, underutilised – confusing, worrying. Professionals not good at technology predictions.  Changes deceptive and misleading – we tend to muddle up surface presentation/format changes, accessibility/delivery, functionality offered, and functionality required.

Case study: Penguin Paperbacks. Before 1935, to read book, go to library. Cheap paperbacks changed this. Readers become buyers, business boomed, range increased, easy to get hold of. What actually changed? Mobility (vs hardback), access changed, contexts, cost. But functionality and skills required didn’t change. So changes only syntactic (format), but a revolution occurred.  We tend not to ask the right questions: What is the right size of book for optimal reading? What is the learning benefit of this change? We don’t need to innovate any more? What about people who can’t read?

Conceptual infrastructures: Ubiquity, Ambience, Flow, Grid: everyone has connection, carries connection, everything has one, everything works together.

Speckled computing – http://www.specknet.org – autonomous, minute specks (1mm^3), collaborating as programmable computational networks called Specknets. Truly ubiquitous computing. Fine spatial and temporal resolution. Information appliances might not be explicit; highly diffused.

(With shift from multiple media to multimedia, our learning thinking was still valuable. Similar argument here.)

These digital artifacts as cognitive enhancers – makes it a semantic change.

Learning context of the future: network, grid, specknets – return of the intelligent machine?

Computers as participants in a cybernetic view of learning. Enable computers to work out how to work with us.

Theory of Mobile learning (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula 2007) – focus is communictive interaction between learner and technology. Digital artifact is as much a participant as the human. Draws on Pask, Laurillard, Vygotsky (via Activity Theory), Engeström.

Two-layer model: human/task focused/semiotic layer – Engeström extended activity system. But also technological layer – with conversation between each level. Relationship between the two is dialectical. (Note to self: Just had horrible thought that actually these levels are end-on in a trad activity system, rotate through 90 degrees, not overlay – to follow up. Probably isn’t though.)

Interdisciplinarity is key – need educational technology and technology.

Grand Challenge for Computing: Research in Learning for Life. To conceptualise how learning environments will manifest. Not just incrementally extending current models of teaching and learning.

Conclusion: Technology potential People will retain control – but are lazy so likely to relinquish it. Digital artifacts geneate possibilities and options – humans must choose. Some artifacts may become intimately connected with human bodies.

Dewey 1916 p88 quote about learning in a mobile society a nice finish.


Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.