Working Session on Open Social Learning (I). Marc Alier: Open Social Learning?

Notes from the Working Session on Open Social Learning, organized by UOC UNESCO Chair in E-Learning and held in Barcelona, Spain, on June 30th, 2009. More notes on this event: uocunescoosl.

Open Social Learning?
Marc Alier

Open Learning: We use to define problems so that some structured learning outcomes happen, but problems do not usually have unique solutions, as life. If we open education, we have to be aware that problems and solutions have to be open too.

Social Learning: If we do not do nothing as a society, we do not learn as a group. The interesting thing is to participate and be engaged within the community. Social Learning is learning as a group. But it is also about learning how to be social, is about education training people to socialize and, at the same time, to define the society as is: education shapes society.

Learn in Community: Moodle as the flagship of community learning. Related with hacker ethics: passion for what you do; freedom; value and social recognition; information and knowledge accessibility; activism; social commitment.

Photo of Marc Alier

Marc Alier. Photo by Enric Senabre Hidalgo

Open, social and hacker ethics lead us to Learning in community by doing and sharing openly.

When students are given control begin to feel confident on what they do. And things happen. People self-organize; new “solutions” or “answers” to pre-established problems/questions arise; and new knowledge emerges.

Some examples:

  • Work on specific subjects but without constraints, being the output a collaborative text on a wiki + a presentation. Students take divergent directions from what one would expect, but with high quality output and high engagement.
  • Collaborative (massive: circa 30 students) project management subject where the whole classroom defines a single project. Rules? Only traceability of work. Students would use all kind of web 2.0 applications to distribute roles and tasks, to schedule milestones, to distribute workload, etc. The teacher then becomes a mentor whose “sole” work is to monitor and guide the autonomous work of the students.

To be able to perform such a monitoring activity, the software needs to be prepared to do that monitoring. Tracing is a must and interoperability between applications another need so that different tools can be integrated and used during the learning (and teaching) process.


Ismael Peña-López: what competences need teachers to become “open social learning monitors or mentors”? A: First step is accepting that the outcomes of open collaborative work is an open and unexpected outcome. And this is not a competence but an attitude. Once the teacher gives control away, they will bring in technology: the teacher does not need the technology to give it to the students, but to follow (and catch up with) them. The attitude is the key: what outcomes are you renouncing to in exchange of implication and satisfaction?

Dolors Reig: How to monitor? How to evaluate? How to make quantify performance? A: The important thing in technology is how you are going to evaluate, and then design the software. If the evaluation model is clear, technology should not be an issue… provided it is free software and you can edit its code and add new features.

Ismael Peña-López: Can we really always renounce to part of our syllabus, of our planned content? A: Are exams a real way to assess learning? Or are we teaching students to pass exams? If we want to transform the society we don’t need knowledge, we need abilities and competences. We need not to teach knowledge but to teach how to acquire new knowledge and to have a critical attitude towards the knowledge we reach.

Jesús Martínez: How do we cope with competition (in education and in society at large)? With inertias? A: The educational system is at stake, so inertias can be broken down in pieces if this is the general will or the general trend.


Working Session on Open Social Learning (2009)

If you need to cite this article in a formal way (i.e. for bibliographical purposes) I dare suggest:

Peña-López, I. (2009) “Working Session on Open Social Learning (I). Marc Alier: Open Social Learning?” In ICTlogy, #69, June 2009. Barcelona: ICTlogy.
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4 Comments to “Working Session on Open Social Learning (I). Marc Alier: Open Social Learning?” »

  1. Last fall I took a cue from a friend, Chris Corrigan, a brilliant facilitator for the Art of Hosting and Open Space technologies. He asked, when reading literature, why not let the kids decide what questions they want to answer?

    I was skeptical, but I also have great faith in my students, so I set up an experiment. Typically, I will use a novel to explore a particular idea: for example, I might use Frankenstein to explore our relationship to the things we create. And the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program (IB MYP) we have insists teachers start a unit of instruction with a so-called guiding question to lead the discussion. However, this time I said to my students let’s just read Frankenstein slowly and carefully and then ask ourselves what questions do we want to think about and try to answer.

    Each student was responsible for leading a discussion on a chapter of the t book. They posted their notes on a wiki and the rest of the class was responsible for making edits and modifications to those notes. My job was to back fill history, biography and philosophy, etc–things the students couldn’t know just from reading the novel. This meant that the students didn’t have to worry about taking notes and could focus on the discussion at hand. It also gave us a comprehensive set of notes on the novel to refer to whenever needed.

    The project took 12 weeks and the students said they never enjoyed reading a book in class so much. It was, proabably, the first deep reading they’ve ever made (I wonder if we don’t move through too much material, too fast in middle school). Along the way we answered all the questions I’ve usually asked my students; we made comparisons between Dr. Frankenstein’s monster and modern science’s monsters–nuclear power and genetics–and looked at our relationship to and responsibilities for the things we create.

    But when we finally asked ourselves “What does the novel ask us to ask?” I was amazed at the students’ responses. We threw our thoughts onto the whiteboard then grouped them into a couple categories. Their final question, the one they wanted to explore: Where do humanity and monstrosity cross? That is a worthy question and one I would not have thought of myself. You can see a short Animoto show of the process here: Gr 9s Question Mary Shelley.

    The kids knew that that was a question to explore, not answer, and chose to read Eli Weisel’s Night as a window on real monsters.

    This was one of the most significant learning experiences for me as a teacher. I’m pretty conservative in my ideas about education, as you can see in my blog, but this experience convinced me that social learning coupled with good guidance from a teacher can produce amazing learning.

  2. Pingback: Cole20 » Posts about Moodle news as of 1 July 2009

  3. Hi Brad,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience: I really liked. And the questions on the whiteboard that you picture in your post are… whoa! :)

  4. Pingback: Jornades Open Social Learn « Surfistes a càmara lenta

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