In this short post I am happy to join Matt Henderson and the participants of #MBMY14 in a discussion of knowledge acquisition. The question posed to me for this post was “how do you personally acquire knowledge and how you as a teacher foster acquisition in your learning environments?”. Certainly a broad question (my favorite kind) and one I think about often.

Personal Knowledge

Acquiring Knowledge

To start,  I see my learning broadly as a theory, design, and praxis cycle. I yearn to theorize the world around me, design learning environments for myself and others that intervene in the confluent and ever changing learning process. I then actively test those designs through mentorship, facilitation, teaching and learning.  Thus, I acquire knowledge through qualitative, quantitative and distributed modalities:

  • I read, write and cipher daily and have done more than my fair share of institutional learning (schools-universities).
  • I  am connected and those connections can grow, focus, change, and enhance my experiences and those of others acquiring knowledge.

A scope and sequence for my personal knowledge acquisition might look like1:


Orient: I reflect on what I would like to know, why (research) and how I might go about learning.  I locate resources, human, multimedia (including Twitter, blogs, video, image, journal, book),  and print. Initial aggregation of these quantitative or qualitative resources using social and collaborative bookmarks, notes, and often, project management software allow me to build up a base from which to know what I am studying and build new knowledge . Identifying and cultivating mentors in the field who share interests is paramount to  knowledge acquisition also.   The goal of my orienting is to clearly see the initial  landscape of my learning community.

Declare:  I typically will try to add value to my learning community regarding my research as soon as I can through twitter posts and contribution to hashtags , blogposts and bookmarks while online. I usually initiate discussions or sharing of materials face to face.

Network: Connecting with others and starting a conversation has redefined how I acquire knowledge.  Following others and community in hashtags via Twitter, reading and commenting on Blogs and Replying to those who have commented on my blog or responded to twitter posts builds a network of people and resources. Building this network galvanizes my own research and makes applied what otherwise might be exclusive or hidden.

Cluster: I tend to build closer networks for certain times in my process, leaning heavily, benefiting and benefiting from a close generative connection with those researching similarly. This happens online and in face to face contexts.

Focus: As I gather knowledge I work to see both that I have an end in mind (theory, design, praxis) and can keep myself organized. This is important because I want to contribute new knowledge in efforts to better humanity, the ultimate goal of knowledge acquisition.

Fostering Knowledge in Learning Environments

My Background

Since 1998 I have led experiential education programs in the backcountry of Alaska, Wyoming and Utah and developed leadership initiatives for national service learning organizations.  Understanding young people through experience with them outside of school is an attribute I find prerequisite for seeing young people in toto in schools or institutions.2  Since 2004 I  have devoted my career to teaching and learning with middle level and secondary school aged young people in schools and through extensive independent studies. I have also held a few adjunct positions at the university level teaching pre-service and in-service teachers. All of my teaching, learning and design based research focus on planning with students in technology rich, socially relevant learning spaces.

My Praxis

I have focused my research, curricular design, and teaching on  networked learningproject based learningePortfoliosblended learning environments, and mobile learning infused Field Studies. Shaping learning environments in this way allows the best supports for student collaboration, communication and problem solving in a flexible, connected and (I hope) interesting way. The methods I use to foster the acquisition of knowledge are co-developed, participatory and challenging.  I help create a community of learning in a classrooms, online or in mobile spaces  for negotiating the learning process with students– from content to products, reflection to portfolio.

My curriculum is designed to foster four core strands of knowledge: Personal Knowledge addressing self-concerns and ways of knowing about self ; Social Knowledge addressing social and world issues, from peer to global relationships, and ways of critically examining these. Explanatory Knowledge including content that names, describes, explains, and interprets3, as well as commonsense or popular knowledge; Technical/Twenty First Century Knowledge incorporating ways of investigating, communicating, analyzing, and expressing in a technologically rich global environment.4

Curricular examples I have designed and facilitated to foster the four strands of knowledge can be found on my resource wiki. A selection of readings I would suggest can be found at the Kieve-Wavus Educators Conference Wiki see:  Readings and Media.  Especially important to Middle Level Educators is Beane (1997) ‘Curriculum Integration: Designing the Core of Democratic Education and Springer (2003) Soundings: A Democratic Student-Centered Education.

Please contact me at any time via Twitter @steelemaley , Leave a comment below, or follow my Pinboard Bookmarks tag for #MBMY1 .  I look forward to learning with you.


1This framework has been adapted from my expereince in CCK 11 and is based in part on Dave Cormier’s “Success in a MOOC
2Being with young people in a remote backcountry setting 24/7 and the ability to see students at their best and worst in real life situations remains the single most important set of experiences I have had.
3Including that involved in the systems of knowledge (Life Systems – Biology, Ecology, Anatomy, Physiology, Health; Physical Systems – Geological, Chemical, Physical; Numerical Systems – Statistical, Relational (Algebraic), Spacial (Geometric); Social Systems – Cultural, Political, Organizational, Historical, Economic; Thought Systems – Spirituality, Philosophy, Psychology); Visual and Performing Systems — arts, design, media
4Research, critical reading and writing, finding, validating, leveraging, and synthesizing Information, mapping, modeling and representing data, communication, collaboration and problem solving, service and leadership. These core strands of knowledge inform an educational experience providing students with a bridge between the personal and social, intellect and experience, wilderness and culture.

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