ds106In 2010, I ran across Jim Groom and his networked learning hub ds106.  At the time, I was teaching a course on instructional technology at University of Maine and leaning heavily on Alec Couros, Stephen Downes and George Siemens for inspiration in my blended course design and teaching. What fascinated me about these educator/design/researchers was how they wove the individual into the learning process and their courses.  The architecture for courses like Downes and Siemens Connectivism and Connective Knowledge (which I experienced first hand as a participant), Couros’s eci831 and Groom’s ds106 enable self determined learning. eci831 and ds106 are still potent and prevalent today and the legacy of CCK11 as a theory, design and praxis is very important.  All of these learning ecologies weave the delicate cultural reality of institutions with the liminal praxis in networked learning.  Alec, Stephen, George and Jim are part of what the eminent Brown Professor and historian Jo Guldi  calls ” A spatial turn”:

“Landscape turns” and “spatial turns” are referred to throughout the academic disciplines, often with reference to GIS and the neogeography revolution that puts mapping within the grasp of every high-school student. By “turning” we propose a backwards glance at the reasons why travelers from so many disciplines came to be here, fixated upon landscape, together. For the broader questions of landscape–worldview, palimpsest, the commons and community, panopticism and territoriality–are older than GIS, their stories rooted in the foundations of the modern disciplines. These terms have their origin in a historic conversation about land [internet] use and agency.”

Each of these educators has radically altered the territoriality of education. Their work is the root of a realized networked learning that flowcck11 across learning boundaries. These courses provide what Thomas and Seeley Brown (2011) call an “Arc of Learning” where the “unbound” information and learning that comes with the networked world is embraced while we also provide a “bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within….”.   I just spent time with Jim Groom at DML2014.  We caught up, and then discussed ways to support students as they explore the world.  As we spoke, I was reminded that the conversation we where having was quite pragmatic. We spoke of new ecologies of mobile learning, landcape history, neogeography….we talked of the courses he teaches….  Our conversations meshed with my design and current projects including a project network of boarding school educators. In short, my meeting with Jim reinforced for me that the practices of these courses are not radical but realistic for our institutions.  In many ways, the power and potential of connected designs and institutions for learning like CCK11, eci831 and ds106  also have hallmarks of the inversion, rescue, bypass, reconfiguration and support theory that Shoshana Zuboff has called institutional “Mutation”:

  • Inversion: they support a perspective turn from the school to the learner;
  • Rescue: they encourage a realignment of valuable assets (e.g. information) from the old structures to the new;
  • Bypass: they go around existing institutional structures to connect individuals to desired assets;
  • Reconfiguration: they allow the individual to reconfigure the assets to meet personal needs;
  • Support: they provide support to the individual to accomplish his or her goals.

eci831In short, these examples have serious implication as catalysts and pathways for institutional change. ds106 and eci831 remain some of the most connected courses imaginable at the student level and both have credit bearing options that many students are choosing. Whether for “credit” or not, it is the student connection while still part of an institution we should look at closely in the design of new methodologies, course delivery and research.  The world of k-12 education within which I work is embracing a spatial turn. We are looking around fixated upon the landscape together and are having a conversation about human agency in learning and schools. This is not a conversation about replacing schools with alternative worlds of learning (though those exist and deserve attention), it is a conversation about realigning institutional resources and mutation in schools to serve the world.  As I swim in the waters (rapids) of DML 2014, this point is important. Networked learning is about interaction, experience, building, exploring and experimenting….online and face to face. Enabling a proliferation of designs and praxis that build and adapt on the work of George, Jim, Stephen and Alec within and between institutions could be an ultimate expression of new learning ecologies.

I would love to hear of the programs you know that showcase how networked learning and institutions are at confluence.

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