Friday, 22 June 2007

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us

Tying things together

Blogs, wikis, Wikipedia, Wikiversity, flickr, youtube,, the list is endless and with a new Blog born every half a second millions of people are choosing to spend their time engaging, participating, posting, reconfiguring and learning. It seems to me that engagement and participation in learning on this scale and in this way asks some pretty serious questions of higher education: why is this stuff so interesting for so many people? Why aren't we attracting such levels of engagement? And, what future is there for universities that can't respond to this challenge?

Mike Wesch (Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us) in an impressive multi-media presentation sets out a set of principles which focuses on the contribution which technology makes with implications for the way we think about the world. But I think this preoccupation with the technology is missing something which is really interesting. A focus on tools, on the formal and deliberately taught and learned, for me, misses the immediate, the social , the need to belong and to make a mark, which characterises human behaviour.

Web 2.0 (Tim O'Reilly and colleagues), taps into this fundamental, visceral dimension of human nature and enables us to belong and to make a mark, 'many to many', through the use of these new technologies. This approach, which at its root is deeply democratic and participatory, contrasts with conventional university education which is more hierarchical, much less participatory and which draws on a 'one to many' form of pedagogy. Seeing students as fellow academics, able to make a contribution and to make a mark, might seem new (and perhaps for Universities it is) but as a way of participating and engaging in learning, it seems to me, to be as old as the human race.

The learning genie is now out of the bottle; fuelled by the new web-based tools, informal, participatory learning and with it a recognition of the power of learning in practice settings, is on the way up and universities that don't recognise this will become increasingly irrelevant.

Charles Leadbeater, in 'Up the Down Escalator: Why the Global Pessimists are Wrong' writes about the increasing irrelevance of Victorian Public Bathhouses as the public chose to wash regularly rather than just for special occasions and as clean water and soap became readily available. Unless universities change we could become like old-fashioned bathhouses, gathering students together for communal sessions where they receive instruction on correct soap and sponge usage and forced baths at certain points in the day. In a society with en-suite facilities and constant running hot water this isn't going to stay popular for long!

Monday, 11 June 2007

Starting out...

A recent presentation by Martin Weller and other colleagues in IET, for the OU's Practice-Based learning CETL has inspired me to join the Blogosphere!

The relationship between informal and formal learning, between University settings and practice settings, and in particular the roles that schools and universities have in initial and continuing teacher education in the UK and in other parts of the World are all areas that I'm interested in at the moment.

As I move jobs, from Directing the OU's pre-service teacher education course (the PGCE) to Directing the PBPL CETL (from September), and as I start my final year on my (very) part-time PhD, I thought it would be a good time to start a Blog. Clearly, this could be (and probably is) displacement activity of the highest order, so my intention is to post fairly infrequently... unless I've got some really important deadlines to meet... in which case I'll probably be posting on the hour!