Thursday, 7 June 2007

issues and themes

Today, most of the keynote speakers talked about aspects of Web 2.0, touching upon what its implications are, or could be, for teaching and learning. We didn't get a chance to go into things in a great deal of depth during the rather short discussion sessions, but then the idea of this conference has always been to get that discussion happening informally in small groups over coffee, a drink in the bar or a walk on the prom.

Ray Land talked briefly about the ideas of "troublesome knowledge" and "threshold concepts" and raised the question about how these new technologies might align with (or not) these ideas. They are at the very heart of what is often held to constitute 'higher education' (indeed all levels of education, to be fair): that previously held knowledge and preconceptions need to be challenged, that students need to experience a disconnect of sorts, an uncomfortable, troublesome feeling in which they can't see quite how to reconcile this new information or new way of thinking with how they have previously, personally "understood" the subject they are studying. All academic disciplines have 'threshold concepts', fundamental ideas that must be grasped before the student can move on.

The question, then, posed by Ray and also raised again in the discussion after Michael Kerres' presentation, is how can Web 2.0 (or whatever we want to call it) technologies help in this personally transformative, intellectual journey? In the rush of 'fast time' how can students carve out space and time to think, to reflect, to face up to these conceptual challenges and to move to the next level? Surely the barrage of information, the bombardment of communication, all of these are in danger of pushing things aside? Perhaps this is an indicator of what the role of the teacher, the expert practitioner might then be in this new era: designing, shaping, guiding and focusing on the real 'learning', the processes of coming to know, to act and to "be" in the subject or discipline under study.

Bill McDaniel's enthusiastic embracing of new technologies shows that we needn't fear them, but equally we need to come to terms with this wider context in which more and more of our students are going to be inhabiting. That we need to be clear as to what constitutes learning, to focus a little more on the processes than the content is also part of the message of today.

Anyway, those are just first random thoughts at the end of a busy day. Keep up the discussion and get ready for more tomorrow.

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