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Finding the right title for noting down some of the ideas arisen during any seminar is difficult. Finding an unique title for summarizing some of the key aspects of George Siemens’ and Alejandro Piscitelli’s presentations during the VI International Seminar of the UNESCO Chair in e-Learning about Open Social Learning seems me impossible, specially when my intention is to collect some personal ideas and relations their speaches have suggested me rather than writting a proper report about the event. In short, this is the reason why I’ve decided to name the posts about the seminar under the label “Open Social Learning Bits”.

Anyway, despite these initial words, titles matter and can/should be helpful. So, is fair that, despite my subjective approach, I include the titles of the presentations I’m referring to:

George Siemens:

Connectivism: Socializing Open Learning.

Briefly, the aspects in which I want to focus of George Siemens’ presentation are sensemaking and the idea that “the social” is understood as something continuosly build. According to Siemens, sensemaking is defined as the ability to participate in the place we live meaningfully. Taking into account the strenght paid to connections (rather than networks) in connectivism, it seems that connections are a key issue of sensemaking. Here there is educators’ power as “the way they design the course determines the kind of connections that are build”. However as it has been also mentioned, educators don’t have the last word as learners adapt their own connections to what they feel meaningful for their context. After this, Open Social Learning should be:

-Responsive to needs of individuals.

– Adaptative.

– Fluid, variable and contextualized.

Up to here there’s a very short summary of his presentation. From here, there are some questions I haven’t manage to answer. First, I’ve some doubts about sensemaking definition. Can sensemaking be defined as just building connections? What’s the difference between learning and sensemaking? How can an educator promote a critical attitude that affects sensemaking processes? Sometimes I have the feeling that too much attention is focused on technology, but not in questionning it (why we use a certain tool, what it implies, but overall what are we – as learners – supposed to learn and why) by using that technology.

On the other hand, there are some questions dealing with the practical implementation of this connectivist approach of Open Social Learning. What should be the role of educators? How could encourage students building connections? Are all connections equally valid in a specific learning context? How this approach woul affect big institutions such as universities?

Alejandro Piscitelli:

The Facebook Project. Edupunk and the redesign of power/knowledge relations in a public university setting.

Trying to keep brief, Piscitelli’s presentation narrates the use of Facebook as a way to break traditional teaching paradigm (teacher’s monologue with low or nule students’ participation). Inspiration for this educational approach can be found in edupunks’ ideas, connectivism as well as the idea of fun applied to education and learning (please, visit thefuntheory.com, it’s worth – at least to have a good time). Main key issues for the use of facebook in class have been listed as the following:

–         Participation.

–         Media conversion.

–         Virtual communication.

–         Arquitecture.

–         Construction of identity.

–         Economy.

From a point of view of changing class dynamics and engage students to actively participate, the course was, according to Piscitelli, successful. Anyway, the idea isn’t to spread the benefits of Facebook as a learning tool but to arise collaborative knowledge production, that’s why he mentioned that, most probably, next course they would try another tool/platform. Piscitelli’s presentation was engaging and from an edupunk point of view, it seems that using Facebook suited their intention of changing a certain way of teaching. However, personally I lacked a more reflective attitude towards the limits of the tool, at least from an educational point of view. At some point during the speech, Piscitelly commented that what was really important was information visualization, how to think with images and use visual metaphors. Personally, I consider there are many different fields under these words. However, if the idea is to develop a visual literacy among students, I consider crucial to, first, learn to interpret visual discourses in order to fully understand the implications of visual metaphors… Producing nice and enganging videos, graphics… can be valuable, but in a learning environment I would expect that among the necessary skills, students develop a critical attitude towards visual narratives than invade our everyday life.

Digital learnersThe title of this speech it’s a clear allusion to Prensky’s definition of digital natives and digital inmigrants. Obviously Prensky isn’t the only one who has approached this issue, but have been really constated that those persons named as the net generation (that’s to say, those ones born after 1982) are experts in multitasking, needing fast feedback, prefering teamwork and collaboration, experienced learners, social, ambitious, career-oriented, willing fro freedom and customization?

Rather than making strong strong statements, what Mark Bullen faced during his talk was the lack of rigor of many studies in the academic world. What methodology have they followed to arise that conclusions, was the sample really significative or just by studying 100 students who already use technology are they making assumptions for a hole generation? Who is financing the study? These were some of the questions that he introduced before taking any position.

Really, I must confess how, step by step, he build a devastating and well-sustained criticism about studies and research in the academic field. I couldn’t avoid smiling when he mentioned the name of the blog in which they publish the results of their research about digital learners: netgenskeptic.

In relation with the dilemma already raised in the title, mainly what he said was that there hadn’t been proper research to define what students need. The assumption that immersion in digital technology is making net generation fundamentally different has to be reviewed. The use of technology isn’t just a generation issue. It affects all age groups as the use of technology is growing. Therefore, it can be considered that educational institutions are facing the consequences of a social change rather than a generation one.