Course Takeaways: Looking Forward to Aaron 2.0

Awareness is defined as knowledge or perception of a situation or fact. The definition of self awareness, is conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. The combination of these two concepts, is becoming increasingly paramount to the success of today’s learner, as individual agency is facilitated through the integration of technology in education.

As stated in The Arc of Life, the goal is to “take the outside in, make it part of ourselves, and recreate it”. This movement is the basis of a never ending cycle that begins from the day we are born, and continues until the day we die. Whether or not people are aware of this, is a different story, however it is our duty as educators to facilitate this great awakening not only in others – but in ourselves.

Before this course, I understood that there was no universal learner. Utilizing technology as an alternative to the classroom, admittedly, has always been a personal point of contention. By eliminating traditional face-to-face interaction, there is the potential for inadequacies to emerge in the development of the tacit skills necessary to function in an offline world. People are enamored by the concept of learning online, and while it is important to convey enthusiasm in this budding field, such unbridled tendencies can easily overshadow deficiencies in implementation. We must be cautious, and always question our underlying motivations, for as Voltaire once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility”.

Emerging Web Technologies and Learning, marks a personal milestone for me, as this was my first online class. Early on, I found that tools were the biggest differentiator between online and offline learning, and as such, have been the focal point of this course. These tools act as mediating artifacts, which regulate how we view and interact with our world. Because of this, it is important to understand the motive-object, in order to utilize tools that will help one reach a specific goal. Going back to the concept that there is no universal learner, we also must extend the same courtesy to the Web 2.0 technologies that we decide to adopt in the classroom.

Understanding that tools are an extension of the learner, allows them to derive individual meaning as a result of these interactions. Just as a hammer can have multiple roles depending on the hand that wields it, so can Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. Twitter for example, can be used solely to monitor trends, question influencers, collect thoughts, or share insights – or generally speaking, all of the above. The flexibility of such tools, allows for not only a unique platform identity to emerge, but for the identity of the participant as well.

Coupled with self awareness, Web 2.0 tools have the advantage of providing a fluid testing ground for exploration, experimentation, and implicit learning. While it is the learner’s responsibility to realize where they want to go, this is contingent upon their ability to evaluate what they need to know, in order to get there. Through advancements in online learning tools and their potential to navigate traditional roadblocks, the capacity to move from point A to point B, manifests itself in the form of questioning. By allowing us to get beyond learning curves associated with usability, additional emphasis is thus given to thoughts and ideas vs. the construction of mental knowledge-bases.

This concept was especially evident in Week 8, and the Theory of Knowledge class. Through utilization of a Socratic circle, all individuals were given a chance to participate. Even though experience with Twitter varied greatly, outsiders were able to glean valuable takeaways and directly engage in the learning processes. The same experiences became evident over the course of working with my blog group. Our shared knowledge made for a functional dynamic that allowed for everybody to participate in learning processes, while showcasing knowledge in our respective areas of expertise.

In the beginning, I couldn’t help but feel like I missed out on getting to know other members of the class. By the end however, I realized how much time was spent in order to understand the individual perspectives of those in my blog group. The concept of small group work, was one that I was not expecting, as my own assumptions surrounding online learning focused on large class sizes, impersonal interactions, and an emphasis on deliverables. The organization however, provided a certain level of consistency that helped facilitate increased interaction, and a mutual respect of our individual standpoints.

By learning to understand different applications of familiar tools, I was allowed to question my original assumptions, and derive new meanings as they pertain to learning environments and beyond. In this way, each participant was able to switch between taking on the role of the learner and the teacher. This concept was mirrored in becoming a networked learner/teacher, emphasizing the importance of becoming a life-long learner in the ever-changing world of Web 2.0 technology. If we one day hope to educate others through these tools, we must be able to facilitate the growing number of ways in which they can be utilized.

In my previous class, I feel like one of my biggest takeaways was experience, and how it is uniquely different from person to person. Such an emphasis on the individual is challenging within interpersonal relationships, let alone acknowledging such differences in education. This course however, effectively built upon this principle by demonstrating a working model of individual agency within a learning environment. By demonstrating that it is not necessary to conform to traditional dynamics, Web 2.0 technology is affording us the ability to re-write the rules, and create curriculums that challenge and advance the learners of tomorrow.


Web 2.0 Tools Podcast: Leni Konstas of Whiskey Bacon

It was my great pleasure to interview my long-time friend and former colleague, Leni Konstas. We worked together at Solid Cactus, an eCommerce firm in Northeast PA (NEPA) for several years, and during that time, she founded the food blog, Whiskey Bacon.

Just as many of my previous posts focus on informal learning that occurs outside of the classroom, Whiskey Bacon encompasses a growing community of online and offline followers, in hot pursuit of good food and good times.

To this day, Leni uses Web 2.0 tools as a means of marketing her site and interacting with her fanbase. Just as Jennifer Louden once said, “some of the world’s most masterful marketers are, first and foremost, master teachers” – we see several parallels emerge throughout the podcast.

WB Home


During the course of the interview, Leni highlights the ability of the social web to connecting with people who have similar interests, and to expand beyond geographic limitations, effectively creating a Whiskey Beacon. The transparency that is provided, helps facilitate content creation that reaches multiple audiences over different channels demonstrating the social elements and informal group learning.

Recognizing successes from influencers such as Amanda Palmer, we realize the value in encouraging on-site interactions, as opposed to those that occur within Facebook, as such endeavors require a significant investment of time to maintain, as the Facebook algorithm has the ability to change the effectiveness of the platform.

Much like educators in this field, not every tool will be right for you, so it is important to evaluate your efforts, and realizing the limitations of your channels. Always be experimenting, not only with platforms, but also with the messaging.

By placing emphasis on legitimacy, Leni alludes to finding your voice in order to create a very personalized experience for your audience. In doing this, it is possible to lead the community through a shared, and already existing appreciation for the craft of food and drink.

While online interactions may be effective, events in real life still have a major place in spreading awareness and creating an increased sense of belonging. Through Whiskey Bacon’s Traveling Circus, groups of people have the opportunity to meet up and support local restaurants along the way, building something much bigger than any one member.

One of the greatest takeaways from this interview was that you should always be a student, and always keep absorbing from those you personally respond to. When you take this approach, you will be able to adapt what you learned and apply it in a way that works for you.

*This podcast was created through Audacity, by recording a Google Hangout. Though I was impressed with the functionality of the software and quality of the recording, my only complaint is that it is obvious the interview was conducted remotely. In the future, I would rather record a podcast in person, in order to eliminate any variance in the final cut.

Book-filled Places for Makerspaces

Libraries have always had a special place in my heart. As an elementary school student, I always remember weekly trips to that magical place where our class would peruse the Caldecott Medal-winning authors, attempt to understand the Dewey Decimal System, and sign out books that lined up with our interests. Unfortunately, our librarians failed to fully realize the life lessons that could be extracted from The Far Side comic collections, but nevertheless, I found a way to thrive.

As the years went by, those leather bound walls became nothing more than a backdrop for flashy multimedia devices. Entire volumes of encyclopedias were reduced to a CD-ROM. Librarians went from stamping books to stamping hall passes, so students in study hall could access computers in order to keep up on the latest sports news, celebrity gossip, or spend 40 or so minutes toiling with the latest games that Shockwave had to offer. I believe it was Bob Dylan who once said, “the times, they are a-changin’.”

This is why I found it refreshing to learn about the concept of a makerspace. In what I would describe as a conscious move toward reclaiming these hallowed grounds, libraries are finding new meaning in the face of a digital world. Much like the public utilization of fire halls for banquets and receptions, libraries are adapting to the needs of the public by embracing the inevitability of change.

While the articles primarily focus on application of makerspaces within school libraries, we see such tactics being similarly implemented in corporate entities across the world. The emergence of War Rooms, which are designated areas that have been established to carry out a specific goal, are often employed to bring key players across all departments into one location to brainstorm, analyze, and ultimately implement an idea or product. Not only does this provide an opportunity for team building, but it also facilitates questioning through the merging of several different interests and perspectives.

Much like Colleen Graves outfitted a conference room for small group collaboration, these areas provide a more intimate environment vs. the learning commons which can facilitate a much larger audience. These nimble structures allow for increased participation through the ability to conform to particular tasks at hand. The colorful description of interactive spaces adorned with movable furniture, whiteboard walls, and chalk-top surfaces; reminded me of offices at Facebook or Google. Much like the ideas wrought from such entities are meant to change with the times, this same approach is now being routinely applied to the workspace.

Along with the allusion to co-working, these communal domains can play host to makerspaces catered to specific applications, such as fab labs and hackerspaces. Tod Colgrove highlights the versatility of these spaces, in that they can allow for the potential integration of technology, therefore having the ability to unite satellite locations from across the street or across the globe. Even the role of the librarian is changing, as a diverse repository of knowledge must now be called upon, in order to facilitate the dynamic needs of these movers and shakers makers.

The extension of makerspaces to public libraries, is an especially exciting concept. Often relying on funding from local taxes, fundraising, and donations from private parties, these seemingly archaic institutions seem to have a chance at survival, and an opportunity to make a legitimate comeback. Though the emphasis may have shifted away from “print literacy”, I feel that Carolyn Foote said it best, “we are about understanding the world we live in literacy”.


Think What You Think, but Learn How You Learned

After reading Theory of Knowledge, Social Media and Connected Learning in High School, I did a little research on Mr. Howard Rheingold, for I wasn’t quite sure what to take away from his article at first. So in 2002, his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, introduced us to the concept of coordinated groups of people that elevated their efficiency and furthered their cause through utilization and advancements in technology (aka smart mobs). This is however, not limited to organizing actions offline, as the concept of a smart mob is alive and well online.

Enter Amy Burvall, who introduced Rheingold to her Theory of Knowledge course, by having her students @reply him on Twitter, in order to share their reflections on his work. This orchestrated effort succeeded in opening the lines of communication and subsequently, the creation of the article I just read, as well as the blog post that I am writing at this very moment. The Theory of Knowledge course was intended to allow students to “think about their own thinking, the nature of knowledge itself, and what constitutes knowledge in the various disciplines they study.”

This epistemological approach, is meant to empower one to question their very understanding, in order to achieve deeper meaning, and realize a wider scope of application. Though one could argue that such questioning could be brought on in a transformative fashion (as popularized by Mezirow), this case in particular makes use of a framework, rather than utilizing an explanatory avenue. In doing so, Burvall greatly reduces the chances of disconnect between the teacher and the learner, as well as the learners themselves.

Students are allowed the freedom to voluntarily course-correct as they see fit. By shifting focus from the answers that they are expected to learn, they have already gone on to asking “bigger” questions, in order to find out where they fit in to a much larger scheme. This helps to digest concepts that the learner would otherwise be unable to grasp on their own – while still allowing them to contribute in a way that is beneficial to the whole.

In the case of using Twitter as a tool in the classroom, Burvall understood that the platform was not universally adopted among her students, but was able to pique their interest based on what can be achieved. The application of a Socratic circle, allowed those who were less inclined to interact via Twitter, to observe and question the actions of those on the inner circle, thus creating a secondary learning experience out of the primary learning experience that was taking place. These interactions between the circles appear to be representative of a meta-analysis, as a scribe records the process via Sketchnotes, that allow for visual storytelling to emerge, and be shared among all participants via Google+. This allows for a diagram of the processes to develop, and provide insight into the individual contributions of the activity.

Rheingold poses that the utilization of these tools as an extension of the learner, and ultimately determining whether or not they are best suited to a specific application. This structure provides a certain imbalance, as roles emerge based off of the actions of others, ensuring that the social elements of learning are ever-present, despite the potential for disconnect through the use of such technology.

The whole article seemed to resemble the process of constructing our group wiki, in that we were forced to evaluate and understand tools that we may not have been immediately familiar with. For those who are not aware, I do not work in a classroom setting on a daily basis. While some may see this as a handicap as a student in this class, I see the opposite, as I tend to focus on wider application due to this fact. As a result, I gravitate toward questions related to difficulties that surround accessibility and widespread adoption. Much like the scribe records the interactions that occur – so does the wiki.

Building off of what I learned in my Adult Education class, and as seen through my blog posts thus far, I shy away from highlighting applications that are limited to a classroom setting, and this has been done for a reason. If what we learn only applies to a classroom setting, how are we going to make it work for people who aren’t in a classroom? This is not limited to the third world necessarily, as technology is breaking down the walls of the traditional classroom, but more along the lines of individuals who are not aware that they are learning.

Children can be shaped, but adults need to be compelled. As we see too often, learning in aging populations is often the result of motivating factors in the form of money, power, or status. Not even taking into consideration what is required to “get by”, we must strive to make this motivating factor about passion, belonging, and the freedom to explore aspects of our lives where we can make an impact. Once this is realized, we are able to understand “how we know what we know” by taking conscious steps toward asking the big questions that continue to elude us – further developing our individual ways of knowing.

Wikipedia: Weighing the Worth of Wikis

Conduct a web search of a person, place or thing, and there is a good chance that you will be served a listing from Wikipedia in the top three results. Only surpassed by search engines Google, Yahoo, Baidu, and social giants Facebook and YouTube – Wikipedia is ranked 6th by Alexa in overall traffic. What is most amazing about this accomplishment, is the format by which it came to be the content colossus that it is today.

Wikipedia represents the potential of wiki sites to become a viable content management system (CMS), and as a budding resource in today’s emerging learning environments. The subject matter of a wiki can literally be about anything, but what differentiates these properties from traditional websites, is the ability for users to edit and collaborate on shared content. Paired with the option to make wikis public or private, the full potential of these communal CMS sites is limited only the the boundaries of human interest. These properties leverage groups of individuals, facilitating the acceleration in the content creation process.


As I mentioned in my introductory blog post, Hello World Campus, one of my favorite pastimes includes “going down the rabbit hole” of Wikipedia. This comparison always reminds me of the popular 1999 sci-fi film, The Matrix. If you didn’t see the movie, imagine that you were raised to believe that Wikipedia was a collection of all knowledge that is known in this world. If you couldn’t come to accept this statement as fact, could you provide any evidence or indicators outside of to prove the contrary?

This concept is explained through the meaning of the word matrix. From a mathematical standpoint, it implies an organizational structure in which two or more entities function within the confines of the established architecture. Applying this concept to the real world, such arrangements suggest boundaries and rules dictated by societal constructs, meaning that our actions are ultimately limited by what we perceive to be possible – based on the belief that these rules and boundaries indeed exist. In the movie, the world that most people view as reality, was simply a computer manufactured simulation. Because of this, it was not actually bound by an actual set of rules, but rather a shared acknowledgement and self-imposed limit on what was, and what was not possible.

Going back to the question, I am reminded of a time when the newest edition of an encyclopedia was viewed as the supreme authority in the library. Over time, content was digitized and accessed through CD-ROM, but ultimately, contained the exact same information, spliced with some choppy multimedia content. In both cases, these sources were self-contained and incapable of being updated, yet highly regarded as trustworthy in their day. At first glance, when compared to Wikipedia, these seem to more accurately embody the false reality that The Matrix represented. However, when attempting to employ Wikipedia as an educational tool, we uncover more elusive dilemmas that must be considered.

Content, whether digital or print, has one common drawback, it is created by humans. Connected to the system, humans contribute that which they can understand. Looking at personal experience and the attempt to find objectivity in research, we find that everything is ultimately subjective. The difference between Wikipedia and the dusty pages of Encyclopedia Britannica, is that wikis allow multiple people to contribute their edits, providing an arena for more perspectives to flourish. With an increased number in the potential points of failure, wikis in general allow for more universal knowledge construction by exploring multiple viewpoints as they pertain to a seemingly endless number of topics, across larger populations.

This does not imply that all edits and additions are impartial. In fact, Wadewitz raises concerns over the fact that only 10% of all editors are female, and that there is an even smaller concentration of feminist contributors on Wikipedia overall. While I agree that this is a shortfall that tends to perpetuate gender-bias in education (and countless other sectors), it also awakens people to the existence of these issues, allowing one to challenge the context of societal norms in a publicly recognized forum. This tends to reduce the likelihood of alienation and irrelevant discourse, in favor of crafting a quality, all-encompassing online entity. Much like waking up from the dream of The Matrix, and realizing that there is no spoon, the current limitations of wikis must be realized in order to tip the scales in nobody’s favor, so that all learners are able make the most out of the medium. While the feminist perspective is important, the uphill battle is no doubt representative of much larger sentiments, so such attitudes must always be considered.

Wikis in this case, provides an opportunity for increased equality, even if it is something as simple as changing pronouns to their gender-neutral form. Just as Wikipedia began with a single entry, subsequent edits are significant to the success of the community, as it strives to maintain global influence. The tacit nature if wikis in general provide a model that appears future-proof. The breadth of content offerings, allow for self-guided learning to occur by breaking down otherwise complex concepts. By applying existing expertise, internal linking strategies create a navigable sea of knowledge, by which one is allowed to stumble into related areas. Since the entire catalog of entries, for the sake of argument, is based in reality, it is possible to create an infinite number of connections in order to derive context. The relationship between hyperlinked entries, further develop meta-perspective, as one can trace the cultural-historical context of specific topics, and how they relate to others. At the risk of information overload, private and tightly focused wiki initiatives can help increase the likelihood of bringing about discernible and scalable change, within realms of immediate interest.

The organization of Wikipedia is set up in such a way, that it appears to be a self-governed environment, and it just so happens that one of its greatest flaws, also happens to be one of its greatest strengths – people. Through out participation, we inevitably provide perspective, and our online personas are meant to extend the ideas and values that drive our offline existence. When we realize that wikis are nothing more than socially constructed entities, we are able to turn sites like Wikipedia into machines for transforming subjectivity into objectivity. In this way, we see the promotion of opposing viewpoints that span spheres of influence, and not just circles. This multi-directional approach provides a democratic aspect to wikis that is otherwise limited to the comment sections and forums of other sites.

Week 6 Takeaways: Educational Applications of Web 2.0

This week, Group 3 built off of becoming a networked learner and teacher, by looking at educational applications of Web 2.0 technologies. I was amazed at the unique perspectives that everybody brought to the table, while focusing on certain overlapping themes.

We were all able to recognize the benefit of these tools, while emphasizing the importance of understanding not only the strengths, but the weaknesses associated with them. Joe shared a wonderful activity that he picked up from his Rhetoric and Composition Pedagogy professor, where he completes a writing exercise as a learner, before teaching it. This is used to get inside the head of the student, and identify potential faults in the process.

Though this may have been learned in a traditional context, Joe was able to apply this to technology in the classroom, through the adoption of new tools. I can imagine that one of the most frustrating things for a student, is being taught by somebody who talks the talk, but fails to walk the walk.

Zach adds to the concept of understanding these tools as a learner. Rehashing the same content across a different medium, does not help one expand, but rather limits the development of personal learning networks. This is framed nicely by Richardson and Mancabelli in “Becoming a Networked Learner.”

“It’s not enough to employ these tools and technologies with our students; we have to employ them in our own learning practice. Otherwise, nothing changes. The vast majority of classroom uses of blogs, for example, are little more than taking what has already been done on paper for eons and publishing it in a different medium. In these cases, nothing has changed because the person at the front of the room (or in the front office) doesn’t understand that a blog is not simply about publishing; it’s about connecting. The great opportunity these tools provide is that they allow us to interact with others out there, but it’s an opportunity that’s meaningful only if we experience the full potential that exists in those interactions. (34)”

Zach also went so far as to identify the potential limitations of Flickr, by comparing it to the versatility of one of the fastest growing visual discovery tools, Pinterest. Rather than simply relying on the text, he went through the process of creating an account so he could understand first hand, as the learner, where the property may or may not benefit him today.

Within the context of Harris & Park’s article “Educational Uses of Podcasting”, Sam decided to write down what she already knew about podcasts before reading the text. I found this to be such a novel approach, in that it would be possible for ideas that do not coincide with our own, to have a higher likelihood of standing out. Once again, this ties into the responsible adoption of Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, as it is so easy to ignore limitations on processes that have become second nature over time.

Sam also highlighted learning outcomes while leading a preschool classroom. Proper utilization or resources and the opportunity to explore, can expand these experiences into everyday processes, so much so that parents were “mesmerized” by the results they witnessed at home. Crediting peer influence and individual creativity, Sam touches upon another theme in applying Web 2.0 tools to educational settings, that everybody alluded to in their posts, by quoting Chu & Dusen, in “Pedagogical Uses of Flickr.”

“Educators have the ability to give participants the freedom to explore and choose their own self-directed learning in online activities. Participation in social networks will allow learners to use the intrinsic motivation, which lies within all students.” 

By definition, Web 2.0 tools incorporate social dynamics, that have the opportunity to both unite and differentiate through the formation of relationships. In the this way, it is possible to widen the focus of today’s curriculum, by letting students create artifacts that demonstrate what they are learning, ultimately allowing them to take charge of their outcomes. In this way, such tools should not only enhance the capacity of the teacher, but those of the learner as well.

The ability to personalize and customize applications like Flickr and WordPress, provide an inherent sense of ownership, and add incentive for learners to continue to develop content that not only interests them, but engages others. Just as we discussed the importance of creating learning networks, the ability to effectively apply these tactics at a younger age is paramount for success in tomorrow’s classroom.

Just Doing It: Web 2.0 Tools in Learning

We live in a time where a world of information is literally available at our fingertips. While this can be quite convenient, it can also become overwhelming, especially for the uninitiated. With an infinite pool of resources, sites, and apps, it is up to us as educators to pick and choose those that can be understood by our target audience. Whether man, woman, child, or adult – we each interact and respond differently to different tools.

In the case of Flickr, we find inspiring pedagogical application by facilitating interactions that bridge cultural, geographic and language barriers. Through basic interactions, and the internet to act as a guide along the way, students are allowed to take control of their online learning experiences. While Flickr has certainly evolved since 2008, it may not prove to be as functional for a more seasoned group of learners.

I find properties like Flickr to be great for entry level and specialized applications, or to be used as enhancing artifacts. While creative works may possess life outside of the network in which they were created, through blogs and social sharing, the Flickr community appears to be somewhat restricted in its versatility. It provides structure and rules that limit the extent and the means by which one may travel with their learning, forcing the adoption of additional tools in order to facilitate expansion.

The British philosopher Alan Watts once said, “Omnipotence is not knowing how everything is done; it’s just doing it.”

This quote, though certainly not intended, encapsulates the use of Web 2.0 technologies in education. You can use WordPress to set up a blog in minutes, LinkedIn can make you look like a professional overnight, and YouTube can turn your crude cell phone video into the next web sensation. These tools represent a fundamental shift in accessibility, that is granting everybody the ability to “just do it”.

Much like the medieval Latin translation of the Christian Bible could only be understood by yesterday’s elite, who were not only literate, but fluent in Latin (an upper class language at that time); digital learners were not always afforded the same opportunities, due to expensive software or insufficient knowledge. Programs like Adobe Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, and Microsoft Office are slowly being replaced by free, entry-level, web-based solutions that enhance the capacity of learners to succeed in ways that specifically relate to them. These have the potential to raise quality of work, without needing to learn from scratch how the processes work.

Whether you love them or hate them, Google has been shaking things up by redefining the concept of integration and building properties that seamlessly interact with one another. Attempting to bridge the gap between individual and social dynamics, it is clear to see how utilizing their top properties could help one move toward self-directed learning.

If we look at the following chart, we see nine tool categories that Google is part of, more than any other single entity (Blogger, Google+ and Play were added). Albeit, the image was from 2010 and some of those properties have since been discontinued (Buzz and Wave), however we find that several elements have been extracted and reintroduced in newer platforms (even if only by name): Video Calls are now Hangouts, Docs are now Drive, and Buzz is now Google+.

google properties

What I find most interesting is Google’s latest foray into the social realm. Though Google+ is lauded as a failure when compared to Facebook, I do not believe that was the intended goal. However, the ability to use this as a legitimate tool in education should not be ignored, as it ties together all of their satellite properties, and brings personal identity into the equation. This has been met with mixed feelings, as people were forced to change YouTube channel names, and profile pictures are now attached to every outgoing email, however there are some advantages to utilizing Google’s connected product suite.

Such benefits include one unified login and static identity for all properties. There is a certain sense of accountability that comes from this, and it also aids in building more transparent and lasting relationships within social circles. Going back to Flickr, I cannot help but wonder if any of those kids kept up with their accounts, or if there are scores of Bubblr enhanced photos floating around in cyberspace? Not that it necessarily matters, as tools can be outgrown, however Google may have the unique ability to grow with the learner.

With new developments, and a creative community generating volumes of knowledge every hour of every day, there appears to be no limit to what can be done. For example, I know nothing about cars, so when something goes wrong with mine, I turn to Google. In this case, only certain fan settings on my vehicle would work, and after a couple searches I discovered that I needed to replace a blower motor resistor. Not only did I find the part, but also a user-generated YouTube video (for the same make, model, and year), with step-by-step instructions on how to replace the part.

During this entire process, never would I have thought that my searches would lead me to that exact solution, however it tells me that I was not the first to have this problem. Reading the comments, and understanding the challenges that others have faced, provided additional context, actually adding to the relevance of the video.

At the end of the day, I’ll admit that I don’t know what the blower motor resistor actually does, other than blow cool air on settings 1-5, but in the end – does it really matter? Ultimately, Web 2.0 tools should help us get past the things that hold us back, allowing us to take control of our learning by connecting with those who share the same passions.

The Learner is the Teacher, is the Learner

Allow me to begin by asking a question: What is a hero without a villain?

Before getting into how this relates to becoming a networked learner or teacher, think about how you would answer this question. A Google search, yields responses that range from obsolete to just a normal person (whatever that is), but one concept seems to keep emerging – purpose.

Villains are the reason that heroes get up in the morning, they are the driving force behind the latest crime fighting technology, and they provide the counterbalance that breathes a hero into existence. For example, without a villain (or crime in general), Bruce Wayne’s parents would still be alive, and his anger would have never manifested into the caped crusader we know and love today. Even if Batman did emerge, he would be nothing more than a costumed adult who enjoys people watching from the rooftops of Gotham City – stripped of purpose.

As crazy as it sounds, we too rely on these opposing forces to bring about innovation. As students of learning, design, and technology, we believe that our actions will foster positive changes in the field of education. Our approaches, will invariably be a result of identifying and attempting to resolve problems that affect us. It is in this way, that we may wake up every morning with the purpose that drives our ability to make our world a little better than it was the day before. We are engaged in a continual struggle with how things have been done, and how we think things should be done. We understand that the current system is failing, and simply put, it is our job to fix it. Before we can go out and change the world however, we must be properly equipped to face our adversaries.

In Becoming a Networked Learner, Tony Baldasaro examines a transformative experience, in which he became a “transparent leader”. Through emphasizing a willingness to participate, he explains the path that he took to enter the networked learning space. Just as every superhero has a back story that directly relates to them, today’s technology allows us to write our own back story, develop our own networked environments, and ultimately discover where we fit into the grand scheme of things through educating others.

The journey toward becoming a networked learner, provides the foundation necessary to emerge as a networked teacher. It should be noted however, that once one becomes a networked teacher, they should never cease to be a networked learner, for it is through these networks that one is able to continually develop.

The passion to learn should be ever-present, and sharing is the backbone of networked learning. Without sharing, the building blocks that promote the exchange of new ideas and the ability to improve, simply do not exist. This places an emphasis on the quality of networks, as opposed to the size. Just as bigger classes and lack of individualized attention are concerns in education today, the focus of learning networks are also vulnerable to dilution. It is all the more important to have a well-developed sense of self-direction, as networks provide a non-linear infrastructure that can easily derail even the most seasoned of learners. Finding balance between the online and offline worlds is paramount, as the tenets of connected learning are intended to close the gap between the formulation of new knowledge in both spheres, not widen them. Using this time to reflect, helps to determine if what you are doing is adding any value, and furthermore, if you are receiving any value from the networked environment.

It is through developing this network, that the learner is the teacher, is the learner – effectively making both the roles the same. We see the rise of Batman emerging from the mind and experiences of Bruce Wayne, creating a struggle in attempting to fulfill the duties of two distinct characters. Instead, there should be a move toward fully integrating aspects from both roles, and in our case blurring the lines between student and teacher. It is in this way, that educators are allowed to make the most of ever-changing technology in a networked learning environment.

These concepts challenge the role of the teacher in the digital age, forcing us to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the current structures. Just as Batman operates outside of the law, we are leveraging technologies that may seem unconventional when compared to the traditional rules and techniques used in today’s classroom. We have a unique opportunity to re-write these rules, eliminating the need to fill two separate, and often opposing roles.

Drawing Boundaries in a Connected World

Dewey said, “Freedom for the sake of freedom is a weak philosophy of education.”

This highlights one of the major conflicts in moving from traditional education systems, to the technology-driven advents that we are currently working to legitimize. Many developments are brought forth by for-profit institutions, creating an inherent rush to production. The need to stay ahead, and the competitive nature of such institutions, allow for fundamental components in learning to slip through the cracks. These deficiencies, highlight perhaps, one of our biggest hurdles in moving away from dated structures, and moving toward better utilization of Web 2.0 technologies.

The constantly changing nature of technology, and the difficulty in identifying informal learning processes, inhibit our ability to justify one method over another. Instead, it is suggested that these two schools of thought be merged, thus augmenting learning processes, and allowing them to reside in our every day activities. This is meant to keep us learning, exploring and growing, in a seemingly limitless world where the only constant is change.

The conflict between these two schools make visible the tension between these systems, which is the first step in understanding our abilities in navigating within these arrangements. Much like a video game, it is our job to overcome obstacles in order to proceed to the next level.

We look at the characteristics of each entity, and establish a converging point, in which both can thrive. With an endless sea of resources, information networks provide learners with agency to learn about anything, while structured environments provide a specific framework in which one is given a contextual ability to operate. The presence of these rival systems invariably creates conflict, which is then transferred onto the learner. It is through negotiation of these differences, that the subject is able to apply tacit knowledge and bring about new meaning that is not limited to any one system, but relevant to all. This deeper understanding allows one to eclipse limitations of physical and virtual worlds, in the form of new experience. As stated in the The Arc of Life, the goal is to “take the outside in, make it part of ourselves, and re-create it.”

The relationship between learners and the nodes of the community in which they reside, leads to an improvement on the collection of knowledge. The circular flow, creates a symbiotic relationship that ultimately connects two very different worlds. We do however find a potential drawback, in the form of peripheral participation. While new knowledge can be obtained, the one-way flow of information fails to contribute any new knowledge to the information network. The openness of this structure allows individuals to remain non-participatory members that can come and go as they please. It could be argued however, that they were never members in the first -place, potentially making their existence in this scenario irrelevant.

Participation in emerging cultural communities does allow for an amplification in abilities. By pooling talent, and incorporating wider perspectives, individuals are allowed to unlock certain “cheat codes”, that can fast-track the learning process vicariously, through leveraging the abilities of others. We are married to our own experiences, and divorce is never an option. The social aspect allows for the collection of individual experiences, within the context of a shared interest. By participating in communal cultures, the rules for participation become increasingly clear, and much like re-creation is the ultimate goal, we are able to directly incorporate agency, and actively challenge the traditional constructs of cultural influence.

Between the Dots of Connected Learning

Connected learning addresses the gap between in-school and out of school learning by forming a bridge between both worlds. It accomplishes this by making transparent the progression of achievement in traditional learning systems, within informal arenas that personally interest the learner – and vice versa. This progression is further legitimized by its ability to transcend the situated community of practice.

Take Clarissa for example, as she actively participates in Faraway Lands. Her experience, and her creativity are provided meaning outside of the confines of the website, as her skills allow her to succeed in other areas of her life. Within high school, and getting accepted to college, the technological realm in which she is navigating, afforded her opportunities that would have otherwise been unavailable. Looking at the activity system that she is navigating by blending both worlds, she is able to literally re-write the rules. Even though some may argue that this is only from a fictional perspective, her online actions had the ability and a channel to transcend the limitations of her virtual reality.

The technological medium has the ability to address disconnects between generations, and make accessible, all relevant participants of this online forum. In a way, it allows for exclusivity, as the shared interests prevent outsiders from negatively influencing the progress of the community. The other nodes in this scenario, including home, school, the community, and peer relationships – form the boundaries in which this interest can be shared. In the process, we see interests bridge several social systems, collectively constructing interests that are based on the actions of Clarissa. Through her successes, others have successes, as they are personally invested in her learning processes.

The sociocultural elements of connected learning, build a shared purpose, increase opportunity for production and therefore meaning making, and open access to all members and capabilities of the site infrastructure. This evidence-driven approach is meant to provide total equality in learning. That is not to say that all online learning is connected learning, as it is oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. However, all online learning should strive to become connected.

Ultimately, perceptions of reality are dictated by the time and culture in which one is embedded.  This compels one to explore the limitations as it pertains to other members of community in particular, as they too have a very integral role in the success or failure of the learning process. What’s more, what goes on in between the dots of connected learning, and how is the framework ultimately realized? Unfortunately, this varies greatly depending on the person. In fact, there could be people within Clarissa’s own online social circle, who are not able to bring elements of the virtual world into their physical reality. The difference here seems to rely not in applicability, but with societal value.

While participants may become makers and doers, engaged in active and self-directed inquiry, the motivations for these productions are often the result of attempting to belong to the community itself. In this scenario, the site becomes a form of control, in which certain rules must be obeyed. Whether it is writing, photography, or any other creative endeavor, the canvas has limitations, and it is not until those limitations are seen, that learners are able to springboard into additional, more challenging systems. Realizing these controls, allows for the game to be played, allowing new objectives and higher forms of learning to be unlocked through progression

Just as conflict drives the desire to overcome, a fully accepting world can ultimately lead toward unjustified worth on the end of the individual, which necessitates the existence of traditional learning, in that it cements and frames the the experience, so that it has meaning in the world in which we work and play.

An aspect to connected learning that is probably quite beneficial, yet was not elaborated upon, was the fact that it can act as a historic timeline over the course of the learner’s journey to self-direction. Just as we look at photos of friends and family sporting goofy hairstyles, or embracing fashion trends that should have never existed in the first place, we can visualize a journey and determine how far we have (or haven’t) come. This does not imply that once a person achieves this higher level of thinking, that the process stops. There are infinite ways of knowing, emphasizing the importance of connecting personal meaning to that which resides in reality, so that focus and refinement become an unconscious action.

The ability of the the social web to act as a running record, that illustrates progression, and actual awareness of the progression – is invaluable. While traditional classes start and end, Clarissa never needs to stop contributing fan fiction just because she was accepted to college. Connected learning does however, provide a convenient loophole, in that the corresponding subject matter can change, while the activity stays the same. For example, Clarissa is free to pursue speech writing, publishing, or even psychology – through her experiences within Faraway Lands. The ability to transcend this arena, and apply it in other walks of life solidifies the connection through societal worth.

As a framework for understanding and supporting learning, Connected Learning sounds a lot like cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), though is pays special emphasis to the presence and application of digital channels. In the same way, it relies on finite processes, in order to prove that connected learning has taken place. Once an ideal process has occurred, it is possible to understand, intervene, and replicate. In this way, the systematic approach toward increased applicability can continue to thrive. The open-ended, and idealistic approach, leave a lot to be desire in application, as we attempt to understand the microcosmic processes that connect our online and offline worlds.