See it on Flickr: http://flic.kr/p/NFvsSN.
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When kids are little, we are quick to share their works, without worrying if they are worthy, or if sharing gets in the way of the creator’s growth. A first scribble hung on the fridge engages its crayon-wielding artist in community, audience, and their own creative evolution. I still remember my first daughter’s prolific Blue Period, quickly far too large for her limited fridge gallery.
Yet as soon as kids enter school, their work descends into an underworld of assessment: kindergarten’s finger paintings give way to worksheets, reports, and standardized tests that fall quickly to their final, lonely resting places, giving off the dying breath of grades.
In a previous post on an “electric” metaphor for renewable experiential and applied learning (REAL), I suggested that renewable assignments—assignments where students produce meaningful, public works—store value like batteries, not only for their creators, but also for future learners and the community at large.
What makes an assignment renewable? A renewable assignment should be meaningful beyond its role in learning and assessment. This is the simple power of experiential learning: when an assignment engages a learner and their work in the larger world, it provides opportunities for learning that go beyond mere graded exercises.
But experiential learning—easier said then done! How can a learner take first steps in the larger world when that larger world is made out of expensive materials that specifically prohibit contribution, modification, and republication?
Truly renewable assignments engage learners in open materials—openly licensed or in the public domain—so that learners are free to take small, first steps, and increasingly larger strides, to contribute to and modify meaningful works, and also republish their contributions to put real experience in their learning.
Artifacts produced by open, renewable assignments store the engagement of each learner—not only so each learner can build on their experience, but also so others can too, “renewing” the assignment again and again.
Read more posts about Renewable Experiential & Applied Learning (REAL)
Now that Renewable Experiential & Applied Learning has an acronym (REAL), the next thing it needs is metaphors and cocktail napkin sketches…so here goes:
A key part of REAL’s “renewability” is the idea of connecting learning and experience in virtuous cycles that rotate through activities in educational organizations and the wider world of communities and workplaces. My first metaphor for these virtuous cycles is an electrical circuit:
- Learners are the electrical charge,
- traveling from knowledge-building activities in educational settings
- across conduits to activities of practice in community/workplace settings
- and then completing the circuit by returning to their original educational setting.
- Once returned, learners amplify their experience by engaging in renewable assignments
- that further their learning and enable assessment of their progress toward learning goals.
In this “electric” metaphor, the openly-licensed artifacts (OER) that learners generate via renewable assignments at different points around the circuit act as batteries, storing the power of learning to later empower other learners and learning.
A series of conversations with David about what he introduced me to as disposable assignments—students hate doing them, you hate grading them—led us to start calling the alternative—assignments where students produce meaningful, public works—”renewable assignments”. David has expanded on this thinking, talking about the potential cognitive surplus that could be realized if all disposable assignments became renewable.
This line of thinking in turn led me to start imagining larger constellations of renewable educational activity. For example: imagine an EDU institution that has relationships with one or more local businesses, nonprofits or government organizations. Graduates from the institution are often employed by the organizations and/or organization workers often participate in professional development at the institution. These relationships exist all over and are a welcome sign of healthy community engagement and economic development.
Such relationships also sometimes (often?) include opportunities for the institution’s students to engage in experiential learning at the organization through programs like internships.
Take such a relationship one step further by adding renewable assignments to create a virtuous cycle of activity between the institution and organization. Students might begin their learning in the institution, taking classes that include renewable assignments to create learning resources specifically focused on knowledge and skills important to work happening at the partner organization. These assignments create an expanding body of works that become learning resources for future cohorts of students.
As students advance in their learning pathways, they might engage in experiential learning at the partner organization (eg, internships, employee professional development) where part of their assignment is to engage in experiential learning that produces work products for the organization, and part is collecting information and experience to produce and augment more learning materials their fellow and future students would use back at the institution in formal learning contexts. In short, advancing students would use both their formal and experiential learning to create and improve the “textbook” that future students would use in turn to advance their learning.
As students cycle from the institution, to internships, back to formal coursework, to graduation, to employment at the organization, and back to the institution again for professional development, they become the agents of a continuing, “renewable” learning cycle that generates highly relevant and current learning resources and deeper connections between the institution, organization and the community around both.
Faculty and organization workers become the guides, editors and mentors in this cycle, ensuring quality and continuity in learning activities and materials, as well as developing deeper relationships with each other and between their organizations.
Institutions demonstrate and ensure a deeper connection to their community, its economic health, and the relevancy of their educational programs, which attract and retain students.
Organizations ensure that the pipeline of new employees better fits their needs and have the opportunity to test out and help shape individuals in lower-stakes but still highly-relevant engagements before they become employees. Employee professional development is better able to evolve into meaningful learning rather than an empty requirement that just gets checked off.
It goes without saying that the open licensing of the work created in these renewable cycles ensures its frictionless participation in future cycles. Partner institutions can contribute and get credit for their sponsorship of these materials as an added benefit.
I’ve started to think of terms to describe this virtuous cycle of renewable learning:
Renewable experiential and applied learning (REAL)
Renewable economic development (RED)
Renewable community engagement (RCE)
More acronyms to come…
Thanks to an ongoing discussion with @twigz that has now taken place over so many days and channels that I expect she’s ready to unfriend me (or worse), I’ve been thinking on the role of the author in networked digital culture and how it might be different from the established role of the author.
At the very end of his essay, What is an author?, Michel Foucault imagines a dramatic shift in the cultural role the author plays in the “modern” era that he so carefully lays out in the rest of the essay:
In saying this, I seem to call for a form of culture in which fiction would not be limited by the figure of the author. It would be pure romanticism, however, to imagine a culture in which the fictive would operate in an absolutely free state, in which fiction would be put at the disposal of everyone and would develop without passing through something like a necessary or constraining figure. Although, since the eighteenth century, the author has played the role of the regulator of the fictive; a role quite characteristic of our era of industrial and bourgeois society, of individualism and private property, still, given the historical modifications that are taking place, it does not seem necessary that the author function remain constant in form, complexity, and even in existence. I think that, as our society changes, at the very moment when it is in the process of changing, the author function will disappear, and in such a manner that fiction and its polysemous texts will once again function according to another mode, but still with a system of constraint – one that will no longer be the author but will have to be determined or, perhaps, experienced [expérimenter].
While Foucault first delivered this essay in a lecture some time ago (in 1969), I’m here interested in updating “the historical modifications that are taking place” he mentions to be those of today, including those arising out of digital networked culture. I’m not sure what social changes Foucault was thinking about in 1969, but a lot of change has happened since then for sure.
All discourses, whatever their status, form, value, and whatever the treatment to which they will be subjected, would then develop in the anonymity of a murmur. We would no longer hear the questions that have been rehashed for so long: Who really spoke? Is it really he and not someone else? With what authenticity or originality? And what part of his deepest self did he express in his discourse? Instead, there would be other questions, like these: What are the modes of existence of this discourse? Where has it been used, how can it circulate, and who can appropriate it for himself? What are the places in it where there is room for possible subjects? Who can assume these various subject functions? And behind all these questions, we would hear hardly anything but the stirring of an indifference: What difference does it make who is speaking?
So I’m starting to collect examples of discourse that might bear on the question of whether new roles for the author are in play. Is it starting to matter less who is speaking? And if so, what matters now? Is a new “system of restraint” emerging? What answers can we find to the other questions Foucault asks at the end of the essay?
Possible counter examples—the “modern” author lives on:
- @jason published a fake letter from Twitter CEO @dick calling for verified accounts for all as a way to intervene in harassment on Twitter. A case of digital authorship being redoubled?
- In the same vein, social credibility systems like those used in environments like eBay, Uber, Stack Exchange. Although interestingly, authorship and identity in some of these systems can be pseudonymous, and identity is established via authorial actions over time and social validation.
Possible examples that something is changing in the role of the author:
After reading @mfeldstein’s EDUCAUSE NGDLE and an API of One’s Own and @holden’s LEGOs response, I’m inspired to also comment on what is fast becoming an encyclopedic conversation, so filled with ed-tech insider history and acronyms to be understandable only to very few, yet pertinent to so many.
But until users can see the relationship between their app-adopting behavior and their larger situation I’m not sure I see solutions like this in the near future. I’ll continue to promote and work on such solutions, because that’s where the potential is. But it’s the cultural issue that needs solving, and I’m still working out how we overcome that.
I’m left realizing that the conversation here is still mostly about technologies, and solutions, mostly about new somethings that will make a healthy, lasting transformation.
I think the solutions called for here are good, but history is rife with new somethings that have healthy generative capacity and effects, from TCP/IP to representative democracy, and yet go on to become standardized LEGO kits. Today’s emergent generative potential becomes tomorrow’s dominant structure.
Maybe the cultural shift @holden seeks is for us to realize and start holding ourselves to the idea that there are no solutions. As awesome as LMOS, a domain of one’s own, or federated wiki may be, their lasting transformative value is not intrinsic, but in that they are manifestations of people enacting @amcollier‘s not-yetness. It is that attitude of not-yetness that we should work to persist, by whatever local, timely means work.
So when it comes to education (that interest links us right?), our goal is to instill lasting mindsets that seek to dismantle dominant LEGO sets and make new things, reforming the standard bits and adding unexpected parts. The solution is not a something (LMOS, domain, wiki, API), it’s the cultural practices that led to those somethings. Today, enabling a student via a federated wiki at their own domain may be empowering them mightily, but not if they or we believe our work is then done.
The minute we think our something is the solution, we’ve already started becoming the next standardized LEGO kit. The insoluble solution is that the solution is insoluble.