Activity Theory, Authentic Learning and Emerging Technologies

Selection_001For the past few years I’ve been involved in an NRF-funded research project looking at the use of emerging technologies in higher education. One of the products of that collaborative project was an edited book that has recently been published. Professor Denise Wood, one of the editors, describes the book on her blog:

This edited collection seeks to fill the current gap in understanding about the use of emerging technologies for transformative learning and teaching by providing a nuanced view, locating higher education pedagogical practices at an intersection of emerging technologies, authentic learning and activity systems.

The book, which is edited by Professors Vivienne Bozalek, Dick N’gambi, Denise Wood, Jan Herrington, Joanne Hardman and Alan Amory, includes case studies as examples, and draws from a wide range of contexts to illustrate how such a convergence has the potential to track transformative teaching and learning practices in the higher education sector. Chapters provide the reader with a variety of transformative higher education pedagogical practices in southern contexts, theorised within the framework of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) and tool mediation, while using authentic learning as a pedagogical model upon which this theoretical framework is based.

I made a small contribution to the book in the form of a case study that emerged from my PhD work as part of the project. Professor Jan Herrington wrote the introduction to the section on the Case Studies:

Moving from theory to practice in higher education is deeply challenging. While exploring pedagogical models in the literature may lead to tacit understanding of general principles, actually implementing these principles in practice can be an entirely different matter. Authentic learning is a pedagogical model that is sometimes misunderstood, such as when teachers believe that in order for authenticity to be achieved, learning must occur outside the classroom in the real world. In fact, authenticity – as described in this model – can readily be achieved within the regular classrooms and lecture halls of the university environment. Providing examples of successful cases of such authentic learning environments offers an opportunity to explore the practical application of a theoretical model, and provide concrete instances of implementation in different subject areas. This chapter provides three such cases. The cases presented here provide international examples of authentic learning in practice across different discipline areas, using different technologies, and focusing on different aspects of the approach. The first case (Case study 14.1) describes the use of reflective analysis and role play in the study of obstetrics, using the model of authentic learning described in Chapter 5 (Herrington, 2014). It focuses on the use of technology as a mediating vehicle for authentic learning through the use of practice dilemmas. The second case (Case study 14.2) describes specific tasks developed within an authentic learning environment, using characteristics of authentic tasks (Herrington, Reeves, Oliver, & Woo, 2004). This case describes the use of complex contexts and the development of case notes in the study of physiotherapy. The final case (Case study 14.3) explores the use of wikis and blogs to mediate authentic learning in sport science education. All the cases represent authentic learning in action, and include details of the context, the tasks, and the problems that inevitably arise when teachers necessarily relinquish their more traditional role to allow students to take primary responsibility for learning. They are also effectively works in progress, where solutions are refined and improved in successive iterations. But above all, they are visible and tangible exemplars of theory in action.

While my own contribution was small, I’m really proud that I could be part of the initiative. The book is available on Amazon in a variety of formats.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-04-18

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-02-28

  • @hotdogcop Tweeted this earlier, pretty funny, but also pretty accurate http://onion.com/h3coIN #
  • The Changing Landscape of Higher Education (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE http://bit.ly/dFXmaz #
  • Richard Feynman on the pleasure of finding things out http://bit.ly/gij2ve #
  • Massive Health Uses Big Data, Mobile Phones to Fight Chronic Disease http://ow.ly/1s4Epd #
  • The Daily Is Interesting, But Is It the Future of Newspapers? http://ow.ly/1s4En9 #
  • Gladwell Still Missing the Point About Social Media and Activism http://ow.ly/1s4ElH #
  • “This Game Sucks”: How to Improve the Gamification of Education (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE http://bit.ly/fMWN4f #
  • eLearn: Feature Article – The Effects of Twitter in an Online Learning Environment http://bit.ly/gqrqfQ. Students resist adoption of Twitter #
  • eLearn: Feature Article – Administering a Gross Anatomy Exam Using Mobile Technology http://bit.ly/f74yAj #
  • Onion Report: Increasing Number Of Educators Found To Be Suffering From Teaching Disabilities http://onion.com/h3coIN. Humour #
  • Skateboarding Physics Professor At Large — Blog Archive » Building A New Culture Of Teaching And Learning http://bit.ly/hco11U #
  • Presentation Zen: Nurturing curiosity & inspiring the pursuit of discovery http://bit.ly/h4SJtd. Why don’t we value curiosity in schools? #
  • @hotdogcop Seems to be this idea that “if you build it, they will come”, but the reality is that no-one knows what to do when they get there #
  • The Need for Student Social Media Policies (EDUCAUSE Review) | EDUCAUSE http://bit.ly/fhj7F9 #
  • Evidence of Learning Online: Assessment Beyond The Paper — Campus Technology http://bit.ly/e8iuuQ #
  • E10 Podcast: Gardner Campbell and Jim Groom Discuss Faculty Attitudes and the Joy of Learning | EDUCAUSE http://bit.ly/fmLBnk #
  • The Daily Papert. Words and wisdom of Dr. Seymour Papert http://bit.ly/fs947e #
  • Mendeley Update: OpenURL support, improved article pages, & easier citation entry for OpenOffice http://bit.ly/fyOwcc #
  • Thought Leader » John Vlismas » Hofmeyr, Bloody Hofmeyr http://bit.ly/eNQumA. Intelligent response to Steve’s rant #
  • Managing your research the modern way: Research together with colleagues using an activity feed | Mendeley Blog http://bit.ly/e1eQAS #
  • The Enormous Technological Challenges Facing Education http://bit.ly/eVBik5. Nice summary of the emerging tech in the latest Horizon report #
  • A WikiLeaks Clone Takes On Higher Education – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education http://bit.ly/g5WL4W #
  • @subcide Great, thanks for the update. #Mendeley is one of the tools I use most often and it’s brilliant to see it continually improving #
  • Thought leader: nothing to correct http://ht.ly/40Xq0. The problem of “corrective rape” in SA, aimed at the LGBTI community. I wasn’t aware #
  • The ‘myth’ of e-learning http://bit.ly/gXQmUx #
  • @dgachago17 #Hootsuite (web app) is also pretty good at updating multiple services simultaneously #justsaying #
  • Not sure which version of #Mendeley added this, but I just found the “Send by email” feature, and it is SOOO welcome 🙂 #
  • Acceptable Use Policies in a Web 2.0 & Mobile Era: A Guide for School District ~ Stephen’s Web http://bit.ly/i1MBPZ #
  • Critical Thinking: More than Words? http://bit.ly/i5rLtO. We talk about critical thinking with our students, but don’t discuss what it means #

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-01-10

Attendance of e-learning colloquium

I attended the first few presentations of an e-learning colloquium on campus last Tuesday. Here are a few short notes I took during the short time I was there.

Begin a section of work with a short test to evaluate pre-intervention knowledge. The questions should be aligned with important content from the module. This will identify for students the areas that they need to focus on during the module. Following up with the same short test after the intervention allows you to evaluate immediately following the lesson / module whether or not students understood the main concepts.

Make sure that this isn’t seen by students as “busy work” i.e. something we want them to do that’s meaningless.

Sometimes “e-learning” seems to be be about moving content online. Even if it is interactive content, does it change behaviour, or do students use the same learning techniques they would use with offline content? I think that often “e-learning” for many teachers means using a computer and the internet to do the same thing they’ve always done i.e. there’s no change in practice.

Less than half of dentistry students accessed the e-learning site that staff spent ages creating. 4th year students would go if it was useful for exams, to get notes, curiosity. 5th year students see opportunity for advanced learning. Big disconnect between 4th and 5th year students in terms of how they see / perceive the service.

Students wanted to see more clinical cases on the e-learning site. Dentistry uses OSCEs (maybe we should contact them to discuss our implementation next year). Students also wanted mock tests with memos (seems like a good idea, but most participants thought that this was paramount to giving students the tests and answers)

Suggestions to ban access to social networks, as it slows down the servers. Evidence of a lack of understanding on the part of academics as to the value of incorporating a social component to the teaching and learning process?

Including new teaching techniques requires a change in student mindset. This needs to start in 1st year.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-08-02

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2010-06-21

Posted to Diigo 06/18/2010

    • Salmon’s model moves away from the increasingly dated notion that the effective eLearning can be achieved through static learning objects (Downes 2005), and takes a social learning perspective with particular emphasis on communities of practice, providing a framework to support Wenger’s assertion that “learning cannot be designed: it can only be designed for – that is, facilitated or frustrated” (1998, p. 228).
    • Salmon’s model is also reliant upon scaffolding, extending Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (in Attwell 2006) proposition with the model’s structure implying that the moderator acts as an initial scaffold who gradually shifts responsibility for development to the learning community under their guidance, with learners developing their own scaffolding based on relationships with many within the community, and eventually, beyond the community.
    • Lead by Example
    • It is an essential part of our jobs to model what we would like to see
    • Get Personal
    • Be willing to share of yourself. Share your stories and your life
    • be willing to be open
    • Be Honest
    • you need to be willing to share your thoughts and opinions about things
    • Accept that You’re Human
    • Learn for mistakes and move on
    • Be Knowledgeable and Share
    • Share of yourself and of your passions. Make your presence in a space one that has personality and share what you have
    • Share the things you find online
    • Maintain Consistency
    • Maintaining consistency will allow your students to be comfortable in your space, understanding what happens there and able to concentrate on what they are being asked to do
    • Let it Go
    • Be prepared to see cycles between students and even within the contributions of single students
    • Don’t Give Up
    • How can we change what we are asking them to do in order for them to grow into their roles
    • “My job is to present the material in an interesting and meaningful way,” he would say. “It is the student’s job to learn that material.”

      Implicit in his statement was the idea that it was the student’s role to adjust to the various styles employed by different teachers. Whether the teacher featured a lecture format or a hands-on approach was immaterial – the assumption was that students were the ones who needed to be flexible

    • any failure on the student’s part to master the material was not the responsibility of the teacher
    • students moved along as a group, each doing the same set of assignments, each expected to master the exact same set of learning objectives by a date set forth in the syllabus
    • differentiating for a specific learner was perceived as showing favoritism
    • today’s teacher is expected to adjust to the varied preferences of students so as to maximize the learning potential of each individual in the classroom
    • Personalizing learning involves differentiating the curricula, including expectations and timelines, and utilizing various instructional approaches so as to best meet the needs of each individual
    • The challenge is not so much what those elements consist of but how to piece the elements together to form a cohesive strategy
    • But technology also plays a more important role in the personalization process. Ultimately it is the conduit for teachers to move to a learning approach that features materials developed for each individual student
    • One of the critical elements to a cohesive strategy involves the concept of a learning platform
    • First teachers must have a clear understanding of the learning needs of each student
    • teachers must monitor and assess student progress intently
    • Learning paths must then be created that match the aptitude and learning styles of every individual
    • One of the first elements is increased communication among educators themselves as well as with their individual students
    • That means increased use of email
    • Better yet, it means posting that assignment online for students and parents to access directly
    • No one educator could possibly create unique learning materials for every single student
    • An expectation that all teachers are ready for such steps is destined for failure
    • Whereas in Africa limited infrastructure is producing an information bottleneck, access in the UK is restricted by ‘denial of service’ restrictions placed upon a competent and fast modern system
    • how do we go about managing the risks more effectively to allow NHS staff to access online learning resources and tools which many of us take for granted
    • what processes people perceived as important for knowledge maturing within their organisation and how ell they though these processes were important. The two processes perceived as most important were ‘reflection’ and ‘building relationships’ between people. These were also the two processes seen as amongst the least supported
    • The issue of ‘reflection’ is more complex. e-Portfolio researchers have always emphasised the centrality of reflection to learning, yet it is hard to see concrete examples of how this can be supported
    • the amount of redundant, inconsequential, and outright poor research has swelled in recent decades
    • 40.6 percent of the articles published in the top science and social-science journals (the figures do not include the humanities) were cited in the period 2002 to 2006
    • As a result, instead of contributing to knowledge in various disciplines, the increasing number of low-cited publications only adds to the bulk of words and numbers to be reviewed
    • The avalanche of ignored research has a profoundly damaging effect on the enterprise as a whole. Not only does the uncited work itself require years of field and library or laboratory research. It also requires colleagues to read it and provide feedback, as well as reviewers to evaluate it formally for publication. Then, once it is published, it joins the multitudes of other, related publications that researchers must read and evaluate for relevance to their own work. Reviewer time and energy requirements multiply by the year
    • The pace of publication accelerates, encouraging projects that don’t require extensive, time-consuming inquiry and evidence gathering
    • Questionable work finds its way more easily through the review process and enters into the domain of knowledge
    • Aspiring researchers are turned into publish-or-perish entrepreneurs, often becoming more or less cynical about the higher ideals of the pursuit of knowledge
    • The surest guarantee of integrity, peer review, falls under a debilitating crush of findings, for peer review can handle only so much material without breaking down. More isn’t better. At some point, quality gives way to quantity
    • Several fixes come to mind:
    • First, limit the number of papers to the best three, four, or five that a job or promotion candidate can submit. That would encourage more comprehensive and focused publishing
    • Second, make more use of citation and journal “impact factors
    • Third, change the length of papers published in print: Limit manuscripts to five to six journal-length pages
    • and put a longer version up on a journal’s Web site
    • what we surely need is a change in the academic culture that has given rise to the oversupply of journals
    • Finally, researchers themselves would devote more attention to fewer and better papers actually published, and more journals might be more discriminating
    • the present ‘industrial’ schooling system is fast becoming dysfunctional, neither providing the skills and competences required in our economies nor corresponding to the ways in which we are using the procedural and social aspects of technology for learning and developing and sharing knowledge
    • Personal Learning Environments can support and mediate individual and group based learning in multiple contexts and promote learner autonomy and control
    • The role of teachers in such an environment would be to support, model and scaffold learning
    • Such approaches to learning recognise the role of informal learning and the role of context
    • Schools can only form one part of such collaborative and networked knowledge constellation
    • institutions must rethink and recast their role as part of community and distributed networks supporting learning and collaborative knowledge development
    • the major impact of the uses of new technologies and social networking for learning is to move learning out of the institutions and into wider society
    • This is a two way process, not only schools reaching outwards, but also opening up to the community, distributed or otherwise, to join in collaborative learning processes
    • At the same time new interfaces to computers and networks are likely to render the keyboard obsolescent, allowing the integration of computers and learning in everyday life and activity