Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Count THIS!

This is my mind at the moment
I must admit, my attempt at a witty post title probably fell really flat.  Oh well, that's why I am not a comedian :-).  Out of the fire (EDDE 802) and into the Rhizome! This is technically week 2 (or is it week 3?) of Rhizo15.  Normally a cMOOC (or as others in the Rhizo14 gang have named Rhizo - an rMOOC),  there is a little disorientation to be expected, but between the barely controlled chaos at work, the wrap-up of my first year as a doctoral student, the ET4Online conference, and Rhizo15 starting at the same time... well... I just need to clone myself a few times to gain sanity ;-)

In any case, regardless what number week it is in Rhizo15, the current topic is "learning is not a counting noun, so what do we count?" (I'll go back to Learning Subjectives in a few days when I've had some time to catch up on what's saved on Pocket on this current topic). This is a good question, and an interesting topic for K-12, academia, and higher education in general.  The instructional designer in me was trained with Performance Objectives in mind, using the ABCD method (Audience, Behavior, Condition, Degree). Behaviorists seem to love to quantify ;-).  Of course, the actual truth in learning is more gray than the Black and White that people like Mager would like to report. Not everything is quantifiable. Perhaps in a corporate environment, if I am receiving cash-register training, or mail-room training there are a finite number of inputs, and a finite number of outputs, and therefore ABCD objectives are applicable, however most learning is messy. There are infinite inputs, and quite infinite outputs.  I would also argue that performance objectives aren't measuring learning, but rather they are measuring behavior - muscle and not mind.

What is a designer to do?  We're not supposed to use verbs like "to understand" in our learning objectives (ooops... don't cross the rhizomes!), but can you really quantify everything in upper level courses where learners are taking the wheel (wait...am I ranting?  probably not). OK, save this strand for next post on learning subjectives

So, the question is "what counts?"  I guess my question to Dave and the Rhizo15 community is "what counts where?".  I think that the answer to what counts can vary, a lot, depending on what community, group of people, and "learning" that you might have in mind. One type of what-counts might not be the same as another type of what-counts. I can only really speak for myself, and for the disciplines that I have studied, with instructional design being the primary since that's also what I teach; so I am not aiming at generalization with my comments :-)

The two things that count for me are: resourcefulness as measured by life-long learning to solve problems you don't already know how to solve; and the ability to cope with chaos, to analyze what's going on, and to come up and test solutions.  If we are looking through the lens of the Cynefin framework I would expect students to be able to deal with complex situations with relative ease and savoir faire; or even tackle chaotic situations with the help of others. In this chaotic case I would say that the principle of a More Knowledgeable Peer would come into play. Then, as a group of people the learners would be able to complement each other's knowledge and skills, learn from one another, and help solve a problem.

Now, there are two problems with my two things that count.  For one thing they are not countable. They are in the same category as sand and sugar.  While I could count grains of salt, sand, and sugar (if I magnify things enough), from a more pragmatic perspective those things aren't countable. Thus,  I can't go to an accreditation committee and claim that "I'll know it when I see it" (when I discuss a pass/non-pass situation with these two things). The educaitonal system is setup for countable nouns.

The other problem is that you can't really build a course around these two things and have it be the same for everyone in the course.  If you have a small group of students who are all interested in the same thing, you probably are able to create a Themed Course (i.e. "Commodities in sub-saharan Africa") but can this be done for a larger class? or can one semester be compared to another meaningfully?  Should we be comparing (or be able to compare) two distinct semesters of a course like this? How about any course? These two things might be something to aim for with the completion of a program of study, but not necessarily in a course, or a specific module in a course.  I guess this is where my sand analogy comes in.  A course or module is a grain of sand, and together many of these build toward what we think of as sand.

Did I answer the question?  You tell me ;-)  One of the things highlighted by this topic is that there is a need for all of us to have a firm standing on what our ontological perspectives are.


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