Contextualizing learning through the Ecology of Resources (EoR) framework

Ecology of Resources Design Framework (EoR)

The EoR is a framework used to investigate and consider the forms of resources a learner currently obtains, and subsequent resources to help build their understanding. Applying the EoR model requires exploring the learner’s context in various ways (interview, ethnographically, observation) to reveal their available internal and external resources, such as knowledge, environment, tools and people, and the relationships between them.

Following this would be determining other resources and more able partners (MAPs) that would help move the learner from their present state of understanding to a more developed one. The space between the two states would be considered zones: zone of proximal development (Vygotsky), proximal adjustment, and available assistance. See diagram below about these zones taken from: http://eorframework.pbworks.com/   The placement of assistance would be to have supports that are just-in-time and fading in order to scaffold learning.

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This is a complex framework and model to help explore the context of the learner in order to design useful, supportive and  customized/personalized learning experiences. It continues in understanding the relationship between resources, such as the use of technology and available apps or WiFi connection, and other affordances.

The framework also identifies both positive and negative filters in a learner’s context, which are taken into consideration when developing learning supports. This could be a mentor, organizational structure, workshop, rules, etc.

While developing learning using such a framework could be potentially overwhelming and complex, I believe it offers a deeper look at the many influences and resources surrounding a learner. I like the concept of considering the relationship between resources – this peaks my interest, and has me wonder about multi-layered and dynamic situations, tools and influences affect learning based on and for real-life scenarios.

A good case study about exploring EoR for language learning can be found at: http://www.slideshare.net/joshuau/context-connections-designing-a-vocab-app

Creativity and education: can they coincide?

I recently listened to a talk given by Dave Snowden through the MOOC course, Change.MOOC.ca. Dave is a well spoken man with passion and conviction about cognitive processes. My understanding of the theory he follows is that humans react to cause and effect situations through simplistic, complicated, complex or chaotic thinking drawing on environmental cues, cultural nuances and/or past experiences while always dealing with uncertainty. And he states we react and think differently depending on our predisposition and past experience where our “styles of creativity produce different patterns of behaviour.” I can’t attempt to summarize his work unless I read it more thoroughly.

During his presentation he implied that formal education stifles creativity and innovative thought – one reason he did not pursue a PhD. Having studied the higher education field and spending most of my adult life pursuing formal degrees I have to agree with him somewhat, and I’ll address that in a minute. However, I become cautious when statements are made that negate a particular system to propose another. In my graduate studies we were taught to balance all ideas to build our argument. Detesting something is more an emotional response than an intellectual one. In that way, formal education did provide me with a balanced outlook among other skills.

My sense of Dave’s point about creativity was that freely exploring ideas, visions, and perhaps passionate thoughts would most likely need to take place outside of academia. I think he is right based on my personal experience. In my formal education, I was quite aware of the hoops I had to jump through (requirements, restrictions, supervisory advice and committee approval, and even journal submissions) when developing my work, whether a paper, exam, or dissertation. All through my studies I tried to keep a part of myself and thinking that was mine, though difficult at times. I remember my doctoral supervisor advising me to keep the exploration of ‘risky’ theses for a time when my degree was complete and to see the formal program as a place to learn the methods of deep study and critical thinking. This made sense and I appreciated the advice.

Today, I read and explore as I wish and develop my own thoughts; however, there is a trade-off  – applying it to sensible things, like paid work. Again, I’ve learned to balance my idealism with pragmatism to apply fresh concepts to client’s educational needs. And sometimes clients want their educational products developed into more conventional forms, which I do.

A recent post about informal learning, called the Accidental Learner, nicely supports Dave’s perspective and reflects how we learn outside the formal setting.

Here is how I develop innovative thinking and creativity:

Problems with open learning

I appreciate David Wiley and Jon Mott’s comments on open learning networks (OLN). They attempt to take what is not working with formal education, and create a model to design structures that enhance learning – with a Web2.0 flavour. I have to agree that CMS structures are limited. Designing course curriculum for these platforms limits selection of communication and information tools. For the most part, I use the discussion board feature, but tend to use external tools 90% of the time such as wikis, blogs, slideshare etc.

However, my biggest concern with using external tools that host work is copyright and privacy issues. What information do students have to give to create a ‘free’ account, and what happens to their work? In the last 2 months I have reviewed many freeware sites, and most state they will use information and posted work within their sites to promote their product. Does this mean we need to hide behind secured virtual walls in order to protect our students from potential harm in open spaces?

As well, using the plethora of resources and information online is like going shopping. The variety and quality is impressive. However, what about infringing on the copyrights of authors/producers? To avoid this, and to alleviate lengthy wait times to gain rights to use the content, I tend to link to the information. However, this will become problematic as information moves and links become broken. As well, on some of these sites students are exposed to flaky advertising and inappropriate information or comments.

In a perfect virtual world, information would be at our finger tips, online environments would be manageable, significant networks would be developed, meaningful boundaries would appear, and our identity and work would be safely handled. I appreciate those that continue to examine ways to create good learning environments, and the software developers would attempt to build them.

Helping online students self-regulate

In a recent article on the ability for online learners to self-regulate their learning, it was found this skill did not develop over a school term. The authors (Lucy Barnard-Brak, Valerie Osland Paton, and William Y. Lan) define the phases of self-regulation as follows:

“The first phase, the forethought phase, refers to motivational and strategic processes that precede and set the stage for performance – including, but not limited to: goalsetting; attribution; self-efficacy of the undertaking tasks; and the intrinsic motivation to perform the task. The second phase, the performance control or volitional phase, consists of those processes during learning such as attention, affect, and monitoring action. In the third and final phase, the self-reflection phase, individuals respond to their efforts by monitoring the outcomes of their performance.”

While the issue is not new of students struggling with self-regulation of their learning , the online learner perhaps needs more help with developing this skill . Support might be more imperative for those new to the online learning world – and yes, there are newbies considering the mode of online learning is still evolving in higher educational institutes. That is, students may be adept to technology and web-based activities, but engaging in formal learning delivered  online may be a new experience.

Added to this, the authors state, “From a social cognitive perspective, the interaction of personal, behavioural, and environmental factors have been suggested as influencing the development of self-regulation across time (Bandura 1986, 1997; Schunk 2001; Zimmerman 1994).”

Factors affecting the development and practice of self-regulation in online learning might be the introduction of new technology, location of resources, communicating in discussion boards, the distance to others, and handling increased flexibility.

Some solutions to help students self-regulate in online learning environments might be:

  • add tips, hints, and non-graded self-assessments after each significant content section
  • create more social networking and mainstream communication, such as text messaging for quick questions about the content or next steps
  • create online study groups and encourage students to attend; create a virtual world for this – make it fun
  • match up students in pairs in the beginning of a course to have a study buddy; allow them to connect in ways they desire (mobile phones, online networks)

Online learning has many challenges and the field must continue to find ways not only to enhance learning online but also the quality of education. I think we forget that online learners need a bit more help to learn effectively in a multidimensional environment.

Complexity and chaos theory

Picking up the book The Ingenuity Gap by Thomas Homer-Dixon after a Christmas break, I found the author’s comments and ideas generating new questions for me as an educational researcher. For instance, he comments that scientifically it is difficult to understand the complex, and at times chaotic systems, of our economical, ecological, social,and technological worlds – thus, increasing the difficulties of finding innovative solutions to their problems. He stated, “Chaotic behaviour arises from a conjunction of some of the key characteristics of complex systems … multiple components, dense causal connections among these components, feedback loops, synergy, and nonlinear dynamics” (2001, p.124). That is, components and initial conditions that might affect systems are hard to determine.

He also stated scientists have found behaviour in any system less predictable due to:

  • their different reactions to varying, and changing conditions, and
  • their multiple states of equilibrium.

Using these theories in terms of understanding an organism like humans, thus students, increases the difficulty of teaching them and understanding how they learn. If our personal environments, past experiences, and current physiology affects our reactions and behaviours, then how can teachers/instructors teach to such diversity? Is creating less formal, less structured, and open learning environments the answer? However, from my understanding of Homer-Dixon’s explanation of these theories, neither negates structures indicating systems don’t necessarily need to be free flowing. Perhaps, no or little structure creates more chaos?

I think the question then becomes how to work with unpredictable organisms, such as humans, and create learning structures that produce significant and interesting results (learning outcomes, in a rough manner of speaking), that might in turn solve problems of our increasingly complex world. When I look at teaching in this way, it becomes overwhelming. However, I think current thinkers, such as Stephen Downes and George Siemens, are starting to examine new ways of learning, which I consider draws somewhat on complexity theory.

One philosopher that might be helpful for this inquiry is Anthony Giddens and his theory of structuration. In his theory, both structure and agents (individuals) are valid and affect each other. That is, structures are necessary and enable humans to act. What, then, are the structures that would enable good and useful learning for today’s students? Additionally, how does technology factor into that? I believe it is time we re-examine learning for the 21st century.

Design of online and adult education

Simone Conceicao (2007) in her chapter, Setting Directions for the Future of Online and Adult Education, shares that the design of online instruction needs to focus on the characteristics of learners and the role of the instructor. As well, creating effective online learning is more than converting a regular classroom course. Important aspects, commonly recommended in course design, are keeping a uniform appearance and navigation, and creating activities for active participation. Also, evaluating an online course needs to evaluate more than the instructor. It also needs to assess the technology, user interface and design of the content.

More so, choosing the appropriate teaching strategy will need to consider the course goals and objectives and at the same time, provide multiple strategies for diverse learner needs. As well, online learners might be at different learning stages of development and have different goals and needs. This needs to be addressed. Mentoring students online by instructors helps with needs within and beyond the content. As well, individual feedback is essential. As instructors become more comfortable with technology, they will experiment more with new teaching strategies.

Online discussion boards help support higher-order constructivist learning, develop a learning community and allow active learning. Conceicao ends that effective strategies such as these “combined with prompt feedback and high expectations guiding principles, make the basis for effective online instruction” (p.90).

Horizon Report 2009

The New Media Consortium came out with an updated report on emerging technologies and their impact on teaching and learning within the next 4-5 years. They stated the topics from the first two reports (2007 and 2008) are already happening. The most evolved technology is smart technology that is geo-sensitive by knowing where they are geographically, and context-sensitive to tag and embed meaning considering what the information is about. As well, mobile phones continue to become smarter, too, with new interfaces and third-party applications pushing institutions to provide all information, services and resources for these devices.

A trend specifically impacting education is the move toward collective intelligence on a larger scale. Considering the expansion of networks, information access, and global connections learners was to invert the place of scholarship as they move to control their learning environments and access vast amounts of content.

Considering this, higher education institutions are becoming challenged and dated. They need to consider how the new, younger learner works, and reward innovate teachers. Also, institutions need to teach faculty and students skills to work with new literacies. For example, managing information through personalized digital spaces and tools that help track and retrieve appropriate information, aggregate content, and update information is becoming easier with online applications. Collaborating and presenting/publishing work online is easier to do as well with new tools.