(1) From Education to Learning; A Brief History of Open
If we try to untangle the impact of the web on education we can describe it as enabling a shift from a focus on education as a system to learning as a process, particularly since the web itself has become more open, social and participatory, especially since Web 2.0. So how did we get here?
Background; I myself (@fredgarnett) started looking at the impact of the Web, indirectly, in 1984 when I began teaching a Unit called Information, Technology and Society. Deciding that taking the tropes of the Industrial Revolution and applying them to the Information Revolution was way too limited I looked instead at how the social organisation of settlements emerged out of agriculture and that from hunter-gathering; maps, flints and fires. Inspired by Yoneji Masuda and Nikolai Kondratieff, and my own observations, by 1988 I had evolved the NSU model, so-called because I think social change comes from new Networks being built, new Services being provided and new User behaviours emerging, over 50-year long-wave Kondratieff economic cycles stimulated by new technologies; the micro-chip was invented in 1971. New economies emerge from new networks of distribution. In 1989 I wrote a story to capture the changes we might see by 2021 as a Masters paper called Homi & the NeXT One (the title a tribute to Steve Jobs). Consequently I have had some understanding of the process by which new technology changes society ever since. For me the key aspect discernible over the last 250 years (especially when preceded by a knowledge revolution like the scientific revolution) are the cumulative effects of unnoticed second-order, or unanticipated, effects; hence the poverty of most predictions about the future which focus on first-order (anticipated effects) based on the knowledge of experts whose expertise is historically based.
Watching the Web Flow 1990s; Being more Utopian than dystopian I looked forward to the, then, forthcoming information revolution democratising our representative democracy, with its UK roots in the 17th Century (1689), by enabling new participatory *constitutions* to be written, redefining the social relations by which we live. Whether they be communications, networked or mash-ups, technologies don’t change society, they create first-order effects, that is consequences of what the technologies were designed to do. Social change comes from users inventing new use-states in line with their beliefs and social behaviours. Yoneji Masuda was predicting a high-mass knowledge creation society using a global-information utility in 1982, but the Internet was still hard to find in 1990 and smart phones were more than 10-years away. Nonetheless Tim Berners-Lee invented the web (1990) to help scientists share their documents and Marc Andreessen popularised the multi-media version of his World Wide Web, the browser (1993). In 1995 I wrote a first-year degree unit called Business Uses of the Internet, e-commerce not being a concept then, and one of my students wrote the first website for the Docklands Light Railway as an assignment. I also took John Cook’s first online course at TVU. In 1997 I wrote another unit, Information Systems in Society which used a ‘blended learning’ approach and now I had to write a new assignment which was designed to teach learners how to learn using the web and its new tools; discussion groups & moderation, search and evaluation, co-operation and collaboration. Then I built an Intranet for learning; web tools were changing stuff.
The Web, Learning and Policy 1997; According to Chris Yapp both John Major & Tony Blair were committed to implementing the National Grid for Learning (NGfL), a programme to put all schools in the UK on the Internet. Back in the heady technocratic days of New Labour the government had a policy for Learning Technology which was going to use the affordances of the Web, however limited, and new gurus, such as Stephen Heppell emerged. I was involved with LB Lewisham’s local roll out of the NfGL, being on the Curriculum Committee which, amazingly, was one of the few local authority committees that actually looked at the uses of the NGfL rather than just being concerned to put the boxes and wires into the schools. Thanks to the amazing Gill Deadman and the ever-inventive Dominic Clare, we put together a staff development plan and bid for NOF-funding to build a Community of Practice (COP) based Community Grid for Learning (CGfL). Incidentally of the 40 programmes funded by NOF only 2 of them (TaLENT & UNL) knew what they were doing; the Open University’s web-training, for example, was a low-cost disgrace – they just sent videos to teachers; many of them didn’t even untangle the tape.
Community Learning 2000; In Lewisham we also had a big EU-IST project, GALA, and the borough was pro-active in addressing Information Society concerns, starting the Citizen Connects project in 1998 (then London Connects) which was designed to look at the issues affecting citizens in the emerging digital economy. Having worked on local community projects for 3 years I applied for and became Head of Community Programmes at Becta working on the national £250m Community Access to Lifelong Learning (CALL) programme with NOF & the DCMS. When I arrived at Becta in the UK we had the NGfL for schools, FERL for FE, learndirect for work-based learning, UK online for community learning, NOF-DIGI for digitising cultural content with Culture Online a possible twinkle of new experiences; and the BBC had finally got BBCi right. Becta’s Lifelong Learning team actually brought in experienced practitioners from colleges & community learning to develop both learning objects, resource exchanges and CGfLs. Universities had JISC, CETIS and UKOLN, whose Web Focus under @briankelly has been providing Web-advice for learning since 1996. Bodies like ALT were pro-actively promoting the profession of Learning Technologists; we were making the future, heady days, and the educational promise was immense.
Web 2.0 and a Facebook for Learning; Foot and Mouth killed Culture Online but O’Reilly gave us the vision of Web 2.0, more powerful than the dot.com boom which had been about people who didn’t understand the Internet trying to make big bucks quick out of it (now there’s an old and deadly business model – we need to ease a quantity of bankers out of the economy even now). O’Reilly’s big idea was that in the future the web would be a platform, not a destination, where we would be capable of doing everything, collaboratively and participatively. This pissed off Oxbridge elitists like Andrew Keen but delighted people like me who were charged with developing socially inclusive models of learning and felt the future was a place we could build. Around this time I was asked by the DfES to develop a Digital Divide Content Strategy, yep we believed we could fight social injustice with content back then. We commissioned some research from LTRI, aided by an Advisory Group of community technologists (like Ian Harford, Malcolm Forbes and the inimitable Ronan O’Beirne). We quickly realised that content isn’t king (we now believe #contextisqueen) as inclusion is about process. I was also involved in designing a social network for learning which was rejected by the DfES who didn’t/don’t get Web 2.0, which kicked off our Open Context work. However we did identify some key digital inclusion findings; you need interest-driven learning as well as content-creation tools for the dynamic creation of content, a community-responsive curriculum which allowed centres to develop a responsive ‘life-cycle’. Altogether these create the Community Development Model of Learning. Eight years before the UK riots we recommended linking learning and Community Development. Instead the National Curriculum results just keep on getting better, to the ongoing delight of educational policy-makers, so why fix what isn’t broken?
Modernising Government 2005; Publicly we reached a kind of peak in web-enabled education in the UK at the time of Tony Blair’s last election (2005), which was blighted by his record on Iraq and saddled with a paucity of vision which seem to say markets can solve everything, now that we have fully re-invested in UK infrastructure (sic). Web-wise the vision was focussed on the Digital Switchover (2012), and the head of the relevant parliamentary sub-committee said that media-literacy was all about (wait for it) using the red button on the TV remote! Wi-fi and personal information appliances quickly made a mockery of much government planning (well thinking), and Internet Safety was the one big idea, suggesting that whilst new technology may have many devious uses yet the government will help you ignore it. Only one website was mentioned in Labours manifesto in 2005, all you would ever need to access by 2010. However on the ground a huge amount of use of the web was being made by you and I for learning and it was becoming a social by default; “google it” coming into use in 2002 and already entering dictionaries in 2006. More importantly Wikipedia started in 2001 and had reached a remarkable level of accuracy by 2005 – school kids had long been using it as a fast reference source; the web was being woven into our lives in the new online transaction economy. Since the Enlightenment and Diderot’s first Encyclopédie a societies choice of encyclopedia has helped define its character, now we had crowd-sourced outlines of our knowledge. More significantly the coordinating work of the public web by the Office of e-envoy had been disbanded in 2004 and replaced by a Dataset of Chief Information Officers who would be concerned to manage government databases (recommended by Sir Bill Gates!) with DirectGov our universal one-stop portal for e-srvice delivery. Not realising we had a world lead in information technology for learning Blair was running down policy in this area (Cameron would end it decisively in 2010) because he had met his EU targets for Modernising Government in i2005 and Technology was so ‘over’ and irrelevant to the UK housing-boom view of economic development.
Open Learn and Open Contexts 2007; Just as #edtech policy in the UK wound down, and pissed away a world-leading position, the US was bigging up its position as YOU became Man of the Year in Time magazine for 2006; #socialmedia was us. However Ewan Macintosh started TeachMeet, where teachers meet to share how they used tech for learning and began a bottom-up initiative of self-directed professional development, using wikis to co-ordinate their work. Wiki’s were enabling collaboration similarly to how blogs were promoting writing and peer-to-peer processes were being adopted by such as the School of Everything. The OU launched Open Learn (and since then Social Learn) recognising that a world of Open was here; web-enabled learning developments continued apace. We’d been though Distributed, then Social, Peer-to-Peer, now Open…
The collapse of all we held dear 2010 (UK); The abandonment of the potential of the web is now, of course, the default UK policy position since Prime Minister Cameron came to power and abolished Becta and any commitment to Technology Enhanced Learning; just as President Obama was releasing $666m to stimulate TEL within his first year in office, yet digital natives are now becoming digital practitioners in the UK by their own efforts. You just cannot make up the ignorance of the ruling classes and the blinkers of privilege with which they wear it; they achieve it with effortless ignorance and copious excesses.
Towards Open Scholarship; In a recent video I talk about a post-institutional future for learning. I don’t quite mean we wont have any institutions of learning, I think all institutions need to develop ‘architectures of participation‘, but that the locus of educational power will shift as the distributed tools and smart mob processes, that we are now surrounded by, enable more Open approaches to emerge. I sometimes call it Smart Mobs + Everything is Miscellaneous means Here Comes Everybody. However I like Terry Anderson’s championing of Open Scholarship and have proposed that we move from a formally structured traditional model of scholarship to a co-creation model of Open Scholarship, both using afresh and synthesising the processes we have learnt from in recent years. I hope this can develop significantly over the next few years, alongside the many new University projects, Webiversity, P2PU, DIY-U, @dougald University Project, my own WikiQuals and Rheingold U have just launched the Social Media Classroom. I think we are on the cusp of really profound changes in learning enabled by the web, but only if we can also add a deeper understanding of the social processes that education can serve. Donald Clark, and many others, rail against the fact that classroom learning hasnt changed in 100 years, but the definition of the educational needs of society by policy makers, namely a well disciplined workforce who follow leaders, hasn’t changed in that time either; education fits you up for society. To realise the potentials that the web enables, especially web 2.0, we will need not only the desired social transformations to be reflected in policy and in our own actions, but we also need some serious thinking about the purpose of education. Tim Rudd has just created an e-petition to this end. We have begun to challenge how knowledge is constructed (see Putting Context into Knowledge), but we also need to more consciously look at how society is constructed and how to create social changes; and change comes from the margins not from leaders…
So; what have we learnt from Web-enabled Education? Has it begun to enable more learning-centred approaches? Have we used the affordances of new technology to improve our learning, lives and society? I’ll try and give some answers to that in the next post Untangling the Web; Learning, but your own comments and thoughts are most welcome…