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Digital Pedagogy – Thoughts on “A New Culture of Learning”

November 4, 2012

Having read “A New Culture of Learning – Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change”, it seems that the implementation of digital tools and a “new culture of learning” through “cultivation” is certainly a real possibility.

We are told the story of Sam, a young boy, who gains valuable knowledge and skills (through interaction with other users and the commenting system) when indulging the “Scratch” software. However, the time has come where operating in this sort of environment should no longer be an indulgement. With the emergence of free opportunities such as CoderDojo, children can mimic Sam’s experience. This week I learned about Boone Gorge’s multiple editing WordPress plugin Participad. This plugin allows users to collaboratively edit a WordPress website and is also connected with THATCamp, where people from areas such as digital humanities and technology can build together in a free-form environment. THATCamp instills a level of spontaneity in attendees and ushers them into a non-hierarchical structure. THATcamp is proof that collaboration can happen within set boundaries without having to be tightly controlled, thereby allowing flow, creativity, independence within collaboration and innovation to flourish.

I have probably said this one too many times already but I will say it once more: I am certainly feeling the effects of learning about a learner’s responsibilities. This year, instead of sitting back and writing essay upon essay, I find myself standing up straight and examining ways in which I can get involved, not only in a local setting but in a global sense. In the coming weeks, I hope to engage in a Skype conversation with other novice digital humanists around the world. In fact, I will be sourcing these people via THATcamp’s administrative team. When I read about THATcamp, I really wished to attend one of their pop-up group days, until I realised that I could partake in my own way and from the seat at which I now write this post. This is surely the epitome of Digital Humanities and is also a reflection of Douglas Thomas’ class, where students were inspired to explore activities and readings outside of those assigned. The initial stages of the Masters in Digital Arts and Humanities at UCC are real life proof that forming a “learning community” is not only of importance for DH but can span across all disciplines and also work well outside of education. Active involvement puts a theory to the test and I find that it creates a real purpose to the reading and reflective writing. Green Schools at a primary school level is an example of how collaboration already works for younger children. It does not have to rest in the hands of the teacher to engage the children in active ways. Children can be lead to a point where they have the desire to begin their own journey outside of the classroom. Once a seed is planted, it will grow by itself in an organic way. If we can do this at a very young age, a responsible style of learning could become as widespread and natural as many a child’s intuitive use of an iPad. However, age does not need to be a challenge. Having spent the past number of years working, I have returned to education with a very positive attitude to learning, which has been heightened by the effects of studying DH and collaboration. These constantly remind you of the benefit of interaction, team efforts and not allowing structures or even geographical location to impede these efforts. I relearned how to learn.

As I continued to read the book, I identified strongly with the “Gaming Across Generations” section of Chapter 1. At one point in my life, I used World of Warcraft (WoW) as a form of communication with those who had emigrated. The author describes the benefits of “questing, learning and building teams to complete real tasks. They feel that the connections they build in the context of gaming can be about something concrete: accomplishments and shared experiences that bring them together and motivate them”, while they also learn to “recognize [sic] each individual’s distinct motivations and skill sets”. I spent a lot of my WoW time farming on my own, which involves walking around the local landscape in the game and slaying creatures. This was a slow and repetitive way to play the game. In fact, I only completed a handful of raids during my entire subscription. I could see that levelling up was considerably restricted by my method of play and I think this solitary style eventually lead me to stop at level 40, when I lost interest. It was like playing an offline PC game instead of an MMORPG (Massively multiplayer online role-playing game). If I had worked with others, I would have gained a lot more and also felt a sense of comradery. After a while, I logged back on but my WoW chums no longer played the game, which is again resulted in discontinuing my use. Both of these factors and also my neglect of battleground interaction are quite telling, in that they are direct examples of the negative outcomes of a situation that is destitute of collaboration. Nonetheless, I should mention that there were benefits to playing a game like WoW. I learned to distinguish each user’s different motivations and characteristics and how different personality types suit certain settings and functions. A character can choose to be a warrior, a rogue, a druid, a hunter and so on. I chose the warrior and quickly learned that this did not fit my personality. A warrior should act as a tank and be active in a raid and battle. Their job is to protect the characters who cannot take as much damage, so the warrior must be defensive but also threaten the enemy. The fact that I began my first raid with my warrior cowering at the back was not a good sign but meant that I learned where my skills were and that I was not quite ready to be in this particular role. If I returned to the game now, I suspect I would be a lot more fearless. Something as recreational as World of Warcraft can have the side effect of documenting the growth of the user’s personality and is again proof that new skills can emerge from a user and a learner of Warcraft regardless of their age. Like the world around us, we as human beings are in a constant state of change. A final point I will make about this, which also supports my above thoughts, is the fact that I learned that strategy games were not my forté. This again gave me an insight into my learning style. Collaboration is extremely beneficial, however different types of collaboration suit different types of personalities. This is a challenge which needs to be factored into any further type of integration of the new culture of learning into our lives.

I have also witnessed collaboration in a work environment. In the past, I worked in a company where employees were encouraged to submit ideas to an intranet message board and these messages were answered by the chairman of the company. Each idea was given consideration. Not only was there the possibility of useful input from staff members but the latter felt that they were valued by the company. This would be a likely motivation to employees to continue this type of brainstorming and also to apply this enthusiasm to their own day-to-day role within the company. As for Allen in Chapter 1 of this book and his practice of searching for error messages on Google, I think most people can identify with this. I am guilty of the following answer to many a question, “I’ll google it later”. In fact, when my laptop broke again last night, the first thing I did was google the error to see if I could recitify the problem. I never thought of it as the ability “to tap into – and learn from – large diverse networks of programmers and hobbyists”. Many of our hopes for the future are already taking place in our own lives.

In terms of recent efforts to collaborate in my DH class, I can really see how “the connection between resources and personal motivation” leads us to cultivate our “imaginations and recreate the space in a new way” and also how “lifelong learning” is not only a possibility but is happening right now, even in the shape of spending one’s free time reflecting on one’s own past to find examples of collaboration and this new phase of learning. I recently read Dan Kenny’s blog post, “Continuing Alan Liu”, where he stated “This suggests to me the constant ‘rejection of what has gone before’, in order to promote or and defend ones own position. Throughout history new ideas have been rejected by the established view while the establishment must be rejected in order to justify the new.” In “A New Culture of Learning”, a similar message is conveyed, “the new culture of learning will augment – rather than replace – traditional educational venues.” In other words, we do not need to fight the establishment or even meet a compromise. The old has functioned to a degree for many years, therefore it makes sense that we simply need to mold the old and the new into the best possible combined form. “How environments blend – or fail to blend” and the fact that “the learning that goes on in the school environment becomes more of an organic processs, and the focus of the discussion changes from fixing the problem to growing a solution” is reminiscent of the Wikinomics text with regard to Goldcorp. The CEO of the company, Rob McEwen, went beyond the boundaries of Goldcorp and delved into the world at large to find a solution, which allowed a more organic process to occur and for McEwen to expand his network of experts for use in future work. Like the emerging new culture described in our current reading, Goldcorp “thrives on change” and also achieved a sort of symbiosis with mathematicians, physicists and so on, as the latter would also have seen rewards from their involvement in such a project.

I will end as Chapter 2 begins and sum up by saying “it’s time to shift our thinking from the old model of teaching to a new model of learning” and this must include an organic “engagement within the world” instead of just “teaching us about the world.” As Paula Krebs points out, we must not be afraid of failure. “The point is to embrace what we don’t know, come up with better questions about it and continue asking those questions in order to learn more and more.”

Works cited

Thomas, Douglas and Seely Brown, John. A New Culture of Learning – Cultivating the Imagination of a World of Constant Change. Self-published. 2011. Print.

Tapscott, Dan, and Anthony D. Williams. Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything. London: Penguin. 2010. Print.

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