Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Lock Down Learning

I have a question which goes round and round in my head and it concerns trust. In fact, it concerns trust of adult students / employees and the conflict with a web 2.0 / user-generated world. Why don't we trust people? In fact, I can tie it down a little further.... why do we only trust people when we feel that it doesn't really matter?

Here's an example. An institution has a stance whereby constructivist learning is promoted. Students should 'own' their learning. They should construct their own knowledge. Be critical. Thinking. Reflecting students. We want them to engage and be interested in what they study. But... we put those flowing, interesting, fluid notions of ownership and contextualisation and shove them into a VLE. We encourage people in with the idea that these tools have potential and the capacity to offer them a useful learning environment... then, it seems, we slam the door shut behind them and tie down all the tools until our systemic desire for control is satisfied - "what if someone's offended?", "what if they sue us?", "what about quality control?", "what about... what about... what about...?". "Oh, just turn it off, that'll be easier".

Nominally, we want them to learn it 'their' way, but the reality is that we don't feel comfortable if we're not learning 'our' way. Why don't we trust people? As soon as something becomes institutionally hosted then issues of liability, reputation and administrative control rear their heads and lock down ensues.

Is it any wonder why systems get only a token use? Is it any wonder why students are out there every day using their own tools and systems - making choices, being supported by their peers, when we're too scared to let go just a little. Unless, of course, it's behind closed doors and it doesn't really matter anyway. Are VLEs symptomatic of 'lock down learning'? Where's the trust? What would the educational landscape really be like if we put some real control in the hands of users?

I've just read 'Here Comes Everybody' by Clay Shirky (yeah, late to the party, I know!) - and it occurs to me that what if our VLEs aren't a case of 'here comes everybody', but instead result in 'there goes everybody' as the PLE offers the flexibility and personalisation which makes learning really meaningful?

PS Thanks to AJ Cann and Steve Wheeler for feeding my inner rant. :o)
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