Nov 7, 2007

OpenLearn 2007 - Keynote John Seely Brown (day 2)

The second day of the OpenLearn conference started with a captivating talk by John Seely Brown, building on the report on OER he wrote with Daniel Atkins and Allen Hammond. I have discussed this report in detail in a previous blogpost, but the talk still provided some new insights and interesting views on learning. His engaging and natural way of talking, enthusiasm, nicely illustrated presentation and lively examples kept me more than awake.

From Descartes to John Seely Brown
JSB explained how a shift is occuring from the Cartesian "I think, therefore I am" towards "I participate, therefore I am" to socially construct understanding. I must say I like this, because if you take "I am" as something that has to do with identity, then just thinking is not enough, since you need to identify and you need others to do this. There should be less emphasis on knowledge transfer, but more on learning that occurs constantly (such as learning to talk for children). He proposes the Participatory Architecture he has described in his report, where "work in progress" is made public. He makes the connection with an architecture studio, where a similar way of working exists, and suggests that this is a powerful learning environment.

JSB introduced the keyword of his speech, and I think also of the conference, where participants repeated it with quite a bit of persistence: TINKERING. With tinkering he means exploring, finding out, creating meaning, etc. with all different kinds of tools and possibly in collaboration with others. According to him, the traditional flow of learning should be reversed, which means a more engaging "learning to be" (tacit) towards "learning about" (explicit). The Open Participatory Learning Infrastructure, now called OPLE (E = Ecosystem) fosters this type of learning. It should be noted that his view on the world is defined by his experiences as a tinkerer himself, and maybe not every person is a tinkerer. He names a number of interesting examples of tinkering, which forms the foundation for tacit knowledge (Michael Polanyi ). Examples include coders in Open Source communities, kids playing online games, mash-ups and remixing, LEGO, Your Truman Show.

In report he co-authored for the Hewlett Foundation the OPLI (now OPLE) is defined as a

"decentralized environment that (1) permits distributed participatory learning; (2) provides incentives for participation (provisioning of open resources, creating specific learning environments, evaluation) at all levels; and (3) encourages cross-boundary and cross cultural learning."
It consists of tools, content, and activities (with constant feedback loops), and is a place where knowledge creation, learning, and mentoring are intertwined. He emphasized four main trends in his speech, which more or less sum up the OPLE.
  • eScience
    • An example is given about the Faulkes Telescope Academy, where students run real experiments with a master and then pool and analyse their results. This works better as the students were participating in real research and discovering real results for themselves and sharing them with the wider group. This is also an example of professionals and amateurs working alongside each other.
  • eHumanities
    • The Decameron web is another example that shows what real scholarship, or "learning to be", in a certain field means. This is a perfect example of "the Long Tail" of educational resources (no library space needed).
  • Web 2.0
    • A fundamental trend from scarcity to abundance, and a culture of participation & co-creation. People create meaning by what they produce and other build on - a remix, open source culture, where we can turn anyone into being both a teacher and a learner.
  • Open Educational Resources
    • Just resources is not enough: there should be a focus on (student-)participation.
    • The Long Tail of learning (resources) are too expensive for universities to make or foster. A culture of abundance, and a Long Tail of OER and other online resources, will enable personalized learning. Universities should not build their business models on scarcity of resources!
Final points
JSB ends his interesting talk with three points
  1. Active blending learning and researching, for example eScience.
  2. From stocks to flows: more on-demand and personalized learning.
  3. Creation becomes re-creation: we should move towards a culture of learning learning. In the end, this would create real sustainability with learning communities that thrive on participatory lifelong learning.
The talk was engaging and stimulating, and summed up nice the somewhat radical view on how learning and education should occur, and which direction educational institutions should take.

1 comment:

  1. JSB posted an interesting article that explains all: it's just as his presentation ...

    You can see it on the EduCause website here.