Thursday, 2 July 2009

The Heineken Approach to Discussion - reaching the parts others can not reach.....

An interesting approach for encouraging participation and engagement with a subject whilst harnessing the wisdom of the crowds do you think?

Such an approach was demonstrated in the politics field this week when Obama posted a video to ask for questions on health care reform. Hundreds of submissions were posted over a few days and yesterday he answered some of the best submissions.

Could this be replicated in educational arenas? It certainly supports a conversational approach to learning.

Those who did not post questions could watch a live streamed video of the president's response but also take part in the conversation by

The White House staff indicated that they would monitor all of these conversations closely during the event and attempt to look for ways to incorporate the feedback supplied into the conversation.

The conversation didn't end there either with the White House staff declaring that they would be following up after the event in the coming days by trying to get to as many un-addressed questions as possible and by addressing follow-up questions to his answers in these conversational spaces.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Communities of Practice - a model of social learning

Communities of practice or learning have been a focus of mine for some time as a means of social learning and as a pedagogical model which underpins a role for conversation in education.

I note that Dr Etienne Wenger is due to present at Coventry University in September at the iPED Conference and I particularly like two quotes - pulled out from his profile - which illustrate this point rather nicely!

"Curriculum is...... a constellation of communities...... contributing to the consitution of a field of inquiry"

"Communities of Practice..... a social disciplin of learning"

I am keen to understand more about the natural ways people learn and how we can capitalise on the current advances in technology to support this.

As Wenger seems to infer.... the imposed models of education we as a society have constructed to faciltiate the process of information transference - otherwise known as teaching - are based on the assumptions that a body of knowledge is a curriculum, that learning depends on teaching and that the classroom is the locus of learning and the rest of life its application.......

and this no-longer seems so appropriate?

Communities of practice offer a potential opportunity to open up previously imposed boundaries and dividers. However I am left wondering where the barriers to communication will lie now?

Is it right to assume that barriers to communication will centre on the fact that we are NOT all multilingual?


will the real difficulties (with readily accessible translators and text based communication channels) manifest themselves in disciplinary differences and lie in our inability to understand each other across our various disciplins or subject areas?

How crucial will being able 'to talk the same language' be in facilitating understanding and the joining forces to make effective progress?

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Is Reading a conversation?

When talking over my 'conversation' interests with fellow students a few months back and the many forms 'conversation' can take, one queried whether reading was a form of conversation. Several of us considered it a form of interaction between the author and reader all be it one way. However one flagged the fact that this was evolving with authors now becoming readily available online, via blogs or online forums to engage in conversation regarding their work with their readers.

So - I was interested to note a session to be run at 12am tonight in Elluminate at: on this very topic. The changing role of author and reader in a social media age 'where everyone can join the conversation' is up for discussion, as well as the dramatic changes now ocurring with the whole 'reading experience'. With pre publication wikified collaboration and increased author-reader and reader-reader conversations reading is becoming, it seems, less of a private conversation and more of a 360 degree one!

I doubt I will be awake that late unfortunately so will have to listen to an after event recording.

What's your view - is reading a conversation? What can conversation add to the 'reading experience'? Are we simply participating in an online bookclub or reading circle but with a visit from the author?

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Grading and Assessing Conversation

One topic worth a focus for research purposes is the area of assessment regarding 'conversations' and levels of contribution or engagement........ so I thought I would use this blog post as a flag in the sand so to speak - a place to return to in order to review or add to various thoughts, insights or references on topic.

Lets start with Trent Bastons: "Learning in the Webiverse: How Do You Grade a Conversation?," Campus Technology 06/18/08

So - just how do you grade a conversation?

and more importantly,

if we are to align our teaching and assessment practice, what learning is it important to surface and expose within conversation?

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Is Social Learning what e-learning always should have been about?

Thought I would start with a question today rather than end with one - am feeling rather reckless!

Is Social Learning what e-learning always should have been about: "information, instruction, education, training, communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing"?

It seems it's one reason (number 4) of the 10 good reasons to get involved in social organisational learning:

..... and if it is indeed accepted that 20% of learning takes place formally and 80% takes place informally then is the future of Elearning - Social Learning?

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Comments do count

On the whole I have been keeping this blog under the radar in order to get used to blogging and to formulate numerous thoughts and track an interest. Whilst the whole blog tracks a very real interest it is also somewhat of an experiment and part of the 'role of conversation in education' concept as a whole, so I have decided to make it a little more visible via the security settings, amongst fellow students with similar research interests and include it in my profile for several communities I have just joined:

The future of education
Classroom Web 2.0

The commenting section of the blog of course is where the 'real conversation' lies and as part of my experiementation with topic and technology I used this blog as a course resource for a learning event I designed and ran and a Masters level online module I wrote for the MSC Elearning course I am currently following - hence some of the comments appearing on earlier posts. Part of the conversations held earlier include discussions on why some do not engage or interact either via commenting functions or on virtual discussion boards.

As engagement and participation is essential to any learning I was pleased, but not surprised to see similar conversations happening elsewhere on Sue Waters Blog. There are certainly several insights into non participation here but equally several ideas on how to make blog posts 'entice' comments.

I had already decided, in the spirit of Inquiry led Investigation - a form of conversational learning, to try and end each blog post with a question looking for further insight, expansion, clarification or deeper understanding so will also look to pick up some further tips from Sue's post too!

Beyond my serendipitous stumblings - which are a delight in themsleves......

How can I find and feed into similar conversations held elsewhere in the world more efficiently and effectively?

ooh - just serendipitously found another rich discussion strand.....

Friday, 29 May 2009

Traditional University Education: A Place for Conversation On and Offline.

Online learning for traditional students can often be considered as ‘inactive’ learning by students who expect to physically interact with ‘experts’ in the field and seen by course providers as a response to institutional, employer or economic pressures either as a means of dealing with mass education and larger class sizes, or of operating and competing in a global market place rather than as a method of integrating and deepening learning.

However, pedagogically, a blended approach, which foregrounds conversational or social dialectic approaches to teaching and learning within its curriculum design and harnesses recently developed communication technologies to underpin its delivery and interaction, could be considered best practice for cultivating deeper and more integrated learning within a traditional University setting.

Ralph Young (Morrison, 2009), Microsoft Vice President, Woldwide Communications sector and John Seely Brown (2001) seem to support such a view. In a recent interview with James Morrison, Innovate editor-in-chief, Young highlighted a 2007 report entitled "Implementing Effective Approaches to Student Engagement and Retention in Australian Universities" which found that

  • students characterized learning as a profoundly social experience and that social networking, e-mail, instant messaging, blogging, text messaging, and other connective technologies were seen as critical to this experience
  • learning is not the same as teaching, "learning " and "teaching" must not be conflated and the technologies that students use to learn may not be the same technologies that professors use to teach.

Young goes on to stress that an emphasis on student engagement and on approaches which facilitate interest-driven and problem based learning as well as other pedagogical methods that focus on teaching students how to learn has to represent the cornerstone of any credible attempt to shape HE education in the future. There seems therefore to be room for conversational ideologies in Microsoft's vision of HE in the future as Young's comments align snuggly with the conversational theories and dialectic approaches highlighted in earlier blog posts here, including Enquiry based learning, Inquiry led curricula and Socratic Methods in addition to those posts alluding to the role of cyberspace and Web 2.0 conversational technologies. But, would Young actually agree? I've chanced my arm and emailed him to ask...... I wonder if he will reply?

Seely Brown (p.65) also acknowledges that learning is a remarkably social process which occurs as a result of a social framework that fosters learning and not as a response to teaching. Such social views of learning actively rely on personal interaction, communication and peripheral participation and so, in such a context, it is easy to see:

  • how virtual solutions and Web 2.0 technologies in particular could augment and indeed facilitate this type of learning; and
  • how learning events which embed such conversational approaches could have the potentital to transform many of the interactions of researchers and students and of teachers and learners.

Young and Seely Brown agree that the virtual will never fully replace the physical university and that a balanced and blended "clicks and mortar" approach will prevail with virtual and face to face instruction running in tandem. They also seem to agree on the reasoning behind this. Young takes an economic, employer and socially driven stance revolving around student expectations and the need to address ciritical issues of scale, access and educational relevance whilst Seely Brown champions a blended approach in order to head off the possibility of a deeply devisive student body based upon affordability, with those who can afford it accessing the rich and respected resources available on campus and those who can’t making do with the internet. Seely Brown promotes a blended approach to ensure that more students have the opportunity to experience the best of both worlds, time spent on campus in physical communities and time spent online, whilst building the very skills required by employers when they move into the workplace.

Whilst initially sounding like another economic, institutional or even social egalitarian driver for the adoption of e-learning strategies, if we dig a little deeper we find that Seely Brown's blended approach is actually more fundamentally guided by its educationally based social learning aspirations and communicative, collaborative, creative and interactive core.

By capitalising on a University's unique selling points:

  • its established and nurtured learning communities, and
  • knowledge creation role

Seely Brown argues that a University based education can, via forming networked, distributed, collaborative communities of learners and harnessing a socially based blended approach to education, be distanced from the realm of a delivery service or from being a meer trafficker of information (p. 69). Moreover, and more crucially within my context, he goes on to argue that such an approach actually aligns not only with what universities do best and with what people percieve make them places worthy of huge investment but also, critically, with the natural ways that people learn.

By leveraging the possibilities that technology offers and capitalising on the recent trend for online social communication within today’s society as a whole, a blended approach combining both modern virtual and traditional HE learning environments could therefore embed pedagogically sound dialectic and conversational ideologies or methodologies which focus on developing inquiry led and 'in-action' critical thinking to offer a supportive educational environment infused with abundant opportunity for students to pursue and engage with interactive, participatory learning aligned to their interests and needs.

This brings the business of learning to the forefront once again and re-illuminates a clear "raison d'etre" for a University based education at a time when forces are pushing us to question the role of educational institutions today and in the future (KnowledgeWorks Foundation, 2009) and to create learning ecosystems to help face key educational challenges including:

  1. Creating learning environments that promote active learning, critical thinking, collaborative learning, and knowledge creation.
  2. Developing 21st century literacies (information, digital, and visual) among students and faculty.
  3. Reaching and engaging today's learner.
  4. Encouraging faculty adoption and innovation in teaching and learning with IT.
  5. Advancing innovation in teaching and learning with technology in an era of budget cuts

(Educause, 2009)

With Oxford University also 'peering into the future of learning' by looking into the use of Web 2.0 in University life and setting up a facebook group to discuss the implications for learning, the conversation is only just beginning........


Educause (2009). The EDUCAUSE Top Teaching and Learning Challenges 2009. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd June 2009]

Educause (2009). TLChallenges09. Project Wiki. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd June 2009]

KnowledgeWorks Foundation & Institute for the Future, 2009. 2020 Forecast: Creating the Future of Learning. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd June 2009]

Morrison, J., and Young, R. 2009. Success and sustainability in higher education: an interview with Ralph Young. [online] Innovate 5 (5). Available at: [Accessed 2nd June 2009]

Seely Brown, J (2001) Learning in the Digital Age. In the Internet and University: Forum 2001, Maureen Devlin et al. eds. Educause and the Forum for the Future of Higher Education, 2002. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14th May 2009]

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Is Partcipatory Video a Conversational Process?

Ideas and connections are coming thick and fast so need to get them down - it also makes a nice change to long blog posts!

Having done the VLOG post earlier in this blog a reference to 'participatory video' caught my eye with its action research orientation/approach to following a line of inquiry in a very visible dialetic way. Indeed the Fogo Process certainly lead to further dialogue ... and government intervention..... after the production of videos, in addition to the island inhabitants own visual debate with the issues and problems they faced.

"Participatory video is a set of techniques that involve a group or community in shaping and creating their own film, in order to explore, solve and communicate their issues. It started in 1967 by Canadian advocate Don Snowden, who changed the lives of Newfoundland's Fogo Islanders. By watching each other’s films, the different villagers on the island came to realise that they shared many of the same problems and that by working together they could solve some of them. The films were also shown to politicians who lived too far away and were too busy to actually visit the island. As a result of this dialogue, government policies and actions were changed. The techniques developed by Snowden became known as the Fogo process. Its chief power is that the video is edited by its participants." (Wikipedia)
All of this also makes me think about the recent film 'The Class' which I hightlighted as a possible example of a current/topical social critical approach to education in my 'Course Design for Effective Learning' module. Actual students of Francois Begaudeau (who also plays himself) were also involved in the film... This review of the film seems to allude the Fogo Process too by recognizing, after film production, the seemingly contradictory ideas that while other nations and cultures have their own histories, concerns, traditions and values, it is also true that, people are people [with the same problems/facing the same issues?]

There are obvious parallels too with some of the YouTube activity as described by Michael Welsch in his video:

An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube'

Is Action Research a Conversational Methodology?

Based on its enquiry/inquiry questioning led approach to research AND 'action' orientation ACTION RESEARCH certainly seems to sit alongside Freire's social critical/reform approach to education?

What do you think?

Importance of 'The Social' in Scholarly Networking

Finally managed to read through the OU report highlighted in Fridays' posting and one of the key observations for me, relating to my interest in the role of conversation within education, revolves around the level of 'head nodding' agreement or endorsement the report makes in relation to the importance of 'the social' in scholarly networking. Recognised by distance education providers, as a means of building supportive student communities, more likely to complete their studies and long recognised in business and commerce as a means of generating business and building trust, it now seems 'the social' and its implications for scholarship are becoming more openly accepted within academic circles as a means of cultivating relationships and building informative, constructive collaborative research networks.

The report itself reviews scholarly networking activities within the OU in order to make a series of recommendations aimed at supporting the development of the Bamboo Project, which is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary, and inter-organizational effort that brings together researchers in arts and humanities, computer scientists, information scientists, librarians, and campus information technologists to tackle the question:

How can we advance arts and humanities research through the development of shared technology services?

Project Bamboo is being led by the University of Berkeley and University of Chicago with the OU and University of Cambridge leading on the scholarly networking strand of the project with the term 'scholarly networking' being generally understood as referring to networking using web 2.0 type tools.

Similar scholarly networks are being established in other disciplines, such as Nature Network in the science area and Within3 in the health and life sciences sector.

The report refers to the 'social value' of online networking, the 'social glue' required to make online networking effective, the sharing of 'personal information' to build trust, the blurring of social and scholarly networking activities, which often become indistinguishable with participants using the same account for both. One example highlighted how a social contact became useful for scholarly purposes after work-related information came to light in a 'social networking profile'.

The report even goes as far as recommending that the term 'scholarly networking' be renamed to 'social networking in education' to avoid an overly elitist ethos or view of the activity which could be detrimental or at least in opposition to the nature of this style of social networking. It notes the fact that services like 'Twitter' may even cultivate a greater mix of contacts by bringing together 'different types of group who might not have met outside seminars but .... might meet online and then arrange to have a coffee and a more in-depth conversation.' (para 3.2.3)

The report's final recommendations highlight key priorities including the need to identify clear purposes for the Bamboo project scholarly network, which will then inform the future content of the network. A social dimension to the network is recommended:
  • acknowledge the importance of a social element to scholarly networking and ensure that the network design incorporates this facility
  • support informal styles of discussion, including quick comments
  • enable the discussion of specialist interests with worldwide colleagues

as are links with current web 2.0 technologies:

  • Incorporate and area for network members to publish their blogs
  • Incorporate a separate microblogging area for fast communication and quick questions. Consider integrating with Twitter or similar
  • Provide the means for members to interact with Facebook and MySpace for the purpose of notification of their contacts on these sites about relevant activities on the Arts and Humanities network [a two way feed/flow of information which could leave an open door to an otherwise relatively closed network?]


Open University (2009). It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd May 2009]

Friday, 22 May 2009

Permanent Corridor Conversations

The Open University has recently released a report on the use of scholarly networking and web 2.0 tools by its faculty: "It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University" (April 2009)

Another serendipitous find from the web of flow - don't ask me how now either - tracking back I think it must have been flagged by a recent Research Information Network update and found on the Bamboo project Wiki which notes:

"While the Open University is in some ways a special case due to its implementation of distance learning as the primary means of presenting courses, many of the practices documented in the report can be found elsewhere, or could be useful even in the context of a traditional institution."

The report was prepared by Linda Wilks under the direction of Prof. John Wolffe, based on a series of interviews conducted with faculty and

topics covered include:
  • What is Scholarly Networking?
  • Tools used by the Open University for faculty-student and faculty-colleague networking
  • The prevalence and many roles of Facebook, including communication between colleagues, disseminating announcements, collecting feedback from students, and providing a community hub for students who cannot meet in person
  • The emergence of Twitter as a supplement to the face-to-face coffee culture among faculty colleagues and as a means of disseminating university information and advertising publicly-available programs
  • The use of YouTube and iTunesU as a way of disseminating educational content to the public
  • Blogs as a way of promoting courses, books, and receiving feedback from colleagues through comments
  • Tools specifically developed by the Open University, including repositories and a Ning-based researchers' network
  • Problematic issues related to web 2.0 and Scholarly Networking, including privacy, IP concerns, security, content control, usability, and user take-up of new tool


Open University (2009). It’s like a permanent corridor conversation’: an exploration of technology-enabled scholarly networking at The Open University. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22nd May 2009]

Monday, 18 May 2009

Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World: a Socially Interactive Education?

The Committee of Enquiry into the Changing Learner Experience (CLEX) final report on Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World is now available. Does it reveal a role for conversation in education?

The Committee was first set up in 2008, supported by the principal bodies and agencies in UK post-compulsory education, with the remit of conducting an independent inquiry into the strategic and policy implications for higher education of the experience and expectations of learners in light of their increasing use of the newest technologies. Technologies considered under this remit are Web 2.0 or Social Web technologies, technologies that enable communication, collaboration, participation and sharing.

Some initial points relevant to this context are:

Ongoing drivers for change: Tradition:

"Students are looking for traditional approaches, notably personal contact, in a modern setting, ie web-supported. The bridge between web 2.0 in social use and in learning is as yet only dimly perceived by students, and only a little more clearly by staff. The fact that it is perceived, however, is likely to act as a spur to its construction" (p. 8)

It is notable that personal contact is still expected/considered an essential part of learning. Access to the experts and their knowledge seems to be the driver here. Which models of education are expected/preferred is less clear. Does personal contact mean sitting in a lecture theatre and recording notes based on a lecturer's presentation, or does personal contact mean discussion, debate, sharing of information as facilitated or guided by a lecturer?

In this context, it is not only the use of such technology for teaching and learning which both staff and students need to feel comfortable with but also, for students in particular, it's the shift from a teaching or 'deposit' model of education to a learning based model, which they often encounter during their HE education. There have been recent student demonstrations in Manchester protesting against a reduction in staff contact time in favour of more 'active based learning' so tensions in this area still exist and are bubbling to the surface more and more in a fee-paying, customer driven academic environment.

With two evolutions taking place in higher education, both intersect at regular intervals and are indeed fundamentally interlinked in a new learning 2.0 landscape. It is evident that:

  • social and workplace personal or group contact is both experienced and achieved remotely and that education will need to scaffold the divide from new leaner to employment similarly
  • more learner centred approaches to education will be adopted in HE

and so learning that builds in 'remote personal contact' to develop tutor-student, peer-peer, student - reflection based discussion, dialogue or conversation may gain credence, acceptance and momentum as both staff and students become more comfortable and confident in using Web 2.0 technologies for learning in this way.

Having read through a few press releases - like this one and this one. I thought I would join the conversation, as instructed there, by tagging this blog post with #clex09. The use of blog/twitter/comment tagging to join conversations would make another interesting blog post for this blog but for now.....

Must read the rest of this report......


Committee of Enquiry into Changing Learner Experience, 2009. Higher Education in a Web 2.0 world. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18th May 2009]

JISC, 2008. Effective use of social software by further and higher education in the UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18th May 2009]

JISC, 2009. Podcast/Press Release: HE in a 'Web 2.0 World' report. [online] Available at: [Accessed 18th May 2009]

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Advancing Science Through Conversations

Yesterday I gave a short presentation to some Library colleagues on the use of blogs and other technologies to liaise with users remotely. As part of that presentation, for the audience's general knowledge, I highlighed a couple of examples to show how researchers are using blogs and I included a link to Research Blogging.

This morning I link to Research Blogging to find 'From Anonymity to Subjectivity in the Blogosphere: Post Game Analysis by BZ' posted by Greg Laden on Greg Laden's Blog but aggregated through the Research Blogging site.

This links brilliantly to my 'role of conversation in education' research interests on several counts:

A) the developing conversation appearing on the blog via post/comments/review and round up/further comments......
B) behavioural aspects including the credibility/expertise/authority issues tied up with online conversations and integral to virtual communities
C) the Advancement of science through conversation

It also provides me with some useful information to add into the online module " The Role of Conversation in Education" I have just developed as an assignment for my latest MSc Elearning Module: 'Course Design for Effective Learning'. All referenced appropriately of course!

I felt enthused enough to comment on Gregs posting furthering the conversation there and have also picked up some very useful references to follow up further - see below.

I would add one further reference to this, again only recently found, 'The Open Laboratory: the Best Science Writing on Bloggs 2008' edited by Jennifer Rohn and recently reviewed by New Scientist. For more information on this read this blog post.


Batts, S., Anthis, N., & Smith, T. (2008) Advancing Science through Conversations: Bridging the Gap between Blogs and the Academy. PLoS Biology, 6(9). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.0060240

Doheny-Farnia, Stephen. (1996). The Wired Neighborhood. Connecticut: Yale University.

Turkle, Sherry. (1995). Life on the Screen. New York: Touchstone.

Rohn, Jennifer (Ed). (2009). The Open Laboratory: the Best Science Writing on Bloggs 2008.

Zvan, Stephanie (2008). How to Hijack a Thread. Available: Accessed 30th April, 2009.

Zvan, Stephanie (2009). Looking Like a N00b. Available: Accessed 30th April, 2009.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Anonymity and its empowerment in discussion

The potential for Second Life to offer inherent 'anonymity' via the use of avatars, gives us scope to investigate and explore different and multiple identities. Being able to choose gender, colour, dress etc. at the avatar design stage and then being able to 'act , perform and interact with others' in this disguise clearly provides an opportunity for role interchange. The capacity of second life to facilitate such an interchangeability of role could lead to enhanced cross functional and interprofessional team working.

Using avatars to explore role interchange whilst interacting with others could, possibly, lead to a more embodied and immersive experience of the different roles, allowing students to become exposed to multiple subjectivity, thus allowing them to take up muliple subject positions or view points. Messer (2009) considers this crucial in terms of interprofessional working within healthcare profession and believes that this would be very difficult to replicate within real life.

Bayne (2004, p310) picks up this latter point in the context of LeCourts pedagogy and feminist agenda. LeCourt uses anonymised discussion boards to cultivate a learning environment in which students can take up multiple subject positions in order to allow them to express 'multivocality'.

In adopting anonymity on the discussion boards LeCourt also has an emancipatory agenda. Her online classroom has the potential to become a 'feminized' textual space where voices are heard and students' discourse resists reincorporation or silencing within already constituted discourses. LeCourts classroom experiences show that interaction on this level enables 'new' subject positions to be momentarily created that granted students power over how others had positioned them. (Lecourt 1999 p.172 in Bayne 2004, p.310)

Intersubjectivity is a topic picked up by Kim (2001) in relation to social constructivism and development of shared understandings. ' Intersubjectivity is a shared understanding among individuals whose interaction is based on common interests and assumptions that form their communication' (Rogoff, 1990 in Kim, 2001). Kim points out that any personal meanings developed by individuals during such interactions, are shaped by the intersubjectivity of the community involved in the interaction. This has some relevance to the multiple subjectivity and interprofessional subjectivity noted above. Intersubjectivity, if successfully established, could provide grounds for communication and support people in extending their understanding of new information and activities among the group members involved. (Rogoff 1990 in Kim 2001) and (Vygotsky 1987 in Kim 2001).

If digital discursive and networking spaces can provide a social space and environment in which an individual can create meaning through their interactions with each other then these spaces can also be said to support social constructivist approaches to education. The examples of multiplesubjectivity and interprofessional subjectivity above show how discussion boards and virtual worlds like Second Life can offer opportunities for online interactions and therefore by extension are spaces able to foster intersubjectivity too. Savin-Baden (2008) supports such an alignment, affiliation, tendancy or sympathy within the context of higher education and currently lobbies for learning in immersive worlds to be reconsidered in the context of a social reform model of education. She believes it is this model of or approach to education which should underpin the implementation of learning in immersive virtual worlds in higher education pedagogically rather than cognitive approaches which have informed practice in this area in the past.

Bayne, S. (2004) Smoothness and striation in digital learning spaces. E-learning 1 (2). p. 302-316

Kim, B (2001). Social Constructivism. In Orey. M (Ed.). Emerging perspectives on learning, teaching, and technology. Retrieved 10th February 2009 from

Messer (2009). Discussion Board Post: Course Design. Identifying Approaches: Teaching spaces and how they reflect learning beliefs, ideologies and values. 25th January 2009 and 30th January 2009

Savin-Baden, M. (2008) From cognitive capability to social reform? Shifting perceptions of learning in immersive virtual worlds. ALT-J Research in Learning Technology. 16 (3). pp. 151-161

Saturday, 18 April 2009

To Vlog or to Blog - what would teens do?

The use of social media gains a greater foothold in American teen life as they embrace the conversational nature of interactive online media.......


Lenhart, A et al. (2007). Teens and Social Media. Report 19th December. Washington: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Available at: [Accessed 10th April]

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

How can conversation support the development of PELTS?

As part of a learning event hosted and designed by Dave Appleby, one of my fellow students on my MSc Elearning course, I recently used GoogleDocs to consider the role of web 2.0 technologies in developing PELTS.

Being partial to a bit of chat myself, I noted during the session that discursive spaces could develop many of the PELTS described:

Team work - Discussion exposes you to several viewpoints and often involves you in negotiation both in terms of building an understanding and in terms of communicating your agreement and disagreements with diverse perspectives presented. They are also a way to ask for further information from your team mates - eg James' email about what are the important issues in HE today.

Independent Enquiry - discussion boards are a way of raising your hand in class to ask questions remotely to help extend learning and/or clarify understandings or as mentioned above to ask for more information and/or learn from others who may be more experienced in an area than you. Discussion also presents different perspectives and helps cultivate more rounded critical thinking.

Reflective Thinking - a post to a discussion board can reveal a level of reflective thinking based on the writers understanding so far, often linking to what they know already, highlighting new connections made, gaps in knowledge, incongurities in understandings or ambiguities unearthed thus far. Posts to a DB can also help a writer reconcile what they are learning with their own context, way of working or job currently undertaken. This too is a form of reflection.

Effective participation - by engaging with others in discussion, or through the actual processes involved in the 'act of conversation:

  1. the process of harnessing learning, relating it to ones current context, helping the formulation of action plans detailing what still needs to be done or should be done next
  2. the process of constructing arguments, in conversation, in such a way as to be persuasive and convincing enough to influence others

Creative thought - I think if we see mental agility as a creative force or thought then we can see how discussion can also facilitiate this PELT:

  1. through fostering and engendering understanding and inspiration when interacting with others (a social constructivist approach to learning)
  2. by offering an opportunity for an individual to develop their own voice
  3. via shared musings and collaborative building of methaphors to illustrate concepts and further understanding
  4. by offering opportunties to share and discuss observations and ponder connections.
  5. If all learning is metaphorically construed as a type of conversation and
  6. If it is accepted that, as observers, we learn what we learn by interacting with our environment: the spaces, objects, processes and others-who-are-also- observing all around us.

This type of conversation is formally recognised by a conversation theory which was developed by Gordon Pask and which is based on a cybernetic and dialectic framework. In this theory interacting with the environment is considered 'engaging in an exchange which has the structure of dialogue in language' and so forms the basis of a conversation

This theory formalizes concepts such as agreement, understanding, and consciousness with each of these concepts (as well as the concept "concept") existing in relation to conversation."

For more information see: Cybernetics and Conversation:

What about the great thinkers and scientific visionaries who worked on their own?

Lets take Isaac Newton and Darwin as our two examples.

Whilst the sharing of ideas, during these times, was largely done in cafe rooms and salons, both Isaac Newton and Darwin did not, it appears, engage in such activities on the whole. Even though Newton's great quote:

"if I have seen further it is because I have stood on the shoulder's of giants"

infers he consulted others and attributes his success accordingly, numerous books, biographies or other types of synopses on both these men testify to these facts and paint a picture of secretive men who spent many years formulating ideas alone, discussing them with few, if any, and publishing long after their research had been completed.

So what role does conversation have to play in education here, you might ask?

It seems the theories, ideas and findings of both men, although originally unearthed in solitary pursuits, may have indeed remained unpublished had it not been for open dialogue, social interaction, correspondence or conversation with another. Had these important contributors to our education and understanding never published, our current twenty first century knowledge base, scholarship and approach to education might have appeared very different.

Lets review the evidence:

Isaac Newton

He was renowned for his secrecy, solitary working and lack of desire to publish. He was sensitive to criticism and fearful of plagiarism. Newton did not publish or share his findings until very late in his career. In fact he did not publish his greatest work 'Principia' (allbeit in Latin) until 1687, twenty one years after he first worked on it whilst at Woolsthorpe Manor in Woolsthorpe by Colsterworth in Lincolnshre (both his birthplace and a place I lived for 6 years between 1998-2004), a place to which he had returned in order to escape the plague in 1665-1666.

What made Newton publish? - A conversation.

Newton published only on the back of the persuasion, prompting and intervention of his friend Edmund Halley (of Halley's Comet fame). Halley responded by writing a poem about Newton's achievement and contribution to education. This ode, also originally written in Latin, appeared in the preface to the first edition of I.Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Matematica in 1687.

An interactive application produced by McMaster Univeristy alludes to Newtons secrecy and Halley's involvement in effecting the publication of 'Principia' (do not skip the intro!) as do many of the books written about Isaac Newton and his educational legacy.


Beyond sharing his ideas with a close circle of scientist friends, Darwin told no one of his views on the origin and development of life. Indeed, he did not publish his now-famous volume, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, unitl 20 years after he had first formulated his theory (Masci, 2009) Why?

You've guessed it! It seems that Darwin, too, was only driven to publish as a result of correspondence he had with Wallace, a younger scientist who was working abroad and beginning to come up with similar sorts of theories. Darwin published in a panic the following year.

By July 1858 both papers had been jointly presented to the Linnean Society, by August 1858 both papers were in print and by November 1859 Darwin had produced and published a condensed abstract of his book on Natural Selection under the title: On the Origin of Species.

So in essence Alfred Russell Wallace, via his dialogue and correspondence with Darwin, prompted his eminent interlocutor to publish his theory of evolution. Mark Carwardine's recent video blog (for the BBC) about Wallace, a 'forgotten naturalist', re-highlights Darwin's and Wallace's relationship.

And what of Darwin's legacy?

"By the time of his death, in 1882, Darwin was considered the greatest scientist of his age. Moreover , the very church his theory had challenged accorded him a full state funderal and burial in Westminster Abbey, near the grave of Sir Isaac Newton. Darwin's idea was still provocative, but by the time of his death it had gained general acceptance in Britain, even among many in the Anglican clergy" (Masci, 2009 para 14)
This picture shows Darwin at the age of 51 having just published his 'Origin of the Species'.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

A Conversation with James Watson

This is a nice podcast of a conversation between Seymour Benzer, the James B. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience and James Watson in 2007

Watson, together with Dr. Francis Crick, was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962 for their discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA.

Is this a conversation, broadcast or interview? Are chat-show-esk podcasts a rich learning resource?

Friday, 6 March 2009

Role of Conversation or Dialogue in Education

This is fast becoming a favourite topic of mine, you may have noticed from my other postings.

Indeed a lot of the material we are reading in our course design module covers this topic in passing. I intend to blog about this here and hope to use this content at some point during the course for assessment purposes. It would fit with this module (Course Design), Information Literacy and would be a good dissertation topic perhaps?

A Modern Approach to Curriculum Design?

The role of conversation in education (workplace learning and higher education) is a topical and pertinent subject relevant in both academic and workplace contexts. Its place as a concept within education could be argued to be increasing in importance, heightened by current changes in society as a whole.

Globalisation has increasingly brought people together despite space and time zone differences and has equally been realised through establishing distributed virtual teams in the workplace and through developing distance learning courses for dispersed, remote and often diverse learners in higher education. In both of these learning contexts communication is fundamental.

In addition, traditional cohorts of students now entering Higher Education could be considered a dialogic generation of student, all be it text based. The use of SMS mobile texting, email, chatrooms and services like MSN for instant messaging or Facebook, Myspace or Twitter for networking and online chat seem common place amongst this dialogic generation.

Education is evolving and responding to society's needs to facilitate the learning process for them. Both workplace and Higher Education are radically changing their teaching and networking spaces. Computers (PCs, laptops, sophisticated phones like the iphone, blackberries) pervade the workplace, whether you are an office worker, travelling financial adviser, mobile hairdresser or washing machine repair person. Cybercaf├ęs are springing up, wireless connections are available in hotel rooms, on trains and at the lakeside in Vevey on Lake Geneva. Images of libraries are changing too, to more social spaces to capitalise on this type of learning. Their atmosphere is evolving from passive to active, from hushed inner sanctum of knowledge to energised environment in order to reflect current lifestyles and ways of working. Libraries are setting aside more space for conversation and group work, collaborative learning and knowledge sharing and for technology and portable communication devices, including laptops, phones etc. (Foreman, 2009, p. 1).

But have things really moved on?

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Conversation - tracking my interest back..

Takes me back to and allows me to reminiss about my ancient greek and latin days, It seems there may be an educational theorectical basis to such an approach, or at least an ideology or philosophy. Socratic methods seem to give this topic academic grounding, weight, credibility and kudos. A quick check of wikipedia reminds me of Cicero's dialogs, Xenophon, Plato and many others.....

An original interest in finding and sharing knowledge and information led me to a career in information and libraries. A long established interest in teaching & learning and a developing one in e-learning extends this original attraction as I believe teaching is all about reaching out and converting that information and knowledge into something deeper: understanding and learning. E-learning offers the opportunity to make even greater and faster 'connections'. Helping others to harness these connections and developing shared understandings also extends my original interest of helping others to access information.

These lurking interests or drivers heightened my interest in conversation when we were looking at the use of portfolios in education, whilst engaged in the art of chatting with peers via discussion boards and whilst producing my own weblog for the IDEL module last year. Conversations, all be them textual in nature (mostly), were held in these spaces, with myself in reflection or with my tutor via weblog or with peers via discussion boards.

Conversation is undeniably one way of sharing knowledge, cultivating understanding and facilitating learning and this is a method which suits my own style of learning. Digital technologies such as email, discussion boards, mobile texting and the development of web 2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis and social networking sites (Facebook, Twitter and Diig), make conversation online and across time and space a reality, which is ripe for exploitation within the academic arena.
Posted by Alison Johnson

Dialogue - Is there a clue in the title?

The term 'dialogue' itself has begun to intrigue me, as a route to learning.

I am wondering whether the word itself might hold the secret to the concept of learning and interaction I am trying to tune into? Being made up of the greek words dia and logos - I thought there would be something relevant in the 'dia' part of the word in terms of a 'process involved' and/or some form of inbuilt collaboration or connection which would be both pivotal and dynamic within the process as a whole.....

A quick check of some Greek/Latin dictionaries has revealed possibilities for this. Although, as I remember from old, one word in Ancient Greek or indeed Latin can mean many in English. Hence numerous interpretations can therefore be deducted in reality. Never-the-less, to humour me and follow my train of thought the ones which interest me - (since they support what I am trying to seek out) are:

DIA: between; on account of; through midst of; by agency of; throughout; in among; during; by means of; by mouth of; by aid of; mutual relations; one with another; different directions & variance. For definitions of 'Dia' check here and here

LOGOS: 'that by which inward thought is expressed'; word; talks; speech; conversation, a saying. From the Latin: thought; opinion; reason. For definitions of 'Logos' check here and here

In fact LOGOS, if we take the most literal meaning of 'that by which inward thought is expressed', could be associated with more textual (as opposed to verbal) forms of conversation. This sort of association could offer scope for digital environments to credibly underpin a conversational pedagogical shift or approach within education.

This aside, LOGOS is obviously individualistic in nature and concerned with the externalisation of something which happens inwardly with all its contextual assumptions, prejudice and bias. DIA, meanwhile, seems to expect a degree of collective interaction or collaborative effort. When linked with LOGOS, the whole concept seems to have an unfinished subtext, bringing its connotations of 'throughout', 'during' and 'in the midst of' to the forefront. Such unfinished business neatly aligns itself with notions of education as an ongoing process and life long learning.

Conversing in Cyberspace

How can cyberspace facilitate dialogue?

The equivalent of this in cyberspace might be:

1. 'Lexia' - a collaborative effort in terms of 'textual combinations of thoughts, forms of dialogue, links leading to material produced by others with links to material published by others;

2. Hypertext - linking associated connections, produced by others, together in a collaborative way

3. Blogs used for dialogue - between oneself in reflective mode and/or between student and tutor. Discussion, debate, feedback can take place via comments function.

4. Recorded conversation taken from asynchronous discussion boards. A never ending conversation which can be extended and added to over time.

5. Transcripts taken from synchronus chat sessions conducted in spaces such as Skype or Second Life.

6. Wikis with their inbuilt collaborative space.

7. Eportfolios which have scope for including conversation as digital artefacts

8. Social Networking sites eg Facebook, Nature Network

9. Twitter; Diig and other similar web 2.0 conversational spaces

Most of this type of chat in cyberspace is textual but:

10. Podcasts can record interviews, academic discourse on trends or advances in their field, presentations with question and answer sessions

Conversational Theories and Dialogic Ideologies

A few musings:

1. Conversation Theory of Gordon Pask (1970). Pask puts forward a cybernetic and dialectic framework that offers a scientific theory to explain how interactions can lead to "construction of knowledge", or, "knowing". This theory preserves both the dynamic/kinetic quality and the necessity for there to be a "knower". (Wikipedia)

2. Socratic Methods or Dialogue

3. Constructivist Learning Theories of Vgotsky & Piaget. Constructivist values are about the quality of interactions with tutors, learning environment and other learners. Cooperative learning make learners accomodate different ideas, identities, misconceptions and mistakes and individuals gain new insights from group interactions. Dialog as a interaction is entirely appropriate in constructivist interactions. Constructivists aim is to make knowledge visible. Digital environments easily support such an approach through concept mapping, discursive spaces such as blogs, wikis, discussion boards and networking sites, podcasts etc.

4. Laurillard (2002) Rethinking University Teaching in the Digital Age offers a conversational model to enable a continuing iterative dialogue between teacher and student. Such as dialogue can reveal both participants' conceptions and the variations between them...

Moving into the social critical approaches/domains:

Dialogue can have inbuilt power positions. Social critical approaches to the curriculum seek to address this whilst retaining 'dialogue' at their core:

5. Paulo Freire theory of Dialogic Action

6. Egalitarian Conversation - designed to re-address the balance of power positions and the impact they can have on conversation: Dialogue is egalitarian when it takes different contributions into consideration according to the validity of their reasoning, instead of according to the positions of power held by those who make the contributions (Flecha, 2000, in Wikipedia:)

7. Social Constructivism - interactive groups of diverse learners (with different levels of education or from different backgrounds) teach and learn from each other, creating Zones of Proximal Development. Zones of Proximal Development can happen when learning from peers. Meaning making and learning do not depend solely on the intervention of professionals, but on all the knowledge brought by anyone related to the students (Flecha, 2000 in Wikipedia).

8. LeCourts Pedaogy (in Bayne 2004) anonymised discussion to allow for multiple subjectivity


Bayne, S. (2004). Smoothness and striation in digital learning spaces. E-learning 1 (2): pp. 302-316

Laurillard (2002) Rethinking University Teaching in the Digital Age

Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. In Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. P. McLaren and P. Leonard (Eds.). (London, Routledge): pp. 25-35

Engaging Conversation?

In attempt to try and understand why some choose not to engage in discussion, debate, conversation or dialogue when learning online, I thought I would try and brainstorm some thoughts here. Especially since my learning style seems to suit conversational environments and because I tend to feel robbed of the learning that could transpire if those who do not, were to join the conversation.

Any ideas?

Keesing-Styles on Conversation

Keesing-Styles (2003) finds further connections between dialogue and critical pedagogies with critical consciousness being developed via ‘authentic dialogue’ between students and teachers.

Keesing-Styles (2003 pg 4) talks about humanised education which is about the collaborative and collective production of knowledge grounded in the reality of students lives in contrast to the historical or more traditional banking form of education, as labelled by Freire in 1984. ‘Dialogic relations’ she states ‘should be at the heart of any educational experience’ as ‘human life holds meaning through communication’.


Keesing-Styles, L. (2003). The relationship between critical pedagogy and assessment in teacher education. Radical Pedagogy 5(1). Retrieved: 28 October 2008.

Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. In Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. P. McLaren and P. Leonard (Eds.). (London, Routledge): pp. 25-35

Toohey and Freire on Conversation.

Toohey's Social Critical approach to the curriculum has much overlap with Smith's process and praxis approaches and the role of conversation here also takes pride of place too. Toohey identifies Paolo Freire as the most famous social critical pedagogue. Shor (1993) takes a look at the Freirean pedagogy in more detail and in doing so expertly illustrates the prominent role dialogue has within such a pedagogy using terms such as dialogue leaders and to teach dialogically.

A Freirean pedagogy tries to avoid a one way monologue in the class room, to develop a student centred and problem posing dialogue, to teach subject matter dialogically and to create a new attitude in doing so.

Freire (1973: 52 in Shor 1993) argues that dialogue has been absent from our upbringing and education up to this point. In a Freiran pedagogy, problem posing is considered key to critical dialogue and a teacher following freirean principles would be a critical teacher, a problem poser who asks thought provoking questions and a dialogic teacher who does not seperate themselves from the dialogue. Inside a rigorous dialogue and thematic discussions a freirean teacher would have the right and responsibility to put forward his or her ideas, in a language accessible to students who have the freedom to question and disagree with the teacher's analysis.

In a freirean pedagogic approach to teaching critical dialogue would be used to problematize experiences, relationships, situations and dialogic reflections amongst peers and to help a student gain some critical distance from their conditions, giving them space to consider how to transform them.

Problem posing often used questioning techniques so some comparisons can be drawn with socratic methods of teaching and learning.


Shor, I. (1993). Education is politics: Paulo Freire's critical pedagogy. In Paulo Freire: a critical encounter. P. McLaren and P. Leonard (Eds.). (London, Routledge): pp. 25-35

Toohey, S. (1999). Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design. In Designing courses for higher education. Toohey, S. (Buckingham, SRHE and OUP): pp. 44-69

Where does assessment fit with conversational theories?

Toohey (1999 p 47) queries what assessment tell us about what is valued in education?

HE assessment seems to value....
· Isolated rather than integrated knowledge
· Individual rather than cooperative achievement

This seems to run counter to society and business needs as it stands with its need for networks, inclusivity, multidisciplinary and team working or collaboration. With the recent report on Childhood identifying a potential problem for society with the rise of greedy individualism which needs to be addressed not only by parental guidance but education and with the recent demise of the banking sector due to individualistic tendencies an imbalance not only in society but also in education perhaps needs readdressing? Within the current product driven curriculum followed in many HE establishments could conversation and discourse be one way to re-address the balance?

Keesing-Styles (2003) notes that assessment must be based on dialogic interactions – eg reflection on action, authentic dialogue (teacher and student) and self assessment and peer review.


Keesing-Styles, L. (2003). The relationship between critical pedagogy and assessment in teacher education. Radical Pedagogy 5(1). Retrieved: 28 October 2008.

Toohey, S. (1999). Beliefs, values and ideologies in course design. In Designing courses for higher education. Toohey, S. (Buckingham, SRHE and OUP): pp. 44-69

Smith on Conversation

Smith (1996, 2000) highlights the role of conversation in a curriculum which adopts a process rather than product approach. Curriculum in this context is seen as an interaction of teachers, students and knowledge; an active process; a constant interaction; a practical form of reasoning. Smith notes that teachers adopting this sort of approach enter the schooling system with an understanding of their role, expectations others have of them and a proposal for action which sets out essential principles and features of an educational encounter. They couple this with an ability to think critically-in-action and use these parameters to guide them in their design of teaching interventions. Conversation within this context becomes a valid teaching intervention or learning encounter. Drawing upon the parameters identified above, teachers encourage conversations between and with people in the situation, with the aim of cultivating thinking, facilitating mean-making and encouraging action thereafter.

Smith also highlights the role of conversation in a curriculum which adopts a praxis approach, where resulting actions, probed for in the learning intervention, are not simply informed but committed to some form of collective emancipation or social change. Smith notes that teaching interventions following this approach are for the most part extensions of the process model. However whilst this model places emphasis on judgement and mean-making, a praxis approach goes beyond situating the learning intervention within the experience of the learner, a context which whilst a resourceful aid to learning could be considered (from this perspective) confining, possibly restrictive or worse, limiting, innately oppressive and hence ultimately self determining.

Conversations which take place within this type of learning intervention therefore also go beyond the immediate experience of the individual learner. They focus beyond the confines of an individual's context or limiting experiences which can blinker the individual, hold them back from questioning the status quo or from confronting their relationships and very existence. Such conversations draw from the experiences of both the teacher and student with the aim of building shared understandings through dialogue and negotiation rather than individualistic learning stemming from connections made within a learners own context or situatedness.

A praxis approach places collective human well-being or emancipation of the human spirit at the centre of the process.

Smith (1996, 2000) Curriculum Theory and Practice: