UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Education Will Make Us Anxious

Posted by Brian Kelly on 26 Apr 2011

#Purposed, #purposedpsi and #500words

On Saturday I am attending the #purposedpsi event in Sheffield.  Purpos/ed isa non-partisan, location-independent organization aiming to kickstart a debate around the question: What’s the purpose of education?” In the run-up to the event the campaign has encouraged people to contribute 500 words on their own blogs on the purpose of education.

This has been followed with the 3×5 Flickr mashups campaign which encourages people to read the blogs, identify an interesting quotation and post an annotated image illustrating the quotation to the Purpos/ed Flickr group.

I was a bit late finding out about the campaign but as I’ll be attending the afternoon meeting later this week I thought I would give my thoughts in 500 words on a post by Dave White, a member of the ALT 2010 learning Technologist Team of the Year, entitled Education should make us anxious.

“Education should make us anxious”

The comment which Dave White published on his blog as part of the #500 words campaign is worth reading in context:

My view is that education should make us anxious: anxious to discover new ways of understanding and influencing the world.  It should challenge our ways of seeing and force us to question our identities and our positions. Education should disrupt as much as it builds, ultimately teaching how to learn not what to learn.

I’m sure we have all had that feeling of anxiety, when one’s world view is being disrupted by new ideas we start to understand and influence how we behave and how we act.  These unsettling moments were also mentioned by Josie Fraser, who in her contribution to the debate suggested that:

Education should critically ensure children, young people and adults are equipped to be unsettled, to be confronted by difference, to be changed, and to effect change.

In my attempt to belatedly participate in the #purposed campaigns I looked for a Flickr image which could be used to illustrate the quotations from Dave White’s post.

Rather than using an image of an individual looking anxious I noticed this poster showing different types of sport anxieties. It’s easy to see how some of these idea could be applied to the anxieties felt by learners:

  • I’ll look stupid and be belittled by cleverer kids.
  • They’ll make fun of my mistakes.

The poster also suggests that teachers and learning technologists  as well as learners can be anxious:

  • I do my best as a teacher and all I get back is booed at.

If they were capable of feelings the learning technologies themselves might be anxious.  Perhaps Mr Blackboard might be saying “I get shot at and can’t escape“.  On the other hand it might be the institutions themselves which are being short at.

Learning institutions are anxious

Rather than exploring the issue of the anxieties which education can cause for the learner I’d like to conclude my 500 words by reflecting on the anxieties which educational institutions will be facing. But rather than commenting on the easy target of the cuts the educational sector is currently facing I’d like to suggest that tensions between learning organisations, and learners will always be present.   This was something I was unaware of when I was an Information Officer in an IT Services department at the University of Leeds.  Colleagues in the department had to identify the ‘best application in various areas with my role being to  provide documentation and training for the recommended applications.   We’d chosen the most appropriate office applications, data visualisation tools and statistical applications and around that time I left IT support I was hearing the ‘VLE’ term being used.  Which would be the best VLE, I wondered?   Blackboard and WebCT seemed popular, although the open source Moodle application  had its supporters.  It turned out that, at the time, a home-grown solution – the Bodington VLE, was to provide the VLE environment across the institution.

But now the PLE is the new VLE – and this disrupts the view that the central IT services, working closely with users, can identify the most appropriate solution for the institution and ensure that cost-effective support services are provided. This can also be disruptive for those who felt that the solution must inevitable be an open source solution.  If the learners are using their mobile phones to access learning on YouTube and a range other Google services, where does this leave a vision for an open e-learning environment?  The learning environment can be an anxious environment for us all.

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