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Section 3 How can we integrate the roles etc

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 6 months ago
Section 3. How can we integrate the roles of learners as consumers and producers in the learning process?


There has been a recent trend whereby digital devices can be used to enable user generated content; the outputs can be seen on the likes of blogs, Wikis, YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and Flickr. This is part of an explosion of activity in the area of user generated content:


"User-generated content (UGC) refers to various kinds of media content that is produced or primarily influenced by end-users … These include digital video, blogging, podcasting, mobile phone photography and wikis … Prominent examples of websites based on user-generated content include Friends Reunited, YouTube, MySpace and Facebook." [Wikipedia, 2006]


End-users are thus able to integrate online and offline environments and are active content producers in such spaces. But is there a direct relationship between 'creative production' (i.e. user generated content) and learning? Undoubtedly this may be true in certain disciplines like music, media studies, etc, but this link may become tenuous in other areas. However, tapping into the self-motivation of the 'user generated content' phenomenon could potentially have a positive impact on education and learning in the wider informal and non-formal sense. Furthermore, failing to explore how more formal educational institutions can cope with the more informal communicative approaches to digital interactions that new generations of learners seemingly possess could lead to a schism if not planned for.


It is true that we are seeing the rapid increase in the variety and availability of resources and tools that enable people to easily create and publish their own materials and to access those created by others. This extends the capacity for learning context creation beyond teachers, academics, designers and policy makers. However, this gives rise to the following question: How can we integrate the roles of learners as consumers and producers in the learning process? In our view of LGC we get role shifts for both the learner and instructor etc. These role shifts can have a positive and empowering impact on learner and tutor. However, the role shifts may also cause disruption in formal education systems and such change may consequently be resisted. Various issues are emerging. What learning environments, what pedagogical and related practices, what informal learning patterns might work for learner generated contexts? How do the dominant questions and paradigms come to influence so much of what is 'approved' as educational?


In order to explore these issues, we provide a brief case of a learner generated context situated in the learning environment of community networking, ICT and community research stimulated by the Community Network Analysis (CNA) and ICT project, an Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) funded community ICT research project. Because CNA was investigating the potential for ICT to support social capital by strengthening and sustaining social ties and cohesion in the community infrastructure, the project required a wide ranging and flexible approach to community learning. To be effective, community learning develops practices that facilitate the active participation of diverse stakeholders that sometimes have conflicting needs. It's goal orientation is the empowerment of groups whose voices are too often silenced within dominant social, economic and political institutions, relationships and practices. In the CNA project we encouraged people engaging in the participatory learning workshops (PLWs) to generate their own learning contexts and then as  facilitators planned and implemented the workshops accordingly. Community generated learning contexts are defined here as the situated environment created by the networks of relationships and activities comprising the community ecology in which community learners identify their learning needs and shape the learning environments. Learner-generated contexts are created by learners marshalling available resources in order to meet learner needs, i.e. learners taking ownership of their learning needs and environments (Luckin, et al, 2007). We found that the learning that occurs within community generated contexts (community learning) has clear parallels with empowerment and actualisation aims found in community development practices.


Adopting a model of situated learning (Lave & Wenger, 1991) in which learning is embedded in the social and physical environment of the community and where knowledge acquisition is shaped by the social relationships that exist in the community ecology, PLWs were designed to provide a context for the sharing of communication technology, community networking skills and neighbourhood knowledge by providing fora for contextualised discussion of community needs, wants and relationships and how communication applications and their design considerations might contribute to building and sustaining healthy and active community networks.


By adopting an approach in which community participants shape and control their learning environments rather than providing the environment and expecting community learners to fit to it we have experienced highly encouraging results. It is still early days in terms of CCS diffusion and despite problems with a lack of appropriate development [1] support and severely restricted resources faced by the CNA community research partnership the prototype is on the verge of going live as a community communication space. By using community development techniques in which the research and practices activities of CNA are grounded in the everyday environment of community life, community members and groups are generating content suitable for the social and cultural contexts they shape and inhabit. In this way the CCS is able to contribute to supporting community organisation, community activities and when needed community action.


From our perspective the roles are not so much shifting, the hype surrounding ICT has always referred to the capacity of ICT to empower users/learners by providing platforms from which their voices  might be heard and environments which might be shaped by said users/learners. What we've tried to do is take this from the spheres of hyperbole and rhetoric and place it in the realm of possibility. Without taking up the whole paper (and we could many times over) on this... the history of community (technology) informatics... has been shaped by policies shaped by self-serving consultants and implemented by ignorant politicians and researched by out of touch academics... imvho ;-). We have tried in a very small way by placing the research agenda within the needs and wants of a local community... which we all know is messy and polymerous... by adopting community development goals through community learning. Academic/technology experts become facilitators; community experts become faciltators and community members become engaged in something meaningful to their day to day lives. We can begin to view issues of access in a more socially rich context not just sitting in front of a PC. Meaningful partnerships are forged, etc, etc.  


To conclude this section, we suggest that taking the broadest possible interpretation so as to embrace the community views of what constitutes appropriate communication technologies we observed these technologies being used as:


  • Tools both for learning and for conducting and supporting community activities, e.g. a laptop used for the production of the most important West Hove community communication technology – the West Hove News (a local community newsletter)
  • Media (spaces) for social networking, dialogue, discussion and information sharing, and
  • Processes for building social capital – the interaction and dialogue encouraged by the critical reflection and social interaction of PLW processes supported the creation, and in some cases re-establishing, of weak network ties and relationships of trust and reciprocal sharing. PLWs support community networking both in terms of developing processes and in contributing to the development of network structures.


In this way PLWs support the four processes of community learning:


1) open participation

2) building dialogue

3) networking, and

4) information sharing (Nielsen, 2002)


and has something of significance to say about the design of effective community learning environments (Boettcher, 2007). 


[1] Plone uses the Python programming code which sits on top of a Zope platform. Whilst uploading content to the Plone CMS is fairly straightforward, connecting useful module applications and getting to work is often far from straightforward and a fairly high level of development knowledge is required to make things work and even then that is not always assured. This level of complexity is one of the major stumbling blocks to using open source platforms like Plone.


Comments (2)

Anonymous said

at 8:32 pm on Jan 8, 2008

I've added the section I think most appropriate but am happy to add other parts if people think necessary. Apologies but I have font problems with this particular wiki so please feel free to change it. Obviously it needs editing down and need a brief intro to the project/case.

All comments/observations welcomed.

Anonymous said

at 7:26 pm on Jan 12, 2008

It would be really helpful to take the examples of lgc down to concrete details, maybe a case study of a project one of you has been involved in. Who are the learners? What contexts have they generated? What have they produced and who has consumed what they generated? At the moment it is hard to imagine.

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