Skip to content

Toward Personal Learning: Book Club Post 1

I’ve been reading Stephen Downes’ book Toward Personal Learning, which is a collection of blog posts, speeches, and articles (and is free via his website). It is part of my summer learning, making time to do the important things. Reading is one of those important things, and so is talking to people, so I invited people to share their thought about this book as a summer book club, using the tag #TwardPersonalLearning

As I read I keep a copy quotes that jump out at me, and these two really did:

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

They come from a section that is a written conversation – replies to real questions by students. That is the first meaningful thing for me. Conversation with students. Let’s write that again: Conversation with students others. Even before discussing content, valuing the inquisitiveness of others and engaging with people whether they hold ‘respected’ posts in life, or something less outwardly glamourous, but none the less needed, wins for me. Every one of us on this planet is a person. Every one of us learns, as we all breathe, eat, sleep…

A story…

A friend described a situation once, where she was travelling and there was something wrong with the plane that caused a great delay. Everyone waiting to board was left in the waiting lounge, sitting, some tired, some impatient, all wondering what was wrong? It became clear that it was easy to dehumanise the situation and get angry at ‘the plane’. After some time, a very pale woman was escorted off the plane, and had obviously been taken seriously ill during the previous flight. What followed was curious. First there was a face to the problem. Then announcements came. We are sorry for the delay… The captain is doing… (‘the captain’ was an important figure of course) The cleaning will prepare the aircraft… (?? ‘the cleaning’?! not even the cleaning staff) And then a series of people went on to the aircraft to clear up whatever needed clearing up and make it ready for the next journey.

I asked that friend to please, please look at those people, in their eyes, and smile at them as they come off that plane because they are people, not ‘the cleaning’.

I’m sure it happens in everyday life, whether with cleaners, or the person at the supermarket loading shelves, but it also happens in education. We’ve all heard ‘there are no stupid questions, only the ones unasked’. Oh so true, but how many of us really live it? Do we ask, and do we value the asking of others enough to reply? Sometimes there is a divide between teachers and students that seems less of a gap and more of a chasm. I am glad that in this book, Downes respects and answers the questions of students with such considered and genuine answers.

Back to the book…

“Good learning empowers; it doesn’t needlessly constrain.” p.59

Yes indeed! That reminded me of another section in the book: New Forms of Assessment: Measuring What You Contribute Rather Than What You Collect, p.35, where Downes suggests a ‘what if’ situation. He looks beyond considering process instead of outcomes, Downes also talks about outcomes, but the sort that are byproducts of the process and that contribute to an ongoing learning, instead of the insular, individual demonstration of knowledge that is common in formal academic assessments. He asks what if students were rewarded for cooperation, helping one another, contributing new resources to repositories, contributions to the common good?

It is far easier to pose these questions than to enact them within academic settings, but that is not to say it can and does not happen. It is common for people to be awarded a percentage of a grade for participation, or attendance, so why not provide some sort of framework/criteria/guidance to go with it? Constructive participation with peers and engaging with the wider community to introduce new ideas… (I’m dreaming on paper) Why not?

Two quotes came together to teach me something:

“How many teachers tell their students to blog without giving them examples of what good blogging looks like?” p.59

and…

“That’s the thing with education. What we think is the ‘outcome’ of the process is never really the outcome. If you simply case whether or not they learn how to code REST interfaces, that’s all they will learn. But if you want them to acquire a wider range of skills, you need to place them in a more challenging environment (and then encourage cooperation so they have a decent chance of success in that environment).” p.64

Oh my. On p.59 the discussion centred around internet use for young people, and so the above sentence also said (in brackets) … examples of what (age appropriate) blogging … but for me the message was simpler and really belonged with the paragraph that happened a few pages later, quoted above. It also relates to good learning empowering. With true learning comes genuine exploration. We go into our unknown and that is when we learn, expanding our known. Then we have learned.

How can I expect you or anyone to learn without a hint of what to do? It was a look in the mirror for me, and yes, I do ask students to blog. Although that could be replaced with A.N.Other activity’s name, that example worked for me.

It reminds me of the concept of a gesture someone shared with me:

It’s about good intentions. Do we offer the hand, but give the fist, or hold something back in that closed hand? As a teacher I want to live what I teach. I want to offer the hand and give the hand. That involves respect, patience, and a willingness to learn too. Those are my goals.

So far I am eating up this book like it was made of freshly picked fruit. It is making me think, and it so VERY well referenced! I am curious what parts stood out for you, meant something, or made you think of other stories or instances in your own learning. Please do join in, comment or share your own thoughts.

#TowardPersonalLearning

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS