In 1997, David Thornburg wrote an article “Campfires in Cyberspace” which used primordial learning metaphors as a guide for the development of rich learning communities for the future. The metaphors were as follows:
Campfires – a place to gather for story sharing and the passing on of wisdom
Watering holes – a less informal place to gather for peer learning and sharing
Caves – a space for personal reflection
Life – the application of knowledge
In this post I am going to examine the modern “watering holes” that students use to learn online. In a school environment, a major watering hole is the “Learning Management System” or the LMS. It is the space for less formal (although not always) peer learning and sharing in the eyes of the teachers. There are many different forms and types of LMS but they are largely the same in their make up. They are set up as space for learners to gather and share. They house content. They can integrate web tools. They can be device agnostic. All good things…mostly. In their book “Teaching Crowds”, Jon Dron and Terry Anderson write that
“A central binding feature of almost all LMSs and related systems is that of roles: there is nearly always at least a teacher role, with the power to control the environment to a far greater extent than a student role.”
This is true. The amount of control students have within an LMS is limited in comparison to the teacher. For the teacher, it is the digital version of the “sage on the stage”. Is this the role that we wish our students to have with their own learning? David Becker in his blog series “Kill the LMS” takes this further and states that:
“The development of the LMS and an organisation’s decision to buy one, springs from constrained thinking about how we are supposed to learn, acquired from a school system developed to feed the industrial revolution.”
Now my opinion is not as intense as Becker’s but the famous line from the movie “A Field of Dreams” springs into my mind when it comes to the LMS. Schools feel that “If they build it (an LMS), they (students) will come.” Yes they will come but usually because they are forced to. It isn’t their natural watering hole. It is a man made (or worse, school made) watering hole that they HAVE to visit.
Where do students naturally gather (digitally)? In a recent post, our very own Matt Esterman shared his surprise when the digital platforms that he had recommended to the students in his global History project had been dismissed and Snapchat had been used instead. Snapchat was used for a myriad of reasons and was a natural watering hole for the students. At my school, we have a main school LMS and a couple of other platforms that are used by small groups of teachers (Schoology & Edmodo mainly) and we strive for peer-to-peer interaction and sharing. We scaffold for it, we plan for it but it isn’t always forthcoming. Students interact and share using social media and this is usually a slippery slope for schools that they usually avoid. Too much fallout if things go wrong. In his book “Stratosphere” Michael Fullan supports this noting that “the digital life of students is largely outside schools and it is a fairly undisciplined world.” With that being said, Dron and Anderson wrote “Teaching Crowds” because they wanted to develop the “social” element of their student’s online learning. They wrote that:
“In most current instances, social software applications have not been designed specifically for students enrolled in formal education programs. Rather, students join social networks for personal reasons, motivated by a desire to expand and enrich their social lives.”
Learning is social…has been that way since the dawn of time. Students gather informally and share informally and YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, etc…these are the watering holes where students gather. Are these watering holes that teachers can use for teaching and learning? I believe so…what do you think?
Stratosphere by Michael Fullan