You can Transfer Information, but you cannot Transfer Skill


Photo Credit: See Image

Today I worked providing I.T. assistance during some research methods exams that were taking place in the university. The first exam session was a little chaotic. We had numerous issues for which we had to call in additional support. We tried all sorts from moving both people and computers around, trying out the use of different network locations with different folder access privileges and so forth. By experimentation I finally worked out what the issues was, and all subsequent sessions ran smoothly and uneventfully.

In theory that makes me indispensible, but should it? One of the plus points of networked learning is that it removes hierarchies and empowers individuals horizontally. However it would be very inefficient practise to restrict the information to the brain of the individual who thought it up. That is when social media and web 2.0 jumps on board. A decent crowd sourced knowledge base could carry that information for the future users of a system, whether that be administering an examination, setting up a software platform, or whatever.

In fact, yesterday I was installing a software platform. Or at least trying. Now it is a common case that when we are having issues with IT, we draw to their online wiki/knowledge base or whatever. The problem can be that these are often quite flat in their design. They contain a number of linked articles, which when you get down into the depths of computer programming languages are both so specific and so many that searching or browsing just doesn’t take you to the help.

We live in the world of information abundance. The generation where ‘knowledge is power’ is rapidly departing our midst, and I might go as to say that for the current generation, the power lies in wisdom. That might be wisdom to think as the end user would, and sort/present knowledge base articles in a layout coherent to the task they are doing.

In terms of learning, the learning that we can do for which our networked position adds value, is experiential in nature. I would be quite anti-competitive to sit in the information I hold, but my skill to solve the future problems cannot be transferred. Any new candidate for the job must learn through their own experience and interest, to gain their own perspectives and thought processes. Since everybody is different, networked experts benefit more from working together and thus social learning perpetuates.

The skill here is relaying that information in a genuinely useful manor to the poor geezer who has to use it next. How often when trawling the internet for solutions do we wish that somebody had that job?

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Web 2.0 Model and Real Learning

Last week I gave a talk about how the Raspberry Pi computer models the psychological concepts of the MUSIC model (Jones, 2009), and also semantic encoding and social networking.

While I was speaking, something occurred to me. There are two factions of opinion to the use of technology in education. There is the movement to put the capitalistic, closed source and blatantly expensive iPad into our classrooms, and there are also products such as the Raspberry Pi, which are cheap, open sourced and have undergone a huge level of development from hobbyist programmers.

Both of them have landed up with a top product but for different reasons. There’s a culture in the Apple organisation for making things such that they can persuade people to want them. From that perspective, they can’t go wrong. But they have made a product and a framework that is simple to use, and allows for plenty of sharing. While you are often roped into subscribing to a lot more of the apple ecosystem than you might like to (think proprietary peripherals), it works, and it is an enjoyable experience to use.

Now the Pi on the other hand has a crowd sourced developing model. The genius to this is that average Joe is empowered to do his own coding. Thus the scope for innovation is practically unlimited. Through this we’ve seen numerous teaching models and novel ideas that make the Pi a true sandbox for creativity.

I read an interesting article this last week also about web 2.0 culture. Web 2.0 has done a lot more than merely make the internet interactive. What is has done is streamline discussion and empowered the individual to speak out. Retweets and reblogs amplify topics and the freedom of speech that web 2.0 affords, along with its audience and network of critics means that crowd sourced innovation and power is easily found. It is not hard then to see how the pedagogical support for the Raspberry Pi and other open source tools have only gotten better.

Jon Husband (2007) talks about how such learning can be likened to a fishnet. As you will see from the image below a fishnet can be lifted up and let down from varies nodes, creating short term and flexible hierarchies. The internet is “all periphery and no centre” (Hamel, but see Husband, 2007), yet there is times when a centre of control and direction is needed. But as the fishnets movements are governed by the waves of the sea, so too must the educational and commercial institutions adapt with such flexibility to make the best possible use of people and learning opportunities.

Picture Credit: Hamel (see Husband, 2007)

Picture Credit: Hamel (see Husband, 2007)

I am sure apple must have a similar such culture within their organisation, which has produced a fantastic product. I must say however that while the iPad is a tool; a means to an end to create something else. On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi’s open nature has empowered people to a level of unprecedented opportunity to dissect, understand, create and share.