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The Digital Learner

Continuity and Change in Pedagogical Practices

Learning Module


We can use digital media to prolong the life of old ways of learning - for instance, where the video-lecturing teacher, the monovocal e-textbook or the the bullet-pointed PowerPoint presentation transmit facts and concepts to (presumably) unknowing learners. How can we use the affordances of networked digital media to do something different? Can we imagine learning where the knowledge that learners bring to the table is also valued? Where learners' knowledge repertoires are extended as they actively make new knowledge? Which build collaborative knowledge cultures? In this learning module, we explore ways in which a "reflexive pedagogy" can offer some practical answers to these questions.


Digital Learning, Active Learning, Educational Technology

1. Multimodal Knowledge Work

For the Participant

The video that follows shows the classical modern site of formal learning. (Classical = archetypical; Modern = humans have only done this, or at least on a mass scale, since the nineteenth century; Formal = this is only one place or way to learn and there are many others.) Or, for a book-length version of this story, see New Learning, by Kalantzis and Cope.

Media embedded June 28, 2016

One of the key artifacts of this classroom was the student writing book—pen or pencil writing into a book of blank pages. This is where notes were written and assignments undertaken.

Digital media offer new potentials for learning, and new kinds of artifacts that students can create. However, this is not a merely a translation of old medium to new. The pedagogical purposes of the work change, from training memory (notes) and testing (assignments) of received knowledge, to active knowledge making and the active assembly of knowledge into multimodal knowledge representations. The following video examines this change.

Media embedded March 13, 2019

Comment: How have the media of student activity changed (or not changed)? How does this change (or not changed!) the nature of learning? You can also respond to other people's comments by starting comment, @Name.

Make an Update: Take an output or artifact produced by learners today that is multimodal or otherwise innovative in its media. Locate a parallel artifact from the past, one that might for instance have been used at the same level of learning or in the same discipline area. Parse each artifact—how its means of production of meaning different (or not)? What are the pedagogical differences (or lack of significant difference)?

For the Instructor

For new users of Scholar, admins may wish to post the "Participating in Community" secton of the Getting Started in Scholar Learning Module.

2. Digital Classroom Discourse

For the Participant

Photo: Ryan Kilpatrick

In her pathbreaking book, Classroom Discourse, Courtney Cazden characterizes the classical pattern of classroom discussion as Teacher Initiates—Student Responds—Teacher Evaluates (I-R-E). Over here in our New Learning community (please join while you're there—it's an open community), see how how discussions in Scholar's Community space are completely different. Also, these online discussions work the same way whether they are in-person and synchonous (in the lecture hall, classroom, or training space), or at-at-distance and asynchronous (homework before the next class, or online learning). This is a phenomenon we have called Ubiquitous Learning—any where, any time learning.

Media embedded March 13, 2019

Comment: What is your experience of the strengths and weaknesses of oral and online discussion?

Make an Update: Describe a platform or method for learner dialogue, interaction or group discussion. What are its affordances? What are its limitations and potential benefits?

For the Instructor

3. Collaborative e-Learning

For the Participant

Here's the way a traditional assignment works: the student is given a prompt, with "how to" instructions, they write up their assignment, they hand it in, the teacher has a whole pile of work to grade (tediously!), then the student gets back their work with B+ or some such grade and if they are lucky, a few cursory comments.

This does not to help the student learn, or not much; it is just a judgement about whether they have been good person, and whether they should smarten up your game for the next assignment. This kind of assignment is a one-way trip, with precious little space for the reflexivity that is needed for highly engaged learning.

Now, for the CGScholar contrast: we have interim or formative assessment that helps you while you work, and we "crowdsource" the feedback across the learning community, involving not just the instructor but peer and self-reviews.

The students do their work in the Creator, the work on the left of the screen, with various social and machine feedback tools on the right.

Here are the phases:

  1. While the learner creates their work on the left, they see the rubric on right, created by the instructor or learning module designer, specifying expectations at a high level of generality.
  2. Participants read their peers’ works and review them on the right—the number of reviews having been determined by the instructor/admin, anonymous or named as determined by settings. They may also annotate these works. Participants can learn a lot by seeing others' drafts—the not-so-good and the good—while their work is still in progress. And don't think about plagiarizing! In such an open learning community, it will be embarrassingly obvious.
  3. Then they do another review, if more than one review is required in the project settings.
  4. Learners revise. Feedback is returned, viewable on the right against the same rubric that learners have already used intensively in phases 1, 2 and 3. Not only do learners get a lot more feedback than they would from the grading-overloaded instructor; it is from multiple perspectives. It also comes at a more useful point in the project process, when they can take on board the feedback to improve their work.
  5. In a self-review on the right, criterion by criterion and against the same rubric, students reflect on the influence of peer feedback on their work, and the changes they have made from version to version, viewable on the left.
  6. Finally, the revised work is published to an e-portfolio by the instructor/admin, where further community dialogue around the work may occur. The instructor/admin may also review the work at this stage, and request revisions before publication.

And here are the dimensions of recursive knowledge making and learning, in the play between the left side of the screen and the right:

Learning: the knowledge representation made by the learner Assessment: formative assessments by peers, teachers and self; retrospective learning analytics
Learning Activity: a focus on representation of specific information, argument or disciplinary content knowledge Self-regulation of Learning: explicit awareness of project objectives and phase outline; ongoing dialogue around processes
Disciplinary Practice: thinking about a specific topic, its facts and arguments Disciplinary Thinking: a focus on the general conditions of knowledge making in this discipline
Cognition: Thinking about a specific topic, and expressing one’s thinking in writing Metacognition: Thinking about the conditions of effective thinking and action
Empirical Work: outlining specific content, applying disciplinary reasoning to that content, thinking about specific details of knowledge in this field of knowledge or practice Theoretical Work: thinking based on the general precepts of the discipline, thinking about the conceptual frameworks that tie this field of knowledge and practice together
Individual Intelligence: the activity of representing knowledge Collaborative Intelligence: structured feedback; productive diversity in learning as students benefit from multiple and varied feedback perspectives
Media embedded March 13, 2019

Are all collaboration spaces equally suited for learning? Not necessarily. Here are some tangential thoughts about Google Docs/Google Classroom.

Comment: What are the main dimensions of collaborative learning? What are its challenges and benefits?

Make an Update: Describe analyze an approach to project-based learning. How does it work? What are its challenges? What are its benefits?

For the Instructor

3A. Learning Principle: Reflexive Pedagogy

For the Participant

As early as the eighteenth century the great philosopher of modern democratic politics, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was complaining about didactic pedagogy, as a matter of human principle. Read him in his own words over here, at our New Learning online website.

If Jean-Jacques Rousseau spoke philosophically about an alternative to didactic pedagogy, Maria Montessori (1870-1952) turned his ideas about greater learner freedom, into classroom practice. She speaks here.

Building on this long and proud tradition, here's the contrast we would like to make between didactic pedagogy and reflexive learning:

Didactic Pedagogy Reflexive Learning
Balance of control with the instructor, transmission pedagogy, learner as knowledge consumer The learner has equal responsibility to be in control of their learning, learner as knowledge producer
Focus on cognition, specifically long-term memory A focus on the knowledge artifacts created by the learner, and the processes of their making
Focus on the individual learner A focus on the social sources of knowledge
Narrow range of knowledge activities: remembering facts, deducing the right answers A wider repertoire of knowledge activities, including recognition of perspective, argument and a more dynamic and evolving understanding of the nature of knowledge

You'll find a longer version of this case over at our New Learning community. And you may also like to read this:

Cope and Kalantzis, Assessment and Pedagogy in the Era of Machine-Mediated Learning
Contrasting Didactic with Reflexive Pedagogy

Comment: Is freedom to learn a matter of principle, or pragmatics, or both... or is this naïvely romantic? When learners are freer and more actively responsible for their learning, how does the role of the teacher or instructor change? Not to dismiss didactic pedagogy, when is the right time and place for moments of teaching which are didactic ("overt instruction," we might call this), and moments that are more experiential?

Make an Update: Find an example of active learning working well—describe the dynamics, account for the learning outcomes. Or, given an example of where it went terribly wrong, or was very inappropriate—what happened, and what were the consequences?

For the Instructor

4. The Flipped Classroom

For the Participant

Over on our New Learning website, we have an extract from the Rule of St Benedict. Here in the early middle ages we see the first signs of a new form of pedagogy—the talking teacher and the silent learner. The Academy of Ancient Athens had not been like this. Confucius had not been like this. Apprenticeship learning to become a carpenter or a farmer had not been like this. These older forms of learning had been interactive and dialogical. Benedict was the founder of Western Monasticism, and the monasteries became the first colleges and universities, filling their lecture halls with obediently listening students.

Let's look at two digital media that seem modern: the PowerPoint and the Flipped Classroom. Just because they are digital we think they are an advance, but much of they time just preserve the didactic aspects of the lecture. (Now, we are not wanting to say, abandon your PowerPoints, because they can be well done and are very convenient, and recording video lectures can have lots of advantages over having students sitting through in-person lectures.) But ...

1. Death by PowerPoint

We could never say this as eloquently as Edward R. Tufte, the PowerPoint slide deck as co-conspirator in relentless telling and excruciatingly boring listening. You can purchase his very entertaining short book (just 32 pages) on the web. You can also find bootlegged PDFs quite easily, if you don't mind conspiring with the web to defeat the spirit of copyright.

In our CGScholar learning communities, we rarely if ever see learners using PowerPoints. If they are presenting online or presenting in person, they talk to their update in Community or the their published work from Creator. This can be on the screen of online meeting or in the physical room, or both, and other learners can scroll ahead, scroll forward, and read while they are listening. This is not a bullet-point synoptic text (how painful it is when you read the whole of slide, and the speaker is only up to dot point 2!). It is the whole text. There is more space for engagement while the creator is speaking.

2. The Flipped Classroom

Of course, it's great that students can access lectures at any time. Or watch them several times until they understand a point. Or pause, or fast forward, or watch at 2x speed. But a video lecture is still a lecture. It's St Benedict only slightly updated. The speaker speaks, the listener obediently listens. Here's some of the good and bad of the flipped classroom, and you'll find more here.

We can do a version of the flipped classroom in CGScholar, but we do it quite differently. We like to say that we do it dialogically. Have a look at our e-Learning Ecologies Learning Module (which, by the way, we also offer in Coursera). We have lots of video mini-lectures, but they prompt dialogue (the "comment" request at the end of each update), and ask the participants to illustrate the idea with their own content, and to share (the "post an update" request).

Comment: What are the efficiencies—and inefficiences—of the teacher lecture? What are its limitations as a form of communication and pedagogy? When are new educational media just old wine in new bottles?

Make an Update: Identify and describe a new educational technology that uses old pedagogical ideas. Is this a good and necessary thing? Or is this a lost opportunity?

For the Instructor

4A. Learning Principle: Digital Affordances

For the Participant

How often, in our digital learning environments, do we simply use new media to bring old pedagogies back to life?

  • The learning management system that brings transmission pedagogy back to life
  • The flipped classroom which one again positions the learner as a passive listener
  • The e-textbook that summarizes some aspect of the world for the learner to absorb and remember
  • Intelligent tutors and games that coax learners to come up with the right answer in order to move forward
  • Computer adaptive tests that check what you have remembered and whether you can deduce the right answer

If we can do the same old things using shiny new technologies, this tells is that technology is pedagogically neutral. We can change the technology without changing the way learners learn.

But what can we do to innovate pedagogically? How can we use the affordances of new media to create new learning? Here's our answer, in one flower diagram:

Seven Affordances for Digital Learning
Didactic Pedagogy Reflexive Pedagogy
Confined by the four walls of the classroom and cells of the timetable 1. Ubiquitous Learning: anywhere, anytime, anyhow
The learner as knowledge consumer, passive knowledge acquisition, memorization 2. Active Knowledge Making: the learner-as-knowledge producer and discerning knowledge discoverer/navigator
Academic literacies: traditional textbooks, student assignments and tests 3. Multimodal Meaning: new media texts, multimodal knowledge representations
Emphasis on summative assessments and retrospective judgments that serve managerial purposes but are not immediately actionable 4. Recursive Feedback: formative assessment, prospective and constructive feedback, learning analytics

The isolated learner, with a focus on individual cognition and memory

5. Collaborative Intelligence: peer-to-peer learning, sourcing social memory and using available knowledge tools appropriately
Focus on facts to be remembered, theories to be correctly applied 6. Metacognition: thinking about thinking, critical self-reflection on knowledge processes and disciplinary practices
Homogenizing, one-size-fits-all curriculum, standardized teaching and assessment 7. Differentiated Learning: flexible, self-expressive and adaptive learning, addressing each student according to their interests, self-identity and needs
Media embedded June 29, 2016

You may also wish to read this:

Kalantzis and Cope, Learning and New Media

Comment: The seven affordances can also serve as a checklist. What items on the checklist do you consider "low-hanging fruit"? What will be harder to achieve?

Make an Update: Take a learning technology or resource, and "parse" it for its affordances.

For the Admin

5. The Learning Module

For the Participant

Here's a page from the English translation of a textbook by the inventor of the genre, Petrus Ramus (1515-1572):

Petrus Ramus, "The Way of Geometry" (1636 English Edition)

In learning environments, we have a challenge: how do we bring stuff-to-be-learned into the classroom? Historically, we have had two ways to do this—the teacher lecture, and the textbook. In theory, there is no knowledge in the world that cannot be brought into the classroom via these means.

The textbook is a peculiar knowledge artifact:

  • For efficiency's say, it summarizes the world; it is synoptic. There is no need for learners to discern what is more or less relevant knowledge, because this has been decided for them.
  • One author or group of authors does the summarizing; it takes the form of monologue. The textbook purports to be a complete and definite statement of what is to-be-known.
  • Facts, definitions and theorems are laid out in a strict order, from the simpler to the more complex, to optimize retention of the knowledge being transmitted. Students are positioned as knowledge consumers, consuming that knowledge step by step in the order that has been deemed correct for them.

How do we do things differently in CGScholar? We want learners to be knowledge producers at least as much as they are knowledge consumers. We want them to construct knowledge actively from a range of sources. The textbook may have been a convenient way to package knowledge in the age of the printing press, but in the age of the internet the whole world of knowledge is a weblink away—and learners need to be able to discern reliable and unreliable sources. Instead of reading Chapter 8 in the textbook, we can ask them to write that chapter.

In CGScholar, we have designed and trialed an alternative to the e-textbook, an artifact that we call a “Learning Module.” The Learning Module is a hybrid of syllabus, lesson plan, and textbook. It is all of these things and none of them.

A Learning Module has a two column format: a "for the member" side where the instructor speaks directly to the learner, and a "for the admin" side where the instructor speaks the professional discourse of education, articulating learning aims, curriculum standards and teaching tips. You will find lots of already-published Learning Modules here, here, here, and here in the CGScholar Bookstore.

The Scholar Learning Module

The Learning Module offers three modes of interaction in a learning community:

  • Updates that can be pushed into the student’s activity stream, including a wide range of multimedia formats. Each update prompts comments from students and class discussion. If the teacher selects the “unrestricted” setting, students can also be asked to make updates that initiate discussions.
  • Projects, including a prompt and a rubric for peer, self and/or teacher review.
  • Surveys, including knowledge surveys that anticipate right and wrong answers, and information surveys that do not have right or wrong answers (such as an opinion survey).

Here is what has changed: whereas a textbook summarizes the world, transmitting content to learners in the single voice of the textbook writer, the Learning Module curates the world—web links to textual content, videos and other embedded media. It is multimodal. And it uses a variety of sources, requiring students to critically evaluate sources, not just to memorize content that has been delivered to them to consume. It suggests that learners may also find and curate content. Whereas a syllabus outlines content and topics to be covered, a Learning Module prompts dialogue—an update prompts class discussion; a project sets in train a peer reviewed work; a survey elicits a student response. It is a medium to facilitate active and collaborative learning, rather than individualized content acquisition. And whereas a lesson plan is the teacher’s private activity outline, the Learning Module can be shared with the class, and optionally published to the web, for other teachers to use within a school or beyond, so building a school-based pedagogical knowledge bank. For professional collaboration and learning, a learning module can be jointly written and peer reviewed before publication.

The underlying shift in textual architecture from a textbook to a Learning Module reflects a shift in the assumed role of the learner, a recalibration of the balance of learner and teacher agency. From the content transmission model of the textbook, the Learning Module sets up a series of reflexive, dialogical relationships with and between learners—the comments they make on an update, the peer- and self-reviews, the responses to surveys. This is a move from telling to dialogue, in which every learner must participate. The Learning Module also places responsibility up learners to be knowledge producers: when they make an update to initiate a discussion: when they create a “work” for peer review; and when these works are published and shared in a class knowledge bank. This represents a change in direction of knowledge flows, from hierarchical, top-down knowledge flows to lateral knowledge flows and distributed model of learners as co-creators or designers of new knowledge. This aligns with the logic of contemporary, participatory media and the skills and sensibilities for a "knowledge society" and "knowledge economy."

However, this process is also highly scaffolded, in the design of open-ended updates, the nature of the requests that students receive to create updates, the project prompts and review rubrics, and the survey instruments. This changes in a quite fundamental way the nature of the teaching profession, from a talking profession (someone else has written the textbook), to a profession where the central medium of interaction with learners is a documented, web-deliverable, interactive learning design.

Media embedded March 13, 2019

Comment: How are digital media changing our media of learning and instruction? How far have we come? How far do we still have to go? (And by the way, Learning Management Systems not necessarily the answer, as we argue here.)

Make an Update: Take a digital learning resource—analyse the extent to which it reproduces legacy textual forms, and/or breaks new pedagogical ground.

For the Instructor

For instructions on how to make a Learning Module, direct participants to Section 5, "Creating Learning Modules", in the Scholar Help area.

6. Learning Principle: Productive Diversity

For the Participant

Henry Ford an educator? That sounds strange, you say? Well, he was an educator in the sense that he tried to teach his modern world that same is good.

Didactic pedagogy assumed the same kinds of things. Every learner should be on the same page at the same time. Learning outcomes should be standardized. Answers needed to be strictly correct. We all needed to learn the same stuff so we could fit into the modern world of mass production and uniform mass culture. The teacher and textbook ruled, just as the boss and the supervisor ruled. The learner was to learn what the teacher and the textbook told them to learn. In Ford's day, didactic pedagogy was industrial-strength education.

In CGScholar, by contrast, we try to honor the principles of what we call "productive diversity" in learning:

  1. The Design Principle: In reflexive pedagogy, learners are designers of their own knowledge. Students are guided by their teachers and digital learning environments to encounters with available knowledge resources in the world, in all their multivocal and multimodal diversity. They are positioned as disciplinary practitioners—as scientists, as art critics or artists, as critical readers or writers.  Now knowledge producers more than knowledge consumers, every artifact of their knowledge (re)making is uniquely voiced. Learning is no longer a matter of replicating received knowledge from memory. The evidence of learner activity is to be found in designed knowledge artifacts—for instance, students’ projects, worked examples, online discussions, case studies or models. As active designers, the world of knowledge is redesigned by learners, revoiced according to the tenor of each learner’s interest, identity, and experience.
  2. The Collaborative Principle: Differences become productive in dynamically horizontal knowledge cultures. Different perspectives prompt deeper discussion. Offering latitude to choose topics gives space for the pursuit of interests. Providing structured peer feedback exposes learners to different perspectives and ways of thinking. Sharing work-in-progress and finished work highlights different points of focus and different angles on knowledge. In these ways, learner diversity is harnessed as a resource for learning, rather than something that is effectively ignored or framed as a deficit as is frequently the case in one-to-many pedagogies and educational media.
  3. The Differentiation Principle: No longer is it necessary, or even more convenient, to have every learner on the same page at the same time, or listening to the same lecture at the same time. It is not necessary that they do the same tasks at the same time and in the same way. It is not necessary that they work through and complete a task at the same pace. With today’s dashboards, on-the-fly learning analytics, alternative navigation paths and adaptive learning mechanisms, new educational media make the organizational intricacies of productive diversity ever more manageable.
  4. The Comparability Principle: Some historical forms of diversity perpetuated inequities, where for instance students judged high performing were tracked into high prestige “academic” streams, while others were tracked in to “basic” or “technical streams”. Under the principle of comparability, where assessment rubrics are pitched at a high level of generality, students can be doing different things but of comparable cognitive or practical difficulty. Learners and citizens no longer have to be the same to be equal.

For an example of productive diversity in practice, see this blogpost and this report of a "Learning in Emergency Operations" training program run by the International Red Cross. Red Cross trainers could have taken their PowerPoints into training rooms and told emergency workers about the protocols for Emergency Operations. Instead, participants wrote case studies in Scholar of describing and analyzing their experiences of working in emergency situations, applying the protocols, systematizing their thoughts, and at the same time sharing their experiences with others. An earthquake in Haiti is not the same as a Tsunami in the Philippines, but there is much to be learned from each other as course participants share their experiences. This sharing deepens their tacit knowledge, as participants refine their analysis using a peer review rubric that is organizes thinking systematically against operations protocols.

Here is a book chapter where we have written at greater length on these ideas:

Kalantzis, Mary and Bill Cope. 2016. "New Media and Productive Diversity in Learning." Pp. 310-25 in Diversity in Der Lehrerinnenbildung, edited by S. Barsch and N. Glutsch. Münster DE: Waxmann.

And here, we have written about the range and dynamics of learner differences.

Comment: How do didactic and reflexive pedagogies negotiate learner differences?

Make an Update: Find an example of productive diversity in the classroom. How does it work? What are the challenges? What are its effects?

For the Instructor

7. Assessment for Learning

For the Participant

The Test is Dead! Log Live Assessment.

Here are some propositions, argued at greater length and more formally over in our New Learning community:

  • Tests are strange artifacts, not like knowledge-in-life, or even formal learning in school.
  • Tests are mostly only measure narrow forms of knowledge, such as recall of facts and correctly deduced answers.
  • Why should we have to remember stuff when so much is today at hand in our digital devices, these cognitive prostheses?
  • Tests measure cognition, when it may be more beneficial to measure knowledge artifacts and documented practices.
  • Standardized and norm-referenced tests insist on inequality—for the few to do well, many have to be judged mediocre or poor.
  • Instead of tests that are retrospective and judgmental (summative assessments), we should shift our focus in assessment to providing feedback that is prospective and constructive (formative assessment). We should provide this continuously.
  • Thousands, or tens of thousands, or even millions of formative assessment datapoints (machine feedback, machine-mediated human feedback) add up to "big data"—so summative assessments might in the future be no more than visualizations of learner progress based on data that was always in the first instance formative.
  • In the era of "big data" where we can track a every step in a learner's progress, why do we need tests any more? Perhaps we don't ...

In CGScholar, our Analytics area tracks project progress—offering a visualization based on many thousands of datapoints. Says the teacher in this space: “Analytics is allowing us to have insights that we never had, when with one teacher and a bunch of papers, it was just too overwhelming.”

Media embedded March 13, 2019

For more a description of the rationale behind the Scholar Anatytics, take this link. You may also be interested to read this article on big data in education.

Comment: Perhaps it's time for a paradigm shift in educational assessment? After the test, "learning analytics"?

Make an Update: Find an example of an assessment that points the way forward (or perhaps reminds us that we must not go back!). Describe and analyze it.

For the Instructor