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Keynote: Seely-Brown Learning in/for the digital age – where engagement matters even more

Tech it up conference, Kamloops, 24th October 2009

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Gráinne Conole
24 October 2009

Learning in/for the digital age – where engagement matters even more

Not a formal talk, evocative images instead

Reimaging Dewey for the 21st Century – Dewey was way ahead of his time

Today we may now be able to better apply Dewey’s ideas

Challenge we face – preparing students for a world of constant change

We need to rethink what we need to learn and how we actually learn

Leveraging how the net generation thinks, works, learns, socialises might social media be our friend?


  • Cartesian view of learning – knowledge as substance – I think therefore I am, and pedagogy as knowledge transfer. If we think of learning lie this change will be resisted – I teach, you learn, cultivate the neat rows of disciplinary knowledge


  • The social view of learning – we participate therefore we are – understanding is socially constructed, we come into being through our interaction with others (object relation theory)

Not about knowledge being socially constructed which is a post-modern view, more abut knowledge and learning becoming personal through interaction with other, through social construction

Suggesting we view learning more like this....we learn in and through our interaction with others and with the world

Nothing beats collaborative study groups – especially around homework and exam preparation, the social construction of understanding is real. Study grops very powerful, this is the model the Open University in the UK use and these work both face to face AND virtually if constructed right. Students in their own spaces/rooms but connecting vritually as if they are all together.

Why can’t we turn everyone into being both a learner and a teacher? Nothing clarified ideas better than explaining them to others....And in social networks across communities/friends: blogs, facebook, myspace, second life. Now study groups or just plan bull sessions can naturally extend to peer groups galore inside and outside of school.

Beyond text book learningL learning about.... learning to be Michael Polanyi

  • Learning about - explicit
  • Learning to be - tacit

Need to reverse the flow: Productivity inquiry – I get stuck I need to know more, learning on demand. The Internet can really facilitate this, can provide answers to problems you ahve. Situated learning as the dominate form of learning. The context creates much of the meaning.Studetns able to learn on demand are set for life, they have the key competences to cope with change.

So what kind of learning is in tune with both Dewey and the net generation?

With today's world and the powers of technology there are many ways to express ideas - visual, musical, procedural, cinematic. It's no longer just about text.

Life in the digital age - a culture of participation, building, tinkering, remixing and sharing - circle of consuming and producing. Creating meaning by what I produce and others build on a remix, open source culture. In the blogospher there is no cheating, it is a self-correcting system, you link, you build on the work of others. A peer community.

Open source community, the remix community. Something fundamental is now happening, in past generation our sense of personal identity came from what i wear, own, control now this is shfiting, in the net gen world, it is not what i own that matters, it is what i have done and shared and what other people have built on. Other pick up on and build. That is the essence of open source - social capital, reputational capital. This define remix and also gaming culture such as world of warcraft, there is a sense of constantly constructing things and sharing them, so that others can pick up on and build on. This is very optimistic if we can tap into this and build on it in an educational context.

Mix, remis and mashup creative tinkering and the play of imagination. But it can also be creative reading like in fandomw, fans filling in the back story in highly imaginative ways. Ah creative meaning by integrating their imagination with that of the author in remix.

Tinjerig as a learning platform and its death and rebirth as remix, mashiups etc.


  • Noun1: tinker a person who enjoys fixing and experimenting with machines and their parts.
  • Tinkerer as experimenter: a person who enjoys testing out innovative ideas; "she was an experimenter in new forms of poetry"

But nowadays machines are too complex, too difficult cognitively. We can't understnad them. But is reappearing in the digital world and it's gender nuetral.

Tinkering as a new form of identity.


  • "Fanomw" - back stories by fans. A front story - Matrix. Remix of the matrix using naruto animme series. Amazing mapping between the two cultures. This is a very skilled remix by a 23 year old from London. This has been passed around the world, added to  and commented on.

Genres of participation afforded by new media - DML: Mimito, ConnieYowell. Threeyear study.

Three genres of participaption

  • Friendship driven hanging out MySpace, facebook, twitter, sms, second life, neo=pets, pokemon
  • Interest driven - messing around - robotics, anime, astronomy, chess, music, history, biugs
  • Geeking out

Competences - maths, literacy, science, social studeis, science, critical inquiry, collbaoration, problem solving, peer learning creativity, imagination

Example: YouMedia: Virtual space, Around the ages are physcial books, present of digital media, enhanced their interest in physical books. A place where youth can hang out, mess around, geeek out. From the website:

  • YouMedia @ CPL is an innovative, 21st century learning space, housed at the Harold Washington Library, created to connect young adults, books, media and institutions throughout the city in one dynamic space designed to inspire collaboration and creativity. By working both in teams and individually, young adults will have an opportunity to engage in projects that promote critical thinking, creativity and skill-building.

The long tail in learning - leveraging the vast resources on the net. Moving beyond limited shelf space and local ocmmunities of pracitce. Supporting the rise of an ecology of learning/doing niches. "Ah I am passionate about this niche topic, I want to more!"


  • MicroObersvatory network - Harward-Smothsonian Center for Astrophyscis. 5 self-contained weatherised reflcting telescopes with CCDs deployed around the world. It's an open source repository. Everything has to be open, you are expected to participate in discussion around what you have uploaded.Lagoon nebula by a student called Stephanie.
  • The rise of the pro-amateur class; from amatrue to professional. From latin - amator - lover, Niche communiities of co-creation learning and sharing: passion-based learning. Mix of telescope, camera, and internet/blogs/yahoo groups/data bases.
  • Learning as curation/narration story telling and play lists hits the galaxies. Can download to your laptop, from microsoft. Students can take trajectories through the galaxies. Trips become play lists, which can be passed round. Worldwide telescope.
  • Bugscope - virtual laboratry accessed via the net by kids. Educating future scientists by providing access to virtual instrumentation. Tokay Geckos. Virtual Scanning Electron Microscope.
  • History: Uncle Tom's cabin and american culture. lATH site. A key trust is a sense of doing history os an act of uncovering, ask what got uncovered rather than what got covered. 

OK, jsb - remix, user gnerated contet, blogs and co-creation buyt where is thaere any guarantee of quality adn the seat of authority?

Britannican vs. wikipedia: both are equivalent? Actually no wikipedia is better! But that finesses the question of quality. Key: ew reading practice are called for!. Authoriry vs. timeliness - in a rapid evolving world. You read the two things different. Wikipedia is always evolving, requires new reading practices. Look at the edits, can see what parts of the article are being contested and by whom. CAn see into the back ground. The first view into the practice of scholarship. Evolution of knowledge, contested knowledge. New form of literacy.

Snapshot of a student's life - global communiites. and local communiites. Learning network - museums, libraries, after school, home, online, school - a learning ecology and trajectories through this ecology. Learning beyond school. A blended epistemology - homo spein ma as knower (knowledge), tools as instrumental - to homo faber man as maker

Casual vs. deep tinkering. CAsual form of messing around, deep - know how/what can be pushed around, rearranged, repurposed, modified, intimate famiiarity

  • Homo sapien - knowing
  • Homo fabre - making
  • Homo ludens - playing (have we over looked the importance of playing)

Concentraing on playing

  • Learning as riddles, leading to reframing or registering the world
  • As a freedom to fail, fail and fail again, then get it right (think of extreme sports)
  • As play of imagination - poetry
  • As in an epiphany - suddening falling in place as in solving a riddel

The new golden triangle - imagination, intuition and inspiration - a sense of awe combining home sapien, faber and ludens

Culture emerges through play - Homo Ludens


When recreation becomes an act of recreation/remix and productive inquiry - culture of learning - a culture that thrives on participatyr lifelong learning and perhaps the ulimate sustainable model.

Extra content

Live blog notes from Seely-Brown keynote

Learners become teachers. There's no better way to learn something than to teach it. As we go forrward we need to remember this. Now we have all kinds of social media to facilitate it.

Pay attention to the amount of learning, unintentional learning, that happens with social networking.

First teach somebody ABOUT something, then you find ways for them to use that knowledge. "Learning about" to "learning to be" - this is the typical sequence -- waterfall type model.

How about starting by DOING? (Dewey) Then when they get stuck they ask questions, solve problems.Look at the key qualities of the internet. When you get stuck you check online. We all know about situated learning, but it can be difficult to shape that for learners. The point that learners seek understanding as part of the doing IS THE CONTEXT. What they find out is immediately relevant. It becomes internalized.

If you produce a set of students who know how to do learning on demand, those students are set for life. If they know now to use their existing community -- virtual and online -- they will cope in all situations, not be terrified of change and what they don't know.

There are many ways to express an idea. We're all familiar with representations of knowledge in the form of writing a paper FOR THE TEACHER. Then starting to realize the power of writing for others -- more than just the teacher.

Bringing mind and hand together allow us to be incredibly creative. We have powerful tools for kids to create  -- the media for expression is a key notion.

Key notion in the digitial age is a new kind of learning. It's a culture of PARTICIPATION. It is not the act of blogging as much as the act of building on what is there.In the blogosphere there is no such thing as cheating.

Net generation - It is not what I OWN that matters, it is what I have CREATED, and what others have picked up on and BUILT ON.

Sylvia Currie
15:52 on 24 October 2009

Live blog notes from Seely-Brown keynote continued...

Remix cultures - creative tinkering and the play of imagination.

Bring tinkering back! The ideal way to merge mind and hand. Around 1985 it seems tinkering stopped. Why? Technlology became inpenetrable! Open up the watch and you can't do anything with them. Open up the hood of a car...same.

Now coming back... need an app? Build it. Tinkering how now become gender neutral. A new form of identity is being constructed.

Examples of tinkering: Trailer for Matrix  Reloaded was remixed by 21 yr old in London. Very skilled! He is now world famous.

3-yr study by the McArthur Foundation

  1. Hang out - friendship driven- playing with identities, building friendships, not necessarily aware that anybody else beyond friends are paying attention
  2. mess around
  3. geek out

Then compencies - become an expert

Example of new community library in Chicago. Challenge: Design this room for the digital generation. Design so learners can migrate through these genres of participaton. Result that never expected is that the number of books that have been checked out has gone sky high. Their interests have peeked and they want to learn more.


Sylvia Currie
16:12 on 24 October 2009

Live blog notes from Seely-Brown keynote continued...

Big picture


  • any guarantee of quality?
  • have we destroyed the sence of authority
  • wrong question to ask - read Encyclopedia Britanica a different way than you read Wikipedia. Wikipedia - Look at the edits, look at what is being contested, and by whom. If you don't know how to view contested knowledge then you are going to misread Wikipedia. It is a view onto the practice.


  • Snapshot of a student's life. Need to go beyond all learning happending in the classroom. Think of it as a learning ecology. A blended epistemology.Space between man as knowing and man as making is TINKERING.
  • Casual tinkering vs deep tinkering. Deeply situated, and this is where the tacit understanding comes from.
  • Constantly wrong until you get it right. 
  • play is imagination
  • Think kids can't focus? Watch them use a skateboard!

The new golden triangle - bringing it all together

  • How do you provide a context for students?
  • when recreation becomes an act of re-creation / remix and productive inquiry then you get a culture of learning


Sylvia Currie
16:34 on 24 October 2009

Embedded Content


Gráinne Conole
3:57pm 24 October 2009

Brilliant session, I love his ideas - aligns with my own views on the concept of "Open Design".

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