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Spotlight topic 3: Open Educational Practices and Generativism

Roberto Carneiro - Universidade Catolica Portuguesa - A locus to discuss Educational Policy and Innovation

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roberto carneiro
7 June 2010


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OPAL departs from the idea that we may be standing at the threshold of an exciting new era in education and learning.

The potential lies there, right at the heart of OEP, to redefine the future of learning.

(Slide 1)

Indeed, the extraordinary development of OER witnessed over the last couple of years suggests that we can dream of a ‘Learning Utility Agenda’. In other words, the availability of a vast infrastructure of learning opportunities, accessible anywhere and anytime from a variety of devices and platforms, as easily as one accesses nowadays to electricity, water or communications, sparks bold new visions on pressing agendas such as LLL, key skills acquisition and informal learning recognition.

However, there is scant evidence that this ‘big bang’ of OER has lead into the effective uptake in the educational arena of freely available resources. Moreover, the real impact of OER on transforming actual classroom practices and inspiring new learning patterns remains astonishingly poor.

The gulf between an evergrowing supply of OER and the reluctance to adopt OEP comes as no surprise. The truth of the matter is that this apparent contradiction embodies the clash between two traditional paradigms: developing knowledge ‘objects’ (a supply driven strategy) vs. investing in learning ‘subjects’ (a demand driven strategy).

Obviously, reality does not have to be a pick between one or another. Both strategies should go together, hand in hand - which is rarely the case - to avoid major imbalances in the way how pedagogical innovation progresses.

(Slide 2)

Our existing portfolio of learning theories is barely enough to encompass the complexities underpinning a widespread policy of OEP. Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Constructivism were formulated in a pre-ICT stoneage. Furthermore, these theories could not anticipate a “brave new world” made up of tech-rich environments, of soaring interactions in social networks built around Web 2.0, and of content availability without boundaries.

As for Connectivisim, however ingenious the theory is presented and attractive it may be, its basic claims on technology enabled changes elicit the individual as the main locus of transformations – in brain functions and in behaviour. This understanding falls short of OEP to the extent that what may be fundamentally required are new sets of competences and different ways of enhancing social learning.

Having arrived at this juncture the case that I would like to put forward is that OEP will only take-off in a sustainable course if we invest in people (learning subjects) – in their personal, professional and social skills – to make OER a powerful engine of new learning experiences.

Two philosophical theories dealing with scientific knowledge establish a marked distinction between the received view (RV) and the semantic view (SV). While the former (RV) deals with the passive collection or recollection of existing knowledge, the latter (SV) involves a full-fledged reconstruction of received knowledge and presupposes a constant quest for value-added meaning.

(Slide 3)

I have proposed a complete value chain ascending from raw data to information (metadata), from information to knowledge (metainformatiom), from knowledge to learning (metaknowledge) and from learning to meaning-making (metalearning). The effort to bridge the gulf between information access, knowledge gaps, learning inequalities and meaning-making disparities is epitomised in three transitions: simple to complex, science of quantities to science of qualities, product to service (Carneiro 2008).

(Slide 4)

The opposition RV-SV leads me to formulate a new semantic-driven syntax for OEP, a sort of fifth learning theory, accruing to and expanding from the previous four theories,  which I would like to call Generativism (as opposed to Adaptivism) (Carneiro, 2010).

Generativism lies in the intersection between innovative learning and learning for innovation and addresses the foundations of a creative society. In this sense, OEP challenge is to generate new knowledge (SV) out of previously codified knowledge (RV). Generativism understood as a constant re-creation of knowledge appeals to the unique human ability to derive new meaning from experience and to build sense out of a shared body of conventional knowledge.

(Slide 5)

My proposition that generativism may provide a solid theoretical foundation for OEP leads to a number of crossroads and to a set of related queries:

  • Can generativism inspire a sustainable spiral of knowledge generation, sharing and re-generation, embodied both in  new knowledge objects and new learning subjects?
  • Does generative OEP conceal the potential to unleash the latent productive and creative energies of people in organizations in order that ICT and new media finally fulfill their promise to enable and empower vibrant learning communities of practice?
  • If OEP are regarded as a key ingredient of new  lifelong learner-centred designs how should we define a ‘competent learner of the future’:  one who is endowed with the mastery and use of a whole new range of generative learning competences?
  • Would enhanced  generative skills in self-regulated (self-directed) learning and social (dialogic) learning spark a disruptive change in the pace of OEP uptake and diffusion?
  • How may the OPAL quality guidelines and self-assessment tools for OEP be best shaped to support self-sustained generativism and advanced lifelong learner competences?
  • Could generativism position itself as a central concept for a  renewed Web 3.0  (semantic, learning, smart, user-customised, evolutionary and ontology-rich in nature), one that would leverage OEP  and allow the intelligent use of open resources to become a truly transformative and creative learning experience?
  • Should neotenia emerge as a major field of OEP research in order to allow for increased generativity in quality adult-adult (teacher-learner, HE and AE) interactions?
  • …?

 (Slide 6)

One  final word of caution: Whatever line of pursuit we follow, may we bear in mind one  essential quest for our joint deliberations - that we find generative ways of becoming more finely and deeply human.

In final words, that we may learn to cultivate wisdom as our first and foremost goal.

Roberto Carneiro

Portuguese Catholic University

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Frances Bell
8:16am 14 June 2010

I share Robert Carneiro's concern that OER is not radically transforming classrrom practices.  However, I don't think we can look to 'learning' theories to help us understand what is happening and influence what may happen in future.  OER has implications for business, society as well as the individual and networked practices of learners, teachers and researchers.

Why would we expect a learning theory to explain the role MIT's opening up of their resources in the coconstruction (or not) of knowledge?

In his response to Houghton and Oppenheimer, Hall proposes that Latour's Actor-Network Theory be used "Aligning Houghton and Oppenheim's scholarly communication lifecycle model with more general work on the knowledge economy and with the concept of the invisible colleges that organize academic work shows the considerable potential in further expanding the agency factors in Houghton and Oppenheim's work. Variables such as existing knowledge, scientific problems, scholarly curiosity, and new knowledge and greater awareness currently serve as placeholders. A next stage in this line of enquiry could be to expand these placeholders into a rich set of concepts in the sociology of knowledge, connecting with other fields of enquiry, such as Latour's actor-network theory (Latour, 2005)." Hall, 2010 (currently freely available at )

Understanding OER and effecting change is a major undertaking that will require collaboration of a range of agents, building on scholarly work from within and beyond the fields of education and (learning) technology.


Steve Bennett
10:14am 14 June 2010 (Edited 10:15am 14 June 2010)

A couple of comments.  Remember that probably only 10% of student created stuff is any good.  I think it is a very good idea to archive A grade things, but what if the "generated" material is medicre, or worse, crap - which it certainly can be, believe you me.

You write: "Generativism understood as a constant re-creation of knowledge appeals to the unique human ability to derive new meaning from experience and to build sense out of a shared body of conventional knowledge."

For the best students yes.  What about those who aren't interested, or who chose the wrong course, or who merely are looking for a grade?

Also remember the only new thing about OER is the O - open - since book publishers have been producing ER for centuries.  And the O is not necessarily positive.  It can mean, for instance, the absence of quality control, the absence of on-going support and commitment, the lack of a dedicated and trained team to do all the boring things of publishing such as indexation, proof-reading, editorial pruning.

On the other hand, if learning environments can establish rich collaborative filtering opportunities, and make the act of harvesting high-achieving student contribution much easier (e.g transferring a particularly good contribution to a discussion into the more officially "teaching resources" section of an online course) - then that would be extremely powerful.


roberto carneiro
4:46pm 20 June 2010

Dear Frances and Steve.

Thank you very much for your thought-provoking comments. Unfortunately, you were the only two people wiling to contribute during the week. I do hope that we may still return to some of the outstanding issues that I tried to list as major questions on my idea on Generativism.

As Frances rightly points out learning theories do not 'influence what may happen in the future'. However, they do constitute a powerful tool to 'help us understand what is happening' ... or not. Analytical categories in scientific theory are not intended as a surrogate to the 'actual world' and hold no existence beyond it. They are designed, no more no less, to help interpret regularities and patterns that may be empirically observed in a systematic scrutiny of the world: by establishing a sustainable conversation - talking to the world and having the world talk back to us.

While I subscribe entirely to Bruno Latour's Actor-Network Theory and find stimulating Luc Boltanskyi's interpretation of a new spirit of capitalism as a connected system of actors, I do not find in the social network theory the exclusive, nor the dominant, approach to multiple forms of 'new learning' in a knowledge open society.

Having said that may I add that Latour's proposition denying the role ot the 'social' to interpret all narratives as a system of local networks is not entirely helpful to advance learning typically as a social and cultural endeavour (Vygotski, Bruner, et al).

To say it in clear terms I find that 'connectivism' - a sort of Latour inspired approach to learning from G. Siemen's perspective - falls short of providing us with a 'thick explanation' of what happens when, for instance MIT's open courseware materials are appropriated and re-created or transformed into learning patterns by OEP.

Meaning-making is not a restricted attribute of good students. All human beings are by nature, and by design, seekers of meaning and builders of sense related to their multiple belongings. Perhaps, the key to the transformation of a bad student into a good student could be found in assisting him /her to build a better sense of school or study: either by helping in the formulation of FTP (future time perspectives) or in the shaping of a motivating dream.

I could not agree more on the need - urgency - of establishing filters to help sieve out all the irrelevant or pernicious content that abounds in OER.

OEP must rely on quality controlled content.

However, I would shy away from a 'centralised' system of content analysis and assessment or any  other arrangement based on so-called 'expert judgment'. Not only this would constitute a mission impossible but I fear it would carry little value added to a dynamic OEP world. My preference, if I may add a concrete solution, relies on some form of systematic end-user assesment assisted by automated ontologies that would allow the consolidation of those assessments in clusters thus made friendly and immediately accessible to OEPractitioners.

Roberto Carneiro

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