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Synergies, differences, and bridges between Networked Learning, Connected Learning, and Open Education (#NLbridge)

Frances Bell, Itinerant Scholar, Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Laura Gogia, Virginia Commonwealth University

Symposium Introduction

“We have to build our half of the bridge, no matter who or where we happen to be.” -- Colum McCann

This interactive symposium interprets conference themes in terms of the dialogical phenomenon of boundary crossing, examining the future of networked learning through its relationships with other digital pedagogies, educational practices, and increasingly ubiquitous digital elements of everyday life. In it, we will frame digital networks as boundary objects and modern Þingvellirs: heterotopic (liminal, fleeting and even transgressive, yet potentially empowering) parliaments that facilitate the meeting, negotiation, and decisive action around culture, belief systems, and behaviour. We will argue that to remain relevant in the changing world, the networked learning community must look beyond ourselves and our interpretation of the digital network to “build our half of the bridge” towards other entities existing just beyond our boundaries. The symposium presenters/facilitators will explore with participants why and how the networked learning community might bridge beyond itself and into a broader context, one that situates us in relationship with other pedagogies such as connected learning (Ito et al., 2013) and open education (Weller, 2014); places us intentionally within the rising but potentially productive turmoil between informal and formal learning advocates; and studies our assumptions of both networking and connection through exploration of the apparently “other” practice of disconnection.

The symposium papers will be synthesized rather than treated independently, beginning with a précis of the interlinked ideas explored in the three papers. You will then be invited to participate in reflection and conversation. Our conversation prompts will include the following -- please come with your ideas, questions, and insights:

• Negotiating openness as individual scholars, educators, and citizens.
• Blending informal and formal learning spaces, practices, and networks, and negotiating expectations between students, instructors, and institutions.
• Exploring the limits of the network by engaging with the concept of disconnective practice, as a critically reflexive practice of open, networked, and connected learning.

Acts of bridging often begin with the process of exploring the core identities of the entities that share a boundary, legitimizing the coexistence of multiple narratives. Then communication and translation take place, with an expectation not of consensus, but of shared understanding and construction of new knowledge (Akkerman & Baker, 2011). Using the symposium hashtag #NLbridge and the conference hashtag #NLC2016, the symposium conversation will begin online before the conference (via our blogs and Twitter), carry on during the conference, and hopefully continue afterward. We hope to facilitate bridging within and beyond the networked learning research community in the form of ongoing reflection, conversation, collaboration, and transformation.

Full Introduction - .pdf

(Dis)connective Practice in Heterotopic Spaces for Networked and Connected Learning

Frances Bell, Itinerant Scholar

This paper explores the implications of learners’ and educators’ appropriation of Social Networking Sites (SNS) for informal open, networked and connected learning through the lens of learner practices within sociotechnical assemblages. Relevant themes identified from the literature are the impact of an advocacy approach in open, networked and connected learning; the mutuality of openness and closure; time-space online; connective and dis-connective practices and heterotopias.
A theory of Disconnective Practice has been developed by Light in relation to SNS that helps us to understand practice through considering disconnection as well as the more usual perspective of connection. Mejias' critique of the nodocentric view presented by SNS can help by alerting us to the concept of paranodes, spaces that lie beyond the logic of the network. Providers of SNS benefit from connection, media production and sharing by members that enhance their advertising services.
I explore heterotopias, unsettling fragmentary places, in open practice using two vignettes of PhD students, one in a social context and another in a research context. The first vignette explores the global nature of context and culture collapse across SNS, as a student moves to a different country and culture to undertake PhD study. This vignette highlights the impact of the combination of persistent data and (hyper)connection to extended and invisible audiences. The second vignette explores how different regimes of Open Access publishing operate within the politics of Higher Education (HE) contexts.
Although heterotopias are important to open, networked and connected learning they can be difficult to achieve: disconnective practice can help. Networks crave connection and resist our scrutiny. Thus learners need to be able to practice disconnection as well as connection, and be able and prepared to challenge the logic of SNS and institutional systems.
How can digital literacy practices of learners and teachers take account of learning on SNS when the focus of SNS is to benefit advertising services that are the actual customers?

Keywords
Connection, Disconnection, Openness, Heterotopias, Informal Learning.

Full Paper - .pdf

 

Open, networked and connected learning: Bridging the formal/informal learning divide in higher education

Catherine Cronin, National University of Ireland, Galway

In the age of ‘networked individualism’ (Castells, 2004; Rainie & Wellman, 2012) students enter higher education as networked individuals with extant and diverse informal learning practices, networks and identities. While higher education institutions typically focus on Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) as the primary online hubs for students, students themselves use a wide range of online tools and resources for communicating, coordinating, collaborating and learning, i.e. building their own Personal Learning Environments (PLEs). While institutions and academic staff tend to see institutional VLEs and learner-chosen PLEs as separate entities, learners do not (Reed, 2013). Students often find that their informal learning practices sit uneasily within the formal education environments within which they study. Open education, particularly open educational practices (OEP), is one way that the formal/informal learning divide in higher education may be bridged. Advocates of open education highlight its potential to make education more inclusive and equitable. However, some critiques of open education view such claims as utopian, ignoring the workings of systemic power and privilege. This paper explores the formal/informal learning divide in higher education, the complexities and different interpretations of open education, and potential benefits for students and educators in bridging the formal/informal learning divide, i.e. working together within higher education learning communities but also as nodes in “broad networks of distributed creativity” (J. Ito, 2011).

Keywords
formal and informal learning, open education, openness, networked learning, connected learning

Full Paper - pdf

Collaborative Curiosity: Demonstrating relationships between open education, networked learning and connected learning

Laura Park Gogia, Virginia Commonwealth University

Networked learning, open education, and connected learning are emerging pedagogical fields that explore the opportunities, challenges, and implications of teaching and learning in digital environments. Propelled forward from and by a digital networked participatory culture, the three pedagogical approaches share core assumptions about the importance of educational equality and access, self-determined and participatory learning, and authentic and relevant learning experiences. While open education, networked learning, and connected learning share an ethical stance, they emphasize different aspects of the digital pedagogical experience and manifest themselves in different ways. While the open education field tends to focus on the development and scalability of educational resources and practices, networked learning tends to emphasize the pedagogical experience of learning communities and interpersonal connections, and connected learning promotes instructional designs for holistic, participatory learning. Moreover, the scholarly outlets that support research and development across open education, networked learning, and connected learning exist in distinct educational sectors and geographic locations; in recent years, open education has evolved on a global scale, but networked learning is most commonly associated with universities in the United Kingdom and Europe, and connected learning is experiencing growth in the informal, K-12 learning spaces of the United States. After providing a brief historical and epistemological introduction to open education, networked learning, and connected learning, this paper aims to explore the relationships between them by analysing their intertwined presence within a single university course. The course, Collaborative Curiosity: Designing Community-Based Research (CMST 691), was a fully online, open, graduate-level course offered by Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in the summer of 2015. As part of a university-wide initiative to promote student engagement and deeper learning through digital engagement and connected learning, the course was intentionally designed to align with open education, networked learning, and connected learning practices. After teasing out and discussing the elements of “open,” “networked,” and “connected” as separate entities, this paper will briefly argue for treating them as distinct but related and synergistic educational approaches. Attempts should be made to build a common language and maintain pathways for communication across open education, networked learning, and connected learning scholars and scholarship, so that they will not become isolated by their existence in separate geographies.

Keywords
Connected Learning, Networked Learning, Open Education, Open Educational Resources, Higher Education, Digital Pedagogies, Online Learning, Curriculum and Instructional Design

Full Paper - .pdf

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