OpenLearn Keynote Address by John Seely Brown

October 30, 2007

johnseelybrown.jpgOriginally uploaded by openlearn2007My first feeling upon seeing John stand up to speak was one of relief. He has a loud voice. I’ve ended up right at the back of the room and couldn’t hear the chair introducing John at all. Part of the reason for this is the number of bloggers and the sound of clacking keys 🙂Introduces the idea of a Cartesian view of learning “I think therefore I am” from which he progresses to the delivery model of learning, cultivating strict rows of learning.However he introduces the notion of the social view of learning “we participate therefore we are”. Understanding as socially constructed. The emphasis is that it is understanding rather than knowledge that we construct. We are having conversation with the work, learning in and through interactions with others and the world.I really like this introduction, and the slides he displays contain really good pictures that illustrate what he is saying. He moves smoothly onto social networks across communities and friends – blogs, facebook, myspace and linkedin and asks whether we can turn everyone into being both a learner and a teacher.Sadly, his voice has dropped and I’m having much more trouble hearing him. However the slides are good. Now we have a slide entitled learning as supported through participatory architectures and I suspect that this is the point where we may start to see links with the OpenLearn project.He’s talking about the atelier form of learning – an architecture studio, and how all work is made public and suggests that this is a powerful learning environment. Interesting because the reason many people give for not participating in shared online learning environments such as group blogs or VLEs is a reluctance to make their ideas public – a fear of being wrong, or of exposing their ideas to everyone. I wonder if we can learn from the atelier approach…He suggests that we reverse the traditional flow of education, where we “learn about” first then “learn to be”. The reverse is learning to be first which is more engaging and interesting followed by learning about.Describes a course at MIT which adopted the atelier approach by grouping the students into tables of 8 or so with the prof talking for 10 mins then walking around the tables. However this didn’t work as expected. First, the traditional sage on the sage approach didn’t work. Then there was the problem of assessment. What incentive was there for students to collaborate if they were still assessed individually.Then he talks about the Faulkes telescope project, where students run real experiments with a master and then pool and analyse their results. This works better as the students were participating in real research and discovering real results for themselves and sharing them with the wider group. I think this is much more of a model of the way to go.So, I wonder how he is planning to tie all this in with the OpenLearn project. It seems to me that OpenLearn with it’s customisable content is part-way there, but is there anything that inhibits participation…or is there anything that particularly encourages participation? John is now talking about new ways for students to engage in research and new forms of peer review. But I wonder where the motivation comes from. Perhaps the students he is referring to are already on assessed courses so this is maybe an extension of what they are already doing.He’s now moved onto talk about modern kids with their 🙂 mobile phones etc and wonders what creates meaning for them, or for us (the ancients  ). He suggests that tinkering could be viewed as a learning platform. I think he is right, but only for certain people. Many people just want things “to work” without any effort.He now paints a lovely idyllic picture of life in the digital age, where a culture of participation, tinkering, building, remixing and sharing abounds with a culture of sharing that is so fundamental to the concept of open educational resources.Talks about the OpenSource movement where code was written to be read. I have to say that in my experience of engineers, I have sometimes wondered whether they ever intend for code to be read, but I expect OS coders are different :). Describes it as a form of distributed collaboration and then moves on to discus remix and mashup which he describes as “creative tinkering and the play of imagination”. I agree with this and I think that part of the reason for the takeup of these techniques is that they are relatively straightforward to achieve with immediate and visible results (if you mashup locations with googlemaps and images you get a very tangible outcome). This is both creative and imaginative.He talks about Web 2.0 as a new form of media and illustrates this with a nice tag-cloud style slide where the more key elements appear larger (blogs, FlickR, Google etc). Mentions a fundamental trend from scarcity to abundance, where we’re moving into a new kind of culture of co-creation and participation which fits perfectly into the thinking of OpenLearn. What an enormous shame – no time for questions. I always find the discussion between audience and presenter really stimulating.


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