Technologies of Emergence

As part of the connected learning webinar series:  Learning and Leading in a Connected World with Educator Innovator, National Writing Project and EdConteXts, Maha Bali kindly invited me to a webinar on Emerging Trends in Open Scholarship with a great group people. I talked about technologies of emergence in the hangout as an intro to the conversation. Here I’m sharing the notes I prepared before the hangout  (they are edited; I turned them into a narrative for this post).

Hi everyone. Suzan here. I’m a PhD Candidate in Learning Technologies at the University of Minnesota. But today, I’d like to be on this hangout with you as an adult learner, not as a Phd student, not as a future academic, just a curious adult learner. Because that is essentially who I am. Also because there are extremely curious people out there, who want to start something new, but they can’t because of the way their life is organized, because of social expectations, or because they prioritize their kids’ education to theirs. We cannot limit open scholarship to academics only. Open scholars are not only those who hold degrees, BA’s, Masters, PhDs; they can be anyone seriously interested in learning. And I don’t think institutional affiliation is a criteria for scholarship either. It doesn’t matter where you participate from; it shouldn’t matter. Only that way the emergence we’ll talk about today can happen on a large scale.

So today we are going to talk about “technologies of emergence” and how that might relate to open education and open scholarship. Maha asked me to talk about the concept very briefly to start our conversation.

And to begin with I’d like to talk about “emergent technologies” first and compare that to Gardner Campbell’s notion of technologies of emergence, because there are fundamental differences between the two.

What is an emergent technology? For example, smart phones, social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, tablet devices: anything old or new can be an emergent technology.

The argument is that these are the types of technologies that have promise, that give us new possibilities for learning and teaching, but at the same maybe they haven’t become mainstream in education yet, or we don’t have a general agreement on their role in teaching and learning. Perhaps there is resistance to using them in classes or in everyday practice. So these tools are not used to their potential.

How do we compare that to a technology of emergence? In #et4online Gardner Campbell talked about “technologies of emergence” using thoughtvectors (a connected MOOC) as an example. And he described technologies of emergence as tools (a lesson, course curriculum, a poem…) that create space for learning to happen in unpredictable, messy ways. So what is emerging is “learning”, a new way of seeing things, not technology. And there is a deeper philosophy and understanding of learning here; the understanding that learning is all about making new connections, so it doesn’t be have to orderly (it doesn’t have to go from step 1 to step 2) and certainly not predetermined.

One implication of technology of emergence is that we don’t have to decide everything for our students. Because learning is emergent. We don’t know, and we don’t need to know, how the dots of learning will come together; it’s not a clear cut pattern that we can know in advance. As Gardner Campbell says, thinking through technologies of emergence is all about “designing a learner experience, that will have, at the end, a surprise or two for all of us” (6:40).

Now I don’t think we can say “oh, this is a technology of emergence,” I don’t think we can define that for our students. But we can design learning environments and opportunities that create room for that to happen (1). A space where students can breathe. Designed with a sensitivity to students’ backgrounds, needs, everyday experiences, thoughts, emotions (2).

So connecting all of these to open scholarship and the tools we are going to talk about today (like #tjc15, Hybrid Pedagogy, connected classes, the faculty development initiative at the University of Guadalajara)… I’m hoping that we won’t focus too much on the technology but more so on what happens as a result of our relationship with the technology. Can we think of these tools/initiatives as technologies of emergence and what might be the significance of that?

(1)  Laura mentioned in a tweet that people have the agency to change things around and turn them into technologies of emergence. Also, we might do everything in our power to create a technology of emergence, but the emergence we seek might happen elsewhere or not happen at all. It’s all about how people interpret and make meaning of their experience.

(2) Looking for some examples? Check The UdG Agora Project, thoughtvectors, and the connected learning webinars (I have in mind the ones designed by Maha Bali and Shyam Sharma). I’m also sure you’ll find many great examples in your teaching. When was the last time your students got excited about their learning and asked some really good and unexpected questions? How about you?

4 comments

  1. I love this Susan and I am going to share an off the cuff/ off the wall comment. I wonder if ‘good teachers’ have always fostered conditions for emergence but some might struggle with how tech impacts on this. Unfortunately, the people that bring in the tech might not be so tuned in to emergence so the gap presents a problem.

    1. Let me add a “me too” for loving this- I had remembered it said so eloquently in the webinar, but am happier to have it here as a direct linkable reference.

      And another “me too” for the instinctual approaches to emergence that my memories of good teachers brought– the result of naturally incorporating a broad range of experiences, sources, methods, where the “technologies” may not even be thought of as tools (books, films, artifacts brought into class) — ones in which they themselves were taught with??.

      There is then some dissonance for the “new” emerging technologies, which teachers are thus learning w/o having learned via them? That they must feel some mastery before using with students? So they are seen as something external? More off the cuffness.

      Thanks again Suzan for writing this up.

      1. Thank you for your kind comments, Alan and Frances:) I think good teachers are also curious people, they attend well to the learner experience and bring out the best in their students. There is another aspect of the dissonance Alan mentions: if teachers don’t know the technologies their students are using, they might then miss some really good opportunities for emergence. But I don’t know, there is so much pressure on teachers to use technology in their classes (at least in the US), wish there was more focus on pedagogy. I used to work as an instructional technology fellow when I first started my program. We would show faculty how to use instructional technologies and keep them updated. It was fun for both faculty and us!

  2. I agree at the deepest level, that Open Scholarship should be affordable to everyone: academics, scholars, parents, elders, teenagers – anyone interested in learning. I also believe and agree with your statement, “One implication of technology of emergence is that we don’t have to decide everything for our students. Because learning is emergent. We don’t know, and we don’t need to know, how the dots of learning will come together; it’s not a clear cut pattern that we can know in advance.”
    One thing I would like students to know is that “the Process” and not necessarily solely “the Outcome”, should be the focus in learning. And that making mistakes and accepting that the process involves lots of mistake, is O.K. and to be welcomed.
    You also bring up a pertinent point when you say that good teachers attend well to the learner experience. That should be the case and one that, after the excellent example you have set for us, Suzan, I will try to emulate in the future.

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