An Internet Model of Learning & Teaching

Somewhere in the 20th Century

Overview; This is my fourth in a sequence of six reflective blog posts on how I developed my teaching and learning practice and reflects on my practice in the 1990s. I become aware of the Internet in the 1980s and discussed its social impact before incorporating it into course design.  I looked at the technical architecture of the net and the Web and started to developed early courses for the Internet and the web, including the MirandaWeb award-winning TaLENT Community Grid for Learning project in Lewisham; Teaching and LEarning with Educational NeTworks. I look at how this new learning design required new learning literacies.

A Global Information Utility (GIU) was posited by Yoneji Masuda for the Japanese Government as a key characteristic of the global future in the 21st Century when he was at MITI in 1981; the English translation was published in 1986. As an ancillary to my future vision NeXT 2021 I wrote a handout on the technical possibilities of building the infrastructure to support a GIU in 1989. As the possible platform I ranked the low-bandwidth Internet third behind the higher-bandwidth multi-media SONET & ISDN which had greater controls and costs. However it was the “self-booting” character of the internet and the freedom of users to create tools, such as HTTP, the web and browsers, and upload them for others to use, that meant its bandwidth limitations were circumvented (who has heard of SONET?). It is this creative flexibility to develop and evolve that the Internet incorporates that underpins the “net neutrality” debates, the work of the Berkman School at Harvard like Lawrence Lessig, and its UK offshoot the Open Rights Group, and the Human Knowledge Project of @sivavaid. It is also why Americans, who have a constitution (again see NeXT 2021) are passionate about the ongoing debates on the business issues (say, Schmidt and Zuckerburg now, and the old-school Gates and Jobs) the political issues (say Lessig, Zittrain, and Dr Wu) and the technology issues (see Vincent Cerf, Eli Pariser, Howard Rheingold) and even knowledge issues (@sivavaidds106). These issues got a rare airing on this side of the Atlantic recently, where we really aren’t bothered about it, when Sarkozy took on Schmidt on who builds the digital infrastructure for 21st citizens at the e-G8 summit on May 24/25 2011.

Internet-based courses; In the early 1990s when the Internet began to take off I tried to add practical elements of it to courses that I taught. I finally adding a Unit called “Businesses Uses of the Internet” to the HNC in Systems Analysis in 1995. A student assignment on that course produced the first web-site for the Docklands Light Railway in London and he got an interview with the Managing Director to explain the future of business; cool! Diana Laurillard published her Rethinking University Education in 1994, the seminal work in this area, and In 1995 John Cook ran an online course out of TVU; it was hard and lonely out there in cyberspace back in the day. I developed a second Internet course in 1997 called Information Systems in Society (they were seen as confined to business up until then), and decided to run it as a blended learning unit. I block booked the new computer lab and then realised I had to design an introductory portfolio based on the new learning skills students would need online. They were, Search, Evaluation, netiquette, moderating discussions groups, working collaboratively and supporting others. These 6 elements constituted digital literacy as I saw it in 1997.

National Grid for Learning; In 1997 the government under Tony Blair launched the National Grid for Learning, a programme to put all schools on the Internet. I got involved with the roll-out in the London Borough of Lewisham where, unusually, an NGfL Curriculum Committee was set up as well as the project management crew responsible for the box and wires. I was on that committee and I also attended a NIACE conference in spring 1997 called Information Superhighways of the Future with a keynote by Josh Hillman who did the conceptual work on the University for Industry (UfI – learndirect) Gordon Brown’s pet project; exciting times. The NGfL was essentially lesson plans on the web with little thought to pedagogy, learndirect was content-driven courses. The Lewisham Curriculum Committee, also unusually a joint project of Goldsmiths, Lewisham College and LBL Inset team, thought we needed a CPD programme to develop staff skills and won project funding to do this from the NOF ICT Literacy programme for teachers.

TaLENT; Originally the Teaching and LEarning with Educational NeTworks project, TaLENT, was an Intranet I built at Lewisham College. I stole some space on the K drive and set up a directory K:links> and just started building web pages for various people, events, resources. Then I persuaded the college to link with The Wirral Metropolitan project the Learning Web and started building dedicated learning resources for various departments; dance, plumbing, construction, theatre, computing. I learnt a lot. I was on Kinshuk’s Athabasca Technology & Society discussion group involved in social and learning technology discussions globally; I learnt more. Tom Boyle and John Cook asked me to deliver that part of the Interactive Multimedia Design Unit MM220 at UNL that dealt with social and cultural impacts of technology.  I was asked to be on the EU project GALA (the first EU XML project) as Accessibility & Usability Consultant, This was also a part of the Citizens Connect project in the London Borough of Lewisham looking at the impact of e-government on peoples lives. Within that we developed the Community Grid (now removed) for the ICT Literacy for Teachers training programme. As we had a lot of experience within the TaLENT group we designed the training around what Thomas Cochrane now calls “intentional” Communities of Practice, but we did it around National Curriculum subject cohorts.

Community Grid for Learning; As Community Projects Co-ordinator at Lewisham College I worked on a range of community projects, not just computing, and was also a Trustee of the Creekside Education Trust which built the Creekside Centre concerned with Urban Ecology and Environmental Education. I also learnt a lot about running (volunteer) community centres. However thanks to our links with the Council TaLENT were given a server and we bought a VLE First Class so we could build a Community Grid for Learning during 1998/9. We also set up a mixed Apple (hypercard) & Wintel lab in the INSET PDC and started running our training courses and building up online groups around the subject cohorts. It was a long and hard coding and learning curve, but luckily, I learnt a lot.

Becta; In 2000, having launched the FE version of the NGfL called FERL (I helped in the set up of its original discussion group) the government decided to launch the £250m CALL Community Access to Lifelong Learning programme which had a strand about developing Community Grids for Learning across the country linked to ICT Learning Centres, which got renamed UK Online Centres. The plan was for 700 centres in the countries most deprived neighbourhoods but 7000 were set up, not least because of the People’s Network going into every public library. We later built an interactive UK Online centre for training purposes. Whilst writing a bid for a UK online centre in Lewisham I also applied to be Head of Community Programmes at Becta and got the job, largely because I had already built a CGfL, and quickly wrote an information guide on how to build one. I soon won a contract from the DfES to build the support website for CALL ( and suddenly had a team of 11 and my own technology to play with; interesting, very very interesting…

Reflections on this post; Steve ‘Spaz’ Williams was Steven Spielberg’s CGI Artist on Jurassic Park and trained at the Sheridan College Canada who run an animation course. He gave a talk at the the London Film Festival in 1992 about his work, especially on Terminator 2 and was asked whether future CGI artists should learn a CGI tool or start with animation. His answer was to learn animation as CGI was a tool that let you do stuff that you worked out as an animator, but you needed the craft of animation to make the most of CGI. I think the same applies to TEL, technology-enhanced learning. Your craft as a teacher needs to pre-date the way you use technologies. Admittedly technologies offer affordances, especially collaboratively, that extend your capabilities, but you must have a sense of what constitutes good teaching and learning, including what Jephcote calls an “ethic of care”. I was lucky to have worked out my style as a teacher in 1988 (brokering learning) and my view of the social impact of digital technology in 1989 (NSU) and so I have had an interpretive framework to help me make sense of new technology developments.

NeXT; what I learnt about open learning and social inclusion on the CALL programme, and why when William Goldman says “nobody knows anything” in Hollywood it is true of any large information eco-system.


2 thoughts on “An Internet Model of Learning & Teaching

  1. very interesting. Do you think this can be done to educate people in the medical fields. We already are headed towards a shortage of physicians in the near future at least in the US.

  2. Pingback: Discussing Co-creating Open Scholarship « The Heutagogic Archives

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