Wayfinding Through New Educational Terrain
Posted October 13, 2011on:
This past Tuesday, we were treated to a presentation by George Siemens entitled Sense-Making and Wayfinding. In his presentation, George talked to our class about human beings’ need to make sense of everything around us rather than living in a state of confusion and non connectivity. We are in constant pursuit of coherence in our lives – online and otherwise. George stated that this coherence takes two forms – sense-making and wayfinding. When we are sense-making, we are attempting to understand, make connections, and tie everything together. “How do the pieces fit?” we question ourselves. We attempt to understand meaning using our background knowledge and previous experiences, so sense-making is extremely personal and thus, is different for each individual. Wayfinding, a spatial concept, is our attempt to navigate our way through something that we do not understand so to try to orient ourselves. When learning new tools in this class, we are all constantly wayfinding.
As I sat down to blog about Tuesday’s class, I had to employ my own sense-making process and reflect for longer than usual about what I had learned. I thought about how Siemen’s presentation related to our other presentations and readings. I began to see the connections, the strongest for me personally being his comments about the changing landscapes of our education system today. Siemen discussed how there is a shift of power in education taking place. With a class such as ours, the students are often controlling our learning. I found it interesting that I posted about this on the weekend, and we discussed it in this presentation, so I was pleased to have picked up on that connection. With students in online classes controlling their own learning, the power shifts off of the teacher who formerly directed the learning. The teacher is more of a facilitor rather than the one in control of the content that is presented, and how it is presented. Siemens said that as students, this shift often presents us with a need to sense-make and wayfind. We are used to “formal education,” and mimicking how we were taught. A course such as ours is so different to us that we have to sense-make and wayfind because no one is explicitly telling us what is the most important thing to learn. We are to make sense of that for ourselves, contribute to our class community, and wayfind through the tools of our class.
I thought about George’s discussion a great deal from both the role of a student and an educator. I’ll admit, I found it ironic that I had some difficulty “sensemaking” about a presentation ABOUT making sense of what we experience! I thought about how I was educated and how I teach, and found that Siemens is correct – some of my practises still mimic how I was taught. I have Spelling lessons every morning, complete with Spelling Dictation on Fridays. Is this practise out of date? Are students really going to need to know how to spell when their programs will all have autocorrect, spell check, and built in dictionaries on their mobile devices? I, for one, hope that they DO continue to learn how to spell without the use of technological assistance. Siemens explained how we often feel comfortable once we have made sense of things and oriented ourselves. Because we were formally educated, we are most likely comfortable educating in the same manner. This left me wondering which teaching practises, such as Spelling, I may be engaging in due to my comfort level with them.
I discussed my thoughts regarding being the teacher of a MOOC in my previous blog post and in some of my comments to others. I admitted that I would feel uncomfortable shifting the power to my students. Following Siemen’s presentation, I realize that much of my discomfort would be due to my inability to wayfind through that type of educational landscape at first. It would not be the giving up of power that would bother me, but it would be the unpredictability and the lack of routine that would bother this Type-A teacher! However, I think that with experience I would find my way and feel more comfortable. I enjoy trying new things with my students, implementing new technology, initiating group work and projects, and engaging students in their own learning. I may crave stability, but I also love to try new things, and wayfinding and sensemaking are often an exciting challenge and a rewarding experience when you find your way and see the light!
I will leave this entry with a quotation by author and educator Isaac Asimov that seems to summarize our sense making and wayfinding journey today. Still relevant today, the statement was made in 1930: