Today EPAC will host another webchat entitled Exploring obstacles to learning in times of transfer and transition and how can ePortfolios help? In preparation of the event, I answered some of the questions posed by Gerd Bräuer.

From your own personal experience, can you briefly describe a moment (or phase) of transfer / transition that felt significant with regard to your own learning? What specific obstacles and feelings do you recall?

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The most recent phase of transition in my own learning revolves around digitization. I briefly described it in my last blog posting (in German) entitled “Die ‘digitale Wende’ (digital turn) – Fakt statt Fiktion”. The posting was triggered by a German edu-blogger and teacher who observed similar changes in his own working methods.

The transition has to do with the advent of the tablet pc as an integral part of my PLE. I had waited for this device for more than 15 months, as my technological expectations and ideological reservations forbade the acquisition of an “iPad”. The time I had to wait until the desired alternative was finally available on the market provided me with enough time to ponder the potential impact of my transition from a mixed analog-digital to an almost entirely digital working and learning style.

Switching between analog and digital reading and writing, I felt, was always somewhat inefficient. Especially the fact that every piece of text I had produced by pen and paper and which later would turn out to be usable had to be transferred to a digital format sooner or later seemed cumbersome to me. Also, the filing of all the paperwork always was a chore. I had never really found a smooth and lasting kind of workflow in these matters.

That’s why I put my hopes on the tablet long before I even got one – and in fact, long before the release of the first “iPad”. (The first thing I wanted really badly was Plastic Logic’s “Que Reader” which never made it onto the market. Back in 2007 the company had plans for a pdf-Reader with eInk-technology which was thin enough to allow for it to be rolled up like a piece of paper which I thought was terrific, but, let me try to stick more to the question…)

My feelings connected to this transition could be described as excitement, high expectations and curiosity – all rather positive. The obstacles include an uncertainty about whether the market, i.e. other customers, would share my desire to use this new technology mainly as a tool for learning rather than for entertainment. The marketing strategy of the first iPad, e.g., made me doubt that the potential of the device for learning would really be harnessed. Only if enough learners like me were interested, I thought, would there be enough applications for the device to make it a useful tool.

Now that the tablet has been with me for about three months, I know that applications are not the problem. In fact, apart from minor software glitches I cannot see any major obstacle for going digital any more. The real challenges for changing workflow and learning are not mainly connected to the technological aspects of digitization but rather to the two remaining terms of Weller’s three-part concept of digital scholarship: According to this, working / learning should be digital, networked and open. It should be all this at the same time, not only one or two. So if my working / learning were only digital, but not also networked and open, I would miss out on a lot of the potential benefits.

That leads me to my main obstacle: building a network of fellow learners, getting connected to vivid communities of practice, finding sources (i.e. people) from who I can learn by observation and communication, people that share the same goals and interests, that to me seems the most crucial moment. Interestingly enough, these communities of practice, I reckon, are best to be found on the internet – and not, as social media-averse pundits like to claim – in real life. In searching for sustainable CoPs, over the last year, I’ve spent quite some time and money on real life further education, where I would only meet non-digital, non-networked, non-open people. Money and effort down the drain. He no, wait, I got nice sheets of paper, saying I succeeded. But – in what I do not know. To cut a long sentence short: I believe in the power of connectivism. As a neuron, you want to connect to rapidly firing neurons that feed you with exciting information rather than to neurons that don’t hardly fire at all. For me, that is the main obstacle.

What do you feel more prominent when you think about this moment in your biography as a learner: Tension or excitement?

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Definitely excitement. Nuff said.

Please go a step further in remembering your personal example of transfer / transition in learning:

Where there people and/or institutions involved that fostered or hindered your experience of transfer / transition? In what specific way?

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The answer is yes to both.

People that foster my experience of transition there are more than I can remember. Most of them I have never met in person, as they are autonomous, lifelong learners dedicated to open scholarship, rhizomatic / connectivist learning and the like. The first encounter with this kind of learners for me was the first German Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) #opco11. I spend most of the time “lurking” and observing a method of collaborative learning which was new to me. The fact that a lot of communication in this format is written made it even more appealing to me. I got to read a lot of prolific and readable writers which fueled my own productivity.
#opco11 gave me a good idea of how to build a PLN and how to find relevant people that continue to provide me with valuable input. On the first level, all you need to do is connect and observe.

People that hinder my transition are people, who either do not know or care (or in the worst case: both) about open scholarship / connectivism / open education / rhizomatic learning / the potential of social media for lifelong learning or whatever you want to call it. Such people will for example deride Twitter but if you ask them you’ll see that they don’t even have an account. People that mistake Facebook for Web 2.0 and who think that Facebook is all you need. People unwilling to care about digital literacy. People who justify their disinterest or idleness by claiming they are people who have greater things to do than spend their life in front of a computer – as if this were all that open scholars did. It is not the fact that such people exist that hinders my transition, but rather the fact that sometimes you are forced to somehow work together with them, although the minds just do not match.

Institutions that foster my experience of transition are all those active, “alive and kicking”, “beehive style” communities of practice that support the current changes in education and learning and that continue to provide me with inspiring prompts for further research and discussion. Although institutions are more than often slow to change, it is also my home institution that allows me to do the kind of research that I am doing. Although the reality is sometimes quite different from what visionaries have in mind, the willingness to let me do what I am doing can be read as support.

And one more question with regard to your own story of transition / transfer: What forms of reflective practice (e.g. diary writing, portfolio, peer communication, reflective dialogue with members of an institution) did you use or wished to have used to optimize your effort in this transition / transfer?

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I used, still use and will continue to use peer communication via different web 2.0 channels. Although much of what I have written has not made it onto my blog, the kind of reflective writing done on such platforms definitely adds to the transition experience. Blogging does not only include writing blog postings of your own but also commenting on what others put out. Substantial discussions may emerge, providing you with enough serendipity to keep going.
I already mentioned the tablet, which is one of the most helpful tools in my reflective practice. Always within reach, it captures thoughts, ideas, plots, scribblings – anything that seems worthwhile to be noted down. Tagging the notes helps in finding them again, and reviewing the tags from time to time offers a good picture of my learning development; also, it fosters deep learning. ePortfolio is something I am currently investigating. I am convinced of its potential, but I have not figured out yet how it fits into my PLE.

Where do you see the specific potential of ePortfolios to optimize the effort of everyone involved in moments of transition / transfer? In your answer, please concentrate on ONE perspective: learner, institution (administration), teaching staff/faculty.

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The ePortfolio asks the learner to take it slow: take a step back, focus, think and re-think. You collect, you select, you reflect and project – not all at the same time but one after the other. This allows the learner to focus on very specific tasks and aspects while at the same time she keeps in mind an idea of the greater picture.
In moments of transition, the ePortfolio is a possibility not only to collect everything that has to do with this transition – regardless of the context, but to really carve out a line of development in the face of change. This development then is not just a byproduct of a random curriculum, but a deliberate action taken by a learner who takes control of her insights, as she is aware of what she already knows and still wants to know. Awareness is an important ingredient of deep learning and the ePortfolio is a tool that can raise this awareness. In consequence, the ePortfolio helps to connect content and topics of learning to the individual learner: What is important for me, what do I know now which I didn’t know before – what have I learnt and how did I get there? The ePortfolio is a tool for the individual creation of meaning.

It seems like that moments of transfer / transition can trigger ‘deep learning’ especially when the learner deeply engages in this transfer / transition through reflective practice, including documenting, analyzing, and evaluating of what is happening. Based on your own experience or envision: How can portable digital devices (smartphones and other handheld devices) help to feed ePortfolios with authentic information “on the spot” and in the very moment of something happening?

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The question describes a learning reality I already mentioned above. Portable digital devices can definitely help to capture information relevant for learning on the fly. If the interface allows (and for me, the tiny digital keys on a smartphone don’t work well enough) and if file formats are compatible (and ideally open) to allow the user to process the data on different types of devices, PDDs are about to find their ways into the PLEs of many a learner. For feeding an ePortfolio, however, what seems important is that the devices are not just used to dump pieces of information into a digital space, but to also trigger reflection and meta-cognition. For mobile ePortfolios it would be great to not only have something like a dropbox folder, but something more mentally challenging. It shouldn’t be just about feeding the ePortfolio from anywhere, it shouldn’t be just a cloud version of a thumb drive, but it should also allow for other steps of reflective practice – the selection, reflection and a bit of projection – otherwise the ePortfolio runs the risk of becoming a digital dump that soon no one wants to visit again. Probably more than anything else, mobile devices should support mobile thinking. If they can do that, the future is theirs.