October 12, 2016

Making an Education

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

All Learning

We’re all learners, whoever we are. Whether it’s about crafts or home repairs, pedagogy or academic disciplines, we all develop our knowledge in a number of domains. And the learning we do on our own can have a significant impact on our approaches to others’ learning.

Insight on our own learning processes (and those of our children) transpired through a livetweet session that was held last year.

My son plays amazing guitar thanks to youtube. Much better lessons than you get live for specific songs. #VTElive @melvin_shantz

You are no longer locked into dependency on a specific teacher. Choose the teacher that works for you. #VTElive @melvin_shantz

Though our personal projects (and our children’s) may differ radically from the things we teach in CEGEPs, thinking about potential connections between the two will help to put us in the mind of the learner. As anthropologist Mike Wesch demonstrates in his podcast Life 101: Real Stories about College Life, much insight into teaching can come from this shift into the mind of the learner.

Hands-On Learning

Recent approaches to education emphasize the importance of “learning by doing,”, regardless of discipline or level. In some contexts, much of the “doing” can remain tightly connected with verbal and cognitive skills, but many of us perceive great value in “getting our hands dirty”. Educators in elementary schools encourage their pupils to play with robots to learn geometry or with paper circuits to deepen their writing skills.

University professors invite their graduate students to the field for deep experiential learning while lifelong learners undergo intensive immersion through internships or cultural exchanges. In all of these cases, the types of competencies, knowledge, and skills developed go way beyond abstract concepts.

An Emerging Movement

There’s something of a “DIY” (do-it-yourself) movement emerging. This movement brings together a diverse and passionate crowd whose practical projects help participants connect with likeminded people. From a craftsmaker finding a source of recycled material to a software engineer building a robot in her spare time, technology helps all sorts of people link their parallel learning quests. Some may participate in online groups about their “hobbies” while others consult issues of an online magazine dedicated to their favourite device.

The MagPi Magazine – The official Raspberry Pi magazine

Local meetings and workshops are facilitated by connections that are made online. Questions and answers fora often serve as a source of information while troubleshooting some part of one’s projects. In many communities, numerous projects have been documented from which others can draw inspiration or insight.

From isolated hobbyists “doing their own thing,” we’re witnessing the birth of a cultural phenomenon, enabled by online interactions: the Maker Movement.

Maker Culture

Through their very actions, these “Makers” are developing a sense of belonging to something bigger. This shared identity through practice is as good a definition of “Community of Practice” as any other, and there’s a lot to be learned from the culture which emerges from this community building. Many of the shared values in this “Maker Culture” relate to the so-called “Hacker Ethic”.

Despite some negative connotations in terms of illicit behaviour, the term “hacker” is quite fitting in the case of people who find their own (often unusual) solutions to the problems they encounter in their projects. In other words, they “hack” things together. The Québécois expression “broche-à-foin” (“haywire”) addresses a similar idea and the French term “bidouilleur” helps explain this make-do attitude (“débrouillardise”).

Opening Up Learning

A central tenet of Maker Culture is in learning by “opening the box”, by looking at what hides behind an existing product. An amateur chef could learn to cook at home from trying out other people’s recipes or identifying ingredients and methods in their cuisine, if recipes aren’t readily available. Similarly, enthusiasts of the Raspberry Pi single-board computers have found ways to emulate many technologies they wish to appropriate, either by reverse engineering them or by accessing their schematics (when available).

The same ethic is at the root of software development, particularly in Free Software or Open Source contexts. Apart from theoretical principles and a large set of “best practices”, much of the learning in programming comes from reusing, reproducing, remixing, or reproducing other people’s code (including some “coding recipes”).

Learners as Makers

Students often have their own learning projects related to Maker Culture. Maybe they want to create the next Learning Management System or they have something in mind about improving an interactive digital whiteboard. The intrinsic motivation coming from working on these projects can be so strong as to inspire pedagogical approaches, from problem-based learning to team projects. However, there often is a disconnect between learners’ initiatives and what they are expected to do in their college courses. Can we bridge that gap?

Come Make with Us

This year, several of VTE’s activities revolve around Maker Culture and Do-It-Yourself Education. From our experimentations with Raspberry Pi to our exploration of learner-created Open Educational Resources, we plan to continue “walking the walk” in digital making. In the process, everyone involved will learn by doing the things they wish to do, shifting their mindsets to something closer to what students may experience.

What are some of the things you (or your children) want to learn? How do you plan these learning experiences? Are there communities of “Makers” who can help you in this process? Let us know in the comments.

About the author

Alexandre Enkerli

Alexandre helps learning professionals make technology appropriate for their contexts, just like he did as a technopédagogue for Vitrine technologie-éducation from 2014 to 2016 and as a Technopedagogical Advisor for Collecto from 2021 to 2023. Alex comes back to this role after a few in Ottawa (creating cybersecurity learning pathways and a Massive Open Online Learning Experience on public engagement), and in Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean for participatory-action research at COlab.

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