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Thomas Ryberg :: Blog

December 10, 2008


Last Thursday I participated in a network meeting for people interested i e-learning. The meeting was hosted and arranged by the VidenDanmarknetwork. I was invited to give a short presentation on social media and learning - after the presentation I did a short re-cap which was recorded and is now on Youtube (to be honest I have not seen it myself - I hate seeing myself on video/pictures). The slides, videoes etc from me and all of the other presenters can be found here - Ohh I should mention - it is in Danish…so if you do not already speak Danish, now there’s a reason to learn it )

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September 17, 2008


In collaboration with some good friend and colleagues I have been part of preparing a panel for the upcoming AoIR-conference (Copenhagen, October 15-18). The title of the panel is: “At the Intersection: Public and Private, Global and Local, Design and Use, Virtual and Textual” and it features the following papers:Thomas Ryberg, Aalborg University: “Privacy, Power, Place and Identity: The Dynamic Construction of Mixed Spaces in an Educational Context” (download paper here:  AoIR-Paper - Ryberg)

Anders Albrechtslund, Aalborg University: “Surveillance in Mixed Spaces: Persuasion and Resistance”

Rikke Frank Joergensen, Roskilde University/Danish Institute for Human Rights: “Internet: Remixing Public and Private”

Anne-Mette Albrechtslund, Aalborg University: “Gamers Telling Stories: Intersections of Games, Narratives and Lives”

Malene Charlotte Larsen, Aalborg University: “Online Social Networking: From Local Experiences to Global Discourses” (Malene’s post on the paper»)

Below I have pasted in a small extract from the introduction.

“We begin the paper by synthesising and discussing current ideas about web 2.0 tools and practices, as they have unfolded within educational contexts. Furthermore, we highlight some of the concerns, potentials and tensions that have been articulated in relation to educational uptake of social media. We then outline the educational intentions and design of Ekademia, which we analyse and discuss by drawing on the empirical data. We focus, in particular, on notions of identity, place, privacy, power and mixed spaces in an educational context. Furthermore, we discuss tensions that relate to pedagogical challenges in designing learning environments that draw on social technologies and practices which have their offspring in informal, rather than formal contexts, and were not intentionally designed for educational use. We conclude the paper by highlighting and discussing some of the concerns, challenges and potentials that arise from employing social technologies within educational contexts.”

The paper only begins to outline some ideas which I would have liked to articulate more clearly in the paper - instead I will reserve this for an upcoming blog-post -)

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September 15, 2008


I am happy to say that a paper I and Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld have been working on as a further development of a paper presented at the LYICT conference is now out in the Educational Media Journal. It is work which build on my PhD project about understanding learning as a process of patchworking, but it also takes a critical look at notions such as digital natives, power users etc. Below is an abstract:

This paper sets out to problematise generational categories such as “Power Users” or “New Millennium Learners” by discussing these in the light of recent research on youth and information and communication technology. We then suggest analytic and conceptual pathways to engage in more critical and empirically founded studies of young people’s learning in technology and media-rich settings. Based on a study of a group of young “Power Users”, it is argued that conceptualising and analysing learning as a process of patchworking can enhance our knowledge of young people’s learning in such settings. We argue that the analytical approach gives us ways of critically investigating young people’s learning in technology and media-rich settings, and study if these are processes of critical, reflexive enquiry where resources are creatively re-appropriated. With departure in an analytical example, the paper presents the proposed metaphor of understanding learning as a process of patchworking and discusses how we might use this to understand young people’s learning with digital media.

For those interested the paper can be found here:

Ryberg, Thomas & Dirckinck-Holmfeld, Lone (2008). Power Users and patchworking – An analytical approach to critical studies of young people’s learning with digital media. Educational Media International, 45 (3), 143-156. Retrieved September 15, 2008, from http://www.informaworld.com/10.1080/09523980802283608

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July 14, 2008


This Saturday I returned from four days conference in Kuala Lumpur. The LYICT conference entitled ‘ICT and Learning for the Net Generation’ was an IFIP conference (Internation Federation for Information Processing) and more specifically connected to TC3 (Technical Committee) on ICT and Education. It consisted of a two days open conference and a two day working conference, where there were discussions in smaller groups around different themes. The conference took place at the beautiful and comfortable Saujana Hotel and it was arranged as a joint venture between the International Program Committee and a Local Organising Committee - the latter headed by Open University Malaysia. I have not attended an IFIP conference previously (though I did co-author a paper for the 8th IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education (WCCE) 2005 in Stellenbosch, South Africa), but the organisation, venue and logistics were really great. Furthermore, the organisers have put a lot of pictures from the conference online, which can be found here. The only thing missing was actually access to a wireless network during the conference sessions (which might actually also be a good thing :-)).

The conference in general was really exciting, and there were many interesting presentations. I presented the paper Patchworking and Power Users – a Novel Approach to Understand Learning? (co-authored with Prof. Lone Dirckinck-Holmfeld). The paper develops and presents some of the ideas from my PhD dissertation, but also critically addresses notions such as Digital Millennium Learners, Power Users, the Net Generation, Digital Natives and other generational metaphors (see also a previous blog-posting on this issue). It was presented in a session together with three other presenters. Michael Weigend presented his experiences with some programming projects where students had to model and program scenarios of ‘how to tell a joke’. As Michael writes in the abstract:


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June 27, 2008


Anders Albrechtslund will be defending his PhD dissertation Monday the 30th. The dissertation is called “In the Eyes of the Beholder: Introducing participation and ethics to surveillance“. Anders is both a very good friend and colleague, so I am really looking forward to the event. Anders has posted some information about the defence on his blog and also you can read more about the event here (in Danish).

If you are in the area, I would highly recommend stopping by (it is open for the general public) - I think it will be very interesting and there will be some good debates about notions of ’surveillance’!

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June 04, 2008


Recently I have been working on articles about ‘web 2.0′ technologies and practices in relation to education and also been engaging in discussions of youth and their use of ICT (where terms such as the Net Generation, Digital Natives, The New Millennium Learners, Power Users etc. are prevalent in the debate).

In relation to the latter, I have just read the article “The ‘digital natives’ debate: A critical review of the evidence” by Sue Bennett, Karl Maton and Lisa Kervin (which I would recommend). The authors criticise the ideas of stark generational discontinuities between a group of IT-savvy, young ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’ who lack the technological fluency of the ‘digital natives’. The distinction has been heralded by e.g. Mark Prensky who has argued that the ‘language’ and cultural gap between the two generations is one of the biggest challenges the educational sector faces to today:

“[…] the single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” (Prensky, 2001, p. 2)

Similar claims have been made in relation to some of the other broad generational labels mentioned above and Bennett, Maton & Kervin elegantly summarise these claims:

“1. Young people of the digital native generation possess sophisticated knowledge of and skills with information technologies.

2. As a result of their upbringing and experiences with technology, digital natives have particular learning preferences or styles that differ from earlier generations of students.”

In general they argue that the claims and assumptions are based on ‘limited empirical evidence‘ and basically ‘supported by anecdotes and appeals to common-sense beliefs‘. On basis of a review of existing research on youth and their use of technology they conclude:


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May 22, 2008


This is just a quick post to say that the papers from the Networked Learning Conference are now available from the conference website. This might not exactly be why some students are happy today (although that would be nice). A lot of the students at Aalborg University have handed in their semester projects today - at least at Humanistic Informatics, where I do some teaching and supervision. The semester projects are the result of three to four months of work where students work collaboratively in groups with a self-chosen problem. These group projects are results of the Problem Oriented Project Pedagogy (also called Project Oriented Problem Based Learning) which is the pedagogical foundation at Aalborg University. Simultaneously with the courses on a semester the students work with their projects, and as the courses begin to fade out they engage fully with their projects. This, however, also means that those who supervise and facilitate the groups become busy reading through the student reports, comment, suggest literature, propose ways of engaging with the empirical work, the analysis and so on. This semester I have been supervising quite a lotof students on different semesters - at least more than I am used to! Therefore I have been quite busy lately with supervising groups and individual students. Even though this is time consuming it is usually a pleasure, as the students often write interesting reports and really engage in interesting theoretical and empirical work in relation to their cases/problem (the group projects are usually between 40-100 pages depending on the number of members in the group).

So, congrats to those of you who have handed in your projects today (there’s still also batch handing in on the 28th on the Master of ICT and Learning).

Well, to return briefly to the networked learning conference, the papers are now online and there are really many interesting papers that I am looking forward to read in more depth (and comment on in later posts). As earlier mentioned I was part of two symposiums ‘where is the learning in networked learning?’, (organised by Vivien Hodgson) and ‘Breaching the Garden Walls? Social media, institutions, infrastructures and design for learning‘ (organised by Chris Jones) . No time to go more into the symposiums now, but I really enjoyed the other presenters’ papers and the feedback and discussions!

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May 15, 2008


As mentioned in my previous post I have recently returned from lovely Greece and the Networked Learning Conference, so now it is time to return to some of the issues and presentations that I found thought-provoking and interesting.

The conference actually started off with a very interesting keynote delivered by Charalambos Vrasidas with the title ‘Social Networking for Social Justice: Challenges and Possibilities‘ (Grainne Conole has already posted a good summary and discussion of the keynote on her excellent blog where she has also commented on other presentations from the conference).

The keynote was a thought provoking reminder of the unequal access to education in the world (and the general inequality in terms of the economical and social distribution of power and goods) - something we should really keep in mind every time we talk about “open education”, “digital generations” or the “world wide web” which is really not that “world wide” in terms of access and the capacity to utilise the online resources (a good point I shall return to).

Charalambos Vrasidas argued against the notion that ‘the world is flat’ (adopted from Friedman) and drawing on Richard Florida he suggested instead that the world is ’spiky’ - meaning that even though we are indeed seeing new power centers and super economies emerge (e.g. in Asia) there are still billions of people around the world (in both developing and developed countries) living in (extreme) poverty not benefiting from the apparently ‘flat world’.

The notion of a ‘flat world’ also seems to include the idea that more people have been given access to information through the ‘world wide web’, which to some extent is also true. Here, however, I think that Charalambos made a great point! While initiatives like MIT Opencourseware and OER Commons (open educational resources) give people free access to wonderful resources for teaching and learning two questions should be asked: whom are they actually open to - or rather what languages are they available in? But actually more important - where are the infrastructures (e.g. teachers, context and networks, accreditation systems etc.) to make sense and use of these resources? While having access to material is of course a great thing it may not be enough in and off itself.

If we assume that learning arises, not only from reading/internalising information, but equally through participation, dialogue and students’ active self-governed, problem-based and collaborative activities, then we might need to think about how we can leverage the access to active networks, dialogues and spaces of meaning making - just as much as access to materials and resources.

One other point (out of many others) mentioned in Charalambos’ presentation was the idea of how social networking and ‘Online Activism’ might be a way to promote and strengthen social justice. He used a video from Amnesty International and mentioned the power of networks in (virally) distributing the video, thereby raising awareness about Human Rights and that ‘your signature counts‘. Distributing videos and utilising the power of networks certainly help in getting messages across to a broader public, and Charalambos also gave other examples of how technology and social networks can be used to promote social justice (e.g. games such as food-force or the empowerment experienced by peasants being able to check crop prices on the net).

However, I have come to think of if certain forms of ‘Online Activism’ may actually lead to a sort of ‘laid back’ or even ‘lazy activism’. For instance it is great that just by using Facebook I can (apparently) help reduce C02 emission, give rice to poor people and save the rain forest by nursing my (Lil) Green Patch…but on the other hand - do they actually engage me or disengage me (one is helping while maybe not being particularly aware of or reflexive about it)? A lot of great work is going on within the field of ‘motivating design’ or persuasive design’ (for instance I would recommend the blog Architectures of Control? Design with Intent that is maintained by Dan Lockton). Here one of the ideas is to embed ‘good, sustainable practices’ into the design and function of various technologies causing people to automatically save water, electricity and so forth. Like many of the Facebook-application this is a really great idea (assuming that they actually do work), but I do have one concern! While such ‘persuasive or motivational’ designs surely can change people’s behaviour, do they also raise awareness and engagement - do they change our minds and not only our behaviour?

Likewise, it is great that I can easily sign petitions at Avaaz.org and hope that politicians will listen and take action correspondingly - also it is wonderful that I can quickly send an sms to the Danish Red Cross to donate money for the victims in Myanmar. But do such initiatives and ‘the easiness’ also eschew our collective focus from long-term, difficult efforts of capacity building, sustainability onto ’causes’ and ‘immediate solutions’. Not that these two are mutually exclusive, but some Danish charity and developmental organisations have pointed out that while people are willing to donate a lot of money for specific ’causes’ and ‘events’ it is harder to promote and ensure support for more long-term and slow-moving projects which may take decades to succeed. With ‘direct’ support and aid we can see the value and results (or imagine the impact) quickly (people get rice, blankets, water or the popular ‘donate a goat’ presents etc.), whereas with an ‘indirect’ support (building up public administration, training teachers, collaborating on building up capacity on Universities or in other sectors) it is somewhat more difficult to see immediate and concrete results.

Of course this is not to argue that we should not engage with motivating or persuasive design and embedding good practices into technology; that we should not easily be able to donate money, school books, goats etc. to poor people needing the help - or raising awareness by distributing widely videos like the one from Amnesty International. However, what would be very interesting to study is how and if such initiatives and technologies affect or transform our ways of engaging with the world and our ways of taking action?

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May 12, 2008


This Friday Malene and me returned from a wonderful week in Halkidiki, Greece. I went there to participate in the Networked Learning Conference, which ran on the 5-6 of May. We, however, decided to arrive a bit in advance and stay a few days after for a bit of vacation. The conference was held at the Sani Beach hotel, which was a wonderful setting for a great conference (and for vacation I might add -) - below are some pictures of the view from our room).

The conference was really good, well organised and a great inspiration - something which I will explore in more depth in some follow-up posts on some of the presentations, symposia and keynotes from the conference (Grainne Conole has already summarised and discussed some of the presentations and keynotes on her very interesting blog).

I was part of two symposiums which both went really well, I think (Where is the learning in Networked Learning? & Breaching the Garden Walls? Social media, institutions, infrastructures and design for learning) . They both generated good discussions which was a great opportunity for getting some feedback and start reflecting more on the central themes of the symposiums and one’s own paper(s) - the full papers by the way should soon be available from the conference website, and I will discuss the symposiums in other posts.

For now, it is sufficient to say that the conference was really good, and that I met a lot of interesting people and heard some great presentations and keynotes - so a big thanks to the organisers of the conference and to all participants for making it a very worthwhile event!

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April 26, 2008


Through a post on Christian Dalsgaard’s blog I came across a discussion opened by George Siemens on the notions of Collectivism and Connectivism - a post which Terry Anderson then responded to. In the post ‘Collective Intelligence? Nah. Connective Intelligence’ George Siemens writes about his discomfort with the notion of ‘Collective intelligence’ - a term which appears in the 2008 Horizon Report - he writes:

“For reasons of motivation, self-confidence, and satisfaction, it is critical that we can retain ourselves and our ideas in our collaboration with others. Connective intelligences permits this. Collective intelligence results in an over-writing of individual identity”

In the post “Collectivism and Connectivism” Terry Anderson comments on this by presenting his understanding of ‘collective intelligence’ and presents four different social constellations related to learning (what Terry Anderson and John Dron have called the ‘taxonomy of the many’) - here Terry Anderson present four/three aggregations of the many (individual, group, network and collective. The notion of ‘collective’ he interprets in the following way:

“Collectives - These are non personal aggregations of the Many. They allow us to compare ourselves to the many, collectively predict and make decisions, ask questions of all, vote and visualize our aggregated opinions and ideas, match our interests and find networks, groups and individuals and in many other emerging ways help us understand and control our collective worlds.”

In another post “Networks Versus Groups in Higher education” (which is well worth reading I might add!) Anderson expands a bit on the notion of the collective or collectives:

“Collectives are machine-aggregated representations of the activities of large number of individuals. They achieve value by extracting information from the individual, group, and network activities of large numbers of networked users.”

As an example Anderson mentions recommendation systems (e.g. Amazon) and also ‘tag clouds’ and clusters (e.g. at Flickr) seem to fall under this category (where order or ‘intelligence’ emerge out of chaotically structured and large amounts of data, through the actions carried out and content provided by the individual users and (re)-represented through machine-aggregation and complex algorithms).

However, as I also argued in a comment to Christian’s post, I think the discussion of collective or connective has deeper roots which can be traced (at least) back to differences between a Vygotskian and Piagetian view of learning - as Christian very nicely summarised my comment:

“I think you have an important point, when you state that the theories differ in their approach to the relationship between individual and group or the individual and the social. One approach has the individual and individual cognition as a starting point (Piaget) and views the social as “connected” individuals; in other words, social connections can strengthen individual cognition. The other approach has social practice as a starting point (Vygotsky) and holds that individual cognition is dependent on a social practice.”

In the Piagetian view (or socio-cognitive view if we use the distinctions made by Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye and O’Malley in the article: “The evolution of research on collaborative learning” [Google Scholar link]) individual cognition is strengthened, facilitated, matured or catalysed by social interaction - but the cognitive development (e.g. development of schemas) remains tied to the mental operations of the individual and has its own logic relative to the existing mental apparatus of the individual (the schemas) - a point taken to its extreme in e.g. radical constructivism known from Glaserfeld. In the Vygotskian view, as Christian says, the point of departure is a social practice and individual cognition is dependent on social practice - or to say in another way - our cognitive structures and processes are formed by the social, cultural world (ways of structuring our thoughts are derived from the socio-cultural world e.g. mnemonic techniques, language and ‘methods’ of approaching a problem) - in this sense our cognition is inherently social or cultural. As it is phrased by Cole & Wertsch in the article “Beyond the Individual-Social Antimony in Discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky”:

“Higher mental functions are, by definition, culturally mediated; they involve not a ‘direct’ action on the world, but an indirect action, one that takes a bit of material matter used previously and incorporates it as an aspect of action. In so far as that matter has itself been shaped by prior human practice (e.g., it is an artifact), current action benefits from the mental work that produced the particular form of that matter. […] In such a view artifacts clearly do not serve simply to facilitate mental processes that would otherwise exist. Instead, they fundamentally shape and transform them”

Such ideas of the social shaping of cognition has a also lead to the critique that we must then be mere ‘puppets and marionettes of the culturally given’ - a critique which seems to be echoed in Siemens statement “Collective intelligence results in an over-writing of individual identity” or differently put and taken to an extreme - the individual becomes a mere reflection of socio-cultural forces and our cognition would then be uniformly structured or determined by the social. While this might be a valid critique of the argument, socio-cultural researchers (Cole, Wertsch, Engeström), however, also stress how individuals and collectives continuously produce new, surprising behaviour and knowledge- and no less - artifacts (ideal or material)…but this is a longer discussion and well worth a follow-up post!

With this I just wanted to stress that the discussions seem to have deeper theoretical roots and represent different ways of conceptualising and understanding the foundations of human cognition.

But such differences (in underlying assumptions and understandings) often pop-up during discussions of socio-cultural learning theory or social theories of learning - for instance when I discuss Wenger’s notion of communities of practice and his social theory of learning with students, a question that often arises is “but is it not possible to learn by one-self - do you mean that I can’t learn by myself by reading a book or reflecting on an issue”. This interestingly relates to what Anderson writes in his post about ‘individual learning’:

“Individual learning - Most of my learning takes places as I read, watch and listen with no desire or expectation for human interaction, connecting or networking.”

Now, my contention to such an argument (which I think Anderson himself also addresses in a follow-up comment) is that the activities of reading, watching or listening never actually take place in a social vacuum. This is not to say that individuals don’t read, learn, listen etc. by themselves but that this always take place in relation to, in anticipation of or in the light of other social activities - one is reading to prepare a lecture, for writing an article etc. In this sense such an activity might be individual, but it is simultaneously also always social. And, I think both proponents of collectivism and connectivism would actually agree on that; even though they might view the foundations of human cognition differently.

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