Reflection on a New Culture of Learning: Implementing a Learning 2.0 Program for Diverse Communities

This post also featured on Tame the Web.

This report outlines the unique experiences, challenges, and opportunities in developing a Learning 2.0 program for the diverse community served by the Huntington Beach Public Library. This project – called Links to Literacy – was accomplished virtually as a group assignment in Dr. Michael Stephens’s Transformative Learning and Technology Literacies course in Spring 2013. It involved seven learning technology modules aimed to introduce communication, job searching, and internet literacy skills to the patrons in HBPL’s Literacy Program. While this report reflects my own views regarding the project, I offer acknowledgement and gratitude to the dynamic group of students, as well as the staff at the HBPL, who offered the dialogue, critique, technical expertise, and dedication to make this project a great success. I also offer thanks to Dr. Stephens and Char Booth, author of Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, for their support, guidance, and insight to the project’s development and objectives.

“Links to Literacy” – A Unique Learning 2.0 Experience

The Huntington Beach Public Library (HBPL) has a dedicated program focused on literacy which includes tutors, training for tutors, and special programs such as adult and family literacy. They serve a highly diverse community where many of the residents do not have access to computers, internet, smartphones, etc. which significantly impact their social, language, technical and job-searching skillset. The HBPL literacy program aims to serve its community by providing tutors, classes, and group and individual activities that build upon these essentials skills for successful living.

The Links to Literacy program became a unique Learning 2.0 project in that it actually incorporated both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Most Learning 2.0 programs foster the idea of asynchronous learning where the learner is approaching learning on their own. For this project, based on the needs of the diverse community needing guidance, language interpretation, and motivation, much of the learning was done synchronously in small groups of tutors and students – but fostered the application of play, personal exploration, and continued learning outside of the program. It presented an interesting blend of synchronous learning that hoped to develop into more extended learning activities asynchronously. Examples of “extended learning” activities include:

  • Patrons using their new email accounts to communicate with each other and family
  • Patrons using JobScout, setting up profiles that will help them search for
  • Patrons building comfort with the Internet and using search engines to explore their own interests.

Learning outcomes will extend beyond my assessment here. This presents another unique aspect of the Links to Literacy project. The fact that the patrons had to come to the library to access the modules via library computers made it more challenging for students to stick to a “one-module per week” model. They got sick. They got busy. They forgot. In a sense – life got in the way and the lack of access made it challenging to adhere to a particular “schedule” for learning. This presented a unique experience for us as developers/instructors as we had to adjust to the learning environment of HBPL library staff and tutors to create an engaging, useful, and instructional program for the patrons. In the end, it was a success – even if it did not quite go as we had originally planned.

Project Implementation – Personal Evaluation: 

My primary role in the project was developing the Pinterest Module. I really valued the process of sharing a social and learning technology that I personally enjoy using for both personal and professional learning and tagging. Developing the Pinterest Module for the unique literacy group at HBPL was a great learning experience for me as I had to take off my “expert” hat and bring my thinking to that of that user. This become challenging for me.

Challenges in targeting the Pinterest Module for this group included several components:

  • The students were bilingual with some having very little English. While the program needed to be built in English and would have bilingual tutors to assist, the language needed to be simplistic and easily understood between the English and Spanish translation.
  • Many of the patrons have an education level based at the 6th grade level. This further complicated the language barrier and required simplicity in the instructions.
  • Learning of the Pinterest Module was based on successful completion of prior modules such as Email, Search Engine, and Facebook. It required that I understood the learning objectives of prior modules in order to confirm the learning of those modules and offer opportunity to advance upon that learning.
  • The Pinterest Module had the challenge of offering “WIIFM” (what’s in it for me) factor (Booth, 2011). I had to instill the desire to use Pinterest. I purposely used food as the example where patrons could explore recipes and build boards based on their interests, favorite recipes, etc.

All of these challenges resulted in learning opportunities that expanded my knowledge of developing an online learning platform, gaining additional skills in WordPress, opening up my concept of diversity in libraries as well as in the learning environment, and how to take myself out of the expert mode to transforming my knowledge to fit the specific needs of a target learning group.

My secondary role as the communicator with the site liaison was the most rewarding experience of this process as it allowed me to engage with the library, identify with its real-life application for the patrons, and build connection with my group members as I shared the feedback with them. The most intriguing conversation I had with the library staff was on how to incorporate photo sharing into the modules. This really pushed the understanding – on their part as well as mine – on the limitations of the served community based on its lack of technological resources, application of use, need for additional learning, and time. In one sense, it seemed a lost opportunity as photo sharing is applicable to many of the other modules – Email, Facebook, Pinterest, JobScout (uploading a profile picture), Tumblr, and even YouTube (expanding the photo sharing to video sharing). On the other hand, we had to come to the realization that to offer this learning despite the barriers of technology access could result in frustration and inability to complete a module – both things we were aiming to avoid. In the end, we decided to eliminate the photo uploading/sharing component within the modules and hope that as the patrons take advance in their learning, they will adopt these skills on their own.

Developing Learning 2.0 Program – Group Evaluation: 

The Literacy and Students Learning 2.0 group overall worked well together. We had a slow start and it was challenging to assess roles and responsibilities to begin with but once we all logged in and connected, it smoothed out quite effectively. We had two synchronous meetings where brainstorming, structure, format, and constructive criticism were both encouraged and effectively executed.

I give compliments to the group in their effective communicative strategies. So often in online communication comments, criticism, and even suggestions can be interpreted incorrectly. Our group seemed to keep in mind the objectives of the program and pulled together a sense of exploration and inquiry that helped facilitate a continuous flow of ideas. The group was also honest about their frustrations, open about their challenges, helpful in offering solutions, and highly encouraging to each other. Having started the communication process on several online course group projects and often taking on a leader role, I often get involved with bickering, complaints due to lack of fair work, etc. I compliment this group on working together as a whole towards a main goal throughout the whole project!

The one main thing I think we as a group missed out on was better program assessment. In thinking (and teaching) as an assessor, Wiggins & McTighe (2005) ask the question: “What specific characteristics in student responses, products, or performances should we examine to determine the extent to which the desired results were achieved?” (p. 150).  This was challenging as we had expected better interaction with either the tutors or the students (or both!) as they made their way through the modules. In reality, due to the structure of classroom learning and the use of tutors to help guide the patrons through the modules, we missed the opportunity to interact with the patrons, to learn from their challenges, and assist in their learning. This, according to Wiggins and McTighe (2005) is where rubrics, products of learning, and evaluation come into play.  While we did review each other’s modules before launching the program and even though some of us opted into trying out the modules as a “learner”, we should have considered developing a rubric or some other structured assessment of each other’s modules. By doing so, we may have been better able to identify how well we met our learning – and teaching – objectives despite the lack of learner feedback.

This really highlighted the challenges of teaching in an online format. Instructors need to develop methods of obtaining feedback from their students. It need not be elaborate (although sometimes that may be needed), but it does need to provide information on how learning is being achieved, whether learning objectives are being met as well as the valuable insight to the challenges and new applications that arise from the learning.  I think this was the real challenge in our group not getting feedback from the learners themselves – we lacked that engagement to learn how the program impacted them and also missed feedback on how we could enhance/adapt the program for future use.

Conclusion – Understanding the New Culture of Learning:

The experiences within this project really brought to life the “new culture of learning”. Thomas and Brown (2011) indicate that “the primary difference between the teaching-based approach to education and the learning-based approach is that in the first case, the culture is the environment, while in the second case, the culture emerges from the environment – and grows along with it” (Kindle version, loc. 369).

Learning 2.0 programs offer tremendous opportunity to demonstrate this new culture of learning. By understanding where the needs are within any community, learning programs can be developed to offer value, incentive, opportunity, and motivation for learning. The Links to Literacy program could not have succeeded without first understanding its community, its limitations to access, the patron’s lack of understanding and experience, the barriers of language, and opportunity created by need (need for job skills, technology, and communication).

Thomas and Brown (2011) also indicate that “a second difference is that the teaching-based approach focuses on teaching us about the world, while the new culture of learning focuses on learning through engagement within the world” (loc. 381). This is the beauty of Learning 2.0 programs – without engagement, learning simply doesn’t happen.

Similarly, the Links to Literacy project also brought hands on application to the Four Processes for Learning (aka Transformation) presented by Mezirow (1997). Below I demonstrate how the Links to Literacy project fits into this model:

Process 1 – Elaborating Existing Frames of Reference

The Links to literacy project could not have been developed successfully without fully understanding the targeted community the program was aimed for. Fortunately, our communication with the site liaison at HBPL was very effective. The fact that the library was just as excited about this program as we were facilitated enthusiasm, effectiveness, and collaboration in fully understanding both the environment of learning for the patrons as well as diverse frames of reference the patrons would be demonstrating.

Process 2 – Learning New Frames of Reference

Char Booth (2011) says that “learners pay more attention, try harder, and understand more clearly when they see the personal benefit of an instructional scenario or object” (Kindle version, loc. 742). This was an important process behind what modules our group presented. We wanted to attract and engage with the use of simple language (ease of understanding clearly), presenting fun activities (all activities were to encourage personal interests and applications), and offering examples of additional applications for those who wanted to explore a module/technology even further.  It is no surprise that the JobScout Module was so well liked by the patrons! The program solidifies the benefit of prior learning (emails and search engines) while presenting a much needed online resource for creating resumes, searching for jobs, and applying and tracking applications. The JobScout Module also encouraged participation through the use of digital badges as motivators for learning. Patrons benefited from immediate personal gratification by achieving a new badge while also achieving more long-term benefits of learning job searching and application skills.

Process 3 – Transforming Points of View

While the engagement of exercises and the development of new learning has transformed the points of views of the HBPL patrons in their experience and comfort in using new technologies, the biggest impact on transforming points of view, in my opinion, for this project is demonstrated through the staff’s perspective…

”This has been such a beneficial project for us! Of course I had the idealized picture of everyone moving from module to module each week with no problems and I have had to adjust, but people are really learning a lot and we are learning how to do this type of project with our students. I think this will be a huge help overall to our program and to our students. It is just taking a lot of patience.”

Amy Crepeau, Huntington Beach Public Library

Where our target was presenting Learning 2.0 programs to HBPL patrons, transformative points of view became evident in library staff who led the program. They too had to realize the unique learning needs of their patrons, the opportunities and disadvantages of attempting a Learning 2.0 program both as a collective class experience as well as an individual learning experience, and the value of being open to change and flexibility to make learning effective. Ironically, these same lessons were learned by us – the Literacy and Students Learning 2.0 group – throughout the program.

Process 4 – Transforming Habits of the Mind

The further process of transforming habits of the mind is individualistic for the patrons, tutors, and even staff at HBPL. Just as valuable are the transforming habits of the mind that occurred during our group’s own learning. We learned that teaching needs to be flexible, assessments are critical to evaluate learning outcomes, and learning needs to be centered on the user’s individual engagement and experience.

“Links to Literacy”: Project and Module Links

Links to Literacy: https://litlink.wordpress.com/
Email Module: https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-1/
Searching Module: https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-2/
JobScout Module: https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-3/
Facebook Module: https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-4/
Tumblr Module: https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-5/
Pinterest Module:  https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-6-pinterest/
YouTube Module: https://litlink.wordpress.com/module-7-youtube/

References

Booth, C. (2011) Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning. American Library Association: Chicago.

Mezirow, J. (1997), Transformative learning: Theory to practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 74, p 5-12.Retrieved from http://www.ecolas.eu/content/images/Mezirow%20Transformative%20Learning.pdf

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. CreateSpace: Charleston, SC.

Wiggins, G., & McTigue, J. (2005). Understanding by Design (Expanded 2nd Edition).Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.



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