There is an interesting debate about cloud computing, and cloud learning environemnts. This raises many questions about exactly what the new affordances of 'clouds' are, and about what the overall trends are in the shifts in the provision of teaching and learning. {An update on Clouds, Spring Clearning - can be found here}

Here are some ideas ...

Designing and Managing Teaching and Learning

As I said in a comment to edublend, it might be useful to approach the choice of PLE, VLE, CLE by stepping back from the notion of ‘control’, and disaggregating it into several functions, to sketch out a broad analysis of trends, over the last 20 years, and the next 10 years. These six function are: resource provision, taxonomies, interaction, learning strategies, assessment artefacts, and accreditation.

We can map out these functions against the relative contributions to these functions that are made by formal teaching and publishing institutions, on the one hand, and informal learning communities on the other hand. These contributions range from a 100% Institutional contribution, through a mid-point of 50/50 contributions, to a 100% Community contribution at the other end of the spectrum. (See Figure 1).

The ideal future state is a dynamic balance between the two, in which, as I said in the post to edublend (above), rather than approaching if from the point of view of control, a more constructive approach would be to revisit the key driver, and the basis for the social infrastructure of Higher Education and intellectual inquiry, namely the community of peers which has been at the heart of intellectual inquiry since the Royal Society was set up in the 17th Century.

The questions then become:

· What has happened to the community of peers in the last 20 years?
· How is it being transformed, from the bottom up, as it were?
· How are the incumbent institutional players resisting or contributing to this transformation?

And most importantly:

· What are we striving for, in the ‘next community of inquiry’ or ‘community of peers’? and
· How are we going to proceed to establish that – by using the legacy, predictive, discourses and practices of previous institutional ‘outcomes’ and ‘targets’, or the more resonant discourses of ‘emergence’ and ‘complexity’?

The six functions are mapped out, in Figure 1, across the spectrum from 100% contribution by the Formal Teaching and Publishing Institutions, to 100% contribution by Informal Learning Communities:
The first function, Resource provision, starts off close to 100% Institutional contribution in 1990. This shifts to 75/25% by 2000, crosses the 50/50 threshold in about 2010, and is projected to end up at a 25/75% split in 2020.

Classification, or tax-/tags-onomies, starts at 100% Institutional contribution (typically as the Dewey classification system, mirrored somewhat by Arts/Science and Subject classifications). It shifts to 80/20% by 2000, 55/45% by 2010, and 20/80% by 2020.

Interaction start of largely in the lecture and tutorial rooms, as well as early forms online discussion (bulletin boards and e-learning), at 90/10% in 1990, (i.e. with a good deal of discussion outside the classroom and the institution from the beginning). This moves substantially towards virtual interaction (email, and broader) by 2000 (75/25%); by 2010 it is already at 40/60%, and it might end up in 2020 at 20/80%, depending on how this is defined, and depending on whether the teachers and the institutions join the emerging peer-to-peer community of inquiry.

Learning Strategy starts off in 1990 at perhaps 85/15%, the discourse of the curriculum attempting to impose its structure on learning strategy and practices, often less successfully than expected. By 2000 it is about 60/40%, and by 2010 it is well over the 50/50 threshold, at 40/60%, and by 2020 it is firmly embedded in multiple learning communities (20/80%), although this too depends on whether teachers and institutions are joining the emerging peer-to-peer communities of inquiry.

Assessment and assess-ible artefacts, include and increasingly broad range of artefacts and events, can be presented for assessment. They start of at close to 100% in 1990, shift to 90/10% in 2000, to 80/20% in 2010, and end up at about 45/55% by 2020: this depends on the extent to which the institution is willing and able to accommodate new forms of artefacts within assessment.

Recognition and Accreditation
Some new assessment and assess-ible artefacts may already be incorporated into formal certification, and accreditation, but they are increasingly being produced in contexts outside of the institution, and presented for RPL and APL, e.g. within work-based learning programmes. The growing development of online and interactive learning resources (e.g. John Wiley, in mathematics and anatomy) could substantially blur the boundaries between teaching and publishing. This very close to 100% in 1990, moving only slightly in 2000 and 2010, but possibly ending up at 80/20% by 2020.


Figure 1 : Broad trends in the shifts in functions in teaching and learning design and provision.

We can identify a number of shifts in the changes in the nature of these functions which are overlapping and resonant, due to common factors like the internet and digitalisation. It is of course important to remember that they are shifts across a spectrum, seldom if ever leading to the total displacement of institutional provision with community provision, even if the shifts in the first four factors, in particular, is very substantial.

In the broadest of terms, this is a shift from McCluhan’s ‘hot’ media to ‘cool’ media to what might be called ‘soft’ media – media like social software platforms and applications which are flexible and far more amenable to customization and personalisation, and in which user-generated content, and more recently also applications, becomes the norm, and then becomes the dominant norm in web2.0 and beyond.

In particular, the shifts include:

· Resources: a shift from material >> virtual (‘e-everything’)
· Knowledge organisation: a shift from taxonomies >> tagsonomies, and the addition of Inter-navigability to Interoperability.
· Interaction: a shift from material >> virtual, and from largely synchronous (or very slow asynchronous) to an ‘integrated hybrid’ of the two modes, right across the range of the a/synchronous.
· Learning Strategies: a shift from regimented fixed platoons of learners >> flexible, temporary, emergent, Communities of Inquiry and Communities of Practice.
· Assessment Artefacts: a shift from prescribed, predictable >> emergent, flexible, multimedia.
· Recognition and Accreditation: a shift from decontextualised (objective) >> contextualised, and from controlled within a closed, hierarchical, age-limited elite >> determined by a broader, open, emergent peer group.

Now that we have established a basic framework for the crucial shifts in the functions essential to the design and management of teaching and learning, we can return to the question of the utilities that we require for each function.

Student management systems (aka VLE’s) are still required, to some extent, for some formal aspects of assessment and accreditation even less so.

In the case of 5 of the resources (i.e. excepting accreditation), the shift is from the static, formal, hierarchical, discrete and separate, to the flexible, emergent, informal, collaborative, and contextually embedded and interlinked. PLE’s, operating within a cloud environment are both required, and the distinction between the two might become quite blurred, the CLE being more suitable for an explicitly collaborative approach, and the PLE being suitable for a more individual approach.

This has implications for, and is driven by, changes in the nature of identity, shifting from the discrete ‘individual’ of classic liberalism to the integrity of presence/s across a range of material and virtual ‘identities (see here for more details).

These shifts all tend toward more emergent, complex adaptive systems, but they do not totally displace predictable, objective systems, which remain relevant and necessary, albeit for specific purposes. What we need to do is to identify and recognise the substantial shifts into, and benefits of, complexity, while maintaining those other, substantial, aspects of teaching and learning which remain within the realms of predictable systems and knowledge, which are the basis for the technology of the internet, on which all of this ‘stands’.

The biggest challenge is not for the learners, but for the teaching and publishing institutions, and the universities in particular, as they have to decide whether they are going to actively and imaginatively engage with the new social forms and practices of the emergent communities of peers, and re-instate the core values of intellectual inquiry, albeit in a much more ‘open’ community. The web-community is already reinventing learning, its up to the universities to reinvent teaching, assessment and possibly even accreditation.

An update on Clouds,

Clouds 2 - Spring Clearning

can be found here