S2 Ep26: How Do We Encourage Social Relationships and Human Connection in Online Learning?: A conversation on digital literacy and connected learning in the 21st century.
2:17AM Jan 12, 2022
Shelli Ann Garland
Garth von Buchholz
Hello, and welcome to A Dash of SaLT. I'm Dr. Shelli Ann and I'm so glad you're here. Whether you stumbled upon this podcast by accident, or you're here because the subject drew you in welcome. SaLT is an acronym for society in learning today. This podcast was created as an outlet for inviting fresh discussions on sociology and learning theories that impact your world. Each episode includes a wide range of themes that focus on society in everyday learning, whether formal or informal. So let's get stuck in shall we.
Welcome to A Dash of SaLT. Today I'm joined by Garth von Bucholz. Garth is a Canadian author, educator and social media strategist that's living in the west coast of British Columbia. For the last 25 years, Garth has designed and taught adult education courses at several Canadian universities. He started his career as a journalist for several newspapers and magazines, before shifting into an online career in digital media. Garth has an interracial family and believes in social equity, anti racism initiatives and the freedom of faith. I'm delighted to have you on the podcast today to talk to you about why continuous learning and connective learning is critical in the 21st century. You're very welcome today, Garth.
Thank you, Shelli. It's a pleasure to join you today for this podcast. And I see it's already featured so many interesting topics.
You started off as a journalist, then digital media and teaching in higher education. How did you get from there to here and your career? And what do you believe is the link between publishing digital media and education.
Yeah, while I was interested in publishing and communications before my career evolved into education, I remember doing desktop publishing on a Mac, back in the late 80s. And then when I started working for a newspaper, they were already accessing a mainframe system via LAN. But there was no internet at that time. And we had email, but it was internal. So I used to access the early internet through services such as CompuServe, and AOL. And then in the 90s, I took a workshop in electronic journalism. And after that, started taking some courses and doing some web publishing and online research in my work. And then, but I continued to work in print for various publications. And then in around 1995, my focus started being on the web. And later on, I've studied for certification as an internet business strategist, and usability analyst. And the last one was through human factors International. You know, I remember one time in the 90s, having a meeting with the senior editor of a newspaper I was working for. And I was proposing that the newspaper, develop a better web presence and then start delivering news online. But his response to me was that he could only imagine having classified ads online, not news. So he only wanted something that could be monetized and not given away. But yet giving away is the whole spirit of the web. So anyway, around that same time, I was deep diving into the web, I realised there was a need for continuing education in the new field. So as a web strategist, and subject matter expert, I started creating courses about writing for the web, and also electronic research. And this was for adult students at two universities. And then in the late 90s, I kind of combined those two career streams there. And I started writing a weekly newspaper column called Internet today. And it was probably either the first or one of the first of its kind in Canada, because it was both in print and online. And just just a little anecdote about that, too. The funny thing about the newspaper column, and now that I think of it was that 50, or 60% of the column was mostly about, here's a brand new website, you should check out. So the irony of that the people went to print to find out about websites back then.
People don't generally do that anymore. Now it's suddenly Let's google this everything is Google it, Google.
Yeah, it's exactly yeah. People obviously search for anything they need online, but difference back in the 90s. And people still Want to be told... What is online? What what's in the world wide web and and what should I be looking for, because it was so new. But it's kind of funny to think of it now, because I can't imagine that that kind of a column being done right now, print publications were being used to promote the web presence. And now it's kind of the opposite. If you have a print publication, that's usually the website that's helping you promote that print publication. So it's, it's kind of gone in reverse here.
And I know we're going to talk about this a little bit later, later. But it's that that idea kind of, of instant gratification now with, you know, everything being so at hand. And so Google-able, and, you know, so easy to get on the internet that, you know, that it does create that sense of instant gratification, and where, you know, brochures, and newspapers and newspapers are struggling now to, you know, try to get people to, you know, want that nice little, you know, paper in hand on a Sunday morning, or things like that, it's reduced their, their, their circulation and their subscriptions for for that type of media now, too
Absolutely, they've had to rethink their, their publishing model completely. So it's a difficult time for newspapers for certain.
Um, I know that you've been teaching in post secondary adult education for many years. Now, you, I said it in your introduction, and you just talked about it there. What are some of the differences between students in the 90s versus students today?
That's a good question, because I'm thinking back that it is more than 25 years ago, when I started teaching at that level, and at the time, the web itself was a really steep learning curve for everyone. The students that were in the courses that I was teaching, they were thirsty to learn anything that they could, about how to go online and find web resources, or even just to make a simple website. Back then there was a thing called geo cities. And that seemed to be a popular way for people to, to launch a grassroots kind of website and get some kind of web presence online. But the the thing was, it was lacking a lot of connectivity, which came later. So students were excited about the the web, but they were also very stressed about it, because of the challenges involved in rethinking everything that they knew. The first courses I taught had both a classroom component, and also computer lab component. And in the classroom, I used to actually use those transparent slides on an overhead projector, which was the kind that people use before PowerPoint emerged. So if that's how far back that goes, 25 years ago was a big difference. And in the computer lab itself, even getting people online there, it could be a real struggle, because some people had such limited skills and using personal computers back then. So sometimes my biggest challenge as an instructor was actually helping them upgrade their technical skills while in the classroom with other students. So a lot that really kept me busy and a lot of time that could take over the focus of the whole classroom. So just answer your question. The big difference, back then was in the level of technical skills, and the amount of exposure that students had to online environments, I literally had to get them up to a certain level of competency, before I could even start teaching them about how to communicate online, and how to navigate online. So that that was I think, the biggest difference and now students come into it with a depth of experience in using technology and in knowing how to navigate online use the internet, social media, and it's so it's completely different. I'm not teaching them technical skills. In some cases, they're teaching me technical skills. And particularly if they're generation Zed students, who are digital natives and and have lived with that their entire lives. But you know, as I usually say to people in the classroom, we can't know everything online in terms of the technology and the different apps out there with nobody has the time or the ability to do everything online. So all of us are, you know, bring our own experiences into it, and what we can share with each other in the classroom.
Yeah, it's very much that that active learning on the go or that continuous learning, which again, is something we're going to talk a little more about, but your what you've said there actually made me think of two very interesting things. The first is that you had said you know that now you're often your your students can teach you something and it made me think a lot about you know, on how especially due to COVID-19 And the pivot to online learning. Many professors don't have a lot of the capabilities of understanding and doing online learning. And so it was a huge learning curve for them, where the students, I think most students made a very easy pivot to, to online learning. So that was the first thing that I found that was interesting that that that you stated, that we can talk a little bit more about. But the other thing is also, these new ethical dilemmas that have happened with literature and research going from often happening in libraries and books, and hands on going in for scholarly literature to now being able to access that and get ebooks and be able to get, you know, e journals and that type of thing. And I know from my work with adult learners, in higher education, teaching them to understand the difference when it comes to research and when it comes to doing their, their assignments and that type of thing. To understand the difference between popular sources and scholarly sources, and the importance of you know, how, yes, popular sources, like blogs, like, you know, some government information, some other information that comes out on on the internet, can be supportive to what you might be writing about, or researching. But you still need to rely on those scholarly sources, and what are they they're peer reviewed, they're validated by other literal, you know, literature, that type of and that understanding has gone, you know, very much by the wayside was students not being able to understand the difference between what is valid material to use for research. And you know, when when you're relying on information from a newspaper or things like that, that is more a popular source rather than a scholarly source. So it creates these new ethical dilemma dilemmas when it comes to research now.
That's right. And I think there's a huge opportunity for educators in terms of digital digital literacy education, to teach these kinds of critical thinking skills, because I think it'll really connect in you know, in some ways, especially with generations and students that are in the public schools, now. The light will go on for them, they've probably already been duped, sometimes by information online, and they've had that experience. So when you talk about critical thinking and about evaluating different sources, to see if they're valid sources, or if they're sketchy, I think that that light will go on for a lot of them, they'll realise that yes, that's right. There is a lot of misinformation and disinformation on online. And so too, if they can develop those skills early on, they can be a very powerful generation going forward. Because they will be better equipped to deal with the internet, then, then the rest of us have been than other generations. Yeah.
So you know, I teach sociology of education and diversity and inclusion, to adult learners and to future educators. And, you know, I'm really passionate about educational and social stratification, and the barriers that learners of all ages face because of class difference, and perpetual disadvantage that occurs in society, from one generation to the next, what values do you model and teach in your classroom? And why should teachers be activists for social change now more than ever?
Well, I think this is something that has been admittedly more of a recent journey for me, I don't think that has been my focus solely in the past with diversity, equity and inclusion. But it's becoming more and more and more so. And I travelled to Brazil a couple of years ago and spoke to some educators there. One Brazilian educator, Paulo Freyr, who taught something called critical pedagogy. He said, What the educator does and teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves. And I think the impact of his teaching in Brazil and worldwide to was to help educators realise that one of the most important things they can do is to be agents for social change, and to help to help eliminate disadvantages that students may face if they are, say, racially, or economically oppressed. And so I learned a lot from that it opened my eyes to thinking about education in a different way. And so now I consider myself an active and vocal advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion. And so my personal goal as an educator, is to keep raising my own sensitivity to cultural issues. especially since I'm a white, middle aged male, that's, you know, the white, the systemic white privilege, there is something very real. And if you if you're looking at it from my perspective, it means continually being aware of that, and learning and listening to the voices out there listening to diverse voices, and to especially in education, I recently finished reading a great book that turned out to be very enlightening for me, which was called me in white supremacy by Leila F. Saad. And I have to agree that class differences and socio economic differences, disadvantages can have a huge impact on the quality of education for for children and adults. So, I think, as educators, we have the responsibility to make it possible for students to reach their fullest potential, just like the Polo fair quote. And by the way, I also wanted to share a great resource with your listeners, the Government of Canada has a free online course called GBA plus, or gender based analysis plus, and the plus is because it's not just about gender, it's about ensuring that we provide services that are equitable to people based on intersections of could be age, gender, their indigenous background, ethnicity, education, financial ability, and, and other factors, other identity factors. So, for me, as an educator, I feel I need to focus more on this GBA plus gender based analysis plus, so that I can have a better understanding of both the diversity of my students, and to understand some of their challenges and learning it, especially when it's online learning instead of face to face. We discussed that in a course I was taking recently at University of British Columbia. And one of the discussion points that came up was, Is it possible to be able to recognise diversity in the same way? If you're, if everybody's online if all the students are online? You know, are you still capable of realising that? And I think the answer everybody agreed on was, you can but it can be more challenging, there has to be more communication, more openness, and transparency. Because if you're in a room literally with people, you can see visibly those differences. You can hear the differences you can you can sense that in the way you interact with each other the different dynamics that people think differently. For example, in Asian culture, often, students are told that the professor or the instructor is not to be questioned. So in Asian culture, it's often considered very rude to actually question the instructor or challenge them on anything. And so there's a cultural bias right there. That could be an under consideration if you have students who are from an Asian country, and may have a different approach to education are different assumptions about education. So anyway, I guess, one another thing I wanted to mention too, about this was that we have to also consider a neurodiversity. So that is basically realising that people have different learning challenges, what we consider the norm for learning may not be in fact, the norm that neurodiversity itself should be considered the norm. And people have different learning needs. And it's not just a matter of as people often talk about learning styles, but they actually will have different learning needs and different learning challenges. And we have to realise that, in our classroom amongst our students are going to be a variety, like a spectrum of different learning needs, and a spectrum of different cultural backgrounds and intersections of other identity factors. So it's, it's challenging for educators to take all that into account. But that's, that's an important challenge that we have to face.
You make an important point there too, is that you know, as more and more learning has become become predominantly online, again, in light of COVID on, you know, we we have to actually think about the fact that you know, we have to make sure that our our, the way in which we engage our learners online, is highly engaging is more about discussion and workshops rather than just being lectured to, without the ability to have voice to and and choice in the conversation. You know, that that's more important, I think even in our Online that it would be in person, you know, where obviously, that's something that has been, you know talked about in the past and the approaches that we're in face to face. But now that it's online, you know, we do have to consider that the students voiceis very important. And also implementing those things like Universal Design for Learning, making sure you know, the Engage engaging, the content online is engaging, and that you, you have a good balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. And you know, that you give those students a really big opportunity to utilise their voice, because then otherwise, they just feel like they're just another sort of silent participant listening online to something on that they have no saying.
That's right. And because of the internet, people are not used to being passive participants anymore. They want to be active, they want to be able to have some feedback and some control over what they're sharing or what they're experiencing. So that is very important.
So I promised a little bit earlier that we were going to kind of get into a little bit of conversation on continuous learning. Um, and, you know, my educational research was on formal and informal learning over the life course over a person's life course. And I'm a huge supporter of lifelong learning, both personally and professionally, lifelong learning, just for listeners out there is simply the ongoing voluntary and self motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons. And continuous learning is slim, similar to lifelong learning, specifically related to professional development, where employees are given that opportunity to learn simultaneously while they work. And I'd love to hear your thoughts, Garth, on the crossover between lifelong learning theory and continuous learning theory.
Yes, it is a good discussion to have I, I think of lifelong learning as more formalised academic learning that we would undertake for safer protect professional credentials. And continuous learning on the other hand, as you said, is more like workplace training, professional development, which can often be more hands on and experiential than academic, which leans more towards the theoretical. So most of my work as an instructor and facilitator in adult education, has been for professional development. Although some of the courses I've taught about Digital Media Design and social media strategy, have also included elements of theory to, because I think that students have to sometimes understand the why as well as the how in their learning. And the why, of course, is the the theoretical component in it. But what I think is that online learning has helped a crossover happen between those two. So in the early days of the web, if you took an online course, you could get a safe, you get a certificate for it, but it often wasn't accredited by an educational institution. And so people didn't see it as having very much value. It wasn't seen as a real course. But educators kept working, working on improving the quality of content, and the academic rigour to develop these online courses. And then by the early 2000s, elearning, was everywhere. And then along came the the, which blurred the lines between continuous and lifelong learning, I believe, was the first MOOCs, which are massive open online courses. So they were introduced around 2005. And the idea was that universities could use open education to offer valuable knowledge for free to anyone around the world. But it was an English only at first. So now we have examples of that are Coursera, edX, Future Learn Khan Academy, and other ones. And so this was a bold step for Open Education, which in the past have mainly been about offering free textbooks. So now learners who couldn't afford a university education or physically attend the campus could register for courses from well respected universities. The trouble was the same universities that were offering them didn't offer their MOOCs as accredited courses. And today, some are offered as courses for credit, but sometimes to students have to pay to access the full version of the course and receive a certificate. So they're, they're monetizing MOOCs. But I think, in a sense, they were a bit of a crossover because they were often courses that came from academia, but also made their way into the workplace as professional development courses. And so you can take them to learn But often, if you wanted to have something more accredited, you had to move into a more traditional register for more traditional university programmes.
And now, even things like Linda and Linda learning and LinkedIn learning, you know, they become, you know, as part of your LinkedIn profile, you know, the more courses that you take that LinkedIn offers again, for free, out there, you know, it goes on there as as you know,
It becomes part of your profile on LinkedIn.
Yeah, which, you know, it makes you looked at and you can see, you know, your, your more professional qualifications on that. And then it also, you know, what you were saying there too, also makes me think of something I know, you know, more about too is this, this new concept of micro credentialing, and digital certificates that are available, again, out there. And I don't know if you want to talk a little bit about micro credentialing and that type of thing, for us
Yeah, micro credentialing, or micro learning, I think is is a really important development for workplace learning. I know, at one time, I was doing some work developing elearning courses for a company that had a rapid turnover of staff. And it was really critical to them that they get the staff trained up and onboard as quickly as possible, because of this constant turnover. And so the was basically there were micro learning courses there. And that would enable the new staff to be able to ramp up their, their learning very quickly on the job. So they would take courses that were small, but very had a very specific content to them in a specific focus, it was something to do with their job. And I think there's an opportunity there for micro learning modules to make their way into the workplace, and really do some revolutionary things to like, introduce things that maybe hadn't been a part of the workplace before, you know, you have, you have your professional development, and you have academia, and they seem like two very separate things. But maybe there's a way for academics to be able to introduce concepts into the workplace through microcredentials, as you're saying,
Yep. And at the same time, like I know, specifically, before I left Ireland, I, you know, Ireland has had a push over the past these past two years, to really look at micro credentialing in the world of academia. And to say to that, you know, the institutions of higher learning, hey, these some of these, you know, people professionals coming in, you know, later now on to to further their education, how can we take some of their own experiences, their work experiences? And how how do we provide them with credentialing through micro credentialing? And how can we award them credit for the these experiences and these opportunities that they've had through self directed learning? You know, again, it's that sort of that balance between informal learning and formal learning, you know, and what have you done self directed on your own or as part of CPD? And how can we actually bring that in and look at it and say, How can we give them credit for these learning experiences, and this knowledge and expertise that they have, through through work? So through on the job training, you know, rather than in academia.
Yeah, that's so true. And I know, Ireland has made some some great strides in that area and the UK in general. And, and we, I think, in this part of the world, we're often looking at them as a model for what they're doing. And you know, what's happening with open education as well, too, in general. So yeah, absolutely. I, I can see how that would be an important component. And one of the universities where I taught courses, here, where I live right now, is very much focused on providing advanced education opportunities for working professionals. And so there, I think that kind of micro credentialing to be potentially a real, a really important aspect of universities, who are catering to those sorts of learners who are in sort of mid career and looking for future development or looking for, as you say, the just gaining some credentials in areas that that they have experience in already.
Yeah. And then of course, we're, you know, we think about the fact that with professionals who are, you know, very happy in the careers that they're in, and, you know, want, you know, to to look into learning to for, you know, potential promotion and that kind of thing. You know, they may not have time to do an entire Two year programme or a master's programme, or a postgraduate certificate. So, you know, these these micro credentialing opportunities, if awarded through, you know, academic institutions and higher institutions would also be valuable for them by just taking, you know, one particular semester in a course to be able to say, Okay, now I have that rather than having to invest because time is money. And money is time, you know, to be to have to invest in a two year, you know, their time and their money into something that it's going to take them two years or more, where they can just do a semester in a course, and be able to say, Okay, this isn't just a course I took, this is actually a certificate that I have now that that is meaningful for both academically and professionally.
Yes, exactly. And those are some of the realities of adult learners, they're out in the workplace. They may have limitations with time, sometimes they can have their education funded through their employer, but quite often, the the biggest limitation is the amount of time they have available for for continuing education. So yeah.
Can you explain to us what Connectivism theory or connective education is, and how similar it is, or how different it is from continuous learning theory?
Well, just a little bit of background on connectivism. As a learning theory, it was developed around 2004 2005 by George Siemens, from the US, and Stephen Downes, who is a Canadian, and I interviewed Stephen around that time to ask him about the future of elearning, because it was such a new or relatively new development and education. And we had an interesting discussion about that. I know that Connectivism as a learning theory is sometimes been challenged, which is a good thing for it to be put through that kind of rigour by academics. But essentially, what it is, it's a theory of how learning can happen outside of individuals, through their connections to one another, and to the internet. So that would include connections via websites, social media, could be gaming, could be databases, or other online networks and closed networks. In fact, a learning management system that a student would use for an online course is usually a form of a closed social network for the registered students. So in Connectivism, collaboration and discussion are really important. And technology plays a critical role in how the students connect, and how they find connections between different sources of knowledge. And also critical thinking and decision making skills are important. So with Connectivism, I've heard it said that learning is more critical than knowing that's kind of the thinking behind it. And something I said back in a blog in in 2005, which was it in the future, people may not always know, but they will know how to know. And I think that's the essence of connectivism there is that, rather than it being the focus, being on the instructor delivering the education, it's on the way students can be facilitated to connect with each other and connect online, to be able to make that education take shape, and which is very similar in some ways to social constructivist theory. So that's, I think, where the, the waters can get a little bit muddy there between the two. But now just to go on the difference with the difference that I see with connective education, versus the learning theory, connected education to me is about how we would apply connectivist theory and social learning theory in a learning environment. So it's, to me more of the focus on the pedagogy, the the teaching side of it, and it's closer, I think, to continuous learning theory, in my opinion. So I guess, what is the role of Connect of education, then? It's not so much to instruct, because that kind of lecture format where the educator provides the fount of knowledge that the students drink from the that's become unrealistic, now. You know, as you and I know, by the time a professor otter is a few sentences, most students in the class could Google that information and much more in a matter of seconds. So obviously, the professor can only provide so much in terms of knowledge and expertise. So then you can say, well, then is the instructors role simply to facilitate students? That to me almost seems like it diminishes what educators can bring. To me when I think of facilitation, I think of somebody else Standing in the background while the learning activity is swirling around them. So what I'm finding more and more is that educators in connected education can be like Wayfinders, or tour guides, they can bring their own teaching expertise, T 's and their depth of knowledge to connected learners. So then just like a tour guide, they can help suggest directions that the students can go. They can provide context and background, they can help learners when they get lost, because that sort of tour guide does, right. And generally, they can be the Wayfinders that help guide students through their learning journey, while at the same time they're allowing them to freely explore the richness of the resources online. And also learning from other students too. Yeah, so I think it provides a more active role in a course or in a classroom for an instructor. And, and it's less about sort of just turning people loose completely. I think sometimes people think of connectivism as just throw a bunch of students in a classroom with a MOOC, or, you know, and let them go at it. And they'll, they'll somehow absorb the knowledge that that they obtained from the the MOOC or the online course, I think there's that a lot of what's missing in the MOOCs right now that are being offered online, is that presence of the tour guide. And there's been some research done on that to wondering, you know, what, what value is being lost by having students take MOOCs and not have any sort of guidance from an instructor or facilitator or tour guide? It's, it's, it's a challenge right now, for those. So I think, in terms of continuous learning, I think it's really important for there to be that kind of a Wayfinder, or a tour guide, to help people I think that that will help facilitate it more effectively. And that's my bias.
And, you know, that important element of relationship is lost. you know when you don't have
Yes, so true!
Yeah, and, you know, I really liked what you said, there, you know, about having the instructor, you know, actively involved in the learning with the students. So rather than being, you know, gone is the day of the sage on the stage where, you know, we are to go out there and to lecture and, and, you know, to give our opinions and our thoughts based on our area of expertise, and we, you know, sort of present the information to the students, and then the students are responsible for sort of regurgitating that information, through assessment or that kind of thing, where, you know, this type of active and involved learning, and it's connected learning is that, you know, we get, we get our students thinking more about, you know, application and practice, rather than, you know, just what can I spit back out at you to say, Oh, I learned this and move on and haven't taken nothing with them. And so, you know, I think that active learning with students is crucial. And, you know, why, so why do you think, you know, or do you think, in this can, you know, this 21st century, that continuous learning and, and connectivist learning is critical? Do you think that it is and if so, why?
Students are coming to educators, with a wealth of experience already in being online, having online experiences, having sourced information online, and had that experience of being almost like autodidactic, you know, almost like self teaching, where they're, they're, they're teaching themselves, how to learn something. And so when they come to the classroom or to an E Learning course, if it's not in an actual classroom, they are already prepared and they're motivated and they're ready to go. And sometimes I think the the, the professor or instructor can almost be a bottleneck for that process. And so I think it's really important that that educators understand what who is coming to them in the diversity of learning and backgrounds of the students that are coming into them and that doesn't only apply to adult learners This is now even children public education too.
I think there's there's some something to be said for about a discussion that you know, the asks the question, you know, is online learning as rich and and and as deep as classroom based or face to face learning can you get is much rich learning from online learning or from you know, blended and online learning that you can get from classroom based or face to face learning with You know, What's your theory on that?
Well, well, you know, as much as a champion, as I am for online learning, there are essential human elements missing from it. And I think synchronistic learning can be really important, just the idea of that you're learning. At the same time that other students around you are learning, you're you're learning, you're sharing that learning experience. At the same time, again, it comes back to the tour guide, metaphor and being on a journey together. Sometimes it's really important that we go on a journey together, that the, the the teacher goes on a journey with the students at the same time that students go on the journey at the same time together. I know that, that that can be an experience when students do group projects, for example, but then they can get fairly disconnected when they're doing other parts of online learning. So I think one of the things that you don't have right now in online learning is you don't have that physical presence of other people. I mean, if you think about it, their voice, their smell, body language, even touch in some situations, these are ways that we communicate with each other as human beings. So you think if we're talking about connect of education, how can education be truly connected if we can't be connecting face to face, and those ways to now so the challenge for technology then for educational technology, is how can we gain the benefits of that educational technology and the learning platforms, at the same time, while minimising the loss of the social presence. For example, virtual reality and augmented reality can help assimilate the social presence, or they can trick our brains into thinking that it's there. And there's even haptic technology, which helps us experience some simulated physical sensations, if we're in a virtual reality environment. And so that simulation is there. But it's not the full experience of being human and being with other human beings. You know, that that may seem like a gamers fantasy for education, being in a virtual reality environment. But at the same time, it does have applications for continuous learning and lifelong learning, and especially in if it has these important experiential aspects. So say, for example, you're a firefighter in training, and you need to see see what it feels like to go into a burning building with your colleagues. without actually having the risk of doing that in real life, when you're still in training, or astronauts and training, for example, seeing what it's like to be in a weightless environment. Or even it can be something as simple as just people learning how to do public speaking in front of a crowd, you can simulate all of these things. And you can give people something that approximates the the real, real life experience. But at the same time, it can't ever really replace the experience of being physically present with other human beings. And that's the thing, and I think we don't need to replace that I think we need to find opportunities where technology can actually help us meet face to face and enhance our real life, social interactions, and in different ways without losing that completely. But at the same time, in, in a busy world with limited resources, this is certainly a way that it can help us promote education in different ways.
Yeah, it definitely, it definitely does have its benefits and drawbacks. For sure, you know, even in you know, that that element of convenience, you know, you're busy and you're working, but at the same time, you want to be able to partake in, you know, classes in furthering your education and that type of thing. And sometimes online is the only way to go. So, you know, but but then again, like you said, we're very social creatures, you know, social connection is an extremely part extremely important part of, you know, our life. And, you know, if we don't have that, and if COVID Again, has shown anything, you know, this, this, this length of isolation that many people have faced, is causing some, you know, issues with mental health and, you know, with our, with our well being, and that kind of thing, and, you know, these are things that all need to be considered, you know, when you do think about educating online or blended learning or, you know, sending students home once again, you know, because of, you know, increased COVID infections or that kind of thing, you know, these things are taking, you know, a toll on us as as social human beings.
That's right. That's right. Absolutely. And then even as an advocate for online learning, I I recognise that we really have to take that into account and, and really find ways that we can use technology to be able to enhance our connections with each other and not break down those connections with each other. Because that that can be a real danger, I think.
Yeah. Now, we touched on this a little while ago, just very, very briefly on that idea of, you know, sort of online learning and having a bit of a misunderstanding of maybe you know, who are your fellow classmates and, you know, the cultural diversity and that kind of thing. Um, so I want to talk to you a little bit more about cultural literacy. Why is it the digital literacy and cultural literacy are more essential now than ever?
Well, I think cultural literacy can be seen as one aspect of digital literacy, which itself is how we learn to use technology and the internet in a smart discerning way, so that we can be good digital citizens and be responsible about the kind of information we're sharing online. cultural literacy was defined by Edie Hirsch, as, quote, the ability to understand and participate fluently in a given culture. And I would make that word culture plural, I think this would apply to many cultures, and subcultures as well, too. And I've noticed over the past few years, especially with many social changes that have been happening, and awareness of different issues of that the baby boomer generation, are really struggling with all of this seemingly new dialogue about things such as race, white privilege, LGBTQ rights, and even now lately, the pandemic related issues such as vaccinations and mask wearing. So I think that generation is struggling a lot, because these social concepts are challenging their deep rooted assumptions about everything in their world. So that's been a big pill for them to swallow. And, and the result is that there's a lot of negative reaction and the lack of understanding and communication about those issues. So I think adults in particular, need cultural literacy lessons to help them navigate these changes in our society. And that that's really critical, because I found that people may react against something because it's different. But I've seen this in my workplace, even to that when there's an educational component, and you teach people something that they didn't know before, that was culturally related, or related to race issues, or LGBTQ rights, for example, that it starts opening their eyes, and they start thinking about it differently. But there has to be that time to learn and to reflect and to discuss. And often, as we just talked about, it helps it works better if that discussion actually happens face to face, it's, it's less than personal, it's more human. And we can see the kinds of reactions that other people have to what we're seeing and what we're experiencing. And I think those dialogues have to happen that way, particularly for adults, and then for children. In public schools. I think cultural literacy, education is important, because first of all, to help them understand why these issues are a real thing. And also the history behind them too, because a lot of kids will be aware of the issues, but they don't know the history behind them. They don't know how we got from there to here. And what led up to this. And I think that's that's why children as well need cultural literacy education. So it's just a component of digital lip, digital literacy overall. And, and but it's an important component because it's helping us navigate our relationships in a digital world.
And there's something important there that you said, in those aha moments, you know, that once you sort of become aware of something or you learn something, you can't unlearn it, you can't unhear it, you can't unremember it, it will be there. And that that's what's important in those aha moments. And having these conversations that are critical, in today's society, is really important because, you know, you can smash those unconscious biases that we realise, you know, if it's done in a gentle and an encouraging and an encouraging way and not in a judgmental way, like, Oh, this is what you believe. And, you know, we're not saying you're like this, that you're a bad person or that this is a bad, you know, notion to have but if you just help people to tease out these unconscious biases they have, and they become aware, and they realise they're not going to forget it.
That's right, exactly once, once the, the blinders are taken off, and you see it, you you don't forget it. And I think as you say, with cultural biases, people often don't realise that those cultural biases exist in their minds. And, and it takes stepping outside of our usual perception of things to be able to be become aware of that. And it's the same idea with the idea of white privilege. It's, it's something that exists systemically, and the people who would identify as white don't realise the, how they're not actually perceiving the way other people live. You know, how Asian people live and what and what their experience of being in society, how black people live, and what their experience of society is, you just you you grow up, you can spend your entire life without an awareness of those biases. And as you say, sometimes education can be the best cure for that it can be the way to help people expand their, their minds, and they may still try to cling to those biases. But as you say, they can never really turn back once they know what the truth is.
We can talk about the impacts of social media, both negative and positive. And you've written and you have written that we have left the digital age and entered that social media age. And I have found this a fascinating concept, again, in light of the COVID pandemic, especially because it's fresh in and it's in our faces. But people everywhere have been really drawn to social media through lockdowns and isolation and that that desire and that wanting to connect. Can you explain what that transition is all about? And how how it happened? And what impact that you think that this shift may cause and community engagement and social connections in real life?
Yeah, absolutely. It's one of the things that, that I've realised and looking at our recent history over the last 30 years, is it really the history of humankind has always been one of codifying, and distributing knowledge between each other. So we've done it in the ways of oral tradition. We've done it in the way of written language, cultural knowledge, which can be tacit knowledge sometimes of even physical transportation of knowledge. And then of course, communications. And then finally, technology. So sometimes in the past 30 years that may feel for people that everything has been like an unpredictable cascade of change. But it really all makes sense in the way it's unfolded. Because what you started with in the beginning, was the technology, the digital computers, and then personal computers, then we moved into Internet connectivity to be able to link those together and provide us a way to connect online. And then layering on top of that you had the World Wide Web, which enabled grassroots active access, and also prompted a, you know, a lot of creativity in the way that we share information online. And then with that creativity and learning came the disciplines of user experience, and also opportunities for elearning. And also web 2.0, which was the old term for user generated content. So now we started contributing content in a in a creative and grassroots way to this platform that we had. And then after that, of course, came social media, which further developed that sharing and, and connectivity there and in the MOOCs. And then the next step, the next natural step, then, of this technology, was that we wanted to take it on the road with us, we didn't want to be locked behind our desktop computers or laptops anymore, we wanted more portability. So the next phase had to be of course, smart mobility, which linked both communications and the web. And then now we're moving into the next phase of this. Now this is where the idea of us moving out of the digital age and into the social media age, because digital age is about the inception and dissemination of digital technology for every aspect of our lives. But since the beginning of this century, we've already had the digital age, it's been well established. And our biggest challenge now is our social media age. And it's not just about the popularity of social networks, like if you think of Instagram or Tiktok or whatever, but it's about the social use of all the technology we have aspect or we have access too. So we're learning how to learn online. We're learning how to interact online, we're learning how to solve problems online, and including problems that were set in motion by the pandemic too. And this is our alternate universe, there were no rules in place when all of this began. And just like the Wild West, we're literally all making it up as we go along. And so if somebody says what works the best online, we don't know, whatever works best is whatever is most successful, there's no pre existing formula, we don't even really know what the future holds for us on the internet. So it's, it's all a process of there, again, continuous learning, we're learning by doing learning by experiencing, the principal challenge there for everybody is just to realise that we are in an era of unprecedented change. And, and it's making us rethink and reconsider everything that we felt was a constant, or everything that we felt like was unchangeable, is now we're beginning to see that, that not everything is unchangeable.
And it does create its own challenge and the elements of, you know, us as individuals needing to learn to filter between what is fiction, and what is reality, or what is fiction, you know, what is the what is truth? And, you know, what could potentially be detrimental, you know, fact checking, and things like that, that many people don't, you know, they take something that they read in a snap of, you know, an instant on a real or, you know, on an Instagram story, or, you know, something that comes across Twitter without actually sometimes fact checking, and, you know, so that's another that's the a new challenge that's created. And, you know, when I talked earlier about sort of popular sources and scholarly sources in this new social media age, we have to start thinking, as educators about, you know, helping students to navigate their way through, you know, discerning fact from fiction and, and how can educators maybe use social media as a way of engaging and connecting learners,
I guess, I've always predicted that the internet itself will start to be dominated by more of those kind of private social networks, not just for the safety and security of their users, but also for groups with specific interests or goals. And I think we've seen that happen, to some extent, with social networks like Facebook. But I really believe that educators can use social media in the same way. They're right now they're using gaming to create gamified learning, I think we can learn from research being done about social media, and about gaming, to just to help us understand the social dynamics of human human beings when they're online. Like one of the things, I think that the challenge for learners right now, in the social media age, it's just managing the incredible tidal wave of information being presented them daily. I mean, it's no wonder older people in the workforce are overwhelmed by at all. And some academics have been discussing a process for elearning that is known by the acronym SOUL, for slow online ubiquitous learning. So that's an interesting concept that I'm still learning about. But the idea is that there are ways that we can both slow the pace of learning and also allow a greater depth of learning to happen, while at the same time enabling students to be learning continuously, so that the quality of their learning isn't negatively impacted by the quantity of the information that's out there. So this goes back to the idea of the teacher as a Wayfinder, or a tour guide, helping students on their journey. And the other challenge, which you touched upon there, too, is digital literacy. So because the internet is so open and unfiltered, there's inevitably going to be confusing, incorrect and even intentionally misleading content online.
And so we're coming to the end of our discussion together. And I you know, at this time, I always asked my guests if you have any book recommendations, I know you gave a few earlier, but any book recommendations or contact information or website information that you want to share with my listeners?
Well, I think first of all, if you want to find my social media activity and connect with me that way, I have a social hub, which is @garthvb.com. And that has connections to my different presences on social media. And then also I have a blog @globalisland.ca.
Yeah, so Garth, any final Words of wisdom or advice for our listeners?
Well, just that if if you're a learner, to make sure it's the kind of learning that meets you fully as a whole person, because if you don't feel learning is a is addressing you or is meeting your needs. In every way in your life, I would say question and look for something better. There has to be something that will speak to you and to speak to what you need to learn, because people have deserved to have a chance to learn. And if someone's an educator, I would say, don't be afraid of the challenges of technology, because that's part of lifelong learning. And it's also it's changed management in our careers basically. So just think of your students as whole people who bring their own knowledge and culture and life experience to their education. And never discount how much students can bring to it.
Garth, thank you. Thank you so much for spending this time with with me and with our listeners today. You have been a wealth of knowledge and have given us so much to think about. I really do appreciate the time that you've spent with us today.
Well, thank you. It's been my pleasure, too. I enjoyed it very much. Thanks, Shelli.
I hope that you've enjoyed this discussion on A Dash of SaLT, a space where you'll always find fresh and current discussions on society and learning today. Season with just the right touch of experts in education and a dash of sociological imagination. Please be sure to like and share this episode. And don't forget to subscribe to A Dash of SaLT on PodBean so that you don't miss the next episode. Thanks so much and we'll chat again soon.