Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Paradigm Shift as an Agent of Changing Practice

I hope to have the opportunity travel professionally this summer and give some live face-to-face presentations along the way, starting as early as May 7-9 (if invited to speak at an IATEFL conference in Belgrade), CALICO in Amherst June 8-10 (if invited to be on a panel there discussing a book I helped co-edit), and culminating in Sao Paolo at BrazTESOL July 19-22 as part of this year's annual Future of Learning in a Networked World event (, with stops along the way or afterwards in Argentina if specifically invited to come there.

This will not be my first FLNW event. I participated in FLNW in January 2008, documented here:

If given the opportunity, this is what I hope to be speaking on ...

Teachers these days, struggling to cope with technology overload, can sometimes misconstrue the nature of the beast.  Dogme language teachers espouse teaching "unplugged" but are grappling with to what extent technology facilitates or detracts from that process (see links below). Musicians who play unplugged for example, still use technology to amplify their clean sound, and perhaps podcast their recordings. Technology, therefore, helps musicians to be heard when digital literacies are understood by those around them. Used correctly, technology can greatly facilitate the process of language learning; incorrectly (as with bands who rely on technology) it would be a distraction, perhaps an obstacle.  Prensky has gone so far as to say teachers shouldn't use IWB's because they would use them inappropriately, but their students should use them (

Why, what assumptions underly so provocative a statement? 

I'd like to talk this summer about the dozen paradigm shifts that users of technology need to understand before they can apply them in ways that can be transformative to students.  When teachers think of technology challenges they often have in mind learning to use the latest educational and administrative gadgets and software systems,such as those listed by Allen in his article in TESOL Arabia Perspectives, to which I responded here: (and this article contains as well my latest characterization of the dozen paradigm shifts).  This mindset addresses certain functional literacies skills that often fall short of accommodating how technology is transforming the way we view and interact with one another in our world, with immediate ramifications to our educational systems and our students themselves.

Using technology is only partly about interfaces and settings.  It's more correctly about having a theory of how people learn, and how the many different technology tools can be made to work together to foster development in a subject matter in ways commensurate with that appropriate model of learning.

Web 2.0 is the driving force for technology to be applied in constructivist and connectivist models of learning.  Web 2.0 puts learning where it belongs, in the hands of learners.  I will explain how a number of Web 2.0 tools can be used to enhance language learning by allowing learners to produce artifacts and leave them online where other learners can find them and interact with them in a process that develops communicative and critical skills while intrinsically motivating students to produce quality work in response to a palpable awareness of audience (e.g., Stevens 2009a, and Stevens et al. 2008).

I hope to talk this summer about how student peers can find one another in a seemingly chaotic online environment. The quick answers to that regard the paradigm shift from taxonomies to folksonomies, such as tagging and RSS, which I will also address. I could perhaps elaborate on the concepts in workshops such as the one delivered here:; however, a short presentation can only give glimpses of the paradigm shifts necessary to move away from the old ways of information dissemination through more traditional gatekeepers.  In order empower learners, teachers must truly  grasp the fundamentals and principles of applying technology to transformative learning. To accomplish this, practice with peers is necessary, where teachers themselves become lifelong learners and mentors for one another while sharing discoveries and experiences with students, as I point out in Stevens, 2009b.

I have had long experience in many online and face-to-face settings with helping teachers form communities of peers, and suggesting ways that they can develop their own PLN's, or personal learning networks to ensure their continuous lifelong learning (Stevens, forthcoming). Teachers who agree that learner autonomy is something that should be encouraged and developed in students should see the need to cultivate autonomy in themselves. So I will address the issue of teacher autonomy, where the teachers are in their roles by virtue of being, as David Warlick suggests, "master learners," (as I did in my presentation November 6, 2009 entitled Modeling social media in groups, communities, and networks, relevant links blogged here:; and in written up more formally in Stevens, 2009c).

Change is the most important outcome of this approach to professional development.  Too often teachers are put in situations which are labeled professional development but which in reality are (a) driven top-down, (b) don't assess or address teacher needs, and (c) do not lead to development. Teachers who drive their own professional development through participation in learning communities and PLNs are constantly expressing and assessing each other's needs, and promoting professional development on an as-needed basis. Once one is familiar with and comfortable in this style of learning, it is only a short leap to applying it to students.

Etienne Wenger once asked Cristina Costa how she knew she was participating in a community of practice, and she replied, "When my practice changed." (Wenger, 2007)  This is the kind of change I hope to be an agent of if I am invited to present this line of reasoning at any professional gatherings this summer.


Stevens, Vance. (Forthcoming). Webheads and Distributed Communities of Practice. To be published some time after October 2009 by the TESOL EFL IS Newsletter, as part of a summary of the EFL Academic Session from Denver TESOL 2009. Draft here:

Stevens, Vance. (2009a July 15). Engaging Collaborative Writing through Social Networking. In Koyama, Toshiko; Noguchi, Judy; Yoshinari,Yuichiro; and Iwasaki, Akio (Eds.). Proceedings of the WorldCALL 2008 Conference. The Japan Association for Language Education and Technology (LET). ISBN: 978-4-9904807-0-7, pp.68-71.

Stevens, Vance. (2009b). Life-long learner autonomy meets Electronic Village Online. TESOL Arabia Learner Independence Special Interest Group, Conference Newsletter 2009, p.9.

Stevens, Vance. (2009c). Modeling Social Media in Groups, Communities, and Networks. TESL-EJ, Volume 13, Number 3:

Stevens, Vance, Nelba Quintana, Rita Zeinstejer, Saša Sirk, Doris Molero & Carla Arena. (2008). Writingmatrix: Connecting Students with Blogs, Tags, and Social Networking. In Stevens, Vance & Elizabeth Hanson-Smith, Co-editors. (2008). Special Feature: Proceedings of the Webheads in Action Online Convergence, 2007. TESL-EJ, Volume 11, Number 4:

Wenger, E. and Nyrop, S. (2007). Communities of practice in an interconnected World: New geographies of knowledge and iIdentity. Keynote presentation at Webheads in Action Online Convergence (WiAOC 2007).  Retrieved October 9, 2009 from:; audio recording at: and

Links for Dogme:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Who are you and what have you done lately?

The last time I was asked to write a personal assessment of my work I turned it into a blog post:  That was in November 2007 but now two years later, the time has come again to take stock of my professional self-perception, and here it is.

I feel that my work is having an impact on the field of social networking in education, and is getting some attention in the area of learner independence as well. I was invited in 2008 for example to participate in a Learner Autonomy SIG Pre-conference event at the annual IATEFL conference in Exeter, and I was asked to contribute an article to the SIG Newsletter on the topic. My take on the issue is that teachers must first become truly autonomous; and this in fact is the connection with social networking.

Stevens, Vance. (2007). The Multiliterate Autonomous Learner: Teacher Attitudes and the Inculcation of Strategies for Lifelong Learning Independence, Winter 2007 (Issue 42) . Retrieved November 9, 2007 from

There is no good comprehensive handbook on social networking of which I am aware (the best references on the topic tend to be circulated around the network). Social networking has to be done. In other words, in order to learn about it, people have to teach themselves through informal learning and collaboration with peers. The collaboration is important because in order to DO social networking, you have to have a network with which to experiment. So my work recently has been to promote and examine the formation of social networks and how they work. It is complex but intuitive at the same time; still the complexity makes it difficult to introduce the concept to those who are not engaged themselves (overtly) in social networking. This is again the link with learner autonomy. Teachers who know something about the topic introduce its many components gradually to those who want to learn, a premise which I have exercised in my several annual renditions lately of my course in Multiliteracies taught for TESOL (, parts of which I have included in materials on Computer Literacy for students I teach face-to-face (, and also a short course for teachers taught for the first time in January of 2010 (

My work with this process of introduction of both the content and process of social networking has evolved from looking at the topic from the evolution of groups to communities, to arrive at a perspective of distributed learning networks (I was invited to talk on groups, communities, and networks at the most recent TESOL conference, This has taken me through a line of inquiry examining the perspective of communities of practice, which had great traction earlier in the decade, and which I have been often asked to speak on recently. When I was asked to design and teach my TESOL course on multiliteracies a few years back this gave me further perspectives on the issue and brought my inquiries to bear on social networks, and the new theory of connectivism, which is considered to be a participatory or connection multiliteracy, depending on how that topic is viewed.

The many views on the topic are part of a paradigm shift for education, the nature of which my work has also examined ( The many aspects in perspectives that this shift impacts deeply influence my view of the role of computing in learning, and how students and teachers should be learning to prepare themselves for changes that can be expected in the way they will work and learn into the next decade. Most of us can sense that this change is impending, and I feel that my work helps educators to grasp the nature of that change and see how they can leverage it to their advantage and to the benefit of their students. I have feedback on this as I participate in communities of hundreds of teachers worldwide, and coordinate several, including a significant community called Webheads, much appreciated by its members ( As I am often asked to speak on the topic, or am followed on Twitter (, or re-tweeted, or as comments are added to my blog posts, as people ask me to write articles, or to edit sections of professional journals, I become aware that my work is trickling out over networked communities and having some impact and is earning a modicum of respect among others interested in the topic ( I’m also encouraged my work is gaining in interest where I teach at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi: .

Another aspect of my work is change agency. I realize how difficult it is to be a change agent, and that change typically takes a long time to first penetrate and then filter up through an institution, but I’m getting some indications that the filtering has begun at the PI, and I hope to be a part of that through some aspects of social networking that might benefit colleagues where I work, and which could be taught (that is modeled, demonstrated) in turn to students (e.g.  After all, students are the focus of this work, but students by definition are learners, and that includes all of us.

Links updated after now-defunct Ning and Posterous blogs exported to Wordpress