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metaStudio.org

June 28, 2011 in Uncategorized

The following guest post is from Nagarjuna G. from the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education in Mumbai. Nagarjuna will be joining us at OKCon 2011 for his workshop on metaStudio.org.

About

metaStudio.org is a collaborative workspace for shaping up education and research inspired by free software philosophy and open science. Here we design and execute a virtual peer-to-peer academy to make learning and research a way-of-life. You can discuss, design and construct various educational initiatives collaboratively and create a social network with members of a community by (a) campaigning about your educational initiatives and (b) broadcast your work to the world through blogs, articles, share resources and seek responses. You can do this by involving any citizen to join a collaborative construction project or a research project, or by designing a project that provides concrete learning experiences to participants.

Studio

At the outset, let us clarify what we mean by “studio”. The term “studio” is widely used by artists and architects. It is derived from the Italian: studio, from Latin: studium, from studere, meaning to study. We use this term to refer to any workspace where a group of people work together, plan (design), make and display a product iteratively till they reach a final result enabling learning in a situated context, unlike a detached learning that happens through reading and memorising from books. Learning in the context of constructing some tangible thing is a philosophy of education proposed by Seymour Papert, called constructionism. Constructionist learning is inspired by the constructivist theory that individual learners construct mental models to understand the world around them. However, constructionism holds that learning can happen most effectively when people are also active in making tangible objects in the real world. In this sense, constructionism is connected with experiential learning and builds on some of the ideas of Jean Piaget. Thus we consider a studio an appropriate space to bring together meaningfully some of the popular and arguably the best educational philosophies currently deliberated by educationists, namely: constructivism, constructionism, activity based education, project based education, and situated cognition. Examples of Studios

No exhaustive list is possible here, but the list below gives an indication.

metaStudio

A metaStudio, then, is a studio where we can design, deliberate and construct studios for learning. While the outcome of each studio can be a cultural artefact, the outcome of a metaStudio is any of the studios themselves. Thus, it can be conceived as an academy for designing multiple learning contexts inspired by constructionism, constructivism, activity based education, project based education and situated cognition. This can be further conceived as a remedy for the existing schools and colleges where children are forced to learn abstract topics without understanding in what context they are used, and learn topics that do not mean much to their lives and interests. Often even concrete things are unnecessarily abstracted out making learners drift away from the close-to-life context.

We invite to this portal anyone who is interested in shaping education in the spirit of collaboration, and the sharing of ideas as well as resources. You may not agree with our perception as stated above, but we can deliberate on the problems educationists face in this studio, currently operating as a virtual space on the Internet. We invite you to write about your experiences about those contexts where learning happens meaningfully and effortlessly in closer-to-life situations.

We also invite hackers to build features to this portal. The portal is based on hubZero developed by Purdue University.

Inspiration

Situated learning, project-based learning, activity-based learning, constructivism and constructionism are well known phrases used in the education literature. While all of them contributed in shaping our thoughts, we took off with confidence only after seeing the success of collaborative community construction projects like the making of GNU/Linux operating system and Wikipedia. These projects are live and successful examples of how people can work together with passion to construct something substantial, non-trivial and at the same time provided people a context for learning, teaching, communicating, publishing and also living professional life without being explicitly labelled as an academy.

Several people established reputation for themselves while participating in such collaborative construction projects. Every person had some or the other role to play. For example, though the making of an operating system is primarily a software project, the execution of the project required not only software professionals, but also creative writers, translators, community builders, advocates, testers, integrators, software distributors, publishers etc. Thus, the project involved everyone including the users of the operating system.

There are some notable aspects of these projects: there are no managers who regulate the project from the top. The projects were managed in a p2p (peer to peer) manner. Transparency and archiving of almost every transaction is another important feature of this new revolutionary culture. The products they built were all protected by copyleft, currently known popularly as creative commons.

Why shouldn’t other projects also be done this way? Shouldn’t governments, municipalities, hospitals, schools and other such public bodies also function by involving people? Don’t they have lessons to learn from these two examples? Since metaStudio, this project, is about designing education, we can ask this explicit question: why shouldn’t we, as educationalists, shape our schools, colleges and universities in such a way that learning can happen while we all join in making something useful?

What should be the shape of an academy if it were to run like life itself? If we know very well that people learn best only when they do it, why did we build schools and colleges where we learn how to do, with very little scope for doing? Can’t we integrate our learning environments in such a way that students learn a skill in an actual context where such skills are put to productive use? Or at least in a simulated context if an actual context is difficult or expensive to realise?

Do we have any contrary evidence that learning or teaching is difficult in such production contexts? The dominant paradigms in education, situated learning, constructivism and constructionism, have inspired in bringing some changes to the existing academies. We think that these education philosophies identified the problems properly. However, these education philosophies are difficult to implement since they call for a philosopher or psychologist teacher in every classroom.

Studio based education does not depend on one expert to take care of a large number of people in a homogeneous group, as in a typical class in a school. Instead, a studio contains people of different states of expertise for a given task as they negotiate their levels and space through collaboration. Learning happens to different participants at different levels. In a typical classroom situation where there is one expert and a large group of novices, the gap is usually huge, while in a studio environment the gaps are small but many corresponding to the multiple levels of expertise among the peers. Climbing each small step at a time is easier than one huge jump!

What kind of restructuring can enable our existing academies to become efficient? This is the problem of studio based education. We invite every interested educationist to engage in a constructive dialogue over the problems of education so that we can design, construct, redesign and reconstruct our academies.

This design problem has some constraints. We elaborate these constraints as principles that could guide us to evaluate the various designs we propose from time to time. These may be called the directive principles of the metaStudio project.

Directive Principles

  • Every skill and hence every person has a role to play in the networked society.
  • A guru in one skill may become a pupil for another skill. Therefore anyone can play the role of a teacher or anyone a student. Who is a teacher or a student depends on the context.
  • The direction of knowledge flow depends on who has a greater potential and not on the basis of age or experience.
  • Reputation/evaluation of a person depends on peer to peer evaluation based on the display/publication of a tangible product.
  • The learning context be either an actual production context or a closely simulated context, giving preference to the former wherever possible.
  • The learning objectives and the means of reaching them be accessible to all.
  • All products be published or displayed (depending on the product) for evaluation by all.
  • The learning context may have greater scope for active, creative and productive role to the learner than passive consuming role.
  • The methodology and the processes employed in realising the learning context be transparent to the participants, and could be modifiable by negotiation.
  • When the learning context uses sophisticated technology (such as computers) the users should have the freedom (a) to know how the technology works, (b) to repair or modify it, and © to share the modifications to the community.

If you have suggestions to improve the concept of metaStudio, Please send your feedback to nagarjun [at] gnowledge [dot] org.

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