Mastering competencies for collaboration and aggregation in distributed learning networks

by Vance Stevens Department of Computing, The Petroleum Institute, Abu Dhabi, UAE


This talk begins by discussing terms in the title, especially 'aggregation' and 'distributed learning networks'. Regarding the latter, Downes and Siemens are strong proponents of the notion that functionality of networks is of prime importance to the knowledge embedded there, and therefore accessing this knowledge is key being able to utilize and develop the knowledge within the network. We look briefly at Web 2.0 and some impacts on education, and especially at how knowledge is organized there in folksonomies as opposed to taxonomies, and finally at heuristics aimed at aggregating this knowledge. We then apply these concepts to techniques specific to second language learning.

My colleagues and I have implemented interesting experiments in applying aggregation techniques in the teaching of writing, and its counterpart reading. These colleagues were not initially my institutional ones, but those in my distributed (online) communities of practice, who comprise a significant part of my distributed learning network. These colleagues and I conceived the Writingmatrix project, which became our means of learning how to aggregate content (what the students were writing) via tags (a prime element in folksonomies).

The remainder of the talk explains how students posting in blogs throughout the world used the tag 'writingmatrix' to make their postings visible to others in the project, and how similar techniques can be used to promote collaboration among students around the world and motivate them to read each other's postings, comment, formulate responses, and form partnerships conducive to learning outcomes. It is stressed that understanding the concepts is key to making the paradigm shift leading to opening minds to the transformational potentials inherent in connectivity facilitating interchange across the Web 2.0. Such notions impact reading, writing, and thinking, in CALL contexts worldwide, and enable applying these concepts to one's own language learning projects.