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e-Help Seminars - Caterina Gasparini
e-help Seminar 7
The new paradigm: learning by sharing connected knowledge
Toulouse 17-19 February 2005
The new paradigm: learning by sharing connected knowledge

Teachers are called to change their attitude to ICT, which should not be considered a tool but be integrated into their teaching. Michael Young, the founder of the UK Open University, saw teachers as educational companions who accompany students on part of their learning through life. The stress is less on the content of learning than on the learning process itself, which must teach young people to become expert learners. The final target is learning to learn and the quality of the learning process is more important than the quantity of knowledge imparted.

“We are living in a Knowledge society, in which connectivity allows us to access all kind of information at unprecedented speed and in multiple format” (Michelle Selinger - Executive Advisor Education – Cisco Systems)
Connectivity is our present and our future: young people know that and are used to living in a digital, web-based world in which they are constantly in contact with other people and communicating via emails, SMS text messaging, chats, etc. They are also naturally multitasking and able to write an email while watching TV, listening to music, etc.

However, the way we get information raises several issues concerning its quantity and quality.

We are being overloaded with an incredible amount of information, from which it seems difficult to select what we are looking for. Besides, not always can we immediately assess the value of the information we get. Young people in particular tend to move from one screen to another, whether it is a TV screen to a PC screen, without making great distinction between them: at the same time the differences between virtual reality and non-virtual reality seem to be less definite, the boundaries between fiction or game and reality are less clear, so that it may become nearly impossible to separate them.

In this scenario the main task of school is to teach learners to:

• locate relevant information and judge the credibility of sources,
• become experts learners,
• learn how to think critically.


“Rather than thinking of cognition as an isolated event that takes place inside one’s head, cognition should be looked at as a distributed phenomenon, one that goes beyond the boundaries of a person to include environment, artifacts, social interactions, and culture” (E. Hutchins & J. Hollan)

According to one of the principles of distributed cognition, in our world cognitive events are not encompassed within a head but happen in the interactions among many brains. Consequently, distributed cognitive processes are the key to select information and build knowledge. Connectivity accelerates the process through the volume of interactions which can be activated. If the Web is a shared medium linking each type of contents, the Internet enables one-to-one, one-to-all and all-to-all connectivity to be used for sharing knowledge.

The process is:

• connective but not collective,
• intersubjective, involving direct person-to-person interactions,
• collaborative rather than competitive,
• promoting autonomy within the connection.

The process is at the origin of Virtual Communities and Forums, where often firsthand information is shared in order to acquire real knowledge through exchange and collaboration.



The sentence could originate the following question: “What, how and why school needs to teach in order to reflect the world outside?”


All trends go into the direction of:

• connected intelligence, because computers make minds work together;
• learning communities of learners, experts, tutors, open and enlarging outside schools to include institutions, cities and countries;
• new roles: schools as learning hubs and teachers as knowledge managers;
• no age-related or grade-related but competence-related classes
• curricula developing through a community need rather than a national dictate. In particular European curricula seem to be possibly developing along two paths, one concerning the whole European community, which involves discovering the fundamental values on which European identity and the idea of Europe was born, the other taking into consideration local aspects. The “Oral history” project, where local people act as oral sources, is an example of how local human resources can be integrated into the curriculum.


They should have the following features:

• multimedia: ICT makes it possible to examine and also analyse simultaneously different representations of the same content, which can be presented in various formats on different multimedia supports (texts, pictures, photos, diagrams, maps, timelines, statistics, videos, graphics, audio documents, etc.).

http://www.makingthemodernworld.org.uk/ is an example of how various types of material can be presented together dynamically.

• incompleteness (or unfinished state): the education resources published on the Internet should be shared and accessible also to be modified, updated, corrected, developed, widened.
• flexibility: the content should be made available in small units, and filed into a database. So it would be possible to organize it according to a plurality of criteria of pertinence and recover it also in a non–linear way through different approaches. The content could be assembled either by the teacher or the learner.
• interactivity: information is not presented but knowledge is “discovered”. Interactivity is not identified with the physical activities like clicking, dragging or typing in required when using ICT material, but with the mental activities involved. Learning by using ICT implies a lot of mental processes which help develop mental attitudes and skills. Presentations require the ability to have a clear view of the global content so as to be able to organise it into segments. Linking and mindmap building develop the ability to organise, classify, summarize, connect pieces of knowledge, find solutions.
• virtuality: teacher and learner can meet in flexible (not fixed) virtual time and space in addition to traditional classrooms and tutorials. Besides, also real learning space inside schools should be differentiated: there should be lecture theatres for talks to large groups, classrooms where it is impossible for teachers to take centre stage, small group rooms and quiet rooms.


It tends to be:

• active + cooperative = interactive;
• connected (not isolated) and networked (but not collective);
• student-driven;
• based on intelligence instead of memory;
• problem-based;
• in the form of an open project or a discovery, with no predetermined correct solutions;
• creative, involving students as designers and producers of teaching materials;
• cyclical (not linear): open and developing like an enlarging spiral, to include more LEVELS of skills, knowledge and expertise according to the level of competence of the learners as in video games, where different levels of competence are required to progress. Knowledge is enlarged along two dimensions: in depth - from simplicity to complexity - and in width through links. This type of structure should be reproduced in the resources provided on the Internet;
• cross curricular: it might involve the blurring of subject boundaries;
• personalized, differentiated and flexible, so that learning can be tailored to meet the different needs, taking account of different learning styles and learning preferences or interests, but also of different learning paces.


“Under electronic conditions, the delay between project and realization is shortening” (Derrick De Kerchove)
With a descriptive, not prescriptive approach the following tools could be used:
• web quests;
• simulations, to be realized also by means of videoconferences, chats, which would make them even more interactive;
• games;
• a preponderance of open projects, with no predetermined correct solutions (project area).
Learning through open projects in particular would be really student-driven and could be organized according to the following guidelines:
• history would be discovered by teams of learners who would produce material in order to share their discoveries with the learning community. This would increase the motivation of the students, who would have a really active role in the learning process;
• students would have to analyse sources, evaluate and select information, check its truthfulness, produce their own material. This implies the availability of a great amount of resources, but requires that they practice personal information processing through analysis, evaluation and synthesis, which leads to the development of critical thinking;
• the work plan would include the following phases:
- providing basic/essential input /information;
- activating learning through cooperative discovery;
- providing more information on demand;
- publishing the end result.

From a behavioural point of view, this pedagogical model encourages participation and collaboration and promotes autonomy and responsibility.

The site http://www.malignani.ud.it/WebEnis/aer/sezione/index.htm is an example of material realized after the model described: students were given the main task (presenting the Aeronautical Engineering Department of their school) with the list of the required content and technical specifications. Apart from the preliminary phase, when the project coordinator collaborated with the students to form the groups and identify the persons responsible for the whole work and for the work of each group in a pyramid-like structure, the whole work was managed and realized by the students autonomously under the tutorship of their teachers who were ready to provide additional explanations and advice.


Working by projects takes time at first, which may come into conflict with the necessity of covering the whole syllabus. Alternating “normal” teaching with project activities can be adopted with the aim of introducing new teaching models gradually. The time spent will be recovered when students learn how to discover knowledge, develop critical thinking and become more autonomous.

Education should focus on learning outcomes that are measurable and demonstrable but it shouldn’t lock schools into a rigid curriculum structure. Exams where students have to write about topics could be replaced by the presentation of their education products: the stress would be more on doing than on writing. It seems anyway important to set minimum/basic objectives in terms of skills, knowledge and competence.

Technology should be accessible, appropriate and reliable and there should be teachers or technicians available to troubleshoot and maintain the infrastructure.

Contribute further to the seminar at


Spartacus Learning Online MacGregor is History Historia Siglo 20 Historical Association International School History Sintermeertencollege InnovativeICT.net

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