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Conversation as an Ecology of Learning.

The issue of which communities we choose to learn in, and from, will shape the connections that we form with the environment, and in general the kind of learning that occurs within.

This post is an invitation to join here and think about learning, communities and conversation. Below you will find a charter of communication.

Thrown into the post PhD* world, in which emotions are some of the strangest I have experienced, I am developing an intention to share the parts of my research that I feel can nourish social transformations. I will be sharing some of the most insightful aspects with readers, in this blog. The postings might be somewhat scattered or responding to logics of engagement with readers… I’ll be working on a more organized version of the ideas in a bilingual book – yes I plan to write in French and English and I hope this will be an opportunity to feel how language also orients our possibilities in dialogue.

* Mompoint-Gaillard, P. (2021). Conversation as an Ecology of learning. An analysis of asynchronous discussions within an online professional community working to develop a democratic practice in education. (PhD dissertation), University of Iceland.

Meaning making processes including selecting, assimilating, and agreeing or disagreeing with other’s words, which exist in “other people’s mouths, in other people’s contexts, serving other people’s intentions.

(Bakhtin, 1981, p. 294)

We are all familiar with social media platforms that invade our private and working life. We are less used to online communities that follow a logic of ‘niche’, communities that are set to change something in the world. Sometimes, in powerful learning spaces, that ‘thing’ we are set to transform turns out to be our own self. In some of these spaces deep meaningful learning can occur, in many others it does not and cannot. I have found that there are qualities of conversations, characteristics that shape whether a dialogical activity will be conducive to learning… or not.

There are qualities of conversations, characteristics of interactions between humans in conversation, that shape whether and to what extent the dialogical activity will be conducive to learning… or not

An ensemble of articles will focus on these conditions. The questions I ask the data I visit are:

  • What are some conditions we need to create in dialogical spaces for conversations to be learning conversations? My point in this work is also that our means of learning have started to change and will remain changed forever. This question opens the path to an ecological approach to considering the situation.

Increasingly, groups are using online environments to create their own learning communities beyond our habitual institutional structures. We are shifting more and more to communities to learn together what we need to learn. Thus, we are engaging more and more in groups and circles to share our stories and our thoughts and emotions. Some groups may become our most precious learning spaces, more than our schools, universities, or other institutions, and therefore there is the possibility that we will never go back to letting institutional formal learning alone shape our growth. We might instead choose to become immersed in learning though the communities we choose to learn in and from.

  • What are virtuous patterns? How are they nourished? Conversational learning spaces will depend on and be shaped by patterns of interaction. My research has shown that dimension such as cohesion, trust, reciprocity, autonomy, emotional wellbeing, ethos and values are powerful drivers for Ecologies of learning that are conducive to social transformation. As we become aware of different levels of complexity through conversation, new properties and insights emerge. These ideas are directly applicable to our lives, they find their relevance in an immediate way since each actor of the conversation is responsible for its content.

My research considers a variety of elements of the conversation typically involving cognitive but also the emotional and social and cultural/ethical processes of meaning-making, that bring participants to engage and remain active. These processes are often intertwined with each other in a way that is not reducible to any one level only (Häkkinen, 2013, p. 547) and therefore must be analyzed in connection with each other. I chose an ecological approach as a basis of my investigation out of the recognition that everything is connected to everything else and the will to challenge the idea that learning-to-learn can be investigated by studying unconnected bits. The knowledge we develop, collectively in conversation – often called “co-construction of knowledge” – is learning that is embedded in stories, in experiences, in our body as we engage with one another in dialogue. While my work is based on Online Professional Learning Communities (OPLCs), in this blog I will shift my thinking to Adult Learning in a wider context than strictly professional. I’m imagining Online Adult Learning Communities (OALCs) as based in social constructivist (Vygotsky, 1985) learning, networked and open learning theory (G.  Siemens, 2007), and radical humanistic pedagogies and educational ideas from the likes of Dewey, Freire, Giroux and Rogers.

Online Adult Learning Communities

Finding common ground, the slow negotiation of a democratic ethos and value system, distributed leadership, the questioning of world views and perspectives on assumptions, attributions, beliefs, understandings… all contribute to the creation of a community microculture in which participants’ identities may evolve. Powerful conversational communities scaffold and found personal and collective agency, paving the path for personal and professional transformation and social change.

(Mompoint-Gaillard, 2021)

If a book is a finished product, this space is meant to be alive. Because I envision it as a space of conversation, I wish to invite readers to engage with the content hoping that a community might emerge that is interested in having a “conversation about conversational learning”.

This is why I publish from the start a charter of conduct to guide our human interactions in this space. Through true conversation a community microculture is progressively created within the interactions among participants of a group and their overall engagement in the conversation and the developing sense of belonging to a community. The charter I present here is a transcript from a screenshot of the platform and was inspired by previous work (Huber et al., 2012, p.38) and further developed to become an incredibly powerful framework that helped us build a strong and creative community (the Pestalozzi Community of Practice), over a period of 8 years, involving 2000 practitioners of which 200 were immersed in continuous conversation.

Charter of communication to guide our human interactions in an online learning space using only text-based communicative activity

The charter proposes guidelines and rules of communications that become a backbone for a community micro-culture and establishes an expectation of intercultural communicative competence (stepping outside of one’s frame of reference, being aware of our own bias and assumptions, etc.), as well as a framework for a democratic culture (critical thinking, individual accountability, etc.).

Transcript from screenshot: Introduction of the charter.
Transcript from screenshot: A powerful charter of communication for text-based communicative interactions.

This charter may seem too simple to work! (?) It follows the KISS principle: Keep It Short and Simple. It focuses on the important and leaves out the noise. Try it!

The foundations of this blog are set in the results of a doctoral study (Mompoint-Gaillard, 2021) of Online Professional Learning Communities (OPLCs) for educators, a large-scale case study with the case being the Council of Europe’s Pestalozzi Programme (Huber & Mompoint-Gaillard, 2011)

References:

Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. In I. M. Holquist (Ed.), Discourse in the novel (14 ed., pp. 269-422). University of Texas Press.

Häkkinen, P. (2013). Multiphase method for analysing online discussions. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 29(6), 547-555.

Huber, J., (Ed.). (2012). Intercultural competence for all: Preparation for living in a heterogeneous world. Council of Europe Publishing.

Huber, J., & Mompoint-Gaillard, P. (Eds). (2011). Teacher education for change. Council of Europe Publishing.

Mompoint-Gaillard, P. (2021). Conversation as an Ecology of learning. An analysis of asynchronous discussions within an online professional community working to develop a democratic practice in education. (PhD dissertation), University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Siemens, G. (2007). Connectivism: Creating a learning ecology in distributed environments. In T. Hug (Ed.), Didactics of microlearning: Concepts, discourses and examples (pp. 53-68). Munster, Germany: Waxman.

Vygotsky, L. (1985). Pensée et langage (1934) (F. Seve, Trans.). Paris: Éditions Sociales/Messidor.