Visitors and Residents (David White)

White persuasively criticises Prensky’s digital natives and digital immigrants binary, and the conceptual assumptions underpinning it. In particular, White makes the important point that learning literacies are needed to use technologies effectively, and in particular the web, especially when it comes to study. Critically evaluating digital resources and formulating cogent arguments online, for example, do not come with the latest gadgets or tools.

Instead, White proposes a different model, that of digital visitors and residents, which is premised on the modes and degrees of engagement. How and why do we use digital platforms? As White says, these categories do not exclude each other (unlike the digital natives/immigrants binary), as we are likely to engage with the web in different ways at different times depending on our purpose and the context that we are in, so that we combine these modes. “In visitor mode, we leave no social trace being online”: we see the web simply as a toolbox. At the resident end, we see the web as a collection of space or places, where we want to be present with other people, “living out a portion of our life online”, which then leaves social trace also when we go offline. People who ar residents have some form of presence online, such as social media accounts: this means most of us.

White additionally distinguishes between personal and institutional practices. White seeks to investigate resident forms of practice an how they relate to our identities, whether they be professional or personal.

Part 2 of the video focuses on credibility. White starts off with a key difference between analogue and digital sources of information, with the former–books–having been written by experts and carefully curated. Libraries are therefore highly selective and also much more limited in reach than materials online, which can be found by anyone who uses a search engine;  audiences can be vast, which also among other things suggests huge potential in extending the reach of education.

But online, curation takes place by means of algorithms (likes, search engines), not librarians, so convenience often outstrips credibility, one key reason why academics are skeptical of information from the web and why they discourage students to use the web for finding (academic information), including for such sources as Wikipedia. Interestingly, this then leads to what White terms a “learning blackmarket”: students are using online sources for their learning, but more often than not, they are not being upfront about because of fears of institutional opprobrium (which has implications for plagiarism, though White doesn’t go into this area). Consequently, a tension arises between students’ personal learning practices and the demands of institutional, formal academia.  The resident/institutional quadrant remains relatively empty as students, perhaps because students are wary of mixing their private residence online with their institutional commitments, but also because institutions see themselves as operating in a visitor rather than resident mode: students come to university for a few years, and then they depart.

However, given that learning needs to become more liquid, as Savin-Baden argues, educational institutions will need to find ways of engaging student in such a way as to ensure that that they become lifelong learners: residents rather than visitors. And certainly, if universities are to draw on the affordances of technology to foster liquid learning, then some basic assumptions about education and learning more generally will need to change.




Kek & Huijzer

I read this brief article after I wrote my reflection on Savin-Baden, but never got round to noting down my thoughts, so this is happening later than I would have liked. Kek & Huijzer was an easier read than Savin-Baden which, as Erik noted, was rather hard to follow. However, despite the interesting title and abstract, with references to the university of the furture, 21st century skills, and PBL, I found this a less stimulating read.

First, though, I agree with the authors that:

Our purpose in higher education is to develop meaningful participation and engagement between students and ourselves – teachers, administrators, professional staff – and the ‘world’, and vice versa. (p.408)

I further agree with the vision that they articulate, which is where for them PBL comes into the equation: to achieve the above purpose, in particular in a world being disrupted by digital technologies (p.407), it is not just a question of:

facilitating students so that they can perform (qualification), but we must also ensure that they are being socialised (socialisation) into a ‘way-of-being’ (subjectification) that includes attributes and skills to take risks, to reason critically, to reflect, to be resourceful, and to be autonomous – qualities of lifelong learners – which will allow them to work and live productively in a world of uncertainties. (p.408)

I guess my main point is that it’s not clear to me why they think PBL is in a position to achieve this vision. So this was frustrating, and I decided to look into one of their key sources (other than Savin-Baden), namely Biesta.

Because of their emphasis on the purpose of HE, Kek & Huijzer here draw on the work of Gert Biesta, and for me this was probably the single most useful aspect of their paper. I thought that Biesta’s emphasis on the teleological character of education was really interesting, and likewise the distinction between qualification, socialisation and subjectification that he draws, so I went to look for the article and read it (Biesta 2015): recommended. The reason why purpose is so important for Biesta has to do with what he sees as the crucial role that teacher judgement plays in education, which implies normatively acting on the basis of values rather than because of ‘what works’ or what is supposedly ‘best practice’:

education is a teleological practice; that the telos of education is three-dimensional; and that, because of this, there is a need for judgement with regard to the three domains of purpose of education, their balance, the ‘trade-offs,’ and the educational ‘forms.’ I have also suggested that these judgements are first and foremost ‘of the teacher,’ because the teacher is constantly confronted with situations that, in some respects, are always new and hence call for judgement rather than the application of protocols or the enactment of abstract evidence about what allegedly ‘works.’ If education requires judgement, and if this judgement is ‘of the teacher,’ then it would follow that teachers have ample space and opportunity to exercise such judgement. (Biesta 2015, p.81)

There is no one-size-fits-all solution, certainly not in the case of learning and teaching, so we need to guard against dogmatism, i.e. the belief that one approach is simply ‘best’. Instead, it depends on what we are trying to achieve: the learning and teaching context is crucial. This then means that ‘good teaching’ is not just ‘good’ in the sense that it is high in quality (skilful, expert) or yields high-quality learning gains, but also in terms of what end purpose it has. In other words, teaching is good not only depending on its effectiveness but also its desirability (p.80); emphasis on ‘teaching excellence’ overlooks this normative dimension. Someone can be an excellent teacher in the sense of being really effective at teaching students to engage in questionable and indeed undesirable activities such as hacking websites.

The danger here may be for us to take PBL as orthodoxy without clearly thinking about our educational purpose. The Kek & Huijzer article surprisingly doesn’t say anything about this key aspect of the Biesta reading on which they draw, though to be fair they include the caveat that they are not providing “ready-made solutions nor is this about a toolbox of answers” (which suggests a critical attitude towards any and all approaches), and they clearly oppose an idea of learning and teaching premised on mere evidence-based effectiveness (see the reference to Barnett; p. 412).

Nevertheless, they all in all do seem to argue that PBL has the strong potential to “activate Savin-Baden’s (2014) concept of ‘liquid learning’” (p.409), thereby furthering reflective, life-long learning. And indeed, they argue that:

PBL, in its various adapted forms, is ideally suited to activate a way-of-being in students, partly because of its inherent focus on metacognition. (p.410)

And a couple of pages later:

Imagination and creativity are key to a better tomorrow, and we believe that PBL is ideally suited to help set them free. (p.412)

Even though, drawing on Savin-Baden’s notion of “liquid learning” derived from Bauman, they are arguing for a context-sensitive approach to PBL, which they term  what they term “agile PBL”, questions remain.  I found it frustrating that the authors really don’t provide justifications for their claims about PBL. Thus they claim that:

We believe that PBL, within an overall learning ecology, has the potential to help us imagine what a university might be in the future, and in the process create spaces for ‘imaginative mayhem’ for both students and teachers, as well as administrators and managers who govern and manage a university.

Why do they believe this? How does PBL have this potential to create “imaginative mayhem”? Maybe they have their reasons, but I couldn’t find them.


PBL is indeed such an agile approach to teaching and learning, malleable to changing contexts, knowledge and learning, activating liquid learning (p.412)


Repositioning PBL as the engine of development of a learning ecology allows for both the recognition of these multiple learning spaces, as well as for meaningful and proactive engagement with and in them.

In each case, I wonder why, i.e. on what basis they make these claims. What are their grounds for claiming that PBL is such an “agile approach”, that it is “malleable to change contexts”, and that repositioning PBL in the ways they argue will result in “meaningful and proactive engagement with and in them”? All this may well be the case, but I don’t see them providing a solid argument or case.

In short, as with Savin-Baden, I miss a more critical, more grounded perspective concerning PBL. I want to know more about what exactly Kek & Huijzer think are the strengths of PBL (p.413)of which we can take advantage!


Biesta, G. (2015). What is education for? On good education, teacher judgment, and educational professionalism. European Journal of Education, 50(1), 75-87.

Kek, M. & Huijser, H. (2015). 21st century skills: problem based learning and the University of the Future. Paper Third 21st Century Academic Forum Conference, Harvard, Boston, USA.


Yesterday evening I read the article by Savin-Baden (2014), one of the two recommended readings for First week: Getting started and connecting. Actually, I started off reading Kek & Huijser (2015), but within the first couple of pages it became clear that it would make more sense to read Savin-Baden first as they refer quite extensively to her article at the start.

Savin-Baden provides a typology of PBL because there appear to many different varieties, or what she terms “constellations”. She argues that PBL should be underpinned by “pedagogically informed guidelines” rather than “performative rules about how PBL should be used” (p.2). She starts by making that claim that “PBL is an approach to learning that is affected by the structural and pedagogical environment into which it is placed” (p. 2), which I find puzzling since surely this applies to any approach to learning–I cannot think of any approach to learning that is not going to be affected by the structural and pedagogical environment into which it is placed.

I found her discussion of 5 different modes of knowledge, and how PBL might relate to them, interesting. However, the allusion to the “liquid” reminded me of Zygmunt Bauman‘s discussion of “liquid modernity”, so I was surprised not to see reference to his work on modernity and globalisation at this point, specifically in terms of technology, globalisation, and how modes of knowledge change in modernity   (though later she briefly alludes to it: p.13). I found her discussion of the 5 modes of knowledge ahistorical.

The different constellations, however, are interesting. I found myself wondering to which constellation our ONL PBL groups belong: what is the philosophy that informs PBL groups in this course?

  • Presumably it is not Constellation 1,as we are not merely interested in knowledge management and propositional knowledge.
  • Might it be Constellation 2: a means of engaging us as students? Then again, that seems unlikely as our learning is not to my knowledge focused on “a particular problem, project, research question, or works-based activity” (p.9).
  • For this same reason, Constellation 3 seems unlikely too, as it is not necessarily “workplace based” (though in terms of my own interest in the course, I certainly am looking at the course in a kind of ‘meta’ way to see how we can at the NUS Centre for Development of Teaching and Learning translate our learning about e-learning to supporting NUS colleagues, and hence translate the experience to our own workplace).
  • Are we oriented toward practice and practicality (not quite the same two things, I would have thought), with its attendant dangers as to skills-based learning that becomes a “form of behavioural training in which competence can be ticked off against a checklist” or uncritical acceptance of instructors’ guidance (Constellation 4)?
  • Are we focusing on transfer to professional practice (Constellation 5, PBL for Design-Based Learning)? How exactly would that differ from Constellation 3?
  • Constellation 6 emphasises critical understanding, which is once again practice-oriented, so the question as to how this differs from the previous practice-oriented approaches again arises.
  • Instinctively,  Constellation 7: PBL for Multimodal Reasoning should be relevant for our course, given that we are a diverse group engage in multimodal discourses online by means of various different kinds of tools.
  • Constellation 8 is explicitly collaborative, with students working in PBL teams: i.e., the model being following for ONL171. It’s all about teamwork, as well as self- and peer assessment, with “high emphasis on reflexivity and accountability to one another in terms of the development of one’s own learning” (p.12). I look forward to seeing how this aspect develops in the course, specifically with reference to an open, connectives (p.17), integrative agenda across knowledge modes.
  • Finally, I suspect the course–both given its commitment to openness, the implicit critique of ‘performativity’ in Savin-Badin (p.13), and also the activist bent of a reading such as that by Kek & Huijser (and there explicit references to Biesta and Barnett)–has a transformative ideological agenda and is interested in issues relating to access, social justice, and indeed querying of dominant discourses.

Though the course presumably is oriented towards Constellation 8, ultimately I guess I am skeptical as to whether these different constellations of PBL are really so separate. The issue of student engagement is clearly central, but then I am a little surprised that this article does not take account of some of the key recent criticisms of PBL in particular and inquiry learning more generally with regard to issues that relate to cognitive load. I wonder whether PBL itself will be open to critique in the course, given that this is the approach being taken.


Kek, M. & Huijser, H. (2015). 21st century skills: problem based learning and the University of the Future. Paper Third 21st Century Academic Forum Conference, Harvard, Boston, USA.

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J. & Clark, R.E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

Savin-Baden, M., (2014) Problem-based learning: New constellations for the 21stCentury. Journal of Excellence in College Teaching 25 (3/4) 197-219 Preprint Savin-Baden JECT (3)

First blog post ONL171

So I am not a stranger to technology, and I am not a stranger to online meetings, but today we tried to connect a huge number of people across different continents for the introduction webinar to ONL171, and there were some technical issues. I started the meeting (on AdobeConnect) using my iPad, but then despite a strong wifi connection the app froze after a while. Next time I’ll use my laptop!

Despite the glitches, it was great to see so many colleagues from across the world connecting. I certainly look forward to learning, and to working closely with Group 1, the PBL group to which I have been assigned.

Next steps:

(1) Connect with colleagues in PBL Group 1.

(2) Read the recommended texts assigned for Week 1, namely:

Update: I have posted my reflection on Savin-Badin.

The other PBL resources also look interesting. I am wondering how we will use these various texts and what insight they will provide as to online collaboration.

I also should watch the ONL film on YouTube.

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