Being a Technologist



I am old enough to have experienced PT … physical training in school.

I was reminded of PT this week when Howard Rheingold described Alan Levine as a Pedagogical Technologist.

Howard discussed Alan’s experiences of stimulating and supporting student learning in a thirty minute Vimeo recording.

This PT is a very long way temporally and conceptually from my first PT experiences.

Technology as Practice

I did listen carefully to the conversation between Howard and Alan. I did not hear the term ‘pedagogical technologist’ mentioned explicitly. I do think it is an excellent description of Alan and his teaching.

The conversation between Harold and Alan covered Alan’s work from 1992 to the present day. I found it fascinating to learn about Alan’s development as a teacher and open access practitioner. I admire Alan’s work immensely and I regard his involvement in the development of ds106 as a model for me to follow as I explore open learning opportunities.

Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

There is an important message about creativity in Howard and Alan’s conversation. Alan discussed the significance of students meeting in a physical space in synchronous time. He and Harold agreed about the place of structured exposure to ideas and practices. Alan talked about the classroom morphing into a studio wherein students worked creatively in adjacent spaces. Harold amplified this point with his mention of Chris Bache’s work on collective consciousness and Richard Sennett’s discussion of craft as “doing something well for its own sake”.

I think this is the world of the pedagogical technologist. The craft of this technologist is, I think, to support student’s experimenting within an environment that values (and prioritises) sharing. I agree entirely that this practice is shaped by the spirit and attitude of openness.

There are lessons for all of us in Alan’s practice about how to be creative about assessment. I think the daily create part of ds106 that extends students’ reach with low challenge practice is very powerful in creating a culture of exploration. I admire the opportunities students have to modify their assessment tasks if they can be bold and narrate and explain why they have taken an alternative path.

I sense that pedagogical technologists work with students to move beyond unthinking compliance to a reflective response to learning opportunities. This resonates strongly with Alan’s interest in Jon Udell’s narrating our work.


I enjoyed Alan’s discussion of a blogging voice too. He affirmed how important it is for him to blog and I was reassured by his suggestion that finding his voice took him some considerable time. I share Alan’s interest in blogging as an iterative “conversation with myself” to clarify one’s thinking.


Harold discussed serendipitous opportunities afforded by a spirit of openness. Alan talked about some of his experiences that have emerged from sharing and making connections.

I had my own serendipity at the time of viewing the interview. My Paper.Li aggregator brought me a link from Steve Wheeler to his Changing the learning landscape blog post. In the post, Steve reports that ‘a one day workshop on social media and learning in higher education that will be held at the University of Warwick on April 24’.

Steve is speaking at the workshop and shares some of the flyer for the event:

Social media turns the traditional static web into a participatory and collaborative experience. Social media enables individuals to discuss, share, and learn via different kinds of media, such as text, video, photos. The use of social media is increasing within higher education to teach and support student learning. The range of different social media platforms is ever expanding and it can seem quite daunting trying to navigate through this and find effective methods for learning and teaching. This workshop will discuss a range of social media platforms and provide examples of their use within learning and teaching.

I think the workshop would find Harold and Alan’s conversation extremely pertinent. The attraction of the participatory web for me is that we can connect with practice in a spirit of openness. The workshop ‘will look to inspire leadership of pedagogic development of the use of social media platforms’.

I imagine the same issues will be addressed in terms of open networked participatory scholarship.

Pedagogy and scholarship will flourish in institutions that are able to embrace the spirit of openness for pro-active strategic outcomes rather than re-active operational expediency. The visionary institutions are becoming very different spaces for learning.

A second link, shared with me by Darrell Cobner, took me to this quote ‘the true experts, ultimately, only needed one main specialized skill, storytelling, to thrive in social media’ … and thus back to ds106.

This course will require you to both design and build an online identity (if you don’t have one already) and narrate your process throughout the fifteen week semester. Given this, you will be expected to openly frame this process and interact with one another throughout the course as well as engage and interact with the world beyond as a necessary part of such a development.

In many ways this course will be part storytelling workshop, part technology training, and, most importantly, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape that is ever increasingly mediating how we communicate with one another.

ds106 course objectives are:

    • Develop skills in using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression.
    • Frame a digital identity wherein you become both a practitioner in and interrogator of various new modes of networking.
    • Critically examine the digital landscape of communication technologies as emergent narrative forms and genres.



It is a long bow to draw to conclude this post, but in the spirit of a personal conversation …

Physical training emphasised order, compliance and whole group participation. Instructors delivered their content in a formal classroom. Pupils attended and sanctions were applied for non-compliance often in the form of ‘punishments’ in front of the whole class.

Pedagogical Technologists are the antitheses of this training model.

Harold and Alan have given me a much clearer sense of how this pedagogy can take place in a structured physical setting as well as in personally driven asynchronous spaces. It is an education model not a training model. It is a facilitation approach rather than an instruction approach. It is profoundly educational in its epistemology and ontology.

It has a lot to share about order and chaos. It is where we will be.

Photo Credit

Frame Grab (Connected Learning Alliance)


Children at physical training in Llanfyllin church school (The National Library of Wales, no known copyright restrictions)