April 21, 2014

Conversation with Alan Levine, Pedagogical Technologist

Category: Digital Learning
Alan Lavine pedagogical technologist giving presentation with projection

“Instructional technologist” is an inadequate description for what Alan Levine has done at Maricopa Community Colleges, the New Media Consortium and the University of Mary Washington, often from his connected cabin in the Arizona highlands.  A better description might be: Alan Levine is a pedagogical technologist and architect of open, connected learning systems that enable students to take power over and responsibility for (and joy in!) their own learning. In Levine’s worlds of ds106, Phonar, and other open online courses, his coding and technical design often go beyond supporting existing pedagogy, by enabling learners to become co-learners. Don’t like the homework assignments? Make your own and contribute to the “assignment bank,” (now a WordPress theme).

Facilitating serendipity is one of Levine’s design principles, and facilitated serendipity is how I found him in the first place. If you can identify one person who really truly knows what’s new, exciting, trustworthy and important in any particular field, and they use Twitter, you can crawl their social networks and find others who truly know what’s happening in your topic of interest. That’s how I met Alan Levine. I knew, trusted, and followed Bryan Alexander. When I saw that Bryan was following Alan Levine, I added Levine to my list of tech-savvy educators. (And that’s where I first saw the hash-tagged conversations that eventually drew me into the ds106 cult.) I discovered that Levine is an avid practitioner of what he preaches to students: he shows his work frequently on his blog. He’s active on Twitter, participating in many tweetchats.

It’s not just about the technology. Aggregators and hashtags are means to an end: DIY learning.  As Levine notes, while schools no longer have a monopoly on learning because free digital media can be used to learn anything, knowing what to learn, how to learn, what questions to ask, isn’t a given, even with the savvy online self-learner.  The role of the instructor has not gone away, but it has shifted, now that so many open tools and texts are available to anyone with web access.  Showing by example the power of open sharing is one of Levine’s recent campaigns — he’s been collecting “true stories of open sharing.” In our video conversation, I started by asking him about open learning. The resulting video is three times longer than our average video interview because he has so many interesting, relevant things to say about the spirit that animates the technology platforms he creates. Many people have something to say about what to do with the educational opportunities afforded by digital media. Fewer can persuasively articulate a case for specific pedagogies that digital media enable. I found myself unable to halt the recording. Start watching and hearing what Levine has to say and I suspect you will find yourself unable to stop listening. If the specific hows, whys, and whats of open learning interest you, you need to listen to what Levine says in this conversation.

Banner image credit: Andy Rush (Alan Levine presenting “Five Card Flickr Stories” at 2012 University of Mary Washington Faculty Academy)