Posted by: arieliondotcom | November 3, 2008

Paper 2: Welcome to the Exploratorium!

I believe that the roles  of the Instructional Designer and Teacher are changing and must change in the face of the ever-increasing onslaught of information every human being faces today.  Those roles must merge into the Sharer, who shows new technologies and connections to information to others while always keeping in mind his/her own role as perpetual student. 

To do this, the Sharer must, at least in some respects, plant the environment for others, set up what may grow into connections and give opportunity for emergence in ways even the Sharer may not envision yet, but in a reasonably “safe” environment for exploration.  I call this transformation of the classroom the Exploratorium*.  It is a learning space that allows as much immersion in information and possible connections as feasible given the academic environment at hand.  Meanwhile the Sharer is on hand to keep overload or inappropriate connections from taking the learners too far astray of the intended connections. 

Today, there may be many restrictions by the academic community on what texts must be used, what classes must be attended, etc. for certification.  However I believe that the principles of the Exploratorium can be implemented at some phase, to some degree, at any level in a student’s life, and every person is a lifelong student. As stated in Network Logic , collaborative (tendencies)  of humans as social (beings) are universal. I believe students will broker where the “teacher” (of today, “Sharer” of tomorrow) stands in the network, based on how students see themselves in the network with other students and  friends they really trust as to what position that “Teacher/Sharer” should hold.  Teachers/Sharers must either envorce or overcome student perceptions of the quality of the Teacher/Sharer connections in order to make those connections attractive enough to gain student attention.  The network formed by connections with other humans, known and unknown,  will spark the knowledge in the network for each student. As I wrote in “The Third Rail and the Fifth Estate” and as outlined in the Moodle forums and article it references, parents are an integral part of that network.  The Teacher/Sharer must make every effort to include the parents in the vision of Connectivism, shared information through connections in networks sparking knowledge within that network.

 For example, let’s examine the infamous K-12 teacher of today, the role most discussed in CCK08.  In the Exploratorium, the K-12 teacher becomes the Sharer.  The “classroom” becomes an immersive, collaborative  environment. A 6th Grade Social Studies class is studying the culture of the Aztec nation. The Teacher/Sharer meets with parents and students and goes over the diagram included as part of the “New Schemas for Mapping Pedagogies and Technologies here.  The Teacher/Sharer, parents and students try to reach consensus on which style best serves the student interests.  Gathering the results from the class, the Teacher/Sharer seeks to design the class as an Exploratorium environment.  Yes, books are available for those who prefer them and who are best served by them.  But there are also computer connections, a Second Life account (monitored in the classroom or at home) and murals around the classroom walls that give the immersive feeling of actually depicting the Aztec culture.  Fabric mesh tunnels are strategically placed around the room with the walls of the tunnels depicting scenes so that while sitting in the tunnel the student is immersed in a specific scenario (inside a temple, inside a ship on the ocean as an explorer to the “New” World, etc.) where they can collaborate with each other.  Costumes are designed, menus are prepared (with the assistance of parents whenever possible), the Spanish language is explored.  All sorts of different connections are made to other people in search of more information and more knowledge-sparking potential.  The emphasis is on connecting to the person BEHIND the artifact (tunnel, painting, etc.) that led to it.  

There is always a core curriculum of the connections the learning environment at hand (the school system, graduation requirement) requires. The Teacher/Sharer, parents and student collaborate on ensuring that whatever method the student is using is assisting in wayfinding toward those goals.  If more connections are made, so much the better.  But along the path, like signposts, each of the connections (parents, Teacher/Sharers) and each tool (video, Second Life, writing, drawing, blog, podcast,  etc.) used to connect to people will prompt the student for responses (dates, opinions, responses to readings) of the set curriculum, but framed in the context best suited for that student. A record of the waypoints shows how the student connected and which connections seemed to spark the most activity and best learning.  If the student misses a certain number of waypoints, the direction of the connections is adjusted until success is achieved.

Note that this method is fully adaptable.  It can stretch as far as the academic environment and budget allow or as small as the classroom of today with resources readily available at any library and in most homes at any economic level.  Technology is an enabler, not a limiter.  And it is available for any subject.  The Aztec environment could just as easily become an immersive electron, an amoeba, a Wordle for English or Grammar classes.  The key is to increase the exposure of the child to as many connections to people, through as many means, both technological and social, as possible.

The Exploratorium is a safe place, as Terry Anderson’s “Virtual Canuck” article discusses about the safety of groups:

“The sense of common identity characteristic of groups creates the opportunity for construction of safe spaces. If one doesn’t feel safe one doesn’t learn – or at least not very effectually.”

But the safety for learning is for the Teacher/Sharer as well.  Through collaboration with fellow educators (as advocated in Untangling the Threads) with parents and with the children/learners (the solution I offer to the Hargreaves arguments against the Threads article), the connections of the Teacher/Sharer will grow as well.

Connectivism is built into Creation.  The world is full of artifacts GOD uses to bring us into connection with Himself (Psalm 19).  The knowledge isn’t in the artifacts but in the connections we have with each other and, by His Grace, with GOD Himself.  The world is our Exploratorium.  We need only gently guide and share with others in its exploration.

*NOTE:  I have no claim to the term Exploratorium, and do not have any connection (no pun intended) to any person associated with anything by that name.



  1. Your imaginative example is as vivid and gentle as the landscape you have on your blog home page! Thanks!

    >>I believe students will broker where the “teacher” (of today, “Sharer” of tomorrow) stands in the network, based on how students see themselves in the network with other students and friends they really trust as to what position that “Teacher/Sharer” should hold.

    This is interesting. We talk of differences between learners as a basis of designing content one way or the other. This should be analogously true in a networked situation, the means for which could be “brokering”/negotiation/force/subservience…?

    >>A record of the waypoints shows how the student connected and which connections seemed to spark the most activity and best learning. If the student misses a certain number of waypoints, the direction of the connections is adjusted until success is achieved

    This is an interesting suggestion. I guess I would ask if we could implement it in some simple way. I think waypoints (or checkpoints?) are points of order interspersed between chaotic activities of learning.

    >>The Exploratorium is a safe place

    Interesting linkage of common identify to a feeling of safety and comfort. I wonder how this stands in our discussion about networks vs. groups.

  2. Ariel,

    Take a look at Christensen, “Disrupting Class”. He examines these very same points.
    The future K-12 educator will be more of a “tutor” and everyone will have individual leanring plans (For real instead of today’s tokenism).

  3. Viplav

    Thanks for your kind remarks. 🙂

    I explained the network/groups issue within my paper, but to “spell it out”, I agree with (my understanding of) the George Siemens interpretation that groups are a form of networks, super-bonded, if you will, to a particular goal. So the participants and Sharer would be (to me) a group while all the other connections they make are part of their network(s).

  4. Bradley

    Thanks for the links. It appears that Connectivism works again as I have stumbled in my ignorance of learning theories, etc. upon the same concepts others have already found without my having realized it! 🙂

    Based on the Stephen Downes treatise on interpreting websites (which I also saw as an Anti-Objective Reality Manifesto) though, I will be bold enough to disagree with the title of “tutor”, which to me infers too much of imposition and too little reciprocity. So I’ll “stick to” my “Sharer” title. (By the way I don’t agree with much of Stephen’s article but haven’t had time to write my own manifesto yet! Heh-heh.

  5. […] Paper 2: Welcome to the Exploratorium! « Arieliondotcom the LORD-loving Learning Lion […]

  6. […] in the “Virtual Canuck” on the importance of a safe place for learning and my own paper “Welcome to the Exploratorium” which cites his statement and gives my implications. The second was an informal presentation, […]

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