Thursday, 24 December 2009

Formal Learning/Informal Learning/Just Plain Learning

There are no real interest new ideas in this post, just some reflections on a personal venture of mine. I felt the need for self-disclosure - satisfying the basic human need to share and communicate.

It's been a long time since my last post. This is mostly due to an assignment I am writing for an MA I've just started. I've toyed with the idea of doing one for a while now. I work in an academic institution but my role is mainly one of learning design, advising people on learning design, delivering training, setting up VLE pages. There is no immediate imperative to become 'academic'. However, I resolve to do one for the following reasons:

- It's free (as a member of staff at the Institute of Education)
- The subject matter is ICT in Education so it should be topics that I can relate to
- I aim to learn, learn, learn. This is the main reason. I'll be forced to research areas where I currently scratch the surface giving myself an academic rigour to some of my ideas. That's the theory anyway.
- I'm a firm believer in informal learning. My use of this blog and reading other blogs is my primary learning method and it works for me. However, for many of those in education they want to stamp of approval that an award like this gives. It's the only language they understand. So by doing this I will hopefully gain respect, gain validity. The validity I want is validity for my ideas and suggestions around learning technologies.
- I hope to gain insight into being a student in Higher Education. I've already done a lot of this. I'm learning first hand about the type of students we get, the approaches the lecturers take and difficulties students face.

I did two thirds of an MA 5 years ago but never got around to finishing it. At the time I couldn't see any real point. It had no real impact on what I was doing but now is different. So now I am starting again from scratch and viewing it as a learning exercise. The only real downside is that studying competed with my time previously devoted to my informal learning in the blogosphere. I will hopefully manage this better from now on.

I will also say this. It's hard to study and work. I'm used to working, coming home and not working. Now things are different. However, I guess this is now in line with my views on learning. Learning doesn't just happen within formal education structures, it happens all the time at the learner's discretion. I'm trying to view much of my work as learning so why not extent this out beyond the four wall of my office. I think that makes sense.

Happy Xmas everyone.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Digital Natives

I've been reflected on the digital natives issue after reading The 'Digital Natives' debate: A critical review of the evidence (by Bennett, Maton and Kervin, 2008.

The argument is well put that there is an element of 'moral panic' that brings unnecessary emotional reactions from both of this debate. Defenses are put up and little progress is made. Overall, I think to say that there is little empirical evidence to support the claims made about how we should change education because of the digital natives is fair enough. However, it's difficult to study changes to education which haven't happened. You can't study what hasn't happened!

Personally, I don't like the term digital native because it suggest a generational thing which isn't helpful. It's as if humans are intrinsically different from 1990 onwards! Rubbish. However, we can learn something very important from all human interaction with ICT over the last few years and think about how we should be educating people as a result. What I mean by this is that we are using Web 2.0 because they allow us to communicate in better and deeper ways. We are a social species. If we weren't, there would be no facebook, no twitter. Or at least not with the same widespread use. These tools were develop because of an inclination to communicate, to play, to create, to experiment. Why now? Because we can. We simply couldn't before. Or at least, most of us non-techie's couldn't. A lot of these tools are simply ways of interacting in different and deeper ways. So the fact that we, as humans, are doing this or want to do this is an important message.

Is it such a leap to think that there are lessons here for education? Not for me, but to a certain extent this is a leap of faith. The paper talks about digital natives being held up to "active experiential learners." No, this is what they want to be; this is what they are doing by choice; this is where we can surely accomodate them through formal education.

Overall, if you want labels I prefer the digital visitor, digital resident distinction made on the Don't Waste Your Time blogpost - Digital Native/Immigrant … or Resident/Visitor?. This is mostly because it doesn't distinguish between ages.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Motivation, Self-efficacy and Training

I've been reflecting recently on motivation for educators to use Learning Technologies. It's a topic that should be close to the heart of any learning technologist because it defines our success or lack of success. In higher education, for various reasons already discussed in this blog, we have an LMS content dumping situation. Self-efficacy is closely linked to this. Wikipedia describes it as:

"It is a belief that one has the capabilities to execute the courses of actions required to manage prospective situations."

Apart from being difficult to say, why is this important? It's important because it's behind a lot of the dismissive, ill-informed, sweeping statement we were about learning technologies. It's easy to dismiss something you don't understand. This is why my mantra is to educate the educators. The best way to do this at the moment is to talk in terms of Web 2.0 because the concept and values behind Web 2.0 are a good way of getting the right message across about learning technologies in general.

But why should we expect the educators to go out and learn these things? This just isn't going to happen surely. Well we need to make it as easy as we possibly can. At the moment, I'm trying to get some Web 2.0 blended learning short courses off the ground with my fingers in various pies. I'm convinced this is the right way to go. A few years ago, I was involved in a project which sought to educate the educators in personal ICT skills. We got UK government funding in London and it was best training I've ever been involved in. Why was it good? There was a clear gap in the market; a clear need; and lots of eureka moments where understanding was gained by the bucketload and motivation to use ICT was switched on like a light switch. Web 2.0 training would be more conceptual but still hands-on. It is astounding to me that we are not currently doing this - everywhere. I just hope I can get some people to see the light. Wish me luck.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Don't Tell me how to Teach!

Ok, this has never actually been said to me, but it's implicit in a lot of my conversations and is a major barrier to the adoption of Learning Technologies in education. So why would they be thinking this? And what business is it of mine to poke my nose into their teaching? The simplest answer to this is that to adopt anything new you have to incorporate it into the learning design. You have to think holistically about how you teach and fit it in. This is true of any tool/method/environment. I wouldn't be doing my job properly if I didn't make this clear.

So what's the problem? It's because they don't want to go through a redesign process. A process that I would find natural and necessary. Underlying both is the natural human defense against outside influence into their course/lesson - What's wrong with what I'm doing and "don't tell me how to teach". For some, in the lazy teaching club, they teach by a bog-standard content dumping, didactic method. So here we have an added barrier. I like to think this isn't widespread but I'm sure there is no study which measures this. For others and in our Learning Technology context, there's an issue of lack of confidence/skills/understanding or what Learning Technologies have to offer. This is definitely widespread and I don't need any research to tell me that. Wrap bits of all these issues up and you get a pretty tricky situation.

And the standard result in this scenario? Add-ons. Adding on file repositories (most common), adding on a discussion forum or sometimes adding on something like audio files (often mistaken called podcasts) to give the illusion of e-learning wizardry. But what's important is that there is no threat to the existing course design, even if there hasn't really been any real design process in the first place.

So whatever you do Learning Technologists out there - DON'T TELL ME HOW TO TEACH!"

Monday, 9 November 2009

Have belief in Learning Technologies

One of the questions I've been asking myself recently is Why am I in Learning Technology? Did I fall into it and just run with it? Is it simply a job that I don't really believe in or care about? I tell myself and others that it's because I believe Learning Technologies provide something positive for education. Not just for themselves but positive in the ways of learning that they bring to the attention of education, make visible and demonstrate are viable and sometimes better than the didactic malaise education finds itself in. One of my main learning points (amongst many) recently has been how it's simply impossible to "prove" anything to do with Learning Technologies - or indeed anything to do with learning. You can point to a study that give a certain finding, but there's always a counter study or a context that leaves it open to question.

So how do I know that a particular Learning Technology is positive for education? Simply put, I don't. But I believe it to be true. The evidence and the experience I have leads me to this conclusion. I think it helps if you believe in what you're selling and certainly I couldn't function properly if I didn't. Also, maybe proving learning benefits is the wrong tack. Is it more about a vocational or workplace imperative? Or it is more about teaching learners how to learn that's important? It's probably all of these things.

What's important is that I have conviction in the virtue of my role. Also, I don't see it as a bad thing if I go too far in this conviction. In my context, there really isn't enough positive energy with Learning Technologies. Someone needs to provide it, if only to get people thinking.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Personal Cyberinfrastructure

I read the article A Personal Cyberinfrastructure with interest. Gardner Campbell pulls no punches when he advocates for personal cyberinfrastrucure. He says:

"Suppose that when students matriculate, they are assigned their own web servers — not 1GB folders in the institution's web space but honest-to-goodness virtualized web servers of the kind available for $7.99 a month from a variety of hosting services."

The reasoning is:

"In building that personal cyberinfrastructure, students not only would acquire crucial technical skills for their digital lives but also would engage in work that provides richly teachable moments ranging from multimodal writing to information science, knowledge management, bibliographic instruction, and social networking. Fascinating and important innovations would emerge as students are able to shape their own cognition, learning, expression, and reflection in a digital age, in a digital medium. Students would frame, curate, share, and direct their own "engagement streams" throughout the learning environment."

There's so much here it's difficult to digest it all. However, the principle seems sound. Give the student real ownership and there can be real manifestation of personalised learning - a subject I reflected on in Personal Learning Environments - Concept not Tool. This is the kind of personal choice I was talking about but with the stability that education institutions crave. He continues:

"This vision goes beyond the "personal learning environment" in that it asks students to think about the web at the level of the server, with the tools and affordances that such an environment prompts and provides... These personal cyberinfrastructures will be visible, fractal-like, in the institutional cyberinfrastructures, and the network effects that arise recursively within that relationship will allow new learning and new connections to emerge as a natural part of individual and collaborative efforts."

This post is more quotation than reflection from me but I wanted to capture the essence of his ideas. The obvious question to arise from this is - are we ready for such a scenario? Clearly, it's no and I shudder at the idea of trying to sell this to the UK higher education world. However, I stiill love to be involved in an example of this nonetheless.

I might as well finish with some for quotation from this article. This time concerning the current LMS/VLE world:

"Higher education, which should be in the business of thinking the unthinkable, stood in line and bought its own version of the digital facelift. At the turn of the century, higher education looked in the mirror and, seeing its portals, its easy-to-use LMSs, and its "digital campuses," admired itself as sleek, youthful, attractive. But the mirror lied."

I include this to illustrate a particular frustration of mine. We think we are fully Web 2.0ed up, we think we are fully e-learning compliant. The truth is we are not. It's open to debate whether we should be or not (I say "yes") but don't think you've captured and are practising what it's all about when all you are doing is using VLEs as file repositories with token discussion boards! The 'we' here is UK Higher Education by the way. But I think you could extend it all education with confidence.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

A Learning Technologist in 2009 in Higher Education

I've just read an interesting post which has helped move my thinking on a bit. It's "Training" faculty to teach online by Lisa Lane and is about the nature of the usual offerings of "training" on teaching online. She distinguishes between Technical training, which is the mechanics of how to work and navigate a particular tool/artefact, and professional development for effective online teaching where the pedagogies behind them are explored. She says:

The misconceptions about the validity of online teaching are only encouraged by using the word “training”. It implies a false proposition: that instructors need to learn the tools first, and that once they have done so they will develop good online classes. Neither of these is true. Instead, instructors should be encouraged to examine their pedagogy as they begin to teach online, and be provided with extensive technical support as they develop courses based on their chosen pedagogy. And powers-that-be (accrediting agencies, Chancellor’s Offices, and our own colleagues) should be aware that the need is for creating a good environment for encouraging such practices, instead of certifying “training in teaching online”.

The weakness is one of understanding on the part of colleagues and administrators, and, in some cases, lack of meta-cognitive pedagogy (whether online or on-site) among faculty.

There's lots of good points here. Knowledge of pedagogy is lacking, knowledge of the values behind any Learning Technology is lacking, knowledge of Web 2.0 is lacking and personal ICT skills are lacking. These issues are just so huge! Where do you start? Well, the place most people is with the technical training. The problem is this is mostly where it ends. As Lisa argues in her post, perception of online training is often only about how to use a tool. We need more! But this is recognised. Not by the users or the employers.

Thinking about my practice and what goes on in Higher Education, things could be better. A lot of what I do ends up with showing how a tool work (technical training) and we often don't get beyond this. Mostly, people don't want me to go beyond this. Or if they are interested, there isn't the time. Should I force the issue? This depends on what type of Learning Technologist you are. If you are happy reinforcing the status quo, then trying to effect the way they teach isn't on the agenda. If you believe in the spirit of Web 2.0 and think that pedagogies and values behind it can have a positive impact on education then you MUST force the issue.

I think I'm shouting this word at myself more than anyone else. But it's hard. Hard to force the issue, hard to challenge how someone teaches, hard to annoy someone, hard to make your worklife more complex and more difficult than it needs to be.

So being a Learning Technologist in Higher Education in 2009 is all about challenging the status quo. But to do this properly feathers will be ruffled. I need to lie down for a bit!

Monday, 26 October 2009

Didactic Teachers are expendable

The title of this post doesn't really tell the whole story, but I'm hooked on trying to have catchy, short titles (maybe twitter is effecting me too much)....

After reading Free Online Higher Education Courses?, I reflected on the whole principle of OER. In the posting, Robert Hughes argues that watching a lecture isn't as good as taking the course (in a critique of another article). This is true where the course is well run. But what about a large lecture where the didactic rules. Wouldn't watching a video or listening to an audio in the comfort of your own home be just as good. No, it would be better. So I agree that taking a course which uses a variety of pedagogical approaches can't be matched by OER. But a course where your only involvement is scribbling notes at the back of a lecture theatre can, and is, matched by an OER on the same subject. And if you get your friend to go to the lecture for you and record it, then you win any way you look at it.

In some ways, OER exposes educators who clings to the didactic as the only form of teaching. The logical step from the above scenario is that they are expendable. If it's all about the content, then the employee can produce this in cheaper ways than the expensive face-to-face model currently used. Sure, we'll still need experts. But not as many and not for the same amount of time. I don't want this. The teacher is vital to formal education - if they teach well. Hopefully, this can cause some realisation that we need to provide more than just the facts, delivered in broadcast fashion.

So educators, make yourself indispensable - design your learning incorporating collaborative and personalised pedagogies. We need you for that. So, if you think that Learning Technologies threatens your existence, you're wrong - they are your saviour.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Web 2.0 tools in VLEs - Just not that good

I found this great slideshow.

Thanks David Hopkins for your post - Presentation: Moodle; an alternative to Blackboard for Web 2.0. (not that it's likely he will see this). The learning point for me is the around the question of using free standing Web 2.0 tools or a VLE with its own tools that could be characterised as Web 2.0. The slideshow stated, quite rightly, that an integrated tool offers less quality in terms of features but offers greater control and less risk.

The first to say is that, almost entirely, there is no choice for most higher educational institutions. They get a VLE - control and integration is a given. It's viewed mostly from a content viewpoint. Tools, web 2.0 or whatever, come secondary. I think if the learning opportunities presented by the tools were the priority there would be more consideration paid to the choice being discussed.

Moving on from that slightly depressed footnote, back to the issues of pure Web 2.0 and those integrated in VLEs. Here's the tension: Web 2.0, by definition, has a spirit of openness and sharing. VLEs are about control and walling the learning behind closed doors. You can take the mechanics of a tool like blogging, but walling it in away from the blogosphere changes its essence. The social side chopped off at the edge of the institution. This is far more of a difference that just having a few less features in the VLE version. By taking the social almost organic nature away from the concept it becomes an altogether inferior representation.

And what about the risk. Risk is always the first thing people think of - often becoming the reason for not using something. These risks are always overstated. But what is the risk in this context? I think this is what the slideshow is referring to is the risk of things breaking down or disappearing. Yes, this is true. Websites can shut down and you have no control over how they develop. However, this is rarely down without warning and there are always equivalent tools to use. Also, in the Web 2.0 world websites die for a reason - mostly because they just aren't that good. Moving to different version is probably a better option anyway. Certainly what you don't get is 90s looking interfaces and navigation that some VLEs possess (BLACKBOARD!!!!). In any case, costly VLEs with costly hosting have been known to fail. One of the ones I work on took a week off at the start of term a couple of years ago.

For any educational institutions, there's also the issue of ownership. A VLE is owned and not simply customised. A manifestation of the controlled, walled physical environment. So when I introduce an educator to a Web 2.0 tool outside the VLE, I'm chipping away at this notion. Well, I tell myself that anyway!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Introducing Learning Technologies - the Utopia, the Reality

I've was asked the below question on the Educational Technology and Change Journal. I thought I'd post my response here as well as on there.

What would you suggest for helping teachers move beyond this passive use to the more active use that VLEs are capable of?

That's a good question. My utopian answer approaches the issue from a pedagogical point of view - promoting a collaborative and personalised approach. I would use the phrase teaching methods instead of pedagogy to keep things simple and talk in terms of allowing the learner to be creative and involved in the learning process – active rather than passive. I don’t think many educators would disagree that these techniques have a positive impact in principle. Once this is established, the idea that a particular Learning Technology artefacts or tool can be used to achieve such an approach, can be introduced. It’s important the Learning Technology itself isn’t seen as what’s valuable or important but the value or particular pedagogical stance behind it. That’s the utopia. The reality is different.

In Higher Education, for a standard lecturer in my context the standard way of teaching is lecturing with a bit of group discussion. It’s all face-to-face even though a VLE exists. It’s a tough sell to challenge both the delivery and the pedagogy that lies behind this. Where we are at in my institution is challenging the delivery by introducing the VLE as a tool for file repository and maybe assignment submission and grade management. This is seen as an important first step. However, we seem to have been on this first step for quite a while now. I have been talking about the other tools available both within and outside our VLE but they fall, largely, on deaf ears.

So the main barrier is promoting the collaborative and personalised approaches to learning mentioned earlier. Promoting them challenges the way an educator teaches. Who am I to challenge this? People will reject such an advance for a variety of natural human reasons. You could also argue that this isn’t my job. I’m a Learning Technologist not a pedagogical adviser (not that such a thing exists). The problem is that I think that changing the way we teach is at the heart of what a Learning Technologist is trying to do. So what can I do? My goal is to build up enough of an educator base so that an element of peer pressure exists. This would also give validity the Learning Technologies. Apart from that, keep chipping away.

I’d be interested to hear what others think.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Personal Learning Environments - Concept not Tool

The educational response to the concept of Personal Learning Environment has been to try and create a tool and present it as a ready made Personal Learning Environment. Well, this misses the point. Also, it is symptomatic of educational institutions desire to control. So they create walled, narrow tools (usually something like an e-portfolio system) and pass it off as a Personal Learning Environment. My Personal Learning spills over a number of different tool. I would say that igoogle is the major gateway but google reader and blogger are key elements (at the moment). Maybe by having the word "environment", the concept is given a false representative quality that it shouldn't have.

I've been prompted to reflect on this whilst reading Exploring Personal Learning Environment by Graham Atwell. Amongst this resource I found the following useful quote:

"Another approach is to consider the PLE not as a specific tool, but rather as a concept, a way of organizing a variety of Web 2.0 technologies. The PLE would be unique to each user, and would change according to the user’s needs and experiences." [Kompen R, Edirisingha P & Monguet J (2009) Using Web 2.0 applications as supporting tools for Personal Learning Environments]

Sums it up nicely I think.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Choose your own path and collaborate!

I read Graham Atwell’s post Cartoon Planet – A Pedagogy of Change a few days ago. I set it aside to study later because I knew there was lots to reflect on. I’ve now found time to do this and there has been one major learning point. Prompted from the quotes below, I’ve been able to think through the two major themes of Web 2.0 learning – Personal Learning and Collaborative Learning in a more coherent way.


The below 4 quotes give insight on this:

“Whilst young learners in the 21st century are seen as being increasingly independent, simultaneously group skills are more important than ever before.”
“The ‘educational shift’, grounded on social and personalised pedagogies, as advocated by most of the literature, is still in progress (Williamson and Payto, 2009).”
“The construction of new knowledge through collaborative and cooperative activities, which are personally meaningful to the learners, are core to a pedagogy of change (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2007).”
“Learning relies both on granting the individual an active voice and creating an environment for collective listening and mutual support (UNESCO, 2002).”


These quotes crystallises the issue for me. Everyone can pick and choose their collaborative path. Look at how social networking works, everyone chooses their friends on facebook, they each join the groups they want and communicate with each set of people separately. The choice is entirely theirs and everyone has different connections. Groups can be subject specific or a particular social context or grouping. I think network is a more helpful word here than community. But what’s most important is that the learner is creating their network for themselves.


Let’s think about education. Well, let’s face it, it’s not set up to cater for this type of freedom. Any group work is strictly controlled and limited, be it physical or virtual. With this control, you can compromise achieving what’s “personally meaningful to the learners”. This has the best chance of coming when you give a level of independence. The learner creates and chooses their own path. Downes’ and Siemens connectivism course delivery shows what can be done (it’s a pity I’ve pretty much dropped off this (next year maybe)). I think control is at the heart of what education is all about so this is tough nut to crack. But it’s worth recognising that by controlling how students learn, you can inhibit their ability to learn – both now and in the future.


This has ended somewhere different to where I expected. I had intended to highlight how important the personal and collaborative elements are to my ‘informal’ learning in the blogosphere. I have created my own bloglist which gets refined all the time; I study them, as well as the odd article; I do my job and learn things; I collaborate by talking to a couple of key colleagues; I collaborate in the comments of blogs; I reflect on all this and blog myself. The most important part of this for me is the reflection. Previously, I never found time to reflect and this is the missing elements for lots of people. The other things can happen naturally, if you are lucky, but standing back and reflecting often gets lost.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Blackboard reinforcing the Status Quo

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

I discovered the article Insidious pedagogy: how course management systems impact teaching by Lisa M. Lane thanks to the WISE Pedagogy blog. It's one of those gems that you find every so often. And I'm going to do my usual quotes with comments blog posts to make sure I get the full reflection and learning benefit from it. The subject area is the implied pedagogy of standard LMS'/VLEs.

"Course management systems (CMSs), used throughout colleges and universities for presenting online or technology-enhanced classes, are not pedagogically neutral shells for course content. They influence pedagogy by presenting default formats designed to guide the instructor toward creating a course in a certain way. This is particularly true of integrated systems (such as Blackboard/WebCT)... Blackboard "tends to encourage a linear pathway through the content", and its default is to support easy uploading and text entry to achieve that goal."

I've always approached this from the opposite angle and said that VLEs are designed for the current education market rather than to improve or change in any way. So it's file repositories and grading books all the way. Remember, unlike Web 2.0, many of these VLEs are commercial products and in business you give the customer what they want and the customer doesn't want their pedagogy challenged. You also have to remember that a lot of the collaborative tools have been added on as VLEs react to what going on out in the real world. But when they are addons they don't really impact on the intrinsic design or structure. They could redesign as new versions come out - but they don't. Certainly, each new version of blackboard is so simliar to the last that it's almost indistinguishable. Maybe the consistency is important to them but it's a real missed opportunity. By the way, I'm quoting Lisa's use of CMS but I use LMS/VLE. I steer clear of CMS because it can get mixed up with Content Management System.


"a CMS must be designed around a central pedagogy: consistency of interface relies on consistency of approach. It is only important to recognize that the interface of any software reflects its intent."


I'd not thought about it in these terms before. Although I agree with this, I'm not sure that blackboard is designed with any particular pedagogy in mind. I think it's more a case of designing around the prevailing perception of what teaching is. Moodle is deliberately different. The collobarative tools are much more prominent and the grading system is rubbish, probably deliberately so (only joking).


Lisa then characterises most educators as "web novices". She says:

"These users were trying to reduce their cognitive load by limiting their use of the software, while Web experts were able to keep their goal in mind easily while searching more deeply."


And:

"When faced with a different interface or online environment, novices are inclined to utilize only the aspects they understand from a non-Web context."


It's a double-whammy. First, you have a majority who's personal ICT skills don't allow them to easily explore and experiment with the full range of what a VLE has to offer. Second, you have a majority who are content, if not happy, with the prevailing pedagogy of current teaching. Thus, there is no desire or compulsion to embrace/explore/experiment with software that challenges this. I also feel the knowledge of pedagogy within education is pretty limited but I don't base this on any hard facts. Anyway, both these issues are massive barriers to the adoption and use of Web 2.0 type tools . If you've read this blog before you'll know how sad that makes me.


Some more attacks on the blackboard functionality:

"Most professors think in terms of the semester, and how their pedagogical goals can be achieved wtithin the context of time, rather than space... Blackboard's default organization accepts neither of these approaches in its initial interface."


You can, of course, change this which is what I often advise my academics to do. But why have it like this? What it does is validate and reinforce the notion that content, course news and grading is all the VLE is good for. It's not for teaching or learning, but to get things from. It's a passive rather than active relationship, Web 1.0 not Web 2.0.


She continues:

"There is more satisfaction in mastering a few elements than in experimenting. Instructors move very slowly into features of the CMS that support less-instructivist models, and experience with the CMS over time does not necessarily lead to more creative pedagogy, or even to more expanive use of system features."


So we have a situation where educators struggle to get to grips with what a VLE can do AND they don't really want to anyway. That's not good.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Structuring Web 2.0

Web 2.0

As a follow-up to Clarifying Informal Learning & Web 2.0, I've been reflecting further on a Web 2.0 classification system and resolved to do my own one. One which tried to simple and clear. The stimulus for this has been the need to design some Web 2.0 training. Previously, I've used the classification from the document Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning which aligned web 2.0 with four typically human dispositions:

Socialising the playful: games and virtual worlds
Socialising the expressive: media design, sharing, and publication
Socialising the reflective: blogs, social networks, and wikis
Socialising the exploratory: syndication, recommenders, folksonomies

However, I wanted something simpler and came across the Make, Share, Find classification in The CU Online Handbook. However, I think this misses out some of the key messages. So, I have come up with what's at the top of this post.
The idea is that everything fits into 1 of the 3 categories. I seperated the social element because it should run through everything. Overall, it serves a purpose for myself and is hopefully presentable enough for others to understand. However, I'm not crazy about the shape and there might be more reflective to be done on the details so things may change.
Anyway, it certainly fits into the category of Learning Technology Learning so it's worth posting here.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Question from John Traxler - 'Education - Fit for purpose?'

John Traxler commented on my post from last Saturday Review of Traxler’s ‘Students and Mobile Devices’ and stated that the following question was his overriding concern for the article:

My over-riding question... is something like 'do the social changes associated with universal connectedness and mobility mean major aspects of the education system are bust and not 'fit-for-purpose'? or will technical/tactical fixes (maybe 'mobile learning' is one of these) and compromises continue to see us thro?'

It took a while for me to get my head around what this is asking, but once I did I could see that it was worth reflecting on. In essence, what John is asking is:

Does the social media/Web 2.o mean that the education system isn't 'fit for purpose?' Or can we compromise the protect what we have?

The short answer is YES. And we will compromise but in my utopia we shouldn't.

The first thing to consider is what has Web 2.0 taught us about learning? Most importantly, it's taught us that humans are SOCIAL. We are social beings, we want to communicate, share and network with eachother. It this wasn't true facebook and twitter wouldn't have exploded or we wouldn't keep inventing new and better ways to communicate with eachother. So what does this have to do with learning and changes to our educational system? I guess this has to do with how important you think these things are to learning. For me, communicating, sharing and networking are a fundamental of it. What Web 2.0 does it give this 'social learning' a massive outlet. An outlet that grows and develops all the time. Why not utilise this? By the way, I've deliberately stayed away from talking about pedagogy here. Partly because I'm no expert on this and partly because I try to keep things non-academic on this blog.

So to put this issue simply, the education system isn't social enough and, by using the social media (amongst other things), we should make it more so. All this threatens is the didactic, transmissive model of teaching which for many IS teaching.

Other things Web 2.0 has taught us? There's the whole area of formal vs informal learning which I'm going to link here to the issue of why have a physical entity that is the school or university. These areas are both challenging the notion that you can compartmentalise learning. That you can give learning a elite status that can only be accessed through formal educational institutions when and where they deam to convey it. This is just rubbish. Learning happen all the time, or it can do if you believe and recognise this. Web 2.0 allows us to believe and recognise this. It's been called 'informal' learning which is useful when you want to distinguish it from 'formal' learning but really it's just learning. Of course, you can and do learn in the specialise learning environment, but there is an artificial exclusiveness about it which programmes us the wrong way.

The final area I'm going to raise is the issue of personal choice. Personal choice doesn't exist much in the learning journey through education at the moment. Well it can now! The main reason here is the access to information, access to others to learn from has exploded through Web 2.o - OER, OET, social networking, blogging, micro-blogging etc.

So what about the compromise. I said that we will compromise but shouldn't. Iit's probably better to say dilute instead of compromise. This is because currently any tool adopted gets diluted as we seek to fit it neatly into what we have. By diluting, we lose the essence. For example, sticking a blog tool in an LMS closes it in and thus loses it's social, open nature. This cuts it off from the blogosphere which is the lifeblood of any blog (in my view). So why the compromise? It's because education is run by the educational institutions for the educational institutions. New ideas and tools are fine as long as they don't threatens their existence. In these circumstances they will, of course, defend their patch. You have to think about it in terms of what's most important - if it's the educational institutions then you dilute anything new to fit in what you've got; if it's the learners or the learning there interests come first. The best learning experience is debatable but it would be an easier debate if you took out the inhibiting factors of the rights and interests of the educational institutions.

Interestingly, what links the 3 areas I raised above is CONTROL. Educational institutions will resist them because they cannot control them. In some ways, current education is about control.

Anyway, these are some thoughts on this question which you could probably write a book about. If you have any comments on this, I'd be interested to hear them because there are lots of angles you could come at it from.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Clarifying Informal Learning & Web 2.0

I've been reading The CU Online Handbook which I found through someone's else blog. It's a fairly big document and I wasn't sure it was worth wading through. However, early on I've found a good article which has some insightful comments on Informal and Web 2.0.

Apart from a belief that informal learning needs to be acknowledged and utilize in our education, I have a lot of "learning" to do on informal. The following quote by Phil Antonelli in the chapter Make, Share, Find: Web 2.0 and Informal Learning has helped:

"learning is a natural human cognitive process that is constantly occurring whether someone is in a formal learning setting or not. A simple example of this is how toddlers learn to speak their native tongue. They may be "coached" by parents and familiy members but barring physical deficits there are no formal classes necesary to learn ot speak. This type of learning had been defined as informal learning."

This is a useful example. Just as I hope we can eventually drop the e off e-learning, I hope we can eventually drop the informal/formal prefix to learning. Let's just learn! And not have it defined against our organisational structure or the delivery methods.

Phil also uses a useful classification structure of Make, Share, Find with Web 2.0. In the past, I've used the classification from the document Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning which aligned web 2.0 with four typically human dispositions:


  • Socialising the playful: games and virtual worlds
  • Socialising the expressive: media design, sharing, and publication
  • Socialising the reflective: blogs, social networks, and wikis
  • Socialising the exploratory: syndication, recommenders, folksonomies
The latter is more comprehensive and more academic, but the former feels like a better way of spreading the message. I always look for the simplist way to explain something. You could align:
  • Make with playful and expressive
  • Share with reflective
  • Find with exploratory
I'll keep reading and share the learning here.

Monday, 28 September 2009

eLearning Learning, Blogging and Reflection


I've joined the eLearningLearning stable run by Tony Karrer. Thanks again for the invite Tony!


I read his blog and was aware of the growing aggregation resource of Learning Technology opinion within eLearningLearning so it seems like a good idea to become part of it. I don't actual use the eLearningLearning site as my blog source (I have a carefully put together google reader list), but I can see the attraction of subscribing to this one feed to get the the best Learning Technology opinion. Having joined, it's been useful looking at the list of blogs featured because I've found some new good ones to read. Anyway, if you are reading this you probably know all about eLearningLearning because that's probably where you came from.


The question I am reflecting on now is whether having a greater potential readership will affect this valuable reflective tool I have. I'm pretty sure it won't. I always write as if I'm talking to someone so I'll just continue in that vein. What's important is that I don't lose focus of the essence of this blog. Something I outlined in my very first post:

My aim with this blog is to fill the sharing and reflecting side of my Personal Learning in my role as an e-learning professional.

Also, I am mindful of this passage from a later post - Blogs for education, blogs for yourself

My motivation for blogging is to capture my learning for myself. By making it public facing, I’m forced to be coherent, and it’s in that process where the learning happens. Quite often I end up in different places than I expected. So for me, if no one reads it, the blog is still valuable since it serves my purpose.

It's the reflection I want to keep hold of. I had an interesting discussion about this today. The person I was speaking to didn't find reflection easy. I think this is true of lots of people. But I think it's more to do with the process not being something we are used to. Reflection and the learning that results is a very personal thing. So often, education is about reaching a perscribed learning goal. A goal achieved through a perscribed learning path. And once they reach this goal is achieved why bother going any further. Why personalise your learner by reflecting on it with reference to everything else you know.

Thinking about my reflective time, I've only really been doing it for that last 6 months and that's because of this blog. Certainly, it was never a part of my education. This blog has exceeded my expectations. I wouldn't have thought having a virtual space for my learning would be so important, but it is. Maybe because it's so easy to make look professional, so easy to edit, so easy to link to. Whatever it is, it works for me. I can recommend it.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Review of Traxler’s ‘Students and Mobile Devices’

Originally published on the Educational Technology Journal


I heard that the best ALT (Association of Learning Technology, UK) paper this year was Students and Mobile Devices: Choosing Which Dream by John Traxler so I thought I’d review it.

Generally, it was very interesting and gives a good overview of the implications mobile devices have for education. There were times when the words “mobile devices” could have been replaced with “Web 2.0″ and there were points with which I disagree.

Here some of the key passages with my comments:

“Students no longer need to engage with information and discussion at the expense ofreal life but can do so as part of real life as they move about the world, using their own devices to connect them to people and ideas…”

That’s a great description, isn’t it. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s great. When you read it, you need to think in terms of multimedia rather than text. However, for the connect part I don’t think we are there yet. Certainly, my iphone doesn’t connect well enough in enough places to be used in this way.

“Interacting with mobile technolgies is different and is woven into all the times and places of students’ lives. Mobile phones have created “simultaneity of place”: a physical space and a virtual space of conversational interaction, and an extension of physical space, through the creation and juxtaposition of a mobile social space.”

Thinking about it, maybe mobile devices more than Web 2.0 in general will have more success in challenging the domination of the didactic lecture. With mobile technologies woven in, education will have to accomodate them and their social nature will slowly creep into the teaching and learning.

“When we say we can ignore desktop technologies but not mobile technologies we mean that desktop technologies operate in their own little world, mobile technologies operate in the world.”

Again, this is catchy, but I think this goes too far. It’s not as if every office space with a computer exists in another world or is outside reality. Anyway, the point is well made that there is a here-and-now aspect to mobile technologies that can surely be utilised by education.
iphone
“With the possibility of perpetual contact, the mobile phone ends in fact by shaping time as a container of potentially continuing connection.”

With the always on connection and a myriad of methods to do so, the only constraints to staying in contact is the consent of the people involved. There are now no restrictions. It’s worth saying that this isn’t all about mobile technologies because once people reach home most switch to laptops/PCs. What this means for education is that it’s one of the more obvious challenges to the ridiculous notion that we learn in neat sessions according to a timetable Monday-Friday. This is part of the formal vs informal learning debate.

“Mobile devices are also eroding physical place as a predominant attribute of space. The phrase absent presence (Gergen, 1996) describes situations where groups of people physically together, co-located, are all connected elsewhere.”

This is challenging the physical buildings of our education institutions. Some good points in this issue have been made in the CreateDebate: UK Higher Education needs more radical change than a debate about who funds it. It’s worth noting that it’s wrong to attribute all these notions to mobile technologies in isolation. I see them as part of the Web 2.0/socail media ethos — an ethos which has at its heart the natural human inclination to communicate, network, and, above all, socialise. I talk about this in my blog post Use Social Media — Fulfill Your Destiny!.

“Educational provision is built around time and place: the timetable, hand-in dates, the classroom, the year-group, the deadline and the laboratory… the education system, especially the formal university system, is getting out of step with how many students perceive the world they live in and… changes are needed to keep universitites aligned to a changed and mobile society.”

This is worth recording because it echoes a sentiment that I agree with: Higher education is behind the schools when it comes to use of learning technologies. Again with the above, you could substitute the word “mobile” with “Web 2.0.”

“These changes and trends will cause significant shifts in the idea of ownership,specifically the ownership of technology and of knowledge.”

This is an important point that relates to learners taking more control of their learning. However, it needs unpicking. From students’ point of view, they are owning when and where they access their learning so there is freedom and choice in that sense. This is important because of the impact that it should have on the way learning is delivered.

“In its earliest forms, knowledge and learning came from lectures, a linear format from an authoritative ’sage-on-the-stage’ with no pause, fast forward or rewind, and from books, substantial and linear but segmented and randomly accessed. the delivery of knowledge and learning by networked comptuers meant . . . new heuristics of usablity that prescribed how knowledge and learning should be chunked and presented.”

There are two important issues here. First, a major motivation for change from me. The transmissive mode is flawed because if you miss something then you’ve missed it. And if you’ve missed something at the beginning then that’s it for the rest of the lesson. It’s as if part of the challenge of learning is being able to concentrate fully for the entire time. Any mind wandering (something I do) and, well, that’s tough! Any disruption (more on this later) like communication and you’re out!

The other issue is the attempts at chunking of textbooks that I remember from school. We would skip from chapter to chapter in an attempt to follow a contextualised route through the learning. You would think once a better mechanism for achieving this were invented education would jump all over it.

“Mobiles devices extend and enhance this voice because they allow users to capture content, for example images, sounds, data and voices themselves, form the real world, from events as they happen, specific to when and where they happen.”

It’s important to note that the other big area where mobile devices can really make a difference (apart from the “simultaneity of place” issue) is with multimedia. It really is so powerful to be able take videos and photos on the spot and network this immediately.

______________________________

It’s important to note that the other big area where mobile devices can really make a difference . . . is with multimedia. It really is so powerful to be able take videos and photos on the spot and network this immediately.

______________________________

Now some things I disagreed with:

“There are drawbacks. The first is that these developments reinforce a tendency to view knowledge and other forms of content merely as commodities or assets. The second is that this choice and control are exercised at a purely personal level, allowing individuals to each pursue their own curiosity, constructing their own private libraries and inhabiting their own worlds of knowledge. This erodes the idea of a commonly accepted canon, a common curriculum, of things we all need to know and are assumed to know and replaces it with what some poeple have referred to a neo-liberal nightmare — not dream but nightmare.”

With the first point, I don’t really see the problem. How people view the knowledge or engage with the learning is up to them. We don’t need to control how people think. The second point I disagree with. He views greater learner freedom and a loosening of control over educational institutions over any aspect of the learning process as a bad thing. The opposite is true for me. He’s actually describing a utopian PLE. Strange as this passage seems at odds with the spirit of the rest of the paper.

More on disruption: “There is a weak version of disruption that amounts to nuisance; phone calls in class, texting in exams, photographs that should not be taken, inappropriate ring-tones and so on. There is however also a strong version of disruption. These devices allow students to access and store images and infromation of their own choosing and perhaps create and distribute new images and information independently of the lecturers and of the university.”

I would add communication opportunities to this. What he’s challenging here is the notion of disruption as necessarily bad. — a notion that prevails at present. Certainly, mobile devices are seen purely as a nuisance in current educational structures. Theweak version description is what they say, but really the strong version of disruption is what they are worried about — worried that they will have to change and accommodate.

On infrastructure: “Wholeheartedly adapting an approach centred on student devices is challenging and radical for institutional IT units. Their roles would change drastically, depending on the institution and its mission, and on its finances.”

Not much to say except yes. But I don’t think, wholeheartedly, adaptation will happen any time soon. Here and now, wifi has to be standard and of a high quality in education and elsewhere.

Some points about formal/informal learning: “We used to make a distinction betweenformal learning activities in our universities on our equipment and self-motivatedlearning activities outside our institutions not on our equipment… If we are to embrace student devices, this simple dichotomy breaks down and the boundary becomes blurred.”

This is informal or learning that needs to, first, be acknowledged and then engaged. The breaking down of the boundaries is only troublesome if you teach by habit rather than design. If you have deliberate and informed learning design then catering for this is manageable.

“Guaranteeing e-safety becomes more problematic when on the one hand we encourage the use of student devices for learning but on the other hand have no ability or authority to control how, when or where they are used, nor any control over the applications, data or networks they support. At the very least, policies of acceptable use must evolve rapidly to address the affordances of student devices.”

I think seeing everything through the prism of control isn’t correct here. It comes from a standpoint where the institutions are at the centre of education rather than the learner, which is wrong. E-safety is so overplayed in education. Yes, we need to take care, but we shouldn’t shut things down on this proviso. Also, I wouldn’t worry about “policies of acceptable use” as these seem to spring up almost before they know how to use something.

About training: “. . . faces staff developers with the enormous challenge of preparing teachers and lecturers to work with a range of devices.”

Yes, and this is a mantra of mine as I can often not get past this area in my context. However, I would say that the goalposts are shifting in this respect. Increasingly, new tools/environments are becoming easy to use and more intuitive. So it’s more a case of getting educator to experience using a tool/environment rather than learning how-to use it. Only by experiencing a tool/environment can they understand what it’s all about. This is particularly true of Web 2.0.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Use Social Media - Fulfil your Destiny!

There are some interesting ideas in the slideshow "Getting Real About Enterprise 2.0". By far the most interesting for me is slide 8:

"The social web emerged because it reflects basic HUMAN NEEDS."

I've been saying for a while something a bit like this - something like humans are naturally social and we use social media because we want to. Web 2.0 is popular because people want to use it. They want to share, network, create and above all communicate.

This presentation echoes this sentiment in a different and maybe preferable way. I like the idea that we are reflecting basic human needs through our use of the internet. It's as if we are inventing and finding the tools that we need to satisfy our natural inclinations. Ever since the printing press, we have gradually improved our methods of communication and the advances of the last few years are pretty impressive.

Anyway, another useful idea comes in slide 5 where it says "we need to see PEOPLE as the platform." This reflects a common thread running through the slideshow which holds the internet up as a force for demoncratic good. This is true - potentially. And why corporations/governments seek to control it.

From an education perspective, Web 2.0 is all about the user/learner participating and control. So, by incorporating Web 2.0, you are giving the learner more control, more chance at being creative, more chance at being social and more chance of fulfilling their destiny as a human being!

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Lecture Your Way to Stardom!

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal.

Karl Kapp talks about teachers who have gone on to become rock stars in “Teacher . . . Stepping Stone to Rock Star?“ Interesting . . . and surprising they let a young Sting teach at a convent school! Anyway, my point here is the notion of teacher as a rock star is something that is common and can be negative when it comes to challenging the sage on the stage notion and moving towards a more collaborative approach. Sometimes I see it in their eyes: “Do you really think I’m going to give up being the centre of attention?” Of the many barriers to the adoption of learning technologies of the Web 2.0 variety, this is one of the least acknowledged.

Taking the focus away from the teacher/lecturer isn’t what the all powerful one wants. This is where ego gets in the way, and quite simply there are many who like the sound of their own voice too much. When thinking about a blended approach, how likely is it that someone like this is going to countenance replacing some of the face-to-face with e-learning? Or adopt any kind of learner centric approach that diminishes his or her role from expert to facilitator or guide?

I am, of course, playing devil’s advocate to some extent. I have more respect for the teaching profession than almost any other, and there are so many brilliant teachers. However, some of the brilliant ones fall into the above category. They need to be more flexible and, in some ways, feel less threatened by new ideas.


Remember the focus should be on what’s best for the learner — not the teacher.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Protecting the System vs Helping the Learning


In Don’t, Don’t, Don’t vs. Do, Do, Do, Will Richardson talks about how he turned around a hefty policy of don't concerning use of the internet to a heft policy of, well, possibilities. It's useful to record here his list of do's:

“Do use our network to connect to other students and adults who share your passions with whom you can learn.”
“Do use our network to help your teachers find experts and other teachers from around the world.”
“Do use our network to publish your best work in text and multimedia for a global audience.”
“Do use our network to explore your own creativity and passions, to ask questions and seek answers from other teachers online.”
“Do use our network to download resources that you can use to remix and republish your own learning online.”
“Do use our network to collaborate with others to change the world in meaningful, positive ways.”

This is a conversation that I am familiar with and I feel a common reaction education has to anything new is "How can we control it!" I remember how one the UK's Quangos was obsessed with codes of practice and rules in their new online communities space before anyone was actually using it. Large amounts of energy were spent honing these rules and all it achieved was putting people off. I am always of the opinion that you should concentrate on building the community/network first. This is hard enough in itself! The rules and regulations should be buried and buried deep. Admittedly, my contexts have involved few instances of conflict online or audiences that you think would be prone to this sort of behaviour but I think we miss the point if we overplay this aspect.

As I said earlier it comes from the instinct within education to control (which I think is also part of the resistence to moving away from the didactic way of life - but that's another story). For an education institution's point of view they often view the internet (and to a certain extent the whole of Web 2.0) as a challenge to the status quo; a potential for trouble; a potential for too much student power. I can't deny this potential, this challenge. But I advocate the use of the internet, and the Web 2.0 world, because of the do's eloquently described above.
Notice that the do's are all to do with learning and the rules and regulations have, at their heart, the purpose of protecting the institution/the system. Which should be more important?

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Learning Technologies - Disrupting Teaching and Learning

Sessums comments in Reflections on Transforming Teaching and Learning ring true with me.

"only disruptive innovation—adopting digital learning wholesale—will change education. This disruption is most likely to emerge in places where traditional ways of teaching are outright failing; over time..."

Where I have been able to get academic use of Learning Technology to influence their teaching and learning in my workplace it's been where we are starting from scratch or addressing perceived "failure" - usually low recruitment. Trying to influence an established course taught in the traditional didactic way - forget it. Almost exclusively, the academia won't entertain the idea of thinking about how they teach. I've reflected on this before in Challenging didactic teaching. In these cases (which is the norm), failure is not perceived because this is how we teach. Learning Technologies are extra tools which they don't have time to and don't want to learn about. This is where the above quote is spot on. It is disruptive. Especially, if you do it properly and really reflect on how this tool or that tool can impact on the teaching and learning in your course. Who wants disruption?

The learning journey continues....

Social Media - Negativity

I am often surprised of the way some will talk about social media. Some of the comments quoted on Reflections on Students and Social Media: Consuming the Consumed seem to think of it as some sort of monster devouring and deviling everything in it's path. A force for evil destroying all that is natural and innocent. I'm exaggerating of course but I think this misses the point. People use social media because THEY WANT TO; because it's a good way of communicating. Clearly, a better and easier than that which existed before. If this wasn't the case, all the different social media environment that are part of everyday life for so many of us would have died before they started.

It's fair to point out that a lot of the comments on this blog post came as a response to a leading question - In what ways are we at a tipping point with social media? Who says we are? With the myriad of things that constitute social media more is bound to follow as we develop and innovate. Much of the sentiment of fear and annoyance over social media is about the time spent using it. Well this is time spent COMMUNICATING. This is time spent building networks, sharing ideas and creating. How can this be anything but good.

This is not meant as a attack on a blogger I respect and read regularly but an attack on the attacks that reign in on the force for good that is social media.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Connectivism Course - First thoughts

I signed up for the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge open course and it started this week. I used to read Stephen Downes daily so I know and respect his work and I try to read both George Seimens' and Downes' blog when I get a chance. I've been looking forward to it for a while but there is a slight air of tredipation as I worry about disciplining myself to commit the time to it. For example, I hoped to be writing this first blog entry on Tuesday and it's Thursday already! My biggest attraction to participating is the way the course is delivered, the lack of structure, the openness, the use of networks and, well, connectivism. Not that I know exactly what that is at the moment.

Anyway, the purpose of this post to give my first thoughts on reading, watching and listening to the initial set of resources posted on Monday. Even though I've heard of connectivism and pretty much know nothing about it so I am starting from scratch with this.

I probably made the mistake of reading the What Connectivism Is blog post by Downes first. This was the hardest to understand, but things became clearer once I'd watched all the videos and read the Wellman paper. As I expected, I found it difficult to grasp the finer points of the pedagogy and this will probably take a few weeks. So here is what I think I've learnt about connectivism.

Esesentially, learning is all about networks. Knowledge is distributed across the networks and learning is about traversing them, tapping into them and creating them. Technology has a role because it makes the process easier and much more accessible. Thinking about the networks possible over the www makes connectivism easier to conceptualise.

Knowledge is not an entity in itself "it's literally set of connections formed by action and experience." I've quoted Downes here because I don't really get this. I'll try and expand staying close to his words - knowledge is an inability to see something another way. Once seen, it can't be unseen. Stephen also says that two people seeing the same thing don't form the knowledge. I think this means that it's different based on the connection each person is making or the network of knowledge they have traversed to get to this point is always going to be different.

I started off seeing connectivism as a underlying network of all knowledge that was always there and it's just a question of finding it. But following what Seimens says - not everything is known. Connectivism is about making associations or the ability, the skill to make associations. "Learning is a process of growth and development." I'm quoting again to hold onto what is me and not me.

Downes ends his video with 2 objectives:

1. how networks are grown or network, processes you go through
2. Successful networks – what networks work and are reliable.

I look forward to finding out more on these.

That's enough for now.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Characteristics of Millenials


Tony Bates in It's all about Millenials - or is it? explores the whole issue of we need to use technology because they are. He is right that we shouldn't accept this notion knowing all the facts and the lack of real, hard evidence for the net generation concept is worrying. I've never been an advocate of the idea that Millenials (this is first time I am hearing this particular word) are somehow wired differently. Anyone who’s experiences and uses Web 2.0 should be considered a Millenial, whatever their age.

Also, it’s useful to see these characteristics of the net generation by Oblinger and Oblinger (2005a):

  • digitally literate in the sense of being comfortable and familiar with digital technology
  • connected to friends and the world through technology
  • ‘immediacy’: rapid multi-tasking, fast response to communications - experiential: they prefer to learn by doing rather than being told
  • highly social: ‘they gravitate toward activities that promote and reinforce social interaction’
  • group work: they prefer to work and play in groups or teams
  • a preference for structure rather than ambiguity
  • engagement and interaction: an orientation towards action and inductive reasoning rather than reflection
  • a preference for visual (i.e. graphics, video) and kinesthetic learning rather than learning through text
  • active engagement in issues that matter to millennials

It’s worth noting that currently in Higher Education this is not the case for many. Certainly for my institution, The Institute of Education, which has a lot of mature and overseas students, it is common not to fit this profile. However, I would still advocate a strategy would has the above points in mind when it comes to learning design. This is because it’s up to any teacher/lecturer to design the best learning experience possible. If you believe the above is better than the normal didactic, transmissive model then it’s worth pursuing even if the class is out of their comfort zone initially. Just because you fulfil their expectations and experiences by doing “the norm”, it doesn’t make it right.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Passive Learning


Just read an interesting blog post Kicking Powerpoint to the Curb. In it, there is this statement:

“Strangely enough, the people who are most resistant to this model are the students…Students have been socialized to view the educational process as essentially passive."

There is a tension here between what we perceive your average young person is used to and motivated to use, i.e. Web 2.0/social media and this statement. Passive learning is how things are done in the didactic world and it's actually less effort day-to-day for the students to experience this. For me, this is the main problem with lecture and didactic teaching. You can get away with not listening and therefore not learning. This is easy path and many look for it. With Web 2.0, it's the ethos that I am attracted to more than anything else - the collaboration and active participation in the process. Forcing someone to do this forces them to pay attention. So, although your average students is used to using Web 2.0/social media they are not accustomed to the active learning that it's use in education would entail. This isn't an argument for not pursuing this route. On the contrary, forcing them to active learn is a vital step forward for education.

Higher education actually has a tougher job because it probably isn't the case at the moment that your average student is so clued up on Web 2.0 as the younger generation. This is particular true in my case where the demographic is often a higher age group.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

EdTechRoundUp30 - Learning Points


I recently discovered the EdTechRoundUp podcast. I'm trying to make a conscious effort to introduce podcasts of this kind into my learning. I'm often too tired to read when commuting and listening to a podcast while resting my eyes could work well - now that I have my iphone (hooray).

I've only listened to one and it was good quality. The only issue I have when I listen to a discussion like this is that it can be frustrated when the point you would make doesn't get made. Anyway, here is my learning.

"Teachers think VLEs are clunky" was centrepoint of a fairly long discussion. I think the clunkiness perception comes from the glimpses your average educator has had of social software where drag and drop is common and intuitive is the norm. Broadly, I agree that the perception is there and also that this perception is correct. In 2009, they do feel clunky. But what does this really mean? The dictionary definition is:
  1. clumsy or awkward
  2. not stylish or attractive
It's difficult to know much of the clumsiness when compared to Web 2.0 tools or whether they are intrinsically clumsy or awkward. What is definitely true is that with a social networking site, like facebook or ning, there is less to learn and the usability is better. When it comes to attractiveness, I think a certain amount of this comes from social software looking more up to date. There is a fashion factor just as clothes go in and out of fashion. Overall, web 2.0 is all about the user getting involves easily. The usability has to be good for any tool to be viable. Just thinking about what it takes to upload and publish a file on moodle and I can think at least two points where it should be made easier.

But surely the answer is to make them less clunky! Well this is easier said than done as the clunkiness seems intrinsic to how they are built. There are two reasons for this:
  1. Any tool (like a moodle quiz or a blackboard blog) has to have the same look and feel as the rest of the system. So whereas independent Web 2.0 survey or blog tool can concentrate on making it the best in terms of usability and attractiveness. Within a VLE, you are limited to the template of the bigger picture. A bigger picture which is much more difficult to change and is much slower to change. This is why a blackboard blog looks archaic compared to blogger.
  2. Any online tool in education has the question of security to consider. Security protecting the children from the outside world; security protecting the outside world from the children; security protecting the privacy of the class; security protecting the intellectual property rights of the educator; data protection! This security add layers of clunkiness that other websites don't have to the same extent. This is one of the tensions education has with web 2.0. At its heart, web 2.0 is about openness. VLEs first and foremost are designed to protect (almost obsessively). This is why where VLEs have adopted a web 2.0 tool into its system it often doesn't feel quite right. So whatever tool we use, clunkiness is unavoidable to a certain extent as securities are put in place. Maybe we should try and bring this spirit of openness more into education! That's another can of worms.
The discussion went down the line of using other tools instead, e.g. facebook. Well yes, as long as we understand that usability is just one of the reasons for this. Overall, it should be done in the knowledge and understanding of what social networking has to offer over and above your average VLE. By the way, I would favour Ning over facebook as facebook for learning can bring up tricky issues. Something they discuss on this podcast and it's worth a listen.

I have slight concerns about using a social networking site as the house within which what currently happens on a VLE occurs. This is because, for most, the VLE is a file repository and an assignment dropbox. However, I would favour the shift because the social aspect of a Ning, for example, are so intuitive and attractive that it would encourage educators to explore their use in a more recpetive frame of mind.