Friday, 26 March 2010

New Personal Knowledge Management

I've been reading a lot about Personal Knowledge Management and Personal Learning Environments recently and I've recently made some changes to my PKM which I thought I'd share in this space.

Previously, I learnt mostly from reading the blogs. I tagged them in google reader for reference and, every do often, I would blog myself here to reflect on what I was learning. This has worked fine but there are two things which I'm not happy about:

- I've found my blogging to be a little sporadic and random at times.
- Tagging doesn't often result in much reference afterwards

A few weeks ago I discovered the awesome highlighter. Immediately, I incorporated this into my daily practice. Now, as well as tagging in google reader, if I read something I like I use the awesome highlighter to highlight the best bits. Then, every few days, I revisit what I've highlighted and tweet the best bits. I can tag things as well which is useful. This is a whole extra layer of reviewing and sharing. A whole extra layer of learning which didn't previously exist. The final stage is the blogging. My plan is to blog about what I was tweeting now that I am doing this regularly. I feel that there will be value in looking at my twitter stream and reflect on themes or key tweets. As I haven't done this, I can't say for certain how valuable this will be. However, if I can do this regularly then my blogging will also become more regular.

What's been excellent so far has been the ability to mine the best bits of the blog posts I read. Usually, there is a sentence or a phrase that really sticks out. Now through highlighting and twitter I am able get right to these gems - regularly.

If you have been here before and find value in reading this blog, I would suggest you follow my twitter account - TomPreskett.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Real Openness

I took a lot from David Wiley's post on Openness. He outlines what openness represents at the moment and where it should be:

For over a decade, openness in education has been an adjective describing educational artifacts.

Open content, open educational resources, open courseware, and open textbooks all mean teaching materials that are shared with everyone, for free, with permission to engage in the 4R activities.

The 4Rs are reuse, redistribute, revise, remix. Openness is about overcoming your inner two-year-old who constantly screams, “Mine! Openness reminds us of what we knew intuitively before society gave us permission to act monstrously toward one another.

What is the appropriate role of openness in education?
The question is deeply insidious. The question implies that openness might play any of several roles in the educational enterprise. The question distracts people from seeing that openness is the sole means by which education is affected, and that education is inherently an enterprise of generosity, sharing, and giving.
we see technology being turned against it potential and made to conceal and withhold. For example, a course management system like Blackboard theoretically has the potential to greatly improve educators’ capacity to share. But instead CMSs takes the approach of hiding educational materials behind passwords and regularly deleting all the student-contributed content in a course. If Facebook worked like Blackboard, every 15 weeks it would delete all your friends, delete all your photographs, unsubscribe you from all your groups, etc.

Education finds itself using radical new technology in backwards ways, reinforcing those outdated ways of thinking with law and institutional policy, and unable to satisfy rapidly increasing popular demand.

Education has to some degree lost its way; forgotten its identity. We’ve allowed ourselves and our institutions to be led away from our core value of openness – away from generosity, sharing, and giving, and toward selfishness, concealment, and withholding. To the degree that we have deserted openness, learning has suffered.


The spirit of teaching is openness; sharing your knowledge, guiding the learner and hopefully teaching how to be a good learner. But we made learning a commodity; something that can be packages and sold. This is actually one big trick. Learning can be done by anyone at any time and now this is easier than ever before. The threat to formal education is this packaged, controlled, guarded and expensive world is being challenged by the very notion teaching was founded on - openness and the instinct to share. If institutions continue to scream "Mine!" Then, ultimately they will suffer.

Brain changing technology

I found some interesting quotes about the impact of digital media on our brains. Oppenheimer paints a negative picture:

My concern with this digital media is that it’s such short attention span stuff that they get bored. It’s what I call instant gratification education, a thought comes to you, you pursue it, you see a web site you click on it. You want to hear music while your studying you do it. All this bifurcates the brain and keeps it from pursuing one linear thought and teaches you that you should be able to have every urge answered the minute the urge occurs (Todd Oppenheimer, Author, The Flickering Mind).

I don't see it like this at all. Having lines of thought answered or satisfied instantly is a good thing. We'd have always done this if it were possible. And why is linear necessarily good. Life isn't linear, life is complex and every-changing. The learner needs to learn this way and cope with it. Why learn for a world that doesn't exist. I don't see this as a barrier to deep and meaningful thinking. On the contrary, we now have better tools to do the job properly.

So I prefer this quote:

There was always gains and losses … when print replaced aural culture, when writing happened there was certainly things we lost, one of them was memory. You think of the Homeric poems, The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Homeric singers could produce thousands of lines of poetry out of their own memory. We’re not good at that any more because print took it away. Is it a loss? Sure. And to a certain extend getting people to be contemplative and a little bit slower; not to multi-task all of the time, paying avid attention over a long period of time to a certain extend might be lost. But that’s the price of gain. (James Paul Gee, Arizona State University)

Sure, I'd like a better memory and if we are naturally less adapt at this then it's a shame. But memory can be improved if you really want to. The important different is that we have greater opportunities to realise different pedagogies in an increasing number of ways. We are changing who we are for the better. Interestingly, the aural culture which was replaced by printing can now make a resurgence thanks to the ease with which podcasting/videoing can be done.

The point is that this is a problem that we as human beings have coped with throughout most of the 20th century and into the 21st century and the good news is we survived it. As a culture we learned how to adapt to it … so we are seeing this period of evolution and at the end of the day we’re better off as a society if we go at this with a sense of open mindedness and exploration. (Henry Jenkins, University of Southern California)

This is spot on - open mindedness and exploration.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Stock and Flow

I'm always interested in new ways of describing things to perhaps give greater clarity.

Stock and flow by Lee Lefever (mentioned in Harold Jarche's blog) is a way of describing digital media contrasts the products or finished entities of stock with the interaction and communication of flow. YOu need flow for context, flow for the learning conversation. Jarche characterises Open Education Resources as the stock. For the flow, you need the teacher.

Thinking about the current predicament of Higher Education, fighting against the openness, fighting against the freedom and the knocking down of the walls. Its useful to show that having open content need not destroy everything they own of value. The message is very clear:

If you teach well, then it is of value to learn within your institution.
If you present content and call it teaching, then it is not.
If there is only stock - get some flow.

Unfortunately, I can't see myself talking about stock and flow in my Higher Education institution. It wouldn't work.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Dealing with Information Overload

George Seimens elearning space blog is good because it's always short and sweet. Like this one:

Obviously, any tool or innovation that permits increased connectivity between information and people will not result in a dumbing down of humanity. Initially, there will be (or currently is) a period of feeling overwhelmed and distracted. That’s an incidental effect of increased access to creation and consumption tools. Information abundance has been a key concern of humanity for centuries. First we need the content and conversation connections. Then we devise strategies and methods to prune and make sense of the chaos.

People construct a reality for themselves where they are comfortable based on the options available. When you suddenly have way more options things get disorientating; things get confusing; and, above all, things get annoying. In education most people are annoying by the new possibilities. To become less annoyed they first need to understand and then learn how to assimilate and utilize this new world, for themselves and for teaching and learning. This is huge! This is a big challenge. But it's also a natural process which I hope to contribute to speeding up.

Web 2.0 Description

I had to record here this description of Web 2.0 I found by the great George Seimens

Saying web 2.0 is easier than saying “the means by which we alter the existing mindset in computing from centralized broadcast services subject to hierarchical authority structures to open, distributed, read/write methods that permit end-point users to contribute to and even direct conversations and content through social and technological networks”.

My main attraction to the concept of Web 2.0 is what it represents and what it can teach us about how we can evolve education. I guess I'm hoping the evolution from broadcast to collaboration on the web is mirrored in education.

"Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time!" - Tapscott D and Williams A, D (2010) Review

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal

I've read and re-read Innovating the 21st-Century University: It’s Time! by Tapscott D and Williams A, D (2010) published within Educause to try and absorb it's key messages.

What I'll do here is quote some of the key messages and make comments:

Universities are losing their grip on higher learning as the Internet is, inexorably, becoming the dominant infrastructure for knowledge — both as a container and as a global platform for knowledge exchange between people — and as a new generation of students requires a very different model of higher education.
The important point here is that the internet has taken away the power of the monopoly of information away from all the previous custodians. Universities are one example. This has to be a good thing for learners and learning. If it's bad for the educational institutions in their current model then they have to change.

We need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy (how learning is accomplished) and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning.
This is an argument often made (particularly in educause). I've often talked about how it's really all about pedagogy not the technology. I wholeheartedly agree with this statement but the debate is very difficult to have and even more difficult to win. Firstly, because of the "no significant difference" argument, i.e. it's impossible to win a pedagogical argument. Also, in my institution (and I suspect elsewhere) there is no didactic mantra and code of conduct that everyone lives by. Sure, it's the default style but there are instances of collaboration, discussion, groupwork etc in many places. The point here is that much of higher education can make a case for innovative, collaborative pedagogy already existing if the need arises. So a "model of collaborative learning" would be difficult to implement not least because a "model of broadcast learning" doesn't officially exist. There are many other barriers but this is important.

With technology, it is now possible to embrace new collaboration models that change the paradigm in more fundamental ways... this represents a change in the relationship between students and teachers in the learning process.
This relates to the previous point and there's lots more like this which reads like a advert for collaborative pedagogy. I agree with it but there's not much to add.

We like the direction of Vest's thinking. For universities to succeed, we believe they need to cooperate to launch what we call the Global Network for Higher Learning. This network would have five stages or levels: (1) course content exchange; (2) course content collaboration; (3) course content co-innovation; (4) knowledge co-creation; and (5) collaborative learning connection
The main point of this article proposes this Global Network for Higher Learning. The stages are pretty self-explanatory. I'm not sure they really need 5 stages.

The lowest level in the Global Network for Higher Learning is simple content exchange: colleges and universities post their educational materials online, putting into the commons what would have traditionally been viewed as cherished and closely held intellectual property. MIT pioneered the concept with its OpenCourseWare initiative (http://ocw.mit.edu), and today more than 200 institutions of higher learning have followed suit.
This is the first stage. I've includes this to mention how far away we are from making this a reality. In the UK, we have the Open University and tiny, tiny amounts of a couple other institutions. As everything in this model flows from the free exchange of content it's hard to see how such an system could get off the ground. You would need a big sea change for it to be considered. Realistically, consortiums could spring up making a mini-networks. Consortiums set up for survival. The end result could act like a regional network and snowball from there.

What higher education desperately needs is a social network — a Facebook for faculty. But it shouldn't be a standalone application; it should be integral to the Global Network for Higher Learning.
My initial reaction to this was "no way". But we've seen how quickly such networks can explode. Perhaps an education only network is the answer and a valuable plank in this idea. At the moment, informal learning happens in an infinite variety of places (e.g. the blogosphere) but for formal education a truly collaborative communication platform is mouth-watering and I guess the obvious opposite of the closed VLE discussion boards.

Why not allow a brilliant ninth-grade student to take first-year college math, without abandoning the social life of his or her high school? Why not encourage a foreign student majoring in math to take a high school English course? Why is the university the unit of measurement when it comes to branding a degree? In fact, in a networked world, why should a student have to assign his or her "enrollment" to a given institution, akin to declaring loyalty to some feudal fiefdom?
I have mixed feeling about this but they have a point. At the moment, you go where your subject is strong. Is there enough of a need for variety to demand a piece from here, there and everywhere? This challenge the whole notion of a degree in one subject in favour of a variety of different one. I'm not sure this is really an issue. Certainly, all the identify that you are supposed to have with one institution is challenged in the Global Network.

Next-generation faculty will create a context whereby students from around the world can participate in online discussions, forums, and wikis to discover, learn, and produce knowledge as networked individuals and collectively.
I guess the logistics of this worry me. How will this happen? Who will look after it? Certainly, a global network will caters for all HE is far fetched. But an initially small scale one which gradually gathers pace could happen.

As the model of pedagogy is challenged, inevitably the revenue model of universities will be too. If all that the large research universities have to offer to students are lectures that students can get online for free, from other professors, why should those students pay the tuition fees, especially if third-party testers will provide certificates, diplomas, and even degrees? If institutions want to survive the arrival of free, university-level education online, they need to change the way professors and students interact on campus.
I think current survival is based on this generation of learners not quite being able to tap into what's out there and the quality and quantity of what's out there not quite being enough. This will change and it will be shock when it hits. I'm been saying this in my place for a while now.

Many will argue: "But what about credentials? As long as the universities can grant degrees, their supremacy will never be challenged." This is myopic thinking. The value of a credential and even the prestige of a university are rooted in its effectiveness as a learning institution. If these institutions are shown to be inferior to alternative learning environments, their capacity to credential will surely diminish.
Credentials is an area which I've seen argued as a area HE can effectively focus on in the future. This paragraph threatens this notion in an interesting way. Certainly, reputation is vital in this world and it's true of HE as much as anything else.

As part of this, the academic journal should be disintermediated and the textbook industry eliminated. In fact, the word textbook is an oxymoron today. Content should be multimedia — not just text. Content should be networked and hyperlinked bits — not atoms. Moreover, interactive courseware — not separate "books" — should be used to present this content to students, constituting a platform for every subject, across disciplines, among institutions, and around the world.
Some of this stuff is almost apocolyptic! I'm not totally on board with this. Yes, ebook readers will have an impact on how text is presented, structured and mixed in with multimedia but there will always be a place of text and books of text.

In this structure, students would enroll with their "primary" institution, which would handle the disbursement of their tuition fees depending on what other courses they study. The value of, say, a second-year psychology course at Stanford would be determined by market forces, not by some central bureaucracy.
This is key to the global network and feel like a utopian ideal fraught with danger. Still, I like the message it sends to the learner - "whether you like it or not you're in charge of your learning."

If universities are to become institutions whose primary goal is the learning by students, not faculty, then the incentive systems will need to change. Tenure should be granted for teaching excellence and not just for a publishing record.
ABSOLUTELY!

The analogy is not the newspaper business, which has been weakened by the distribution of knowledge on the Internet, he notes. "We're more like health care. We're challenged by obstructive, non-market-based business models. We're also burdened by a sense that doctor knows best, or professor knows best."
The article finishes with some interesting statements about the reasons nothing changes.

A powerful force to change the university is the students. And sparks are flying today. A huge generational clash is emerging in our institutions. The critiques of the university from fifteen years ago were ideas in waiting — waiting for the new web and for a new generation of students who could effectively challenge the old model.
Ultimately, the change will come from the students. Government talk about e-learning without really understanding what's going on but the students will demand this pedagogy. What we need is a clear choice. The model proposed here is a second stage structure. Initially what we need is a good HE example where all that's best about Learning Technologies is embraced. Someone needs to stick there head above the water to give the students a clear choice. After that market forces will take care of the rest.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Communicate not Broadcast

This is going to be my new mantra. Following on from my previous post, this is my message to staff in my place of work - the Institute of Education, University of London. I want colleagues to see the VLE as a place to communicate and not broadcast. Or communicate as well as broadcast. If you don't like the communication tools within our VLE, I can help you look elsewhere. But all this follows from the principle of wanting to communicate with your students and not just disseminate information.

I think this applies across education, and indeed businesses. This may be different way of approaching things to my normal "use the learning tools as part of your learning design" but it amounts to the same thing and it might be more successful.

Anyway, now to practice what I preach.