Did you get my email?

The more I work with adult learners, the more I realise how de-stablising social media technology can be. The skills learned though office automation; faxing; emailing; word processing; spreadsheets and presentation applications; were a means to an ‘end product’, now we are using technology as ‘live’ product, where nothing is ‘final’ or ‘missing’.

Email goes from one place to another, prompted by some imperative, with limited distribution, and with a limited useful life. We use it to organize and ‘wrap’ our work into parcels, As soon as we attach something to an email, we become less efficient, as we are halving the message and doubling the effort needed to interpret it. If working on a brochure, I’d email the ‘copy’ to the designer, and wait to get a proof back – by digital envelope.

Our social contracts change when the ‘work’ is being evolved in parallel with the discussion – in a wiki. Wikis are not challenging in terms of mastery, but challenge practices and beliefs. To use it, we have to unlearn the ‘netiquette’ of email and relearn negotiation, co-production and collaboration using hyper-dynamic media.  Learning to use a wiki (over email) is like having ice poured down your shirt. It is contrary to adult notions of ‘privacy’. Adults are simply not used to this two-way interchange in groups.

Wikipedia demonstrates the long tail of the internet. In an organizational wiki, the reality of ‘office life’ is played out much more visibly. Everyone can participate; everyone is responsible for the overall goal of the group. Leadership comes through participation, negotiation and added value, as judged by the whole group, which is great as no one person has to be ‘the leader’ or have ‘all the answers’. Initial approaches must assume we are digital-strangers, not native, and that this ‘group’ action, will be modeled though social behaviour and interaction.  Imagine how ridiculous it would be to suggest everyone who ever added to a Wikipedia page, emailed each other to discuss the page. Email, like everything else is converging, and wikis stand poised to be the organizer and communicator of future working practice.

Why have a ‘shared drive’ when you can have a wiki? What does an email do for a group that a wiki won’t do better? We are not going to putting emails into folders, because we are ‘tagging’ them with metadata, which aligns with our folksonomies and wiki taxonomies. This to me is the new literacy. Not to just use a blog, or a wiki – but to recognise how, in the workplace, we are increasingly moving from files, folders and shared drives to group negotiated taxonomies and organizational knowledge – in order to be co-productive, collaborative and co-operative – regardless of distance.

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Infinate Learning

FI-ligature type in 12p Garamond.
Image via Wikipedia

It is an exciting and challenging time for education. In the 20th century we perceived information as scarce while in the 21st century it is over abundant. Now students have the ability to search, work or publish at will, using text, audio, and video, or any combination these. The have un-precedented access to technologies previously cost prohibitive for schools, which are usually instant and often free. Learning and teaching has become a multimodal, multi-literate conversation – where participation is an everyday reality for teachers, librarians, administrators and students.

The opposing forces of ‘memory and forgetfulness’ no longer dominate learning. Since Gutenberg’s movable type in the mid 1400s, technology has allowed us to expand our creative and mental horizons, progressively chipping away at the need to ‘memorise’ and ‘recall’. Today more information is stored digitally than in all the libraries in the world combined. We simply don’t need to ‘remember’ everything. The output of ICTs exceeds the wildest dreams of nineteenth century industrialists, and alters our view of memory; forgetfulness; creativity and originality.  Schools need to extend their vision of learning beyond ‘memory-arts’. We are in a hyperdynamic world of connections, relationships, and adaptive tools that help us make sense of the information flooding about us. We are standing at the entry of an age of infinite recall and infinite memory, the lines between original works and derivatives is blurred because duplication is simple and storage cheap. The idea that students learn from single or even limited origins is naive. Originality and creativity is now an additive and transformative process. Students need to develop insight into how to navigate and select a pathway in the online world – and for that they need help – by creating better resources, developing better frameworks inside what schools call ‘information literacy’.

Students that score well on exams can also be strategic surface learners. They want and demand the ‘answers’. While there is pressure to ‘perform’ and ‘get results’, it seems that online learning is adapting and evolving regardless of what mainstream education thinks.

For example : The Florida Virtual High School – has a very different pedagogy, and very different approach to learning.

In two words? Personalized instruction. You want choices. You want to feel that you or your students are not just numbers. You want to work at your own pace. You’d like to study at home or from a library or coffee shop. You want some say in your education, and you want classes that hold your interest!

If these are the things you want for yourself or your students, you have come to the right place. We have built our school on these beliefs:

  • Every student is unique, so learning should be dynamic, flexible and engaging.
  • Studies should be integrated rather than isolated.
  • Students, parents, community members, and schools share responsibility for learning.
  • Students should have choices in how they learn and how they present what they know.
  • Students should be provided guidance with school and career planning.
  • Assessments should provide insights not only of student progress but also of instruction and curriculum

We are presented with infinite memory. We can store, retrieve infinitely more than our fragile memory. Our lives are not limited by local contemporaries or restrained by single sources of information. The internet wiped away that idea a long time ago. The next wave for education to deal with is the nature of schools and the mode of learning itself – in the global context. It is already happening. As Australia starts looking at the next phase of it’s ‘digital education revolution’ – I hope that it pays attention to schools like the FVS. I wonder what would happen if we had a HSC Virtual High School? – Now there’s an idea.

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They are just not that into you

Image via Wikipedia

More ‘yeah buts’ … and more solutions.

“I’d love to give students more personal feedback, but it’s impossible! I have 900 students!” … “there’s no way I could deal with 900 students in on online discussion!” … “if I put my lecture online, half the students stop showing up!”. So, here we go, let’s find some solutions …

Student concerns about linear learning approaches

From the student perspective, they are often critical of the ‘entry’ event into learning – too much information, too little information, lack of consistency etc., and just as critical of the exit point – lack of feedback – “I put my heart into the essay and all I got was a grade, not even a comment!”, “I don’t know what I need to do to get a better grade?”,”why is this 18/20 not 19/20?”.

Technology as the middle ground

I have to think that what happens in the middle is best supported by a discourse community, and in fact attaining large numbers of participants is a great thing, not a bad one. We all know that group activities suffer the long-tail. In a group of 900 students, realistically 90 will be active voices. Not all of them will be ‘creators’ of conversations, some will join existing ones, some will be critics – the vast majority will be spectators – they will read lots, but often contribute almost nothing. They are however influenced by the behaviors and views of the group.

Renewing Motivation and Participation in learning

It all comes down to motivation – intrinsic or extrinsic, whether they are interested in deep or surface learning in the context of the topic. So in reality a teacher will not be dealing with 900 individual conversations, more like 10% of that, and not at the same time, nor do all posts and replies need addressing. The teacher is a mediator who threads together ideas that steer students in the right direction and occasionally ‘jump start’ the conversations. The value of participation is in the feedback and shared learning experiences of the community itself, not because that is where the ‘answer’ is.

Renewing Pedagogy

Imagine a year 12 HSC Advanced Mathematics class, with 24 students and 1 teacher. They are successful learners, deep knowledge seekers, intrinsically motivated and hungry to solve advanced problems to attain sufficient knowledge to ‘ace’ the exam. Now imagine the same class – but with 240 students and 10 experienced mathematicians. The class has a set of problems to solve and can do so whenever they feel like it. They can work with each other, or work alone – but whatever they do, they solve it in an open space online. Does each teacher need to spend as much time ‘teaching’, will more students mean less or more learning? Can students learn – without the presence of a teacher? Can they learn from more than one teacher after the end of the school day? Would they want to?

The point to me is that it is not a 900:1 ratio unless that is how you perceive it. Lectures could be more engaging on the personal level if some of the ideas the discourse community generates are addressed. If a lecture is merely a monologue, then I have to say, I probably would not show up either. What if a lecture was a hybrid – live conversation and online discussion? What if it was perfectly acceptable to do both. What if the lecture was ‘live blogged’ – and driving questions asked online and in the theatre.

Renewing Delivery

Web2.0 makes it easy to deliver a lecture online – live. Let’s say there is an hour ‘lecture’. Rather than present yet another killer PowerPoint (which is debate in itself), break up the time into delivery, challenge and reflection. Bring in the ‘online’ learners – allow them (and encourage them) to form sub-groups to answer questions and drive further discussion online later or at the time. Get a volunteer to ‘live blog’ the hour with a laptop.

Renewing Work Practices

The idea that there are tutorial discussions, lecture monologues and ‘online’ is not the preference of many students. By being flexible in delivery and support, we can accommodate students better. Sure it means changing the way, when and where we work, but not necessarily how long or how hard. Going ‘digital’ does not mean ‘more work’ at all – yet this is a continual argument to avoid change.

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The founding question

How is information organised on the internet? This seems a fair question to ask anyone using it for learning and teaching.

I imagine the answers will include ‘on websites‘,’on computers‘,’using webpages‘,’web addresses’ or perhaps ‘URLs‘. But the word we are really interested in is the one upon which 21st Century Learning hinges – organised. If I was to ask how a book organises information, a music cd or even a library – chances are the response will be narrower and more accurate. Learning and teaching is based on boundaries, discipline, frameworks and reproductive learning. We are working in attainment based assessment.

In all seriousness, if a mechanic was unable to explain how a diagnostic tool worked, then the chances of them finding or solving a problem would be slim. They might have some cognitive knowledge of the tool, but unable to maximise on benefits – or explain them to others. Application of knowledge to solve problems is more important that the cognitive understanding of the ‘tools’. Yet we focus on tools all to often.

In another approach, ask someone to ‘draw’ an organisational diagram to answer the question. The vast majority of people will draw a heiracy, and start with a box, most probably called ‘home’. They will then add nodes that demonstrate a parent-child taxonomy. It’s a fun activity in staff meetings or in class – to evaluate just how accurate their understanding is. We are so used to ‘searching’ that it often the most ‘hit’ page on a website.

We are at a watershed and need to do some self-diagnosis. As a group (class, school, organisation) do we understand how to organise digital information? Do we know where to look for it? Are we creating taxonomies that make sense? let alone creating effective scaffolds upon which students can attain knowledge? If we are creating resources which we hope other people will find … understanding how to organise information seems to be a better strategy that relying on Google’s algorithmic ability to discover it.

Before talking about shifts in education, metaphoric tools,  ‘learning’ theory, models etc, we need to understand how information is organised in the digital world. We know that ‘files’ are put in folders, stored on flash drives and hard drives. We use keywords to look for things on other computers or networks – and are likely to be offered millions of possible places to find it. We seem to accept these odds and complaints that ‘the internet is full of rubbish’.

The ‘beginning’ of relearning about ICTs is to ensure we know how to organise ‘our’ information so it can be found and shared. We need to embed baseline digital taxonomies and make sure staff and students attain this knowledge at the outset. Modelling this – though example (developing frameworks, collaboratively aggregating information etc.) from the ground up – will allow everyone to share in it’s creation and understanding. As students move from one learning situation to another, they are using a common understanding, as the curriculum is has a foundation based on understanding not exploration.

If staff and students are unclear about the answer, then this is the place to start.

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Leadership 2.0

I listened this week to people talking again about the ‘skills’ students need as 21st Century Learners. They spoke of their frustration that their community leaders didn’t ‘get it’. This made me think about the polorisation they were discussing; advocates talk of media literacy and collaboration while many schools focus on ‘skills’ that deliver the current measure of attainment – examinations. So what makes a ‘great’ leader?

picture-31Firslty I think they demonstrate an understanding that‘skills’ are a continuum that ranges from ‘reproductive’ to ‘productive’. Reproductive requires students to repeat a set performance to required standard. Productive requires students to apply their knowledge and skills to new situations that may be unique in that context. While technology that is powering social media and connected learning makes productive not just possible, but easy – we still have to recognise that to do so they need reproductive skills to be learned and practiced – and curriculum leaders that can understand that relationship – not just do as they are told – they have to know it.

In this regard I don’t support the ‘either or’ approach to learning. I get a chill when people talk about a ‘model’. We live in times where schools have to take new risks and media literate curriculum leaders need to be installed to  inspire, advocate and bring new ideas to what has been essentially a reproductive approach to learning. Chris Lehmann leads by doing – and the culture that he creates fuels the wider community. You have to ask – does yours? if not, what can you do about that?

Your childs curriculum leader should be talking to parents and staff about

  • Students interpreting situations;
  • Calling up knowledge of strategies and procedures to solve problems;
  • Students planning their responses – setting their own goals and asking their own questions;
  • Students performing – delivering on the continuum – demonstrating collaboration, social sensitivity, fluidity – whatever may be characteristics of skilled performance identified.

If they are not creating opportunities to talk about these things with parents and staff – then don’t be suprised if little changes in anything they ‘control’. We need to design learning better and deliver reproductive skills by teachers who do that well, and pass productive skill based activities to others who are more media literate and understand how to leverage Web2.0 technologies. We don’t need to be ‘either or’ or ‘model’ something that has worked in the past, in another context. That is a huge risk and huge strain on everyone. We need people who can assess risks, take a change, but not be polarized or paraluysed by their decisions. “Risk recovery is more important that failure avoidance” as the guy from Pixar says. PBL is not a panacea for learning in the 21st Century any more than technology, the internet or laptops are. It’s the degree to which the curriculum leader can understand and mange students on the skills continuum.

Skilled curriculum leaders are using frameworks:

  • to allow self-instruction;
  • intensive reproductive learning workshops;
  • workplace and authentic experiences to apply productive learning.
2nd half of 14th century
Image via Wikipedia

They must be talking clearly about the limitations of resource-based learning and the benefits of embedding flexibility in the programme of study. The must place value on the preparation of materials for resource based learning and offer flexible delivery options. For example – discipline intensive workshops, online self-exploration, and practical constructive.

Students need to select how best to learn – and not be placed into ‘either or’ situations, or no choice at all. I don’t think one teacher should be pressuring another is a productive use of time. They should want to do it, and understand why – because of the leadership. You simply don’t need ‘everyone’ – but you do need to elevate people who do amazing things with technology and renewed pedagogy to positions where they can influence. Right now, we still appoint people on time served and qualifications, and that is no longer a valid indicator of leadership ability.

I sympathise with the comments I listened to this week. Change in teachers, or even in groups of teachers – must be recognised, valued and enriched. In 2009, though the number of teachers who have extended their own continuum is growing, sadly the furstrations I am hearing have changed little in the last few years. How do we infuse curriculum leaders? How do we break the glass ceiling? How do we get then to authenitcally join the conversation?.

I think this is a powerful conversation we need to have again and again this year.

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What are those things?

picture-28 Someone asked me today if used Firefox. “Yes, I said”. After a pause they said “What are all those icons where the site address goes”. I thought for a moment and replied “waypoints”. After a slight nod of acceptance came “what do they do?”.

My waypointsDelicious, Diigo, Zotero (still scares me), zemanta (awesome tool), Cooliris, Google Notebook – are all things I use to recognise where I’ve been, what I’ve seen and learned. They do add to productivity – but I am so used to using them that I almost forget they are there and just how damn useful my browser is. Add ons come and go, but these have been with me for a while now. They make the whole process of telecommuting, working anywhere so easy that I wonder how people who have IE, Word and Email cope with the ebb and flow of communication that passes by them daily. It all starts and ends with meta data. The ability to leverage poweful tools, from simple icons, and create a set of way points that help me navigate the stuff that I’m interested in makes Firefox a weapon of mass construction (sic). Not only do I explore the metaverse, but the tools make it easy to drop pixel pins all over it.

virtual-live-borderDo I prefer to use online tools? No. I just want to use powerful tools. I can’t do any of this in Word and Outlook, so don’t – unless I have to. A decade ago, I had Outlook open all day, now I have to remember to check Groupwise. All this comes with me as I wander around with my iPhone (which as a phone is not that great). I no longer carry my laptop around with me. I’ve also noticed that students on campus also don’t. I half expected that students would all have laptops or netbooks – given the free wifi. But no, they prefer their phone and then drop into a ‘lab’ when they need to use a PC. I think at times, these things creep up on us. We don’t make big jumps at all, but there is a constant upgrade at work. It is impossible to keep up, to know all that is there, or all that is possible anymore – and I am not sure we need to. Powering your browser allows you to do more. Talking Web2.0 to someone on stock IE6 is difficult. Developing learning systems using browser power-ups is something I am beginning to think is like an exoskeleton. In the brief conversation today, it was impossible to put this into a simple answer other than “they make things better”.

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Fundamentals: Taxonomies for Learning

One project I have for 2009 is to create a framework for Professional Learning (PL) at Macquarie University. I’m pretty happy to get asked to say the least. The course will offer 26 hours of PL. It will follow the Open University 13 week timetable. The course is Foundations of Web2.0. It uses the ‘back story’ of how we have got to here, why we need to change and just where the opportunities lie. It will use simple ‘tools’ to address how and were pedagogy can be expanded and enriched – without being an ‘expert’ in IT.

Here’s how I’m approaching this.

Element #1 – Taxonomies for learning and teaching

Before we can effectively talk about blogs, wikis, podcasts etc., we first need to get our heads around a few things.

  1. The internet is designed to be dis-organised! – so how can we organise information scaffolds to guide learners?
  2. You can’t search the internet! – So if I can’t search ‘the internet’ – what can I do with it?
  3. Search engines are not free! – so what is the costs of using Google in the classroom?
  4. 80% of people who use the internet use 1 taxonomy! – and they don’t even know it!
  5. Folksonomies can save the world! – But first, they need to change your understanding.

Here are some workshop questions …

Example A – Someone searches “curb morning sickness,” “you’re pregnant he doesn’t want the baby,” “baby names,” “abortion clinics charlotte nc,” and “engagement rings” – in that order. – What will Google think?

Example B – The word cloud – taken LIVE from AOL’s search engine. (I deleted the offensive words). This is what people (today) were searching for.

Example 3: The zero option”. Type in “What is a field mouse?” into the bar where the URL should go and press return. Here’s what I got – a direct LINK to a website. Firstly – it will be different in IE and Firefox. Next, thats where the address should go! and lastly – how the hell did it know I’d accept this as the best result? Does it do the same if you type the same thing into Google? How about Yahoo? How about the Google Task Bar – or even Excite (do they exisit?).

Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency

This is a series of three posts that look at the history of ICT in schools and the learning frameworks that are working.

Ever wondered how ICTs got the way they are in education? Part 1/3

Technology was originally used in schools for ‘drill and skill’ learning. It was a ‘science’ in the 1980s and spent many awkward years in the maths department, science department and even industrial arts. In short it has always been a dependant of something else. Eventually, it became a whole school thing – a bolt on to existing disciplines and not all teachers welcomed it’s introduction to ‘their’ syllabus’.

The software used throughout the 1990s and was based on Computer Aided Instruction (CAI). We bought software on CD-Rom, and CD-Roms with pre-developed worksheets. There are still a vast amount of titles on CD-Rom for this purpose, and a multi-million dollar ‘marketing’ machine pushing into school classrooms. Schools had little choice – as the Internet was still the preserve of ‘experts’ and software had evolved into quite sophisticated CD-Roms teaching anything from German Grammar to Touch Typing. CAI was widely adopted in schools. Schools began ‘using’ software where Universities used the Internet to collaborate and share academic research. Ironically much of the discussion in the 1990s in University over the www, was about ‘software’ such as HypeCard – and not the www itself. They used listservs, message boards, MOOs etc., schools had almost no access to the www, in NSW until the late 1990s.

Another decade, same debate

In the archives of the NSW Parliament, 30th May 2001. The minister of Education and Training replies to the question “What is the latest information on the Government’s plan for students to use the Internet and email?

“I remind honourable members that it was the first Government to connect every school to the Internet, a program which was completed by the end of 1996. Since 1995 it has had a roll out of 90,000 new and replacement computers and a further 25,000 computers will be rolled out during the next two years. More than 20,000 teachers have been trained in how to use IT in teaching and learning, with another 20,000 to be trained during the next two years. It is now time for IT to revolutionise not just what our students learn about or what tools they use to learn with, but how they learn.”

So by 1998, a decade ago, every school had internet access, new equipment and trained teachers apparently. Are we not having the same discussion today? – The next post looks at how the internet disrupted the ICT classroom.

Moshi Monsters

The PR blurb says : Moshi Monsters is a virtual world for children that allows users to adopt and care for their own pet monsters. Users create a home for their pet monster in Monstro City, play games and make friends, and show off their monster. It is not ‘new’ as such – but new to me. It was nominated for a Childrens BAFTA Award in December 2008.

picture-21The blogger says: Moshi Monsters is slick and well able to align it’s product offering with big brands to fish in the same markets – such as a current tie in competition with the up coming Ben 10 movie. It also got a whopping US$10million as a start up. It’s a 2D flash based site, in which children solve puzzles, earn points, and do the usual social stuff. However, one of the sticky points – a little neo-pets like – is that the monster has a quite clever behavior engine. You have to try and keep it happy. It has in effect an emotional literacy – how to keep your avatar pet alive. Being social is one way – the site allows messages and connections between other Moshi owners.

There are obvious, earlier comparisons to draw here with ‘pet based’ interaction online – but the site also has a ‘blog’, which contains a lot of information – including discussions about what users have created – and some very subtle marketing and cross promotional activity.

A quick trial with the house hold ‘test monkeys’ – and it was a cinch to figure out, but to get the most out of it, they need cognitive skills of online communication as well as problem solving, so not for pre-schoolers or early learners. I’d say 9-11 year olds might stick with it for a while.

There are lots of puzzle sites around, and indeed puzzle based MUVEs, what I found interesting here was the degree of social media integration done over and above the ‘game’ itself. Blogs, buddy lists, message boards … and avatar management – what looks like a simple site – is actually demanding a high level of literacy. Mindcandy – the creators – seem very aware of parent communication and site monitoring, but I didn’t see active evidence of that in the way that ReadingEggs sends a report of your child’s activity.

But it’s been this weeks ‘hit’ internet ‘time’ toy, though I am not at all sure that it has any ‘educational’ value in it’s games – that you can’t get with less of an overhead elsewhere with Dora or Disney, but makes big leaps into social media territory – which is what I found more interesting.

I do wish these things could be more adaptable. Right now they are almost as frustrating as Computer Aided Instruction software in the 1990s. Sure they look nice, do neat stuff  – but they don’t allow ‘learning’ to be at the centre. Collecting “Rox” in return for puzzles is mearly a means to an end. There is no real ability to put the character into a learning framework, no opportunity to ‘create’ or ‘story tell’, so once again, I think we are heading down the wrong path. This might lead to kids ‘social networking’ but really – what is the point – the age of their development does not require them too, or equip them to. Virtualising it and adding moral pressure didn’t thrill me, or make me want to take kids to it in an educational setting.

I can see merit in MeetSee in school and home – and there are others such as MetaPlace that offer more learning centred opportunities. Games have their place, especially with boys education – maths and science – such as Runescape, but then there are things such as Moshi Monsters. It is much harder to ‘extract’ how you’d add these to a class, so this means they are left to be used at home. It is important that teachers at least ‘know’ what is happening in this growing realm – as the skills being developed are significant – and so is the collaborative, social nature used to aquire them. Moshi Monsters would make an interesting study in comparison to other more adaptive offerings.

Tweets from the RMS Titanic

History repeats – or so they say. Edward John Smith’s ship was thought un-sinkable until 1517 people died on the night of 14 April 1912 when it hit an ‘iceburg’. It used the most advanced technology available at the time – yet failed to recognise the significance of the warnings, but more importantly, communication technology.

“a message from the steamer Amerika warned that large icebergs lay in the Titanic’s path, but as Jack Phillips and Harold Bride, the Marconi wireless radio operators, were employed by Marconi and paid to relay messages to and from the passengers, they were not focused on relaying such “non-essential” ice messages to the bridge.”(wikipedia)

History shows that time and again we fail to recognise the importance of communication technology until it reaches a critical point. Schools have a history of using computing as an instructional aid, university as a communication tool. Metaphoric ‘tools’, previously used for instruction, are now exploratory and constructive – they are best used for communication. Something that still appears lost on even the BBC.

As the new school year starts – teachers are relaying, what some consider non-essential messages about technology and pedagogy. Imagine if the passengers on the Titanic had Twitter – how different the story, if not the tragedy, might be. It’s a silly allegory as obviously today’s technology prevents such thing from repeating.  Please don’t hassle other teachers, executives, principals, politicians about non-essential messages about education – the party is in full swing and the water is calm. I wish all other radio operators sucess this year – and look forward to working with you.