Why I don’t make workbooks.

I’m going to build on my deep suspicion that Blooms Triangle is one of the most problematic ideas sold into the undergraduate psyche. It symbolises an idealistic, progressive, narrowing ladder towards so called ‘high order’ thinking that students can climb. A ladder which is provided by a teacher. A teachers starts with the list questions and keep going regardless of time or understanding.

The biggest problem with Blooms is that it doesn’t account for time in either the corporeal or virtual world kids live in today. Most schools run on 40-50 minute sessions because it fit’s the organisational structure of school, not because it’s good for learning. No one ever runs a conference keynote argument about time-table reform – and teachers seem to think that reform is bounded by the same timetable arrangements of the last fifty years. Classes run X number of times a cycle and there are Y dot-points to ‘get through’ according to the overseers who decide what our cognitive apprentices need to ‘learn’. These are then divided into ability levels. I refuse to stream kids by some faux-measurement of ‘ability’. I really doesn’t make sense in today’s classroom. What some kids need to know – and can know in 50 minutes is never going to be stable or standardised. Instead teachers are told students should learn to and learn about … which is well meant, but hard to do.

I say need to learn, because it’s fundamentally different from need to know. The latter cannot be regulated by 40-50 minute sessions or planned into a timetable. Today you and I are probably going to encounter a problems and generate a ‘need to know’. It is ridiculous to believe that this will be a t !:40pm.

The ladder is broken. Kids don’t climb it on a chain like sherpas. More capable kids don’t like being tied to less capable and visa versa. A piece of advice I gave a prac-teacher this week was to be careful of the assumptions around these procedural ladder climbing sequences. More importantly – question idea that fun activities are rewards for work and those who don’t do enough work are somehow less worthy of having ‘fun’.

When I say ‘fun’, I mean any activity that to most kids is ‘active’ – throwing/catching, chasing, exploring, experimenting, playing a game, running around etc. In other words, activities that require learning through reflection on doing, rather than copying down, remembering, memorising and so on. While there’s a need for that, the ladder method assumes these things are low order and ‘beginning’ tasks that lead to doing (proficiency testing). In essence, experiential learning (Kolb) is a collection of spirals that become relational though doing.

Some kids need to so some of the spirals a few times before they recognise how to move from one to another. Eventually the spirals become connected (repeatable) patterns that have a shape which is both recognisable and applicable in new situations. Games do this rather well, which is one reason she doesn’t want to get off Minecraft and becomes so engaged in it. Some people are mistaking this experiential learning for addiction. One reason for that is probably that they themselves didn’t do any at school and therefore don’t see much value in it.

In school, while we are aware (or should be) of Dewy, Piaget and Lewinian theories I’m hinting at here … if not more recent work by contemporary scholars (Brown, Gee, Jenkins, De Freitas) there remains this lingering loyalty to Behaviourist ideology (especially computing-machine learning) which is also touted as being somehow experiential by design.

Learning design which doesn’t reform the rigid time-table, rethink physical space and allow students to step and repeat (voice and choice) cannot realistically be called ‘new’ or ’emerging’. Where they do have this … I would hope that their own knowledge of educational theory and instructional design would immediately tell them to avoid the cognitive apprentice model at all costs.

Learning in open spaces, flexible time tables and with mobile technology can be elegant and rewarding. It’s not about being one or two steps away from the modernist norm, it’s about realising that norm was wrong to begin with. It’s only now that we deliver experiential learning with relative ease – using imagination, creativity, games and, dare I say it – fun at a sustainable, relatively low cost level.

I don’t make workbooks because kids don’t learn anything. If they can do the workbook, then it pointless and if they can’t do the workbook, then it won’t help them. If one simply has to give a test, then give a test now an again … but modern learners live in an experiential world – so why give them a factory model of learning anymore.


The new ton-up boys.

In the 1950s the post-war youth discovered motorcycles while their parents were getting into cars. Hire Purchase allowed young-people to emulate The Wild Ones, get into a leather jacket and race between cafes — pulling the legendary ¨ton up¨. Kids had mobility, kids had a sub-culture and kids railed against the society that had put them in the saddle.

Mobility these days isn’t about cars or motorbikes. Recent figures show kids are not buying them for all sorts of reasons — and the kind of youth-clubs created such as the 59 club are nostalgic cultural history. Today’s ton up boys have gadgets. Its a sort of middle aged crisis — where youthful ambitions and sub-culture affinities can be revisited from the tethered fantasy of the home or office. Anyone can get on social media and do a ton-up. They can impress others (if others know little about EdTech culture) as they flash past making noise. Ultimately, this sub-culture online is a choice. I know its got all sorts of names which sound clever, but a lot of what happens is purely about entertainment, showing off and increasing your own credibility — which also means making others invisible.

Sure you can Tweet your way to the ton-up and become a recognised name in the cafe-scene, but this doesn’t represent any measurable impact in the bigger challenge itself — shifting culture and helping people teach and learn better. Most people don’t go to these cafes online, nor their manifested events in the real world. Most people are working to help others and not do a ton-up and ride over the dumb saps on the side of their road. Success in EdTech means creating meaningful work-packages for people who want to do a great job. It seems that people are more being acknowledged for doing a ton-up down the information super highway than they are for struggling though the reality of current culture and demands.


Who’s got their head in a sandbox

Fear of the future, leads organisational culture to believe many things about the present. It’s not useful to measure or think about the past in decades. In educational technology, the golden era of eLearning (1995-2005) was one where large organisations held the power and produced research which proved they were correct in buying large proprietary systems and creating specialist centres with expert staff capable of moving the mouse around for peon-users. Even today, some deny that Web2.0 every took place (2006-2011) and that Web3.0 (the internet of things, the semantic web) is now happening. By 2015 the landscape will have changed again. Even worse, some think Web2.0 was (or is) a thing that they can – if they so choose – selectively allow in or out, as though eLearning was not simply an epoch in broader culture and the on-going domestication of technology.

So much effort is made towards establishing what is in decline (and therefore who can be ejected) and so little in not investigating why organisations hold on to old ideas for so long, that their ability to spot (and deal with decline) also gives them even the barest insight into the future – which by and large they avoid or simply dismiss.

The best technology ever invented is a head-sized box of sand.

Learning from empty shopping carts

Inside the excited micro-world of education online, there’s an orgy of imperfect messages. It strives to get people to listen to the messages and be more willing to abandon the truth.

If you were to travel back in time, to the late 1980s, the way the todays edtech reality is presented mirrors the way retail marketing went from “local” to “mega-stores”, such as Athena, Tower Records, HMV and so on. Students learn locally (a truth) and yet so much effort and attention is paid to out of town mega-malls which are un-reachable by the vast majority of people who want to learn. The fact we have phones and computers, which connect to the internet does not create a new reality that online learning is accessible. I am amazed that people obsess over ‘abandonment’ rates in MOOCs – completely ignorant of how little engagement there is with the piled high shelves of ‘proper’ information (and systems).

The truth is, that our hand held glass screens do not give us the same presence, they do not make the truth more findable, but building mega-stores to entice in new-shoppers has been a resounding success (for now). The web is a grave-yard of abandoned carts.

People have rushed to become ‘brands’ where high ‘footfall’ no longer matters, just clicks and followers. The online eduworld entices, engages, informs, teases and invites. It’s shop front presents enticing offers that this new futures is available and affordable.

What’s more, because ‘everyone’ is (or should) be doing it – then it provides the social-proof needed to get others to behave similarly.

Next we needed events – and edumedia provides on  daily basis. Even better, as these are rarely local, we don’t need to worry at all about building and permanent spaces at all. Edulandia is full of singage and signposting, it has shelves full of stock piles of information, carefully presented to create flow-behaviour from first sight to next purchase.

The problem is local-availability. Is what is being sold ‘close enough’ to the truth, and close enough to our-truth – or is it on the opposite side of town, too far to get to and too difficult to return.

My argument is this, while a privileged few in education seem to spend most of their days at conferences and debating the future and endlessly shopping around the pixel-mega-stores self-styled gurus have concocted – these people will not improve educational spaces or outcomes for students one iota tomorrow than they have in the last ten years.

The smarter people inside learning communities are learning from abandoned shopping carts – they are looking at powerful online tools, which provide a great deal of intelligence as to these flows of information, as used by real people, not sales-people. However, this is not the purpose of the PLN at all, a PLN is a shopping mall.

Sadly, there are millions of educational-websites (stores) which have been packed full of information (shelf-stocking). I am sure all this information is quality and relevant in some context. The truth is that while 95% of educational effort goes into to making ‘stock’, 95% of it also never leaves the shelf because it lacks “flow”. Few store owners appear to understand localised SEO, market intelligence and user-flows sufficiently to realize that their mega-store has no customers and plenty of abandoned shopping carts. The best solution – don’t look at the data.

Consider this, the action of one person or a group pushing information online around a ‘new’ initiative almost always succeeds in burying the visibility of another. Even worse, they probably won’t even know it. It’s mind blowing how little effort goes into managing this – and now much goes into one group trying to dominate others for that ‘home-page’ spot – believing that Google pays more attention to Home-pages than anything else (the 90’s called, they want their meta-tags back).

Working out where learners stop (or don’t even start) online cannot reasonably be measured in “likes”, “clicks” or “follows” – this is the measurement of the attention-economy. It serves those building edu-mega-stores well, as you’ll buy into the idioms – but the truth is, these are yet to be proven to make any significant difference to learners. But I suspect that’s not the point anymore. Commercialization of education was necessary to sell brands (and products) and it seems few are willing to abandon their addiction.

Enjoy the ISTE Mega-Mall. I’m sure the shelves will be piled higher and deeper this year.

Eating lunch at the edge of town

As the year ends, I guess there will be a flurry of bloggers reviewing “the” year. The more enlightened will review “their” year and only the very haughty would claim to have a birds-eye view of education or what is working. Only the ignorant would seek to turn everything into a Legrand Star which is just another bottleneck used to control the flow of ideas and usage of the Internet.

This year I’ve been given intimate access to the nascent technology of our time. The internet. The problem I’ve found is that as a network it’s brilliant at moving chunks of data around from one point, breaking them into millions of pieces which travel in unseen pathways, to be reassembled on my screen. No bottlenecks, information on the Internet, when in transit is dust.

People however don’t do this. They tend to want to own things and keep them whole. They say “we” but the mean “I”. They can bottleneck not just ideas, but people. They can take what someone had and hold it hostage.

Confusing peer to peer networking with client-server is one of the most remarkable mistakes people make. For many people, a network is a link wheel and “people” are terminals to receive information.

Sadly, peer to peer is corrupted time and again by individual agendas seeking to centralize “progressive change” on their ideas and those who they choose to add to their link wheel.

The idea of the Internet was that no one machine had authority over the others. This doesn’t seem to feel true of people. I don’t think the most amazing people are at the core – those whom dominate the dialogue and conference stages – but at the edge.

That’s my take on my year, I think the most inspirational and intelligent ideas still exist at the edge of the network, and that forming a PLN in the way the core like to present it is to ignore the nascent nature of the phenomenon of the Internet.

To stay free is to know that sense making happens by re-assembling dust and to know the no one has a birds eye view of what is happening or what is best unless they are foolish or controlling. The Internet, by it’s nature is not a democracy. There is no ground-up movement for change, as this requires a top. The idea the top is the most popular is just perpetuating the same school-yard society that many people had to suffer as a kid.

Perhaps a PLN or controlled network is just that, revenge for a shitty school-social experience being revisited. Oh that’s a bit dark, however just as plausible as now eating lunch with the populars.

My point – if I have one – is to avoid proprietary networks and ideas at this time. Bring things into the world of kids from the edge. This doesn’t have to be an iPad or web-tool, it can be philosophic, irony, stories or just lowering your V-Mask and being more human.

Choosing technology also means choosing predicated network belief, culture and assumptions. This doesn’t necessarily mean making your skills better or you having more knowledge, as the behavior of those at the core is to constantly diffuse what the network thinks was true a day before. For example: the endless lists of 5 things, none of which are more than opinion sanctioned by controlling gates on the network – issued to nodes.

Kids have amazing peer networks. I love that peer networks in Warcraft still work like dust. You arrive, play with people for a time, then leave. The game upholds the rules not some central person. Of true 12.5 million players, its hard to see anyone one person producing powerpoints about how Blizzard should improve the game and then selling a book about it.

But beware: peer does not mean equal, nor positive deviants accepted. Quite the opposite. It continues to hack me off, as “leaders” ignore nodes. The minister for education – will ignore all teacher nodes – as will the hierarchy – a PLN and a Legrand Star seem the same to me. I can’t know, as I too don’t have a birds eye view of “educational technology” and no one knows the future.

But I do see some “gurus” peddling the same diet through the bio-system to their followers today as five years ago. Who wants to live on an IV-drip via Twitter. Not me or you I hope.

Clearly I’m keeping a blog here that reflects my view that what should be exploring new ideas with kids and popular agenderising is just creating another Legrand Star, diffusing achievements from the edge.

To sell you wares, one must court the kings favour.

There appears to me, to be no difference between these PLNs and the “system” they like to use as fuel to progress individual agendas. They spend no time trying to figure out what the outliers are doing, but have adopted a strategy of feeding their nodes small and frequent meals of the same diet today and five years ago. The big difference, now they are on Ipad3 not 1.

I would like to offer an new position or emotive call to action. But, just as people tend to not re-tune the radio in their car, little will change, apart from the fact it’s ever harder to see the edge and escape the bottlenecks.

Whether you are ignored, trolled or lifted – social media has some behaviour that seems more regressive than progressive. But at the edge or the positive deviants, tinkering with new ideas and stuff with peers. But their PLN is probably small and diverse – because in the history of technology, large mass groups have almost always been proven wrong.

2013 will be spent at the edge for me. But hey, eating lunch at the edge isn’t so unusual. Sure beats giving you lunch to the playground trolls.

5 way to make life easier for the audience

There are ton of things a true conference road-warrior needs in their bag, if they are to survive out there in time-lag conference venue land. So here’s a few tips on how to get fit.

1. Haz your own wifi!

First, get your own wifi via 3G. It doesn’t matter if you tether, get a personal hotspot or use 3G on your phone, you need it. Where people once brought a laptop to a conference, they now bring a laptop, a phone and an iPad, and most venues have not worked this out yet. Let’s assume you carry your own DVI to RGB converter, an audio line and a VGA cable. Look after these things, most of the fails are not about the computer or the projector, they are due to crap cables that result in frantic waggling buy young men in block polo-shirts. Tag your stuff, spend a few bucks on a plastic key-fob and then use thing electrician ties to fasten it to your stuff. Make sure you put your mobile and your social-media contacts on it, that way when you leave it behind, they can give it you back. Those mini-dv to RGBs are expensive and easy to forget after a presentation.

2. Make it easy to give yourself away

Get a QR code made up to a web-page that bounces everyone to your webbyness spaces. You can use something like LiveBinders for this. Regardless of what you are presenting – know this, you are dealing with a pack who want resources! – you can’t win anyone over with rhetoric. They want stuff, in fact there is a special breed of conference goer, who will not even bother to listen to your set, they roll in, swipe the resources and freebies, like teenagers raiding the pantry after the weekly shopping. So make sure you have something – a reward for them listening, something that you have not previously handed out online, but keep it online, so that in your LiveBinder they can grab it. Get yourself a large luggage tag, the encapsulated type, a nice durable one. Put your QR code inside and you can fix it to the inevitable conference lanyard, so people and scan it as they talk to you. It’s a great way of kicking off a conversation, and stops you looking for paper and a pen.

3. Have a ready to go back-channel

Consistently, I find that only a small percentage of teachers at ‘system driven’ conferences have Twitter. Most people spend less than 2 hours a week online in an effort to learn about technology. I know this because I poll the audience. So in your kit bag, use Today’s Meet, as it’s fast, simple and doesn’t require any sign-in or commitment to get onto social-networks. Prime it with a brief overview of why your talk matters and links to your own blog. Don’t hand out the presentation at the start! Figure out what your driving question is to the audience and ask them to reply to it on Todays Meet. Something that will take 2 minutes tops. Next create a poll, using something like poll-anywhere, so that even if they don’t want to write anything, they can give a response. I often ask about time online, simply as it gives me an instant view of who I’m talking to, and therefore what I’ll talk about. There is no point in talking about the need to spend 200 hours learning something, if your audience says they have 2, which actually means 1. At the end of your set, ask for feedback – and again allow them to use Todays Meet or a poll. It’s a handy way of finding out what you’re not so good at.

4. Play with new tools to present with

It often strikes me that those who talk about the ‘future’ have the most primitive delivery skills. PowerPoint, with pictures of games is still PowerPoint. Powerpoint talking about change, isn’t change. It falls to those that lecture to at least attempt new ways of doing it – as often their message is about ‘new’ yet presented in a rather conventional way.  Perhaps use an iPad, try out AirPlay to connect an AppleTV (which you can hook to the projector) and stream to it, or you go iPad to VGA and use Scribblar or other to turn your iPad into something more interesting.  There are so many new ways of presenting and making things interactive, yet often a keynote is little more than 30 slides of rhetoric.

5. Accept that the audience are not great at active listening

“If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always gotten.” – Eric Hoffer

Research reported by Ralph Nichols, distinguished communication professor at the University of Minnesota, reports that listening is a learned skill. His research findings indicate that most people forget fifty percent of what is said in the first two minutes, and twenty-five percent after eight minutes, and can retain the rest of the information only for about a month. To retain more information participants need to use active listening skills, try to anticipate where the presenters’ lecture is going and get an opportunity to interact with the material. We retain only 10-25% of what we hear after a thirty –day period. The lower the interaction the lower the retention. This is part of the ‘change’ problem, the way we attempt to persuade is simply not effective. In an audience distracted by Twitter and the excitement of connecting with people at a conference, our brains are processing all sorts of ideas and intentions for the day. This is slightly different to a University lecture, where people are engaged in a routine that lasts months, not a single day. So, rather than quote references to evidence (something many people don’t bother to do), include the full paper or report in your Live Binder. This allows people to find it more easily.