Future of Education – snowclones and ‘cliches’

I’m in ur nowlige, spukin’ ur mind.

This post is my first shot at developing the ideas that I want to talk about at the futures of education conference. I’ve spent bunches of my time recently writing and talking about communities and digital ecologies, and I thought I would do something a little different and talk about a specific case of how the new tools lead to new ideas of ‘knowing’ and how that could have a direct impact on education. I’m going to take a quick journey through the history of meaning making, and then talk a little about how specific tools can support things like cliches, memes and snowclones and what that means about learning and community belonging.

Why is belonging to a community important (or being in a network)?
I’m going to take it as given that most people who read this blog are going to believe that belonging to a community or network can be valuable. The most important learning i do is through the networks that I travel in. It is one thing to be able to find bits of ‘information’ on the internet(or have fun for that matter), but quite something different to be able to interact with people places and things all over the tubes. In order to do that, you need to understand what is going on in those communities… you need, in effect, to know how to adopt the given context. Many people have told us that in trying to become part of edtechtalk they need to ‘lurk’ for while to understand what is possible… what is allowed. They also take time to see how things ‘should’ be done. Knowing what to do in a community is essential for efficient membership. And, again, membership is key to learning deep things from a community or network.

How language plays a role
We have a running myth (or call it a shortcut) in the English language, that there are specific definitions for given words. When pushed on this issue, however, most of us will admit that, of course, those definitions change by context. I use the word ‘boat’ very differently at home among lobster folk than I use it around people who sail competitively. I also treat those boats very differently. The same could be said for the word house… or the word soup. Yes, most words that I’m using right now are quite standard, but if i used the word standardized, many educators out there might see a different implication. In his ‘Ancestor’s taleRichard Dawkins talks about the difference between two different kind of gulls. They are situated as ‘different species’ but when you observe them in the wild, it’s more of a continuum from one bird to another… in some places it is not possible to tell them apart.

Knowing how a bit of language is used in a given context or community is key to membership there. If I called someone a soup nazi, or when someone says ‘get off my lawn’, there is a literal meaning and a much more important contextual meaning. It was, at one time, that only people like novelists and politicians (and the newspapers and ads through which they were reported) had the capacity of creating this kind of thing. Expressions like ‘now you’re cooking with gas’ and ‘where’s the beef’ came from advertisements and spread into modern culture. The one that comes to mind most often for me is “the lights are going out all over Europe and shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.” Thought provoking… and chilling… if you know the context.

Enter online communities – fark.com
I’ve been saying for months (maybe more) to anyone who will listen (mostly my cat) that I think that people like 40below are going to have as lasting an effect on the English language as any living novelist. This is going to be a little difficult to explain to someone who is not familiar with the website. Fark is a website where people from all over the world ‘submit’ weird news stories, with funny replacement headlines. 40below (who’s real name I don’t know) is responsible for 5155 ‘greens’ on fark.com. Those ‘greens’ or accepted headlines, occasionally become the basis for a cliche or a snowclone.

Once this happens, the comment (or picture) then becomes a matter of lore to that community… like the soup nazi is to Seinfeld fans. This understanding of a contextualized concept can be key to understanding and joining any community.

Snowclones and cliches evolving
Just today I heard a snowclone in my office… (actually i heard several today, my partner and I llove them) One of my office mates said “what happens in the office stays in the office.” A snowclone of the famous ‘what happens in Vegas, stay in Vegas.’ We have many of these in our culture, but most of them come as lines in famous movies or ad campaigns. What we have happening now, is that communities are evolving these expressions in a fraction of that time. The information is being spread through new media tools, and communities of meaning are developing. The same is happening for cliches… as least in web usage of the term.

So what does this mean for education?
It’s an example of how ‘making meaning’ is changing. There was a time that study (and enough experience in modern culture) would give you access to most of the cliches used in modern discourse. What’s happening now, however, is that these new expressions and ways of speaking are developing everyday. What we need to do is teach strategies for discovering these expressions and learning how to adopt local community dialects online.

This is a single example of how teaching is going to be different. In this case, we need to teach the students the strategies needed to understand a new discourse, without knowing what that discourse is going to be. They are going to need to use their personal networks, need to use community driven sites like wikipedia… If they need to ‘break into’ a community to get a certain kind of information, they will need strategies… to learn how to be respectful, to suss out the rules in the new environment and MOST IMPORTANTLY, to then decide if this is the kind of place they should be getting information from.

ric romero

Or they’ll be just like this guy 🙂

Building Ecologies – making room for communities and networks

I had a really fun time hanging with folks at the CADE/AMTEC conference last week. The main thrust of most of the conversations was about the building of communities and I was fortunate enough to be talking to Stephen Downes, George Siemens and Terry Anderson. I rounded out a great deal of my thinking in those discussions, and have decided to adopt George’s ‘ecology’ language to find a place for my rhizomes to live. It’s a very strange thing to have to find a bunch of language to describe what is already happening… but it is the way of things. Until the language is there… it’s very difficult to describe to people what you are talking about. For now I will just say that the method of learning is rhizomatic (see earlier posts) and the structure that supports these rhizomatic discussions is a particularly tuned ecology.

An ideal ecology for a learning community would have some basic structures about it. It would be consistent in the face of expectation. It would have ‘values’ or ‘branding’ that would define what it is, would be policed or disseminated by members of the community. It needs to have some kind of economy that sustains it. It needs to display its membership rules and benefits in some way. Successful ecologies either have to be so simple that they are transparent, or have a training system that is useful or transparent.

Ecologies – A sketch starting point.

‘Ecology’ as I mean it for this conversation represents that sometimes ephemeral idea of place. What is it about a certain coffee shop, in a certain place in time, that seems to create such great conversations? Or how does a given teacher just seem to have that knack to have their students create such great work. And what is it about certain things that it doesn’t matter how much money is thrown at them… people never gather there… or the work never gets done. These ‘ecologies’ good and bad, contribute to the way things get done in them. A well designed ecology, I would argue, also includes the inter-relational agreements between the folks in that ecology. Let’s take the coffee shop analogy and stretch it out a little…

One of the formative intellectual experiences of my life was sitting at the Grad House at Dalhousie University. There were a group of folks that came there most days… some philosophy students, business, german, history, biology… who would sit around the same group of tables and talk. Some times for hours. It’s also where I learned to play pool. And taunt people while they’re playing pool, without making it completely obvious. (If you know, for instance, that your opponent is particularly obsessed by time (or almost late for class) asking the person next to you for the time just as they shoot can be very helpful) This was not an organized group, there was no one who made phone calls to anyone… matter of fact, I think I only had the phone number of one person in that whole group at the time. There was no real shared background… or shared interest… except in arguing about stuff. Those discussions were frighteningly rhizomatic in their journey around the disciplines that we were all familiar with… by the time that the six months that it really held together were over, I understood both how to debate properly and, more importantly, I had my first rhizomatic sketch of a theory of knowledge.

My position then is that this particular ecology was near perfect for allowing those discussions to happen… indeed… as it formed the structure within which those discussions did happen… that particular conclusion is inevitable. There was a basic expectation that things would be there when you arrived… the seating, the coffee, the lack of music, the beer and the people at the same time everyday… or thereabouts. The setting, in this sense, becomes transparent. But it only remains so as long as it is consistent… I believe that this is a key feature of successful ecologies – consistency in the face of expectation.

Another feature of a successful ecology are clearly understood ‘values’ (you could also see this as ‘branding’ if you like. This is a funny word, and one that Stephen particularly didn’t like in our discussions in Winnipeg, but I can’t think of a better one. Call them mores, call them guidelines and ethic… it’s a semantical argument no matter where you turn. But this coffee shop community had a few very solid rules that were never discussed but were strictly enforced. All rhetorical arguments were immediately ridiculed. Any argument that broke any of the 50 or so philosophical rules governing logical fallacies were pounced upon. Taking personal offense to a critique was returned by a mob taunting response. There were others… I suppose… hard to recall now.

It should have some kind of functional economy. The way this comes out in a university is clearly different than on a website… but it should be there. In this case, we were keeping our den open by buying their products… which had them clean our mess.

A word about membership

Membership in a community or network needs to mean something. This is, contrary to the new cool of ‘inclusion’ by necessity an exclusive thing. It is something that needs to be EARNED in order for it to be worth something. This is, I think, partially where the traditional education model breaks down. The old apprenticeship model was somehow based on the need to be ‘responsible’ for your education. You were ‘earning’ your way towards your profession.

While membership is a community (or network) activity, the way that it becomes clear to the larger community is an ecological issue. Whether a small community is needed and the membership is increased through word of mouth, or whether its amazon.com, membership needs to mean something to someone. Often good ecologies manage this by counting forum threads or posts… or by offering contributors some kind of ‘street cred’ based on their form of membership.

Training and MUDs

Terry and Stephen got into an interesting discussion during the “best online course” discussion. Stephen had described that in the old MUDs in order to be trusted to help design the online world, you needed to go on ‘quests’. In order to accomplish these quests, you would need to have both the dedication and the programming skills which would qualify you to build the world. You became a ‘wizard’ and were allowed ‘membership.’ Terry responded that it was people like Stephen who kept him from being a member.

The webcast academy has been an interesting model of this. In order to become a ‘webcaster’ in the worldbridges community, you are required to accomplish a certain set of goals. You need to webcast three shows, of your own planning, with your own guests, and be able to save and publish that work. For some folks it takes up to a year… others a couple of weeks. It is a sufficient barrier, however, that people feel proud of finally making it to the community. We created a ‘sub-ecology’ that allows for the necessary training to attain a certain level of membership.

Quick wrap up

Ecologies then, are the structures that allow good community to happen. Rhizomatic learning is wonderful… but it needs a place to live and needs to have some of the above criteria (if not all of them) in order to be able to thrive. I’m very curious about this could transfer into our traditional places of learning. How would we need to change our schools and universities in order to allow people to feel responsible to their learning?

note : (i’ve been fussing with this post for days and have finally given up and posted. Hopefully my next post on the issue will be more lucid)

CADE/AMTEC – day 2 – Best Online Course Ever?

Very different kind of post from the conference today. This was from a panel presentation this morning and it was so good that i thought i would try and record it all. The notes are still a little sketchy… hope it’s readable 🙂 italics for dave’s thoughts

Vicky, the first speaker started by talking about the Open courseware initiative first brought to us by MIT. As the world didn’t panic, other universities followed. Now 200 universities in a dozen countries have added courses to opencourseware websites. This is what started this conversation going…

Fritz Pannekoek – President, Athabasca University

“What would the worlds best online course designed for online access look like?” This is the question that began a series of discussions.

I was handed a worksheet… on paper… a paper handout asking me to participate. How can we possibly be serious about doing online work when we have a panel with no projector even turned on. My feelings about this changed a little as the conversation continued… but the conversation could have been so much richer with a backchannel from the crowd recording people’s immediate responses to what was a remarkable series of short talks.

President’s sometimes have trouble with practicalities. “everything we produce must be MIT compliant” the MIT stuff had become the standard simply because it was adopted. This was an interesting insight as to how many of these standards get chosen… seemingly by random or by very smart marketing people at MIT

If open courseware is to be there and is to be transformative, how can we achieve that?

Surpise surprise… if we use a little blended learning give more personal control of learning student’s seem to succeed much more… wouldn’t that be nice.

What if we created a series of standardized year courses that were available to all institutions based on a set of international standards. That would be nice.

How do we do readiness? Allow for culture? Modes of delivery? What about the outcomes? (I’m very concerned about outcome driven pedagogy) government seems to be pushing this by the ‘performance envelope’. Intellectual sustainability? How do we operationalize it? What’s the business model? Could you make money?

It’s a bold plan. And one that i would be very interested in watching. It seems that they do indeed plan to go about trying this… I might even like to get my nose into it somehow. there are problems… doubtless… starting with do we even need ‘courses’.

George Siemens

The ‘Best course model’ would be ‘networked’ and an ‘ecology’. The onus for the network is on the student and the ecology is the responsibility of the institution. Content is not really the centerpiece of what we’re doing anymore. Very expensive courses are now going out of date as the content changes so quickly. Couldn’t agree more. Wikipedia is nice. An academic wikipedia would be nice. Ummm… well… this is already being tried by the digital universe people… and I don’t think this model makes sense. I understand how it makes sense politicallly… just not in practice. The creation process shouldn’t be the only creators of the content. The users need to be involved. The content needs to be pedagogically neutral. yup yup yup

When we start deceminating we move into a network type model. Read/write tools represent a level of democracy, and empowerement… think of them as a philosophy not the actual tools we have now.

The new set of courses needs to be multinarratived. It should be available in any device and in any format. Our content should come to them. The discussion needs to occur in our students’ existing devices.

There is a change in the fundamental charateristics of knowledge. It changes everyone’s role. The institution is no longer in charge of disseminating the knowledge but should be in charge of creating the ecology, the space for it to occur.

Joan Collige

Picks up on George’s chaos. I’m gonna agree with george and go beyond.

When I look at this from the perspective of an instructional designer… I agree. As an administrator, (and part of the cohere project) I am concerned about many of the difficulties.

Iam interested in the big picture. I see so many authors and so many canvases and depending on where they are and what they believe… what kind of picture would they want to create. How would the pedagogies translate?

We need to prepare learning materials and opportunities for people. I am interested in the metrics. What is good? What is excellent?

When we think about going global, and we say things like ‘everyone will be connected’ ‘everyone will be able to be connected’. This is not true. I see nothing wrong with consciously identifying who we will be able to serve. Assuming that our experience is the experience that everyone is having is just not true.

Story of an overseas student who could not get access and do ‘graduate level work’.

What is the metric? It will be the extent to wihich we become aware of our own cultural orientation, the extent to which that is different for other people in the world, the extent that we allow ourselves to be affected by that experience. Education is a transformative experience.

“In what way do we want this particular initiative to be transformative?” core curriculum created by who and to what purpose.

Ellen Wagner

Adobe wants to be the good tool maker. We want to make sure that the tools are there so that the experience can be there. Corporations and the academy have got to find ways to find a common ground. In my world and I start looking at the perfect learning experience. I don’t think that I would look at it as a course right now. I know that there needs to be an underpinning of thought. The tools will allow us to do anything that we want. I want to make sure that a learning experience is flexible. We focus the learning experience at a core set of competencies. Like creative expression. To contribute in a digital dialogue. To negotiate new knowledge.

The tools have to be able to choose which of those that matter when we need it. Reusable when we need it, disposable when we need it to be. Interoperable and repurposable. How to deal with the ‘flash blob’.

How many of us have the time to pursue treating education as ‘a craft’? How do we make the tool smart enough to make it practical for use in real environments.

\Stephen Downes

When carrol twigs work was introduced about lowering the failure rate from 40% to 10% that must have created a huge problem at the university as they just weren’t ready for that many people passing. The old model was to have people fail to filter out folks.

We need to change the whole model. One part open and one part closed creates a dysfunctional model

Are we doing learning opportunities? Cost savings? Learning objectives?

Is it to serve everybody or to serve some people? We should not do it in bits but we should also not do it all.

I try and focus on accessibility… but I know that other people are going to handle that.
There are smart people working on this… like broadband.

What would the best online course look like?

Canada’s best online course will not be written by an institution it will not be written by an academic or as a course? Online isn’t the sort of medium that supports that kind of content.

When we look at sustainability we have to look beyond this idea of ‘we provide this for you’ What kind of opportunities can we enable to allow people to do this for themselves. This will address the cost and the sustainability model.

We look at wikipedia and we see that people can create stuff that can sustain itself. We see that watching people’s behavior (like google’s search engine) Imagine what google would look like if we hired a hundred thousand academics designing the search organization.

You can’t produce localization. Oops is a project that takes open courseware and translate it into Chinese. They put the content into a wiki and let the community do the translation.

Is this academicly sound? Don’t know. We have a credibility issue.

We have a field of artificial scarcity

Credentialling is where the bottleneck is. It seems to be that if we are looking at enabling the widest range of opportunities. We would need to open source accreditation

    Needs to be open understand it
    Needs to be accessible get at it
    Affordable less than a house
    Sort of outcome… some mechanism whereby someone can demonstrate what they’ve done.

I get my models from things like games. Look at muds. Done by users but you have to ensure that people coulnd’t write very bad code. The quests ensured that the user would need to understand what was going on. Solving the quest required the code understanding to be able to affect the system. You’re promotion is base

These environments allow people to move content trade buy etc… progressive

Sounds like the ecologies that George was talking about.

Terry Anderson

Accreditation – I couldn’t be a wizard LOL. Where is the incentive? How do we make people contribute to it? You can buy a paper for 15$ bucks… An economic model that rewards assessment.

The connection between research and education… addressing the failure model. The literacies.

George seems to say that torture (in the form of PLAR) is the best way to encourage people to go to class.

Fritz says.
Euroamerican cultural empiricism is back again. How do we look at indigenous learning in Canada? Are we really looking at the ways in which other people are doing.

I usually once a month I get someone trying to buy courses. Sell us you BA and we’ll do what we want with it.

Such a great conversation… sorry i couldn’t do it as much justice as i’d like… but figured i should publish.

CADE/AMTEC – day 1

Well… the wireless stuff sorted itself out, due, I believe, to heroic efforts of the tech staff at the university of manitoba. Turns out it was one of those situations where a series of very odd things happened and a couple of very smart geeks got us back online… thanks dudes.

I had a great time yesteday. Chats with some tres cool people.

We talked about the differences between networks and communities. We also discussed U of Ms plan to create a Learning Technology Network across the country. More meetings on this today, I’m hoping to make UPEI a key member of that group, but we’ll see how that goes.

First presentation – (skipped it to meet with george siemens)

We had a very interesting chat about networks and communities. I’ve been asking lots of smart folks lately a simple question. What’s the difference between a network (in the ‘lots of nodes’ kinda way) and a community that people contribute to. This is something I plan to write on at length soon, but, george did make the comparison between people you meet formally, and are polite with, and people that end up being true lifelong friends. There’s a hypermediation there… a breaking through simple politeness. This metaphor suggests that looking for ‘one’ definition of community may be the wrong path. Must think more about this.

Second presentation – Brian Kerr, new view of blended learning.

A quite detailed review on the literature about blended learning… which seems to lead to the phrase ‘blended learning’ being synonymous with the word ‘learning’. A nice chart of the possibilities for learning in an university however, which i will try to get my hands on. I was also left with the sense that many of the people in “the literature” might not have an exactly perfect grasp on both the philosophical and technical side of “the technology”. It is a problem… too many people think that technology is transparent… it most certainly isn’t.

Third Presentation – Jeremy Kemp Second Life and Sloodle

A very honest view at the possibilities and limitations of second life and plugging in open source products into it. The sloodle software seems like a promising proof of concept… he compared second life to the web in 1994. I couldn’t agree more. We are really at the pacman stage right now. I really hope that the linden dudes release that code open source so that the community can start building… maybe get us to bard’s tale!

Fourth Presentation – George Siemens and Peter Tittenburger Virtual Learning Commons at U of M.

A very frank discussion about the pros and cons of a VLC. They were very successful with the services that actually supported student success. They were less successful with the social software side of the equation. Much discussion ensued regarding facebook and whether we should be playing in that domain. A nice comparison was made by Terry Anderson, i paraphrase ‘think of facebook like a campus bar… professors can go there and are welcomed.’ corrolary to this is that they usually don’t then stay until 2am and get wrecked with their students… same for facebook i suppose. Another key conversation here is the key role of the library in supporting this kind of initiative. Their writing infrastructure is particularly compelling. I may be stealing some of it guys! They also have a password protected writing process manager that looks interesting 🙂

off to breakfast. my first blogged conference… this is kinda fun 🙂

CADE/AMTEC – Connections in the global village

Long time no post. I’ve been over to the UK to talk with the fine folks at JISC, one week back home and am now at the CADE/AMTEC conference. That stands for “Canadian association of distance Education/Association for media and technology in Education.” i got in last night and am currently huddled in the back of the room for the keynote address plugged into the wall with my little portable LAN cable. It seems there ‘might’ be wireless connectivity. The four laptops that I’ve seen around the room are struggling to find one… Except for the inestimable Terry Anderson, who has stolen one of the other wall plugs. 🙂

Funny thing about that. I was talking to several people who seemed to think that writing during someone’s presentation was not very polite. I was just told that someone is off to fix the wireless… YAY.

“Will the cannon be made up of articles distributed over the internet or a number of blogs that have taken the people’s imagination.” Emoke Szathmáry

I wonder about the difference implied in an article somehow published over the internet… but i suppose this is part of the transition that people are starting to understand. I’m not entirely sure that we need ONE cannon to replace the old one. I’m sorta hoping that we can do away with cannons as we move forward.

I do agree with her last comment. It is different coming to a conference in person. No matter how many webcasts I do, they do actually ‘replace’ face to face connection. They are far more efficient, and I learn more during webcasts, but people’s faces are still very nice to see.

I met some neat people last night, had some very nice conversation over beer. Nice to be sitting at a table with a computer scientist and a pure educator arguing about edtech. The CS person was arguing that the future is really a more diversified searching infrastructure. That we really need to get image/video/audio searching worked out. So that, for instance, you could search for images with an image. I’d like to have that too.

Time for the keynote. Derrek de Kerckhove

“Why should i go to school to interupt my education?”

All McLuhan all the time.

“The next medium whatever it is it may be the extension of conciousness will include television as its content, not as its environment and will transform telelvision into an art form. etc… library irrelevant etc…” 1962

and now more quotes. Giantly long quotes on the front screen of a room filled with… oh… 500 hundred people. Hard to say that you understand how the medium controls the message when you are showing me graphs i can’t ^%$&^ read to support your presenation. Charts and graphs that i can’t read. Medium is the message. 🙂

the presentation just CRASHED. They shut off the screen and people are milling… I’ll post… Can’t. Take. It. Any. More.

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