A dead-head sticker on a cadillac – the new open learning

I just came back from the #cali2012 conference in sunny San Diego where i gave an admittedly rambling talk about the future of education as seen through the lens of open learning. I rerecorded the talk when i got home, and will post the video of the talk from San Diego when i comes available. It was an attempt at pulling together all the things i’ve been talking about for the last two years into one talk… I’ll let you judge whether it was too much 🙂

The argument goes pretty much like this.

1. Our historical ideas of education were formed when the ‘goal’ of education was more clearly understood.
2. The new tools are challenging our conceptions of education further
3. Two trends – analytics and MOOCs present an interesting landscape on which to have that discussion
4. The combination of the two presents an innovative new business model, not a new learning model
5. We need to decide why we are teaching before we can decide how to adapt the technologies
6. Simple learning is foundational, complex learning allows for decision making
7. Rhizomatic learning is a good way to prepare people for the uncertainty of decision making

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note: The dead-head sticker reference is to the Udacity/Pearson connection not only changes the business model of ALL of education, it makes false claims to ‘educational’ innovation. While i certainly am impressed with the business innovation involved in this (truth be told, in a weird coming together of the planets, i predicted it at the end of last year) it is not innovative education. It is premised in the idea of taking content and shoving it into someone else’s brain.

post-script: I think i’ve pushed these ideas out as far as I can… and am feeling a bit unsure about some of what’s in here. Time to stop pushing the limits and focus on clearing up individual points of the argument i think.

Educational Technology and the Adult Learner Week 7 – Pulling things together

This is the last ‘blogging prompt’ blog post for the course as the course wraps up immediately after the last class next week. I like to think of these posts as prompts rather than questions or content as they are meant to start thinking down a particular line rather than control what people are going to think. There is some tendency, always, for people who are being assessed by someone else to think they are supposed to agree with that person. The goal with this course has been to provide opportunities for people to take a given line of thinking and map it up against their own experience, be that the work that they do in an official teaching role, as a professional, as a parent or as a friend.

This last prompt is meant to pull together all the things that we’ve talked about and talk about the identity, at least partially, of this mysterious ‘adult learner’ and what that person might care about whether you use educational technology with them or not.

Learning contracts – This addresses the power structure of a course. The design of a course should provide enough structure to help build a context for learning. It shouldn’t, in my view, simply lock down the content so that what constitutes ‘learning’ is measured in how much we can prove that content has been transferred from the instructor to the learner. The technologies provide a whole new way of accessing information which frees us from relying on a static set of books or the contents of my head as resources. The learning contract is meant to broader the possibilities. This measures, hopefully, the amount you’ve worked, not ‘what you’ve learned.’ It’s my job as an instructor to make sure you’re learning.

Cheating as learning – If we think of the ‘content’ of a course as the thing we are engaging in the learning contract for, then ‘taking’ that content from someone else is cheating. If we say that we aren’t concerned about the specifics of the content you are picking up, then taking information from others becomes sharing. In this sense cheating and sharing are actually the same activity, just with a different power structure surrounding it.

Keeping track of digital stuff – One of the side effects of giving people freedom to create their own content is the taking the textbook based, pre-defined content out of the course. One of the challenges that this presents is that you can’t just ‘look back at the textbook’ to see where you are. You can’t simply follow the assignments or the syllabus to remember what is going on. When you add the vastness of the internet to this, one of the prime literacies required for learning using technology is the ability to keep track and organize your work. If the facilitator is not controlling it… you need to.

Evaluating technology – I don’t think it makes sense to talk about technologies until everyone has a passing comfort with them. With three weeks of using our class based educational technologies (blogging, twitter and googledocs) under our belt, the search for new technologies starts to make more sense. The use of nodes of trust, and the ubiquitous online top ten list (or top 100) makes that process even easier. At the end of the day, though, we are still just going to the internet and trying stuff out.

Collaboration – And there are too many things to try out. Too many lessons to learn and in to many ways. Collaboration in a classroom provides more scope for learning, and, I think, a more rounded view of what a person is learning. If we can share how 20 people (or 2000) see given topic or idea (be they technological or not) we get to see it from many perspectives. That broad scope, I think, makes for the best kind of teaching.

Responsibility – The key glue to all of this is where the impetus to learn stems from. If we allow for all this freedom and control, it can’t be driven by the ambitions of one educator. We are only in a classroom for a few hours, and learning in any context is a lifetime event. A classroom that creates a scenario where people are only interested in learning when they are told to learn and what they’ve been told to learn encourages passivity. A classroom that supports student responsibility as a core principle is one that encourages active, ongoing, life-long learning.

Final Thoughts
Throughout this course we have all reflected on educational technology and our own feelings about it on our blogs. The next step, I think, is in synthesizing the ideas of ourselves and others and starting to make early judgements about how our own learners will respond to educational technology. If you think about the different people in our class, and the journeys that they have been on, different answers to that question will present themselves.

I don’t believe in ‘learning styles’, but in people. People have complex lives, they have eye surgery, and deaths in the family, and anniversaries, and the prom and a hundred other things going on. (Not to mention a beer at the beach). If you put 20 people into a classroom the web of complexity gets wider, add in access to almost every bit of knowledge ever produced on the internet and its a wonder we make it out of class at all.

Given all this complexity, what have we learned? How would you use educational technology with the adult learner?

Student responsibility in a collaborative curriculum Week 6 ED366

In reading blog posts this week, i can see a real turn in the way that people are speaking. We’re hearing less about what the technology is, and with people’s challenges with the technology and more about what the changes in technology mean to their work. This week I’d like to talk a little bit about the responsibility that the student has when the community is the curriculum.

Responsibility vs. Obligation
These are very similar words, in a sense, but there is a motivational difference between the two that I think is very important to the educational experience. Collaborative learning presumes that people are coming to a learning environment in an attempt to come to a new understand, or to get a sense of a new context. If this is true, and you are working with others that are also there for that reason, i see it as your responsibility to help each other. It is also your responsibility to help yourself, in ways that make sense to you. If I, as an educator, create an obligation, then we are working from my own context and history and not yours. If i help structure an ecosystem that allows you to bring your own sense of responsibility, then you are working from your history. I would argue that the latter is more relevant. Responsibility is and should be student driven.

Some key points about responsibility…

Give your colleagues good feedback, help them learn by sharing new connections between their ideas and ideas you’ve had. This may ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ with what they are saying, but this isn’t important. Good feedback creates new connections. New connections can come in many formats, it may be a link to a new thinker, it may be something you overheard or just a thought you had. Share them.

Improve collaborative work Our group work belongs to all of us, and it is the record of what we’ve done together. If everyone spends an hour going in, cleaning up links, making new connections, fixing formatting… our work gets much better. Imagine you were working on a house together and you saw a part of the house unpainted. Get brush. Paint.

Detail your learning journey I’m going to learn WAY more from the ways that you have learned than from the final product of that learning. What wrong turns did you make? What were the important lessons that allowed you to move forward? What good ideas did you have that you didn’t have time to follow up?

Be responsible to your own learning If there’s something you don’t get, doesn’t make sense to you, or you don’t like, talk about it. But make sure you’re informed. The syllabus of a course like this (or in our case the learning contract) is a part of our ecosystem. Read it. Digest it. It sets the ground rules of the language we are using. Many times simply reading what other people have said or done, or reading the foundational documents, is enough to clear stuff up. These things belong to you.

Push yourself As an educator, I do my best to push my students. I like to think that coming together and giving bunches of hours of our time to learn together is worth caring about. There’s no sense committing 30-100 hours of your life to something and not get something out of it. Find new connections, new ideas, do things that are hard.

Do things that are hard… and come tell us about it.


Moving your teaching up the collaborative continuum – Week 5 ED366

I’ve had a number of students state their concern with how exactly they are meant to be collaborative in their teaching. If you see the video that I posted last week, you’ll see that i emphasized collaboration and interaction quite heavily. We’ve all seen the term ‘collaborative’ and ‘interactive’ used in any number of ways… so i thought i might try and break it down a bit.

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Rhizomatic learning – student centredness
The expression ‘student centred’ means different things to different people. For me it refers to a responsibility on the student’s part for the creation of things they are going to learn. I want my students to have control of what they are doing, as much as possible, so that they can feel like the learning is something that they own… however uncomfortable that can sometimes be 🙂

One of the things that the internet and associated collaborative technologies allow us is the possibility to connect in more direct ways. We do not need to go through the process of deciding what we want to talk about, months in advance, in order to get the books ordered on time. We don’t need to decide what’s going to happen before the students walk in the door. We can have access to any number of different kinds of content… and, more importantly, to the people and ideas behind that content.

We can let the community be the curriculum.

How does this help me plan for collaboration dave?

What i’m going to try and lay out is a continuum that runs out from the least to the most student control on the content. I would posit that the ‘content’ of a course is just an excuse, or at least, just a foundation, for getting accustomed to a context of a given field or discipline. We do need to get a sense of how language is used, and how concepts recombine in any new discipline, but definitions will hardly allow us to do that. We need to try things out, to test drive them, to see how they work out in conversation to really round the edges of our understanding. The content is part of that ecosystem, but not the goal of it.

A Collaboration Continuum – from a content perspective

Nameless person/company’s content that talks about your context

This is the least valuable, and potentially collaborative kind of content you can present to a class. Without the meat of who wrote a given piece of content, you can’t get any sense of what kind of thing the content is attached to. It can be very important as a foundation for other work, but it doesn’t allow for connection.

  • Textbooks/Manuals
  • Wikipedia (in a certain sense)

Other people’s content that talks about your context

This is a serious improvement form the last category. The internet is full of people with expertise (albeit outweighed by those without it) in whatever context you’re working in. Finding relevant people in a field, checking out their work, using their work to triangulate to other people and ideas… this is what knowledge building is all about. This could be a research article printed in the library, a blog post, a tweet… it doesn’t matter. It’s content, and it has a person attached to it. That’s a step in the right direction.

  • Journal articles/blogs
  • primary sources

Content you made to talk about your context

Some people might disagree with me on this one, but i’m a huge believer in making my own content. It may simple be the remixing of other people’s content (at some level, that’s all we do) or you might be writing everything from scratch, either way, being able to craft content directly to the students that you have, when you’ve actually met them, offers a host of possibilities.

  • Teacher blog
  • Customized resources

Content that you make collaboratively with others (maybe your students, maybe not) to talk about your context

This is where the magic really starts to turn on. At this point you have the potential to not only pass along the conventions of your field, how something works, or whatever, you can engage your students in the creation process of the knowledge that they are engaging with. Whether the students are themselves actually working with it, or whether they are around for the process, it allows them to not only see ‘the content’ but see how people engage with the content in a practical way.

  • Class wiki
  • In class projects

Content your students make individually to talk about your context

The next level of responsibility is empowering students to work on their own to make their own contributions to the process. The more other students see knowledge negotiation happening from their peers, the better. This might be as simple as a blog post or video.

  • Student created OER
  • Student blogs

Content your students make collaboratively to talk about your context

This is the most rhizomatic end of the continuum. From here students are not only engaging with the content, making knowledge with it in their own way, they are starting to make connections with that content. Learning how to use it with their peers, to build and make stuff with it, is an important step towards internalizing a context. To being able to work within a context… to learning.

  • Student collaboration via network feedback
  • Student supported collaborative projects

How is this helpful?
When you are planning your use of a technology for the classroom, try to keep your student in mind. It’s not necessary to have everything you lay your hand be collaborative, but put the student experience first and foremost in your mind, and think about what some of the collaborative technologies can allow them to do. Can they be part of the knowledge making process? The more that happens, the more they take control of their learning, and the better they learn.

At least… that’s how i see it 🙂

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