Top 10 Edtech stories of 2009

10 – YAWN
Our “haven’t you heard abouts” got rusty this year. We woke up with a cat stretch after new years hangovers, looking forward to the next great thing that would force us to remember just one new password. Just one more “is this the new twitter”? And what did we get? Nothing. No super tool shared. No chance to smile knowingly over other people who found out about it 2 weeks later. It seems we are expected to be able to do something useful with our technology now… no sir. I don’t like it.

And please… don’t give me the ‘what about googlewave. It has teh awesome.’ It doesn’t qualify for this list because it doesn’t do anything. “it’s the new email” “people just don’t understand how cool it is yet”. It’s a platform… I get it. There’s one thing it can’t do for me… and that’s make my day any longer. It can’t carve out an extra hour to live collaborate on the next great american novel with fifty of my bestest chums and 20 people who walked in barely invited. Do that for me. Then i’ll be impressed.

Google hates your job. If it’s not near perfect translations, it’s automatic captioning, and I’ve heard rumour that ‘they’ the actual ‘omnipotent they’ have just stopped hosting their own email and have said that “google docs is just a nice bonus”. If you are in the business of doing anything, ever, forget it. Google is just about to do it better. Barak Obama, they say, is already switching over his blog to googlesites… the UN can’t be far behind.

It wouldn’t be a top ten list if i didn’t make some reference to the OLPC project. Here is the tablet of the future… 2012. It’s only going to cost $100 and will save the world… oh wait, sorry. Flashback. All this year, we’ve been droided, and iphoned and i can’t stop saying it itableted to death. The future of learning is MOBILE… or so I’m told. Um… my brain is mobile. I’ve been moving around with it for years. Someday, someday we’re going to get post-digital and stop thinking about the technology as the locus for learning. Just not today. I’m the future!

The internet is growing up, it helped win an election… and reality is seeping in. This year we started to notice that things like people dying is going to create a few issues for our favourite social networking sites. If the population of facebook is 8 cagillion, and the fastest growing segment is middle aged… well… what are we going to do about people’s identity when they aren’t able to sustain it themselves? One more thing to worry about. Come on google… solve our problem.

Don’t leave enough comments on my blog? Don’t RT me enough? Don’t return my tweets? No more friend for you. The venerated oxford university press has chosen ‘unfriend’ as it’s word of the year. It’s hard to imagine a more depressing commentary on our times. Maybe we’re just looking at this wrong… maybe we should be seeing unfriend like unconference. Kind of a post-friendship worldview. Yeah… that’s it.

“There are really just too many live events.” This is my favourite complaint of 2009. The poor educationalist forced to not be able to claim to have shown up to every single presentation. But but what if i missed the CDAFGDSAG conference? Or the social media in learning in future in what about the children seminar. Oh the huge manatee.
Imagine, the pain of too much choice.

3 – OK. MAYBE ONE NEW TOOL Here’s my shot in the dark for this year. A an open source webconferencing system… 15 min install. Asterix. Red5. Flex/flash. I’ve been hoping for it for years, and these dudes might just have the moxie to do it. I really, really, like the look of this project. They claim they are working on recording… which is kinda necessary, and are looking for feedback. Follow along, get involved. Open source matters.

Alan Levine, who both killed and unkilled blogs last year, curmudgeon of awards , requester of snark, barker, and storyteller extraordinaire gives us a reason to believe in the ‘open’. And, as a result, wins the award. One biscuit to you. “What do you mean by open?” has become the theme of the open movement, sign of maturity or impending senility. Or, as my son would say, maybe both. Cast all thoughts of definition from your mind, openness is a state of mind… a state of YOUR mind. Be open. ’nuff said.

Harbinger of the end of civilization or righteous crowd demanding its due from someone who should know better… interpretations on this one span the gamut from moral to epistemic. A web 2.0 speaker trashed on a live twitter stream during her presentation. Should she? should they? Nevermind. In it is distilled the most important conversation of this year and probably the next five. What rights does the entertainer have before the crowd? Do we want to restrict knowledge in a presentation to that that can be ‘shared’ by a presenter (or teacher)? Should presenters (or teachers) be accorded any more respect than a comedian (who would have gotten the same treatment or worse in the same spot?) What are our classrooms going to look like with live twitter streams flipping through them? My friends, we have the tower of babel a million times over… We have 20 students in a classroom, 200 in a conference or 20,000 in a field all building their tower of knowledge… growing, maybe, passed the teacher, the presenter or the expert. Will you knock the tower down? The people are going to be heard… speakers corner has come to the back of the room… are we ready? I doubt it.

Overcoming obstacles – a practical guide

This is the title of a presentation I’m going to be giving to the elearning support team from PEI k-12 on Wednesday. It’s my first time being asked to speak here, and I’m pretty excited about the opportunity to meet these people and get a sense of the challenges they face. My kids are 3 and 5 years away from the school system, so my interest is not merely academic. And No. this blog post isn’t the practical guide, but i think it wouldn’t hurt if we all created one. (or, better, found the one that someone is already building and added to it. I just wanted to think outloud about a few concepts and maybe ask you folks for some of your stories about obstacles you’ve met and how you overcame them.

Overcoming obstacles – being ready
I think the most important strategy for overcoming obstacles is to accept that they are coming… with a certain amount of equanimity. You will not run a web-based project without running into difficulties. It may be that people have forgotten their password, it may be, as once happened to me, that any time the students started circling each other in OpenSim the server would asplode. wipe hands. reboot. They will come, and I think a risk assessement, however informal, is critical to any web based learning project no matter how small. A default password for handing out just in case, a plan for doing your planning for the webbased project while the site isn’t working… it never hurts to have these things in the back of your mind.

Overcoming obstacles – needs and wants assessment and flexibility
Oh my. This is a bad one. On a pretty much daily basis someone says to me ” i have this plan, and I want to get students to X”. My response is usually some variation of simplicity. ‘Use wordpress’ for instance. The invariable next response i get is “that doesn’t do ‘exactly’ what i want it to do. And that is the place where you need (if you have the time) to dig in. You need to make two lists, the list of things that absolutely need to be in the project or it isn’t of interest or use to do and a list of things you would prefer for a variety of reasons. That second list is one that you have to be willing to cross things off of. Complexity is the killer of projects. The more things you cross off that second list the better the chance of actually starting the project and people actually finishing. Just send people the chart, with a line between the two questions… seriously, people love to have charts to fill in when they are interested in a project. The chart serves a secondary purpose. People unwilling to fill in a needs chart are not really interested in doing a project.

Overcoming obstacles – know thyself
You (or your client) really need to know what they are trying to accomplish. I saw clarence fisher’s idea hive video a couple of days ago when i asked him for something that represented the work that he does in his classroom. It’s the theory, the idea behind what they are trying to do. It is very difficult to feel good about success when you don’t know what you were trying to do in the first place. Getting the software to work is not success. Having kids writing get better is.

Overcoming obstacles – Finding other people
It is much, much easier to start working IN someone else’s project than it is to start another one. Far better to join youthvoices for a writing community than to try and develop, deploy and find a new community. I understand as well as anyone the temptation to be the person who starts something, to want to have the thing exactly as you like. But, and I feel pretty confident about this, no single person is going to come up with the best way to do any project. Your first draft ideas are probably not going to be anywhere near perfect. Work with the work of others, help make their work better and, if, after that, you still feel like starting your own go ahead. Your work will be much better for the time you took.

Overcoming obstacles – learning communities
You can’t collaborate alone (JM). Find learning communities. Connect with other people like you. You can all come to edtechtalk, we’d love to have you. There are tons of other great ways to communicate. Find one (or several) you like. If you are at all careful IT WILL SAVE YOU TIME. seriously.

Overcoming obstacles – be a smarty pants, be resilient, be whatever you need to be, just don’t give up.
I asked my good buddy John Schinker to do a little video talking about his experience working with Teachers without borders this summer. Some of the challenges they faces were ridiculous. How do you train people to use technology in a school without power? How do you form community with someone who needs to take A BOAT to get to the nearest internet cafe? Well… you can. you just need to want to. And you need to not give up. Here’s the youtube video. If you’re coming to the presentation… Don’t watch it! (jk. you can watch it again on wednesday)

Overcoming obstacles – please add your strategies and stories. pls pls. comments. your blog. tweets… they’ll aggregate here.

Dave’s wildly unscientific survey of technology use in Higher Education

This survey
In the late spring early summer I sent out the questions below to my twitter followers in the hopes of getting a starting point for the discussion of where universities are with technological adoption, particularly where it is supporting learning.

A word on the respondents.
The responders to this survey included their names on the understanding that their names and institutions would not be published as part of the results. I include institution because, for many of them, the responses would clearly indicate who had completed the form.

The form was sent out to the followers of my twitter account. There are any number of biases inherent in that, not the least being that the majority of them, broadly speaking, don’t mind seeing my twitter updates. I am professionally familiar with almost every respondent. We got one student respondent and the majority of the others are either edtech or educational professionals at Universities in North/South America and Europe.

All that to say this this is not a terribly scientific survey, but it does reflect the usage of educational technologies at 25 institutions of higher ed in different parts of the world. I would not use it as a guide to action, but rather one more piece of the overall context.

This piece is strewn with ‘davenote’s. These are personal reflections on the data rather than quantifiable results pulled from the data. I would regard these with suspicion if i had not written them.

Do you use E-Portfolios at your university? If so, please tell us what you use and what the uptake has been like. Does it work well? Does it help or hinder ‘learning’?
Over half of the respondents replied in the negative to this question. Of those that suggested that some use was being made pebblepad and d2l were most often cited as the Eportfolios of choice. There was some consistent commentary about lone individuals or faculties (usually Education) that were moving in this direction, but no mandatory eportfolios were mentioned.

Overall (other than the ‘No.’) respondents, the general thrust of the respondents seemed to be that they understood this to be a good idea but that there was some confusion or resistance about how this was actually going to be done.

davenote: eportfolios are a vast hidden overhead. They really only make sense if they are portable and accessible to the user. Transferring vast quantities of student held data out of the university every spring seems complicated. Better, maybe, to instruct students to use external services.

Are you doing much with so-called ‘mobile education’? Can you point us to some of the work you are doing?
Most universities that responded said they either had none or there had been ‘discussions’ but no real movement. A smaller group suggested that they had done podcasts, one iphone applications and several others had explored ways to format existing work so that material was easily readable by mobile devices.

davenote: Our new mobile infrastructure at UPEI appears to be ahead of the majority of the respondents. By far the easiest ‘mobile’ work seems to be to just make sure your websites conform to mobile standards.

Are you using anything for lecture capture? (we’re using epresence) Is this something that you would consider an advantage for instructors or learners?
Quicktime broadcaster/podcast producer. camtasia. elluminate.adobe connect. Aprevo. Sonic Foundries, MediaSite system. Lectopia. echo360. ustream. jing.

A real broad spectrum of different tools appear to be in use with most universities saying that they are using something. There are only 2 occasions where broad spectrum adoption is present, but most seem to think that this is a necessary part of the 21st century university. There was also a broad interpretation of this question, some interpreted it to mean capturing powerpoints, some video and some the audio that was being produced. There is certain an indication of broad adoption.

davenote: There are a huge number of options and they are all fit for different purposes, and most require significant support. Things like ustream, adobe connect and elluminate benefit from being supported off site and being easy to record but suffer in the accessibility portability department.

Do you have an LOR (Learning Object Repository) or OER (Open Educational Resources (thingy)) Are these collections something that ‘should’ be part of a institution of higher education?
Over half of the respondents here said they did not have an LOR to speak of. There were many of those that suggested that bands of educators worked together to share materials. Of those that responded in the affirmative the majority suggested that the ones that were in use were getting little use. A handful suggested that the use of the LOR was mandatory and that it was being used for sharing. My guess here would be that either it gets built into the system (some form of mandatory) or people will move off into whatever works for them and their colleagues.

davenote: The peers we have in our learning and teaching are more often in other universities… these are the people that we really need to share with.

What is your elearning support structure(do you have a dedicated elearning support group?) Are there specific needs that are/aren’t being satisfied? Is this considered a ‘professional curriculum position)?
One respondent in particular simply laughed at the idea that they were being supported at all. The vast majority, however, have a centralized support system (perhaps 7-8 did not) and they are usually in the ‘educational support’ division or the elearning support group or something else that suggests a group dedicate to computer assisted learning. In each of the 5 cases where the support was being done by computer services the comment was coupled with “and they don’t know anything about learning”.

davenote: the comments here seem to suggest a much higher level of satisfaction with a centralized elearning infrastructure. I am biased in this, as I have suggested the same thing, but these respondents at least, seem to agree with me.

Are you using a VLE (LMS, LCMS, CMS) for education? Which one are you using, and what percentage of faculty do you estimate actively use it? How do you feel about them?
Broadly speaking this is the question that need not have asked. Everyone said yes, many suggested that use was mandatory and that there was a universal presence for every course. It was a mixture of moodle, D2L, blackboard/webct.

davenote: yup.

Do you have a formal elearning strategy? Is it publicly available? Do you think such a thing is necessary?
Many universities seem to have an elearning strategy, for some it is included in the overall strategic plan, for others, it is a discrete document. With the exception of the respondent that suggested that it was more important that they have someone in charge of thinking about this rather than the document itself, all respondents agreed that it was necessary (if they answered that part of the question. About half of those that were spoken of were publicly available.

davenote: Strategic plans, if enforced are very good things. Even if they aren’t enforced, they at least reflect thinking at a given time.

Are you using any tools (twitter, wikis etc.) that might be considered web 2.0?
I hesitated to include this question in the first place, as it was likely that the respondents to my twitter account would be using collaborative tools. They were. Twitter, delicious, WPMU, Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Vimeo, Ning, Chatzy, Diigo … and the like. The two themes that seem to come out is the purposeful viral spreading of these tools and the institutional support of blogging.


Top 10 Edtech News etc thingers of 2008

10. Blogging is dead
Proclaimed and recinded. Here it is ladies and gentlemen the end of the first era of blogging. Far fewer are the blogs that tell us “just how exciting it all is”… According to Alan Levine, who quoted Nick Carr who quoted Technorati “they’ve been tracking 133 million blogs since 2002, only 7.4 million have posted in the last 120 days “ its current death was facilitated by Nancy white at Northern Voice and then case closed on December 16th as injenuity proclaimed

Jen 2:07 pm on December 16, 2008 | 0 | # |
Very pleased to no longer be a blogger.

Is it really dead…? meh. But it’s different. Our blogs are now less megaphone and more like 21st century school lockers.

9. Wikipedia is old Is Wikipedia saturated? Yep! Last year.
Wikipedia came into its own this year, no more drastic increases, no more crazy growth. Gone are the debates from years gone by about whether or not it’s the same as brittanica (how that ever was thought to be a good thing is beyond me) but now its where and what for. Proven by the focused if silly schools-wikipedia project… claiming to be school safe… yes, lets take the participation away so that everyone can participate. Never mind. It’s not cool anymore… it just is. And, if you need anymore proof… Overheard from a prof on CBC radio “when i was an undergrad all we heard was “don’t use wikipedia””

8. There are alot of people who still – just. don’t. get it.
“First-year student Chris Avenir is fighting charges of academic misconduct for helping run an online chemistry study group via Facebook last term, where 146 classmates swapped tips on homework questions that counted for 10 per cent of their mark.” And now, he faces 147 Academic charges. If my math holds out, he’s also being charged for working with himself on Facebook. A group of students comes together to work on the thing they are trying to learn… ban them! Burn them! Dear Professor, your system is broken.

7. PLN vs. PLE
Oh the humanity. Whatever can be the difference? Whether it’s by twitter via @courosa or by image via doug belshaw people do love to debate the meaning of acronyms that they are currently making up the meaning of. There is someting strange about the kinds of negotiations that are being made with new phrases we’ve all just made up… Never mind. PLEPLNs are important, they’re helping people talk about what we’ve all been doing since we started scratching sticks together a few million years ago

6. Open Viewers MUVEs for the plebes
Blah blah blah. Oh yes, multiuser virtual environments… have to have that on the list. Every early adopter has to have one, but like any technology, it can be measured by when people start forgetting their passwords. They’re old. But now, for your participatory pleasure, we have the first real breakthrough in 5 years. Browser viewers. Bringing the virtual world to the peeps. No more downloads, no fuss, no mess, “ooooone world for eeeeevvvvry boooooy.” (and girl)

5. MOOCS – Massive Online Open Courses
Yeah, well, so I’m biased. But when 2400 people sign up for what is essentially an epistemic research club (sounds fun doesn’t it, the web equivalent of “pawn day at the chess club”) something is happening. Couple of really big offshoots of this one. Fame will bring fortune. Professors and instructors who can bring in 5000 students are going to be worth their weight in gold… or, say, silicon. That and we’ve got a new model to make our universities work. Let everyone in. I like it.

4. Whisper of Green
Just the tiniest whisper of a concern for the fact that Jennifer Maddrell’s 47 computers are burning down the rainforests and for the greenness of all this technology was heard this year. I think it’s the harbinger of change to come. We’ve got greener chips in the laptops, autoshutoff extension cords and cows running computers (can’t imagine that’s good for the cows) Barring the coldfusion breakthrough we’ve been promised for thirty years I’m seeing power conservation as a key move in 2009

3. Bring on the research Technology may be altering how brains work RAND Study Is First to Link Viewing of Sexual Content on Television to Subsequent Teen Pregnancy A leading neuroscientist says processing digital information can rewire your circuits. But is it evolution?
Blah blah blah. More research telling us that thinking and doing stuff changes the way our brains are structured. Enough already. Ok. I believe you. My instrument of learning can learn. I agree. The thing that is manifestly obvious to anyone who actually has a brain, that our brains change with stimuli, is now confirmed. Now… if we can only figure out how they get that tasty caramel in there…

2. Unleashing The Tribe: small passionate communities Ewan McIntosh
People are really starting to like their communities. Much less hopping around this year, started the year in twitter, ended the year in twitter. We communitophiles are growing up and settling down in the communities that allow us to thrive and survive. Overheard in my kitchen regarding mommy blogging “people can only have so many real friends, smaller communities make sense”. We’ll see more people identifying themselves by where they learn, and less eager to ‘invite the world’ to their communities. We might be on the road to a little more isolation as the long tail solidifies.

1. Death of ‘T’ruth and the killer app
All this year and for the year to come… very little but silence about “the absolute only best way to do whatever it is you probably don’t need to do anyway… is…”. People are finding different solutions to the same problem… If twitter brownouts have taught us anything its the value of being there, enjoying the good with the bad and taking life as it comes. We’ve finally come to terms with the fact that ‘better for me’ does not mean ‘better for you’ and that we are not, as some would have us believe ‘working out our differences’ but, rather, ‘accepting our differences’. Let the truthiness reign. Kumbaya.

Community Curriculum – eight days into the course.

I thought I might contribute the the we are media project by making a reflection on my current teaching practice. I’ve spent most of the last two weeks working on “educational technology and the adult learner” a course being delivered to education students here on PEI. The course had no existing curriculum and it gave me a real chance to take a run at actually making the curriculum come out of the community interactions that were happening in the classroom. I’ll be making a series of reflections on this, tonight, an overview of goals.

There were three main goals that I was hoping for from the course… all hoping to change the focus from ‘the material’ to the ‘experience’.

A Reverse Curriculum
An archival record of learning directed, organized and created by the students… there was no other curriculum outside of the sketch syllabus posted in my last post, much of which was layed aside as community interests moved us to more natural ground. The reason i like to think of this as a reverse curriculum is that it tends to develop out of the interests that the students show during the course and they get to record and create the material as part of their daily practice. It is part creative zone, part class note record and part review space. The constant revisitation of the material for sorting, upkeep and improvement also serves to reinforce the material.

This also means that the students are, in effect, creating the work in the classroom with a specific audience in mind. Them. Six months from now. The students were repeatedly encouraged that they would forget some part of the work they were doing and that their inclass ‘book building’ (drupal book… essentially a wiki) should be directed at themselves, months from now, coming up with an idea and needing to be reminded of it. It’s also been a really nice live model of the pros and cons of live co-creation of knowledge.

One deep skill per student
Over the course of the uh… course, we’ve covered all of the standard issues, tools and strategies in the social software and desktop technology space that can support learning (list in forthcoming post with more details on curricular content), but, instead of expecting broad based reportable knowledge on each of these skills each learner was responsible for finding something new during the first week of the intensive course (ostensibly that they hadn’t heard of before) and present it to the class in week two. Students were very strongly encouraged to teach us ‘in context’ and prepare the material in such a way as to give us a clear sense of the context that they were writing from. This serves a variety of purposes

  1. The literacies that are learned from searching, learning and presenting a tool/strategy/method in a short period of time with only a community and the internet to lean on are critical to life long learning
  2. The first attempt at delivering this kind of content can lead people back to ‘old habits’ and a classroom can be a safe place to try new delivery methods.
  3. One deep skill, well understood, is more likely to inspire the confidence that the other three things you might have seen during the class are also adoptable when they become necessary in your practice

Community Literacies esp. Community commitment
Maybe the most important part of the of a course like this are the community literacies that are accumulated through a community enquiry into new material. The learners found that they could work together and rely on each other. They wrote nightly reflections and commented and helped each other with their work and reactions to the course. the sense of ‘competition’ between students evaporated. A sense of responsibility to the work at hand became stronger as the students found less and less direct guidance coming from the front of the room.

They also got a sense of how I relate with my own online community and how that serves me in my own professional and, indeed, personal ways. Knowing that we have a community to rely on can be as much an emotional support to our practice as a technical one. Each student has remarked, in one sense or another, how their nightly blogging (closed, sadly) has allowed them to understand that they weren’t alone in their moments of frustration or overwhelmedness. Thinking of your professional life as something that can contain a community that can do all those things can be a very powerful realization.

What we didn’t do.
What we did not focus on was outlining the ‘takeaways’ that students needed to bring out of the course itself, at least, not in a communal sense. There was a palapable sense from the first day that the students themselves came from very different backgrounds and any focus on particular outcomes outside of the somewhat ephemeral ones stated above lead to the kind of co-depency and artificial structure that tend to be superimposed on the learning process in order to bureaucratize it.

In a very real sense, each of those students will be taking a very different set of takeaways from this course, related to what they themselves put in, how they contributed to the community and where they are going to take those new literacies when they go back to their own professional practice.

There was no guided step by step instruction from me. All learning happened by suggestion, and mostly with modelling and contextualization after the fact. A rather jarring way to learn, but by the second week, the learners were willing to tackle any new task with no real prompting.

More on the specific breakdown of actual curriculum covered and ‘class leadership’ concepts that evolved in future posts.

Most useful thing I said during the course? READ THE PAGE. The students use it as a talisman for confusion, the stop, they breathe, and try again. Just an amazing group to spend two weeks with.

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