The most important feature of an LMS

Sometime it’s hard not to feel snarky when you read stuff like:

“Really,” says Ms. Manning, “most Stanford faculty wanted to use a platform that they read about in The New York Times.”

Really? That is what faculty want in an LMS? The one that is mentioned in the New York Times? If that is truly the case, then online learning in higher education really is as borked as all the doom mongers are saying.

Perhaps I shouldn’t be so snarky. Perhaps I should be happy that Stanford – an institution with massive resources – is willing to put some of those resources into the development of an open source LMS like edX (although there is no shortage of existing open source LMS projects that could have benefited from those resources). But when I read that the motivation to support an open source learning project is to improve the “brand” profile of the institution to make sure faculty feel like they are working with the “right” platform because it is the most popular kid in the playground instead of improving that platform for the benefit of the learners, well…yeah. Snarky.

 

What Connected Educators should takeaway from our parental survey on WiFi in schools

tl:dr: Are you a teacher using technology in your classroom? Help parents understand how you are using it. Tell them how and (more importantly) why you use it. Parents don’t know & we need to know.

My HTML5 Word Cloud

The school district I live in (SD61 in Victoria BC) has been dealing with a contentious issue for the past 2 years that has held up the installation of wireless networks in a number of our schools. A vocal group of citizens has had a 2 year sustained campaign lobbying school district trustees with the message that WiFi is not safe. That the EMF radiation given off by WiFi routers and WiFi enabled devices pose a health risk to students.

I have been hesitant to blog about the fight here because I know what is coming in the comment section, if the comments on my other site are any indication. This spring, concerned that the anti-wifi camp was winning and influencing our school district trustees, I set up a website to counter some of the claims they were making and to begin to make an argument that I felt was being lost in the health “debate” – that there are pedagogical implications to having schools without ubiquitous internet access enabled by wireless technologies like WiFi.

To make a long story short, the local parental advisory council (PAC) collective for the district (known as VCPAC) intervened with the district and said they would do a parental survey to give the SD trustees some more information about whether or not parents felt that WiFi in schools posed a health risk to their kids.

The results of that survey have been released (if the links to VCPAC don’t work, you can download the survey summary (pdf) and parent comments (pdf)) and I wanted to make a point about the results for connected educators who use technology in their classroom: please tell parents how you are using it and why you are using it.

The results show that there is concern about WiFi in schools, but not for health reasons. While the aggregate numbers show some levels of concern, the details of what those concerns are become much clearer when you read the comments. There are many parents are struggling to see the value of not just wireless technology in the classroom, but the role of technology in the classroom period.

To make it clear, this survey was done based on the notion that WiFi poses a health hazard (a risk that public health officials have continually rejected). The VCPAC did quite a good job of separating the health from the “appropriate use of technology in the classroom” argument in the buildup to the survey but still, those fears about how technology is used in the classroom are abundant in the qualitative responses.

Here’s a sample of what parents are thinking/saying. I should say that I don’t know if these are concerns of people who voted for, against, or were of no opinion in the qualitative questions of the survey.

“I don’t have as many health concerns about wifi (let’s face it, it’s everywhere) as I do have access concerns. Kids may be bringing smartphones, tablets etc and therefore wifi in schools enables our kids open access to everything on the web – THAT is concerning. Can we assume that everyone has parental controls on their kids devices?”

“As a parent of a child in kindergarten I find no specific or positive need to computing or information processing systems. As a matter of opinion elementary students should have no need to access anything related to wireless communications. Even teenage students moving into high school should have no need for WiFi devices within an academic institution.”

“I do not think kids should have unlimited wireless access to the internet while at school. Increased accessibility will increase the use of Cell phones, iPads, and iPods during school hours. This practice should be actively discouraged.”

“Children in Elementary school do not require internet use to learn. Can they not “hardwire” internet into each classroom? Why is WIFI required? How much internet use is needed to justify WIFI?”

“Computer games becomes the new addiction which destroy kids’ future. Most education don’t realize that yet. There are so many kids who are stuck and hooked up with computer games. It is a tragedy.”

“Computers and technology are completely unnecessary at the Elementary school level. Elementary schools should focus on the 3 R’s Reading, (w)Riting & (a)Rithmatic. If they don’t learn the basics in Elementary school, when are they going to learn the basics?”

“Dont have health concerns but do have concerns about kids being able to access information on electronic devices they bring; also don’t believe there is a demonstrated need.”

Now, like many parents, I also have concerns over how technology is used in the classroom, and that it is used appropriately and with purpose and intent. But unlike many parents, I have a perspective informed by my network connections. Because within my PLN I am connected to many educators working in the k-12 system who are doing amazing things with technology in their classrooms and, as a parent,  I want to help set up the conditions for those amazing things to happen in other classrooms as well. Which is why I got involved in this fight to make sure there is wireless access in our schools to allow those amazing things to happen.

So, here is my plea as a parent with kids in the k-12 system to the connected teachers who are using technology in the classroom. Help parents understand how technology is being used in your classroom. Become an informed advocate as to why you use technology in the classroom – what it is you are trying to achieve by using technology. Parents don’t know, and we need to know so that when really basic decisions like enabling connectivity happen, we can help support your continued use of technology in schools.

Thanks. And I would appreciate it if you could pass this blog post on to any connected educator using technology in their classroom.

As for the survey results, I believe that these will be forwarded onto SD61 trustees, who will then likely reconvene their standing WiFi committee. Here is hoping that these results will help put this issue to rest in our district, and can be used in your district if you ever need to fight a similar battle.

Image credits: Word cloud of open ended responses to VCPAC parental survey by Scott Leslie used with permission. Note that words which appeard less than 25 times are omitted from this image.

 

Who is watching me? Shedding some light(beam) on my browsing habits

Last week, Mozilla announced the release of Lightbeam, a Firefox plugin that allows users to see not only the sites they visit, but also the third party sites that are tracking them on the web. Here is a screen shot of the last 10 sites I have visited and all the site those sites are connected to.

Lightbeam visualization

I love this tool for a number of reasons.

First, the obvious. It helps to make transparent all the sites I am actually “visiting” when I visit a website. In this day and age where privacy online is becoming more of an issue than ever before, it is important for people to know just how extensive the tracking of their behaviours is online. From what I have seen, Lightbeam doesn’t actually show you what information about you is being transmitted or tracked by those third party sites, just that there is tracking going on and with whom. But it is an important first step in understanding just how connected the web really is.

I’ll make the point, too, that just because you are unknowingly accessing third party websites while you view the web, it isn’t always to be tracked. As the development team suggests;

Third parties are an integral part of the way the Internet works today. However, when we’re unable to understand the value these companies provide and make informed choices about their data collection practices, the result is a steady erosion of trust for all stakeholders.

A tool like Lightbeam helps to make conversations about privacy and sharing of data more nuanced. Rather than painting all the third party connections with the same negative brush, I think it is important for us to have more specific conversations around the idea that maybe there are positives to having these invisible connections occurring behind the scenes. For example, many of the interactive features of the modern web require code libraries pulled from third-party sites. Is that Google connection to track you for advertising purposes, or is it to pull a font from the Google fonts collection to make the site you are on work better for you? These are important distinctions.

The second thing I love about Lightbeam is that it is a great web literacy educational tool, and extends the excellent work Mozilla is doing around web literacy by helping people understand how the web works. As building the web becomes more complicated, and the mechanisms of how the web gets built gets more obfuscated under the guise of “user-friendly” or “easy” (by no means are those neccesarily bad qualities, but obscuring qualities nonetheless), it is important that we don’t surrender the control we have over the web for the sake of convenience. Lightbeam represents a deeper dive for Mozilla into digital and web literacy than X-Ray Goggles or Thimble, but like those Webmaker tools Lightbeam exposes the inner workings of the web. Lightbeam, like the Webmaker initiative, are powerful tools to help educate people on how the web works.

Third, Lightbeam is an excellent example of an authentic learning exercise. Authentic learning (Educause PDF) exercises place a great deal of emphasis on having students work on real-world, complex problems and solutions, and I cannot think of anything more complex than the world of online privacy these days. Lightbeam was developed as a partnership between Mozilla and a research team at Emily Carr University of Art & Design in Vancouver that was made up primarily of students. They have created an important (and beautiful) tool that is relevant, timely, and has real world applications.

Finally, Lightbeam is another reminder of how powerful the iterative web enabled by open licenses can be. I’ve been jazzed lately by the idea of generativity and the generative web, and just how critical open licenses are for driving iterative, collaborative development.  Lightbeam was based on a previous FF plugin called Collusion developed by Atul Varma. It was first released as an independent project by Varma (who now works at Mozilla). Because it was released with an open source license, Mozilla and Emily Carr were able to pick up the project and build upon the excellent work of the original plugin. Open licenses made the refinement of Collusion possible.

 

Some Badge resources

My Nerd Merit Badges arrived!

I attended the Connected Learning presentation on Do-It Yourself Badges yesterday hoping to get some more technical information about how to set up a badge server. You can see the group notes from the session in this Google Doc.

Badges are something we have talked about here at BCcampus; issuing badges for the various activities and events we put on. I am hoping that I can carve out some time from the open textbook project to explore the technical side of issuing Badges in a bit more depth.

While the discussion didn’t dig deep into the technical infrastructure of setting up a badge issuing system, I did come away from the webinar with a couple of interesting resources that I wanted to share.

The first is a WordPress plugin called BadgeOS that allows you to add Mozilla badging to a WordPress site. Reading the description, it looks like the plugin does more than turn your WordPress site into badge issuing site, but also has some assessment pieces baked in.

BadgeOS™ turns your WordPress site into an achievement and badging system. Your site’s users complete steps, demonstrate skills and knowledge, and earn digital badges. Easily define the achievements, organize the badge requirements any way you like, and choose from and combine a range of assessment options to determine whether each task or requirement has been achieved.

I am eager to play with it, and dive deeper into the BadgeOS ecosystem that appears to be developing around the plugin. If you have any experience with it I would love to hear your impressions of the plugin in the comments.

The second isn’t related to technical infrastructure, but rather an instructional design template on how to design a badge. It is a badge design canvas/matrix that helps you determine the assessment criteria for your badge and prompts the developer of the badge to consider things like what skills & behaviours do learners have to demonstrate to earn this badge, is the badge part of a larger learning path, and what evidence is needed to earn this badge. It might be a useful instructional design prompt if you are are considering designing a badge.

Have you played with Badging? If so, I would love to hear your experiences.

Image credit: My Nerd Merit Badges Arrived by doctyper used under CC-BY-SA license

 

Online interaction improves student performance. Gee, imagine that.

In a recent blog post, Annie Murphy-Paul notes the results of some recent MOOC research conducted by a group of Stanford researchers on student engagement in a Coursera MOOC. This “finding” caught my eye.

For example, in all three computer science courses they analyzed, they found a high correlation between ‘completing learners’ and participation on forum pages, suggesting a positive feedback loop: The more students interacted with others on the forum page, the better they learned. This led the researchers to suggest that designers should consider building other community-oriented features, including regularly scheduled videos and discussions, to promote social behavior.

Imagine that. Students interacting with each other might actually improve learning in an online course.

This is not new knowledge, and highlights one of the fundamental problems I have with the current crop of MOOC’s. Anyone who has examined any prior research into student success in an online course already knows this. Want successful students in an online course? Have them interact.  Yet somehow in the design of a revolutionary new online course, Coursera seems to have missed this well established fact.

George Veletsianos made the point last year that the current crop of commercial MOOC’s are ignoring a large and deep body of previous work in online and distance learning. George points to a comment Sebastian Thrun made in a NY Times article where Thrun states, “I haven’t seen a single study showing that online learning is as good as other learning.” In his post, George counters:

This perception of online education as “better than” or “as good as” other forms of education (I imagine that Sebastian Thrun is referring to face-to-face education here), is rampant. I believe it is rampant because our field has not done a good job disseminating what we know and what we don’t know about online education. At the same time, individuals do not tend to go back to the foundations of the field to investigate what others have discovered.

The result: A lack of understanding that there’s a whole field out there (here?) that has developed important insights on how we can design online education effectively.

While more research into an area is always a good thing, it does underscore the fact that the current crop of commercial MOOC courses seem to be blazing a trail that has been pretty well laid out. If only they would stop and take a look at the map.

 

The ds106 snowflake

I love this ds106 data visualization put together by Martin Hawksey at JISC. This video is a representation of the community activity that occurred in ds106 – the unMOOC MOOC developed by Alan Levine, Jim Groom and the rest of the Division of Teaching and Learning Technology at U Mary Washington (whose innovative work I have gushed over before).

With each white circle representing a blog post, and circles clustered around individual blogs, you can quickly see just how much activity occured during ds106, and how much this beautiful visualization represents a model of learning that reflects the qualities of the internet itself – distributed, networked, nodal, autonomous yet connected. It’s no accident that this visualization looks like the internet itself.  As Alan points out, ds106 was specifically designed this way.

The very essence of ds106 is that it is made of the same stuff that the web is made of, a distributed, open, decentralized connected network managed by participants in the space it inhabits. You will hear people talk about their organizations or projects being on the web. but there is more than a shade of difference of ds106 being of the web.

In an environment that has proven its resilience, growth, and capability, should we not emulate the very ideals of the internet in the learning experiences we create? For the most part, while being on the web, the majority of MOOCs are operating via a structure that is not built by nor cared for by its learners. The truly open, syndicated model of ds106 works because it acts like the web itself.

 

Remix, Mashups, Aggregation, Plagiarism oh my

I am about to criticize and show examples from a copyright poster (or, for you new-fangled kids, an infographic) I received in the mail today from Turnitin, the anti-plagiarism company. Fair dealing y’all.

The title of the poster is The Plagiarism Spectrum:  Tagging 10 Types of Unoriginal Work, and lists the top 10 types of plagiarism based on the findings of a global survey of nearly 900 secondary and higher education instructors. The poster ranks the severity of the offense (#1 being highest level of severity, 10 the lowest) and shows a scale of 1-10 based on how often each type of plagiarism appeared in the survey results. I tried to catch a full size shot of the poster (you can click the image for a larger, more detailed version):

Well, I have some problems with this. Let’s zoom in on the areas I find troublesome.

and

Remixing is the 4th most nefarious form of plagarism, and mashups are #7…at least according to these 900 teachers and instructors. This saddens me because I happen to consider these two activities some of the most creative and original cultural acts happening today. And to think there are 900 some instructors and teachers out there who do not recognize the creative value  and sheer amount of work it takes to create something new and original out of what existed before.

Quite frankly, it astonishes me that in this day and age, remix and mashups are thought of as plagiarism. I am of the school that everything is a remix.

History is populated with examples where multiple ideas, products, music, literature, you name it were mashed-up, remixed and otherwise recontextualized to create something completely new and original. As Brian Lamb puts it in his 2007 Educause article Dr. Mashup; or, Why Educators Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Remix:

Elements of reuse have always been present in creative work, even though the borrowing may have been framed in terms of “tradition,” or “influence.” Artistic and scholarly works build on the work of others.

Yet, according to this study, we in education consider these acts of stealing; of unoriginal thought. Plagiarism. Laziness. Look at how lazy these remix people are. They work in bed in their pyjamas for crying out loud.

No good can ever come out of that.

If this is the true and accurate sentiments of educators in general – that remix is, in fact a form of plagiarism – then it makes me realize just what kind of uphill battle we might face here in British Columbia as we move towards creating and modifying Open Textbooks. The challenge being that if educators have this underlying core value that remixing  someone else’s content to create something new is plagiarism, then they are coming into the open text book project with the preconceived notion that we have to build something from scratch; reuse is not an option because it is plagiarism.

For me, this is the wrong way to approach an open textbook project. In order for the open textbook initiative to be successful, I think we need educators to come to the table with an open mind about reuse and remixing existing materials; to modify already existing open textbooks and openly licensed content to fit their specific needs. Not only do I think that starting from scratch is an arrogant place to begin (we are the only ones who know best), I think that if we try to recreate the wheel and start from scratch, we start at the bottom of the hill and put a big boulder in the way. Anyone who has written anything at length knows that it is much easier editing and modifying than staring at a blank piece of paper in the typewriter.

I also have a problem that this:

and this:

are practices being painted with the plagiarism brush.

A retweet serves many purposes, not the least of which is attribution. If someone retweets something that I send out and keeps my Twitter handle in the tweet, I am notified. It is a signal to me that they find what I tweeted valuable – so valuable that they wish to share it with the people in their network. For the person being retweeted, this underlying message you receive when someone retweets one of your tweets is that the people in your network find that type of content valuable. It is a prompt to share more. We all know how important knowing your audience is in communication and writing, and a retweet is a signal back to the original source that someone in the audience found the content valuable, please share more like this. Retweets serve an important function in that it helps me know my audience.

Aggregation is, in essence, curation, a skill that I think is incredibly important in education. There is great skill to being a good curator of resources; a filter. I value the curators in my network.  As educators, we constantly curate resources. It is one of the core learning activities we do – vet resources for our learners and point them in the direction of what we think is important. This is what aggregations is all about.

But the biggest problem I have with this poster is that it brings all of these things together in one handy, scary resource, and makes these practices appear fraught with danger, when in fact, I believe these are core skills required to create understanding in today’s world. This poster is being sent out to other educators like myself in the hopes that it will get posted in a hallway or office so that other educators will see this. The underlying message they take away after viewing this poster is that these practices: Remix, Mashup, Aggregation and Retweet are riddled with risk (thanks, Tracy for helping me articulate this). That whatever positive purpose they may serve in an educational context, the risk is not worth it. And I fundamentally disagree with that.

So, I am going to hang this poster in my office and I am going to use it to trigger a conversation. But I am going to modify it a bit.

 

Open Education Matters Why it is important to share

Earlier this year, the US Departments of Education held a video contest asking for videos that answered the question “why does open education matter?” The top three videos are located on the Department of Education website.

All the videos are well done, but the third place video caught my eye as it really emphasizes what can happen when content is shared and reused, and how it could then benefit the original creator of the content, creating the type of virtuous cycle that is possible when resources are shared.

This is open education. Knowledge as a public good.

 

What my bike is teaching me about learning

For the past 15 years, I’ve been a bike commuter, and I try to ride to work at least a couple days a week.

I love riding my bike. I also like to tinker, but for whatever reason I haven’t spent a lot of time over the years tinkering with my bike. The city I live in is cycle crazy, and there are just as many bike repair places in town as there are coffee shops, so it has been quicker and more convenient to just let the experts deal with it. But in the past year with a longer commute, I have found that I spend more money each year on bike maintenance. So, a few weeks ago when I noticed that my rear cassette and chain were starting to slip and grind, I thought I would try to save a few bucks, teach myself a new skill, and learn how to replace the drive train.

I started doing a bit of research on the web last weekend. I found a few decent videos and websites that explained the process and tools I would need. Late Saturday, I went down to the local bike shop, bought a couple of new tools, a new rear cassette and chain.

Sunday morning, I got down to work.

It started off well, and I had the old chain broke and old cassette off in about 20 minutes. It was then I noticed I had a broken spoke. I’ve never replaced a spoke (but have many times paid $15 bucks at the bike shop to have it done – owch), and figured that since things were going well, I might as well give that a go. So, after watching a few more videos and figuring out how to true a wheel without getting into expensive gear, I went back to the bike store to buy some spokes and a spoke wrench.

“What size do you need?” asked the bike store mechanic. Uh, they come in different sizes?

Back home to get the wheel, and back down to the bike shop.

With spokes in hand, I decided to tackle the spokes first and get the wheel built before getting to the new drivetrain. Turns out, I had 3 spokes that needed replacing, and spent the better part of that Sunday getting the tire trued up.

Last Sunday night, I tackled the drive train. The new cassette went on and I threaded the new chain through the gears. I thought it went well, but when I started rotating the pedals, I heard a chunk-chunk-chunk clicking sound coming from the rear derailleur. I had threaded the chain incorrectly. So I had to break the chain, rethread it and try again.

Second time through it seemed to work. No clicking. Until I geared down to the lowest gear possible and saw that the chain was sagging. There was no tension.

Huh? I did everything that the videos told me to?

It was then that I compared the old cassette with the new and saw that the gears on the new cassette were half the size of the old one. Turns out there is more than one kind of 8 speed gear-set with different gear ratios.

So, off comes the new cassette, back into the box it goes. I spent last week without my bike.

This Saturday, I bring the cassette back to the store. I also bring the old cassette with me so I get the correct size this time. I speak directly to the in store mechanic, feeling sheepish I didn’t speak to him in the first place. He hands me a new cassette (which actually cost $15 less then the original one I bought), and gives me one of those Mike Holmes-ish smiles that says (in a very kind and empathetic way), “I’ll see you next week when you bring me your bike to clean up your mess.”

I get home, put the new cassette on and…

As my chain sags I am reminded...

As I sit here looking at my sagging chain once again, I am reminded that learning new stuff is not easy. It means making mistakes and enduring moments of frustration as you struggle to figure out what went wrong. It means recognizing that you are blind to what you do not know.

It also highlights the siren song of the availability of abundant resources. Right now, I am crashing on the rocks. Nowhere in the resources I looked at did anyone speak about correct gear ratios, or the fact that cassettes can come with different gear configurations.

I am learning this the hard way. But I am learning. I am not beaten yet. I still have some tricks up my sleeve, including going to the network, which I haven’t done yet, but will soon because I know at least 4 people in my network who are avid commuters and can help me figure out what I am doing wrong.

My drive train is my bow drill. And I will figure this out.

 

BC to offer free, open textbooks for 40 higher ed courses

Visual Notes of Honourable John Yap's announcement at #opened12
More to come on this as the announcement was made just hours ago at the Open Ed conference in Vancouver, but BC Advanced Education Minister John Yap has just announced that BC will fund the creation of 40 free and open textbooks.

This is very exciting news, for both students – who will save hundreds of dollars each year in textbook costs (it is estimated students spend between $900 and $1,500 per academic year on textbooks. Open textbooks reduce this to around $300 or less when printed books are needed – or $0 for e-copies) – and the open education movement in BC.

Some highlights from the press release:

British Columbia is set to become the first province in Canada to offer students free online, open textbooks for the 40 most popular post-secondary courses.

Because the open textbooks are digital and open, they can be modified and adapted by instructors to fit different classes.

Wonderful as these will be true open textbooks that will be released with licenses that not only allow reuses, but also remixing.

Sounds like there is an aggressive timeline to get these open textbooks created and in the hands of students:

Government will work with post-secondary institutions in implementing an open textbook policy in anticipation they could be in use at B.C. institutions as early as 2013-14.

There will be more on this in the coming weeks, but this is fantastic news for higher ed in BC.

Photo: Visual Notes of Honourable John Yapp’s announcement at #opened12 by giulia.forsythe Used under Creative Commons license

 

So, here's the thing about the video in my Coursera course

I’m taking a Coursera course, and the primary content delivery tool being used is video. Talking head video of the instructor switching to voice over PowerPoint lectures with bullet point slides and diagrams.

Now, I wish I could leave my first impressions aside, but can’t (because I’m a bit shallow and judgmental this way and first impressions count), but I am staring at PowerPoint slides primarily composed of bullet points of text (bad) in FREAKIN’ COMIC SANS.  I mean, bullet points of texts are bad enough in terms of adding nothing to my understanding of what is being said, but it’s FREAKIN’ COMIC SANS. I am in a kindergarten class.

Anyway, where was I. Oh yeah. Video.

So, a little technical & pedagogical note about using video as a content delivery method. Web video can be great in that it allows students to interact with the video. Learners can pause, rewind, fast forward and otherwise move through video at their own pace. Going back to review content they may be fuzzy on. As  Zhang, Zhou, Biggs and Nunamaker noted in their 2005 research study Assessing the impact of interactive video on learning effectiveness (pdf) , the interactive nature of web video – this ability to stop, rewind and replay – is one of the prime pedagogical affordances of web video .

Results of the experiment showed that the value of video for learning effectiveness was contingent upon the provision of interactivity. Students in the e-learning environment that provided interactive video achieved significantly better learning performance and a higher level of learner satisfaction than those in other settings

Now, for me, if you are going to make video your primary content delivery platform and take advantage of that pedagogical affordance of video – this ability for learners to manipulate the timeline – then the video should be a true streaming experience. Coursera videos are not.

What does that mean? Well, there are 2 ways you can deliver video on the internet: progressive download and streaming. I won’t get into the technical details of each (you can read for yourself a bit more if you like), but one of the major differences between the two methods of video delivery is how quickly you can move thru the timeline. Progressive download buffers the video, meaning when you move the timeline, you get the hourglass for a few seconds while the video buffers and then restarts. Whereas in streaming video, you get no buffering. You move your cursor on the timeline and the video starts at that point instantaneously.

Imagine this (and I am sure you have experienced it yourself). You are a student and you are trying to find a specific spot on a video, how frustrating is the progressive method? You move the cursor back. Wait (buffer). Wait (buffer). Wait (buffer). The video plays. Whoops, wrong spot. You move the video back a few more seconds. Wait (buffer). Wait (buffer). Wait (buffer). Hmmm. Too far. Move the cursor forward. Wait (buffer). wait (buffer)….you get the picture.

Knowledge is created in instants. When you are on the verge of connecting concepts, these little delays matter. You want to find the spot you need, not give your mind even that extra couple of seconds to wander or worse, get frustrated interacting with technology.

On the plus side for Coursera videos, the videos appear to be short (less than 6 minutes), so shuffling back and forth and buffering to find an exact spot is reduced as there isn’t much of a timeline to slide through. And you do have the option to play at slower or faster speeds – great if you want to review a 5 minute video in 3, or slow down the pace to catch concepts. But, if you are going to make video your pedagogical tool of choice for content delivery, and the primary pedagogical advantage of video is the ability to move thru the timeline and review what you saw, then it is worth it to invest the extra dollars and make the video true streaming video for a seamless user experience where the technology gets out of the way and not in the way.

 

My Coursera profile

I’m taking a Coursera course this fall called Networked Life and blogging my reflections/experience about both the content and the format.

A brand new (August 30th, 2012) feature of Coursera is the ability to create a profile on the Coursera site – a good thing as it makes it easier for students to find and connect with each other. Here’s mine.

The bit I really like about the profile is that Coursera has given you the ability to make your profile open to the world.

As a networked learner, I believe being open to the world is an important principle and core networked learning concept. Open to the world as the default is the first step that enables learning connections beyond the institution – something that I want.

Now, giving me the option to make my profile open to the world doesn’t guarantee that those connections will happen, but I can tell you that without having the option, they won’t. So, I think Coursera has done a good thing by including the “open to the world” option.

The profile also gives you the opportunity to add in links to a personal website, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or G+ account, and (reflecting that Coursera was born out of computing science) a GitHub account, again enabling connections to happen outside the institution; connections that can carry on long after the course is finished.

 

 

Taking a Coursera course: Step 1 signing up

One of my goals for this fall was to enroll in a Coursera MOOC to both get a better understanding of how they work, and to learn some new stuff.

The course I decided on is called Networked Life, offered by Dr. Michael Kearns at Penn State. The description looked intriguing as network theory is something I have wanted to dig a bit deeper into for awhile.

Networked Life looks at how our world is connected — socially, strategically and technologically — and why it matters.

  • What science underlies companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google?
  • How does your position in a social network (dis)advantage you?
  • What do game theory and the Paris subway have to do with Internet routing?
  • How might a social network influence election outcomes?
  • What are the economics of email spam?
  • How does Google find what you’re looking for… and exactly how do they make money doing so?

First thing I did was Google Dr. Kearns, hoping to find a Twitter account where I could connect and follow him. But the best I could find was a group Twitter account from his department at Penn State.

Sign up process was pretty straightforward and asked for the bare minimum of information: name, email and password.

As soon as you sign up you get the ability to share that info with your network.

Now, no doubt a large part of the intent here from Coursera is to increase enrollment. But it was also good to see not only an acknowledgement that a learning network was going to be an important piece in ensuring that you, the student, will be successful, but an actual prompt to begin developing your own network so that;

You will be able to discuss and work on material together.

This is where having an already established network of people begins to (hopefully) pay off for students. I was able to send a tweet, post on FB and post on G+ that I was not only taking the course, but also looking for others to come along and learn with me (and help me learn as well).

A few minutes later, I got an email welcoming me into the course.

Dear Clint Lalonde,
Thank you for signing up for Networked Life!
We look forward to seeing you in class, and we’ll notify you again when the class is about to start. Stay tuned!
Yours,
Prof. Michael Kearns

For this interested in the PKM mechanics of how I am going to organize the info during this course, step one was creating a label in Gmail that automatically filters Coursera email and adds a colour code to those emails so I notice them in my already cluttered inbox. I have also created a Twitter list and any other students who I come across on Twitter that are also enrolled in this course will be added to this list. My other plan is to blog as much as I can about not only the mechanics of the course, but about the contents as well. So, if I can stick to it for 10 weeks, expect a few blog posts about networks in the coming weeks.

The Honour Code

I read over the honour code (thanks for keeping it short and sweet Coursera), which seems fine and fair, although this little bit in section 3 (my emphasis) does make me pause for a second:

I will not make solutions to homework, quizzes or exams available to anyone else. This includes both solutions written by me, as well as any official solutions provided by the course staff.

Quizzes and exams – okay, fair enough. But my own homework? Heck, getting feedback on my homework from THE WORLD is something that I want to happen. I want to be able to post my homework online and have others take a look at, respond to, critique, agree/disagree with and otherwise hack at ‘er. I want to share my homework, not for the benefit of someone else (although that may happen) but for the benefit of myself and my learning.

Mind you, if most of the homework I get is more cut and dry answer-10-multiple-choice-questions-that-will-then-be-graded-by-a-machine (which I suspect will be the case), then my homework may be more like a quiz than some kind of long form piece of writing that might be more conducive to open discussion among peers. We’ll see.

The ToS and Privacy Policy

On to the Terms of Service, which includes this line:

Neither the User Content (as defined below) on these Sites, nor any links to other websites, are screened, moderated, approved, reviewed or endorsed by Coursera or its participating institutions.

I read this as a) fair warning that the forums could be a free range for all kinds of opinions, some good and some bad and b) there will probably be little instructor presence in the interactive bits of the course (ie forums), which I’d expect when there are thousands of people in the course contributing.

There is also this bit in the terms of service where I grant Coursera the right to use whatever content I post in the course:

With respect to User Content you submit or otherwise make available in connection with your use of the Site, and subject to the Privacy Policy, you grant Coursera and the Participating Institutions a fully transferable, worldwide, perpetual, royalty-free and non-exclusive license to use, distribute, sublicense, reproduce, modify, adapt, publicly perform and publicly display such User Content.

Well, at least it doesn’t say “sell”. But I did pop down to take a look at the Privacy Policy and found this bit that makes me wonder exactly what a “business partner” is:

We may share your Personally Identifiable Information with business partners of Coursera to receive communications from such parties that you have opted in to.

Not sure who that might be or what that might mean. Free may have a bit of a price.

Finally, this bit in the Terms makes it clear that Coursera MOOC’s are an ongoing experiment, and we, the students, are the data providing subjects:

Records of your participation in Online Courses may be used for researching online education. In the interests of this research, you may be exposed to slight variations in the course materials that will not substantially alter your learning experience. All research findings will be reported at the aggregate level and will not expose your personal identity.

Hopefully, there is some research work going on behind the scenes and that work gets published so that we all benefit from understanding how (and if) this model works, and how it can be refined and improved.

Okay, on to learning new stuff!

 

 

Twitter, PLEs and PLNs

Thought I would share some bits of my thesis on Twitter, PLN’s and PLE’s  as others might find it useful.

What is a PLN?

For all of the conversation occurring among educators about PLNs, there has been surprisingly little academic research on PLNs (Couros, 2010, p. 123). With many educators using this term to describe their own informal learning habits, it is important for educational researchers to investigate exactly what this concept means to those who are using it as a term to describe a learning activity

A Personal Learning Network (PLN) is a network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning (Tobin, 1998). These people may assist you in your learning by acting as a guide, direct you to learning opportunities, and assist you with finding answers to questions (Tobin, 1998).

Digenti (1999) defines a PLN as:

relationships between individuals where the goal is enhancement of mutual learning which is based on reciprocity and a level of trust that each party is actively seeking value-added information for the other (1999, p. 53).

Couros (2010) echoes Digentis notion that a PLN is defined by the relationships among the individuals when he states that:

“a PLN is the sum of all social capital and connections that result in the development and facilitation of a personal learning environment” (2010, p. 125).

In order to fully understand this definition, a distinction needs to be made between the Personal Learning Network (PLN) and the closely related term, the Personal Learning Environment (PLE) as the two terms are often used interchangeably when, in fact, they refer to two separate conceptual models.

A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) can be thought of as the ecosystem that enables a PLN. A PLE represents

“the tools, artefacts, processes, and physical connections that allow learners to control and manage their learning” (Couros, 2010, p. 125).

Using this distinction, Twitter, along with other ICT’s, are tools of the PLE that enables interactions with a PLN. These other ICTs are significant as the PLN is not limited to interactions on Twitter alone and encompass not only other ICTs, but also face-to-face and non-ICT mediated interactions.

The other ICT’s  that are often used alongside Twitter can be divided into three broad categories; technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data, technologies that are used in conjunction with Twitter, and technologies that are used independent of Twitter.

 

  1. Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data: Twitter extensions are tools that specifically enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data. This category can further be divided into three subcategories;
    1. technologies which participants use to view and manage the Twitter data stream (Tweetdeck and HootSuite),
    2. technologies that participants use to repurpose or modify Twitter data (such as paper.li, Packrati,The Tweeted Times), and
    3. technologies that are used to search Twitter data.
  2. Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter: Technologies in this category are tools that can be used independent of Twitter, but are often use in conjunction with Twitter, such as  blogs, social bookmarking applications (Delicious and Diigo), and collaborative tools (Google Docs). For example, Twitter itself is not a collaborative platform in that participants do not use it to collaboratively create a tweet. However, Twitter is often used in conjunction with Google Docs, a collaborative document authoring application, to help facilitate the creation of a shared resource among the PLN.
  3. Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities. Other technologies that are used independently of Twitter. Examples are Facebook, LinkedIn, forums and Ning.

This is not an exhaustive list of ICT’s used within a PLE, but a sample based on interviews with thesis participants. PLE = Personal Learning Environment; PLN = Personal Learning Network; Data = Technologies used to enhance, extend, view, or manage Twitter data; Conjunctive = Technologies used in conjunction with Twitter; Independent = Technologies used independent of Twitter, but may also be used for PLN activities

References

Lalonde, C. (2011). The Twitter experience?: the role of Twitter in the formation and maintenance of personal learning networks. Retrieved September 13, 2011, from http://dspace.royalroads.ca/docs/handle/10170/451

Couros, A. (2010). Developing Personal Learning Networks for Open and Social Learning. Emerging Technologies in Distance Education (pp. 109-127). Edmonton, Canada: AU Press.

Digenti, D. (1999). Collaborative learning: A core capability for organizations in the new economy. Reflections, 1(2), 45-57. doi:10.1162/152417399570160

Tobin, D. R. (1998). Personal Learning Network. Retrieved October 4, 2009, from http://www.tobincls.com/learningnetwork.htm

 

Submitting OERs using the OER Commons bookmarklet

I was checking out some resources on the OER Commons, and noticed that they have created a JavaScript bookmarklet to make it easy for anyone to submit a resource to the Commons (have I ever said how much I love bookmarklets? No? Well, I do. They rock.) So I installed the bookmarklet and took it for a spin, looking for an OER to submit to the Commons (you do need to have an OER Commons account to submit a resource).

While installing and using the bookmarklet is fairly easy, figuring out some of the non-technical bits for submitting an OER is a bit trickier.  The language used by OER Commons implies that you can submit any resource to the Commons.

And I think that is the intent of the bookmarklet. So I began to look for some guidelines for what could be contributed. I was thinking primarily about licensing (could you, for example, submit something that wasn’t explicitly an OER, or tagged with a Creative Commons license?) and how do you give author attribution for a submitted resource?

OER Commons does have a wiki that covers submitting materials to OER Commons, but it seems to be written much more for authors who want to submit their own content and not for a third party person who wants to contribute a resource they stumble upon on the web. There is a section entitles Recommend New OER, which got me wondering; if I submit an OER via the bookmarklet, am I actually submitting an OER to the Commons, or am I just submitting for consideration to be added to the Commons?

Mission: DS106

Despite these issues,  I decided to move ahead and submit an OER, the fantastic Mission: DS106 Anthology of New Media Projects. If you are not familiar, this site is the assignment repository for UMW’s open, online ds106: Digital Storytelling course (which, as an aside, will be running again this Fall).

There are a couple of wonderful things about the Mission: DS106 site. First, this collection of digital storytelling assignments has been submitted by…well, by everyone. Anyone who has an idea can submit an assignment into the mix, and students can pick and choose which assignment they want to complete as part of the course (which, as Jim Groom points out, helps with student engagement by allowing students to program and participate in the creation of their own assignments).

Additionally, each assignment has examples attached to it so students can see what the finished assignment will look/sound like (for WP buffs,  Alan Levine touches on how they did this using WordPress tags). And, once a student completes an assignment, they can then rate the difficulty of the assignment on a scale of 1 to 5 stars for the benefit of future students.

So, with OER in hand, I head to the Mission DS106 site and click the Submit OER bookmarklet, which pops open step 1 of a 3 step form for submitting.

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

This was a tricky bit. I figured that (knowing a bit about how Alan and Jim operate) that these assignments would at the very least be Creative Commons resources. But I couldn’t actually find the license type on the site. So a quick tweet to Alan and, well… you can read for yourself how he feels about sharing these resources.

 

Update: since Alan posted a response regarding licensing, I have gone back to the OER Commons site and changed the license type with a link back to Alan’s blog post which should make it abundantly clear to anyone who finds this in the OER Commons that this material is there to be used.

I clicked submit and the resource is now….well, not yet on the OER Commons site. If I log in, I can see the resource. But it doesn’t appear to be live on the site. I am not sure if it now has to be vetted by someone before it appears on the site, or ????? I’ll keep you posted as to where the resource has gone now that it has been submitted.

Well, technically that was pretty easy, but….

As you have probably guessed, submitting an OER right now is not a straightforward process, but not for any technical reason. What would make this process infinitely easier and more transparent is a set of guidelines specifically targeted at third party users who want to submit OER’s from the web that explains the entire process a bit clearer and spells out exactly what the heck happens to that OER when you submit it.  But technically, the bookmarklet does its job and is an easy way to tag and add resources to the OER Commons.

 

Student views on a Wikipedia project

Wikipedia - T-shirt

Alan Levine (@cogdog) has posted interviews he did with 3 UBC students about their perceptions and experiences participating in a Wikipedia Education Project assigned to them by UBC History professor Tina Loo.

While it is the experience of only 3 students, I think it’s a valuable read for any faculty who may be considering doing a Wikipedia Education Project.

In summary, the students that Alan spoke with noted the following:

  • After spending 4 years writing academic papers, the students found the challenge of writing an article for Wikipedia a refreshing change.
  • Students felt strange deleting existing contents of Wikipedia articles (“the first edit was terrifying”).
  • The students worked in groups, and found it challenging to find a common writing voice within their group while adhering to the Wikipedia standards of neutral point of view, concise length, and precise language that can be understood by a lay person.
  • Students found the Wikipedia community both helpful, and challenging to the point of being rude. In the later case, the Wikipedia Project ambassador intervened and provided support to the students.
  • Students said they were motivated by the fact that their writing was going to be public as they “do not usually get to write for others.” As a result, the students felt extra pressure to make sure the facts were correct.

A key principle in  adult learning theory is that adult learners are relevancy oriented, and judging by some of the quotes from these students, this assignment fit that principle. The students felt that by doing their work in the public on Wikipedia, their education was being used on a project that they see as relevant in world outside of academia.

The reality is that Wikipedia really is becoming a basic source of information, not the thing you are going to write your whole paper with, but people go to it– even my grandmother goes to Wikipedia as a reference.

and

The more we got involved into it, the more it seemed like we were using our education to actively help the world.

For me the kicker quote in the whole article is:

I look at Wikipedia differently. I have found an article on an author that was blatantly wrong. Now I know to change it

A student that comes away from an assignment feeling different than they did before about something; feeling empowered to change something that they see as wrong in a public forum? That is a transformational learning experience.

Photo: Wikipedia t-shirt by mikeedesign used under Creative Commons. I want this t-shirt :).

 

Does section 30 of Bill C-11 really mean we have to destroy online lessons 30 days after a course ends?

I’m no copyright lawyer, so I am throwing this out in hopes that others can help me understand one of the new clauses of Canada’s new copyright law, Bill C-11.

I was reading an excellent summary from Contact North on the implications for online and distance learning of Bill C-11 (HT to @veletsianos via Tony Bates blog for the lead), and, while the news seems quite good for educators in general, there was one clause that made me start seeking out more info.

The report notes that Bill C-11 has a distance learning provision, but (emphasis mine):

The implementation of a distance learning provision, though use of the exception features significant restrictions that require the destruction of lessons at the conclusion of the course.

Hmmm. Destruction of lessons at the conclusion of the course. Sounds ominous.

So, I went to the source (excuse the legalese here) and honed in on section 30, which begins by defining a lesson, which is really anything that uses content  under the newly expanded fair use clause of Bill C-11

 30.01 (1) For the purposes of this section, “lesson” means a lesson, test or examination, or part of one, in which, or during the course of which, an act is done in respect of a work or other subject-matter by an educational institution or a person acting under its authority that would otherwise be an infringement of copyright but is permitted under a limitation or exception under this Act.

The section goes on to state that a student can create a copy of that lesson, but the student has to destroy it 30 days after the course closes:

(5) It is not an infringement of copyright for a student who has received a lesson by means of communication by telecommunication under paragraph (3)(a) to reproduce the lesson in order to be able to listen to or view it at a more convenient time. However, the student shall destroy the reproduction within 30 days after the day on which the students who are enrolled in the course to which the lesson relates have received their final course evaluations.

Okay, fair enough, I guess. But the kicker is the next section, which states:

(6) The educational institution and any person acting under its authority, except a student, shall
(a) destroy any fixation of the lesson within 30 days after the day on which the students who are enrolled in the course to which the lesson relates have received their final course evaluations;

So, if I am reading this correctly, an educator who teaches an online course and who uses copyrighted content under the newly expanded definition of fair dealing (which is quite broad) will have to destroy that course material 30 days after the course ends? Am I reading this correctly?

 

 

A #Mozilla #HackJam #yyj style

It was hacktacular.

2012-06-23 10.17.13

On Saturday, 26 30 kids and half dozen volunteers converged on UVic for HackJam, and we had some fun remixing and mashing the web.

2012-06-23 10.51.18

In a nuthsell, a HackJam is a Hackasaurus event for youth where they learn webmaking skills using some of the excellent “hacking” tools developed by Mozilla, like X-Ray Goggles and Thimble. HackJams are hands on, participatory events designed to not only introduce kids to the basics of webmaking (by examining and “hacking” the underlying HTML and CSS code), but also introduce some basic digital literacy skills and emphasize the idea that the web is a space that anyone can contribute to, and create on.

2012-06-23 11.33.50

As you can see, we had a great HackJam space, thanks to Valarie Irvine at UVic. The rest of this posts is a bit more bullet point impressions of the event.

Lots of Volunteers

Not only did we have a full house of kids, but we also managed to surpass the ratio of 4-1 volunteers to kids. And I am glad we did. Once we did an initial icebreaker and Emma did the initial How to Hack presentation, the kids were off. There would have been no way to keep up with all the requests for help and guidance if we didn’t have a bunch of excellent, knowledgeable volunteers willing to work with the kids and answer their questions.

2012-06-23 11.34.11

It was a beautiful thing to see, really. Kids and adults working together as peers and mentors.

While we did have some activities planned, it was pretty well left up to the kids to decide where they wanted to go next. Self-directed learning. You need people to make that happen, and the volunteers really held it all together.

Thanks @heli_tomato (who came over from Vancouver for the event, 2 weeks for her wedding and 3 weeks away from moving to a new city and taking on a new job!), @erikvold, @sleslie, @carloschiarrella and the parents who stuck around to help.

A wide range of skills and abilities

We advertised the HackJam as ages 9-14, which is pretty wide in terms of prior knowledge. Some kids came in knowing a bit about HTML, while others struggled to spell. Again, if it wasn’t for the volunteers who were able to respond to the different skills and prior knowledge of each participant, it might have been a struggle to make it a meaningful learning experience for all the participants.

I am so glad Emma had Thimble in her back pocket for those who were more advanced. X-Ray Goggles worked for all at the beginning, but it was pretty evident that some kids came in ready to code.

The puzzle icebreaker

HackJam Icebreaker

I had this idea of doing a collaborative puzzle as an icebreaker activity, with each kid getting a few pieces of the puzzle then working together to make the bigger picture. I like the idea of using a puzzle as a metaphor for the web as it is pretty easy to grasp. A puzzle is made of pieces, so is a webpage. Some of those pieces you can see (images, text, videos) and some you can’t (the code) and then use that to bridge into the code and hacking.

2012-06-23 10.42.21

It served the purpose of getting people up and interacting and moving around, but the puzzle I made was too difficult. I thought it would be a 10 minute icebreaker, but we had to abandon it after 10 minutes. But I think it did the job, and was something that was fun for the kids.

The hacking conversation

It was clear that when Emma started talking to the kids about what hacking was, everyone went to the dark side: breaking into computers. It was early in the session and I happened to be standing in the hall with a few of the parents who were hanging back waiting to make sure their kids got settled. And I could see from the looks on their faces that they were a bit unsettled by the conversation. They eased up a bit when Emma started talking about good hacking and bad hacking, and the word hack really means tinker and try things. A word of advice: if you are organizing a HackJam, be prepared to have the hack conversation.

2012-06-23 11.48.18

Saving the hacks

This was a bit of a bummer. Up until a week or so ago, X-Ray Goggles had a great feature that allowed you to save and publish your hacks to a central server. This has been disabled by Mozilla. From what I have heard (and I might be wrong about this, but the reasoning makes sense to me) is that it is a copyright and liability thing. When we hack a site, we don’t actually hack the site, but rather the cached copy that resides on our computers. But when we publish it back and make it public, we have now altered an original site, which is most likely a copyright violation of the original site owner.

After seeing what the kids put together, I totally get why Mozilla has disabled this feature. One of our kids had hacked a famous restaurant chains website and changed the menu to read “Snot Dogs” and ‘Booger Burgers” (hey, they are 10 years old after all). But to have that posted on a public site would not fly so well with this company.

Still, we were left scrambling a bit trying to figure out how to capture the work the kids had done by the end of the session, and ended up relying on emailing code and snipping screenshots, which Emma has said she will put up on a server to share back to the kids.

So, if you are planning a HackJam, plan how you will share the results back to the kids and their parents.

Sistas!

2012-06-23 11.33.25

I could go on, but this is getting crazy long. But I do want to end by saying how happy I was to see so many girls hacking away at the HackJam, and a big shout out to my colleague at Royal Roads, Emma Irwin, who put this whole show together. Emma is a programmer/analyst at RRU, and a fantastic role model for girls everywhere. She believes passionately that girls need mentors in the technology field, and was the one who stood at the front of the class for most of the day, showing the girls that this isn’t just a boys club. As the dad of a daughter who is showing a budding interest in technology, I am happy that there are women like Emma out there willing to show my daughter that she can do this, too.

We're part of the summer of code

Update

Just reading Scott and Emma’s reflections on the Hackjam. I love Scott’s point about FUN:

Indeed, there is some really great thinking going on at the Mozilla team about how to introduce some potentially complicated stuff in a way that kids can engage with it – there was very little “instruction” going on during the couple of hours we ran the jam, and very much CONSTRUCTION (of knowledge, of web pages) and most of all FUN. This tapped into one of the pieces I too often forget myself about why making and the open web are so important – yes, it’s about preserving democracy and free speech, yes it’s about freeing culture from capital; but it’s also FUN, it’s about the sheer joy of making things

And Emma’s point is one that, I am sure, many of us can relate to all to well.

The first thing I learned was that no matter how much you know about the subject you are teaching, no matter how confident you are in the words you choose… teaching is not easy, it’s not straight forward and what works for one group of kids, may not work for the other.  (I’m sure my teacher friends are laughing at me by now).

As we come to the end of a school year, that is a point we parents need to remember and take to heart. Teaching is not easy. But if there is one thing HackJam showed me is that while teaching is hard, learning is fun. And, judging from the engaged kids I saw at HackJam, there was a lot of learning going on.

 

Pedagogy drives technology drives pedagogy

We are in the process of switching to Moodle 2.1 from Moodle 1.9. We’ve been planning this switch for a year but, like many tech projects, it doesn’t matter how much planning and testing you do, the real test happens when users start rolling in.

We’re at that point right now. People are starting to use the system. The most painful point. The transition.

I won’t get into details about the inner workings of Moodle, but those who know the 2.x version compared to the 1.9 version know that there has been a major overhaul of how the file system works. Gone is the file storage  area – the place where people dumped all their course files. Instead we have a new file repository system.

From the reading I have done and the people I have talked to, this change has been one of the most contentious changes in Moodle, and we are struggling with how to support it as it means a big shift in how people organize their stuff. It forces people to make a conceptual shift in that their content is now somewhat disaggregated from their course. Dispersed, distributed and decentralized. Not contained within neat little folders. Not easily accessible in a single place. Living….somewhere?

It is forcing people to think about their content in a different way, and it is changing their workflow at the most basic level.

How do I organize my stuff?

How do I delete my stuff?

Where is my stuff? WHERE IS MY STUFF?

It makes sense to me why Moodle is moving to the new repository system, but I can see the technical reasons. That (usually) doesn’t fly with users, and the new system is stressing people out.

One thing I never considered until I read Mark Dreschler’s post, however, is that the pedagogical framework of social constructivism that underpins Moodle means having a powerful file management system could be a rather low priority for Moodle developers because social constructivism moves the focus of a learning experience away from content as the cornerstone and refocuses the experience on the construction of knowledge among participants.

I never really thought about this until Martin’s discussion with the group yesterday, but, and I’ll say it loud and clear now – Moodle is not meant to be a file repository. When I look back at Martin’s original pedagogical drivers of social constructionism then it makes perfect sense that storing files should be low on the list of priorities. Learning in a social constructionist world isn’t about downloading and reading files, its about collaboratively constructing them with others – a critical distinction.

Learning in a social constructionist world isn’t about downloading and reading files, its about collaboratively constructing them with others

In this specific case, the pedagogical model drives the technological development.

Now, that is all wonderful IF you use it in a homogenous environment where all users are on board and working from the same pedagogical model. Great. However, stray from that model and you find yourself working against the technology; fighting, wrestling and wringing it into submission to do what you want to do with it. Or, you are forced to alter your own pedagogical model to make it fit with the technology.

In this case, it’s hard to argue that the instructivist “here are my notes and PowerPoint slides” model is superior to the social constructivism Moodle model, but still; it’s a pedagogical choice being enforced on a user by technology. People don’t like that. They fight back and get defensive when a machine forces them to do something they don’t want to do. It’s technology driving pedagogy.

And this is the inherent problem (feature?) of ANY LMS. It is not neutral. It WILL impose its way on you.

In the case of Moodle, the pedagogy is explicit. Indeed, I think this is one of the reasons why Moodle is a popular choice – it is built around an explicit pedagogy, which appeals to many educators. The foundation is educational, not technological. But, just because it is explicit (and, let’s face it, a pretty good model) doesn’t mean the pain of fitting into that model is any less.

Right now, I am not sure how we are going to deal with the Moodle file issue. Secretly, deep down, part of me smiles just a little to think that the system is actually making it more difficult to stuff a course full of Word and PDF documents; that using the LMS as a content repository is just a little bit tougher to do. But that fades quickly when I realize that this is causing stress and friction for the people I support.

It is also difficult to use moments like this as leverage into a conversation about whether uploading a whack of files into an LMS is the best way to encourage learning when faculty have students breathing down their neck for the latest PowerPoint presentation. But we’ll try. And it won’t be the last time we make choices on how we do things in order to fit the pedagogy imposed on us by our technology.

As Neil Postman says in Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology:

Every technology is both a burden and a blessing; not either-or, but this-and-that.

This is the moment I am living right now.

 

New like e-textbook new?

I started writing a comment on George’s spot post Connected Learning: What have they done with Alec, Will, Vicki?, prompted by the announcement coming out of the DML conference in San Francisco of a “new” learning model called connected learning. I quickly realized that what I wanted to say was not a comment, but a blog post.

It’s a post that is also a reaction to a tweet that Alec Couros made about the same connected learning initiative over the weekend:

I get Alec’s point. Reading about the initiative did feel more than just a bit familiar. Is this really “new” as the press has been spinning it?

Well, it’s probably new like e-textbooks became “new and revolutionary” once Apple decided to get involved. Get a juggernaut like the MacArthur Foundation on board with an initiative and it is bound to cause a splash.

I also take George’s point that it is important to acknowledge the people who have been pushing this model of learning for may years. But I actually take the connected learning initiative as an acknowledgment of their hard work, and the hard work of many people over the years. It is the continuing evolution of many conversations that have been pulsing around the edges of numerous communities for quite a while now.

It has me wondering if we aren’t hitting some kid of tipping point in the whole networked/connected/distributed learning world? That there are more conversations going on about it in many diverse communities? In short, is “connected learning” (or whatever you choose to call it) going mainstream?

One of my staff said to me recently “edtech is the new vertical”. Once the public educator in me suppressed my urge to throw up at the VC speak, I found myself agreeing. It seems that the edtech space is “in play”. Money is being invested. Startups are being funded. Things seem to be happening.

Not that I want to lump connected learning with the edtech startup space. Rather, my point being that there is a lot of conversation happening in many diverse communities about this topic, so it seems inevitable that a high profile initiative like connected learning seemingly pops up out of nowhere. It’s in the air.

But I look at the names of the people floating around the initiative and I wonder – did this really just pop-up? I mean, it is coming out of the MacArthur Foundation, an organization that has more than a casual relationship with learning & technology.

I see names like Mimi Ito and Howard Rheingold associated with this initiative. Hardly newcomers, or people who have popped up out of nowhere. John Seely Brown gave the keynote at the conference and, judging from the casual banter, obviously knows Mimi Ito and her work. Howard Jenkins seems to be a fan. These are people who’s work I deeply respect and admire, and who have been either directly in the edtech space or working very close to the edges of the space for a long time. I see their names floating around a project and I pay attention.

Ultimately, I think the connected learning initiative is a good thing. A very good thing, actually. A research initiative that focuses on the type of learning I think is important – networked, collaborative, digital. A pedagogy of the internet, which is what I think open learning/open pedagogy, connected learning, distributed learning, networked learning <insert phrase of your choice> is all about. It what drew me – and continues to draw me – to the work of people like Alec, George, Stephen Downes, Dave Cormie (and others) just as it draws me to the work of the people who I see associated with the connected learning initiative.

New? No. Which I actually think the connected learning initiative acknowledges when they state that (emphasis mine) “Connected learning is a work in progress, building on existing models, ongoing experimentation, and dialog with diverse stakeholders.”

As Alec noted in a tweet later in the day, that last point is crucial. A “dialog with diverse stakeholders” :
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The conversation is longer. Much longer. But it is happening. And in a lot of different spaces. I saw many people in my PLN at the DML conference, getting excited about what they were seeing. Talking about it. Practicing connected/network/distributed/open learning. Which is, ultimatley, what we all want to see happen.

So, let the conversation begin continue.