Thursday, 12 January 2012

View over the walled garden - 21st Century Universities

A very informative session in yesterday's #change11 MOOC where Jillianne Code and
Valerie Irvine gave their views on the subject of the 21st Century University, using their university. They are Educational Technology professors and Co-Directors of the Technology Integration and Evaluation (TIE) Research Lab at the University of Victoria.

Clearly a time of change - issues facing brick and mortar universities
  • diminishing funds, cutbacks
  • decreasing 18-22 demographic
  • increase in colleges with degree-granting status
  • increase in online programmes
  • demands from learners for flexibility
They (or their university) saw as solutions two aspects:
  • Recruit more international students
  • Change registration options to allow for combined f2f and online by existing students
The second seems a natural way to go, although getting professors on board to teach online seemed to be a very big issue - comment from one that they would rather have the top professor from a particular field than have them be tech savvy. This surprised me - professors were spoken about in awe and seemed to be ivory-towerish.

The back channel mentioned the riots to enroll in South African universities, such was the pressure to do so. Putting the meaning of this incident (massive pressure from the rest of the world for university education) against the wish of well off Western universities to make money from international students, left me concerned. Should this be the approach? And the point was made that these international student places should be mainly residential and not online, so that real fees are paid. Wow! Talk about business ruling...

Had not realised that administration system changes have such huge costs, even for relatively minor changes, and so changes of the status quo is really costly and difficult.

They categorised the registration option changes as follows - Multi-Access vs COOL Courses
  • COOL - collaborative open online course - a Multi-Access course but open
  • Multi-Access - not necessarily open, LDAP connectivity
Discussion followed on the use of MOOC as a name for such courses, or perhaps COOL (or even MOOSE!).

There seemed to be some real constraints in the 21st Century University. It seemed that universities are 21st Century only on the timeline but not really changed much from the 20th Century versions. Knowledge seemed to be trapped in universities due to restricted delivery method options. Instead of ivory tower, my mental metaphor changed to be walled garden, not being able see out nor others to dare to see in.

The Patriot Act and ownership of data in Elluminate were mentioned as constraints as well as internal university rules: they can make material open but for evaluation of students they have to be enrolled in the course.

Thanks for such insights - which I think are probably too stark out of context of the discussion, but forms my list of issues.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Consequence of change in learning - teachers have to give up power

Listening to Howard Rheingold at the questions session on #change11 MOOC brought home to me how reliant we are as teachers on control. Control of the learning environment, control of what is taught, control of what is assessed, control of the learner. Some of this is inevitable. But if we are to go towards open processes, then some of it we have to replace.
Rheingold had three relevant statements on the subject:
He tells his students that "absorbing all is not the goal but making sense of it together is" and that it is "scary and difficult for a teacher to give up power to the student. It is very rewarding once you do it, but you give them the responsibility to learn." Also, students "students cannot come into the classroom to be passive".
Of course, age is a factor. I agree with this approach 100% for university level students. We in schools should be weening our students towards these approaches. When? Well, I do think we have some of this in many Primary schools just by the nature of how they operate. In ours, we use the International Primary Curriculum and so the approach hands over some curriculum and learning control (although teachers work really hard in planning for such a programme).
It has caused us to re-think our 6th - 8th grade programme and to plan for more "open" approaches. To do this, teachers have to give up some power. How much? With what and where?

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

"Chance favours the connected mind"

Looking around for resources to explain our Open Learning initiative in school, I came across Steven Johnson's video describing his book "Where Good Ideas Come From - the Natural History of Innovation".
He ended with the comment that "chance favours the connected mind" - and his presentation illustrates the way that new ideas are generated (basically mash-ups of own and other ideas put together over time, discarded and improved).
In a time of multiple (too many?) connection channels, the chances for being fertilised by good ideas improves, so connections to new knowledge and understanding are made.
The idea of Connectivist learning is not so easy to grasp but I found this presentation a reassuring explanation for the concept.
Thanks to John for the well put together set of resources on the question of assessment and learning, which connected me to Active Learning and then on to the connected mind - showing the concept in action. #change11
(version in Spanish below that in English)

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Attention probes caught my attention

In Howard Rheingold's #change11 session today, Attention was the first Net Smart literacy covered. And well placed at number 1 it is.
As we went through the session, some of his pointers made sense and helped me make better use of the Collaborate session. His point was about multitasking (and I suppose attention-wandering).
He described having "attention probes" in a class or lecture situation - devices to ensure that attention is where it should be - for achieving concentration, mindfulness and metacognition. This is an important point since if attention is not there, learning is not going to be there. We have tried some experiments with this (having computer stations facing back wall with swivel chairs, or "close screens: commands for laptops) but ultimately it is the learner who should be monitoring their attention. What techniques are there for use in classrooms? Any ideas?
Rheingold used the term Infotention for this type of attention to task. Here is his list of points for training yourself and others for improving this skill (his point is that though multitasking is difficult, combat pilots and others do it, so it is a matter of training and it becoming instilled):
  • Make better, faster microdecisions:
    • Ignore or attend?
    • Open a tab for later?
    • Tag or bookmark for much later?
  • Match attention to toolset:
    • Spatial arrangements
    • Keep goal(s) visible (piece of paper in a visible place, even)
    • Start small, cultivate habits
I tried this during the session, having a plan on how to deal with links that came up in the chat (going back into the Collaborate session is PAINFUL to get these on the recording) and how to keep notes on the snippets (yes, pen and paper). And then, put it all together in a blog post so that it sticks in my mind a little better and may help others by reading another version.
"Attention to intention is how the mind changes the brain" says Rheingold. It worked for me.

Net Smart for both personal empowerment AND shaping digital culture

With over 50 participants, #change11 MOOC started 2012 well with an excellent session with Howard Rheingold.
His work on Net Smart is well described and his new book "Net Smart - How to Thrive Online" pulls all this work together. We were treated to an overview and some insights which convinced me that seeking only digital literacy is insufficient - we should be having our students (and teachers) be Net Smart. This would enable not just personal empowerment, an important Rheingold point, but it would enable the quality of digital cultural commons to improve. Asking questions about whether Google and Facebook are having negative effects is pointless - he maintains - rather steer the cultural commons forward in positive ways by being a shaper of the future and an inhibitor and neutraliser of poor or dangerous practices.
He uses the terms "literacies" instead of skills since he includes the social context as important.
The Net Smart Literacies are:
  • Attention - know where your attention is going, keep focused, by mindful (be metacognitive) of what you are attending to (talked about "attention probes" - devices to keep your attention on task - see my next post).
  • Critical Consumption (Crap Detection being his term - he describes crap as information tainted by ignorance, inept communication or deliberate deception) - with strategies such as "think like a detective", search to learn, look for authors and search them, triangulate.
  • Participation - empowerment which comes from know-how, curation for contribution ("a person who contributes thinks of themselves differently from those who only consume"), attract like-minded participants, build up your network, create a participation culture.
  • Collaboration - smart mobs, collective action, crowd-sourcing, cooperative and collaborative learning (see his 2005 TED talk on the New Power of Collaboration).
  • Network Know-how -know how to do.
Great pointers from Rheingold:
  • Don't just consume - create
  • Architectures of participation use self interest to construct public goods
  • Curation is lightweight collective intelligence
  • Learn norms & boundaries of local cultures before participating
  • Crap-detect thyself before broadcasting questionable info
  • Organisms cooperate as much as they compete
  • Actions climb the curve of engagement
  • Wide variety of ways to participate
  • Enable self-election 
  • People contribute to enhance reputation, learn, meet others add to public good
  • Casual conversation builds trust
Ross Mayfield's diagram on the Power Law of Participation was used to illustrate the benefits of participation:

A goal should be to build your own (and your learners' own) personal trust network.

"If digital cultures are making us shallow, explore the deep end" quote from Rheingold using a photo of a swimmer peeking over the edge of the pool at the shallow end.