Thursday, October 30, 2008

Point/Counterpoint Session: Virtual Worlds: Fad or Future?

Thursday, October 30 2:20 p.m. - 3:10 p.m.
Point/Counterpoint Session: Virtual Worlds: Fad or Future?
Room W209C

* AJ Kelton, Director, Emerging Instructional Tech, College of Humanities
& Social Sciences, Montclair State University
* Cyprien P. Lomas, Director, Learning Centre, The University of British
* Sarah Robbins-Bell, PhD Candidate, Ball State University

The education industry has grown weary of the "next big thing." Technology
has promised much over the years, but have virtual worlds finally
delivered on the promise? This session will focus on the major issues
facing teaching and learning in a virtual environment.
These are my notes and NOT a transcription.
Second Life - why a proprietary product?
Cyprien: It is still modeling how to use virtual worlds
Sarah: Not comfortable putting eggs in one basket - we are seeing more open source worlds coming up - Croquet is difficult. These will let you learn how to teach in new ways and make you more comfortable in virtual spaces.
Cyprien: Difficulties of SL caused problems.
Sarah: It used to go down but there was a buy-in from users
How do we know that we are getting a return on investment?
Cyprien: Depends on your timeline. Creating faculty and student engagement when you look in the short time.
Sarah: You need to look at metrics of success. - if your goal is to create engagement or improve retention then your mesurements will be different.
What about the technical issues?
Sarah: If the tech people get in the way of teaching and learning, they need to be let go. It does not have to be installed institution wide. Rely less on IT - more on teachers and student learning groups.
Cyprien: Pedagogy first
What about the higher end technology requirements?
Sarah: Does not require the students to use the virtual world - students know what they are getting into.
How do you handle assessment? Should the virtual environment be assessed as a teaching tool?
Cyprian: That is a longer term goal - we are talking about emerging literacies.
Sarah: There are a couple of things we should keep in mind: we should play with them to see if there is an assessment value. What you do with the tool is what matters - we should assess the use of the tool. Assess them as communities and cultures as well.
Students in SL can take any form they want, communicate on the back channel - why would an instructor want to give up control?
Sarah: Why not learn to take advantage of this and learn to use this to learn about the students.
Cyprian: SL allows us to catch more people and different kinds of learners.
Why let the companies dictate what we use?
Sarah: Linden labs is pretty responsive.
Cyprien: There is a large element of play and flexibility. It is an on going iterative cycle.
Some people are not comfortable learning in MUVEs. Can you address learning styles?
Sarah: The models we use now do not accomodate all learning styles. We need to be cognizant of the ways these tools can shape learning. Let the students create projects that meet goals that suit their learning styles.
Cyprien: Learning styles need to be considered.
Are you aware of anyone using SL to model real world scenarios? Significant difference?
A discussion of the epidemic in WOW.
Sarah: There are epidemiology studies going on in SL: Loyalist College is doing this will heavy assessment. They got higher retention rates from their students.
How to deal with identity issues for purposes of assessment?
Sarah: We can't prove the avatar is the student anymore than we can prove it in any LMS. When she is in a face-to-face situation, she uses the notes tab on the student avatars.
Young kids are getting so used to using virtual environments...what do you think needs to happen...?
Cyprien: Once someone moves to a ne virtual world they do have to learn the new rules but they are able to take some of those skills and use them in the new one. The new students will have some idea about how it works from other games.
Sarah: Unless your subject matter is learning new software, ethnography, or virtual environments. A couple of weeks in SL for a class is too short amount of time. The tools are only as good as what they allow us to use. She sets aside one night for a "boot camp" - scavenger hunt, take pictures as they go.
Why would people call it a game? How do you overcome the game stigma?
Sarah: The environment is not a game scenario - no skills, points, conflict or goals. You can create games though.
What about portability to other worlds?
Cyprien: It is a concern.
Sarah: Each space has its own culture so something that is worth building in SL may not be something helpful for other worlds.
Immersive and engaging?
Sarah: Depends on how you use it. You ave to care to be engaged. I have been immersed in MUDs and they are just lines of text.
Cyprien: Being able to create and explore and being limited only by your imagination.

Educause: a comic interlude...

There is a great story by Dostoevsky called "The Crocodile." It is a longish short story of four chapters. It has been coming to mind recently. It especially comes to mind at conferences. It allows me to laugh at others and also keeps me humble whenever someone refers to me as an expert on anything. This is one of Dostoevsky's extremely rare funny stories. In the story, Ivan Matievich decides to go to the Arcade with his wife to see the crocodile that is on exhibit. He winds up teasing the crocodile and getting swallowed whole. A big farce ensues when his wife tries to figure out how to get him out - Who does she go to? Who has the authority over the crocodile? The owner? The state? And there is this horrific bureaucracy to get through. In the meantime, he is miraculously still alive in the crocodile and they ocassionally ask him to speak to see if he is still alive. The crocodile becomes more popular than ever before and people come from all over to hear the man speak from inside the crocodile. Eventually the man begins to believe that they are not coming for the oddity but because he really has something to say.

I see this story as a metaphor for media and politics. People often confuse access to the stage with having something to say. For some people, it can be a real trap. People are often in the positions they are in for many reasons apart from having any deep insights - they can be good at a dozen things and still not really be insightful people. They can be knowledgeable and have some good ideas, but lets have some humility! Maiamonides used to say "Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know,' and thou shalt progress." In education, no one says "I do not know," they say "Good question! I would say that the cross modal affordances of the matrices of these pedogogical dispositions are quite problamatic at this stage and will require further inquiry and research." Let's not take one another so seriously: journals, blogs, conferences - whatever your media, it can be your crocodile!

The Facts of Life in the High-Tech Age

The Facts of Life in the High-Tech Age
Session Details
Thursday, October 30, 2008
9:30 a.m. - 11:00 a.m.
West Hall WE2
Session Type: General Session

* Moira Gunn, Host of Tech Nation and BioTech Nation, National Public Radio

Moira Gunn provides a unique perspective into the wide field of technology by integrating her background as a software engineer, her early career at NASA, her current work at the University of San Francisco heading the information systems programs for working adults, and her many in-depth interviews on NPR Talk with the leading figures in technology. In addition, Gunn’s experience integrating podcasting, wikis, and more into the adult curriculum gives her insight into the nature of technology and what we can expect from it.

She says that she was one of the 200 people on Arpanet when she worked at NASA.
She is not going to talk about technologies but visions and attitudes about the future of tech.
Arcs, not trends in technologies - they all have a rise and fall
IT professionals are often forced to use the old technology long after its life cycle
How the arc of technology follows the arc of IT management.
The effects on IT management: They try to manage the old technology using what they learned from the last round of technology (cribbed from McLuhan?).
The previous attitude was all about control - because IT came out of the military. Control of technology was a power struggle in institutions. Small community colleges could handle the changes better - smaller scale. IT departments started to mesh into the telephony on campus because of modems. Personal computers began to change how they related to individual users.

All of this was a struggle between centralized control and the individual. She recounted a story about a nasa engineer who said that going up in the shuttle to fix a sattilite was a terrible idea because you are merely introducing another system that can go wrong.

She hates push technology such as Adobe updates (the catastrophe that is Adobe 10?).

Our dealing with server farms is now like what the old mainframe was like. We should not be concerned with control but with integration. Cloud computing allows us to gain the benefits of server farms without the "footprint." The "iron age" is over - computer services is off campus. IT management is meant to help us trust the systems. We had legacy systems and now we have legacy organizations.

Arc of information: what has lived through all of these changes, we have always had information.
Old Purdue college memories follow... She had a college chum who invented the wiki and he was not understood. This is related to the arc of technology. Our relationship to wikipedia is changing - it is as right as anything else out there. The same wiki that was once dissed and abused is now respected by Stanford.

Those who build the technology can never predict how it will be used. Innovation occurs whenever new technology gets in the hands of another person. She recounts the "beat inflation now" but it was actually called "whip inflation now." Ford asked people to call in and give suggestions for beating inflation which lead to the invention of the 800 number.

We can't control applications, hardware, or information. Cloud: Trusted third-party data storage, she then suggests 4th party encrypted back-up.

She is still focusing on the institutions of technology. "You resist the cloud at your own peril."
She discusses opensource - what is important about Linux is that Torvalds knew that if he wrote a kernal of an operating system that he would not have to pay anyone. He sent it out when it was 80% done and let his friends contribute. He rewarded them by liscensing the source code - created technology that people could make a profit from - it was an economic innovation as much as a technical innovation.

Command and control is no longer our friend.

More college memories follow...
There are professors who use notebook paper and those who use wikis - first to deliver information and now to share and collaborate with information. Students self-organizing their work.

Students are publishing what they want. But in the teaching process, it is a transformative experience.

She then plugs her book.

She then says that we are now getting fast readouts from genomes. We will soon be charged with protecting information that students are leaving everywhere. Some of the things that we are going to be dealing with is the genomics inovations being folded into tech.

HIPAA only protects your health records when they are in the care of a health care professional. Where is the legislation to manage cloud computing? Our laws will not catch up with the technology. An Eddie-Izzard-esque stream of rhetorical questions follow...ex-husband sailing to ride comfortably in a sail boat. Information is the constant - let the technology roll around you.

Social Media and Education: The Conflict Between Technology and Institutional Education, and the Future

Thursday, October 30 8:10 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.
Featured Speaker: Social Media and Education: The Conflict Between
Technology and Institutional Education, and the Future
West Hall WF5

* Sarah Robbins-Bell, PhD Candidate, Ball State University

Today's technology enables users to form and join communities of common
interest to learn and share information. In opposition to the privileged
learning spaces of higher education, social media encourage learners to
seek out their own answers and construct knowledge as a community rather
than as individuals. Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and Second Life offer new
learning spaces, but how do they fit into the learning expectations of
Schools and Social Media all offer:
  • Self expression
  • Sharing enthusiasm for common interests - self-organized communities
  • Access to experts and personalities
  • Enhancing person and professional reputation (school- the rep of the college. The online world- your portfolio in social media
  • Build and share skills - "You suck at photoshop"
Social Media changes
  • who we can reach
  • how many people we can reach - we used to have to go through a school to meet mentors
  • our methods of expression
"All communication is educational."
Dialogic communication allows for more community, exchange of ideas.
Social media technologies allow everyone in class to have a voign
Social media creates new ways to learn without the communities and structures created by institutions. Self-motivated people with some critical literacy can replace the kind of learning that institutions provide.

What is the educators role in a world where production and consumption of information is now:
  • Democratic
  • Amateur
  • Distributed - information is crowd-sourced
How do institutions embrace the change?
  • Educators are no longer the Gatekeepers of knowledge (this is the value of ins
  • The role of educators is changing
We need to teach students
  • how to learn in an information economy (Henry Jenkins)
  • the importance of contributing to a community (Mike Wesch's webpage)
  • how to relate as more experienced co-creators rather than employers
  • we need to serve as guides as students shape their paths
In a world of social media, educators are more important than ever. We need to create an environment of participation and community.

She told an IT person that they need to be the people that create faculty self-support structures to support the new ways of learning. She said that she does not believe in "digital natives" but students today have a voice in all arenas of their live except school. Give students ways to collaborate better.

An audience member pointed out the irony that she is talking about independent learners and self-direction, yet she is getting a Phd from the very institutions that dole out the status quo. Another asked about the "campus commons that we all grew up with" - Ha! some students worked full-time while going to school. We are really talking about privilege. Another audience member talked about her film class that used expensive film stock instead of digital - again it is a class of students that - many would perfer the opportunity to just express themselves .

Notes: I have always thought that online learning and alternative education are revolutionary. Schools are a privileged silo, a barrier to learning for those without the social background or money to succeed in the academic world.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Teaching and Learning: Teaching Nurse Educause2008: Anesthesia in a Second Life Operating Room Simulation

Wednesday, October 29 3:50 p.m. - 4:40 p.m.
Teaching and Learning: Teaching Nurse Anesthesia in a Second Life
Operating Room Simulation
Room W230CD

* David M. Antonacci, Director of Teaching & Learning Technologies, The
University of Kansas Medical Center
* Stephanie Gerald, Educational Technologist, The University of Kansas
Medical Center

An operating room simulation was developed in Second Life to teach KUMC
Nurse Anesthesia students basic operating room procedures. This
presentation will describe the design, development, usability testing, and
outcomes of this simulation. It will also examine how to adapt our
simulation method to teach procedural content in your courses.

David first started in Second Life in 2004. They are on KUMC Isle.
They began with simple projects:
* Scavenger hunts
* Student poster sessions
* JayHawk Community Living Center
* Virtual Home Assessments

Their goal was to add interaction to courses. Their trajectory was startlingly similar to ours, but why shouldn't it be? They are also a nursing college. Why Second Life?
* low cost
* rapid development
* secure space

Problems of Solutions
* Buying, modifying, or building objects
* Level of realism and functionality
* Visual cues
* Life sized objects too small for Second Life
* Feed back to the user
* Performance evaluation
* How do we assess it?
* Things that the students do are captured automatically and emailed to the teacher

Five Objects
* Main controller - records what avatar clicked on
* Primary objects
* Secondary
* Tertiary objects
* Backgrounds - photographs of real objects pasted into SL

Demonstration in Second Life
Objects email instructor the exact sequence of events that the students selected in setting up the anasthesia.

Teaching and Learning: Mashups, Remixes, and Video Culture: Engaging the YouTube Generation in the Classroom

Wednesday, October 29 11:40 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Teaching and Learning: Mashups, Remixes, and Video Culture: Engaging the
YouTube Generation in the Classroom
Room W230CD

* Peter Decherney, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania
* Renee Hobbs, Professor, Temple University
* Susan Simon, Senior Learning Technologist, Dartmouth College
* Anu Vedantham, Director, Weigle Information Commons, University of

Undergraduate video creation at American University, Dartmouth College, and University of Pennsylvania engages students from a campus-wide mashup contest to courses in several disciplines where videos replace research papers. New-media assignments have ramifications for copyright and fair use, for viral marketing, and for best practices in media education.

Session Link

Links are to the examples and includes presentation links. The students made the videos in the lab or at home. Freshman writing seminars at Penn use video projects in small groups. They use three minute films. Groups of students use voice commentary over video to discuss race in films. They also create podcasts: interviewed restaurant owners about the best philly cheesesteak. The students are creating mashups based on anthropological studies. They have an annual mashup contest. Penn reading project: the students are required to read a book before they come back on campus over the summer. There is now a national video contest. Students are spending hours on these videos and sharing them on YouTube - there is a high level of engagement and student ownership of the learning. Teaching them to do this allows them to be critical viewers of the media and therefore critical citizens - conscious of how consent is manufactured. Cautions: they provided a lab, training, and equipment - there is no pressure on faculty - faculty do not have to train the students. How to assess? There is a link to this conversation on the webpage.

Susan Simon: They have a Student Center for Research, Writing, and Information Technology. She showed the Student Video Projects at Dartmouth website. They have an online form to help the faculty create assignments. There are also collections of previously built assignments and the student final projects. The site contains testimonials from students about the projects. "Visual argument" assignments. This website is very thorough - includes assessment, handouts, training, everything we would need at a community college to create assignments like this. They do a video project survey - we can view the questions. She discussed the benefits of group learning.

Rene Hobbs: Questions of copyright. Founder of the "Media Education Lab" at Temple University and Center for Social Media. Creating a code of best practices in copyrighted media. She asked "What is the purpose of copyright?" She said that the Const. says it is for promoting creativity. There is too much confusion in educational use guidelines. This is why they are creating this "code of best practices." "Transformative use is fair use" and favored by the course. Five principles Code of Best Practices in Fair Use - they claim that we can use any copyrighted material for educational purposes.

Peter Decherney: Talked about the DRM issues. DRM limits media tighter than the law would call for. We do not properly understand the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. They proposed a class of works to be exempted. Proposed an exemption to college libraries for DVDs in their collection. Copyright as censorship. The exemption was granted to educational use in the classroom by media studies film professors. 2009 will see a number of exemption proposals.

Assessing the Student Experience in Second Life

Wednesday, October 29 10:30 a.m. - 11:20 a.m.
Teaching and Learning: Assessing the Student Experience in Second Life
Room W230AB

* Tanya Joosten, Lecturer and Educational Technology Consultant,
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
* AJ Kelton, Director, Emerging Instructional Tech, College of Humanities
& Social Sciences, Montclair State University
* Deborah Keyek-Franssen, Director of Academic Technologies, University of
Colorado at Boulder
* Wendy Shapiro, Senior Academic Technology Officer, Case Western Reserve

For several years, educational innovators have experimented with using
virtual worlds such as Second Life to enhance student learning. Though
many of these implementations seem successful, few have incorporated
structured assessment. This panel brings together practitioners from four
institutions that have conducted such assessments to discuss their
results. This session will be simulcast in Second Life.


I was surprised at how many sessions were here in Second Life. I am really interested in assessment in SL. We need to do this at Tacoma Community College. We use it mostly for a social learning space and as a simulator.

They played a film that introduced SL to those who are not familiar with SL.

Evaluating virtual worlds using social media theory with seven variables. Survey challenges - only two classes returned surveys. High degree of neutral responses. Failure to build online learning community. They did not have enough time to build the assignments (?). 50% thought is was a rich media experience. I will need to look at the numbers to really see how meaning full the statistics were.

Cleveland has 8 islands. Partnering with the city - museums, libraries and clinics. Classes, office hours and building. They discussed a digital storytelling course. They had a culminating experience in Second Life to show their work and discuss it with others. Gathering data on how many people show up and class reflections. They hire actors to be patients in clinical classes and they decided to do that in Second Life.
66 dental students involved in a study - a comparison of real life patients and virtual patients. They gave a lot of qualifications to their assessment!

CU Boulder: discussion of use of island. No real unity of their work. They are evaluating one course. Problems: cost, updating the program in the lab. It is best to have the person who is using SL "passionately" to do the assessment. Did not get access to the island until 2/3rds into the semester. They asked 5 questions and got three students to respond. There was a disconnect between the subject being taught and SL. They started to ask other students in other classes. The "assessment" is informal and includes emails to lab personnel.

The problems that they encountered - lack of structure and no connection to teaching and materials is a problem not only in SL but in face-to-face classes.

Faculty at another institution said that "they never set up a formal assessment process." His evaluations are based on two classes he taught. They had an undeveloped and a faculty developed island. They divided up part of the island to 22 parcels for faculty. Again, it is "informal assessment." Problems: overcoming technical issues. They are teaching science fiction in SL, two English writing classes, cyber law, and ed dept is using it for media in the classroom and meetings. Next year they will have better assessment. Hired 6 students to work 8 hours a week in Second Life. He says that it is easy to use as long as you have a good orientation. They need to be properly acclimated. When the tool is used just because it is cool it is not relevant. There has to be a reason you are using this particular tool rather than anything else. He used it as a virtual classroom - replacing the classroom experience. Students did not care for that. He asks "why assess one tool differently than any other tool?" Answer: this costs money, we should evaluate all the tools we use. Why not assess it when we evaluate other learning platforms.

Notes from Educause: Ramachandran

I am interested in Ramachandran and neurology lately because of claims made by George Siemens and others that there is a direct correlation between how the brain physically functions and how we learn (neurons connecting = learning). I think that there is a lot of psychology that happens between someone firing a neuron and writing an email. There are things that are happening in the brain (including neurons firing) but things like memories are distributed through out the brain. George sent out an interesting article on this called "Memories Are Made of This."

There are 100 billion neurons in the brain and there are ten thousand connections per neuron. The different possible states based on these connections out number the elementary particles in the entire universe. Despite that complexity, we can isolate particular parts of the brain by function based on what we learn from people who have had accidents that slightly damage the brain (strokes or accidents).

Different areas of the brain have different functions but that is different than making a judgement about what is happening at the level of the neuron.

Ramachandran studied the phantom limb syndrome. This happens because the brain maps out the nervous system in a particular part of the brain. The brain remaps the hand into the another portion of the brain. A physical event like amputation doesn't just change the body but rewires the brain. Learned paralysis carries over into the phantom limb. He had shown the connection between visual feedback and relieving pain and paralysis in phantom limbs. Used a mirror in his experiments - having patients move their functioning limb in a mirror and the patients are able to remap the state of their phantom limb with the illusion.

There are things called "mirror neurons" "empathy neurons" - they fire when we reach out and grab something but they also fire when we watch someone grab something. There is a malleability of connections. There is someting in the brain that tells us not to feel pain when someone else is poked but that goes away when we have phantom limbs.

He also studied "synesthesia." Theorie about why people see colors is that they are crazy, on drugs, or something that someone has done in childhood, or that they are being metaphorical. He says that it is a concrete phenomena in the brain - one in 50 are synesthetic. Color and number synesthesia is the most common and the areas are right next to one another in the brain. There is increased "white matter" between the areas. It is genetic, why? Our genes are involved in pruning excess connections in the brain in fetal brain development. In higher sysesthetes days and weeks are colored.

Poets, novelists, and artists are good at creating metaphors - making connections - linking concepts in the brain. Artists are 8 times more likely to be synesthetes. Not everyone has this.

The metaphorical allows us to engage in abstraction. Vision, hearing and touch section of the brain are involved in creating metaphors and abstraction.

Are there unique brain structures from other animals? We do have specialized brain structions the are of the brain that engages in cross modal abstraction. He called personality a neural phenomena.

My sense from this presentation is that we are still a long way off from making generalized statements about teaching and learning from brain imaging studies.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Instructional Design in a Connected World

In reading discussions and listening to George Siemens and Stephen Downes speak in our class, Connectivism and Connected Knowledge, I have heard and read a lot of narrow and overly simplistic definitions of instructional design. Much of what has been said characterizes instructional design as mechanistic, linear, and formulaic. To an extent, there is some truth to this because instructional design has many problems to solve - one of them, for instance, might be that factory workers may need to know how to operate a specific piece of equipment or billing coders in hospitals may need to know some legal procedures. In cases like these, the important thing is that the information is being given clearly, in sequence, and in a way that will ensure that everyone is on the same page. An added bonus would be if you had a good instructional designer who could also include in that training:
  • problem-solving skills,
  • practice sessions that helped users remember the sequence of procudures,
  • interactivity with other learners,
  • attention to multi-modal learning (e.g. visual or aural learners)
  • and a community of professionals where learning would continue
But I am ahead of myself and the above list is not typical of a lot of instructional design.

The other problem that instructional designers have to solve is the unifority of curriculum. I know that the "throw the kids in a bucket of clay and watch them sculpt the Pieta" crowd flinches when they hear this. But the problem goes something like this: if English 101 is a requirement to succeed in Philosophy 110, how do ensure that students are getting the same level of education in all English 101 classes? Now lets say you have a teacher who follows her instincts, doesn't believe in standards and thinks that the students will learn more about writing if they keep a journal, read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence" and just "be here now." In an ideal world, a teacher like that would get on fine, even without tenure, but we do not live in that world yet. Creating that world is not the work of instructional designers. For me to say, "I do not agree with the current standards so everything I design is fundamentally flawed" means that I should be doing something else. It would be as if someone were to hire an engineer to build a bridge and that engineer said "we really should be flying over this river, not driving." I do not particularly like multiple choice tests, for instance, but my job as an instructional designer is to help instructors design the most effective multiple choice tests. I have found that by scaffolding the questions using Bloom's Taxonomy to be a demonstrably effective way to create those tests. Not every theorist likes Bloom, but not every theorist out there is tasked with making a multiple choice test work! And I can't wait around for the Rousseauist utopia to come before I work on the test.

Good instructional designers keep up on the latest learning theories, teaching methods, and instructional technology. We do this not to tell a teacher how to teach, but to help instructors solve problems. Most teachers do some things really well. There are other things that teachers may not like to do, like deliver the same lecture in their history course semester after semester. This teacher would benefit by having someone who could show him how to record lectures and put them online, reserving the classroom for the discussions that he enjoys moderating and participating in. Or an institution wants their employees to be more productive at their work and have the fore-sight to see that it might be a training issue. People often do not do the work you want them to do if you have not told them (or don't know) what that work really is! An instructional designer can look at a job, interview the management and workers, and by bringing everyone together, discover what they need to know and how to build training for that.

Teachers and administrator often do not have the time to keep up on the latest developments in instructional design and technology. Why should they? They have enough cut out for themselves in teaching and staying current in their field, they cannot be expected to wade through all of the commercial hype and rapid changes in technology from day-to-day. An instructional designer is a contact person into the meta-disciplines around instruction. This is not telling anyone how to teach but being a resource of information, tools, and techniques that can increase the interactivity, communication (both in breadth and depth), and community of a course.

In my own day to day work, I wear many hats: counselor, teacher, researcher, education historian, data analyst, administrator, artist, etc. I use a wide variety of methods and tools that are carefully matched to the problems being solved. There are times when I have to think like a Cognitivist ("What would be the most efficient way for students to memorize this information?"), or a Constructivist ("Where in this course can we increase opportunities for students to communicate and share with one another?") or a Connectivist ("How can we create a network that will allow the students to learn now and continue their professional growth?"). Teachers do a lot of things really well, but they don't always know why some of the things they do in the classroom work. An instructional designer can map out the successes to help instructors reproduce it in other areas of their teaching. That mapping out process can then be turned around to help create an institutional course development process: one that does not tell someone how to teach, but how to manage all of the processes that can (or even should) go into a face-to-face or online course.

Instructional designers also create networks: they can connect with other instructional designers, bring new teachers together with experienced teachers, they link instructors to learning opportunities, and help connect students with more experienced students or graduates who are working their professions. Each one of the problems above require communication skills and network building. The work of the instructional designer will always be relevant because ultimately their job is making connections and managing change.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Its Eduriffic!

To be an effective blogucator, each sentence you write must coin or use a neologism. If what you are trying to communicate seems unclear to the uninitiated, ransack the inherent neologuistic confabulator, that rich stew of Greek and Latin that simmers away in the mind of the scholars, for just the right matrix of insinuation and suggestion. Speaking protoparaphrastically in every sentence can be difficult at first but gets easier with every education paper you read. Just replimeme a bit of Descartes and Kant, add a splogin of Lewis Carrol and you are merrily on your way.  Edubloggers can combine words at random and immeasurably enrich the language like describing a new WidgetWare2000 program as "ednutechnotainment." Blogucation requires a new blogagogy that will require a new blogabulary.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Everything REALLY Old is New Again

Indra's Net: This image was designed by Stress...Image via WikipediaIf we are going to make claims about how people think and learn, I think we also need to show that it is not really a new idea. In other words, you can't just say that people think differently because technology has changed us. The human mind can only think the way that it does. The internet is not going to change millions of years of evolution. What we really have to show is that we have thought this way all along and that currently technology is possible only because of the way that we think. Technology is changing the way that we teach, learn, and communicate but we created the technology because we are hard-wired to do it. Current technology (and scientific research) is only a pale metaphor for the actual processes of the human mind. As westerners though, that is not good enough. We have to make truth statements that reflect the facts. Never mind that those facts will change, and one of the reasons why Connectivism is so important is that the facts are changing so fast. No one person, group, or institution will be able to manage all of it. But this is not a new situation, throughout history people have been attempting to manage information that was beyond the limits of our comprehension while enjoying the advantages of collective intelligence through technology. This technology has included art, oral transmission, writing, printing presses, telegraph, radio, television, and computers. The metaphor of knowledge networks has existed even within the earliest stages of technology.

The Tibetan cosmos mandala, for instance, shows a network of jeweled nodes that is probably an image from the Avatamsaka Sutra:

"Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out infintely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel in each "eye" of the net, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars in the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that there is an infinite reflecting process occurring."

This is an oft quoted section of the sutra. What is more interesting to me is the effect of the net. Later in the sutra it says: "Clouds of radient jewels reflected one another...they expounded the vast perspective of the enlightened ones, their subtle tones extending afar, their being no place they did not reach." In other words, there is a synergistic experience in the collective intelligence. We experience the sum of the parts as greater than the whole. This is certainly true in the most recent iteration of knowledge networks and connective knowledge.
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

edublogs: UK Government Research: Web 2.0 does improve learning

edublogs: UK Government Research: Web 2.0 does improve learning: "New research from Scotland and the UK Government shows that Web 2.0 and gaming can and do make a difference to educational attainment and student experience."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Connectivism: Learning Theory or Learning Modality?

Connectivism is one of the latest and important steps in the evolution in thinking about teaching and learning. The ideas in Connectivism account for the changes in teaching and learning that have occurred since the expansion of network culture. We live in a new world of connections: cell phones, texting, Facebook, MySpace, computers, and other developments in technology have changed the way people learn and think. The research shows that students who are able to create networks tend to more successful. According to Barnes and Mattson, more and more Fortune 500 companies are using social media in one form or another to conduct business. Change is occurring at a rapidly increasing pace and there are no signs that it is going to slow down anytime soon.

But is it really a learning theory? One could argue that Connectivism is a learning modality. My main critique of Connectivism is that Connectivism runs the risk of being a return to cognitivism where we become more concerned with an information processing model of the brain that does not adequetely address the complex social and psychological relationships involved in teaching and learning. There is already a body of research into learning modalities that has been tested in the classroom. A simple definition of learning modalities is given by Hutinger who says that learning modalities refers to how learners process and retain information. That doesn’t mean Connectivism can’t be other things than a learning modality as well, but we do well to remember Wittgenstein when he said “it is not a question of whether or not there is life after death but what problem this actually solves.” In other words, what problems does Connectivism being a learning modality actually address? If it is a learning modality:

• It is something that can be assessed like other learning modalities.
• We can then design a Connectivist rubric for learning objects or assignments.
• We can identify it as a new dominant modality on a cultural level. (We went from oral, to written, to Connectivist culture ala McLuhan.)

Does it need to be an epistemology? What if someone harnesses electricity to create light? Does the invention of the light bulb require Thomas Edison to know how photons work? When engineers landed astronauts on the moon, they relied more on Newton than on Einstein although the latter’s theory of gravity is more accurate.

I am impressed with what we can do with Connectivism and how it can shape pedagogy – I don’t know if it can answer the deepest underpinnings of human consciousness. Or let me put it this way, maybe it doesn’t need to yet. If it is the answer to life, the universe, and everything, then let the research be done and then the declarations made. If one has a theory of being, one can then extrapolate an ethical theory from that theory of being. The question right now should be to ask if that is really the best use of Connectivism. Is that the most significant application of this theory? According to Dorin, et al as quoted in Mergal:

• A theory provides a general explanation for observations made over time.
• A theory explains and predicts behavior.
• A theory can never be established beyond all doubt.
• A theory may be modified.
• Theories seldom have to be thrown out completely if thoroughly tested but sometimes a theory may be widely accepted for a long time and later disproved.

To really test this as a theory, we need a clear statement of the unique claims of connectivism, we need to back up the claims of Connectivism with research that will demonstrate its observations and predictions, it needs to suggest a direction of on-going research, and its proponents must be willing to modify the the theory.

Theorists should be comfortable with the questioning their theories. That is part of the scientific process. And that process has to be valued more than the theory. Some people are of a temperament as such that when they are handed magnets and wire, they build a motor; others contemplate the quantum mysteries of the nuclear forces, neither are right or wrong. I am comfortable not knowing – I won’t stay in that position, but finding the answers is not the most important thing when we are in the stage of discovery where we are really first learning what the questions are.

Works Cited:
Barnes, Nora Gainem & Mattson, Eric. (2007) Social Media in the Inc. 500. University of Mass.

Connecting the Corporate Dots. (2006). Knowledge@Wharton.

Huttinger, Patricia. (2001). Learning Modalities: Pathways to Effective Learning. PBS Teachers.

Mergel, Brenda.(1998) Instructional Design & Learning Theory. University of Saskatchewan.

Saturday, October 04, 2008


The iJury Revolution
Being in the middle of jury duty, I have had a lot of time to sit in the waiting room and think about the experience and I have come up with a web 2.0 solution to the jury problem that I think readers of this blog would be interested in. This is your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the next latest, greatest web 2.0 innovation and REVOLUTION in the United States criminal justice system.

What is the problem?
American citizens do not serve on juries. It is their civic duty yet 2/3rds of them do not serve on juries (about the same amount that don't vote either). It is a misdemeanor crime but we do not have the resources to enforce this law. The court system is over-burdened. Those who do come in for jury duty are put on multiple trials and are kept in waiting rooms between being assigned to trials. The jurors are then in terrible moods and this can't be good for defendants! Also, jurors are only paid ten dollars a day. Most Americans wouldn't sell their vote for twice that much (okay, maybe twice that but there had better be beer involved).

The iJury Solution
iJury will lobby to have a thousand dollar fine attached to missing jury duty. We will also lobby to have the pay be raised to $20 a day. All of that may seem harsh to modern Americans, but we will also allow you to chose to have a proxy for $20 dollars a day and all of that will be paid by the govt. Why lose a couple hundred a day at work when for $20 your time is your own? iJury will represent you in court with a virtual representative from one of your international call centers.

How iJury Works
Each of our iJury associates will have gone through the curriculum of a 7th grade civics class and have a rudimentary understanding of the U.S. constitution. They will also be encourage to watch old episodes of Perry Mason, LA Law, and Ironsides. You will fill our a profile online and your personal associate will vote based on your particular prejudices. Your iJury associate will attend the trial virtually and participate in all deliberations.

You Still Come Out Ahead!
Of the $20, half goes to iJury, 1/4th goes to the international call center and $5 goes to you. Everyone wins! America has always been strengthened by those from other countries, why should we limit that opportunity only to immigrants? Shouldn't citizens of other countries have an opportunity to participate as well? Act now and get in on the next web 2.0 bonanza.

Oliver Sacks and Music

A few days ago, I was thinking about Connectivism (the theory of life, the universe, and everything) and was trying to think about how such a theory would account for music: nothing huge, a simple theme from the aria in the Goldberg Variations, for instance. I am not talking about anything complex - something that any child could pick out on the recorder. There isn't anything in my experience of music that suggests a linear, sequential, experience of music that could be plugged in successfully to a concept map. What I mean by successfully is that it would account, even partially, for the experience. I experience music with my whole body and mind (are they really separate?) emotionally, intellectually, and with some music, even a simple tune, to the deepest psychological core of my being. I don't know if I can really account for all of that. Maybe a Buddhist monk has the awareness, time, and focus. I am fully ready to admit my intellectual short-comings. How much of this kind of exercise is an attempt to lift one's self up with one's bootstraps? How does the knower know the knower or the act of knowing? Why are we reading materials that name-drop philosophers and their theories like so many baseball cards? I do not believe that anyone can "simply read modern epistemology" and find anything evident (not with a simple reading). Our knowledge of ourselves and the world around us is much too dynamic for that anyway.

Okay, so in a not impossible but highly improbable coincidence, I turn on the radio and there is Oliver Sacks talking about some of the same issues. He was talking about what our experience of music tells us about the human brain. He talked about what the brain experiences when we experience music. He says that MRIs show that there is no one place in the brain that is active when we are listening to music. There are 20 to 30 places in the brain that show activity: auditory, analytical, temporal, etc. and what is more interesting is that he says that it is never then same areas in any one person. My point about this, and I have made it before, is that the human brain may be too complex to be reduced to a neuron+neuron=learning formula. That a two dimensional, or three dimensional representation can at best only be a metaphor and not a wiring diagram of the mind. But what is wrong with admitting that it is a metaphor? The one of the messages of some of the sutras (and some western philosophers) is that we are metaphors for Being-Itself.

For me, Connectivism answers questions about networked relationships, how learning occurs between conscious beings in a network, how technology is changing the way we learn and think. Those are huge concerns. I think the idea that it is going to account for psychology, semiotics, and epistemology is a little ambitious - especially for a single class! I am not here to "influence" (unless it means to annoy the credulous, then yes) or to be a nay-sayer. I think that before we say something is the Ultimate Answer, we had better be clear about the questions we are asking and answering. You also don't get to pick and choose what questions are in or out of the realm of Connectivism's concern - that is too convenient. If it is a theory of knowledge, then it has to account for all the ways that we know things.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Histories of the Internet

This is an expansion of the a posting I made in the Moodle forum for Connectivism and Connective Knowledge.

In any discussion of the "history of networked learning" I think we need to look at learning networks in a broader, historical sense that is not really covered by the "march of progress" time-lines we usually see on the internet concerned with the history of the internet; maybe it is because I began my education as an English major with an interest in psychology and history. The technology that facilitates the current version of learning networks is only that: the current version. It is important to remember the milestones of the traditional history but they always leave out pornography, spam, games, advertising, conspiracy theorists, hackers, crackers, d&d, and the nigerian scams as forces that significantly shaped the networks as we know them today. I think we need a history of the internet that includes that.

All of that may sound like I am being funny but lets just take hackers for instance. You cannot go to hacker school. Your success as a hacker will depend on the networks you create with other hackers and what kind of information those networks provide.

I am still trying to wrap my head around the idea of a knowledge existing in a network as something empirical: it is suspect (as all "scientific" theories should be). I wonder how much of seeing the mind as a network may have more to do with our mammalian bilaterial symmetry and breaking the world into a three-dimensional order based on the limitations of our perception in the face of randomness and chaos of the world than any actual truth about the nature of mind. What does a learning network look like to a being with radial symmetry?

One of my favorite "histories of the internet" is Philippe Codognet's The Semiotics of the Web which includes hints of the proto-internets that lay archetypically in the human mind throughout history.