Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Connectivist 18th Century

I have written a couple of postings discussing the idea that Connectivism isn't new (it is just highly relevant right now). There is an interesting note in USA Today by Elizabeth Weise on a project at Stanford called "The Republic of Letters" put together by Dan Edelstein and Paula Findlen that visually maps the networks of letter writers in the 18th century. The project graphically reveals the networks through dynamic animation. Oxford University supplied information on 50,000 letters (15,000 of them written by Voltaire). Today's social media is merely faster and cheaper.

Weise writes "The 18th century was alive with networks. Despite what some might think today, they weren’t invented when the first email was sent in 1971.

'In fact, going all the way back to the Renaissance, scholars have establish

ed themselves into networks in order to receive the latest news, find out the latest discoveries and circulate the ideas of others,' says Edelstein."

This project is a good example of cross discipline studies (History, French, and programming) helping us gain an understanding of where we are now and where we are going. Truly in the spirit of connective knowledge.

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Monday, December 28, 2009

I Predict Things Will Remain the Same...

Cutaway view of a space colony.Image via Wikipedia

...only very shiny.

I always brace myself at this time of year for all the predictions that are going to come out for the following decade. These "predictions" are often a way to express our hopes and fears and often have little to do with how technology and history play themselves out. Who would have predicted medical simulations in virtual worlds? Or that the next latest and greatest computer for the classroom would be the phone? What astounds me about predictions for the future is how much of the past world-views get projected forward. Predictions are often ways to repackage our best loved prejudices and preserve them for the future.

Larry Cuban's "An End of Year Prediction," for instance, gives us the same fears of online learning repackaged.

"Proponents talk about how this form of teaching and learning as a powerful innovation that will liberate learning from the confines of brick-and-mortar buildings. Estimates (and predictions) of online learning becoming the dominant form of teaching turn up repeatedly and, somehow, fade." This has not been the case at all. Online learning has been nothing but a growth industry. And it will continue to be, not just for colleges but for the k-12 as well. The economy is in such a state that online learning is pretty much here to stay. According to the Sloan Report, K-12 Online Learning: a 2008 Follow-Up Survey, the overall number of K-12 students engaged in online courses in 2007-2008 was estimated at 1,030,000. "This represents a 47% increase since 2005-2006" and this number is increasing for this year as well.

"Nonetheless, by 2020, well over 90 percent of public school students will be in places called schools going at least 180 days a year to self-contained classrooms where a teacher will be in charge." This will simply not be the case because no one can afford to build the schools in the traditional sense. This statement ignores what is happening in brick and mortar schools. They are turning more and more towards technology to solve their problems. Notice the concern with the teacher being in charge. I really hope those attitudes change.

Cuban goes on to say that "The error that online champions make decade after decade (recall that distance learning goes back to the 1960s) is that they forget that schools have multiple responsibilities beyond literacy. Both parents and voters want schools to socialize students into community values, prepare them for civic responsibilities, and yes, get them ready for college and career. Online courses from for-profit companies and non-profit agencies cannot hack those duties and responsibilities." This shows a real lack of understanding of what online education is and what is possible. The only way one could write such a statement is to have no real interest in the field of online learning or educational technology. There are many studies that show that it is a successful medium for interacting, learning and building community; all skills that are certainly needed in the 21st century workplace.

"Online instruction will continue to expand incrementally," writes Cuban, "but will still be peripheral to regular K-16 schooling. End of prediction." The joke here is that it is expanding exponentially. Just in my own workplace it has expanded 100% and nationally it is increasing steadily at

According to the USDLA, "Distance learning is used in all areas of education including Pre-K through grade 12, higher education, home school education, continuing education, corporate training, military and government training, and telemedicine.

I predict that predictions will go on being made that ignore research, the facts, and reinforce the power dynamics of the medieval classroom. There are many articles and stories that discuss the expansion of online learning in the K-12. A good place to start is at eCampus which has a number of articles on this page that discuss the rapid expansion of e-learning.
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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Digital Writing, Digital Teaching - Integrating New Literacies into the Teaching of Writing

Image of a wooden pencil sharpener.Image via Wikipedia

I wanted to write a brief note recommending Troy Hick's excellent blog, Digital Writing, Digital Teaching. I live in a schizophrenic shadow world of being an instructional designer (lots of tech) and a former English teacher (where's the pencil sharpener?), and I really appreciate the natural merging of these fields that this blog represents. Recently I heard George Siemens define literacy as facility in the dominant media of the day; this blog is a great big step in that direction. This is generally rare in English departments. It is also a very useful blog because he links to his syllabus, teaching tips and assignment ideas.

When today's students go into the modern workplace, they will not be asked to write a 10 page paper on how new media can be used to promote collaborative work. They will be judged on their ability to actually do that. English departments can be the place where the traditional writing skills, rhetoric (in the good old classical sense), and critical thinking can be brought together with social networking and the new media.
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