Archive for July 2009
It is a job and a half being in an educational institution’s IT Services these days. Rationing is acute, and technological obsolescence endemic.
The US not-for-profit organisation Educause has published findings from its Top Ten IT Issues Survey of institutional ‘Chief Information Officer” (in the US I believe this is a board level head of information technology). I’ll reproduce the issue on Learning and Teaching with Technology:
“Teaching and Learning with Technology — formerly E-Learning / Distributed Teaching and Learning — ranked #5 this year, moving up from #9 in the 2008 survey. With the increasing availability of technology-based learning tools both internal and external to the institution, the role of the CIO and other IT leaders is expanding to encompass many teaching and learning domains. The trend toward augmenting instruction with technology creates opportunities and substantial challenges for those who must respond to increasingly diverse and fluid instructional environments. CIOs have become crucial to instructional units because they provide leadership in evaluating and supporting the teaching technologies that underlie multiple forms of distributed learning.
A growing proportion of learning takes place outside the traditional boundaries of the classroom, facilitated by applications such as social networks and technologies that support a culture in which everyone creates and shares. In the current economic environment, IT leaders must make decisions about whether or not to accommodate these miscellaneous technologies. Further, they are being asked to provide technological direction for cultural transformations — such as information fluency — that involve library faculty, department faculty, technology specialists, and students as co-creators of knowledge. Finding the proper balance between systemic and ad hoc technologies will be fundamental for IT leaders as they respond to a student generation that prefers less passive and more agile learning. These instructional modalities will foster transformational innovations such as the need for e-portfolios in a reflective, contextual, authentic, and active learning environment.
All of these developments play out in a landscape where IT leaders bear responsibility for systems that support institutional functionality, that protect the privacy and security of faculty members, students, administrators, and staff, that safeguard information and intellectual property, that respond to the data and information needs of the institution, and that provide effective means of communication. This responsibility forces IT leaders to function in a mediated environment — one in which they must manage dwindling resources, increasing demands, and the necessity for a collaborative establishment of effective priorities with administrative and academic constituencies.
Critical questions for Teaching and Learning with Technology include the following:
- To what extent are IT leaders involved in active communities of practice, sharing ideas that facilitate consensus for information and instructional technology?
- What mechanisms are used to provide information about the effectiveness and possible reformulation of institutional technology? Are evaluation results shared on an institution-wide basis with opportunities for reflection?
- How are IT leaders taking an active role in informing key stakeholders about the necessary policy realignments caused by emerging technologies?
- What mechanisms are in place for faculty development? How are faculty members involved in the process?
- What system is in place to examine and reevaluate institutional structures for campus technology on a regular basis?”
“About a month ago Robert Scoble blogged about abandoning Twitter and Friendfeed. He said that he thought “real-time systems” like these and other micro-blogging tools were hurting long term knowledge. Turns out that he’s mostly worked up about the lack of archiving and quality of search.
On April 19th, 2009 I asked about Mountain Bikes once on Twitter. Hundreds of people answered on both Twitter and FriendFeed. On Twitter? Try to bundle up all the answers and post them here in my comments. You can’t. They are effectively gone forever. All that knowledge is inaccessible. Yes, the FriendFeed thread remains, but it only contains answers that were done on FriendFeed and in that thread. There were others, but those other answers are now gone and can’t be found.
This is not exactly the same idea as the theme in this post, because a lot of what bothers him can be solved technically. But there is evidence that faster, easier, access to current awareness broadens our absorption of the present and thins out our access to the past. Simply put, too much of now means less and less memory.
This was quite dramatically illustrated about a year ago by sociologist of science James Evans, who published a paper in the journal Science entitled “Electronic Publication and the Narrowing of Science and Scholarship”. Evans analysed citation activity across several large databases of journals (including arts and humanities) through their evolving history, because he wanted to see what would happen with how scientists and scholars responded to the increasing availability of back files going back in time, as journals were retroactively digitised. How would online access influence knowledge discovery and use? One of his hypotheses was that “online provision increases the distinct number of articles cited and decreases the citation concentration for recent articles, but hastens convergence to canonical classics in the more distant past.”
In fact, the opposite effect was observed.
As deeper backfiles became available, more recent articles were referenced; as more articles became available, fewer were cited and citations became more concentrated within fewer articles. These changes likely mean that the shift from browsing in print to searching online facilitates avoidance of older and less relevant literature. Moreover, hyperlinking through an online archive puts experts in touch with consensus about what is the most important prior work—what work is broadly discussed and referenced. … If online researchers can more easily find prevailing opinion, they are more likely to follow it, leading to more citations referencing fewer articles. … By enabling scientists to quickly reach and converge with prevailing opinion, electronic journals hasten scientific consensus. But haste may cost more than the subscription to an online archive: Findings and ideas that do not become consensus quickly will be forgotten quickly.”
“I particularly like the MP3 experiments, events at which Improv Everywhere distribute an audio file to people for free as a podcast. Participants gather in a physical venue with their own digital audio players, and everyone hits “play” at the same time. For about half an hour, hundreds of people play together, silently, as directed by disembodied voices inside their headphones. The MP3 experiment is a model for how a typically isolating experience—listening to headphones in public—can become the basis for a powerful interpersonal experience with strangers. In this way, the MP3 experiment is an example of the ways that technological barriers can become benefits by mediating otherwise uncomfortable interactions.
The MP3 experiment is an exercise in following instructions. The voice tells you what to do –stand up, shake hands, play Twister, make silly shapes—and you do it. Over the years, the experiment has grown in popularity (recently, thanks to this NYT article), and the participants have a sense that they will be asked to do something a little unusual in the context of the event. But it’s still impressive how quickly the recording sets a supportive tone in the face of absurdity. And I think there are lessons in the details of the recording for anyone interested in encouraging visitors/users/participants to step outside their comfort zones and try something new.”
Returned from holiday to see there was a new Routledge book out, Giving a Lecture: From Presenting to Teaching, 2nd Edition by Kate Exley and Reg Dennick “addressing a number of rapid developments that have occurred since its first publication in 2004”. From this I deduce it’s more tooled up. On a similar theme, I also started reading Kay and LeSage’s recent paper Examining the benefits and challenges of using audience response systems: A review of the literature (Computers & Education;53(3):819-827), which includes the section Challenges to using ARS (we call this ‘Personal Response Systems’ or ‘clickers’).
How can different technologies improve the existing lecture or presentation format towards a better learning experience? And – given that not everything that works is good – are the improvements consonant with a better teaching experience?
“The vision of your presentation is far reaching and yet here we all are, sitting in rows facing the authority figure at the front, silent for an hour. It’s like the photo of the 1960s primary school in one of your slides. The difference between rhetoric and reality is stark. So my question is this. If all the constraints (about which we are all aware and understanding) were removed, would you change this presentation? If so, how? Is there anything you would try to preserve, and why?”
John paraphrased the question as “how do we square the rhetoric of ‘Learning 2.0′ with the ‘industrial-age’ pedagogy that is still the basic format of so many such events?” and solicited responses from his readers, which you can read below his post.
I wasn’t trying to make a point with the question – I found John Connell’s keynote pertinent and engaging and, in fact, all a keynote should be. When he asked me at lunchtime what I would have changed, I basically replied “Nothing”.
I agreed with the third commenter Greg Cruey when he wrote:
“…while it shouldn’t be the only tool you have, I really don’t feel badly about standing in front of a group of mature, skillful, willing, self-motivated learners and talking to them – especially with the help of a good slide presentation, especially if some discussion is allowed. This is particularly true if my goal is change the way they think about something or to persuade them of something. It is less true if I’m trying to impart a skill.”
But while I agree with John (different John) when he says (#7):
“Your audience will have come up through ‘industrial-age’ pedagogy successfully. They may be more comfortable with this than ‘learning 2.0′ experience.”
On the other hand, commenter Ruby:
“I often get “accused” of wanting to change everything to bring in new technology, but in fact I don’t have a problem with re-assessing what we already do and then deciding what is the best way, given the huge variety of possibilities now available.”
Other pointers – commenter Michelle Selinger links to the AACE online conference Spaces of Interaction which was about transforming the way conferences are run. See the conference archive for audio, slides and the archived (fossilised!) real-time discussion in text-chat form.
The best a presenter can achieve is to create the circumstances under which their audience can do the work of testing the logic of their arguments and thinking through the implications – “How does this fit with what I know already?” and “If that is the case then what else is true?” This is one perspective from which to evaluate potentially transformative technologies.
As a learning technologist with a practical as well as scholarly remit, the least I can do is try out promising new types of experience, shine a light on them and attempt to persuade colleagues to do the same.
It seems to me to follow from this that it would be helpful if e-learning conferences were supported to be experimental events, for the following reasons:
- The organisers can be pretty confident that the audience comprises enthusiasts who will be understanding about cock-ups.
- The presenters are sufficiently educationally aware to safeguard the learning experience of their audience, to avoid them being overwhelmed
- I think it’s important – for the sake of empathy and (self-)credibility – that those of us who urge or welcome experimentation become proof of concept by experimenting ourselves in higher-stakes settings, with all the aptitudes, contingency design and potential pratfalls this implies.
- We’d see new tools showcased by people invited for their vision and ideas, and it would be dynamite
- We’d appreciate the barriers between how presenters do things now and how they might do things if we were unrestricted; it’s helpful to reveal the ducks legs paddling furiously.
I’m far from the first person to have formed this opinion, but again the reality is very different. Certainly, conservative expectations discourage experimentation, as John Connell implied in a further post triggered by an account, by another keynote speaker, of how he somewhat aggravated his audience by addressing them from the seating area instead of the stage.
There’s more to that but time’s up for me so I have to leave it dangling.
The Higher Education Academy (HEA) have funded an extension of my review of the literature on academic engagement in professional activities. The review aims for a better understanding of the successes and informative failures experienced by academic developers working with academic teaching staff to kindle an appreciation of the potential of technologies, and to support practices which express educational values.
It identifies a number of practices which emerged as helpful to academic developers, discusses the limitations of the work, and concludes by posing a number of questions to the sector.
You can have a look at the groundwork in the form of:
- A digest of research papers and reports (March 09, on which the proposal was based)
- A presentation (March 09)
- Update: the report is now published on the HEA’s EvidenceNet.
I reproduce the rationale for the project below:
“Ground-breaking technology-enhanced learning (TEL) exists, but often contained within pockets of expertise.
There was a period of intense research interest in academic development for TEL in the early years of this decade, followed by a lull – perhaps evidence of a fatalistic institutional outlook which regards reluctance as a function of seniority and, ignoring the unwillingness of the junior conscripts to professional development courses, assumes that younger academics will emerge with good instincts about TEL.
But engagement is not comprehended by attendance, or even by technology use. Engagement is better thought of as what is done that is intrinsically, rather than extrinsically, motivated, or what is done with enthusiasm under circumstances of coercion, and how ideas about learning permeate what is done. Most development is informal.
Independent and disruptive as it is, Web 2.0 is intriguing here. The meaning-making potential of ‘Google Generation’ learners requires nurturing (Rowlands, 2008) as always. Academics are or aren’t experimenting with Web 2.0 – my opportunistic mini-questionnaire on Goldsmiths’ VLE after the snow closures suggests mostly not. There are few systems in place to acquaint central departments – whose major role is dissemination – either way.
This independence from the centre may be cherished. Academic allegiance – Wenger’s (2003) community of practice – is principally disciplinary rather than institutional. Frequently, national agendas interpreted locally meet resistance. McWilliam (2001) identified ‘Machiavellian’ subversion of local initiatives for their paucity of academically-engaging qualities such as rigour, evidence, scepticism, theory and intellectual stimulation, and (Beetham, 2001) the opportunity to critique the initiative itself. When departmental heads appease the centre and their department by diverting their TEL through a single champion, learners may be (superficially) satisfied but the expertise can be easily lost and the practices, undefended.
However, the centre – management and support departments – is valued as bridging between academics in different departments, for interpreting national initiatives and developments, and for actualising ideas. Without cross-fertilisation, challenge, and external interest, local communities of practice can become parochial. It is the role of central departments to organise and scaffold occasions for reflection.
I began a review of the literature on engaging academics in professional development for TEL (Vogel, 2009a, 2009b), focusing hitherto on peer-reviewed literature. This work has uncovered some gaps.
The academic perspective is faint – few academics who experience development interventions have the confidence, methodologies or discourses to reflect on their practice or to write for educational publications (Shephard, 2004).
Development interventions tend to be reported from the perspective of the professional developer. Often engagement is glossed in the reports, which tend to be concerned with the process of designing and running the intervention, and conceptualise engagement as, for example, voluntary attendance. Since professional developers tend to work primarily with academics, the impact of the intervention tends to be viewed from the academics’ perspective – even where learners are involved (Salmon, 2008).
In summary, there is a need to search the peer-reviewed and ‘gray’ literature for a better understanding of academic engagement in professional development for TEL today.”
This is great for us learning technologists, won’t take us out of our way, and will help us in pursuing the aims and objectives of our department.
All web pages accessed 29 March 2009.
Masterman L and Vogel M (2007). Practices and processes of design for learning. In: Beetham H and Sharpe R (2007). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. London: Routledge.
McWilliam E (2000). Against professional development. Educational Philosophy and Theory;34(3);289-299
Rowlands I, Nicholas D, Huntingdon P, et al (2008). The information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Available: http://tinyurl.com/2zd26a
Salmon G, Jones S and Armellini A (2008) Building institutional capability in e-learning design. Alt-J;16(2)95-109
Shephard K (2004). The role of educational developers in the expansion of educational technology. International Journal for Academic Development;9(1):67-83
Vogel (2004) Documents for ePBL project, including review of ePBL literature. Available: http://tinyurl.com/cht55q
Vogel M (2009a). A review of literature on the engagement of academics in professional development activities for e-learning. Available: http://tinyurl.com/cy4j9y
Vogel M (2009b). The engagement of academics in professional development for e-learning. Presentation to the M25 Learning Technologists meet-up, 27 March 2009. Available: http://tinyurl.com/ckuqbr
Vogel M and Oliver M (2006). Design for learning in Virtual Learning Environments – insider perspectives. Available from: http://tinyurl.com/d2n978
Wenger, E (2003) Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. In: Nicolini, D, Gherardi S, Yanow D (2003) Knowing in organizations: a practice-based approach. M.E. Sharpe, 2003
ISBN 0765609118, 9780765609113 (Google Book)
Weasel Televisual Enterprises presents A Librarian’s Guide to Understanding Academic Copyright
- Directory of Open Access Journals
- Wikipedia on the Open Access Movement
- Read James Boyle’s 2008 book Enclosing the Commons of the Mind (normal kinds of price for hard copy but free download)
- Something critical on the RAE 2008 and its consolidation of closed access
- Open Access increases downloads, citations and impact – a bibliography maintained by Steve Hitchcock
- Declaration and statement of principles of the World Summit on the Information Society
Hat tip: Bekky
UNESCO’s World Conference on Higher Education 2009 being webcast.
An overview can be found at Inside Higher Ed, including reference to a new 22-page report, Trends in Global Higher Education – Tracking and Academic Revolution.
Incidentally, one of the authors, Philip Altbach, has raised good questions about the marvellously ambitious, free, global online university, the University of the People, which launched this year with a fanfare from the UN and is currently accepting enrolments for September 2009 and seeking volunteers.
The courses offered at this early stage fall within three programmes, and are modular. Study is technology-dependent, but technology use is modest, drawing on established tools like facilitated discussion forums and email.
This is an exciting and potentially cataclysmic development. UoPeople is run on an altruistic, technology-dependent and technology-enhanced, peer-learning model, with no tuition. If it works it will be proof of concept of these ideas in higher education.
I’m not sure what you think of the promotion so far, but I am missing an ethos (apart from the obvious and admirable one that education should be free and available to all). Learning is not solely about grasping facts – in order to make use of them you need certain attitudes and values, for example creativity and a critical, unprejudiced mindset. Currently these kinds of concerns are absent from the UoPeople’s identity.
The first hurdle for UoPeople, however, is gaining accreditation. Quality is not a concern which comes through strongly on the site. You’d imagine confidence, expressed as accreditation, would sink or float the initiative. Clearly, with learners shaping their own experiences and with no way, currently, to verify that the student who is assessed is the student who claims the credit (a long-standing problem for distance learning which is also true for established forms of learning), the idea of accreditation will need a rethink. But because I know little about accreditation I’ll stop there. I am rooting for UoPeople and hope it becomes a superb learning institution.
UoPeople blogs (mostly community-building and not related to learning), tweets (more relevant to the matter university learning), and YouTubes. The Facebook area is active with ‘fans’ from all over the globe.
P.S. Dispiriting that there are no women on the advisory board. I also hoped for more in the way of educational theory, given the huge departure from established university models. But in fact, despite widespread concern with metacognitive skills, established universities give little away about this either and I wouldn’t want to set a higher standard. Better watch the vids.
Update – relatedly, get your brains round this: The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age, a freely available report from the Massachussettes Institute of Technology. I thought it was visionary – the part which most stood out was on Wikipedia:
“To ban sources such as Wikipedia is to miss the importance of a collaborative, knowledge-making impulse in humans who are willing to contribute, correct, and collect information without remuneration: by definition, this is education. To miss how much such collaborative, participatory learning underscores the foundations of learning is defeatist, unimaginative, even self-destructive.”