Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On Brain Rewiring and Speed of Access

Report from the Lurker field :-)
The other day I was reading a blog post, part of #change11, on connectivism from someone newly introduced to the theory. Now, I've said before, and I will say it again that connectivism doesn't fully do it for me. I think it has some valid points but I dispute the claim that learning happens faster/better due to our technologically connected world.  A learning theory, in my mind anyway, needs to explain human learning at the most basic levels, not with specific factors in mind (think of Chomsky's Universal Grammar for example, it doesn't just try to explain English, but rather all human languages -same with learning theories, not just learning in a technology rich environment, but all learning).

In any case, this particular blog post mentions brain rewiring (specifically referring to Prensky†) and how this is a technological sensory input is so new that we have yet to comprehend how it can affect teaching, learning, instructional design and a few other things.  To this I say bollocks.  Listen, technology is a tool, similar to hammers, axes and books. You can do a lot of things with computers and computing devices, just like you can do with other tools. Not all tools have the same sensory input, this is true, but to claim that brain rewiring is due to access to technology and ubiquitous information is just plain wrong.  Our brains have been rewiring themselves for millennia, it is not a new phenomenon, and it's not due to computing technology or access to information.  We've had access to information, freely, in the form of public libraries for at least several hundred years.

Some other things that need a thorough examination (and some of which really warrant a facepalm):

This ability to find information from new and diverse sources and incorporate it into previous knowledge or patterns is the truly new and innovative aspect of Connectivism that has the greatest potential for impacting education and learning. The ability to incorporate new information into existing knowledge or to synthesize new knowledge from multiple new sources of information is not a skill that really existed prior to the Information Age.

Oh please! If this were really the case we wouldn't have had scholarship up to now that pushed our boundaries of what we know, and we wouldn't have had the great inventions that we have now as compared to event 100 years ago!  We have always (in recorded history anyway) had the ability to get information from diverse sources and incorporate it into previous knowledge to have new ideas emerge.  This is not a new skill!

Previously, most knowledge was gained through a hands-on, face-to-face interaction within the context in question. Virtual reality and the incredible connectivity of the digital world now allow access to data, simulation, and collaboration without physical proximity or a need to actually handle materials or interact in person. We live in a physical world and our senses are geared to process data from the physical world we are in contact with. Processing virtual information and data is a new skill that instructional designers and educators need to consider very carefully when thinking about how to best facilitate learning in the Digital Age.

Again, this is false, and perhaps an allusion to Behaviorism.  While certain knowledge was gained through hands on interaction (i.e. trying to touch fire and getting burned), we have moved way beyond that.  Our young still have to learn some of those lessons "the hard way", but we have had knowledge in books, newspapers and magazines for a very long time.  We've been thinking abstractly and virtually way before the internet came along.  We didn't need physical proximity or the need to handle materials in person to learn that E=mc2.  Modality does matter in some sense, but collaboration is collaboration regardless of modality. It's just means that the lag between send and receive is less, which means that you have to wait less than you did before.  Just because you wait less, doesn't mean that you are actually learning faster (or better).  As my tae kwon do teacher told me once: a form isn't about speed, but accuracy - take your time!

Anyway, those were my thoughts on that blog post - as far as brain rewiring and speed of access go...no more rants...for now ;-)

† by the way, if you want to be taken seriously, never refer to Prensky's work.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Big Picture- remix (Food!)

I decided to try my hand at one of the assignments for DS106 this week, and I went with the Big Photo Remix. The idea was to take a photo from the big picture and add typography to change its meaning.  I don't think I was that great in the typography aspect, but changing its meaning I may have done a better job ;-)

The actual photo is of people at the train station going home for new years.  Of course, when I saw this photo a (funny) alternative meaning is that of the graduate student rushing to where there is free food on campus - the stereotype being that graduate students take advantage of all possible free meals on campus (I know that as a graduate student I have done some of this, but I am not sure how true the stereotype is)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Personal cyberinfrastructure - neat idea...but...

This week, the main topic of DS106 seems to be personal cyberinfrastucture, and the reading from Gardner Campbell associated with this week is available on Educause. It was an interesting reading, and a short one at that.  The main idea is that instead of giving students a prepackaged webspace where they can only run HTML (or maybe PHP), get them a free virtual server where they can run anything they want (like Apache, wordpress, coldfusion, etc.) so that they can experiment freely. It is through this experimentation that they will learn.  I must say I agree that people learn through experimentation - I must have pulled my old (first) Mac open a few times to peek inside, and I must have corrupted my system volume  quite a lot of times to see what makes a computer work (or not work!).

This also fits in with another MOOC that I've been following along (a little less now since it's becoming less and less structured) - change11 and the theme of changing higher education.

Let me just say that I agree that students ought to have a space, that they call their own, and that they can experiment.  They need to be able to develop that digital literacy in a way that's not constraining.  In a similar fashion, on my own campus, I've been advocating for a required course on computer and information literacy for each and every incoming freshman - similar to the required math and english coursework that they have to do. This recommendation comes from 13 years of seeing students graduate and not be able to use a computer effectively. There is only one problem: where does such a course fit? Does it replace some other requirement? If so, how do you deal with the politics of courses that were once required that now are not? Do you augment the requirement for a BA/BS by another 3 credits?  Does it become a non-credit course that you have to take?

It's quite interesting that these types of questions go unanswered because people don't want to touch them with a 10 foot pole :-)  Until these hard questions are asked and answered, I don't see information & computer literacy (and by extension personal cyberinfrastrucutres) taking off on colleges across the country. Just my 2 cents.

Friday, January 20, 2012

DS106 - Week 1 - the web domain.

This must be the easiest thing I've ever had to do for a course - absolutely nothing ;-) The preparatory items for this week include getting you own domain, which I have (http://www.club-admiralty.com) and getting some web server space. Having had a website for a long time that stuff is done.

My website is designed using Rapidweaver. If you are a mac user, and you want something lighter weight than dreamweaver, wish awesome support, check out realmacsoftware and their Rapidweaver product. Why do I still use blogger?  Well, as a CMS I like it, and if I change web hosting providers I don't need to worry about my content.  RapidWeaver has a nice 3rd party plug-in that harvests your content from your blogger blog and re-displays my blogger content using the theme settings that are available on my site (click here for an example of this blog redisplayed on my site).  The one glitch I haven't worked out is this: when using Disqus as my comment system, on my redisplayed blog, I get a 500 error (go ahead, try it.  Go to the link I just gave you and try to comment on a post, you can't!).

Oh well.  With my course beginning next week, I am not sure how much time I have for #ds106, but I wanted to participate last year and I didn't, so here's to giving it a good ol' college try!  My goal (let's see if I keep it) is to do one assignment per week.

Looks forward to the interactions with my fellow #ds106 peeps.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Change the Dissertation

OK, attempt #2 at this post, first time around BlogPress ate my blog post, or rather it lied and said that it posted it but in fact it just lost it! Let's see if the blogger app on my iPhone fares any better.

Anywho, I was reading this article from inside higher edu last week on the MLA's bold plans to change the dissertation (queue the Oooooooh sound track) - see bottom for link since I can't really do much Wysiwyg on this app.

I've written before on the topic of updating PhD programs but I dont think I've touched upon the dissertation aspect. Some tend to see their dissertation as the magnum opus of their student career (at least I hope it's tier student career and not their entire career). They see it as a solitary path, between them and their committees - perhaps this is why we have so Many dissertations in university archives gathering dust...

As you might be able to tell I have a different view. Working in academia for more than 10 years now I have come to see the dissertation metamorphose from the boogie man (this was earlier me) to an academic exercise that shows odd your skills in research and critical thinking. Adding new Knowledge to the world's repository is only an incidental by product (and a badly used one at that since in my experience dissertations are going unused).

So if this is the case, showing off that you can do research, why not show it off with actually publishing a series of smaller pieces in peer reviewed journals? Why not create a documentary or a open educational resource that can be used by more people and shows off that you can research and write? Or maybe a combination of the above? There is no need for a dissertation to be defined as a book-style document, with X-Many chapters ad x-many appendixes, formatted with 1 inch margins except for the chapter heading pages that are 1.5 inches from the top and other arcane rules.

There are obviously bottlenecks that prevent institutions from just turning on a dime - the evaluators do not know how to evaluate alternatives to the book style dissertation and as such can't advise PhD candidates and can't judge adequately the quality of their work. Hopefully in the not too distant future there will be more options for the PhD dissertation.

IHE link: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/01/09/mla-considers-radical-changes-dissertation

SOPA/PIPA Protest Day

PROTECT IP / SOPA Breaks The Internet from Fight for the Future on Vimeo.

Prognostications on the 21st century and higher education

I was reading a number of posts last week on Change11 on the topic of the 21st century University. Given how far things had progressed in the previous century it's hard to prognosticate on anything that's more than 10 years away...so in lieu of a guess or prophecy of what is to come, here's more of a wish: let's all just learn to work together!

This past year I had attended a few conferences, both in person and virtually, and I've met colleagues that have been in situations that are similar to my own: their online and face-to-face sides of the institution are different, with different funding lines and different organizational charts. This type of organizational behavior does have adverse reactions in the teaching and learning realm in that more innovative teaching and learning opportunities are hampered by campus politics and funding lines. In our institution for example, face to face courses are offered through the "regular" university; while online courses, as well as hybrid courses are offered through University College (formerly the division of continuing education).

This means that degree granting programs may be left traversing the political waters of the institution when they want to offer more than one delivery mechanism to their curriculum. Variety, they say, is the spice of life, so a course can be offered as face to face, hybrid, HyFlex, or online depending on the student demographic and the reach of the course, but institutional structures may prevent having something offered as anything other than face to face.

I hope that in the next few years these barriers can come down and the modality of the course will be chosen based on factors other than the college through which it is offered, this way everyone can benefit from the delivery method that is best suited to the course. :-)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Universal Course Design

I came across this video on Universal Course Design at my University over the weekend.
Pretty nifty, despite the dated look :-)

I couldn't get the flash file to play on this blog, so here's the original link to the video.

Here is a Quicktime version of this movie (50MB) file. It is a better quality video for viewing on a large screen.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Academic gag reflex

The other day I was sitting on the train on the way home and reading some research materials I found on Google Scholar for a paper that I am thinking about on social check-ins (you know, foursquare and services like that for an academic environment). I came across a qualifying paper from about a year ago on augmented reality.  It seemed interesting so I though I would give it a quick look - after all, a qualifying paper has been vetted by a tenured or tenure-track professor who has a PhD, so it can't be that off, right?

Well...it turns out that I was wrong.  This was merely a 15 page paper but I could not get past page 2 (double spaced) because of the insane amount of references to the digital native and descriptions of this "generation" of learners as having been born with a keyboard in-hand and a lot of other inaccurate cliches. I guess it was sort of like a gag reflex on my part when I kept reading about the digital native and hoping that it got better (i.e. that these false references would cease)...but they didn't...*sigh*

I put the paper in my "discard" folder on the iPad since I wasn't planning on using it, and moved on to more intellectually stimulating (and perhaps more accurate) articles on augmented reality.  When I got home I wondered if any other academics, and people of learning in general, out there have the same reaction to BS in articles and books.  Does a heavy stream of front-loaded BS impede your ability to forge on and read the rest of the article (or book, or book chapter)? Or do you just shrug these things off and just keep reading in search of a small ounce of accuracy?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Assessment ponderings

I was reading John's post the other day titled Assessment, Active Learning and Project based learning where he starts off with the question of whether assessment is a part of learning or instructing.  The answer is yes, but it really depends how much relevance you put on assessment and when in the process of learning or instructing you put the emphasis on this assessment.

For example, learning can be different from instruction, not just in who is performing the action (learning vs. instruction) but also on the intended outcomes.  Think of instruction and learning as a Venn diagram. In instructional environments there is, usually, a requirement for immediate assessment, or at least assessment closer to the learning process.  If I am learning how to drive, then my instructor (be this instructor a parent, a relative, a friend or someone who is paid to instruct me) wants to see some immediate uptake of this instruction, otherwise I won't be allowed to drive their car. If I show progress, I can move on to more challenging stuff.  If I don't show progress, I will never move from the empty parking-lot to a more challenging and realistic environment.

Let's take a look at "learning" when there is no human teacher.  Let's say I am learning calligraphy.  Is there a need for assessment?  Yes!  but the assessment is the act of writing calligraphy, so if I am teaching myself calligraphy, I am assessing what I have learned by doing (perhaps writing a nice calligraphic envelope to mail my friend in Greece).  I may choose to test myself immediately, or wait a few weeks in order to get more practice and hence have better outcomes.

John further ponders about teaching to the test.  I think that teaching to the test is not only appropriate, it's imperative.  Teaching to the test has gotten a bad reputation, especially among politicians, and it's become a hot button topic. The image conjured up by the rhetoric is that of a teacher who gives his or her students the test, gives them the correct answers and then has them memorize the write answers in anticipation for the real test.  While this is one way of teaching to the test, it's really cheating students out of an education.

What teaching to the test really means is that students will learn, and practice, things that are actually on the test, no surprises!  If you are apprenticed into a discipline, and your practice is exemplary, then an assessment should not confuse you - you should be able to pass it. If the assessment is a lot of gotchas and tricky or irrelevant questions...then that isn't an assessment at all, it's an exercise in frustration, and a waste of time for both teacher and learner.

By figuring out what you are testing your learners on, you are also more effective as a teacher, because you don't have to teach filler content.  If there is time in the semester for additional nice-to-know curriculum, great! If not, you can focus on just what the learning outcomes are, and what you expect student to have mastered by the end of the course.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Creating posters with InDesign

This ought to be a new educational experience!  By mistake, when I was proposing a session for the upcoming NERCOMP annual conference in Providence, RI, I indicated that I wanted to have a poster session...when in reality I was aiming for a regular presentation session (this is what happens when your submission is done on a tablet, hours before submission deadlines, on a non-mobile-friendly site, and while tired lol - there should be a warning that says "don't do academics while tired" ;-)  )

In any case, in my entire academic career I've never had to do a poster session! This means that I am a total newbie.  In the past, nursing students had come to me looking for help with PowerPoint, and specifically creating posters in PowerPoint.  I couldn't conceive of a worse tool for doing so, but I nevertheless helped them out as best I could (without having done any posters myself).  Having access to InDesign means that I have some good page-layout tools but I still don't know much about posters...so I started to research how to do posters!  Here are some resources I've come across:

InDesign CS 5.5: Creating Poster Sessions (~20 minutes):

Links to text based resources:
Sacramento State Poster Tips
PowerPoint Templates (eek!)
FSU PowerPoint Templates
Tips for creating Posters

I still have a few months before I need to present it, but the sooner it's done, the better :-)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Graphics that mean stuff

I came across the following graphic in this week's Change 11 topic, titled "Power Law of Participation"

Now...don't get me wrong, I love visualizations as much as the next learner, but visualizations need to mean something.  Even context-less they need to be somewhat decipherable and viewers need to be able to infer some meaning.  This isn't the case with this image.  What is this "Power Law"?  What do the axes mean?  What is measured? How is it measured? Why is it measured?

Who determines the periphery and the core?  What are the criteria for inclusion or exclusion? What tool is being talked about?

Perhaps there is some more in the readings, but given that this was provided as a link (and not embedded in the reading text), I am not sure if it is :-)

Ross Mayfield (CC)
Image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ross/541707092/sizes/z/in/photostream

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

DS106 - hmmm...to participate or not?

The other day I was talking about digital storytelling with some colleagues and I decided to recommend Ds106, the digital storytelling MOOC that ran last year. The material is still all out there, so people could still take it as OER and just self-pace through the material.  Last year I was in a bit of MOOC overload, with LAK11, CCK11, MobiMOOC, eduMOOC and Change that I didn't have much time to add Ds106 to the list (after all, CCK and MobiMOOC were both in Spring, at the same time as DS106).

In any case, I went to the website and I saw that DS106 is running again this spring! Sure I have a few research projects on the stove, and I will be keeping a eye out on Change11, but it might be worth following along DS106. I see it as a good excuse to get my hand dirty and do some digital storytelling work that I can then learn from an incorporate into my instructional design.  The schedule for the course looks interesting and not that "heavy."   DS106 should be interesting. Anyone take it last year?  What did you think?

This reminds me. I said I would start learning some iOS programming last September and I never started...Maybe I will push that off until summer 2012 - that can be my project for summer learning ;-) I would start in spring, but between DS106, potentially auditing an Italian course on campus (spoken Italian) and a couple of conference things due in March, my plate will be full!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Change11 - sustaining participation and engagement

Well, it is a new year and I am wondering what sort of unpredictable stuff will be coming my way educationally. I don't see anything posted on Change11 this week just yet.. With 14 weeks behind us and another 20 ahead of us, I am wondering if this MOOC is just way too long.  It may certainly go down in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest MOOC, but  I am wondering where the cohesion is.

I am looking forward to Couros, Siemens, Veletsianos, Stewart and Anderson (last 5 weeks of the MOOC), but I am hard pressed to feel interested in the second half of Change11 right now.  Why?  Two main reasons:

1)  The second part has 8 blank weeks - that is weeks that have yet to be assigned a topic and a guest facilitator.  This is a large amount of blanks, which gives me the impression (again as Jenny had pointed out) that this is more of a conference, a jigsaw of topics, rather than a cohesive and weaved narrative (I've personally considered courses cohesive and connected, and not a mish-mash of things - but hey, that might just be me).

2) Some topics seem to be coming back, same idea, but different name. For example, Rheingold's "[How] can [using] the web [intelligently] make us smarter?" topic and Hirst's "Infoskills 2.012: how to do a lot with a little"  seem to be either the same, or really highly related topics.  DeMillo's "Social Networks, Learning Communities and Web Science" and Downes' "Knowledge, Learning and Community" seem to be the same (or similar) thing.  I know I am interested in at least 2 of these facilitators, but I don't feel like being hammered over with the same (or almost the same) topic in a small time frame.

Levy seems interesting, but his topic suffers some collateral damage from being sandwiched into two "blanks" above and bellow him at the moment, so I find it hard to get psyched about it.

Anderson's "Open Scholarship" (last week) isn't exempt, it seems like the same thing as Weller's "Digital Scholarship" (Week 3) but it seems like there's been enough buffer between Week 3 and Week 36 to revisit a similar topic.

I plan on reading my accumulated reading list over the next few days and responding to some interesting thoughts, but I am not sure how much I will be participating until those final topics in April.  This makes me think of the perennial issue of participation and drop out in MOOCs, as well as learner engagement.  What could be done differently?