Responding to a Few Education Predictions: @Braddo

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[CC licensed image by KraetzschePhotography] 

Brad Ovenell-Carter (aka @Braddo) was kind enough to bring his 2010 Prediction for K-12 Education to my attention. While they’re labeled "K-12" they are also relevant, in different ways, to higher education, and each stimulated some thinking on my part.

Prediction #1: "School administrators will enter the conversation."

This is precisely apt for higher education: administrators are having a conversation… but it’s not the conversation they need to be involved in but is instead happening mostly in parallel with the practitioners and innovators within the space they administer. Of course I worry about the effect administrative realities have on innovative activities– Christensen’s work on disruptive innovation is frighteningly relevant– but at some point what is learned and practiced on the edge needs to make its way into the fabric of the institution. Or maybe it doesn’t have to, but I’d like it to as I plan to remain working within one of those institutions.

Bringing ReadWriteWeb.com’s Top 5 Web Trends: 2009 into play (Structured Data, Real-Time Web, Personalization, Mobile Web/Augmented Reality, Internet of Things) as part of this prediction interests me. How many educators would list these five as the most important web trends of 2009 w/r/t their work? If we’re talking about a top 5 in terms of importance to education, then I propose:

  • real-time web – setting aside subtleties and arguments about these roles, this is more important for educators and their professional communities than their students’ educational world(s)

  • "cloud computing" – I use the term haphazardly to include both educational institutions increasing move toward enterprise-level cloud computing services as well as the march of end-user applications and activities from specific desktop to Internet applications such as Google Office

  • distributed, synchronous conferences – perhaps organizers for events in other areas can afford to attempt to corner their audience into over-priced and under-valued face-to-face offerings, but education isn’t one of them

  • personalization – this will be important, but mostly in its effects on privacy and identity…it will be two or three years before we seem integration of scattered, siloed information to a point that the grander ideas of personalized learning is possible (if it happens at all)

  • tablets, netbooks and iPhones (oh my) – most of the activity in this area will continue to focus on simplistic content provision and access to "materials," but I suspect the Apple tablet will result in a tectonic shift in the fundamental landscape just as the iPod and iPhone have. Netbooks will be the next Trapper Keeper.

If I’m not limited to explicit technologies, then I add:

  • open education/openness – this is fundamental to the visions of many innovative educators, sometimes without those same educators knowing it. The traditional models of content-centric OER creation and provision will continue to die-off and become less relevant. But there’s significant danger here if we aren’t successful in refocusing and reshaping the energy of open teaching and learning as a fundamental way of working.

  • new literacies and information fluency – yes, there’s more information and means of expression, but digital literacy just doesn’t cut it. I may be early on predicting serious, practical movement in this area, but it will be a top-flight concern nonetheless.

  • intellectual property and copyright – alternative licensing will continue to grow in importance, but media convergence and mobile growth is going to act as a serious counterbalance. I expect significant legislation and wrangling in this area… and net neutrality!

Prediction #2: "Everyone will wake up to the idea that students are not digital natives."

I’ll quibble with the absolute nature of this prediction. I’ve shifted a bit on my position regarding use of the phrase "digital natives" but not a bit on the reality that the label (as typically used) refers to characteristics that pretty accurately represent an important– if small– set of learners that I encounter in every class I teach.

Who are myriad prognosticators thinking about when they roll out the predictions about personalized, individual education if not the ability for education to reach more than the fat belly of the bell curve? What "digital natives" are, to me, are similar to what other gifted groups are: a small set of students with outstanding skills and experience that are not being served by middle-of-the-road educational experiences.

We can dispense with the phrase, but those students exist, just as do many other "outliers" in any community of learners, and I, for one, am really tired of the immense leveling effect that comes as a byproduct of terminology crusades.

Prediction #3: "We’ll put philosophy back on the table."

I sure hope so! The "participation and presentation" circle of my information fluency Venn diagram is predicated on the idea that we are recognizing and teaching the practical ethics and evolving morality and mores of the webby, netty world.

With no experience in K-12 education beyond experiences with my own children, I can’t speak to the needs there, but in higher ed this means taking into account creeping relativism (and I am, by most standards, a relativist– or more specifically an ironist) and at least being aware of the constant conflation of ideology and philosophy.

The recent "openness debates" provides a stark illustration of the difficulty of 1) engaging the philosophical in an edtech world heavily biased towards traditionally pragmatic concerns, and 2) finding productive means of doing so.

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What’s Really Going on in the Latest “Openness” Discussion?

Reading through the original post by George Siemens (“Open isn’t so open anymore”), the long comment thread that has ensued, and the many fine follow-ups (see: David Wiley’s response and response to responses, Martin Weller, Brian Lamb, Pontydysgu, Always Cool Alan, Jim Groom’s response and a response to the response to his response, Graham Atwell, etc) and I’m left wondering what’s really going on here?

Is there more than just a little bit of mixing the message and the messenger? I like George. He’s a friendly (and dare I say open?) guy who has continually done hard, influential, thinking in areas important to everyone participating in these discussions. But I also recognize that George is, in a genial way, a provocateur and a self-promoter. George demands attention and isn’t afraid to be the contrarian. I find his manner of doing so mostly productive though—quite unlike some others (paging Gary Stager).

I find it hard to believe—interpreting George’s original post through my own selfish lens—that there’d be quite such an uproar if just about anyone else who’s been involved in the conversation had essentially made the same claims:

  • We need more sharp, radical thinking about a concept that clearly (and I submit as evidence this discussion itself) isn’t simple or characterized by mutual understanding of terms that those who promote open education.
  • Open teaching & learning, and openness as a posture, and etc etc etc are in danger of seeing what is most important to us co-opted and ultimately retarded by commercial entities for whom openness isn’t a way of acting, teaching or living, but a means for increasing profits.

The implicit binary conception of philosophy and pragmatism in some of the responses is questionable—even disturbing. I’ve come to accept the healthy position of being disinterested in one or the other—Alan Levine’s usual take for example—but that’s very different from maintaining that either philosophical investigation or pragmatic work are unnecessary. Aren’t many of the most influential agents in the area of open education people who consistently engage in both? Who has done more to advance both the philosophy and practical work of Open Education than people like David Wiley, Stephen Downes, Jim Groom, Brian Lamb, Scott Leslie, and so many others? Even if you are one who isn’t (or is less) interested in the abstracted aspects of the discussion– variously characterized as philosophical, ideological, or academic, depending on if one intends to support or disparage them—that work is important because its product filters through the network/ecosystem/rhizome, into your work in open education. One way or another, whether you like and want it to or not. There are many jobs, roles and activities I find uninteresting, distasteful, or frustrating while recognizing their importance to my life and livelihood… why the need here to pummel those who wish to engage in them? Why the need to stamp our feet and cry “just do it!” when, in fact, they are in most cases crying out to/at those who are already doing it?

The issue of co-option and institutionalization is complicated and confusing. If we were gambling with one-sided coins in a zero-sum game, I’d go with pragmatics and simply let the philosophy evolve as a byproduct (what a meager way to live!). But I agree with what I take to be George’s position here: if we don’t advance the thinking in our own field, then we unnecessarily leave our fate to the will of others. I’m not suggesting that institutions—be they Blackboard or Facebook or Universities—are spending time cornering the market on the philosophy and ideology of openness and thus we better get rolling before they use up all the paper and bits we need to do so ourselves. But ignoring those activities and hoping that pragmatism will rule the day, that openness will prevail solely through each admirable educator lighting their own little open candle and letting it shine, and that this is sufficient for a productive and lasting conception to emerge isn’t supported by the history of education nor the history of the culture in which it’s embedded (in the West anyway). Driven by profit and a desire for increased reach, institutions will fill up the empty spaces, influence the minds of the important mass of those who engage with the concepts casually and/or incidentally, and smother what could well be seen a decade from now as just one of dozens of other fads that will have passed their expiration dates and disappeared. I can think of no better way to help make that happen than to ignore either the theoretical investigation or the practical engagement. And I fail to see how more thinking about openness must somehow result in less being done as part of it. Why is a call for deeper exploration into a relatively young—and potentially revolutionary—kind of cultural engagement perceived as a slight against—or a theft from—those who prefer to prioritize praxis?

And make no mistake: there are no guarantees that open education and open teaching & learning will take significant root. It’s mindboggling to me that—assuming one has taken a cursory glance at the history of revolution and reform in education—there are people maintaining that the important work is done, that openness has “happened” or that it is on an inevitable path to becoming an intrinsic part of educational practice. Open education is a tiny niche activity and body of practice residing within an only slightly bigger group of enthusiastic educators. It’s barely a blip on the horizon outside our tiny communities, and where it is noticed that notice tends to come for the wrong reasons.

Even if academicization (oh baby) and institutionalization of “openness” involves a large group of people not really getting it the way we, the real open education people do, it’s better that they have a shallow understanding and misguided sense of purpose that stems from—or involves—our deepening conception of what open education and open culture means than leaving it to the forces of the marketplace. Most of the administrators in my own institution have little idea what open education is about… but the same could (and in many cases still can) be said about their understanding of social media and networks, to name just one important area of educational theory and practice. But the work that so many have done to both think through the theory of—and practice within—these complex areas has had a generally positive effect, allowing for a trust that even if they don’t delve deeply themselves, there’s something useful and worthwhile there that goes beyond the profit-motives of the companies that are (or claim to be) engaged in the same area. The result? I (and my colleagues) are in more cases able to move forward in our practical, everyday work and in more positive ways.

[originally posted on Ruminate]

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Google Wave Hype or Hope?

Link to Johanna Hane's paper (PDF)

Reading Johanna Hanes’ paper “Google Wave: A Revolutionary CSCL-tool or Overestimated Hype” (PDF)—a nice combination of personal experience with Google Wave, light theoretical foundation, and a decent suite of links and resources—and ruminating on how I might position Google Wave for my students has reminded me yet again that I’m still not sure what to make of Wave.

As a client—a working app—Google Wave is a pretty sad affair. I can reasonably set aside some gives given that Wave is a very beta (alpha?) release, but I remain surprised Google would roll a service out even as widely as it has while in such a shabby state.

The real question is what Google Wave the client offers that might be useful in supporting my work and other activities. Now that I’ve taken part in a number of waves, some of my own creation and some not, I can give a current answer: not much. Perhaps my biggest functional problems will be resolved as the client evolves, such as:

  • Performance! Wave is terribly slow and laggy—and it just gets worse as conversations reach any productive length.
  • Simultaneous editing: good idea, poor implementation… engaging in simultaneous editing often leads to lost edits or completely lost entries.
  • Inconsistent and painful UI—many functions are hidden in keyboard shortcuts and available no other way, others seem only available via mouse and in mysterious contexts. Mouse handling in the conversation space is often-nonsensical. Given how much information is being packed into one place, use of screen real-estate is poor.
  • Conversations are awkward due to lack of good navigation and inability to “split” conversations. At least as far as I can tell.
  • Practically speaking, conversations are subject to length limitations (due to performance, screen real-estate and lackluster navigation) almost as restrictive as those in email clients. Breaking into multiple waves helps, but adds to the clutter and disconnected feel of the semi-conversations that typify wave-based conversations.
  • Keeping a history is a good thing, but the “playback” feature is the kind of thing that looks cool in a presentation but is rarely of practical use.

The most interesting aspect of Wave is the potential for real-time collaboration using multiple media in a single location… but at this point it’s only potential and other products can meet those needs. For asynchronous collaboration the options are numerous, including Google Docs (for basic documents) and wikis of various kinds  (that can incorporate a wider variety of media). Etherpad actually gets simultaneous editing right; I hope the open-source release means Etherpad will be readily available until Google’s snarfed up the interesting technology and used it to make Google Wave work. Group Discussion tools provide 90% or more of what Google Wave provides while being readily available, stable, etc.

I thought Google Wave was a solution in search of a problem. It’s probably more accurate to say Google Wave is (thus far) a clumsy solution to a very small problem that can be productively solved with existing, better performing tools—including a few applications provided by Google itself. This may change in the future: I can understand, even if I don’t buy, Google’s positioning of Wave as an email killer, combining functions of email communication with rich media, chat and wiki facilities. But for now it’s simply a slow, buggy, painful experiment for which I’ve yet to see a practical use with benefits enough to outweigh the cost.

However, as Alan Levine’s helpfully reminded me (and the world), Google Wave’s real promise may lie in its place as a platform. I’m not so sure Wave is a client with the future of the text browser or the protocol quite as important as http (and being of more promise than Wave’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad client is a pretty low bar), but the potential power in the combination of features and functions the API can bring together is great.

[Side-note: the debut of highly hyped products like Google Wave tends to bring the worst out of many in educational technology, (sometimes inadvertently) confirming the unfortunate characterizations of my community by those outside. First are those who immediately start looking through the wrong end of the telescope and start conversations based on questions like “how can we use Google Wave in education?” It’s not that this is, at heart, the wrong question, but in posing it that way we appear to be the very “geeks obsessed with every shiny new toy” that many think we are. Second are those that latch onto features provided by a product and highlight/elevate them without any evidence of their value in the first place. For instance, Wave may very well be useful for collaborative note-taking, but what supports the contention that collaborative note-taking is of any value in the first place? Just because a cool product does it?]

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Presentation: Ong, New Media, and the Gutenberg Parenthesis

In late October I had the privilege of presenting at WCET on the topic of digital literacy, new media fluency, and secondary orality ala Walter Ong. Thanks to the able help of Jared Stein (who had his own very well-received presentation) I was able to stream the session live in a format that made a bit more sense to me than the mere talking head and allowed more than 30 people outside the room to participate.

It’s immaterial whether Ong is “right” or “wrong” because his theory is important as a lens. If it reveal something useful, then the specific composition of the lens is, pragmatically, irrelevant. And the theory of a secondary orality is, as I tried to bring out in my presentation, both fantastically relevant to many different areas of the current information ecology/arena (not least in that it might present an opportunity to cut the Gordian knot of digital/media literacy/fluency confusion/conflation – how’s that for slashing a sentence?) and distinctly under-studied.

So, here’s the video (the setup Jared Stein came up with worked well… the only change I would make would be to use a detached cam instead of the built-in web cam… and figure out a way to mic the audience for questions):

And because some of the slides are hard to read on the web-video, the slides:

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Let’s Talk About the “Gutenberg Parenthesis”

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[photo of Gutenberg statue by Robert Scarth] 

This Thursday, October 22 at 3:15p (Denver (MDT) time, check for your time zone) I and my compadre Jared Stein will be in Denver at WCET presenting on the Gutenberg Parenthesis, secondary orality, and information literacy & fluency. If you are attending WCET, you can just show up at the room: Colorado GH.

If you’d like to participate remotely, we will be broadcasting the session via U-Stream (http://www.ustream.tv/channel/ruminate) and monitoring the live U-Stream chat as well as the Twitter hashtag: #ruminate

I’d love to make this session as interactive as possible because it really is about high-level rumination on something that represents emergent thinking (for me, at least)… so the more I can hear from you the better.

The basic idea behind the session is to explore the potential for the thinking of Walter Ong on secondary orality (the Gutenberg Parenthesis) as a lens for conceptualizing and teaching new media literacy and information fluency. Along the way I’ll dip into a couple of sidestreams, such the “problem” of so many different ideas of digital literacy and the changing role(s) of memory in the context of new media.

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The Simple Kindle Content Problem

There are many things I like about the Kindle—particularly the Kindle DX, which is amazingly readable—now that I have access to a 3G network. For various reasons, the Kindle’s not a suitable device for me to read fiction, poetry or other creative writing. But it could be perfect for disposable reading (magazines and newspapers) and much of my nonfiction needs. Could be.

I’m not talking about the larger issue of lack of Kindle content outside the most mainstream—I can count with just the fingers of both hands the number of times a Kindle edition of a book I am looking for has been available—but a much simpler problem: the horrible production quality of so many Kindle edition books. It’s one thing when a free, public domain book is the victim of poor conversion, but when I pay very near the paper price for a book and Amazon (or whoever create the Kindle edition) can’t be bothered to even take care of things like formatting paragraphs properly… that’s not cool. And with no way to preview a Kindle book, you essentially roll the dice each time you buy one.

For example, here’s what my recently purchased Kindle edition of Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy looks like:

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Notice anything missing? Having sufficient leading between paragraphs—or even indented first lines—might seem like a small thing, but not when you have thousands of screen to read. And this is just one example of many. The books I download have problems more often than not.

Two more examples that clearly stem from faulty conversion and absolutely no effort put into correction:

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Speaking of Movie Trailers…

A couple of us were batting around the idea of Education movie trailers ala the fantastic example created by Alec Couros for his Open Access Course. There really should be more of these.

Even before I saw Alec’s example, I was never able to read George Siemens’ phrase “A World Without Courses” without hearing it in one of those great Movie Trailer Voices, like Hal Douglas or the late, great Dan LaFontaine

In a world without courses. One man. Stands alone. Connected. Disruptive. And with a pedagogical score to settle…

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Open Access Course: Social Media & Open Education

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/vVbO2q0ZSok" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I’ve seen activities from his open class activities in the past, but meeting Alec Couros in person at Open Ed strengthened my resolve and I’ve signed up to participate as a (non-credit earning) learner in his Open Access Course EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education. The amount of time I’ll have to participate is unclear—and subject to forces outside my control—but enjoying the freedom of participating at my own pace and in the way(s) that work best for me is one of the great things about Alec sharing this experience with the world.

Check out the EC&I 831 course wiki for more information and, if interested, to sign up.

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There’s No Gift Economy Without Giving

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[Ken Freedman at Open Ed 2009] 

I was excited to hear Ken Freedman discuss the idea of the gift economy in his Open Education 2009 Keynote. Freedman cited gift economics as a fundamental mechanism driving the ongoing transformation of legendary WFMU from a free-form radio station operating in the traditional mode to a modern-day web media entity that works in the contemporary environment where so many other fail… all the while not only retaining, but enhancing, the station’s unique identity and philosophy.

In The Gift (perhaps the single greatest influence on my understanding—such as it is—of art and creativity), Lewis Hyde shares an insight that is at once obvious and profound w/r/t gifts and gift economies: a gift is no such thing unless the recipient can in turn give it away. This characteristic differentiates giving a gift from merely passing something to someone else and also from an exchange or transfer that incurs a debt, even if one that is implicit and possibly protracted.

Implied by this is the necessity of understanding what one has in order to have the ability to share it with someone else. Otherwise it’s like having a (possibly elaborately wrapped and decorated) box with unknown contents. You can hand the box off to someone else, but without knowing what it is you are sharing nothing. And from this we can derive that the knowledge and understanding that I must possess to give a gift must also be present in the recipient else they can’t share it and, again, no gift has been given.

The layers that comprise this simple concept of the gift are, I think, at the heart of the discussions happening about open education, open education resources, and content. In creating content we are creating an essential stuff, but the quest for bringing to this wealth of content a sense of context and process is the transformative activity that makes the content resources shareable at all. There’s no gift economy without gifts, naturally, which means actually giving rather than merely transferring content…

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A Bag of Gold

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[Gardner Campbell & Jim Groom, OpenEd09]

Day Two of Open Education 2009 and I can honestly say I’ve yet to see a presentation that wasn’t at least as good as the best presentations I’ve seen at any conference anywhere.

Gardner Campbell’s “No Digital Facelifts: Thinking the Unthinkable About Open Educational Experiences” is one of those that had me repeatedly saying to myself “every teacher needs to watch this.” In true Gardner-esque fashion—the model I aspire to—he weaved together the invention of the alphabet, Brazil, Shakespeare and the music of the spheres, and much else besides into a (there’s no other word for it) compelling whole.

I came to this conference seeking hope… hope that despite the brokenness of our educational institutions, good teachers can elevate the profession; hope that despite the toll exacted by the daily grind of working within those institutions, excellence can be had. Gardner’s presentation restored some of that hope… his excellent (and funny) analogy to being given a bag of gold is what I need to keep in mind when I return to the other part of my real world.

My question is, how to maintain that hope? Gardner puts forth a premise that we should be teaching using narrative, curation and sharing. We all like to talk about the regressive factors that hold us back: institutional lethargy, recalcitrant educators, simple fear, technological complexity. But worse still is that as much as those factors exist, progress towards this vision of education is impeded by people at the front. Creating narrative is thwarted by concerns about community building and identity. Curation is pushed back by far-leaning constructivists and discovery-based educational theory promoting leading from behind. Efforts at sharing crumble and dissolve beneath the weight of arguments over licensing and which space should be used. Despite the clarity of these three simple concepts—narrate, curate, share—the world feels exceedingly dark.

Gardner used the example of a quotation that feels like it was written yesterday but was actually the words of Marshall McLuhan from over 40 years ago. I’ve used similar examples from the work of Baltasar Gracian (300 years ago) and Michel Montaigne (500 years ago). The wise words grab our attention and confirm our intuitions and desires… but they cut sharply the other way. Go back 40 years, 300 years, 500 years—go back to Plato and Haraklitus—and the relevance of their words also demonstrates clearly how little progress has been made. How do we keep the faith if the answer to that lack of progress is wait, wait, wait, it’s coming, but not yet?

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