This was the first conference I have ever attended without looking at it through the lens of instructional technology and I must say that I was quite surprised to discover what I did. Thinking back on it, there wasn’t very much there for an IDer to be that interested in. Sure there were a couple of sessions and in that context, the keynotes were entertaining, but now, looking at things through the lens of engagement, social media and the leveraging of latent data that we might otherwise ignore, it was an amazing conference. This isn’t to say that my old and well worn ID hat didn’t get pulled out – it did on several occasions in the halls and when chatting with fellow volunteers, but by far, the meat of the conference was in this use of tools to collect and understand data that is generated by either the civic population or the municipal government. So if there was a weak spot, is was that this was a bit tool heavy, and not looking too much at the process. I caught myself thinking every now and again, I wish someone would bring up what I’m thinking about for my PhD… but it never came up. This tells me that, either I’m onto something totally unique… or that I’m crazy… and likely it’s a bit of both.
The presentation, that for me was the most useful in framing my experience was Dr. Z (Greg Zeschuk)’s keynote. He talked about what they did at Bioware to establish and maintain a culture that is built on open discussion where reasonable concerns are addressed openly and publicly. This was polished/book ended by comments from mastermaq (Mack Male) who reiterated that the key to open “stuff” and a culture that is open as well is people and their relationships – without good relationships, you are really not going to have any hope of any type of productive environment. It is not now, nor will it ever be the technology that makes these connections really tick (ie social media is not about the technology).
In between, there were a number of presentations on open government. These open government systems made use of tools like ODGI and others to allow the government to share its data with its citizens and the rest of the world. There was also a few examples of government mining the citizenry to get information that could be used to direct interaction as well.
So in terms of what this means in relation to my PhD ideas, well it means that there are tools out there to harvest the data and there are systems that are delivering “value added” information from raw data. So the technical elements are not going to be an issue at all. The issue is the finding a way to get the tools to deliver aggregated data to the executive by parsing social media streams and is secondary to creating an environment that encourages/enables (perhaps even empowers) participation.
Through the conference I also discovered that there is a unit within the city that is already looking to make use of social tools to “flatten” the idea/concern space of the organization. So if I could sample this group as tot their experiences through this transition, together with Bioware, who should have had their open/flat culture would make a good comparison and provide guides as to how to enable the open organization (open org). These two could then be used to inform best practice to develop a plan for the University.
So hopefully this helps others and myself out later as the conference is well over a day old in my head right now.
I missed the first day of this session because I was home sick, but I did take away some important confirmations from the second day. The first is that the University is falling behind, but it’s not alone, and it’s not too late to start moving things forward. mLearning is not about delivering everything about a course or other resource through a small screen, it is about what is important when people are on the move and wanting “just enough information”. But in order to understand what “just enough information is”, people have to experience it for themselves. This brings up the second point – if we want to start moving forward, we need the instructors to start using mobile technologies to their own ends, in their own lives so they can better understand how they might use them, design for them and otherwise understand them.
Moving beyond standard unidirectional content delivery, Standford, with it’s iStanford app, and ACU with http://m.acu.edu are certainly leading the pack with their developments (as is iusask in Canada) that feature mobile interactivity. This delivers content that is relevant to the user and allows them to further engage with the content, extending the conversation of the classroom beyond the room and the traditional computer lab and extending the resources of the institution to places where the users more naturally find themselves on and off campus.
These apps and sites are however quite the investment, but to get going, you need only a mobile friendly website – WordPress and WordPress MultiUser have plugins that make sites mobile friendly and content that can be accessed and updated on the fly – and a design ethos that suggest that less is more. Putting only the content that one would be able able to access in a short span online (saving time/bandwidth for the student). Branching out from there, podcasts (but not talking heads!) can be added, SMS gateways can be developed and custom apps and sites can be developed. Beyond the website, the development of additional systems should be guided by the users who will indicate what makes sense for them. If most of the users are accessing mobile content while on transit, they are going to have different connectivity/time on screen requirements compared to users accessing from residence or on campus in common space. Mobile is about short access with tools that make sense for that access time. So these developments certainly do not need to be full featured.
This wasn’t the only bit on mlearning this week = I also spotted this (Cell Phones R 4 More Than Texting) over twitter as well as this (Using mobile phones to improve educational outcomes: An analysis of evidence from Asia John-Harmen Valk, Ahmed T. Rashid, Laurent Elder) through Google Reader.
Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Western Canada Lab Managers Meeting, so while I have put this in with the other conferences, it is an odd fit. But as I was able to take away from the expererince some insight as to what others are doing with regards to their enterprise, it works as a conference for me. So what was this take away? Well first, I was happy to see that many Computing Science programs are starting to look seriously into mobile development – on the iPhone and on Android. I also like some of the ideas around virtualization. Some of the managers are looking into ways of virtualizing desktops to help green their operations and of course there is quite a bit of server virtualization. The challenge with desktops as opposed to servers is that on the desktop, you need to be able to handle discrete inputs and displays as desktops are not designed to be headless – something that makes server virtualization much easier. A number of departments are also going toward Linux, moving away from Windows only environments for their introductory labs.
What makes this interesting for me is that the mobile development is one of those items within the Horizon Reports that are suggested as trends and technologies to watch. I really doubt that the managers would have ever seen these reports, but I do like how “by hook or by crook”, the writing is on the wall for the exploration of mobile technologies. Linux and virtualization is another idea that is hinted at through these reports. It is refreshing to see how the reports and the activities in the field are lining up.
Today my takeaway idea came from two amazing keynotes and snack/lunch talks – that even though Moodle might be a packaged as a service by some corporation or a self hosted/supported service, there is one thing that will keep it separate from propriety LMSs. Moodle can be modified without having to worry about what the economic viability of that modification will be. This means things like language packs, can be rolled out because it is needed by a particular install, without having to worry about what the ROI across Moodle as a whole would/will be. Even in the enterprise, this is going to be the tipping feature for Moodle. So even though instructors may have no more “freedom” than they would under commercial systems, the back end admins have the freedom that they need. This is the important thing for instructors to realize.
This freedom for the back end admins will allow them to bring features to the instructors much faster. From typing into legacy systems to bringing in the latest and greatest web2.0 app, these changes can be made to the system core in Moodle rather than as cludges and hacks in commercial systems. This remixability makes Moodle simple and transparent (ala web2.0) as opposed to commercial systems that are complex and obfusticated (ala traditional education).
Huh?? Yeah… I mixed those up on purpose. Commercial LMSs seem to match the basic ethos of the traditional educational systems that we are working in now. Open Source LMSs are the remixable systems that are akin to what “we” hope educaton will become over time, whether it wants to be or not.
Well it’s Friday and time to turn the brain off…
Well, conference sessions being what they often are, today’s Canadian MoodleMoot was a productive day for me – not in a bunch of stuff that I can take home and use right away, but an interesting (correct or not) collection of thoughts as to where Moodle might go from here as it comes up on its 2.0 release. I remember first hearing about it in Hawaii in 2003 (not 2002 as I had tweeted) and thinking that this is something that is really going to make waves. And now, six years later, the first waves seem to be building to a crest and the direction it will break will provide one heck of a ride as Moodle seems to be set to become an engine, not just an LMS.
In it’s 1.X itteration, Moodle is already being used in all manner of non education instances and now with 2.0 having web services and the ability to link into data repositories, those non-ed uses might just explode as users will no longer be bound to the interface that is both loved and loathed.
These new ways of using Moodle seem to have been the “back of mind” idea for many people who I chatted with in the halls. If this flexibility comes to pass, Moodle could become the supremely flexible system that can be made to look like anything that one has the money to make it look like. And with the ability to pull in content from all over both internal and external ‘nets it could really be icon of the new ideas in education around openness. But only if it is allowed to be as I fear that many institutions will force it to run as a walled garden.
I have/had more ideas on this, but as my attention is being called elsewhere, I’ll have to post them later. Please feel free to post comments on what I’ve got so far and hopefully by Monday I’ll have got more of this idea out.
The ISSOTL conference, not being a technology conference, it was not an opportunity to see what the latest and greatest in technology integration ideas. It was however an interesting opportunity to see (in the technology sessions that I was interested in) how technology was being adopted by the cream of the crop of progressive instructors. These instructors are not always early adopters but they are the champions that many of us in the Ed Tech world would want to recruit. So to paint in a broad stroke, the sessions were interesting to attend to see how the trailing edge of the bleeding edge (the leading edge?) adopts and really brings to fruition many of the ideas that one might see in tech conferences potentially years before.
The opening keynote was for me, the highlight of the event. The ideas that Marcia Baxter Magolda put forward regarding the way that students in higher ed start to construct knowledge and truth as they move through their post secondary experience. Starting with their early years, coming out of high school, students are almost bound to the idea that knowledge and the associated truth is determined by an external agent when it comes to their academic life, likely having never been “allowed” to think that knowledge or truth came from anywhere but a text. This was not true for the personal lives of many of these students as they were able, in their personal lives, able to start to self-author ideas of truth at this early stage. As students progress in their personal and academic lives, they start to be able to self-author truth in both their personal and academic lives, though not always within the time they spend doing their post secondary studies. To help them along, it is the instructor that should help guide the student to understand that knowledge is socially constructed (and that every discipline has its own culture/society, hence touchstones of truth in knowledge). Once a student understands this, teaching and learning can become a partnership as both parties are able to interact with knowledge and truth. This is all fine, but I want to see how fast the mountain that is “text is god” will move over in higher ed when instructors are squeezed for time and resources to even deliver the content that they are required to, especially in the first couple of years while students are working through junior courses in classrooms of hundreds.
Moving to the presentations, one idea stuck out – why are we treating the “millenials” any different than any other group… and how many classes out there are composed only of millenials? Thinking about the second point first, it is likely only in the intro level courses that one could expect a clear majority of millenials, after that, there is increasingly a mix of generations within the classroom, and this is especially true online. So even though this younger generation is defined by their use of technology. They, like generations before them, learn socially, are aided by reflection and appreciate genuine interaction with their instructors. Working from this perspective, the “rising spectre” of the millenials does not seem as intimidating.
The take home message from the day was (or seemed to be) that the way that young students today interact with information has changed from what it was only a decade ago and the number of mature students who are taking distance based degrees has grown to the point that the degree programs are themselves becoming more common and (perhaps) as a result, the quality of these online degrees has increased to the point that they are no longer stigmatized. Given these two messages, educational institutions have to move to facilitate (not so much to react) the needs and demands of two large student demographic groups that it likely has never had to deal with before.
Amanda Jefferies from University of Hertfordshire points to experiences that she has had through the course of her research that suggest the ubiquity of technology is reason enough to pay it some attention. Contrary to the common perception of many North American education elders, Jefferies pointed out that txt was indeed a legitimate way to communicate for students. Many students felt that email was a bygone technology (though I am wondering how this will change with “smart phones” that have access to email and have data rate plans that are often more reasonable than SMS rate plans). Many of these students also already have some manner of online presence (blogs/profiles etc), so it seems reasonable that while they may not be “computer literate” they are in fact “communications literate” and comfortable dealing with information online. Research also showed that as students matured, so did their use of technology and information sources – moving from what is presented in the course to Open Ed resources is they are so motivated. As these students (and by extension, their instructors) mature, they also realize that technology cannot be used as a crutch to avoid putting effort into either the delivery or processing of class content.
George Siemens from the University of Manitoba explored the nature of the information that students can find online. Increasingly fragmented, the loss of a grand narrative with respect to online information means that the content the students are accessing on their own is very different from the content that would have traditionally been found in libraries (books/journals) or pre-internet news sources (papers/radio/movie reels). Much of the information that students might consider using is created not by a traditionally noted expert, but rather a “society”. This society sees both the author and the audience contributing the to the resource, and in that manner, providing checks and balances to assess the quality of what is presented. With many education scholars touting the virtues of social learning, the use of socially created resources seems to be a reasonable way of involving those younger students who may already participate in social content creation.
Enter hybrid or blended instruction. It offers to younger students the flexibility to use tools that they are comfortable with to engage their content while allowing older/busier students the flexibility they need to handle their lives outside the classroom, while still connecting with the expert who delivers the content. Blended learning expands the reach and the potential relevance of the classroom beyond the traditional bounds of space and time and moves it into the lives of the student. Achieved largely by making use of technologies that increase the convenience with which content can be obtained/developed and then accessed; blended learning is an idea that will change the way that educational institutions function with respect to their teaching and learning enterprise.
Before I get to the other reflections from COHERE, I thought I should get this one out first. When I was waiting to board in Edmonton, I was chatting with one of the people in line and found myself explaining what blended or hybrid learning is (or is to me at least) and why it isn’t really eLearning. I explained that eLearning was generally thought of as the delivery of a course entirely at a distance and that hybrid/blended learning is a model that includes some amount of face to face time between students and instructor. This seemed to be enough for the person in line. Then after getting into Toronto and arriving at York, I overheard someone toward the back of the room a similar question… what is the difference between hybrid learning and eLearning… especially if they both use Blackboard? Very odd.
But that got me thinking… I wonder how many profs/instructors will be confused in the same way? Could the idea of blended or hybrid learning be a way to “ease” instructors and administration into thinking about course delivery in a different way? Afterall, hybrid/blend suggests that there is a mix of at least two modes – and as long as they can keep one of the modes that they are comfortable with… maybe they will take a shine to the other? Those of us “on the ground” in this field will likely be grinning at this – because for many instructors, they are already doing this – they are already making use of online tools to extend the walls of their classroom. But doesn’t this sound like a word play on the part of those of us in ID?
Well it is and it isn’t. It is because we are “branding” what the instructors are doing as something great and progressive. This helps them feel better about what they are doing, and hopefully will encourage then to experiement with more tools to explore different ways to engage their students. But it isn’t because there are still many instructors who are not moving any of their content online. Instead, they rely on readings and class time to deal with the content and the issues that arise. They don’t see (or want to see) how doing something as simple as moving the readings online and adding a discussion board can help deal with the issues outside of class time, allowing the face to face time to be used for more engagement.
So it might be an idea (for all of us who are fighting this good fight) to talk about blended or hybrid learning tools when referring to Blackboard, Elluminate and the like – as opposed to calling them eLearning tools – when dealing with instructors who might be wary of “yet another revolution in teaching that is supposed to change everything” (a quote from a Bio prof who has been on campus for quite some time).
Just some thoughts to get the ball rolling on my conference posts.
I just stumbled across this today – Yesterday in Toronto, there was a conference on youth privacy (presentations) that explored how youth view their privacy and how the “elders” view privacy, particularily in light of social networks (CBC). Though the presentations are not up yet, I’m looking forward to it as there were quite a few interesting speakers.