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The Future of (Online) Learning

 

I’ve been teaching a fully online graduate course for the past 13 years. It’s been interesting seeing the cutting-edge become mainstream (with some caveats). MOOCS have made their mark on the learning landscape, and the democratization of education is blossoming. Are exemplars like Khan Academy, TEDEd, YouTubeEDU and iTunesU the disruptive innovation for higher education?

These are not easy times for bricks-and-mortar institutions, grappling with a challenging funding climate and a competitive enrollment landscape, alongside student-as-consumer expectations of outstanding service (and sometimes grades). If that’s not enough, a massive cohort of faculty and administration who grew up in “traditional” classrooms come with a decidedly instructivist slant despite our constructivist intentions (I include myself in this). Maybe that’s why most classrooms are still oriented to a podium at the front, even in new builds. What happens when the hyper-connected, online-all-the-time iGen takes over?

Predicting the future is perilous, and I’m no fortune-teller. But my read on the state of higher education leads me to posit the following, “VUCA“-informed, present-vs-future, higher learning trends for 2015 and beyond:

 

Then and Now Up-and-Coming
Instructor-generated content (Instructivism, Constructivism) User-generated content (Paragogy, Heutagogy)
Lesson Plans Gamification
Episodic assessment (occurs throughout a course) Embedded assessment (assessment is “in the water”)
eLearning mLearning, PLNs, Virtual World
Multimedia Immersive multimedia
Siloed Content APIs
Same content delivered to all learners Prescriptive (customized) content
Opaque Transparent
Learning feels like work Learning feels like play

 

 

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“Twitter 101” for Academic Managers

 

At today’s Academic Managers Meeting, we spent some time talking talking about the value of Twitter in education, and why academic leaders – including faculty and staff – are finding Twitter to be a valuable tool to help make us smarter and to strengthen relationships. Although many of us (myself included) are actively using Twitter, an equal or greater number are less enthusiastic for a variety of reasons. These include concerns related to professional boundaries, time, content, relevance and general comfort level. All of which are valid.

Here are some key take-aways from today’s dialogue, reflecting the diverse ways that Twitter can help us to realize added value for ourselves, our colleagues, our institutions and our students.

 

1. Don’t judge Twitter by your first impressions. To new users, Twitter content can appear pretty mundane. As one of my colleagues pointed out, “Do I really care what you had for breakfast?” The quality of what you see in your Twitter feed is directly related to the personal/professional relevance of the people and organizations you follow. This leads to Tip #2:

 

2. Curate your Twitter feed. Where can you find great content? Check out the people that your colleagues and others follow. That’s like finding related research literature in the bibliographies of highly relevant articles. Search out academic superstars – in your and others’ fields – and follow them. If someone follows you on Twitter, chances are you have common interests – follow them back. In short, build your own personal learning network.

 

3. Be yourself. Although it’s tempting to separate “public Twitter” from “private Twitter”, this may not be a great idea for a couple of reasons. For one, social media thrives on authenticity. We most want to engage with people when they are genuine and real. Also, since Twitter is public, anything you Tweet should be consonant with how you project yourself as a person and a professional.

 

4. Drink when you’re thirsty. Twitter (like social media broadly) is a gushing torrent. (So is email for that matter – but that’s a different topic). When you’re thirsty, you drink enough to quench your thirst – same goes for Twitter. The thousands of tweets that you don’t see don’t matter – there’s lots more where they came from, and lots get repeated anyway. Just dip your cup into the stream whenever you have the time or inclination.

 

5. Call people by their names. Just like IRL (in real life), using peoples’ Twitter handles (user names) gets their attention and is more likely to evoke a response. If you’re sharing a link/observation/quote/question via Twitter, consider including @Person’sName. See #4 (above) for why this is especially helpful.

 

6. Show your work. People are generally more interested in your process than the polished, perfect product. Twitter is a quick way to communicate what you’re working on, where you’re getting stuck, and the solutions or resources that you find. Thank you Austin Kleon.

 

7. Give props. Students and colleagues are tweeting their own and others’ accomplishments, events and stories. RT (retweet) them! Click on the little star to favorite these tweets! Reply to these tweets. Because it’s so visible and public, Twitter is a powerful way to show that we care and that we’re listening.

 

8. Don’t fear #hashtags. Hashtags are a way of organizing tweets by subject area, and make your tweets searchable. There is no secret code. There are no rules for hashtags. If you make up your own as you go along, chances are a million other people are using the same hashtag. One important caveat – if in doubt, search your hashtag to make sure that the content you’re #-ing is consistent with your message.

 

9. Explore the terrain. There are a host of resources on how to use Twitter effectively. Search around, and make sure to tweet what you find.

 

10. Stake your claim. Depending on how commonly-used your name is, you might need to get creative to claim your personal Twitter handle. Plus, check out examples of effective Twitter bios to compose yours – in 160 characters or less. Hashtags are optional, but why wait?  #myfirsttweet

 

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education = meta-learning + change

 

I’ve been looking at the 2015 NMC Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition, which charts the biggest near- and longer-term trends across the post-secondary landscape. One of the key directions is advancing highly flexible and innovative learning environments..

With change comes challenge. According to the NMC Report, post-secondary institutions will struggle with how to create these flexible, customizable and personalized learning environments (as students increasingly want and demand). Related challenges include: teaching complex thinking in the context of digital information proliferation, and addressing/resolving competing models of what higher education should/does look like.

The mainstreaming of radically student-centred learning represents a massive disruption to the traditional “broadcast” model of education (one instructor + many students). Just as one-to-many “Web 1.0” gave way to many-to-many social sharing, collaboration and self-curated content consumption (“Web 2.0”), will higher ed institutions see a similarly tectonic shift?

And yet…moving toward student-centred and customizable learning may bring us closer to education in its truest sense. Carl Rogers, the influential humanistic psychotherapist, education theorist and founder of client-centred therapy, stated:

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.”

Learning how to learn – the capacity to curate and critically reflect on new information and knowledge – is especially crucial at a time when ‘data never sleep’ (check out this infographic showing what happens during one minute on the Internet).

And, at its heart, all learning is really about change.

In other words: education = meta-learning + change.

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We all go to school. Every day.

 

Tuition costs are highly variable, and sometimes paid a long time after.

Our teachers are many.

We’re teachers too.

 

Where is your classroom today?

 

 

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The third type of digital divide and why mobile devices should remain on

 

Much has been written about the digital divide. And we are now seeing research and publications focused on the “second-level digital divide” as mobile devices become increasingly ubiquitous. Now we’re talking about the structural inequities among not just who has digital access, but rather, the kinds of access and digital access skills.

 

In addition, the pervasiveness of mobile computing means that North American post-secondary classrooms are increasingly a site for a third kind of digital divide: between instructors struggling to wrest students’ attention away from their mobile devices, and students as tied to said devices as day traders to the Nasdaq. Maybe it doesn’t have to be one or the other: mobile computing can add value to any classroom.

 

 

Here are seven ways to leverage mobile capacity from the very first class.

 

1. Ice Breaker: App Show and Tell

People love apps (estimates for 2013 range from somewhere between 54 – 86 billion downloads). Ask students to stand up, mingle around, and query someone they haven’t met “What’s your favourite app and why?” What are the most popular apps represented in your class? What does this say about commonalities and differences?

2. Course Playlist

Playlists are the contemporary equivalent of mixtapes. What song(s) symbolize the themes of this course? Put together a collaborative playlist. Play a song at the beginning and end of every class.

3. In-ClassTwitterchat

Individual reflective activities are regarded as productive and constructive. Why not take 10 minutes and move the conversation into the social-digital realm? #yourcoursename

 

4. Open-search-engine pre-test

Mobile devices are banished from final exams – rightly so. Yet the skill of locating credible information efficiently is essential in any profession. Invite students to preview a modified final exam at the beginning of the course using their mobile devices to access information (they can work in pairs if not everyone has an Internet-enabled search engine on their phone). Extra points for the instructor if the pre-test is designed more for critical understanding/analysis than fact-memorization. Optimally, students will directly experience why attending class is a value-add over just reading the text.

 

5. Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Collectively develop an innovative idea based on the course content, or identify a community project or cause, and work with them to secure funding. Try to fund development using crowd-sourced micro finance (such as Kickstarter).

 

6. Social Justice

Identify a cause and create an online petition. Or locate, critique, endorse petitions. Reflect on the challenge of consensus building, ethics, values, decision-making.

 

7. Collaborative Learning Assessment

Invite students to collaboratively co-create the final exam throughout the course using a mobile test-maker application.

 

 

All of the above strategies are aimed at addressing classroom engagement and leveraging the reality that students will bring and access their mobile devices, whether sanctioned or not. But most important, these strategies can address the skills gaps identified in the concept of second-level digital divide. And do so in the spirit of new and emerging teaching and learning frameworks:

Paragogy and heutagogy.

(Also on Slideshare)

 

 

 

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Democratizing education may mean creating a strange and hybridized monster

 

In principle, MOOCs embody the democratization of information and education: open access to leading edge scholarship and learning, facilitated by outstanding leaders in their respective fields. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are being described as a great equalizer in higher education (awarded an overall “B” grade in a recent New York Times Sunday Review article). Maybe MOOCs are shaping up to be the “killer app” of higher education?

 

Except…there are a couple of snags.

In her exploration of the Ethics of MOOCs, Nora Dunne questions whether it’s defensible to use institutional resources to create and support MOOCs if this diverts what’s available to tuition-paying students. Unless the money comes from a school’s marketing budget?

Institutions of higher learning care about students. They care about access. They want to make the world a better place by linking students with research, theory, knowledge, skills and applications. They also care about enrollment, to which their funding is inextricably tied. They care about their brand. They are competitive.

Such drivers are not mutually exclusive and are not a bad thing. Visionary thinking drives innovation, and so does competition. But there is a risk if academic institutions start regarding MOOCs as “loss leaders”.

 

Are MOOCs at risk of becoming brand advertisements to drive enrollment?

From an education research and theory perspective, best practices in online learning emphasize the importance of interactivity, both with peers and with faculty. Conversely, the one-to-many model, whether delivered in a massive open lecture hall or in a massive open online course, focuses more on information delivery than knowledge construction.

The ideal would be a customizable and dynamic MOOC that integrates high-quality learning objects, pre-recorded or streamed video of outstanding instructors, asynchronous and synchronous small group discussion, simulations, and individual tutoring. But taking it back to budgets, how is this sustainable from a cost perspective?

Unfortunately it’s just not. And the problem with the one-to-many approach is its fundamental incompatibility with 2.0 anything. But…what if all of the above learning tools/strategies were crowdsourced? Not just across institutions of higher learning but from students themselves (past, present and future)? (Representing an authentically paragogical/heutagogical approach, a.k.a. “Andragogy 2.0“).

 

The Digital Frontier

If we venture into the frontier of digital open-access territory, we need to understand that MOOCs, by their nature, are free, open and out there. Positive institutional branding becomes a by-product of bleeding-edge, innovative curricula co-created by outstanding faculty and students.

And might this mean the creation of a strange and hybridized monster – a WikiMOOC?

Manufactured Landscape

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is blogging the digital equivalent of tree-planting?

In his famous series of large-scale photographs capturing the impacts of industry Edward Burtynsky highlights massive reconstructions of our natural world. I watched the award-winning 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes on a long-haul flight a few years ago, juxtaposing mountains of discarded computer monitors (on the screen in front of me), with pristine polar ice (out the airplane window).

Burtynsky shows us debris fields in real environments. What are some of the by-products and reconfigured terrains of the knowledge construction industry?  Here are three manifestations:

1. Degree inflation: Just like 50 is the new 40, Masters are the new Bachelors. Is this because today’s world is infinitely more complex and new hires need additional time and preparation for job readiness? Or are we seeing the equivalent of monetary inflation? I once served on a selection committee for a prestigious lectureship, where the candidate we chose had the credentials PhD, PhD. Let’s leave it at that.

2. Manufactured authenticity: Knowledge workers tend to spend a lot of time indoors. We all crave the experience of real-world adventure but fear of the attendant risks can be a deterrent. That’s what simulations are for: in teaching, learning and recreation. Google Glass represents the first wave of integrated mobile computing. Will this be the next television?

3. Digital nostalgia: The internet is a social construction and was once (in the words of Howard Rheingold) an electronic frontier. Consider the contrast between the WELL and Facebook with respect to discourse and advertising presence. Burtynsky catalogued the manufactured landscapes of the industrial world – what will 2020’s documentary on the manufactured landscapes of the information economy look like?

The post-industrial wastelands of the digisphere weren’t always there. Maybe blogging is the digital equivalent of tree-planting?

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Blogging can facilitate the convergence of reflection-in AND reflection-on

Reflective practice is a cornerstone for continuous advancement as academic educators and scholars, and we all engage in reflective practice: with our students, with our colleagues, and with ourselves. Donald Schon, in his groundbreaking and influential theory of knowledge generation and learning, posited two reflective processes:

Reflection-in-practice

Reflection-on-practice.

In the moment (reflection-in-practice) we respond and make decisions based on a complex inter-weaving of practice wisdom, experience in classroom teaching, our integrated observation and enactment of what has worked for others, and evidence-based knowledge and skills. In the aftermath (reflection-on-practice) we mull over what worked and what was less effective. We talk things over with colleagues, seek supervision, and/or we journal or otherwise record our reflections.

Traditionally these two processes (reflecting-in and reflecting-on) have been seen to occur as separate but related. Further, the “products” of reflective practice – journaling, goal-setting, dialogue – have been constrained by physical geography and the limits of our professional networks.

Enter social media: thanks to “reflective practice 2.0” reflecting in / on are no longer necessarily distinct. Blogging may well represent a kind of “reflective practice power tool” in its ability to facilitate the convergence of reflection-in and reflection-on.

Digital communication has qualities of speaking and publishing together, and students are part of the conversation. Commenting enables an extended, many-to-many dialogue and blurs the boundaries between in-the-moment (i.e. in-the-classroom) reflection and post hoc reflective discourse. In other words, the act of blogging is itself teaching (in) even as it represents a reflective process (on). The classroom has become porous. Reflective practice is “unboundaried”.

We are all students, and we’re all teachers.

(See an excellent summary of Schon’s work, thinking and contributions at this link).

(Check out the presentation version of this post on Slideshare).

 

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The hardest thing about writing is writing (Nora Ephron)

 

Student plagiarism is a big issue (and apparently an equally big industry) in high school and post-secondary education. It’s never been easier to craft a bricolage of web-based material for a written assignment, and it’s never been easier to detect evidence of academic dishonesty. Tools like Turnitin, iThenticate and online search engines allow for immediate identification of copied source material. Given the high risk and high stakes involved, why do students do it?

The way I see it, a number of interacting factors have created a “perfect storm” kind of context in which student plagiarism can flourish:

1. Stewart Brand, digital social network pioneer, famously said that “information wants to be free”. We’ve seen how intellectual ownership of music and film has been defended vigorously in the courts, yet for every torrent site that gets shut down, a new one pops up. Digital content on the network behaves like water: block one pipeline and it effortlessly reroutes through others. The digital generation has grown up accustomed to immediate access to a gushing flood of “free” content.

2. This leads to the next contributing factor: social media platforms are as much about the flow of content as original content creation. Pinterest, Tumblr, Twitter, and others are about free flow of media and ideas. There is a culture of “content curation”, and the best curators are rewarded by likes, notes, reblogs, retweets, repins etc.

3. Academic databases have traditionally been way less user-friendly than search engines. This is starting to change, but the reality is that if you’re pressed for time, don’t understand Boolean logic, and want easily-digested and accessible information, a quick web search might win out. There have been periodic (and growing) exhortations for researchers to make the products of research more accessible, however we have far to go in realizing this knowledge transfer ideal.

4. I am not sure that students really appreciate the consequences of academic misconduct. It’s a bit like impaired driving: seems worth the risk at the time, but when you find yourself in court, without a license, and facing massive fines, insurance costs and social stigma, the cost of booking a stretch limo is a bargain. Same goes for plagiarism. Universities take it pretty seriously, and that meeting with the Dean is a lot like going before a judge.

5. Finally, writing is hard. Encoding our ideas in abstract alphabetical symbols just doesn’t come naturally for most of us. In fact, sometimes coming up with original ideas to encode doesn’t come too naturally either.

Academic Integrity is the foundation of knowledge generation and production. But somehow there’s a disconnect with digital norms and popular culture/practice. The solution? Still murky, but I think that an ongoing dialogue with students acknowledging and exploring the terrain between these separate realities is a good place to start.

 

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What (and who) inspired me in 2012?

As the calendar clicks over to 2013, it’s an opportune time to reflect on some of the inspiring tools and ideas that have engaged me over the past year – and will continue to have traction in the coming year.

Here is a reverse-ordered list with lots of links to explore. Happy New Year!

10. Playlists: Every course (or presentation) needs a good soundtrack. Songza is an auto-playlist-maker recommended by Mary Nisi on NPR’s technology blog

9. Infographics: We can all do a better job at presenting complex ideas visually and elegantly. Here is a List.ly List of infographics tools

8. Presentation Zen: (Re)imagining visual communication – Garr Reynolds has been a big influencer on my own presentation style and content

7. Personal Learning Networks (PLNs): The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts

6. Gaming: Networked learning and simulation can benefit from the principles of successful, immersive and authentic hi-fidelity game environments – and this is progressing in medical simulation in Canada and worldwide.

5. Virality: What is the “replicability factor” intrinsic to certain memes? How can we infuse knowledge products with that same DNA? Check out some emerging research by Berger and Milkman (2012) What Makes Online Content Viral? and Stanford now offers an online course on viral marketing

4. Another MOOC MOOC by Hybrid Pedagogy: Because information wants to be free

3. Motivational Interviewing: A clinical approach that maps equally well to teaching and learning

2. Y Combinator: A model with applications for curricular innovation, education research and student engagement?

1. Social Inclusion: Anyone can learn if they have the tools – like the instrumental support pioneered by the World Braille Foundation: Braille = Equality… Why? Because literacy is the key to opportunity, economic security and freedom. Yet in many countries 95 per cent of blind children don’t even attend school due to lack of skilled teachers and limited access to Braille materials.

This international foundation is dedicated to promoting literacy, independence and empowerment to blind persons, with past and current projects in Kenya, Swaziland, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia and Lesotho. I make a donation every year. Plus, full disclosure, the WBF was started 10 years ago by my dad, Euclid Herie, and my #1 inspiration!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utility + ease of use are what really matter

 

Recently, I was asked to give a Keynote Address  at the 2012 Ontario Association of Social Work annual conference outlining the “digital communication power tools” for social workers and other practitioners. Although I’ve taught an online graduate course for the past 10 years and have a longstanding interest in digital communication and online applications, I’m nowhere near as expert as the teenagers in my life.

However, the beauty of a “beginner’s mind” means that I can comfortably NOT be an expert – in anything – and still have something to share, in a spirit of exploration and adventure. And that is precisely the stance from which I developed the talk.

The three areas I covered (social media, online collaboration and e-therapy) are roughly overlapping, and provided a pretty broad terrain in which to navigate. The 250 or so practitioners at the conference included super-users, newbies, young and not-so-young, and all of us keen to better understand the ways in which these tools (because they really are just tools) can contribute to professional practice.

I think the most important take-away comes from the Technology Acceptance Model, where in one study, age and busyness of practitioners were not associated with uptake of social media in medical practice – rather, ease of use and utility of the applications influence attitudes, acceptance and behaviour. In other words, busy, old practitioners can and will use social media tools if they are accessible and relevant!

Here are the annotated slides (with Speakers’ Notes):  Digital Communication Power Tools

Also on Slideshare if you’d like to experience the session via social media.

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