Living In the Real World

Stephen Downes is one of my heroes – a pioneer in online learning.  However, I think he missed the mark with his post yesterday entitled “My Take on the Top 25“. Stephen took Jane Hart’s Slideshow of the Day list of the top 25 technologies – and commented on where they fit (or did not fit) in his own world.

A quick disclaimer, I may have took notice because I was one of 192 professionals that submitted our top ten tools to Jane, who compiled them into her Top 100 Tools for Learning. Given the number of submissions and the depth of expertise of the submitters, this list strikes me as pretty balanced and interesting.  But I may be biased.

However, in reading Stephen’s post, I was struck by a feeling that I have not had since my Pentagon days – one of “NIH” – or “not invented here.”  NIH was a condition that sometimes struck officers of one branch of the military if an officer from another branch suggested a solution.  Stephen seemed to be unimpressed with many of the tools because he had already written a script or code that did similar functions and saw little utility in the tools listed.  He basically downplayed or outright stated that he had no use for 15 of the 25 tools.

I would suggest a different take.  Most faculty (and I include myself) are not as inherently gifted at coding or programming as Stephen is, and instead are simply looking for tools that solve problems in their very real world.  Many of the tools in Jane’s list meet these needs.  They have for me.

What I find interesting in Jane’s list are the possibilities it has suggested.  Rather than saying “I do not use this tool”, I looked at the list for suggestions on tools I might use to solve problems I have with my online teaching (and my students’ online learning).  I now routinely use 21 of the top 25 tools (though that was not true two years ago).  The four tools that make up my PLE (delicious, Google Reader, blogging with WordPress, and Twitter) are all in the top fifteen.  I am using Camtasia and Wikispaces in my online Blackboard class.  Firefox is my default browser.  Pictures in my blog come from Flickr or SnagIt, and I routinely network with others through Ning and Slideshare.  In fact, I continue to be blown away by the fact that one of my powerpoints I uploaded on a whim to SlideShare, Teaching In A Flat World, now has over 7,000 views in just the last 5 months – not to mention nearly 600 downloads and 16 embeds in others’ websites.  Long winded way of saying that I find tremedous value in these tools.

What is your take?  Do you find Jane’s list unhelpful (does it not fit your world)…or is it helpful – does it open up new possibilities for teaching and learning?  Be interested in your thoughts!

{Photo Credit: LexnGer}

5 comments to Living In the Real World

  1. Ken Allan says:

    Kia ora Britt!

    Like you, I am an admirer of Stephen D.

    I’ve never met him, but I have my own idea of what he’d be like if I did – I’m entitled to that I guess. I think Stephen is like many technology gurus I’ve known in my time. They have ranged from aero-modelling gurus, through Science research gurus to computer programming gurus. They all behave like gurus – often very helpful, and they will tell you anything about what they know. They are also often highly opinionated.

    Though I don’t usually put people into categories, I feel I have to with Stephen in order to come up with some opinion as to why he wrote his 25 takes the way he did. He wrote it like a guru. Even his sentence construction is commensurate with a guru, like in his first bullet where he said, “Don’t use Flock.”

    Now I’m not sure whether he meant, “Don’t use Flock!” or “(I) don’t use Flock.” I suspect the latter. Gurus tend to be a bit like that in that, when giving advice they seem to scramble the good news with the bad news and give it all as advice.

    Frankly, I suspect that there is no malice intended, and that would apply to many of the gurus I’ve met. They see all that they know as advice that might be useful to someone else, whether it is positive or negative, in a nice sort of way.

    You have to hand it to Stephen, he certainly gives plenty of advice, and freely. It would be quite different if he was sparing with it. For one thing, he wouldn’t be the guru he undoubtedly is.

    Ka kite
    from Middle-earth

  2. I meant “I don’t use Flock.” I certainly didn’t intend to tell people not to use it, simple to convey that I don’t. My apologies for the confusion.

    Many people find value in the tools I don’t use. That’s why Jane Hart surveys 115 people, and not just me.

    This is what allows me to describe what *I* use, rather than to get caught in the game of recommending what other people should use.

    In my own case – which, remember, is unique to me – I extend my capacities by writing my own software. This is a skill I worked very hard to acquire (it’s not simply ‘inherent’) and the reason why I did was that I wanted to be able to do what people will be doing with *tomorrow’s* tools, not just today’s.

    Don’t confuse my own choices with NIH. In every instance, there’s a cost to using my own tools. I use mainstream tools whenever I can. That’s why, for example, I use MySQL, instead of the database system I wrote for myself. Or the Mod Wiki or the Lime survey tool. Or, for that matter, Firefox.

    Where I use my own tools, there is a specific purpose for using the tool. Sometimes the mainstream tools don’t work as well as advertised (eg., Ruby on Rails, Sunbird). Sometimes they are not flexible enough or don’t manage data they way I want (eg. WordPress, Drupal).

    What this means is that you can’t simply take my choices as recommendations as to what tools to use. Just as well: my recommendations probably wouldn’t serve you very well. Because you aren’t trying to do the things I’m trying to do.

    But – assuming that you believe I have some sort of handle on where the future will go – you should be able to use my report to judge what sort of changes to expect in the future.

    Again, you should rely on other people as well, and not just me. Other people are better at writing software, better at predicting the future, better at understanding people.

  3. Britt says:

    Nice clarification, Stephen (and thanks Ken for the first comment).

    You are still my hero! 🙂

  4. Emma says:

    Guess that Steven had taken my idea of commenting on them all … it’s just we had different ways of doing it …
    I guess he also gave longer reasons that I did for not using tools; for example, I don’t really like delicious – mostly because the first online bookmarking tool I found was iKeepbookmarks – which I find serves my purposes well. It’s not a social one, but I tend to prefer to blog (& comment) about sites that I find useful, rather than sharing all of my bookmarks (which reflect the whole of me, not just work).
    I’ve recently re-looked at Delicious – and yes, it does handle tagging better than it used to (I wasn’t a great fan of tagging, as I found it hard to remember what terms I’d used in the past; iKeepbookmarks folders enabled me to remember).

    Last year, I decided to encourage students to use delicious – set up some tags for the unit I was teaching, added some starting sites, but they never added to it, which rather defeated the object. (Though I have since had a first year student tells me she uses it all the time, so maybe I’ll try again. If enough students wanted it, then I’d start to move all my work ones there – pain as it would be for me generally – but good excuse to filter out the dud links!

    Anyway, I guess we each have our own takes on what we like, what suits our way of working, and what we need to learn, despite personally hating it, because too many others use it.

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