Faculty Development in An Open World


I just finished reading Curtis J. Bonk’s new book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that Wiley, the publisher, emailed me after I reviewed Dan Willingham’s book in a previous post and asked if they could send me Bonk’s book for possible review (with no strings attached).

I said yes and the next week received a copy of this book at no charge.

With that said, this book has resonated with me and I found Bonk’s approach interesting.

In many ways, Bonk is as much a fan boy of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat as I am.  Just as Friedman had ten flatterners, Bonk has ten openers:

Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)

  1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
  3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
  5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  7. Electronic Collaboration
  8. Alternate Reality Learning
  9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  10. Networks of Personalized Learning

WE-ALL-LEARN provides a framework for his book and the premise that anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.  Bonk  spun out chapters on each opener, illustrating each concept with stories, a bit of research and statistics, and implications for education in the future.  Working in the field, I recognized some of the people he named, but I also learned new pioneers.  Bonk continually reinforces that these openers ought to be changing education as we know it, as our world is quite different from our parent’s world.

In Bonk’s view, these openers need to viewed through three overarching trends.  First, the pipes are getting bigger allowing access to tools and infrastructure.  Second, more and more pages of content is becoming available as free and open content. Third, a participatory learning culture is evolving around social media.

One of the things I found fascinating was my own reaction to the book.  I buy the basic theme that openness ultimately improves education, and I consider myself someone who is part of a participatory learning culture.  I was pleased that Bonk provided a companion website with hyperlinked references and other resources.  But my first inclination was to begin following Curt Bonk’s Twitter account…and I could not find one for him!  Other than his blog, I did not see Bonk participating to the same degree that he discusses in his book.  I have never met him and may be way off target, but I was somewhat surprised that I could not immediately connect with him the way I did with some of the people he mentioned in his book like Stephen Downes, Vicki Davis, Clay Shirky or Dave Weinberger.

So I was thrilled with the content and miffed a bit by the author!  Weird reaction!

I also found that increasingly with books like this one, I read it with a laptop nearby, so that I can quickly go look at something new and immediately start the learning process for myself.  I had never seen Dancing Matt before, so really enjoyed viewing his Youtube video while reading that section of the book.  This bouncing between the web and the written word is a new but interesting process…and it suggests that in many ways, this should have been an e-book as opposed to a print book.

His final opener has to do with personalized learning…something we reflect on often in faculty development.  Bonk stated that we should be striving to move from where we see personalized learning as the ideal to a culture where personalized learning is the accepted norm.  With the pipes, pages, and participatory culture, anyone can establish their own learning path on any topic, whether it be improved teaching, learning a new language, or finally programming the VCR (…just kidding).  The implications for faculty development are huge!

Bonk has fifteen predictions at the end.  I will leave it to you to check them out, but I liked that he is questioning the status quo.  With the availability of all the world’s knowledge in our pockets/cellphones, the typical four-year college process no longer makes sense to Bonk.  He suggests that formalized education will expand rather than contract.  But informal learning with global partners will play an equal role to the formalized higher education model.  Learning will be authentic from passionate teachers…but those “teachers” may no longer be credentialed.  Bonk also served up a dozen issues that will have to be solved for openness to succeed.

I work with faculty daily on best ways to incorporate the internet into their teaching practices.  In the past three years since I came to VCU, the access to learning on the web has exploded.  Bonk’s book is pushing me to reconceptualize how I should facilitate faculty development in an open world.  I recommend the book to you and would be interesting in your thoughts on the evolution/revolution of faculty development in these exciting times!

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Who Blogs Anymore?


Apparently not me.  When I started blogging two years ago, I was averaging three posts a week.  Now I am down to one a month for the past few months.

Luckily, there are those who do blog, as my Google Reader affirms daily!  I still enjoy reading blogs, but I have fallen out of the habit of routinely commenting and blogging myself.

A few weeks back, I finished reading a fascinating book by Scott Rosenberg called Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It’s Becoming, and Why It Matters.  Having spent the past decade growing up with the internet, I found this book timely and full of interesting background around a subject that I thought I already knew!  It also is inspiring me to give my blog new energy!

In the opening eight chapters, Scott details how blogging began and grew by focusing on a person or two per chapter that highlighted his conceptual points.  He starts with Justin Hall, a nineteen-year-old in 1994 who began sharing everything about himself on his website, but more importantly, added links to other sites as part of his sharing.  Dave Winer began posting his own soapbox and invited others to do the same.  The early bloggers had to know HTML, but they helped each other figure out that it was not that hard to do.  Jorge Barger coined the term “weblog” (though he wanted it to be called Web Log because he thought “blog” was a hideous term!).  These early bloggers saw their role as a service – filtering the mass of information for their readers.

The chapter on Evan Williams, Meg Hourihan, and the development of Blogger was particularly interesting.  I found it fascinating that the same person who made blogging easy by developing Blogger also created Twitter, which in some ways is the reason I blog less.  If I were to name my personal learning aids, Twitter would be first and blogs/RSS reader second.

Sometime in the past week, I sent my 5,000th tweet – and that fact did not even register!  In the past two years, I have posted 157 times to this blog, so that would suggest that my choice for social dialogue is Twitter.  Yet, Twitter – while great for connecting and communicating – remains less a reflective medium than a reactive one.  And I still benefit from reflection.

Thus this blog continues to serve a useful purpose for me.

As tools such as Blogger made it easier to blog, the number of blogs continued to rise.  Some rose for political purposes, such as Josh Marshall‘s Talking Points Memo.  Others tried to make money off blogging, such as Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington of TechCrunch fame.  I have been a Boing Boing fan for several years, yet did not realize the rich history behind this website until Scott laid out its story.

Scott also detailed some of the darker sides of blogging, detailing the story of Heather Armstrong and how her blogging led to her being fired from a job.

The final three chapters review the rise of citizen journalism and its impact on mainstream journalism, as well as the evolution of blogging itself as more and more blogs develop (including of course my own blog).  As Scott noted, in the late 1990’s, the word “blog” did not even exist, and a decade later, 184 million people worldwide had started a blog.  Not all keep it up, but the impact on connections and communication remains staggering!  More importantly, just as there now seems to be “an app for that”, so too blogs cover such amazing diversities of fields that any area of interest probably already has a blog covering it.  It is simultaneously globally ubiquitous and razor sharp in its focus.

Blogging continue to evolve.  Scott noted that some of the energy that previously poured into blogs now pours into social media like Facebook or Twitter, yet people continue to look for ways to find their voice, and blogs serve that purpose well.

At our Center for Teaching Excellence, my colleague Bud Deihl has launched a new initiative around digital storytelling.  While his focus is the use of digital images to tell a story, in many ways blogging has always been about telling a story.  Scott ends by noting that bloggers are:

“…writers who sit down to type character after character, word upon word, day by day, steadily constructing, out of their fragments, little edifices of memory and public record…Individually they are stewards of their won experience; together they are curators of our collective history…”

Who blogs anymore?  I hope I continue to…and I hope others continue to not only reflect on my thoughts but offer me their wisdom in return.

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Knee 2.0


I have not posted for quite a while, with the primary reason being an upgrade of my old body.  My colleague Jeff Nugent termed my pending knee replacement as an upgrade to Knee 2.0, which seemed very appropriate.

So a little over two weeks ago, the good team at West End Orthopaedic retooled me with titanium parts.  I have been recovering a home for the past 14 days, and see new improvements each day.  It was definitely time for the upgrade!

It has also given me some time to think and ponder the retooling that education is undergoing!

If you did not catch it earlier this month, Lisa Lane had an important article published in FIRST MONDAY entitled “Insidious Pedagogy: How Course Management Systems Impact Teaching.”  Her point – right on target I think – was that the default settings on most CMS have an implied pedagogy, and because most faculty do not work and play online, most faculty accept the defaults and therefore the given pedagogy – whether it fits their content, their discipline specific pedagogy, or their own style.

I was thinking about this because prior to going in for my upgrade, I had begun working with six fellow faculty in a year-long exploration of online teaching and learning.  Our faculty learning community explored my online class first, and then two weeks ago, explored another member’s approach – one that was radically different from mine.

I consider myself pretty adept at elearning, having taught online now for a dozen years.  Yet, this look at new approaches is tugging at my comfort zone, because I have fallen guilty of the view that “my” way of teaching online is “the” way of teaching online.  Not that I do not do a great job – I do – but I use a fairly structured and hands-on approach to build a learning community that then has the freedom to use open approaches to learning as they grow comfortable with them.  In other words, drawing from Lane’s comments, I make my students work and play online some before turning them loose.

My colleague has developed a brilliant certification process that allows one to start at any point, proceed at any speed, work toward certification if desired, or simply work towards self-development without the academic credentialing requirement (and at no cost).  In other words, a true open content process.

Just as in retooling myself physically, I also need to retool my thought processes and open myself to new approaches in teaching and learning online.  My faculty learning community is occurring at the right time and place!

I am also starting Curtis Bonk’s book The World is Open.  In full disclosure, the publisher sent it to me at no charge, but it does look timely and helpful to retooling my thinking.  I’ll blog more about it as I go through it.

I would be interested in your thoughts regarding online teaching and learning.  I have been wedded to the concept of a community of learners as a prerequisite for successful online classes, yet we now are entering a world of social networking and informal communities that coalesce around topics of interest.  In the structured world of higher education, what is the right approach for elearning?

{Photo Credit: Larry Page}