Annual Reflection on My Tool Use

carpenter-tablet-computer-manual-worker-hammer-toolbeltJane Hart has opened up voting for the 2017 Top Tools used for learning.  With the 11th Annual Learning Tools survey, Jane Hart will once again be compiling an overall Top 200 Tools for Learning 2017 as well as 3 sub-lists:

  1. Top 100 Tools for Personal & Professional Learning 2017 – ie. the tools used by individuals for their own self-organised learning and self-improvement – inside and outside the workplace.
  2. Top 100 Tools for Workplace Learning 2017 – ie. the tools used to create and/or manage e-learning or for performance support, or tools used by work teams and groups for informal social and collaborative learning.
  3. Top 100 Tools for Education  2017– ie. the tools used by educators and academics in schools, colleges, universities, adult education etc.

Voting closes: mid-day GMT, Friday 22 September 2017
Results released: 8 am GMT, Monday 2 October 2017

I frequently use her annual Top Tools for Learning in both my doctorate and masters courses.  My look at my use of tools and my Top Ten were posted last September.

So my Top Ten this year are:

  • Twitter
  • Tweetdeck
  • Diigo
  • Feedly
  • Netvibes
  • Camtasia
  • SnagIt
  • WordPress
  • Facebook
  • Apple Watch

Not much has changed in the past 7 months…though I changed out my number ten:

Some of the shift over the past three years comes as I retired from full-time faculty development and spend more time in online teaching.  However, I still dabble in faculty development – I have just spent the past two months consulting for the VCU School of Social Work as they update their elearning offerings.

I teach for both Northeastern University and Creighton University.  That means two different LMSs (Blackboard and Canvas), but the LMS does not make my top ten…and I continue to be comfortable teaching in any (or none).  I introduce my students to blogging and social media, so Twitter, Tweetdeck, Diigo, WordPress, and Facebook are all actively used in my instruction (and in work submitted by my students).  I personally use Tweetdeck, Feedly and Netvibes to organize student tweets and blogs.  Camtasia and Snagit are used frequently to create multimedia for my classes…or respond to student questions.  I also instruct my students on curating their own content, and a favorite of my students this past year has been Pinterest.

I started using the Apple Watch this year..and it is amazing how quickly that becomes a part of daily use, from seeing social media to texts to fitness apps…and the timer keeps me on time to meetings!  So it seemed right to add it to my top tools, even though I continue to use the iPhone, iPad, and laptop daily…as well as my trusty Dell desktop.

I poll my students frequently to see what they are using…and some surprises show up (at least for me):

Big shout out to Jane for continuing this interesting snapshot of tool use across corporate and education settings!  I look forward to seeing this year’s list…and I hope to spend some time this summer exploring some of the emerging tools that showed up last year.

{Graphic: Dreamstime}

What is Truth?

In the New Testament Bible, John 18:38, Pilate responds to Jesus’s statement that he should bear witness to the truth with this question, “What is truth?”  Two thousand years later, we seem to still be grappling with this question.

TruthThis past year, 2016, was a year in which “truth” became very nuanced.  Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-truth” as the 2016 international word of the year.  It defined post-truth as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  We saw this play out in the United States presidential election.  Fact-checkers described numerous times when candidate Trump stretched the truth, and yet this seemed to not matter to his followers.  According to a Washington Post-ABC News post last November, Trump was seen as more honest than Clinton by an eight-point margin.

This is the backdrop to next week’s EDU 6323 lesson on web-based search.  Google Search is the most used search engine on the web, handling more than 3 billion searches every day.  Last year’s statistics ranked it with nearly two-third’s market share globally.  The main purpose of Google Search is to hunt for text in publicly accessible documents offered by web servers. It was originally developed by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1997. I remember using Alta Vista before that…but Google rapidly became the search leader. Google Search provides several features beyond searching for words. These include synonyms, weather forecasts, time zones, stock quotes, maps, earthquake data, movie showtimes, airports, home listings, and sports scores. There are special features for numbers, dates, and some specific forms, including ranges, prices, temperatures, money and measurement unit conversions, calculations, package tracking, patents, area codes, and language translation. In June 2011 Google introduced “Google Voice Search” to search for spoken, rather than typed, words – an alternate to Apple’s Siri.

Search EnginesMy lesson includes an exploration of advanced search on Google, as well as an exploration of web site ownership through WhoIs and the Wayback Machine. I am asking my students to pick a 2016 political action committee from this website … and then first search for this PAC using Google to provide the baseline information for analysis. They will then compare their Google returns to those generated by Bing, DuckDuckGo and the Chinese search engine Baidu, Do they get the same results?  What is different? Which do they prefer?  Then I will have them analyze the website for their SuperPac to see if they can find who registered and authored that website. Using the Wayback Machine, they will see if they can determine how long the has website been around.

My hope is that this exploration will generate some discussion around “truth”.  Dan Rockwell noted this past week that when he asked CEO’s at a dinner what kept them up at night, several shared ideas around truth (among others):

  • Biased media creating mis-perceptions.
  • Seeking input from others.
  • Being viewed as trustworthy.
  • Navigating transparency.
  • Getting it right when people ask for advice.

The Chronicle of Higher Education this past week published a special report called “The Post-Truth Issue.”  Two articles stood out to me. Safiya Noble, in “Google and the Misinformed Public,” noted that “…Google and Facebook have no transparent curation process by which the public can judge the credibility or legitimacy of the information they propagate.”  She goes on to say:

“Online search can oversimplify complex phenomena. The results, ranked by algorithms treated as trade secrets by Google, are divorced from context and lack guidance on their veracity or reliability. Search results feign impartiality and objectivity, even as they fail to provide essential information and knowledge we need: knowledge traditionally acquired through teachers, professors, books, history, and experience.”

Lucy Ferriss, in “Post-Truth and Chaos,” had an interesting closing:

“Truth, in other words, is a thing — a goal, a bedrock, a provable hypothesis, a conclusion from evidence, an insight to which, per Keats, the perception of beauty can bring us. Post-truth is a strategy. Its relationship to truth is strategic. Its goal is the exploitation of emotion. And while it cannot kill truth, it does in a way look past it, as a hubristic traveler might try to look past that North Star, and find beyond it utter darkness, nothingness, chaos.”

Determining validity on the web should be a part of digital literacy.  At lunch this past month with Enoch Hale, Director of VCU’s new Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning, he made an interesting comment that his job really was more about “thinking” – thinking critically – than teaching or learning.  As we approach this next week, I want my EDU6323 students to think critically about what they find on the web, and about truth.

Truth?

{Graphics: Edgar, EvidenceUnseen}

Deeper Searches

google-search-resultsIn the third week of EDU 6323, my students explored web searches.  I had them read the second chapter of Michelle Miller’s Minds Online, Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid, Eszter Hargittai and colleagues’ Trust Online, and Clive Thompson’s Why Kids Can’t Search.  I also covered advanced search techniques on Google as well as the use of WhoIs and the Wayback Machine.

As an exercise for the week, my students were tasked with picking a 2016 Presidential candidate … and then first searching using Google to determine the “Super Pac” that is backing that candidate … and then trying the same search using Bing and DuckDuckGo to see if they got the same results.  One of my Asian-American students added Baidu, which was rather interesting!  They then were to explore more deeply the website for the SuperPac they had chosen to see if they could find who registered and authored that website. Using the Wayback Machine, they explored how long has the website had been around.

This was the first time I have tried this particular activity in one of my online classes, and I was impressed with the analysis of my students.  First, they learned a lot about SuperPacs, One of the go to websites was OpenSecrets.Org – which they in turn analyzed for validity.  Several were surprised to find SuperPacs supporting Bernie Sanders (though this apparently was not reciprocated).  Several not only found the founder of certain SuperPacs, but then dug deeper into data about this person and how that might influence how the SuperPac was being used.

I found the reflections around personal searches most interesting.  As one student noted, “…everyday web searching is superficial compared to the possibilities.”

An interesting quote from one student:

“At this point I took a pause to think about the article “Is Google making us Stupid?”  because in just under half an hour I had learned something very significant about political campaigns in this country, I had read (not skimmed)  several articles, and I certainly felt wiser and more informed.  When I first read the article, before doing this search exercise, I was in agreement with the author– afraid of my thought processes becoming like an algorithm. But last night, when I went to go read a new book that I have,  I noticed something interesting. In order to read a book, I need to take my body off of high alert. It may seem like we are passively searching the Internet, sitting on our butts on the sofa,  but I noticed that my breathing was different,  my calmness level was different, and even the way I felt about reading was different when I was holding a physical book in my hand versus being online.”

Most noted they had used Google without much thought, and appreciated the new awareness of both alternatives as well as search shortcuts within Google.  Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo tended to return similar sites, but the look and feel was different.  All seemed to return news stories ahead of the SuperPacs themselves, which helped reinforce the concept of PageRank.  Interestingly, Baidu returned similar sites, but the taglines in some cases were several years older. Most of my students had not heard of the Wayback Machine or WhoIs before and liked the ability to better understand the history of a website.  Several noted that they could now as parents help their children more critically search!  They seemed to agree that teaching search skills is a digital literacy that needs to start in K-12 and be reinforced in higher education.

searchengines3

Most disagreed with Carr’s viewpoint on Google making us stupid, though his point about skimming over deep reading seemed to resonate.  Most noted that Google is a tool that can make us more efficient…or lead to superficial search.  As one student noted, a hammer can build or tear down.  It is not the tool but the use that counts.  One student suggested that mainstream media and its soundbite mentality had more to do with skimming than any website.

Miller brought up the use of technology to mitigate against cheating in online classes in her second chapter, and that led several of my students to discuss cheating in a digital age.  Most seemed to think that focusing on cheating only in online courses missed the broader point.  Several also suggested that deeper engagement by students could lead to less problems with academic integrity.

So, I was very pleased with how this week’s thought exercise worked.  Next week, my students will begin using Diigo and explore the concept of tagging.

{Graphic: Geomarketing}

Digital Leadership

westermanbookI have read about half of a recent book from George Westerman, Didier Bonnet, and Andrew McAfeeLeading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation (2014).  Their premise is that the innovations of the past decade have been nothing short of astonishing – yet they are just the warm up acts for what is to come.  They suggest that those that master the digital playing field will be able to combine big data, machine learning, and visualizations such that their organizations will make smarter decisions, see the future more clearly, drive out inefficiencies, and better understand their customers.

This book was published by Harvard Business Review Press…and is certainly geared towards business professionals.  They note that the elements of the digital world – software, hardware, networks, and data – are “pervading the business world, and they’re doing so quickly, broadly, and deeply” (p. 5).  The first half of the book focuses on two driving capabilities – digital capability (customer engagement, operational processes, and business models) and leadership capability (vision, governance, and infrastructure).

The authors matrix these two capabilities to suggest four levels of digital mastery:

  • Beginners
  • Fashionistas
  • Conservatives
  • Digital Masters

Plotting these by industry gives the following graphic (p. 22):

DigMastery

Noteworthy (to me) is the absence of higher education.  Yet, as I considered this, it struck me that it is more difficult to pin down any university (or college or department within universities).  There are programs and faculty just beginning the digital journey.  There are programs and departments that jump on bandwagons but do not have a compelling vision for where they are going.  There are definitely conservative programs that are carefully considering their digital future.  And there are higher education programs that seem to have successfully made the digital transformation, and there are numerous centers for teaching nationwide that focus on facilitating this digital transformation.

My colleague Jeff Nugent over the past few years has suggested three “truths”:

  • We live in a networked world where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is literally accessible at our fingertips.
  • There are unprecedented opportunities to create, share and interact on the web.
  • We are witnessing the increased digitization of the university.

If one agrees that these are true, one would naturally cultivate both the digital capability and leadership capability necessary to succeed in this digital world.  Yet, the lack of urgency in developing these capabilities across much of higher education seems to suggest that some of our colleagues do not hold these as truths.

It brings to mind research conducted by Carol Dweck and others that has identified two distinct ways in which individuals view intelligence and learning.  Individuals with a fixed mindset believe that their intelligence is simply an inborn trait—they have a certain amount, and that’s that.  In contrast, individuals with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their intelligence over time.  One wonders if faculty – many of who achieved success in a pre-digital era – are operating from a fixed mindset when it comes to digital literacy?

It raises the question of whether one can focus on digital mastery without first tackling the issue of mindset?

The second half of the book provides strategies for framing the digital challenges, investing in actionable ways, mobilizing and motivating workforces, and sustaining the transition.  This book has me thinking … which is good.  I would be interested in your thoughts around the digitization of the university – faculty and students – and the mindset associated with that transformation.

My Current Top Tools

Jane Hart Top 100Jane Hart tweeted that her 8th annual survey of learning professionals was out for her Top Tools for Learning 2014.  I always find this list interesting and a great resource to share with my students.  I regularly use quite a number, and have at least played with all but 18 of the top hundred.  Last year’s list is available on her Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies website.  I have embedded her slideshow from last year here:

The last time I submitted my top ten tools to her survey was in 2012, so it was interesting to first develop my list for this year and submit it…and then go back and reflect on how this list might have changed from what I submitted in 2012.

My top toolsWhat is both interesting and maybe a little alarming for me is how little this list changed in the past two years.  The order is a little different, and Google Reader was replaced with Feedly…but the functionality is the same.  Facebook dropped off and the iPad was added.  Two years ago, I stated:

“…these are my top tools for learning “at the present moment” – but I do see shifts occurring in the next year.  I think this is the first year that I have not listed my learning management system (Blackboard) in my top ten, which is pretty telling on its own.  My home institution has moved to Google Apps for email and productivity, so potentially I will shift from using Dropbox to Google Drive, which folds in another favorite tool of mine, Google Docs.  As we all move to more open platforms and mobile friendly applications, some of the above will evolve as well.  I did not list smartphones or tablets in my top ten, but I am increasingly aware of how well my tools work (or do not work) on mobile devices.”

Well…two years have passed… and I have certainly moved beyond Blackboard.  I regularly use Google Drive and the associated docs…but continue to think and use Dropbox first.  Wherever I go these days, my iPad and iPhone are handy…which I use for note-taking, research, and photos.  In fact, the panorama feature of iPhone camera is another favorite.

Reflecting on the evolutionary changes occurring on the web, I think that I have moved beyond “tools” to practices.  I do have my second top ten list that I use almost as often as my top ten…

And two that were on last year’s list that look interesting and were introduced to me by students were Udutu and Trello.  I continue to check out tools…

…but it is the practices afforded by the open web that continue to excite me – not the tools.  (My grammar colleagues tell me “practice” has no plural…but my mind refuses to accept that…)

practiceBy practice, I mean working and learning in the open.  The web (and these tools) are no longer separate entities from my work / life experience.    I met with some colleagues this morning for coffee, and we were discussing the visit this week by Christina Engelbart of the Doug Engelbart Institute.  In many ways, the top 100 tools for learning simply provide evidence of what Doug Engelbart visualized as “augmenting human intellect.”  The tools have become as much a part of me as the clothes I wear…and as such, the use seems to have become second nature and unconscious.

That said, I still find value in Jane crowdsourcing the top tools.  Seeing what might surface provides new ways of thinking about teaching and learning in a digital age.  If you have not done so, join me in voting for your top tools…and let’s see what all of us develop together.

{Graphic: C4LPT, Allen Interactions}

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Rethinking Pedagogy

beethamIn my last post, I discussed how I was rethinking some fundamentals based on our White Paper.  “Rethinking” must be in vogue.  Yesterday, I received my copy of a new edition of a book edited by Helen Beetham and Rhona Sharpe – Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing for 21st Century Learning (Routledge, 2013).

I am only a couple of chapters in so far, but I am finding it interesting.  First, all of the authors are either UK or Australian, giving a perspective that is not so USA-centric.  With England’s Open University and Australia’s unique distance program for the Outback, this perspective is worth giving a listen.  When I first started to teach online eighteen years ago, one of my mentors was Dr. Lindsay Barker, an educator from Australia.  And Lindsay was decidedly focused on pedagogy…not technology…though he was one of the first to help conceptualize using a brand new product – Lotus Notes – as a VLE.

I like the tone of this book.  The authors suggest that the theoretical concepts remain valid, but that pedagogy (which they broaden beyond youth to include adult learning) is tied to technologies of learning, and as these technologies evolve, the pedagogy should as well.  One comment that caught my eye in the Foreword was:

“…At the time of the first edition [2007], learning technologists were insisting that there was more to online learning than lectures on the web, and we should be looking to the active forms of learning that could be offered.  Since then, we have had the explosion of social media to connect learners to each other, there are more opportunities for user-generated content, and yet now there are even more lectures on the web…”

How true is that!?!?!

In rethinking pedagogy, the authors have attempted to use the term in the classic sense of guidance-to-learn.  They note that recent researchers have suggested that “learning” is superior to “teaching” but they make no apologies.  They note that there has always been content – whether that was the local library or the internet, but that most learning opportunities are enhanced when the learning is guided.  “Pedagogy is about guided learning, rather than leaving you to find your own way.”  So the teacher is front and center in this book.

Chapter 2 by Helen Beetham focuses on active learning in technology-rich contexts.  She noted that challenges facing online educators include recognizing the variance in learners and adapting to this variance rather than teaching to one level.  She suggests five types of learning activities appropriate for digital technologies:

  • Discovering
  • Developing and Sharing Ideas
  • Solving Problems, Developing Techniques
  • Collecting, Gathering, Recording, Editing
  • Working with Others

bloomspyramidShe includes a useful appendix that provides a taxonomy of digital literacy tied to Bloom’s Taxonomy.  For each level of the taxonomy, she provided examples of learning tasks with a digital literacy component, and relevant tools, applications, or services.

For instance, under Remembering, she suggested labeling diagrams, locating resources on the web and tagging them, and taking quizzes.  Tools included online whiteboards, electronic polling, and Google.

Moving up to Analyzing, she suggested activities where students identify patterns, using visualization apps or geotagging.  She also suggested the use of blogs for public debate around issues with links to evidence, as well as the use of mind-mapping software.

At the level of Creating, she suggested student generation of research projects, design of apps, or the creation of new communities of practice, using social media and web design software.  She noted that some have decried the “cut and paste mentality” of students, but she sees real value in guided tasks of aggregation, using techniques such as digital storytelling to have students make sense of their collections.  My colleague Bud Deihl would love that!

As I said, I am only two chapters in … so I have another fifteen to go.  But I am enjoying this book.  Be interested to hear from any others reading it.

[Graphics: Routledge, Samantha Penney}

 

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Twenty-First Century Learning?

Cathy Nelson blogged about 21st Century Learner Standards yesterday, drawing our attention to the American Association of School Librarian’s Core Standards:

The Standards describe how learners use skills, resources, and tools to

  1. inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge;
  2. draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge;
  3. share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society;
  4. pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

21 Century Sign

While I only have just begun, I currently have 31 links in delicious on this topic. I hope to put together a faculty learning community next fall to explore this very subject. There is definite commonality among these links but some differences as well. Many focus on the technology alone. While the web may well be ubiquitous, does 21st Century literacy simply mean digital literacy, or is there more to it than that?

Some great starting points that I have found so far:

Jeff Utecht (based on the National Council of Teachers of English) suggested that twenty-first century readers and writers need to:

Develop proficiency with the tools of technology
• Build relationships with others to pose and solve problems collaboratively and cross-culturally
• Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes
• Manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information
• Create, critique, analyze, and evaluate multi-media texts
• Attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments

These align nicely with the AASL Standards, focusing on both technological skills and collaborative skills.

I think that it is important that we do define what we mean. I am mindful of an award winning post by Karl Fisch last year on the peril of the illiterate teacher. He chided all of us that we need to model 21st Century skills:

In order to teach it, we have to do it. How can we teach this to kids, how can we model it, if we aren’t literate ourselves? You need to experience this, you need to explore right along with your students. You need to experience the tools they’ll be using in the 21st century, developing your own networks in parallel with your students. You need to demonstrate continual learning, lifelong learning – for your students, or you will continue to teach your students how to be successful in an age that no longer exists.

If a teacher today is not technologically literate – and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more – it’s equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn’t know how to read and write.

To model, we have to define what we mean. So, I am looking for comments and guidance here. What do YOU think are some good resources on what we should mean when we say “21st Century Learners”? Looking for the wisdom of the crowds to help me out here!

[Photo Credit: hyperspace 328]