Smart and EdTech

A few days ago, I discussed my upcoming doctoral class on leadership in a wired world.  I will also be teaching a Masters of Education course starting next week.  EDU 6323 at Northeastern University is entitled Technology as a Medium for Learning.  We explore aspects of digital technology through the lens of Michelle Miller’s (2014) book, Minds Online: Teaching effectively with technology.  My course (adapted from one developed by Stan Anamuah-Mensah at VCU) flows like this:

I would like to think that this course explores “smart” uses of digital technology for learning…but “smart” has nuanced meaning now.  We are seeing more and more application of AI in our everyday life.  Just examine the Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Smart dust, smart workspace, smart data discovery, smart robots…there are a lot of smart applications emerging!  Two books that I have read recently around smart technology are Martin Ford’s (2015) Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future, and Kevin Kelly’s (2016) The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future.   One scary…one hopeful…and both directly applicable to this course!

So I read with interest a short article this week in MIT’s Technology Review by Hossein Derakhshan.  In “A Smarter Web”, Derakhshab suggests that we need more text and links, and fewer images, videos and memes.  He noted how the early days of the web and it’s text-based blogs served to nurture varying opinions, while lately, social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat have served to amplify existing beliefs, polarizing and fragmenting society.  He suggests that the lack of varying opinions had more to do with the outcome of the recent USA Presidential elections than false news.  Derakhshan suggests that a smarter web would be one that stepped backwards in time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, we are moving as a nation into a future where the old rules seem to have shriveled.  Robert Reich noted earlier this week that Trump’s tweets are becoming a new form of governing by edict..or “Tweedict” as he termed them.  In my EDU 6323 course, we will be using Twitter as a form of class communication using the hashtag #EDU6323…but hopefully in a more collaborative way than the Tweedict suggests!

In the third week of the course, we will explore validity on the web.  I am adding danah boyd’s recent Medium article – “Did Media Literacy Backfire” – to the reading for that week.  danah noted that media literacy asks people to question information and be wary of what they are receiving…but, in line with Derekhshan’s article, this has led to where we are questioning so much that we talk right by each other.  danah ends her article noting:

“The path forward is hazy. We need to enable people to hear different perspectives and make sense of a very complicated — and in many ways, overwhelming — information landscape. We cannot fall back on standard educational approaches because the societal context has shifted. We also cannot simply assume that information intermediaries can fix the problem for us, whether they be traditional news media or social media. We need to get creative and build the social infrastructure necessary for people to meaningfully and substantively engage across existing structural lines. This won’t be easy or quick, but if we want to address issues like propaganda, hate speech, fake news, and biased content, we need to focus on the underlying issues at play. No simple band-aid will work.”

So I know that my course will engage students and introduce them to new technologies.  But my hope is that my course will also begin to shift some paradigms and shake up some cultural norms.  Otherwise, their future students might not hear these different perspectives that they need to hear!  And that would not be smart!

 

Social Media and Education Redux

At Northeastern University, I teach a graduate course on Social Media and Education – EDU 6333.  I have been teaching it for two years, and it is fascinating to work and learn with (relatively) younger Masters students on this topic.

The course is 12 weeks in length and flows like this, shifting between tools and processes:

Course Map

Our Twitter hashtag is #EDU6333.  The course runs in Northeastern’s Blackboard .. but in this Fall’s course for the third week on Communication, we shifted and conducted our weekly discussions in a private Facebook group.  It was interesting to hear some of my students’ perspectives about this shift – viewing communication within social media versus within Blackboard:

…I would have to agree with you that in many courses the discussion boards have been a forced post/response system where students post their required responses and then move on to the next week. I always put significant thought into what I am posting in both initial posts and responses but there rarely seems to be an actual back and forth conversation between classmates. I have to say that in this courses Twitter and Facebook seems to facilitate a genuine conversation, largely because of the notifications of responses in my opinion.

…With this being my 8th class on Blackboard, I have become use to it, but it is not intuitive and I use it because I have to. Not because I want to.

…In previous courses, I found myself completing the baseline of our expectations and not going above and beyond. With the ease and simplicity of using Twitter and Facebook on my phone, I find myself accessing course information a lot more, and I find myself a lot more engaged in the course, time wise and frequency wise!

…Most of us have gotten used to almost instant satisfaction with our social media, in that we are able to search for and view whatever pops into our mind in a matter of seconds. Blackboard would be wise to incorporate tools that allow users to operate more fluidly and with ease, instead of forcing us to click and click, searching for simple information.

…I think Blackboard would do well to infuse various components of popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, into their academic-based platform. Increased accessibility by cell phone and an insta-chat feature should be at the top of their list. These additions would facilitate higher levels of communication amongst instructors and students, as well as encourage contact with class-related content.

…Blackboard compared to Facebook as a discussion platform is similar to comparing penny farthing bikes to cars in regards to transportation. Blackboard is clunky, cumbersome and crude. More often than not, I type up my responses on google docs and then copy and paste them into Blackboard. Even simple tasks such as hyperlinking are using outdated code, requiring it to take a much longer time than is truly necessary. Additionally, consider the image I posted below. It took me only a few short seconds to type the term into my open search bar, find an image, copy it, and paste it below. In Blackboard, I need to find the image, download it, and re-upload it back in order to incorporate it.

…social media can enhance interactions with instructors and peers. Discussion boards do not achieve these goals. They are in my o experience contrived don’t emulate in class discussion nor do they take advantage of existing platforms today’s students use to communicate. In most (not all) online classes I’ve taken faculty do not participate on the discussion board, virtually eliminating all informal faculty and student communication. They are used more as formal assessment like a short paper.

…I have taken over 60 online courses at the college level, and I find myself more engaged in this course than any of the others because of the frequency and conversational format of communication that Twitter and Facebook allow. I really wish other instructors gave us these opportunities to converse more freely!

Now, not all students necessarily were in favor of social media as a learning platform:

…the lack of connectedness and immediacy to Blackboard can be seen as one of its strengths because there are not the same kinds of distractions you would have with Facebook or Twitter. In this sense, CMS platforms create a separation between learning and everyday life which might be beneficial. This is especially important for adult learners who might be working full time or have a family to take care of and can’t feel connected all the time.

…I would strongly prefer to NOT have my classes be based on Facebook compared to Blackboard. I am very diligent about deadlines, so I am not one of the students who needs constant reminders. Another downside for me is that when I come on Facebook, I just want to scroll through some friends and family, watch some funny cat videos, and generally have fun with it. It is good for winding down. If all of my classes notified me each time something was posted on the Facebook page, I would get jolted back into school mentality even during a time I have set aside for not school work, which bothers me.

…I enjoy having a Twitter to communicate with classmates, the conversation flows naturally and quickly between classmates (more like a “real” conversation). On the contrary, it is also nice to have a home base where the material lives for a course such as blackboard. Facebook is a great method of communication but I can also see how it could be disruptive for completing course work (i.e getting notifications on the picture you posted 5 hours ago while trying to complete a discussion post for your course).

…The BB can be utilized as a tool for means of communication among peers and instructors but similar to any social media outlet this varies from person to person and instructor to instructor.

A side conversation this week began as students discussed meeting their K12 or undergraduate students “where they were.”  Rather than Twitter and Facebook that is being used in our course, they suggested that their students were elsewhere:

…I offered Facebook or email; both were met with a chuckle. High schoolers have moved on from Facebook. We discussed Instagram, Snap Chat and Twitter as possible option and settled on Twitter. I’m sure most them have Facebook, but just do not use it much in their daily social online interactions.

…my middle schoolers said they would prefer instagram, snapchat and imessaging as methods of communication, in that order.

…I just sent a Facebook message to my best friend’s son, who is 17. I will say it only took him 30 seconds to respond. He tells me that high school kids have moved to Instagram and Twitter because Facebook is for old people

…I’ve had similar conversations with my 7th grade students. They are all about Instagram and SnapChat now because the pictures are most appealing to them and there is still a text chat feature on both for two-way communication.

To see a possible more up-to-date use of social media in education, I was exploring a class at Virginia Commonwealth University earlier in the week being taught by Jason Coats, Bonnie Boaz and Ryan Cales.  They have a common WordPress site for their three sections of UNIV 200.  They are using Slack for discussions, Flipgrid for weekly video reflections, and blogs for individual assignments.  Cool!  Is this how classes are evolving?

Last week, Jane Hart published her latest list of Top Tools for Learning…expanded this year to the Top 200.  For the first time in 7 years, Twitter is no longer Number One (though it is still a very healthy Number Three).  Facebook is Number 6.  But Slack is Number 20, up 63 places from last year.  If I counted right, there are 78 new tools on this year’s list (of course, it is an expanded list).  And not all meet the definition of “social media” … but many do.

So I am wondering – how would I redesign my Social Media and Education course in a School of Education Masters … taking in to consideration all these new opportunities!  How would you?

I would be interested in your thoughts…

And here is the latest Top Tools list:

 

 

 

Another Tools Post

Wow!  It has been almost 5 months since I last posted.  It is not for lack of content, but the past 5 months have been busy.  My wife and I moved to Virginia, I taught 4 courses online, and we traveled to New England to see the grandkids twice.  So blogging dropped in priority…who knew that retirement would be so tiring!

In July 2015, I posted on my top tools for learning in response to Jane Hart‘s annual call for top tools.  At the time, I noted the following tools (and how they had changed over the years):

2015tools3

2016 marks the 10th anniversary of Jane Hart’s wonderful Top 100 Tools list.  As Jane noted in this year’s call for votes:

“Due to the fact that the same tools have dominated the list in recent years, for 2016 the list will be extended to contain 200 tools so that more tools can be mentioned to create the Top 200 Tools for Learning 2016

Additionally, in order to understand how these tools are being used in different contexts, three sub-lists will also be generated:

  1. Top 100 Tools for Education – for use in schools, colleges, universities, adult ed
  2. Top 100 Tools for Workplace Learning – for use in training, for performance support, social collaboration, etc
  3. Top 100 Tools for Personal & Professional Learning – for self-organised learning”

That is exciting!

This past year, I retired from faculty development, relocated to Virginia, and engaged more fully in online teaching.  So, my tools have shifted.  Here are my top ten tools for this year (in Category One):

2016tools.

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 would 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 use Feedly and Netvibes to organize student tweets and blogs.  Camtasia and Snagit are used weekly to create multimedia for my classes.  I also instruct my students on curating their own content, and a favorite of my students this past year has been Pinterest.

If I was doing my top 20, some other tools that I use with my students would  be (in no particular order):

  • Storify
  • Piktochart
  • Hootsuite
  • VoiceThread
  • Blogger
  • Learnist
  • Pearltree
  • ScoopIt
  • YouTube
  • iPad

I list these because they surface as students curate and share content.

Thanks, Jane, for a remarkable 10 year journey.  Looking forward to the next decade!

{…and I plan to start blogging again…I have things to share and thoughts on which to reflect…}

 

 

Lesson in Explicitness or Lack Thereof

head slapEver developed one of those killer assignments that you know would be dynamite … and then you review the graduate student submissions and wonder – How could they have missed that!?!?

Yep!  It happened to me this week.  It happened ironically during a synthesis assignment on attention, memory and thinking, and it pointed out to me (again) how critical being explicit is in online learning (or any learning).

Let me provide some context.

For the past four weeks, my EDU 6323 class on Technology as a Medium for Learning has been reading the chapters on attention, memory and thinking in Michelle Miller’s Minds Online: Teaching Effectively With Technology.  I had previously blogged about her chapters last year – see my posts on Attention, Memory, and Thinking.  These chapters provided background as we explored digital tools for tagging, aggregating, social networking, and collaborating.

During those same four weeks, the students began using a group page in Diigo, purposefully curating resources around the topics of attention, memory and thinking.  They collectively shared over ninety articles, both from scholarly sources as well as mainstream media.  See below for some examples.

The assignment this week:

Over the past weeks, we have explored a number of Web 2.0 technologies (and we have a few to go).

EDU6323coursemap .

We have also been reading Miller’s book Minds Online. Chapters 4-6 focus on key cognitive attributes of attention, memory and thinking.  Also, we have been collectively gathering web resources on these topics in our Diigo Group page.

During this week, you will submit a 2-5 page double-spaced paper, synthesizing the lessons you take from these chapters and resources, and discussing specific ways some of the technologies we have discussed could be used to improve your teaching and student learning.  You will bring highlights of your thinking into this week’s discussion to share with your classmates.  The focus this week is on “collaboration” – so let’s learn from each other!

I thought it self-evident that the “collectively gathered web resources” in Diigo would inform their papers.  But that was not explicitedly stated in the assignment nor the rubric.

One student did, weaving in to his analysis three different articles that other classmates had saved in Diigo.  Four others used one or two of their own resources that they had added to the Diigo group page, but none from their classmates.  Half of the class had Miller’s book as their only resource, with no mention of the curated resources.

I place the “blame” (if that is the right word) squarely on my shoulders.  I did not make my expectations explicit and I did not provide enough scaffolding.  For the past three weeks, I have reminded students to pay attention to Miller’s chapters, as they would be using them as a lens for their upcoming paper.  In doing so, I focused their attention strictly on the book…and failed to highlight the importance of the other sources they were dutifully collecting.

In general, the papers were fine.  They summarized Miller’s key points and then discussed possible applications to their own teaching situations.  I just assumed that they would connect the dots between (1) the activity of gathering resources on attention, memory, and thinking and (2) the paper they were writing on applying the lessons to their own teaching situation.  That connection was crystal clear to me … but alluded 93% of my class.

My fault!

This is my first time teaching EDU 6323.  Next time, I will spend more time connecting the dots – and making explicit my expectations.

And just to share some of the good work the class did curating resources, here is a sampling:

I would welcome any suggestions you might have on making lessons more explicit.  Maybe I watch too much NCIS – but a head slap is what I feel I need right now!

headslap2

{Graphics: Chris Sabo, Watwood EDU6323 Course Graphic, Patricia Goldbach}

The Risk of Not Engaging

Tom_Fletcher_British_Ambassador_to_Lebanon_640_001As I was driving in this morning, I was listening to NPR Morning Edition, and they aired a story about British Ambassador Tom Fletcher‘s farewell letter to Lebanon.  Ambassador Fletcher has been at his post for the past three years, a time of tremendous strife with the Syrian conflict so close.

As moving as the story was, it was 5:30 into his interview that I heard something that really resonated with me as an educator.  He was talking about how the British Foreign Office encouraged its members to take risks, and he noted:

“…particularly with social media, the biggest risk is not to be engaged…”

He went on to note that of course there was the risk of saying something stupid, or of saying something that might inflame the wrong party, but that in many ways, the “best use of Twitter” is to use it for discourse and debate.  He noted that diplomacy is full of difficult issues, and Twitter provides a vehicle for “picking arguments and challenging people.”

It would be foolish to equate the rsocialmediatreeisks that Ambassador Fletcher faced with the risks that educators face in their classrooms, but I do like his take on social media and the opportunity it affords to take discourse and debate and move it outside the classroom.  Social media gives faculty the ability to engage with each other, with their discipline in and out of academe, and with their students, in ways we never had a decade ago.  One could “argue” that the heart and soul of scholarship and research involve picking arguments and challenging people (and ideas).

So what is your take?  Is there a risk for faculty in higher education to not engage with social media?

{Graphics: Najib, geralt}

My Evolving Top Tools

Jane Hart has issued her call for voting for the top tools we as professionals use for learning. I have voted in the past, as I noted in 2014 (here) and 2o12 (here), and I have always enjoyed the resulting Top One Hundred Tools list that Jane curates from the votes.  Her list from last year is embedded below:

My list for this year is similar to previous years…but I found my order was different:

2015tools3

As some may have noticed, I have been blogging less as I concentrated on settling into my new job.  However, I feel the urge to reconnect, so hope to do more blogging in the future.  I continue to use the distributed network of Twitter, LinkedIn, Feedly feeds, and to a lesser degree, Facebook, as my go to sources for my personal learning network.

A related post from LinkedIn announced that they have passed one million “publishers”.  They note:

Our over 1 million unique publishers publish more than 130,000 posts a week on LinkedIn. About 45% of readers are in the upper ranks of their industries: managers, VPs, CEOs, etc. The top content-demanding industries are tech, financial services and higher education. The average post now reaches professionals in 21 industries and 9 countries.

What was not mentioned … but is no small leap to assume … is that many of these posts were made on mobile devices.  I had lunch today with colleagues from Creighton University, and they described their use of smartphones in Europe to plan on the fly and connect with colleagues worldwide.  Then one thought back 30 years ago and wondered how we got along.

A great question!  Thirty years ago, none of the tools listed above (or indeed any of the Top 100) even existed.  As the web evolved, and our tools evolved, so too did our practices.

Over the past five years, I have taught a doctoral course on technology and leadership for Creighton University in their Ed.D program.  Originally, the “textbook” was Tom Friedman’s The World is Flat.  That evolved two years later to Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, and then in the last year to David Weinberger’s Too Big To Know.  It is not that Friedman or Shirky (or now Weinberger) had lost relevance, but the web was evolving at an increasingly rapid rate.

It makes you wonder what is coming in the next thirty years…in terms of tools and in terms of practice!

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.

A Look Back Six Years

Monday, Lindsey Sudbury, a member of Academic Technology Services here at Northeastern University, and I did a 90-minute interactive presentation to our English department at their End of Term Retreat.  It was a 30,000 f00t fly-over of a variety of digital tools that might add engagement in writing classes, including social media tools.  Our slides are below:

.
I was struck by how things had (and had not) changed in the past six years.  In 2009, I did a similar workshop at the Innovations Conference.  My slides then:

In those six years, Diigo has replaced Delicious, and Feedly has replaced Google Reader.  But the concept remains on target.

One other change … more faculty are receptive to the idea!

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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30-Day Challenge – Day 30 – The Questions I Did Not Ask

Back on March 5th, my colleague Enoch Hale posted a challenge on his blog:

“I want to pose an open challenge: Post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for 30 days.”

3 month statsI took him up on his challenge…though I suggested “thirty work days”…to which he agreed.  Over the past six weeks, we have each posted 58 questions – 29 each.  In the process, we have both improved in our blogging.  The biggest “challenge” in a 30-Day Challenge is blogging consistently each work day.  It stretched me time wise and intellectually…but it also was a lot of fun.  Enoch and I fed off of each other.  And…not surprisingly, when one blogs daily, one’s readership increases.  I topped a hundred page views for Day 20 (The New Nomads) and Day 25 (The Training Wheel Question).

Enoch noted on his first day that questions can drive thinking forward.  Answers stop thinking, but questions keep thinking moving.  Over the past six weeks, I have paid more attention to questions being asked.  I have started following Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question.  Maryellen Weimer blogged last month about “The Art of Asking Question,” suggesting that if we want students to ask thoughtful questions, we have to model that ourselves.

Tony Bates in his studyTony Bates out of Canada has been asking thoughtful questions for 45 years about distance and online learning.  His post yesterday took me by surprise – “Time to retire from online learning?

First, Tony turned 75 this week (congratulations!). He has decided he has reached the point in his life to stop nearly all professional activities.  At 75, he feels he has reached the right to stop (…which could mean I now have 11 years to continue, since I will soon turn 64…).  He wants to stop when he is still at his best.  He has not taught a full course in ten years, and:

“Given the pace of change, it is dangerous for a consultant to become adrift from the reality of teaching and management. It’s time to hang up my boots before I get really hurt (or more importantly, really hurt others).”

Tony then expressed some concerns about the future of higher education and teaching.  Four quotes hit me…and the emphasis below is mine:

“…It’s a full-time job just to keep abreast of new developments in online and distance learning, and this constant change is not going to go away. It’s tempting to say that it’s only the technology that changes; the important things – teaching and learning – don’t change much, but I don’t believe that to be true, either. Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine. This is not going to be easy; indeed it could get brutal…

…this is a field that needs full-time, professional application, and very hard work, and I just don’t have the energy any more to work at that level. To put it simply, this is not a profession where you can be half in and half out. Dabbling in online learning is very dangerous (politicians please note)…

…And then there’s MOOCs. I can’t express adequately just how pissed off I am about MOOCs – not the concept, but all the hubris and nonsense that’s been talked and written about them. At a personal level, it was as if 45 years of work was for nothing. All the research and study I and many others had done on what makes for successful learning online were totally ignored, with truly disastrous consequences in terms of effective learning for the vast majority of participants who took MOOCs from the Ivy League universities. Having ignored online learning for nearly 20 years, Stanford, MIT and Harvard had to re-invent online learning in their own image to maintain their perceived superiority in all things higher educational. And the media fell for it, hook, line and sinker. This is a battle I no longer want to fight – but it needs fighting…

…Lastly, I am concerned that the computer scientists seem to be taking over online education. Ivy League MOOCs are being driven mainly by computer scientists, not educators. Politicians are looking to computer science to automate learning in order to save money. Computer scientists have much to offer, but they need more humility and a greater willingness to work with other professionals, such as psychologists and teachers, who understand better how learning operates. This is a battle that has always existed in educational technology, but it’s one I fear the educators are losing…”

I need to reflect on Tony’s post much more, but his very personal reflection lays the groundwork for many more thoughtful questions.  It brought to my mind my final question for THIS 30-day Challenge:

Day 30 – What are the questions I did not ask but should have?

There are obviously many more than thirty good questions left to ask…so while this challenge has ended, the challenge for higher education is only getting more intense.  If more educators joined the open questioning within the blogosphere. maybe we can win some battles.  As Tony noted, this is not a field you can be half in and half out.

Thoughts?

{Graphics: Bates}

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