Value Added versus Liability Sponge

Someone who always gets me thinking is danah boyd.  Her post “Toward Accountability: Data, Fairness, Algorithms, Consequences” is the latest to prod my brain!

liability spongeHer post raises the issue of how data collection and data manipulation are not neutral activities…that the decision to collect or not collect and the thought process behind the analysis of data have value implications.  An example she used was around open data and how the transparency of data about segregation in NY schools led many to self-segregate, leading to more segregation, not less.  In another example, she noted how Google’s search algorithms picked up racist biases by learning from the inherently biased search practices of people in this country.

danah noted toward the end of her post:

“But placing blame is not actually the same as accountability. Researcher Madeleine Elish was investigating the history of autopilot in aviation when she uncovered intense debates about the role of the human pilot in autonomous systems. Not unlike what we hear today, there was tremendous pressure to keep pilots in the cockpit “in case of emergency.” The idea was that, even as planes shifted from being primarily operated by pilots to primarily operated by computers, it was essential that pilots could step in last minute if something went wrong with the computer systems.

Although this was seen as a nod to human skill, what Madeleine saw unfold over time looked quite different. Pilots shifted from being skilled operators to being liability sponges. They were blamed when things went wrong and they failed to step in appropriately. Because they rarely flew, pilots’ skills atrophied on the job, undermining their capabilities at a time when they were increasingly being held accountable. Because of this, Madeleine and a group of colleagues realized that the contexts in which humans are kept in the loop of autonomous systems can be described as “moral crumple zones,” sites of liability in which the human is squashed when the sociotechnical systems go wrong.”

These two paragraphs seem to provide some context to the chapter I am currently reading in Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  In “Turning AI into IA”, Friedman suggested that a part of the solution to dealing with the triple accelerations of technological change, global market change, and environmental change, lies in leveraging artificial intelligence into intelligent assistance, intelligent assistants, and intelligent algorithms.  Friedman noted that in this age of accelerations, we need to rethink three key social contracts – those between workers and employees, students and educational institutions, and citizens and governments.

I totally agree that the status quo is not the answer, whether we are talking corporate structures, higher education, or government.  I worry though the extent to which some would push technology as an answer to higher education.

I firmly believe that integrating digital technology into teaching and learning makes sense…if one starts with the learning outcomes first and chooses the technology for the right reasons.  TPACK still resonates with me!  Smart technology could easily take the place of repetitive practice work, freeing faculty to focus on the underlying critical thinking skills that students must develop in order to succeed in tomorrow’s world.  My worry would be faculty that see the opportunity to place their courses on autopilot while they pursue their research interests.  Like the pilots above, teaching skills could atrophy…setting faculty up as liability sponges if students fail.

Friedman made an interesting observation – that when ATM’s became common in banks, there was an assumption that they would replace bank tellers.  Instead, by reducing the cost of operation, ATM’s made it possible to open many more branches…and the number of tellers increased.  They no longer handled as much cash, but they became instead points of contact with customers.

If one visualizes the higher ed equivalent of an ATM, one might see a future for higher education that involves lower cost, more locations, and more faculty….but faculty “teaching” in new ways.  Now is the time to have those conversations about the future of higher ed, the future of faculty, and the future of learning.  We need to be proactive before we find ourselves in a moral crumple zone of our own making.

{Graphic: Mishra & Koehler}

Got My Attention

Over the weekend, I continued reading Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  I have to admit that the second section on accelerations – technologies, globalizations, and ecologies – scared the crap out of me!

In a methodical manner, Friedman laid out his case that we as a planet have reached a tipping point.  Moore’s law has reached the point where connectivity worldwide is basically fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity has at the same time become fast, free, easy for you and invisible due to the cloud.

In his 2005 book The World is Flat, Friedman was widely quoted for stating:

.

In this book, he discusses a global cloud based company that originated in the eastern part of Turkey – not China or India.  In the 12 years since The World is Flat was published, we have gone from competition residing in big countries to competition residing anywhere.  The market economy has shifted from one based on products to one based on flows, which harkens back to the Goodwin quote from a couple of posts back:

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles.  Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content.  Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has not inventory.  And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.  Something interesting is happening.”

Probably most unsettling is what he called the black elephants – a cross between black swans (low probability events with major implications) and elephants in the room (problems visible that no one wants to acknowledge).   Friedman then went on to discuss in detail nine such black elephants:

  • Climate change (we have already tipped beyond the recommended 350ppm for CO2 in the atmosphere – so we are getting hotter)
  • Biodiversity (the annual loss of species)
  • Deforestation (down to around 62%, where 75% is the level needed to maintain healthy atmosphere)
  • Biogeochemical flows (the addition of chemicals to the water system)
  • Ocean acidification (growing but still within safe limits)
  • Freshwater use (growing but still within safe limits)
  • Atmospheric aerosol loading
  • Introduction of novel new entities (nuclear, plastics)
  • Atmospheric ozone layer (the only limit we as a planet addressed and have moved back from the brink)

Compounding all of these is the continuing growth in human population.  Looking at humanity as a whole, we have increased life expectancy and dropped mortality rates, but not decreased birth rates.  When one looks at all of the black elephants noted above, and then adds the compounding element of adding even more humans to the mix, it paints a dire picture!

So Friedman got my attention…now I need to read the next section to see just where the “optimist” in his title comes in!

Balancing Optimism with Pragmatism

Audrey Watters this week posted a talk she gave at Coventry University earlier this year entitled “The Top Ed-Tech Trends (Aren’t ‘Tech’).”  Good talk by someone I like to follow in my feeds…primarily because she is the contrary voice I sometimes need to hear.  Now I am trying to balance the optimism of Friedman (and me) with the pragmatism of Audrey.

Since 2010, Audrey has published a series of articles covering the trends of the past year in educational technology – a huge undertaking!  She summarized her flow of trends in her talk.

trends2010-2011

trends2012-2013

trends2014-2015

trends2016

Audrey offers her yearly well-researched articles as a counter to the short bulletted list of “must have new cool” technologies that seem to roll out every December and January.  As her list illustrates, her trends are more ideological than technological…which in some ways aligns with Tom Friedman’s mega-trends of simultaneous accelerations of technological change, market change, and climate change.  In both cases, as Audrey noted so well:

“They’re not “trends,” really.  They’re themes. They’re categories. They’re narratives.”

…and as she noted, they are US-centric and even California-centric.  She discussed the narrative flowing out of Silicon Valley…the “dream factory” of California.  This narrative supports an optimism for science as the solution for all the world’s problems.  The focus on skills, personalization, learning to code, disruption … all flow from the California Ideology as described by Watters.  Audrey noted that she chose “the platforming of education” in 2012…and wondered if 2016 saw the failure to platform emerge as a theme.  An interesting observation, as I recall the 2012 optimism associated with A Domain of One’s Own and personalized platforms as the vehicle to lifelong learning.

In many ways, Friedman shared this optimism when he noted that we had entered a world in which”…connectivity was fast, free, easy for you and ubiquitous and handling complexity became fast, free, easy for you and invisible.”  Any problem could now be solved through the combination of fast, free connectivity and fast, free crunching of data in the cloud.  And that is probably true for technological problems.  Within the agriculture economy, the decline in immigrant field workers will probably be solved with automated field workers.  Friedman noted that we have reached an age where you only have to dream about a solution and you can achieve it.  You can build the platform to make it happen.  But Audrey closed her talk by noting that platforms are not substitutes for communities.

Both Friedman in Thank You For Being Late and Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable make an optimistic case that as technology displaces workers, it also creates new jobs requiring new skills. But Friedman also noted that when the Industrial Age displaced the Agricultural Age, it took about a generation for old ways to die off and new ways to surface.  While the rate of change has accelerated since 2007, will our rate of adaptation – both as individuals and as educational systems – match that change rate?  Audrey quoted Neil Selwyn, who identified three contemporary ideologies intertwined with the technological ones – libertarianism, neoliberalism, adnd the ideology of the new economy…to which she added a fourth – technological solutionism.  These four align with concepts of venture capitalism, the gig economy, the shared economy, the attention economy…all happening fast, free, easy for you, and accelerating.

To riff off of the video below, have we become so enamored with personalization that we have lost sight of the person?  One of my students shared this video by Prince Ea with the class…and it is worth a listen.

It is another way of saying…balance optimism with pragmatism…

{Graphics: Watters}

Only Been One Decade

Freidman bookI loved the second chapter of Tom Friedman’s new book, Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  The chapter title is

“What the Hell Happened in 2007?”

Good question.  It has only been a decade since 2007, and given that I joined the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in late 2006, it sort of marked my start in faculty development.

Friedman noted how in a short period right around 2007, the following occurred:

  • The iPhone was introduced
  • Facebook opened up to non-college users
  • Google bought YouTube and launched Android
  • Amazon released Kindle
  • Michael Dell returned to Dell to run the company (again)
  • Intel added non-silicon materials to chips, which helped Moore’s Law to continue
  • The beginning of an exponential rise in green energy – solar, wind, and biofuels
  • The cost of DNA sequencing began dropping to rates anyone could use

Friedman noted that he first began writing a book about how technology was driving the world…and the world’s economy… back in 2004, which became The World is Flat.  He updated the book in 2006 and issued version 3.0 in 2007, at which point he stopped thinking about it.  I noted in previous posts that this book was very impactful to me personally.  In fact, my presentation during my interview for a job at the VCU CTE was on how Friedman’s 10 flatteners were changing our view of what it meant to teach.  A version I loaded into Slideshare a year later has now been viewed over 18,000 times, which is just one more example of how the world of teaching has changed!

Yet, in 2010, Friedman picked up his first edition and scanned the index, noticing that Facebook was not in it.  Twitter was not in it.  Big data was not in it.  Skype, LinkedIn, 4G…none showed up in his book about how the internet had changed the world.  That was when he realized the extent to which these changes were indeed accelerating.

As I think back on this last decade and my evolution within the VCU CTE … and later on to Northeastern’s Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning through Research (CATLR), I realize how fortunate I have been to have had the opportunity to play at precisely that inflection point in history when our concept about teaching and learning in a digital world changed.  I also got to play in a wonderful team led by Jeffrey Nugent, with Bud Deihl playing alongside.  2007 marked my first year as a learning specialist at the CTE, and during that year, Koehler and Mishra published their first paper on TPACK – Technological, Pedagogical and Content Knowledge, which shaped much of my work with faculty.  We began paying attention to work Stephen Downes and George Siemens were doing around the concept of connectivism, as well as the first MOOCs.  I sent my first tweet …even misspelling it as “twit” … in January 2008.

I also started this blog in January 2008.  Three hundred-seventy-five posts later…here we are…

It has only been one decade!

Friedman ends the second chapter noting that the rate of technological change has increased for the first time above the rate at which humans adapt.  He suggests that we have to now enhance our ability to adapt…which will lead to the next series of chapters.

This need to enhance our adaptability as we deal with the constant acceleration of technology, globalization, and climate change was again on my mind as I continued exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. Over the past seven posts, I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the fifth trend yesterday.

The sixth and seventh trends involved Digital HR and People Analytics, which are not only closely related…but tie in nicely to the accelerating technological changes of the past decade.

The report noted that HR now is dealing with a digital workforce, a digital workplace, and so must be digital as well.  The tone has shifted from “doing digital” to “being digital.”  Companies are shifting from rigid place-bound organizations to networks of networks.  Processes are expected to be more transparent, and new tools are needed.  “Standard” HR practices are becoming anything but standard as organizations fluidly shift in order to optimize productivity, engagement, teamwork, and career growth.  Analytics are now being mined to help drive performance.

The concept of being digital aligns with faculty development as well.  In a conversation this past week with a colleague, she noted that online teaching is no longer seen as an add-on…that being digital is part of teaching today.  We lag behind corporate America when it comes to using analytics…but that is changing as well.  One only need look at the sales pitches by companies for the various LMSs to see how analytics are now in the lexicon of education.

If change is indeed accelerating, one wonders what the next decade will bring.  I plan to shift the textbook for my Creighton Leadership and Technology course from Dave Weinberger’s Too Big to Know to Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable, but I can see that by Spring 2018 when I next teach this course, Friedman’s book may also be part of the course.

Maybe that is inevitable…

{Graphics: Deloitte Press}

 

Digital Leaders – Digital Faculty

I am continuing to explore the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective..but the sixth trend intersects both my faculty development side and my leadership education side.  As I have noted, the report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  So far, I have discussed the first five trends, with the fifth in my post yesterday.

The sixth trend is on leadership disrupted, which sits nicely at that intersection I noted.  The report noted that high-performing leaders today need different skills and expertise than in generations past…and I would suggest that the same could be said of faculty.  The report noted that leadership capabilities has not kept pace with the kind of accelerating digital disruption Tom Friedman discusses in his book Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  The report stated that these disruptive times do not call for a stronger leader, but rather a different kind of leader, “…a new breed of younger, more agile, “digital-ready” leaders.”

The report suggested that many CEOs do not understand the gravity of this issue, with 67% of executives in a recent survey stating that technology, not people, would drive greater value.  In fact, 64% saw people as a cost, not a value.  One wonders how faculty might respond to a similar survey, given the focus at many universities for research over service and teaching.

The report stated that the concept of “leader as hero” is an outdated concept that no longer scales.  Back at the end of 2015, Michele Martin discussed this concept in her post “A Deep Dive into Thinking about 21st Century Leadership” – a post that has since become assigned reading in my Creighton University Technology and Leadership course.  Michele noted that in the past, we wanted leaders who had all the answers.  This concept is flawed, and as Michele noted:

“This breeds passivity and dependency, of course–we turn our problems over to the leader and wait for him/her to figure it out. It also sets up a hierarchy of leaders and followers that leaves large numbers of people on the outside when they should be right in the thick of things. My personal belief is that everyone is a leader and that everyone’s job is to help that inner leader emerge.”

The Deloitte report aligns with Michele’s thought…that leadership is a team effort, and that organizations should recruit and internally develop leaders who can work together, complement each other, and function as a team.

Imagine a college classroom that embraced these same notions.  Faculty as host, not hero.  Faculty and students working together to learn, complement each other, and function as a learning team.  With the increasing acceleration of knowledge development, it no longer seems credible to see faculty as content experts….but rather as learning process experts.  David Weinberger in his book Too Big To Know stated:

The Deloitte report suggested new leadership capabilities necessary to succeed in this digital era:

I like this breakdown of needed transformations into the areas of cognitive (thinking differently), behavioral (acting differently), and emotional (reacting differently).  It is dated now, but I always liked the philosophies put forward by Lundin, Paul and Christensen in their 2000 book Fish: A Proven Way to Boost Morale and Improve Results.  The four basic concepts unfolded in this book – which to me seem to align with the three areas above:

  1. choosing one’s attitude,
  2. playing at work,
  3. making someone’s day, and
  4. being present.

Being present today means something quite different than it did 17 years ago…and yet, one could make the case that focusing on people is becoming even more critical in this disruptive digital age.

What would a faculty development program … or process … look like if one’s aim was to help faculty and their students choose their attitude, learn through play, make each others’ days, and be present for each other?  With the accelerating changes brought by the digital era (as well as the globalization and environmental changes Friedman adds), how should faculty … and their developers … think, act and react differently?

{Graphics: Deloitte Press, Quotefancy}

 

The Pause Button

The Pause Button…

If you have used technology as long as I have, you really do not think about the symbology associated with certain actions.  We all have grown accustomed to the two vertical bars that indicate PAUSE:

I have started reading Tom Friedman’s new book Thank You For Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations.  In many ways, Friedman helped solidify my thinking about the digital world in his previous book The World is Flat.  I considered that 2005 book then (and still do) to be paradigm shifting.  Friedman’s latest book seems on target and just as insightful.

A premise that he lays out in the first chapter (and will expand as the book unfolds) is that the three largest forces on Earth – technology, globalization, and climate change – are all accelerating at once…and this state of constant acceleration is difficult for our brains – instruments that John Medina in Brain Rules would suggest are geared for linear thought – to wrap around and make sense.  Friedman would suggest one way to deal with this constant acceleration would be to hit the pause button.

For 20 years, I smoked a pipe.  If someone asked me a difficult question, my reaction would be to take my pipe out and go through the ritual of cleaning it out, filling it with fresh tobacco, and lighting it.  I quit smoking in 1988 and would not suggest anyone start … but I miss that reflective time I took filling my pipe before answering the question.

Friedman takes his title from the response he gives people who show up late for an interview.  Rather than being mad, he is delighted to have had some “found time” to reflect … and so he says “Thank You For Being Late.”

One chapter down and many to go … but I am feeling an excitement I have not felt in awhile (thought Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable was almost as exhilarating!).

So I paused today to explore where this icon came from.  According to Wikipedia, the main symbols for digital electronics date back to the 1960s, with the Pause symbol having reportedly been invented at Ampex for use on reel-to-reel audio recorder controls (and I had a reel-to-reel tape player when I was at the Academy), due to the difficulty of translating the word “pause” into some languages used in foreign markets. The Pause symbol was designed as a variation on the existing square Stop symbol and was intended to evoke the concept of an interruption or “stutter stop”.

Who knew?

This balance between constant acceleration and pausing was in my mind as I continued exploring the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, which looked at the challenges ahead for businesses and HR professionals. I have been looking at it from a faculty development perspective.  The report is based on analysis of a survey of more than 10,400 business and HR leaders globally, and noted ten trends.  I discussed the first three trends last week, and looked at the fourth trend yesterday.

The fifth trend involved performance management.  The report noted that organizations have radically changed the way they measure, evaluate, and recognize employees.  It noted that much of what employees do today involves teams …and I would add digital teams, and so annual evaluation processes focused on individuals seem outdated.  The report noted the employees:

  • Want more regular feedback
  • Expect continuous learning
  • Expect decisions on promotions and raises to be based on data

The report suggested that rather than talk about people once a year, organizations should talk with people routinely…and work to strengthen aspects of team productivity, such as trust, inclusion, and clarity of roles.

I had lunch today with a former student who now works with businesses…and the word “trust” came up in our conversation.  Another conversation I had today with a colleague revolved around the use of term faculty rather than tenure-track faculty.  Academia is going through these same accelerations of change, and the old rules need changing.  Of course, that may be difficult, as the ones now in charge came up through the old rules.

Definitely issues to pause and reflect on…

{Graphics: Deloitte Press, SmokingPipes.Com}

Faculty Development in An Open World

open_bonk

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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A Year in the Spiral

It is the last day of 2008, and as with many others, it is a time for reflection.

2008 was certainly a very different year from my 57 previous ones.  Even though I had worked with computers for years and had engaged in online learning for the past dozen years, in many ways I was a creature of the Web 1.0 era.  I did not grow up with interactivity – I grew up with Basic computer language and dial-up modems.  The computer was a tool that I used primarily offline, but I did go online to go places (my online class in Blackboard, Google, Mapquest, even Wikipedia).  In my developmental years, my web interactions were mostly one-way and teacher-oriented.  I remained in control of my journey and knew where I was headed.

With my colleagues at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl, I had begun dabbling in Web 2.0 apps like Ning sites (Classroom 2.0 and College 2.0) and delicious in 2007, but I was still primarily a voyeur.  My colleague Jeff would prod me to try out different sites or check out different blogs, but I did so rather passively.  My “network” for the most part consisted of people I worked with and a couple of others.  At the start of the year, I was subscribing to about ten blogs and a variety of journal and news sites. It was not until January 13, 2008, that a blog post by Michele Martin grabbed me.

Over the course of a couple of days last January, Michele discussed her own growth online and illustrated this with her social media spiral shown above.  I saw myself in that spiral, and recognized that to grow, I needed to move higher up the spiral.  I had moved from isolated consumption to aggregation in 2007, but I was still of the mindset that few would be interested in anything I might have to say.  I really cannot say why, but Michele’s spiral was the tipping point for me that moved me to start my own blog.

Michele cheered me on during that first month, as did Sue Waters, a new “friend” whose advice and guidance helped be grow as a blogger.  My network began to grow as I entered the spiral of commenting and blogging.  By May 2008, I felt confident enough to join the 31-Day Blog Comment Challenge.  It was exhausting but illuminating, and it added new friends like Ken Allen to my network.  Along the way, I learned that my “personal” learning network was really a social one and not an individual one.  I was learning from the likes of Will Richardson, Michele Martin, Wes Fryer, Vicki Davis, Jeff Utecht and many, many more – and that learning was social.  These superstars were interacting and commenting on my comments and blog posts!

As I taught this fall, my frequency of blogging slowed.  Part of that is due to the time spent microblogging in Twitter with many of the same people I follow through their blogs.  Part of it was due to redesigning my online course – Instructional Uses of the Internet.  The redesign was driven in large part by my experience in the spiral.  2008 was the year I made the leap to social networking, and it was transformational.  I now view my life and my job through a different lens than I did a year ago, shaped by the global friendships I have made and continue to make.

Learning in a Flat World.  The name still fits.  This will be my 125th post this year.  There have been 310 comments, comments that helped me learn – and comments from all over the globe.  I am still humbled by the ClustrMap above.  My readership is worldwide with nearly 4,600 hits since I started tracking it last February.  More importantly, I have gotten to know some of the gifted people behind those red dots marking the globe.  I see them as mentors, colleagues, collaborators, and friends.  I see the world as a different place from the way I viewed it pre-2008.

Tom Friedman remarked that the world had gotten flat and closer due to the internet.  While I loved his book and had done several seminars on THE WORLD IS FLAT, I do not think that I really understood that until 2008.

To those who have journeyed with me this past year, my deepest thanks!  You have made me a better educator!

Just think what 2009 might bring!

Expert versus Paradigm Learning

Gary Stager is a noted expert in education, and I find value in his constructionist approach to online education. However, he made some comments in Will Richardson’s blog posting “Redefining Teachers as Experts” that caused at a minimum raised eyebrows in this old educator!

Will was commenting on sections of Axel Bruns’ new book Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage, and their relevance to the concepts of teachers as co-learners, co-creators, co-producers with their students. In the book, Axel notes:

“…the argument that they {teachers} should be respected by their students is made no longer on the basis of their role in the academic hierarchy, their positions and titles, but by their established track record as produsers themselves.”

(Bruns’ word – one that a few of us question)

Will suggested that we might “at some point begin to value and respect the ability to model the participatory literacies that these tools require as much if not more than the degree on the wall”. A valid question and one I hope to explore next year in a Faculty Learning Community here at VCU on 21st Century literacy. Bud Hunt of St. Vrain Valley School District in northern Colorado had the first of over thirty comments on Will’s post. He first discussed “…this kind of teaching / co-learning / co-creating…” and then added:

Trust Experts

“I’m uncomfortable with that word “expert” – I think because it carries with it, to me, the idea that an expert is someone who is finished learning. Probably my own baggage.”

Gary’s reply:

“It is your own baggage. A learning community relies on expertise of varying degrees.

A concern I have about the blogosphere is that it celebrates and elevates newbies and diminishes the importance of prior knowledge, expertise and history.”

There is an old joke about the definition of an expert. Divide the word into two parts – an ex can be defined as “A has been” and a spurt is a “drip under pressure”. We certainly do not want teachers to be seen as has been drips operating under pressure! But I also think we need to recognize that expertise today comes in many forms.

I agree with Gary’s statement that a learning community relies on expertise of varying degrees. His comment that paying attention to newbies in today’s participatory read-write web world diminishes the importance of prior knowledge, expertise, and history is one I have trouble with – it seems to imply that new knowledge being created by co-learning/co-creating students is therefore diminished. I hope he did not mean that.

Given my background – including developing a few years back the largest online college program in the state of Georgia – I bring expertise in online teaching to the table, but with the online world continuing to evolve as it is, I still consider myself more of a newbie. I can celebrate my doctorate without assuming, as a good friend once said, that that gives me any “cred.” I can celebrate my 12 years of teaching online without assuming that my way of teaching is the only way. I certainly recognize that I have grown personally this year through open sharing in the blogosphere and twitterverse, and my online teaching continues to evolve as well. I do try in every online and face-to-face class to build a learning community, and community carries with it certain words of baggage as well, such as trust, sharing, values, and boundaries. One way in which I build that community is by openly sharing my own learning and celebrating those occasions when the students can become the teacher.

This sharing and celebration of learning gets at what both Gary and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach discussed about community of practice. However, Gary seemed hung up on co-learning. He asked:

Paradigm Shift

“With all due respect, if you place newbies on an “even playing field” with experts, doesn’t that elevate them?”

My blog is called Learning in a Flat World for a reason. I do believe that Tom Friedman had it right – the internet has flattened our educational landscape, and newbies are entering the field with expertises that I do not have. It seems to me that the denigration of newbies and their contributions is not unlike the story of Galileo and the Catholic Church told so well by Dava Sobel. When new paradigms are emerging, those who held leadership positions in the old paradigms have difficulty seeing the new. Gary suggests we avoid buying Bruns’ book. Is not that what the Catholic Church did with Galileo’s book at the time? I would be happier if we all read new ideas like Bruns’, discussed it, took lessons of relevance for application, drew constructive criticism where appropriate, and did not instead simply stand on our laurels as experts in the field. I think that we are under pressure to seek out and find the new paradigms…something I think Will and others do daily in their blog postings.

[Photo Credits: phauly, CoreForce]

The Competitive Spirit

In the business world, firms are always attempting to develop a competitive advantage over their competitors. A competitive advantage suggests that a firm is doing something that is distinctive and cannot be duplicated by others.

With that as background, I observed two events in the last 24 hours that have me thinking about competitive advantage…and worried about our country.

First, I had an engaging and energetic asynchronous discussion with my online class last night. This graduate class consists of a group of K-12 teachers working on the masters in education. Through a discussion board, we were “discussing” the merits of Web 2.0 applications in the classroom, as well as the negative aspects of allowing younger children to go online unsupervised. These two topics generated over 100 postings in two days from ten people! The synopsis from these teachers was that schools were forced to block access to web sites to prevent kids from going to unsavory sites…and that these blockages impacted their ability as teachers to model behavior on the internet or highlight new knowledge from web sites they might have discovered at home – only to find blocked once they returned to the classroom. Some of their frustrations lay in the seemingly arbitrary way that different schools and school boards locked down the web, including no differentiation of rights and privileges between teachers and students and limited policy on getting a website approved.

In fact, most of my graduate students cannot access the social bookmarking site I am using in this class due to its being blocked by the county.

So that was on my mind when I came to work this morning. There, I talked with a colleague who had just completed a Skype call with friends in Asia. They were discussing an innovative program being set up in Bangkok where both teacher and student use of Web 2.0 applications will be the norm. Jeff Utecht of Learning 2.0 is involved, and I have already seen some innovative uses he has made of Ning social networking, Twitter, and digital video. As I listened to my colleague, the excitement he felt was palpable.

A side discussion last night with my students involved Tom Friedman’s book, The World is Flat. Tom recently discussed his latest edition in this MIT video. One of my favorite quotes from his book was:

When I was growing up, my parents used to say to me: ‘Finish your dinner—people in China are starving.’ I, by contrast, find myself wanting to say to my daughters: ‘Finish your homework—people in China and India are starving for your job.’

These two events 12 hours apart brought home to me the digital gap emerging with children around the world. Children in this country attend schools that restrict access to the very tools that they will need to be competitive, while children in Asia gain expertise with these very tools. Now granted, the percentage of children in Asia that have access to this wired environment is small, but as that wonderful SlideShow “Shift Happens” noted last year, a small percentage of honors Asian children still outnumber our total school population. As Tom Friedman’s quote suggests, we should be worried about these gifted Asians with high digital literacy skills.

The last 12 hours have brought into focus for me the fact that our diligent efforts to protect our kids in our public schools in many ways simply removes the competitive advantage that they ought to have, growing up in this wonderful nation. As the PBS Special, Growing Up Online, pointed out – the kids know how to take care of themselves and are hungry to use these tools. Our policies across this nation need to relax and give our kids access to the skills they will need to be competitive in a global economy.