Two Weeks, Three Books, and A New Role

In that short period between end of Spring semester, our Online Course Development Initiative, and the start of my summer teaching, I dove into some books:

summerbooks

The first was assigned reading.  The VCU Center for Teaching Excellence in which I have been a member for the past 8 years is merging with our Online@VCU staff to form the Learning INnovation Center – LINC.  Our new tag line for LINC is “Connected Learning For a Networked World.”  It is not coincidence that LINC was the forerunner of the modern personal computer.  🙂

So last week, our new LINC staff held a retreat with our Vice Provost for Learning Innovation – Gardner Campbell, to begin the process of growing our new organization.  It was a good day to help align each of us with Gardner’s vision for LINC.  As part of the retreat, each of us completed the Clifton Strengths Finder online assessment to find our top five strengths out of a possible thirty-four that we each brought to LINC.

As might be expected, we were a diverse group…though ten people shared the strength of “strategic”:

Strengths List

My own top five strengths – which did not surprise those who knew me – were:

  • Responsibility – one who, inexplicably, must follow through on commitments
  • Learner – one who must constantly be challenged and learning new things to feel successful
  • Input – one who is constantly collecting information or objects for future use
  • Belief – one who strives to find some ultimate meaning behind everything they do
  • Futuristic – one who has a keen sense of using an eye towards the future to drive today’s success

LINC themesSo I had no unique strengths…but rather shared my strengths with at least two others…though no one had my combination.

LINC will have four areas of focus – Faculty Development, Student Engagement, Communities of Practice, and Technology Enhanced Active Learning.  Jeff Nugent and I will be acting as the research arm of LINC.

Moving from a role of faculty consultant to one of active research is quite a change!  It was with this change in mind that I read the other two books noted above.

The late Gordon MacKenzie’s Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace (1998) was the right book to set a frame of reference for this change.

As Anna Muoio of FastCompany magazine explained:

“…A hairball is an entangled pattern of behavior. It’s bureaucracy, which doesn’t allow much space for original thinking and creativity. It’s the corporate tendency to rely on past policies, decisions, and processes as a formula for future success.

All of this creates a Gordian knot of corporate normalcy — an entanglement that grows over time. As its mass increases, so does its gravitational pull. And what does gravity do? It drags things down. But hairballs can be effective. They provide a necessary stability. It’s not the job of the hairball to be vibrant, alive, and creative…”

By this definition, higher education is as clearly a hairball as the corporation MacKenzie worked at – Hallmark.  MacKenzie suggests that the path to creativity and innovation is to orbit the hairball – benefiting from what it has to offer in terms of stability and resources without being sucked in to its gravitational pull.  As Muoio noted, “…It’s a symbiotic relationship: without the hairball, the orbiter would spiral into space; without the orbiter’s creativity and originality, the hairball would be a mass of nothing.”

Or as MacKenzie puts it – The Hairball is a twisted mass of “policy, procedure, conformity, compliance, rigidity and submission to status quo, while Orbiting is originality, rules-breaking, non-conformity, experimentation, and innovation”.

paradoxOver the coming month, we will all be developing our new job descriptions within LINC.  I loved MacKenzie’s approach when told to develop a job description.  The word “paradox” came to mind, and he looked up the definition.  He turned it in and said, “These are the definitions of the word I would like as my job title.”  MacKenzie thus became the Director of Creative Paradox.

Now, no one knew what a director of creative paradox actually did, but they assumed it was something meaningful.  So people at Hallmark would take ideas to him … and he would validate them.  With that validation, they would then make it happen!

So as part of the research arm of LINC, I see a bit of creative paradox playing out here at VCU.

As I was reading Orbiting the Giant Hairball, I spotted Levitt and Dubner’s latest book at Barnes and Noble – Think Like a Freak.  It was also a fun read, though not as relevant (for me) as MacKenzie’s book.  As noted in their Freakonomic’s website, thinking like a freak means:

  • First, put away your moral compass—because it’s hard to see a problem clearly if you’ve already decided what to do about it.
  • Learn to say “I don’t know”—for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.
  • Think like a child—because you’ll come up with better ideas and ask better questions.
  • Find the root cause of a problem—because attacking the symptoms, as often happens, rarely fixes the underlying issue.
  • Take a master class in incentives—because for better or worse, incentives rule our world.
  • Learn to persuade people who don’t want to be persuaded—because being right is rarely enough to carry the day.
  • Learn to appreciate the upside of quitting—because you can’t solve tomorrow’s problem if you aren’t willing to abandon today’s dud.

Good lessons…but not as captivating (or innovative) as MacKenszie.  As I move in to my new role, I will hope to orbit the giant hairball, being more of a creative paradox and less a freaky sideshow!

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Connecting Some Dots

shallows…or maybe not connecting some dots…  Thinking about two blog posts this morning how they weave into thoughts about online teaching and learning.

The first was by Debbie Morrison – “What the Internet is Doing to Our Education Culture: Book Review of The Shallows“.  Debbie reviewed the book by Nicholas CarrThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.  She finds that Carr does not make a compelling argument that the internet makes our thinking more shallow, but she does find that the book suggests that we in education have turned to the internet for “efficiencies.”  Debbie stated:

“…the theme of efficiency as it relates to the Internet extends to our education culture—institution leaders, politicians and administrators seeking efficiency in practices and methods (automated grading, online courses with great numbers of students, etc.) Efficiency is not a ‘bad’ outcome to strive for, yet the idea of efficiency in education is frequently referenced in terms of increasing or maintaining education outcomes, with fewer resources…”

Now let me juxtaposition this with the other blog I read, from Gardner Campbell (…and in full disclosure, Gardner is my Vice Provost for Learning Innovation…and we in the CTE work for him).

Gardner has a thought-provoking post in “Understanding and Learning Outcomes.”  He discusses the historical shift from a teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm, and then adds:

“…Yet something is deeply amiss, in my view. As we seek to perfect the language and institutionalization of a culture of “learning outcomes,” it seems we are necessarily moving toward a strictly behaviorist paradigm of learning, away from what Jerome Bruner refers to as the “cognitive turn” in learning theory and ever more deliberately toward a stimulus-response paradigm of learning. This behaviorist turn can be very sophisticated and refined. The behaviors specified, measured, and tracked can be cognitively demanding “smart human tricks.” There can even be qualitatively measured learning outcomes, though it appears these are less frequent than quantitative metrics, for reasons I think are obvious. Yet these are still behaviors, specified with a set of what I can only describe as jawohl! statements, all rewarding the bon eleves and marching toward compliance and away from more elusive and disruptive concepts like curiosity or wonder…”

Gardner noted that no matter the taxonomy used, they all suggest that learning outcomes should use specific language and should clearly indicate expectations of student performance (…and I would add – “measurable” expectations of student performance).  Gardner pushed my thinking by asking how we get from
“students will…” to a valuing of our “students’ will”.

will

Gardner goes into further detail about learning objectives and how a focus on rigid taxonomies assumes a linear approach to learning, avoiding concepts such as “understanding” and “appreciation”…concepts at the core of what makes us human.  He asks “…does a learning paradigm that avoids “understanding” and “appreciation” reduce symbolic behavior to indexicality alone?”

I would add…does it devalue learning in favor of efficiency?

Gardner links to Chapter 6 in the 1974 Jerome Bruner book Towards a Theory of Instruction, in which Bruner discusses the “will to learn.”  In this digital age, this could be expanded to:

  • the will to create
  • the will to remix
  • the will to connect
  • the will to share

The question for me is how we provide open experiences for our students to co-construct knowledge (and wisdom) with us?  Is our teaching and learning “do to…” or “do with…”?

Thoughts?

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30-Day Challenge – Day 26 – Deeper Explorations

Submaring divingAs part of the 30-Day Question Challenge, Enoch Hale posted “Going Beneath The Surface“, where he asked “How often do we journey into the unknown?”

As a retired Navy sailor, I immediately pictured a submarine diving when I saw his title.

Enoch asked:

“When I think about teaching and learning, I have to ask: do we carve out places (a lot of them) to explore beneath the surface of things? I’d rather not carve out those places. I’d rather my course be that place. I’d rather exploration define the learning.”

…exploration define the learning…

We went exploring last night in GRAD-602.  Our topic was “Developing Learning Content: Creation and Curation.”  As the students came in, they found this Clay Shirky quote from Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organization in larger than life size on the class wall (thanks Laura!):

“We are living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race…more people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation, makes the change unprecedented.”

Laura writing Shirky quote on wall

Through a series of short vignettes, we explored with the class the creation practices of screencasting, audio recordings, blogging, and slide creation, using Screencast-O-Matic, Soundcloud, WordPress, Prezi, HaikuDeck and Slideshark.  We also explored the concept of curation, using YouTube playlists, Diigo, Netvibes, Feedly, and Merlot (the free and open peer reviewed collection of online teaching and learning materials…not the wine).

This morning, Laura, Joyce Kincannon and I continued this exploration in a podcast.  The practices we covered last night were not “new”…they have been out for a few years.  Yet few in the class seemed aware of them or had played with them.  In the podcast, we riffed off of Enoch’s idea of “going deeper” to suggest that our role as academics is to explore, play and go deeper into trying new practices for learning.  We also discussed some compelling uses of digital technology that we have seen in teaching and learning.

This idea of exploration and play…and learning through exploration and play, surfaced several times.  In a hall conversation with Gardner Campbell this morning, I mentioned the conservative nature of PhD students in general, and he noted that breaking the cycle and self-perpetuation of conservative approaches to teaching is a challenge of higher education. If we are indeed “… living in the middle of the largest increase in expressive capacity in the history of the human race…”, should that not surface in our approaches to teaching and learning?

Which leads to my question for today:

Day 26 – How can learning in my classes move from covering content to deeper (and playful) explorations?

Give a listen…and the submarine diving alarm is for Jeff and Enoch who missed this recording:
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{Graphics: SubSeaWorld, Watwood}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 17 – Teaching Like Penguins

 

PenguinYesterday, I talked about woodpeckers and swifts…today my inspiration is penguins.

Actually, my inspiration was a blog post by Garr Reynolds last week – “There’s no shame in falling. The key is getting up!

As Garr noted:

“…What inspires me most about this flightless bird is their resilience. They make the best of a difficult situation with what they have. Penguins may be better suited for the sea than the land, but on the land they must also navigate if they are to survive. …They make mistakes… They slip, they slide, they bump, and they fall. And yet, even after these little blunders they do not seem to care at all what other people—I mean penguins—think. They simply get up, shake themselves off, and try it again.” {Emphasis mine}

As we work with future faculty in GRAD-602, I am struck with the notion that many of them do not want to make mistakes. Yet, in my own teaching, I like to experiment. Experiments mean trying new things…and sometimes, new things means that I make mistakes. When I do, I try to learn from them and – like penguins – I simply get up, shake myself off, and try again.

So my 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 17 – How might I approach teaching like a penguin?

A year ago, Harold Jarche blogged about “The Risky Quadrant.”  Harold was focused on business training departments…but this could equally apply to centers like mine that focus on faculty development.  Harold forwarded questions Don Taylor had asked about training departments:

  1. Are you unacknowledged prophets, with a manager or executive who understands that you need to change, but the organization lags behind?
  2. Are you facing comfortable extinction, like the once dominant but now bankrupt Kodak?
  3. Or are you in the training ghetto, disconnected from the business and unable to be part of any change?

Risky Quadrant

Harold suggested that the reality is that we should be in the quadrant of risky leadership.  He quoted Don Taylor:

“…If both the department and the organisation are changing fast, this is a great opportunity. We can invest in new procedures and systems, build our skills and experiment with different ways of working with the business, and the business – because it is also changing fast and open to new ideas – will respond. It’s in this quadrant that we find really progressive L&D teams that are making an impact. While they are undoubtedly leaders, this quadrant is also risky, because that’s the nature of change.”

I would like to think that we have occupied the risky quadrant for the past five years, issuing our white paper on online teaching, rolling out our Online Course Development Initiative, and experimenting with iPads, digital storytelling, and online faculty development.

The world, however, continues to change fast.  This summer, we are potentially moving further into the risky quadrant with a new online initiative. In a news release yesterday, Gardner Campbell was quoted discussing experiments VCU will be conducting in online learning. He noted that:

“…untidiness and uncertainty are not to be feared, nor do they necessarily signal problems. “It’s all a work-in-progress,” Campbell said. “All of it has the potential to be messy and risky, but it’s a lot like life that way. And the potential benefits far outweigh the risks.”

The academic environment in which our future faculty members will live and grow is quite possibly going to be very different – and risky – from the academic environment in which I have worked for the past two decades. Learning to simply get up, shake themselves off, and try it again will be the norm.

And that can be quite exciting!

Garr shared a great video in his post, so I am replicating that here. Enjoy!

{Graphic: Gilad Rom}

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Call Me Hammerhand

I am still buzzing from all the ideas percolating from SLOAN International Conference on Online Learning, but today my buzz was from two totally unrelated (and yet totally related) blog posts from my PLN.

At the conference, there were many of us who cautioned people to not fixate on the latest digital tools, because the tools come and go, and what is important is teaching and learning.  After all, Jane Hart noted in her 2013 Top 100 Tools for Learning that the Number One tool of 2007 (Firefox) is now #97, and the Number One tool of 2008 (Delicious) has slid to #60 (and one I have abandoned for Diigo).  Things like WordPress or Pinterest or Poll Everywhere are “just a tool.”

How many of YOU have said similar words!?!

So, this morning I am reading a post from Gardner Campbell entitled “Doug Engelbart, transcontextualist.”  Gardner writes:

hammerhand

“There is no such thing as “just a tool.” McLuhan wisely notes that tools are not inert things to be used by human beings, but extensions of human capabilities that redefine both the tool and the user. A “tooler” results … The way I used to explain this is my new media classes was to ask students to imagine a hammer lying on the ground and a person standing above the hammer. The person picks up the hammer. What results? The usual answers are something like “a person with a hammer in his or her hand.” I don’t hold much with the elicit-a-wrong-answer-then-spring-the-right-one-on-them school of “Socratic” instruction, but in this case it was irresistible and I tried to make a game of it so folks would feel excited, not tricked. “No!” I would cry. “The result is a HammerHand!” …

So no “just a tool,” since a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand. It’s one of those small but powerful points that can make one see the designed built world, a world full of builders and designers (i.e., human beings), as something much less inert and “external” than it might otherwise appear. It can also make one feel slightly deranged, perhaps usefully so, when one proceeds through the quotidian details (so-called) of a life full of tasks and taskings…”

Let me repeat, a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand.

Which brings me to the second post I read this morning, from Jane Hart entitled “The Social Learning Revolution and What It Means for Higher Education.”  Jane provides the Slideshare below which she used for her closing keynote at the WCET Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado last week.

Jane discusses her latest findings for the Top 100 Tools for Learning, where free online social tools dominate the top of the list.  She also notes that  learning, working and personal tools are merging, and that personal and professional learning is under the control of the individual.  She suggests that in the workplace learning revolution, individuals now have the tools to solve their own learning and performance problems.  The connected workplace with its wired workers – what Harold Jarche and Jon Husband call a “wirearchy” – increasingly demands new skills and practices.

Jane then suggests that what this means for higher education is that it is not enough to just add social tools to instructional practices.  Our students need to build social competence within a Personal Knowledge Management framework to prepare them for the new world of work.  They need to learn how to leverage social tools to solve their own learning and performance problems, as they will be expected to do when they enter the world of work.  Their “school work” should not be done in isolation, but integrated with a professional external network.  Working with this external network, our role as faculty is to help students make sense of what they find in the confusing world of the web – learning how to filter, synthesize and analyze, then encouraging them to share their learning back with their network.  In other words, our role as educators is to help students develop their digital identity.

She asks “How are you preparing your students for this new world of work and learning?”  Which begs the question, how are we in Centers preparing faculty to help them prepare these students?

Gardner’s post has me considering that whether working with faculty or students, when we begin to use a digital tool in our instruction, a HammerHand is something quite different from a hammer or a hand, or a hammer in a hand.

How does our use of a digital tool change us, our students, and the teaching moments?

As I said, my brain is buzzing.  Would love to hear your thoughts….

Graphics: {Recon Construction}

 

 

 

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Group Reflections on OpenVA

cropped-openva_headerMy colleagues in the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence spent an hour this morning debriefing our experience at the first OpenVA Conference held October 14-15 at University of Mary Washington‘s Stafford Campus.  Our Jeff Nugent was on the organizing committee for this conference, with strong input from our colleagues at UMW like Jim Groom and Martha Burtis, as well as cool outside speakers like Alan “CogDog” Levine and Audrey Watters.  It was a homecoming in some regards for our new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success, Gardner Campbell, who spoke at several sessions.

In our podcast, Yin Wah Kreher suggested that we use the 4 C’s thinking routine as a guide for today’s discussion.

  • Connections: How does it connect to what we already know?
  • Challenges: What do we find challenging?
  • Concepts: What are the big ideas?
  • Changes: How have our actions and attitudes changed as a result?

All in all, a great learning experience…it will be fun to think about how “open” continues to impact education in Virginia and globally!

 

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Rethinking Fundamentals

These are exciting times at our Center for Teaching Excellence at VCUGardner Campbell is reporting next week as our new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success.  Jon Becker started yesterday as our interim Director of Online Education.  We are saying goodbye to Phillip Edwards as he leaves for the Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, but we will be welcoming a new member to our Center next month.  With Jeffrey Nugent continuing to lead our Center and our eLearning Team, we have a dream team positioned for …
disruption.

Disruption seems an appropriate word…as online education has been both a disruptive force in the past decade…and has itself been disrupted in the past year with the rise of MOOCS.  As we gear up for the start of our new academic year, particularly with such thought leaders in place, it seems a good time to revisit some of the fundamentals that have shaped my work for the past few years.

cover_thumbIn May 2009, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I published a White Paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.  Only four years ago, and yet it seems somewhat dated now.  So I wanted to review it and see what still resonates with me and what needs rethinking.

We noted in the introduction:

“In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning.”

This still resonates with me, yet I have to recognize that much of the “new” and emerging elearning products seem geared towards designing and sequencing content.  In many ways, that describes many MOOCs, though Lisa Lane makes a good point that lumping all MOOCs into one pile is no better than lumping all online education into one pile.  There is also a move by some institutions to shift to self-paced compentency-based programs.  There are positives and negatives to this approach, but it does illustrate a use of digital technology that is worth exploring.  At some level, one could argue that self-paced compentency-based courses are about “learning” rather than teaching.

MOOCs aside, the state of elearning in higher education has continued to grow.  When we published the White Paper, four million students nationally were enrolled in online courses – 20% of all higher education students.  In the latest Babson Survey from 2012, the number had passed 6.7 million, or 32% of students.  Few other education processes (other than maybe the adoption of iPhones and tablets) could boast a 70% increase in four years.  With a 70% growth, there are obviously more faculty than ever involved in teaching online.

We stated in our White Paper that :

“…content alone does not make a course, nor an education…Everyone has access to high quality learning content.  Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content.  Faculty are critical, in that they are the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.”

I continue to believe that faculty are critical…and not just to design, curate, and sequence content.

Our White Paper suggested three central themes to rethinking instructional practices for online teaching.

  • First, it requires effort to build a learning community in an online class, but that effort is critical.
  • Second, the virtual medium in which engagement occurs can happen across multiple websites, from learning management systems to microblogging sites to blogs and wikis.  The engagement requires true interaction rather than the more passive action/reaction of “read this and then take a quiz.”  Yet, this engagement is critical.
  • Finally, the social presence of both students and faculty is an important component of online learning.

booksIn the ensuing four years since we published this white paper, we have had nearly 80 faculty members participate in our Online Course Development Initiative, and another 60 faculty members complete our online Preparing to Teach Online course.  Another 24 faculty members have attended our three-session Learning Path on online teaching.  One commonality in these three programs is that each faculty member was given a copy of Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s 2007 book, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  Each of these programs has additionally been influenced by Randy Garrison’s 2011 update of E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice (Second Edition).  Community (and the Community of Inquiry model) have therefore been positioned front and center in our development of faculty for online teaching.

Given the changes emerging in online learning, my question becomes – Is “community” still a core fundamental principle for online teaching and learning?

For me, it is…but I would love for others to weigh in.

My colleague Joyce Kincannon used a great word yesterday as we discussed this – discourse.  Discourse is more than conversation, it is meaningful debate.  It is “meaning making” spread across multiple individuals.  To be quite honest, it is the discourse occurring in my online classes that keeps my juices flowing and excites me as I teach my courses.  I would suggest that it is the discourse that helps form and grow the community aspects of online classes.  So, building community is critical from my perspective.  I still think that “community” can exist across multiple digital websites or paths…and it can continue long after a course completes.  This past week, I have received several tweets from former students who are continuing our discourse.

All of which suggests that the social presence of both faculty members and students continues to be important.

Is “online teaching” evolving?  Definitely!  Are the fundamentals still core?  For me, the answer is yes.  This does not suggest that we should not explore self-paced digital processes that enhance learning. Just as the web is becoming ubiquitous in our lives, it should (in my opinion) be equally ubiquitous in our teaching and learning.  While some of the “tools” listed in our white paper have morphed or died – to be replaced my new tools – the fundamentals embedded in our white paper still resonate with me, as does our use of Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles as a lens for exploring the use of these digital tools.  While we may welcome MOOCs and self-paced instruction into the repertoire of online offerings, it seems to me that with 32% of college students taking online courses, the “traditional” instructor-led online course will be continuing for the foreseeable future, and the fundamentals we suggested in our white paper will continue to shape those courses – and our development of faculty.

Last spring, MGen Will Grimsley suggested that technology-enabled leadership should take a lesson from .38 Special – “Hold On Loosely, But Don’t Let Go.”  Seems like good advice for the fundamentals of community, networked learning, and social presence in online teaching and learning.

So maybe I am not as disruptive as I think…. 🙂

I would be interested in your thoughts…and any aspects of our white paper that you see as needing updating.

 

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EDCMOOC Week 2: Looking to the Future

krupp: Creative Commons CC:BY (Flickr)

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We are in our second week in the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures. This was the image that greeted us when we clicked on the Week 2 page – a cross-stitch noting that its gonna be the future soon!  Nice Flickr photo from krupp!

Of course, we are typically pretty bad at predicting “the future.”  I was in high school when the movie 2001: A Space Odessey came out, the movie from which the course banner comes.  This movie vividly pictured a near future where moon colonies and space stations would exist by 1999.  Our current International Space Station is cool, but nowhere as cool or massive as the one embedded in my teenage movie mind.  Now, some 45 years later, the future is quite different from this childhood vision.  As Buzz Aldrin noted on the cover of MIT Technology Review back in November, “You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead, I Got Facebook.” Indeed!

Course Banner

Yet, there were things  the movie 2001 got right.  Technology has pretty much invaded our lives, becoming ubiquitous and always on.  Back in 1968, the movie depicted humans conversing with HAL – the intelligent computer on the Discovery spacecraft.  Today, we converse with Siri.

As with last week, the course facilitators began our learning journey with a series of short videos that had quite different views of the future.  The first is a favorite of mine – A Day Made of Glass from Corning. This was the second video in a series, and both give a quite utopian view of the world where technology is seamlessly interwoven with our lives.  The two kids in this video impishly used their tablets to shift the car interior to pink…and I could see my granddaughters doing the same thing.  A similar world of integrated technology unfolded in Productivity Future Vision.

In Sight and Charlie 13, we have a much darker view of the future, where technology is used to manipulate or track people against their will.  This theme shows up often in science fiction literature and media.  One wonders just how accurate the opening of each episode of Person of Interest is.  We may already live in a world where technology is used to track us – if Hollywood is to be believed.

These two world views were also evident in the readings.  In Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4), an analysis of editorials about the internet showed that people tended to have either a utopian view of the web (transformative and revolutionary in a good way) or a dystopian view (destructive and supplanting humans in a negative way).  Annalee Newitz in an address noted the combination of hope and fear as themes in science fiction (and I thought I was an avid science fiction reader – I had not read half of what she had!).  I loved her comment about “You Can’t Stop the Signal!”  That could be good news or not so good news.  Bleecker, J. (2006) in A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things discussed the increasing degree to which objects are becoming connected to the internet and communicating with humans.  Again, one wonders if one can (or should) stop the signal.

Regarding education and these twin views of hope and fear, the course facilitators focused on the emerging phenomenon of MOOCs (massive open online courses).  They used a blog post from Clay Shirky to provide the utopian view.  In Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy. shirky.com, 12 November 2012, Clay suggests that the disruption that MP3s caused for the record industry might be a model of how MOOCs will disrupt higher education in a good way.  Countering this is Bady, A. (2012). Questioning Clay Shirky. Inside Higher Ed, 6 December 2012, in which Bady suggests that Shirky ignores the profit-driven business model driving the development of some MOOCs.

The week’s reading ended with an hour-long keynote address by Gardner Campbell on open education, which I embed below.  Gardner weaves a tale of many different open initiatives and continues to use the T.S. Elliot quote: “That is not it all all, that is not what I meant, at all.”

One image that stood out to me from his talk was how hospitals could be viewed as providing either a home or an institution, and how that view impacts interactions with patients.  I was drawing the same conclusion about online education.  In higher education, are we designing and delivering online education that is open, welcomes learning, and celebrates participation across a diverse group of learners, or are we building rigid institutions with strict rules of access and participation?

Sidebar – totally stoked that Gardner will be keynoting at our Online Summit later in May!

MOOCs are an interesting lens through which to view both utopian and dystopian views of higher education.  On the one hand, MOOCs were noted by the 2013 NMC Horizon Report as one of the top tech trends on the near-term horizon.  The Chronicle quoted Larry Johnson as follows:

Surprisingly, MOOCs have never before appeared in a “Horizon Report,” though the technology was mentioned last September as a far-term technology in a separate report from the consortium, said Larry Johnson, its chief executive officer. Nearly six months later, MOOCs have moved to the forefront of emerging higher-education technology, according to the report.

“It’s unprecedented,” Mr. Johnson said, noting that the closest parallel he can remember was the rise in interest in virtual worlds in 2006. “But even those didn’t catch on as fast as this is,” he added.

On the other hand, there was some recent piling on when a Coursera course on “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application,” crashed and burned – primarily due to a lack of planning and application.

For even more reading, check out the series of articles this month in MIT’s Technology Review.  The articles focus on the business side of online education, but also suggest interesting fodder for reflection about learning.

We are in the early days.  I hope that MOOCs are disruptive as Shirky suggests.  I also suspect that they will not be as disruptive as the dystopians warn.  As Gardner might suggest, I do not know that we know what we mean when we say “disruptive education.”  I don’t know…but like my little friend here, I say “Hell Yes!”

And…as Gardner ended his keynote with lines from Carl Sandberg’s poem “At a Window“, I hope we are at a window to watch “…and wait and know the coming of a little love” … a hopeful message rather than a dystopian one.

For those in #EDCMOOC, I would as always be interested in your views.  Agree?  Disagree?  Reframe the question differently?

{Image credits:  krupp, krupp}

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