30 Day Challenge – Day 18 – The Imagination Spiral

Last week, I stumbled upon an EdTechReview blog post out of India on “How Curriculum for 21st Century Must Look Like?“. One of the things I treasure about my PLN is the alternative viewpoints that come out of Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. Granted that while different, higher education is really not that different…we are all trying to solve similar problems.

CreativityIn this post, Santosh Bhaskar K has a quote from the former President of India:

“Imagination leads to creativity, Creativity blossoms thinking, Thinking provides knowledge, Knowledge results innovation and Innovation makes the nation great.” – Abdul Kalam.

Santosh goes on to suggest that, for higher education, this means that the following aspects should be folded in to their curriculum:

  • Research and Enquiry
  • Creativity and Innovation
  • Use of technology
  • Entrepreneurial leadership
  • Moral leadership

I like the quote. Kalam spent much of his presidency advocating for the development of India as a knowledge superpower, But for me, the process he described is more circular than linear – and is more global than simply applying to India alone.


So my 30-Day Challenge question for today is:

Day 18 – How can I teach in a way that sparks learner imagination, fosters their creativity, and leads their thinking from knowledge to innovation?

I definitely do not have the total answer to this…but one partial answer might lie in giving up control…a theme I will return to this week.  Paving the way to intrinsic motivation (what students want to do) rather than extrinsic motivation (what I tell students to do) might go a long way to unleashing student imagination…and innovation.


ps – If you want your brain expanded and your imagination to spiral, check out my colleague Enoch Hale’s questions during the first half of this challenge:

Day 1: Intellectual Playfulness

Day 2: Teach Like Zen Monks

Day 3: Arrowheads and Assignments

Day 4: Educational Tattoos

Day 5: Stopping the Ed Machine

Day 6: Teaching in a State of Surprise

Day 7: Teaching in the Twilight Zone

Day 8: Thinking Oblique(ly)

Day 9: Manage White Noise

Day 10: Killing the Serial Monologue

Day 11: Equinox Learning

Day 12: Indra’s Web and the Interconnections

Day 13: The Topography of Learning

Day 14: Why Don’t Bad Beliefs Die?

Day 15:  Choosing the Right Digital Tools

{Graphic: Fields}

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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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30 Day Challenge – Day 16 – Woodpecker or Swift

WoodpeckerMy wife and I love birds.  We have several birdfeeders in the backyard and plant flowers and shrubs that are bird-friendly.  Sometimes that means the local hawks thin the flock a bit…but that is part of nature as well.  Three different species of woodpeckers frequent our suet and peanut feeders, while – because we also live near meadows and open farmland – a number of species of swifts frequent our area as well.

The evolution of the different species of birds is fascinating.  Woodpeckers and swifts have something in common – they both eat insects.

Woodpeckers “peck” or bore into the wood of trees to find insects.

Swifts are among the faswiftstest fliers in the world, and they take their meals on the wing.  According to Adam Summers, swifts have proportionately large wingtip bones that allow for added maneuverability in flight.

So as I thought about my question for today’s 30-Day Challenge, I thought about how two species of birds approach the same objective (eat insects) in radically different ways.  It is a metaphor for teaching.

Day 16 – As a teacher, do I want to approach teaching (and learning) as a woodpecker or swift?

One can certainly take the “repeatedly hit them with questions” approach, drilling in to the objectives until the objective is met.  Cognitive scientists such as Dan Willingham have suggested that students do need to spend time on the fundamentals in order to develop problem solving skills.

On the other hand, that approach might not be appropriate for all subjects or with all learners.  In a constructivist approach, one might want students to maneuver around the topic, trying different angles of attack until they surface one that works for them.

Neither approach is totally right or totally wrong…it is a question of mindful application.  Which approach would work for you…and for your students?


{Graphics: Birdsguide, Wild Animals}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 15 – Learning and Teaching

Maryellen Weimer had an interesting post today in Faculty Focus – “What’s Your Learning Philosophy?

philosophy wordleInteresting because in GRAD-602, we have had students working on their teaching philosophies. One facet of transitioning from expert student to novice faculty can be reflecting on what one’s philosophy is about teaching.  We provide resources such as Gabriela Montell’s “How to Write a Statement of Teaching Philosophy” and resources from Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching.  We have had our students make a first draft after our first module on teaching, then review it against the 2010 Kearns, Sullivan, O’Loughlin and Braun A Scoring Rubric for Teaching Statements: A Tool for Inquiry into Graduate Student Writing about Teaching and Learning.  Now, after our module on learning, they are revising it and pairing up for peer reviews.  After we complete our third module on digital technologies, they will once again revise it.

Maryellen gave me a different lens.  She noted work by Neil Haave, who suggested that “…we are all familiar with teaching philosophies. In fact, most of us have prepared them. But how many of us have crafted a learning philosophy?”  So I will take my 30-Day Challenge question for today directly from Maryellen:

Day 15 – Do the ways I approach learning inspire those I teach?

LearnOther questions Maryellen raises:

“When am I at my learning best and worst, and what do I take from those experiences? How do I handle learning that is hard? How do I deal with failure? Do I spend too much time learning what I love and avoid everything else?”

Good questions…and good comments on Maryellen’s post about adult learners and metacognition…suggestive of facets to consider.  Before I think about updating my teaching philosophy, I first need to craft a learning philosophy.

What is your learning philosophy?

{Graphics: Christine, Robert Andrews}




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30 Day Challenge – Day 14 – Competing Fantasies

nix01Divergent thinking typically comes out of  annual SXSW conference.  Earlier this month, the conference featured Bruce Sterling, a noted science fiction author, as a keynoter.  Bruce used a phrase from his and Jon Lewbowsky’s  State of the World 2012 post that he had previously used…and which got a bit of buzz:

The Future Is About Old People, in Big Cities, Afraid of the Sky

“The future is about old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky. How do I know that? Well, it’s because demographic change is very obvious — people are gonna get older. And the urban change is very obvious — people have been moving into larger and larger cities for several decades. And climate change is super obvious. People can deny all three of them. You can say, ‘Oh, well my town will never get bigger.’ Okay, Austin’s getting bigger by 100 people a day. Or you could say, ‘Oh, well I’m never going to get older.’ Okay, you are gonna get older… I have the feeling I’ve spent enough time talking about it. I’m actually bored with writing fiction about it. I think I’m gonna spend a couple of years trying to get to physical grips with the problem — What kind of life would old people, in big cities, afraid of the sky actually have? I think it’s time to try some prototypes.”

As someone who has reached his Sixties, this pessimistic view is not what I hope my children have in store!  Yet, for today’s post in the 30-Day Challenge, it is instructive to go back to Sterling’s 2012 post.

Bruce and Jon noted that different groups see the future changing in different ways:

  • Right-Wing Talk Radio
    • Threats to the Constitution
    • Imminent collapse of currency
    • Rise of anarchists
    • Hordes of immigrants
    • Rants against health-care and gay rights
  • China
    • Continued dual rise of production and pollution
    • Increase in infrastructure
    • Collapse of intellectual property
    • Defeat western ideas of law and commerce
  • Cyberculture
    • Smartphones!
    • Moore’s Law
    • War on SOPA/PIPA
    • Social media drives revolution
    • Quietly ditching stuff that is obsolete
  • Additional Fringe Beliefs
    • “…all fringe beliefs about the future seem to be more or less equivalent, like Visa, American Express and Mastercard.”

Multiple perspectives all looking at the same future.  Lebkowsky then noted:

“…I’m thinking H.G. Wells would never have written the hyperpessimistic “Mind at the End of Its Tether” if he’d had a televison set, 24-hour cable, high-speed Internet access and accounts on Facebook and Twitter. Our heads are buzzing with possibility, spinning ever faster into the alternate realities that your various futurisms suggest. I say “realities,” but I’m not sure the word “reality” has much weight these days – more like competing fantasies, in the sense that Kesey et al talked about “the current fantasy” and others of us talked about “believing your own bullshit.” Conflicting, competing narratives are the real games we play…”

DiversityAs “experts”, we as faculty spend a lot of time focusing on reality.  We craft lessons with “right answers” rather than competing fantasies.  Yet, with the affordances of the web, both our heads and the heads of our students ought to be “buzzing with possibilities”!  It should be instructive that much of the research in physics today points to alternate realities.  Rather than focusing on answers, how can we bring that buzz into the learning in our classes?

Day 14 – How could I craft my teaching so that students surface and interrogate competing fantasies in the search for today’s truth?

In one of the first global online courses I taught for the University of Nebraska, a Nebraskan gave a textbook answer to a question on educational leadership.  The next post was from a gentleman from the island of Guam, who started his post with “I am Chamorro, and we do not think that way…”.  It was a huge lesson for me on the lens we bring to our discussions.

What buzz do you bring to the discussion today?

{Graphic: Lori Nix, Envision}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 13 – Yik Yak Accountability

My 30-Day Challenge question for today was sparked by a post this weekend from Paolo Narcisco – “Knowledge Management As We Know It May Not Exist in 2020 (and here’s why)“.

Paolo wrote:

“…Consider this scenario. In 2020, over 60% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials. While I come from the Connected Generation, those who we will lead are “digital natives”. That means that they all were born completely connected, digitally savvy, and culturally expecting that communication and collaboration to be instant and easy. While they have no qualms publishing their every private thought and activity, they are also savvy in that they expect privacy (when and where is still a debate). For instance, while we may Tweet and post on Facebook for all the world to see, they SnapChat and leave no trace of the conversation. Publish and filter may not be possible when what’s published may be gone in an instant, only meant for the viewers the publisher intended. Unlike the Babylonians who invented cuneiform so that knowledge can be archived and shared, what if there isn’t an archive?”

Yik Yak AppPaolo goes on to mention Yik Yak…to which I will admit total ignorance.  As explained in a TechCrunch article:

“…Yik Yak was launched by two Furman University students, Tyler Droll and Brooks Buffington, as something of a hyperlocal Twitter aimed at college students. Students could post about campus happenings and events, voice complaints, share news, and, at least in one case, update fellow classmates about weather-related closings when an official alert system had failed.

The platform, which connects nearby users automatically, doesn’t require that people identify themselves by name, but instead allows users to post anonymously or use an alias…”

Intrigued, I downloaded and launched Yik Yak on my iPhone.  What I found was the dark side of anonymity.  While there were a few “campus” comments, most were comments of sexual harassment, homophobic, or racist posts. NBC Los Angeles reported that concerns over abuse of the new Yik Yak app have ranged from fake bomb threats to bullying.  A prank threat posted on the app left thousands of students in Southern California on lockdown last week, while a bomb squad swept their campus, one of three recent Yik Yak-instigated bomb threats nationally.

Some could simply say that college kids have always made rude comments…and that they grow out of it after college.  Yet, Paolo’s question remained in my thoughts.  What if there isn’t an archive?  Put another way:

Day 13: How do (or should) we balance online accountability with anonymity?

Accountability cuts several ways.  There are obvious mechanisms to tie someone’s online work with a grade…that part is easy.  Less easy is the aspect of our role in higher education to prepare responsible digital citizens for the future.  How do you even define that?  In a Yik Yak environment, personal responsibility is left at the log-in.  With SnapChat, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.  One of the founders of Yik Yak, Brooks Buffington, stated, “Anonymity is a great thing – the whole reason why we made it is because when you’re anonymous, no one can judge you.”

Connecting DotsTo their credit, the founders of Yik Yak in response to the bomb-threats applied GPS data this past week to block the app if used at a middle school or high school…yet from what little I saw, it continues to provide a service that I found unsettling.  Many of us teaching in higher education continue to examine social media for rich ways to connect with our students…and for them to connect with each other for deep learning.  Yet, as Paolo suggests, we are not teaming with students as much to learn where they might be in social media.  A few years back, Facebook was the obvious place for connections…now, many undergraduates have left Facebook as their parents joined.  They may or may not be on SnapChat.  Do we know?  Is “anonymity” the new given?  What role should we play in mentoring our student use of social media…particularly when it comes to personal accountability?

I feel like an old fuddy-duddy…and I am wondering your reactions?  Should we be concerned about anonymity…or am I connecting dots that should not be connected?

{Graphic: NBC LA, Psychology Today}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 12 – Serious eLearning, Seriously?

In the Online Learning Insights weekly news this morning, there is a review of the Serious eLearning Manifesto, released last week by four e-learning “instigators.”

Serious eLearning Manifesto

These instigators suggest that most elearning is broken, and that a new set of standards are required to raise elearning to its potential.  Quoting from the manifesto:

Supporting Principles

1.  Do Not Assume that Learning is the Solution
– We do not assume that a learning intervention is always the best means to helping people perform better.

2. Do Not Assume that eLearning is the Answer
– When learning is required, we do not assume that elearning is the only (or the best) solution.

3. Tie Learning to Performance Goals
– We will couple the skills we are developing to the goals of organizations, individuals, or both.

4. Target Improved Performance
–  We will help our learners achieve performance excellence; enabling them to have improved abilities, skills, confidence, and readiness to perform.

5. Provide Realistic Practice
–  We will provide learners sufficient levels of realistic practice; for example, simulations, scenario-based decision making, case-based evaluations, and authentic exercises.

6.  Enlist Authentic Contexts
–  We will provide learners with sufficient experience in making decisions in authentic contexts.

7.  Provide Guidance and Feedback
–  We will provide learners with guidance and feedback to correct their misconceptions, reinforce their comprehension, and build effective performance skills.

8.  Provide Realistic Consequences
–  When providing performance feedback during learning, we will provide learners with a sense of the real-world consequences.

9.  Adapt to Learner Needs
We can and should utilize elearning’s capability to create learning environments that are flexible or adaptive to learner needs.

10. Motivate Meaningful Involvement
– We will provide learners with learning experiences that are relevant to their current goals and/or that motivate them to engage deeply in the process of learning.

11. Aim for Long-term Impact
– We will create learning experiences that have long-term impact–well beyond the end of instructional events–to times when the learning is needed for performance.

12. Use Interactivity to Prompt Deep Engagement
–  We will use elearning’s unique interactive capabilities to support reflection, application, rehearsal, elaboration, contextualization, debate, evaluation, synthesization, et cetera—not just in navigation, page turning, rollovers, and information search.

13.  Provide Support for Post-Training Follow-Through
–  We will support instruction with the appropriate mix of after-training follow-through, providing learning events that: reinforce key learning points, marshal supervisory and management support for learning application, and create mechanisms that enable further on-the-job learning.

14.  Diagnose Root Causes
–  When given training requests, we will determine whether training is likely to produce benefits and whether other factors should be targeted for improvement. We will also endeavor to be proactive in assessing organizational performance factors–not waiting for requests from organizational stakeholders.

15.  Use Performance Support
–  We will consider providing job aids, checklists, wizards, sidekicks, planners, and other performance support tools in addition to–and as a potential replacement for–standard elearning interactions.

16.  Measure Effectiveness
–  Good learning cannot be assured without measurement, which includes the following:

a. Measure Outcomes
Ideally, we will measure whether the learning has led to benefits for the individual and/or the

b. Measure Actual Performance Results
Ideally, an appropriate time after the learning (for example, two to six weeks later), we will measure whether the learner has applied the learning, the level of success, the success factors and obstacles encountered, and the level of supervisor support where warranted.

c. Measure Learning Comprehension and Decision Making During Learning
At a minimum, during the learning, we will measure both learner comprehension and decision-making ability. Ideally, we would also measure these at least a week after the learning.

d. Measure Meaningful Learner Perceptions
When we measure learners’ perceptions, we will measure their perceptions of the following: their ability to apply what they’ve learned, their level of motivation, and the support they will receive in implementing the learning.

17.  Iterate in Design, Development, and Deployment
–  We won’t assume that our first pass is right, but we will evaluate and refine until we have achieved our design goals.

18.  Support Performance Preparation
–  We will prepare learners during the elearning event to be motivated to apply what they’ve learned, inoculated against obstacles, and prepared to deal with specific situations.

19.  Support Learner Understanding with Conceptual Models
–  We believe that performance should be based upon conceptual models to guide decisions, and that such models should be presented, linked to steps in examples, practiced with, and used in feedback.

20.  Use Rich Examples and Counterexamples
–  We will present examples and counterexamples, together with the underlying thinking.

21.  Enable Learners to Learn from Mistakes
–  Failure is an option. We will, where appropriate, let learners make mistakes so they can learn from them. In addition, where appropriate, we will model mistake-making and mistake-fixing.

22.  Respect Learners
–  We will acknowledge and leverage the knowledge and skills learners bring to the learning environment through their past experience and individual contexts.

We acknowledge that this is an important but not exhaustive list, and further, that the ideas embedded in this list were drawn from, and inspired by, the work and research of many.”

This manifesto seems geared towards corporate elearning more than online learning in higher education, yet there are portions in here with which I agree.  As the graphic above suggests, too many have attempted to replicate the large lecture hall experience with the online experience, leading to course designs that are content focused, efficient for the faculty, attendence-driven (read “seat time”), focused on knowledge delivery rather than authentic learning, and one-size fits all.  So I agree with the manifesto’s call for making elearning meaningful for learners, authentic, relevant, and individualized.

Community of InquiryIn many ways, these “principles” align with Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice.  Where I would differ from these instigators is an underlying assumption that “the learner” is isolated.  There is nothing about building a community of practice within this manifesto.  If the web is open, social and participatory…and if the future for our students requires cooperation and collaboration, then it would seem that aspects of a community of inquiry should appear in this manifesto.

Yet, I like Stephen Downes’ take on this in Monday’s OLDaily.  Stephen said:

“…Basically the manifesto emphasizes “continuous assessment of learner performance” in order to “optimize use of the learner’s time, individualize the experience for full engagement, address needs, optimize practice, and prepare for transfer of learning to performance proficiency.” The manifesto is relentlessly provider-focused, which is unfortunate. If I were writing a manifesto it would be more about making my profession unnecessary, so that people wouldn’t need specially designed materials in order to learn, but rather, could forge learning out of raw materials for themselves.”

Which leads to today’s 30-Day Challenge question:

Day 12 – How can I as faculty make myself unnecessary?

This is not to suggest that I am planning on quitting my day job.  Rather, it is a reminder to focus on student’s learning rather than on delivering content.  As my colleague Jeff Nugent reminds us:

“You deliver pizzas, not learning.”


{Graphics: elearningmanifesto, Athabasca University}


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30 Day Challenge – Day 11 – Relevancy

NMC Horizon ReportThe NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition for 2014 lists six challenges which the review panel believes are very likely to impede technology adoption over the next five years.  These challenges are sorted into three categories defined by the nature of the challenge — solvable challenges are those that we both understand and know how to solve, but seemingly lack the will; difficult challenges are ones that are more or less well-understood but for which solutions remain elusive; and wicked challenges, the most difficult, are complex to even define, and thus require additional data and insights before solutions will even be possible.

These challenges will impact policy, leadership and practice…and it is the area of practice that I find most interesting.  The report raises an interesting point:

“Each of the six challenges identified by the expert panel presents numerous impediments for advancing teaching and learning, but perhaps the most wicked challenge related to these practices is keeping education relevant. Employers have reported disappointment in the lack of real world readiness they observe in recent graduates who are prospective or current employees. With both technology and the value of skills rapidly evolving, it is difficult for institutions to stay ahead of workforce needs.”

The challenges listed for this year:

Solvable Challenges

  • Low Digital Fluency of Faculty
    • “…digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.”
  • Relative Lack of Rewards for Teaching
    • “…There is an overarching sense in the academic world that research credentials are a more valuable asset than talent and skill as an instructor. Because of this way of thinking, efforts to implement effective pedagogies are lacking.”

Difficult Challenges

  • Competition from New Models of Education
    • “…As these new platforms emerge, there is a growing need to frankly evaluate the models and determine how to best support collaboration, interaction, and assessment at scale.”
  • Scaling Teaching Innovations
    • “…Current organizational promotion structures rarely reward innovation and improvements in teaching and learning. A pervasive aversion to change limits the diffusion of new ideas, and too often discourages experimentation.”

Wicked Challenges

  • Expanding Access
    • “…expanding access means extending it to students who may not have the academic background to be successful without additional support.”
  • Keeping Education Relevant
    • “…As online learning and free educational content become more pervasive, institutional stakeholders must address the question of what universities can provide that other approaches cannot, and rethink the value of higher education from a student’s perspective.”

Relevance has lots of layers, like an onion.  Relevance of discipline, relevance of skills, relevance of path.

work4relevanceClay Shirky in “The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age,” focused on the unsustainable fiscal model of higher education, stating:

“…The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.”

It seems that there are connections across these challenges.  Increasing digital literacy of faculty could help address challenges of access, scale, and relevancy.  My question for the 30-day challenge for today is:

Day 11 – In a digitally mediated and data-driven world, what practices will leverage what faculty do best – “…facilitating inquiry, guiding learners to resources, and imparting wisdom that comes with experience in the field” (to quote from the Horizon Report) while taking advantage of the affordances of the web to add value to the higher education student experience?

Figuring this question out could help address our relevancy.  Doing nothing would be wicked indeed.


{Graphics: NMC, Steve Heath}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 10 – Linear or Exponential

Next week along with my colleague Jeff Nugent, I am leading our second learning path session on online teaching, looking at the evolution of elearning.  Borrowing a page from Brian Lamb, I plan to take the participants on a bit of a historical journey.

  • Mankind first formed social groups about 200,000 years ago
  • Mankind became mobile and left Africa about 70,000 years ago
  • Mankind began to leave visual evidence of culture about 40,000 years ago.
  • Evidence of storytelling emerged about 17,000 years ago
  • Evidence of gaming appeared 8,000 years ago
  • Writing evolved about 5,600 years ago
  • Gutenberg developed the printing press 664 years ago (though the Chinese first developed moveable type 400 years earlier)

In the past hundred years, we have seen communication evolve from radio to television to multimedia on the internet.  Moore’s Law has been evident in the past forty years.  I did my Masters thesis on a Commodore 64 computer…and today carry an iPad with exponentially more power.  In fact, as Brian pointed out, today’s iPad has capabilities that match our human development of social, mobile, visual, storytelling, and gaming.  I include an example of how tablets have changed in the past 200 years:


As Tom Friedman noted in The World is Flat, the internet was one of the forces that flattened and shrunk our planet.  Growth in users and applications has been exponential over the past twenty years.  In that time, online education has evolved and grown as well.  I first began teaching online in 1995, before the advent of LMS technology. At the University of Nebraska, we used a new business software program called Lotus Notes to provide a platform for our first online classes.

But the growth of online learning in higher education has not matched the exponential growth of the internet in other fields.  The latest SLOAN / Babson survey shows:

online enrollment growth

So my question for Day 10 of the 30 Day Challenge (almost in line with “Where are the flying cars?”):

Day 10:  If growth in the internet in users and applications continues to expand exponentially, why has growth in online learning been linear?

This is one I do not have a clue to…but I would be interested in your perspectives.



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30 Day Challenge – Day 9 – Student-Generated Textbook

softchalkadDisclaimer – I have friends that work for Softchalk.  One of their recent ads suggested that “If Content is King, shouldn’t it be RICH?

There seems to be this assumption that content is indeed king.

Google “Content is King” and you get a bazillion returns.  One I liked was from Socialmedia Today, which quoted Jonathan Perelman of Buzzfeed saying that “Content is King, but Distribution is Queen and She Wears the Pants.” At another site, David Callan of AKAMarketing.Com noted that:

“On the Internet content is king and always will be. This is because the Internet is the information superhighway and most people use it for information of some sort.”

Content may be king for web design and marketing, but should content be king for college classes?  Jeff Nugent led a great learning path session today for a room full of faculty on the changing nature of the web. In the session description, Jeff noted:

“Web-based technology and new media continue to shape the teaching and learning landscape in higher education. Things like learning management systems, wikis, blogs, social networking sites, and ubiquitous access to information have opened new opportunities for collaboration, content creation and learning that only a short time ago were unimaginable. Indeed, over the past few years we have witnessed the rapid growth of tools and practices that facilitate web-based interaction and exchange among individuals and groups. Now nearly everyone with a computer, Internet access and freely available software can communicate with text, images, audio and video to audiences that comment, vote, rank, exchange, link, share and connect. In addition, course content from a significant number of colleges and universities has become organized and openly available on the web, spawning new opportunities for both formal and non-formal learning. In short, the web has become a social and participatory space that serves as a platform for community building and learning…”

This suggests that the content is already “out there.”  If this is so, then why are we as faculty providing a textbook to our students to – in many cases – passively read?

Day 9: What would teaching and learning look like for students if classes emulated the crowdsourced concept behind Wikipedia to co-develop the class textbook, rather than purchasing an already printed book?

Co-developing a textbook would factor in both the platform of participation, as Jeff calls it, and the open educational resources readily available.

wikipediaI suggest Wikipedia as a model intentionally.  Wikipedia has certainly been a disruptive force in collective knowledge making.  Launched thirteen years ago, it now contains over 30 million articles in 287 languages (4.4 million articles in English alone), the vast majority developed by volunteers.  A comparison of 42 science articles by Nature in 2005 found the quality to be comparable to Encyclopedia Britannica.

Wikipedia has created an interesting process of article development in the open and crowd assessment for quality.  One of the better descriptions of that process can be found in Jon Udell’s screencast on the heavy metal unlaut.

Could such a process be used to crowdsource a textbook for a class by the students taking that class?  Doing so would seem to meet some of the principles laid out in Susan Ambrose’s book (2010) How Learning Works: 7 Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching.  Susan’s seven principles are:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can serve to help or hinder learning.
  2. Students’ organization of knowledge impacts how students learn and apply what they know.
  3. Motivation determines, directs, and sustains what students learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must develop the skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply them.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances learning.
  6. Students’ current level of learner development interacts with the social, emotional and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed, learners must be able to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

It could early on identify faulty prior knowledge.  It would help students find and organize knowledge.  Giving students some ownership over the process could increase motivation.  It is certainly goal directed and will require the mastery of curation skills.  As a crowdsourced process, students would be monitoring and adjusting their learning as they developed the course textbook.  Finally, as a web resource, the students would have access to their own work after the course was completed, something sorely lacking in most LMS course sites.

I am not suggesting this for every class…though I could make the case that just about any class would have learning enhanced if the students – as part of their learning path – sought out, organized, curated, and published on the web a visible compilation of the topic under discussion.


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