March 7th, 2013 § § permalink
Evgeny Morozov dismantles the lazy thinking and the fundamentally anti-progressive notions outlined in Gavin Newsom’s recent book: Citizenville:How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government [bad book, so no link!]. California’s lieutenant governor is taken apart in an article in Bookforum.
[It is his] lack of any basic curiosity about the technological solutions that he advocates—and especially about their unintended consequences—that makes Newsom’s account so suspect. Public institutions such as the BBC might be terribly inefficient and scandal prone, but they still do a better—and more systematic—job at rooting out corruption than Newsom’s citizen-hackers armed with databases and sophisticated visualization tools.
I don’t agree with everything Morozov writes (his Net Delusion described some critical blind spots in our understanding of the Net today — delusion was too strong a word, but I suppose it helped to sell the book) but this piece gets it spot on with respect to Newsom’s Ayn Rand-induced, hacker-worshipping, anti-democratic nonsense.
Most of all, Morozov exposes the fundamentally conservative and regressive philosophy that so many thoughtless, slow-minded and mantra-spouting lovers of technology-for-its-own-sake mistake for creativity, ‘thinking different’ and enlightenment.
January 16th, 2013 § § permalink
There are strategies that teachers and schools can employ to ensure that technology becomes purposeful and systematic. There can be little doubt that its potential is very great, as it provides the opportunity for effective teaching of skills, of finding and using information within a context of high student interest. This unique combination is too great a value to be wasted.
Celestine Kemunto Nyamari lives in Kenya, where she attends St. Theresa’s Girls’ Secondary School in Kithimu, a couple of hours drive North-East of Nairobi. Celestine took part in the first student-led Education Fast Forward debate (in November last year) as a guest debater and is set to join EFF6: From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders on January 28, 2013.
January 13th, 2013 § § permalink
The knowledge necessary to function successfully and follow a career was seen to already exist: it could be handed down from experts and leaders to learners and workers. In the Industrial Age, curriculum development was a matter of selecting the most important knowledge to transmit to students; experts decided what knowledge to mass-prescribe and in which sequence.
Jane Gilbert and Rachel Bolstad (amongst many others) questioned the traditional concept of curriculum development in their 2008 book Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning? Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future. Their words are quoted in a new White Paper, sponsored by Promethean’s Jim Wynn, and authored by Gavin Dykes, Michael Furdyk, Sara Hassan and Jennifer Corriero for Education Fast Forward, entitled From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders (downloadable PDF).
The authors agree with Gilbert and Bolstad and state their position clearly:
…this model of curriculum development is difficult to maintain given that: it is no longer possible to accurately predict the type of knowledge youth may need as they move through life, the rapid pace at which technology is changing and new knowledge is developing, the rate at which career possibilities are proliferating (ones with which we are familiar and ones we have yet to imagine), and social, economic and environmental challenges are becoming increasingly complex.
They ask the question:
How can learner voice help address these uncertainties?
And the seemingly simple answer?
By giving learners an authentic say in what and how they want to learn.
The White Paper will underpin discussion at the next Education Fast Forward debate, to take place as part of Education World Forum in London at the end of this month. The paper, which will be presented by Sara Hassan, of Taking IT Global, joining the debate from Toronto, is an excellent summary of the issues surrounding this critical question, and the authors have been able to offer a combination of sound thinking, practical advice and a way forward for those in education (still too few, I would say) who believe that curriculum design, pedagogy, the role of technology and national education policy-making all should be influenced and shaped by the voice of the learner.
The event will combine a live presence at EWF and a global presence via the magic of Telepresence, An articulate group of young education leaders will debate the issues around ‘From Learner Voice to Emerging Leaders’.
The primary aim is twofold:
to bring the voice of youth to the policy-makers’ table, to let the young people hear some views on the big issues, and to let them debate them openly and fully
to bring the policy-makers (kicking and screaming if necessary) to the learners’ table so that they have to face up to the issues that are critical to the learners before they make their policy decisions
And it will all take place across a truly international matrix of connections, crossing countries, cultures, and communities.
The event itself takes place on Monday 28th January at 11am and you will find the link to the live video broadcast on the day itself on the Education Fast Forward page on Promethean Planet. Promethean’s Chief Education Officer, Jim Wynn, will be opening the EFF6 debate, which will once again be moderated by independent education consultant Gavin Dykes. Discussion will be led by Sara Hassan and three student presenters. Closing the debate will be Michelle Selinger, Director of Education at Cisco.
Twitter users can follow the debate itself using the hashtag #eff6, while there will be some interesting discussion around many of the key issues in the debate using the hashtag #learningmatters.
Finally, a reminder that you can download the White Paper.
January 8th, 2013 § § permalink
Howard Gardner, speaking in a video on the DML Central site:
I don’t believe for a moment in technological determinism. I believe any technology can be used benignly and malignantly. You can use a pen to write beautiful poetry. You can also use a pen to poke peoples’ eyes out.
Gardner doesn’t ‘believe’ in technological determinism, in the same way that someone might choose not to believe in a deity or the existence of Santa Claus. Fair enough. However, the example he gives to support his unbelief is not only misleadingly simplistic but also specious. A pen used to poke an eye out is not being used as a pen and is therefore not a pen at that moment in time. It is merely a pointy stick. If he had said that the same pen can be used to write beautiful poetry and also to sign the death warrant of an innocent person, his argument would have been a little more cogent, but still only within the somewhat narrow limits to which he chooses to restrict his notion of technological determinism. We expect better from a Harvard professor.
This much we can agree on: technology is only technology when it is being put to use. Otherwise, it is merely passive artefact. At the level of the instrument (such as the pen), technology can be used for good or ill. But that is not a condition unique to technology; it can be posited for virtually every product of the human hand or mind. Richard Feynman put it succinctly when he quoted a buddhist proverb:
To every man is given the key to the gates of heaven. The same key opens the gates of hell.
I made that point in a post back in 2006 when I compared certain characteristics shared by education and technology: they are both instruments that can be put to good and bad uses; they are both instruments that can be truly transformative or deeply destructive. Given those shared attributes, I used that post to appeal for care in how we choose to bring about their conjunction. But these are attributes that bear no relation to whether or not technology is deterministic; hence the problem with Gardner’s position.
If we want to see how truly deterministic technology can be, and is, we must elevate our point of view so that we can see beyond the individual instrument and allow ourselves to comprehend the broad vista of the technology landscape within which that single instrument is utilised. Whether a pen can write beautiful poetry or consign a person to their death really tells us nothing about how, at a much broader level, systemic shifts in the underlying nature of technology undoubtedly do influence societal interactions and, quite simply, how we do certain things, amongst them, education. To try to pretend, for instance, as Gardner must inevitably do with his ‘unbelief’ in technological determinism, that the way we learn — or for that matter, the way we teach — can remain the same in the digital era as it has been for centuries of print is just naive.
Karl Marx, writing in The Poverty of Philosophy in 1847, understood that better than the good professor obviously does today.
The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.
The digital era — the computer, the network, the Internet, the Web, social technology, universal search, and so much more — changes radically all of the relationships that are critical to how we learn and how we teach: the relationship between teacher and learner; the relationship between the learner and information; the relationship we all have with the concept of learned authority; and the social relationships between ourselves and the rest of the human race. It is of course a hugely complex process of determination, with nuance layered on nuance, but it is undoubtedly true that broad global shifts in technology, such as that between print and digital, determine how learning can happen and therefore should (and inevitably will) determine what it means to teach.
December 20th, 2012 § § permalink
Right now, all of the places we can assemble on the web in any kind of numbers are privately owned. And privately-owned public spaces aren’t real public spaces. They don’t allow for the play and the chaos and the creativity and brilliance that only arise in spaces that don’t exist purely to generate profit. And they’re susceptible to being gradually gaslighted by the companies that own them.
Anil Dash, on just one important issue amongst a number, in a great piece on Rebuilding the Web we Lost.
Affirming ‘the play and the chaos and the creativity and brilliance’ of truly public spaces, namely spaces not intended purely for profit, is critical to an open social web, and precisely what the Facebooks of the world can never engender.
Thanks to Stephen Downes for the link.
November 27th, 2012 § § permalink
This has been cross-posted from my new blog at iamlearner.net, which I have established to support and complement my business website at consult.iamlearner.net.
On my travels around the world I have often found myself working with some truly inspiring organisations. One of these is SAIDE, the South African Institute for Distance Education, who I met with more than one occasion in Johannesburg. This is an organization that is truly committed to transforming education and training through a focus on the adoption of open learning principles and distance education methods.
SAIDE do not think small! One of their key aims is to:
Support programmes in sound and innovative course design, materials development, learner support, management, and the use of technology, particularly for large scale provision.
They given powerful substance to their principles with the launch of a site dedicated to the provision of OER resources for education across the continent of Africa — OER Africa. With special areas of focus — teacher education, health, agriculture and skills development — this is a great resource built on the assumptions of openness.
A quick search for ‘professional development’ threw up some 237 references, and I could see a rich harvest of ideas and materials even in the first two of three pages of results.
Definitely worth a look!
November 8th, 2012 § § permalink
.…the same three-person team of a professor plus assistants that used to teach analog circuit design to 400 students at MIT now handles 10,000 online and could take a hundred times more.…
So said Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist appointed by MIT and Harvard this year to head edX, a $60 million joint effort (currently including UC Berkeley and the University of Texas, as well as MIT and Harvard) to stream a college education over the Web, free to anyone who wants it. Their aim, in time, they say is to reach 1 billion students by this means.
MIT’s Technology Review has published a business report on Digital Education that includes a piece that asks, is the MOOC the greatest edtech development in 200 years?, and another piece that takes a strangely myopic look at the development of the technology of the MOOC (myopic because it gives not the slightest mention to those who actually synthetized the concept and who coined the term itself). Given that this is in the context of a business report, perhaps the somewhat progressive, left-leaning, anti-corporatist inclinations of many of those involved in the origins of the MOOC simply keeps them below the radar of those writing for the Technology Review. I genuinely hope that is not the case.
However, while my pedagogical sympathies are somewhat closer to the MOOC’s prime movers, I also have a lot of admiration for what the big players are doing too. Coursera and Udacity, as well as the likes of edX, are all non-profit social enterprise ventures, and while their pedagogy is primarily a ‘knowledge-delivery’ model (as opposed to social-constructivist or connectivist model), they are very much part of a broad-based set of developments in education that, I believe, are coalescing into a major storm that will sweep through the structures and assumptions of formal institutional education in the next few years. Of course, there are many other MOOCs out there too: Stephen Downes offers a recent list of international providers.
Agarwal’s quote at the top of this piece itself confirms that these big MOOC providers are basically taking the model of delivery straight out of the lecture halls and classrooms of higher education and onto the Web. That’s fine, so far as it goes, but it means that much (most?) of the real power of the MOOC as originally defined, namely that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and that learning therefore consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks is dissipated.
That foundation in the pedagogy of the lecture theatre also means, of course, that the big providers are also hoping to find the commercial holy grail of trusted, authenticated and secure accreditation via the MOOC.
Nonetheless, it will be interesting to watch what the effect will be on all those universities across the world currently licensing courses from the big providers. I doubt that they are licensing their own annihilation, as some of the more lurid commentators might suggest; but i do think they are hastening a massive and welcome shift in the centre of gravity in higher education globally.
The MOOC is a development that, like all great innovations, is a culmination of inventions, formations, thinking, experimentations, mistakes and triumphs that came before it; it is also like all great innovations in that it is a game-changer. The game is changing in higher education, and in education generally — of that there is no doubt — and while the MOOC can only be a part of that change, it is a critical part. The MOOC will never be able to cope with all the requirements of learning and of study: there will also be a need, in some disciplines for lab work, ground work, work in the field, whatever. But there should be little doubt that the MOOC is a major development in education.
So, the greatest edtech development in 200 years? I certainly hope so!
October 28th, 2012 § § permalink
.…the tradeoffs we make on social networks is not the one that we’re told we’re making. We’re not giving our personal data in exchange for the ability to share links with friends.
So writes, Alexis Madrigal, in a piece on The Atlantic technology blog entitled: Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong.
He goes on:
Massive numbers of people — a larger set than exists on any social network — already do that outside the social networks. Rather, we’re exchanging our personal data in exchange for the ability to publish and archive a record of our sharing. That may be a transaction you want to make, but it might not be the one you’ve been told you made.
Madrigal summarises the Dark Social phenomenon as:
- The sharing you see on sites like Facebook and Twitter is the tip of the ‘social’ iceberg. We are impressed by its scale because it’s easy to measure.
- But most sharing is done via dark social means like email and IM that are difficult to measure.
- According to new data on many media sites, 69% of social referrals came from dark social. 20% came from Facebook.
- Facebook and Twitter do shift the paradigm from private sharing to public publishing. They structure, archive, and monetize your publications.
It makes a lot of sense to me that:
.…the social sites that arrived in the 2000s did not create the social web, but they did structure it.
September 27th, 2012 § § permalink
In a piece in the Independent, in 2011, Gordon Brown wrote:
.…the international aid system for education is failing the world’s children.
He was introducing his UNESCO report — Education For All: Beating Poverty, Unlocking Prosperity.
On a number of occasions over the past 6 years I have been able to watch the work of UNESCO at close hand and in the process gained considerable respect for the organization. In keeping with that, I do believe that this report is a superb, detailed and compassionate summary of the state of education for millions upon millions of children across the developing world. It offers a description of a state of affairs that should bring shame to the rest of the world — we are failing all those children very badly.
Early in the report, he states that:
No education system anywhere in the world is better than its teachers.
And he goes on later to say:
Teachers are the backbone of any education system. Ultimately, learning is the product of what happens in classrooms through a relationship between pupils and teachers. That is why no education system is better than the availability, accessibility and quality of the teachers it provides, and the level of support that it delivers to those on the front line of education in the classroom.
With I Am Learner in mind, this begs many more questions than it answers, but it would be churlish in the extreme not to accept the core point being made, that good quality teaching should be central to a good educational provision, and most especially for the education of young children.
It is a dismal and unassailable fact that there is a massive shortage of good quality teachers across the developing world, especially, but by no means exclusively, across the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. According to Gordon Brown’s report, the world’s poorest countries need something like 1.8 million additional teachers over the next three years alone to provide even basic primary education to their children, as well as around 4 million more classrooms and all of the most basic items of equipment that we might expect to find in those classrooms.
Brown is absolutely right therefore to state that:
The world is today facing an education emergency. That emergency does not make media headlines. But it has disastrous human, social and economic consequences. It is consigning millions of children to lives of poverty and diminished opportunity, holding back progress in health, reinforcing disparities linked to wealth and gender, and undermining prospects for economic growth. And it is destroying on an epic scale the most valuable asset of the world’s poorest nations – the creativity, talent and potential of the young generation.
An education emergency indeed, and one on a vast and massively consequential scale for humanity worldwide. It requires equally vast and prolonged global investment to put right.
Elsewhere in the report, Gordon Brown enthuses over the potential for harnessing technology to improve educational provision. However, he believes that:
New technologies do not offer a quick fix for systemic problems in education systems. What they do offer is a vehicle for improving access to opportunities for education and the quality of service provision.
The last thing this global emergency needs is any kind of quick fix. But I do believe that there is a potentially powerful application of digital and networking technologies that could play a significant role, alongside all the other big investments needed, in contributing to a much better quality education for many millions of the poorest children in the poorest countries around the world.
From Massive Open Online Course to Massive Open Online Classroom (MOOCl)
Anyone with even the remotest interest in higher education of late will be aware of the MOOC. The basic concept of the Massive Open Online Course (a term devised by Dave Cormier) is a simple one, but the implications of the MOOC for the future of higher education in particular are the stuff of a debate that is washing around global education at the present time.
I will trust that anyone reading this already knows what a MOOC is, although I will not necessarily trust that everyone knows that there are MOOCs and there are MOOCs. If your knowledge of the concept of the MOOC is restricted to those ‘delivered’ by the likes of Coursera or Udacity, then I would urge you to go back to grass roots and read some of what you might find, for instance, in MOOC.ca, set up by Stephen Downes to host news, information and discussion around the concept, in the writings of George Siemens, Dave Cormier, already mentioned, and others. Open, experimental and connectivist in nature, the MOOC is an explicit and conscious attempt to use the incredible affordances offered by the Internet to change the nature of education.
The massive-ness, openness and online-ness of the MOOC are all givens, of course, and are all critical to the effect that the development is having at the present time. But I, for one, am less sure that the course-ness of the concept has to be a given too. I would recognise that the fact that the MOOC is built around the course is probably what is keeping the concept fairly firmly within the broad arms of higher education, for the moment at least. As Martin Weller has written:
…after a decade of OERs, it’s interesting that we’re coming back to educator constructed courses…
Classroom instead of Course?
When I look at the situation faced by those millions of children worldwide, in a context of potential massive global connectedness, and yet in circumstances where so many of them have no access to good teaching, I can’t but help wonder how the MOOC might be taken, re-shaped, and made into something that could begin to ameliorate some of the worst effects of that generally awful situation.
I recognise, of course, that such a simply stated change is, in fact, anything but simple. The course is a generally uncomplicated thing, usually (although by no means necessarily) linear, structured, a comprehensible process in which ideas or concepts or information are introduced, discussed, dissected, re-shaped, combined, understood; it can be a single unit of ‘instruction’ or a whole programme of learning, or something in between; and it can be delivered or presented (taught) by a single teacher or in some senses by everyone on the course (as the original conception of the MOOC seeks to achieve).
The classroom, even the virtual, conceptual classroom, is a quite different beast. It is a ‘place’, a platform; it is the site where courses can happen, where teachers can offer lessons across all disciplines, where learners can go to access learning, debate, insight, expertise, authority; it is a meeting place in which education can happen; it is the locus for teaching and learning activities of all kinds.
I believe we have many, perhaps most, of the elements already that would have to be brought together to create the MOOCl. Instinctively, however, I feel that a MOOCl would not be nearly as simple as a MOOC to start up and sustain. It would require an operational core of a kind and scale that is probably not true of the MOOC, although that operational core, I would suggest, need not be a single organizing unit: it could be an open, distributed affair, sympathetic to the origins of the MOOC. It should offer access to masses of great teaching and learning resources — the Khan Academy is an obvious example of what could be utilised, but so too could the thousands of other high quality, freely available teaching and learning resources that increasingly throng the web, and across so many of the world’s major, and not so major, languages.
So far, so what? All of these resources are available today. But the MOOCl would have to incorporate some kind of organizing layer, a simple interface that would allow any individual anywhere in the world not only to access the resources as such, but also to access courses, communities, teachers (who can be, and probably will be, other learners), expertise and guidance. The MOOCl might also be a device for those teachers who already are on the ground, so to speak, in the poorest countries, to grab hold of and use as a means of enhancing their own teaching expertise. The MOOCl would be the teacher’s global mentor, guide, teaching assistant, just as much as it would be the learner’s teacher too.
Again, you might say, this sounds like a description of the World Wide Web. But the MOOCl would have to be more than simply ‘available’: it would have to be set up in a way that would allow it reach out in a proactive way, to find its way into those places in the world where we know there are young children who currently have few or no teachers to help them learn, where there are few or no teaching and learning resources. This will require much thought, huge organization, and of course investment. Is there a role here for the big philanthropic foundations as well as governments? I believe so.
But what of access to the network, access to connected devices? Of course, the MOOCl would have to be capable of being used across the world’s mobile networks and accessible on mobile devices — Gordon Brown’s report tells us that mobile cellular penetration has reached 50% in the developing world and is still increasing fast. The cell phone is the default access device for many millions of people in the world’s poorest countries, and that is likely to be the case for many years to come.
How much of this can be done in the same spirit as the original MOOC? I don’t know, I suspect not much, but I would love to be proved wrong. I know I am merely scratching the surface with an undeveloped and potentially stillborn idea — but if the acute minds of thoughtful and creative people can come up with the MOOC, I would like to think those same, and other, minds could be applied to how we can turn the Massive Open Online Course into the Massive Open Online Classroom to serve the desperate desperate needs of so many millions of children in dire economic and educational poverty across the world.
August 28th, 2012 § § permalink
- Every user has the right to freedom of expression.
- Every user has the right to control their own data.
- Every user has the right to choose and change their social services providers.
- Every user has the right to host their own social services.
- Every user has the right to communicate with any other user, regardless of their service provider.
- Every user has the right to take their data and relationships with them.
- Every user has the right to choose their own name.
- Different users have different needs.
- Communication must be decentralized.
- Communication protocols must be standardized.
- The internet is capable of more.
- Conversations change the world.
If this sounds good to you then go look at the Tent Manifesto (and at Tent itself, of course)!
Thank you to Ben Werdmuller (of Elgg fame) and Stephen Downes (of Stephen Downes fame ) for the link.
All those currently investing millions in Facebook stock should take note: Tent is just one tiny straw in the wind that will eventually blow that monstrosity and so many others like it completely out of the water.