Thursday, July 29, 2004

Not for Everyone

Even the most optimistic educational bloggers are frustrated with the slow uptake of blogs within schools, and Alan observes that blogs in his post-secondary institution are taking off like lead balloons. I thought Stephen's response was appropriate, if a bit gruff:
"But we don't need everybody blogging, no more than we need everybody writing books or producing movies. Let people settle to their own comfort zone, and don't try to force it."
I'm interested in this because I hear many of the same sorts of things in the e-portfolio realm. There seems to be this belief that if only people understood the value of e-portfolios or blogging in schools, they'd all flock to the nearest computer and start recording every aspect of their professional and personal lives. I'm only being partly facetious, because it's true that a few of those new converts actually will embrace the concept and make it work for themselves. But most won't.

Something as reflective, time-consuming, information-intensive and personally revealing as blogs and e-portfolios will only ever appeal to a certain subset of people who discover the benefits of the process. The education system tends to look at these successes and tries to force everyone to "enjoy" the same benefits, but it won't work. Even if you "converted" all of the administrators and teachers, most of the students are just going to be jumping through the hoops, particularly if the new tools just rehash all the old ways of doing things ("read Chapter 1 and answer the questions on p.211 in your blog").

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Career Plans Online

Education is supposed to prepare them for "the real world", but how much actually accomplishes that? Do kids even care about their future after school? I think that if we helped give students a way to see what their lifestyles might look like, it could potentially help them make better decisions along the way: what courses to take, how to get involved in their community, and what kind of formal education to pursue after high school (if any).

I've been working on a project at work called the Career Plan Builder. It's the first step toward letting students practice creating possible lifestyles, including careers, education and a few other lifestyle factors like where they want to live and what their family might look like.

I've always thought it would be cool to start up my own little shop collecting old mini-bikes and dirt bikes like the ones I grew up on, fixing them up and then selling them on eBay. So I made built that into a plan that would be a radical departure from what I'm doing...but it might actually suit me surprisingly well.

More in upshifting mode, I've often figured that I should have pursued industrial-organizational psychology -- the plan might look something like this:

The funny thing about these options is that they seem less audacious once you see them assembled into a whole plan. Anything is possible, right? I don't know if these plans will have the same effect on the tens of thousands of students who will use the application this year, but I'm excited about the possibilities.

In addition to the process of creating these plans, students get an action plan which shows them what steps would be required to make their plans happen. They then assess how likely the plan is to become their future and can print or e-mail them to friends and family. Ideally, these things are conversation starters, engaging families in a more realistic discussion of what a student will do after school. As part of a e-portfolio, this component extends what a student has been learning and projects their identity out into the future.

To make this concept really sing, I'd like to integrate elements of social software to get kids sharing their plans with like-minded kids, reflecting on the process with blogs and other tools, connecting with mentors, and receiving news and information feeds related to their plans. And the obvious next steps beyond these rudimentary visualizations of their plans would be interactive timelines, dynamic graphical representations of each plan...and the ultimate dream...real-time simulation to let students actually try out their future lifestyle and career. Ahh, the future.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004


As I've been warning since my recent blog/soul searching, I'm moving in a new direction with my online reading and writing. Instead of changing the focus on this site, I think I'll let it live for a while and decide its fate later.

So what's the new direction? I thought I had invented a word to describe it, but it turns out that it was already a word: lifestylism. Simply put, it's the study of lifestyle choices. At a deeper level, it might dig further into how and why people make (or don't make) the decisions that create their lifestyles over time. I'm proposing a holistic view of what constitutes a lifestyle, and I'm really curious about how people (especially young people) imagine and pursue their desired futures.

Learning (and yes, even education) can play a big role in how people self-actualize, creating opportunities and connections that wouldn't otherwise be possible -- technology also has a place in helping most of us figure out how we want to arrange our lives. So some of my old areas of interest will emerge in the new place as well, but with more focus on our desired paths through life and how we pursue those paths.

Consider this the beta version, since it's just an ugly Blogspot site for now. There's enough in there right now to give you a sense of where I'm going. Since this will likely be the basis of my masters thesis, I'd love to hear any recommendations you might have -- books, articles, interesting people, experiences -- related to this emerging concept of lifestylism. So here it is...drumroll please:

lifestylism: creating the lives we want
Site feed:

Old is New Again: Journals in Adult Learning

Journal Writing and Adult Learning
More old news that seems relevant today. This article predates mainstream blogging and draws on research on adults using learning journals (mostly done before the web), but the challenges and opportunities it outlines are familiar if you've been following the introduction of blogs into classrooms in the last couple of years. The challenges in a nutshell: writing is hard work, instructor's help is necessary for most people to get rolling, and many students will still just jump through hoops.
"Three nursing education studies found that students wrote more descriptively than reflectively; some resisted journals as 'busy work,' or their writing slacked off after initial enthusiasm. Journal entries by teacher trainees were classified in three stages: reaction/response, elaboration, and contemplation; however, few entries reached that third, reflective stage. These examples show that proficiency with reflection is a key to success.

Sommer identifies another potential difficulty: 'as a completely open-ended assignment, journals are doomed to failure'."
And the positive stuff we're also mostly familiar with, but I thought this was articulated well:
"Journals are tools for growth through critical reflection, for it is not enough to observe and record experiences, but 'equally important is the ability to make meaning out of what is expressed'. Writing is a critical ingredient in meaning making, enabling learners to articulate connections between new information and what they already know. The journal becomes another text on which to reflect, but it is a text written in the learner's authentic voice, and this personal engagement adds a necessary affective element to the learning process."

Generation X Learning Strategies

New Learning Strategies for Generation X
My interest in this article dates me -- a seven-year-old reference to Generation X isn't exactly cutting edge, but I thought there was a bunch of stuff in here that bears repeating. I think it probably applies equally well to most learners under 30 (although with an even greater technology dependence) and older folks are wired to think this way. Although it would be interesting to investigate how these generalizations have changed as the GenXers get older, this list of characteristics accurately describes how I still prefer learn and why I'm occasionally frustrated in my work:
  • Having grown up with both parents working/furthering their education, Xers are used to getting things done on their own. Hence, they tend to be independent problem solvers and self-starters. They want support and feedback, but they don't want to be controlled.
  • Because many of them grew up with computers, Generation Xers are technologically literate. They are familiar with computer technology and prefer the quick access of Internet, CD-ROMs, and the World Wide Web as their sources for locating information.
    Conditioned to expect immediate gratification, Generation Xers are responsive. They crave stimulation and expect immediate answers and feedback.
  • Skeptical of society and its institutions, Generation Xers are focused. As learners, they don't want to waste time doing quantities of school work; they want their work to be meaningful to them. "They want to know why they must learn something before they take time to learn how" (Caudron 1997, p. 22).
  • Knowing that they must keep learning to be marketable, Generation Xers are lifelonglearners. They do not expect to grow old working for the same company, so they view their job environments as places to grow. They seek continuing education and training opportunities; if they don't get them, they seek new jobs where they can.
  • Craving success on their own terms, Generation Xers are ambitious. They are "flocking to technology start-ups, founding small businesses and even taking up causes--all in their own way" (Hornblower 1997, p. 58).
  • As illustrated by their involvement in extreme sports such as bungee jumping and sky surfing, Generation Xers are fearless. "Indeed, adversity, far from discouraging youths, has given them a harder, even ruthless edge. Most believe 'I have to take what I can get in this world because no one is going to give me anything.'" (ibid., p. 62.).

Monday, July 19, 2004

Portfolio as Alternate Assessment

Report: Alternative to MCAS aids few students
There is some good news hiding behind the negativity in this title. When the state brought in the high-stakes Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (exit exam) as a requirement for graduation, they also set up a program that allowed special-needs students to apply for graduation on the basis of a portfolio showing what they've learned. Since many of the students have significant disabilities, the ratio of applicants who successfully used their portfolios to graduate is not great, but the director of the program points out that none of them would have graduated otherwise.

The Boston Globe's follow-up (especially the second page) digs a little deeper. What worries me about this approach isn't that it will be viewed as too difficult...I'm worried that portfolios will be stigmatized as assessment that only gets used for special-needs kids. Just as all students should get IEPs (individualized education plans), all students should get the benefits of real learning with portfolios:
"For students whose minds will never be able to appreciate literature or solve an equation, the portfolios are more about progress and potential than passing. Students may not learn enough to earn a diploma, but they are learning more than ever before, they say.

'We've traded in the likelihood of a diploma for the strong probability of a far better education,' said Dan Wiener, who coordinates the portfolio program for the state Education Department."


Gwen sent me some info on Lifeblog today, Nokia's system for turning a person's mobile phone records (text, voice, photos, calender entries, etc) into a digital archive on their computers. Interesting coverage from the BBC, including this little quote:
It will then populate a timeline with the information arranging it chronologically and annotating it with tags the phone records about when and where something was done.
I'm fond of the timeline approach. It's already inherent in the chronological order of blogs, but without the visual representation that could really make it sing. I'd be interested to see how a million or so Nokia users interacted with their digital histories. How often do they go back to read/view/listen to old entries? Will they be able to see changes in their interests, values and lifestyles over time? Will they be able to use their past experience to look out into the future with more confidence and creativity?

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Lit Review in Games and Learning

I don't link to Pat Kane's Play Ethic site very often here, but it's one of my most interesting reads each day. Today he linked to this sweeping Literature Review in Games and Learning from the NESTA Futurelab.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Real E-Portfolios

Creation of a learning landscape: weblogging and social networking in the context of e-portfolios
David Tosh and Ben Werdmuller totally get it. This is the vision for e-portfolios that absolutely rings true for me. Even though it's still in draft form, the paper charts a course toward true student engagement and ownership of their learning on the web.
Update: Some links and good feedback on the paper from Stephen and Will. I liked Stephen's take: "If your view of portfolios is just something akin to a content management system, don't bother. But if it's the student's personal and continuing presence in an online community of discourse, then you are on to something. "

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Post-Secondary Education Aspirations Rising

I find this chart fascinating. First of all the trend is significant -- the post-secondary-education aspirations of high school students is definitely on the rise, and has been for 15 years. These kids and their parents believe that getting degrees is the ticket to prosperity. The difference between poor kids and more well-off ones isn't surprising, but it sure is interesting. One concern I share with the authors of the report is that although educational aspirations are rising, it's getting more difficult for students to actually finish their degrees:
"Many high school students hold high expectations that are not realized by subsequent attainment. Ten years after these 1990 10th graders stated their expectations, 46 percent had some postsecondary experience but less than a bachelor’s degree (compared with 30 percent who had expected that level), 26 percent had completed a bachelor’s degree (versus 32 percent), and 3 percent had earned a graduate degree (versus 27 percent)."

Monday, July 12, 2004

E-Portfolio Backlash

There's plenty of good information about e-portfolios in both of these articles, including some of the excellent benefits. What worries me is the political undertone to the criticisms of portfolios -- it's as if the pro-standardized-test folks are waking up to the threat and they don't like what they see. I suppose it was only a matter of time. Heaven forbid that we come up with a way of measuring what students have actually learned and accomplished, rather than just seeing how well they take tests!Thanks to Gwen for passing these along.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Personal E-Portfolio Timelines

Check out this online tool for generating interactive timelines. You enter your data, and then it lets you add photos, links, videos, audio files to each entry. The application then converts your data into a Flash-based timeline. It’s a bit buggy, and it’s weird how it scrolls, but it is very cool to imagine using something like this for a type of e-portfolio. Seems like a stretch? First, consider it as a potential display of past work. You could easily create chronological entries for past projects including a descriptions, thumbnail graphics, video/audio artifacts and links to the actual projects (or reflection about the process) online.

But I see even better potential if you consider using it to plan your future. I threw together a quick learning plan to test it out. It's clunky and ugly, but you I managed to get an image in there and some of the dates link to web pages. Imagine combining this with social software (perhaps using FOAF to find other people sharing your interests and plans), RSS (pull in the feeds related to your current or planned learning and projects), and personal publishing for reflecting on individual entries. I love it.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Audience Segmentation

I've been reading Peter Merholz's blog for a couple years, and I still enjoy it. Where else could you get a travelogue of a trip through the Pyrenees and using audience segmentation for information architecture? The latter article covers one of the basic conundrums of IA -- how to come up with the categories that people will recognize as matching what they're looking for. One of Florida State University's sites provides a great example of navigation based on audience segmentation. In some cases it's irritating, because you suspect that the information you want is behind one of the labels, but none (or several of them) apply to you. We struggled with the same issue in the last revision of the Bridges site, opting for a sort of hybrid that I thought was ok, but apparently it's getting overhauled yet again.

Will Teen Bloggers Ever Learn?

Will wonders whether the interest teens are showing in personal blogging will translate into better receptiveness to using blogs for learning. I wonder the same. It makes sense that kids are embracing the ease and connectedness of online journals like Livejournal, because those blogs are entirely their own, focused on only the things they actually care about. Interesting concerns and opportunities raised in the post, and the comment from one of his students is great.

Digital Lifestyle Aggregator and 1up

I stumbled into this description of a digital lifestyle aggregator, courtesy of Marc Canter. He's involved in a fascinating collaboration (I doubt that many of these people are employees in the traditional sense -- corporate structure of the future?) called broadband mechanics. One of their projects is a gaming site called 1up. If it was just gaming news and reviews (maybe even message boards), it would be boring. But the way they've integrated social software and personal publishing for their members is fascinating. Check out this guy’s profile page,especially all of the links down the left side that connect him to everyone else sharing the same interests and characteristics. Now imagine that profile as a sort of e-portfolio, containing most of the stuff you cared about, things you were thinking about, connecting you to everyone else who wanted to learn the same things, helping you find the information and resources that would help you learn...

Via Seb, who could have combined the previous post with this fascinating description of a synchronicity engine:
"Something needs to capture way more channels of information about you than you normally bother paying conscious attention to. At least not at the same time. What people have been saying around you recently; what clothes you're wearing; what's on your bookshelf; all the people you know; all the subjects you're interested in; all the projects you're working on. And something needs to be matching all these items with other people's items, and items in your surroundings, as a background process."

Helen's Paradigms and Site Feed

Helen Barrett's e-portfolio blog now has an Atom feed. Luckily for us, she's also been busy writing while on "vacation", including this post about e-portfolio paradigms.

Connecting the Dots

Stephen Harlow is busy Connecting the Unconnected and figuring out how the learning landscape is changing. This excellent post also links to Capturing the Value of "Generation Tech" Employees, which covers the divide between "digital natives" and "digital immigrants" in organizations.

Update: Only Connect follows up with more background info, the power of storytelling, and a rebuttal to Prensky's native/immigrant metaphor.

Extending the Portfolio Model

Via Stephen, The Digital Convergence: Extending the Portfolio Model. What I love about this approach is that it projects a student's learning out into the future, including mistakes, future possibilities, and collaboration. The article covers most of the emerging flavours of portfolios, and although I've occasionally been skeptical, it offers an optimistic vision that seems convincing:
"By providing the framework for both formal and informal learning, ePortfolios can encourage ongoing personal and professional development long after an official course of studies has been completed. Engaging new mentors and colleagues over time to review and discuss self-directed projects, while continuing to reflect on and make connections with previous work, allows the ePortfolio author to use formal education as a springboard for continued professional and personal growth."