Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Social Network + Personal Publishing + E-Portfolio = elgg

Congratulations to David Tosh and Ben Werdmuller for the alpha release of their social network/blogging/e-portfolio web application called elgg. Right now, it's invite-only, but it shouldn't be hard to get an invite.

It's working pretty slick -- they've combined some simple ideas to create something powerful. The ability to share and tag files puts it a level above a system like Livejournal, although it has much in common with LJ (like customizable templates, decent profiles and a great permissions system) -- RSS is in there already and FOAF compatibility is on the way. They're even planning to release the code as open source and keep developing new features, which makes the future seem very bright indeed.

The developers are also participating in an e-portfolio discussion this week hosted by Maricopa.

The Pro-Am Revolution

Perhaps this one is more of a lifestylism topic, but there's a shadow of education and technology lurking behind the story of The Pro-Am Revolution:
"From astronomy to activism, from surfing to saving lives, Pro-Ams - people pursuing amateur activities to professional standards - are an increasingly important part of our society and economy."
The reason I say education and technology is that many of these people (and most of the edubloggers included) are learning this stuff on their own. Perhaps much of the information they're finding is online, and maybe they're connecting with experts and resources through the web as well. There's something so authentic about this kind of learning -- people following their passions to the point where their hobbies are giving them professional-level skills and knowledge in fields traditionally reserved for people with framed degrees and diplomas on their walls.

This brings up all kinds of potential issues and opportunities for educational institutions -- what about a new relationship with credentials, prior learning assessment (PLA) and e-portfolios that recognizes that people can learn as much (or more) out there in the real world?

Via Pat Kane.

Update: A great essay version apppeared in Fast Company, along with a contrary blog post I mostly disagreed with (read my cantankerous comment at the bottom). You can also download the entire report (315kb PDF). Oh, and one more article from the creator of Twinkler.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Sunchild E-Learning (again)

I linked to this Sunchild E-Learning site earlier in the year, but bumped into it again this week. The coolest thing about their online learning model for First Nations students is that the entire thing is self-paced. There are instructors for synchonous learning, but if you miss a couple of weeks, everything is archived and you can work through what you missed at your own pace. I've often complained about the rigidity and irrelevance of most curriculum, but if students (including adult learners) were allowed to move through the curriculum when it suited them, that takes away one of my main objections. From there, it may only be a short step to throwing out the curriculum and letting people learn about whatever is most meaningful to them.

The video (7-minute Windows Media 9) is worth a watch if you're interested in these sorts of things. I was also noticing the heavy-hitting list of sponsors along the bottom of the page -- is this the future of education?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

UBC E-Portfolios: Helen's Keynote

Helen Barrett seemed relieved to be talking about reflection and learning, rather than the dark side of the e-portfolio continuum (assessment). Her focus on learning by sharing and viewing digital stories was refreshing and personal. One theme throughout her talk was the connection between motivation, engagement, and deep learning, supported by some excellent references. She made a compelling case for storytelling and narratives providing engagement. A few of my notes during this section:
  • The Art of Changing the Brain James Zull
  • learning arises from the structure of the brain...it’s hard to make meaning of experience unless emotions are engaged...if you don’t care, you’re not learning...stories create a framework for caring...deep learning requires this framework and motivation
  • tasks that encourage reflection: open-ended questions, ill-structured, messy, real-life situations, integration of new learning with past experience
    Learning Through Storytelling in Higher Education
  • Recorded narrative enables repeated and shared reflection -– I'm remembering how valuable it has been to go back to read my own entries to learn
  • Metaphors for portfolio: laboratory, story (knowing things, self, their audience)
  • Moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation through the portfolio process
    -- autonomy for students, control is crucial (but they have to have internalized the purpose and benefits)

The digital stories Helen showed were excellent -- not because of their production values, which were very simple -- but because of the personal voice that shines through. They're reflections of people's selves, expressions of their ideas and values. She mentioned a digital storytelling project in Wales, showing stories about everything from the personal struggles of a mom to the memories of a senior citizen and a farmer reflecting on the sale of his farm.

I made a note about some of the stories being "goosebumply good" because they're so personal. Even very basic multimedia (displayed text, spoken narrative, slideshow of photos, short video clips, music) expands the voice/uniqueness of the experience. You can immediately see how engaged students would be in this kind of reflection, and what amazing artifacts these could be as part of the process of learning, being understood, and recording moments in life for later.

Much of the discussion focused on telling past stories, but I was scribbling furiously about the possibilities for creating digital stories of how we envision our future lives. Wouldn't it be cool to get a class of Grade 10's creating presentations of their lives 10 or 15 years after graduation? They could collect and use photos of the type of homes, car, location, family size/type, careers, etc...with audio explaining the background and details of how they made it happen. I Could be a pretty powerful learning experience.

E-Portfolio Q & A

A respected co-worker recently heard that I had done some research into e-portfolios and asked a few pointed questions. I'd be curious to hear if anyone else has input on these, as my responses were pretty off-the-cuff and at the end of a long day. Perhaps I was too negative...although I did preface all of the answers with an always vague "well, it depends".

Do you really see ePortfolio being used with success by the masses?
Not really. There are government and commercial groups talking high and mighty about "an e-portfolio for every citizen" and the like. I think portfolios may be irrelevant for the masses, but potentially helpful for some people.

Will an ePortfolio really help a student get into a college of their choice?
Not yet, and probably not ever in most schools. A friend works in admissions at one of Canada's biggest universities, and I asked him about e-portfolios for applications. He sort of laughed, then described the very regimented, standardized assembly line methods they used to process applications. There's no room for creative reflections of student's personalities. Maybe in a small, very competitive school, it could be more valuable. And some desirable schools may require a kind of e-portfolio -- think of it as an enhanced application package that includes personal reflection and samples of their best work.

Land a cool job out of high school?
Probably not. So much depends on the field, and most fields aren't particularly compatible with portfolios. In any creative work, your portfolio is a lot more important than your resume. Many high school students are graduating with amazing technical and artistic skills that they can show online -- if they're in demand, their portfolios will get them hired. But certainly not most students in most lines of work.

Help an unemployed steel worker get reemployed?
No. At least not in blue-collar industries. A portfolio could help someone organize their transition through the process of retraining, though.

Will there be a day very soon when everyone knows about and uses ePortfolio effectively? And for what mainly?
Not very soon. There is lots of momentum building for k-12 usage of e-portfolios, and many college programs are introducing them, so I guess all of those kids will be forced to know about e-portfolios...not sure how effectively, though. In education, the goal is to get kids managing their own learning process, outside of the traditional realm of test scores and credits. So it may help assess soft skills, or help kids connect to each other in meaningful ways, but a lot of this is just being developed now.

Wiki Radio

Brian Lamb's latest WikiRadio broadcast is hilarious and informative, using audio interviews, commentary, images and the best computer sidekick I've heard online to introduce us to the issues surrounding wikis. His ingenuity and humour is slowly melting my reservations about audio posting. And what a wonderful learning object!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Boxes and Arrows

Boxes and Arrows defines the current state of information architecture. I don't think there's a better resource for anyone interested in how information should be structured in web projects -- the applications to e-learning are obvious. I wanted to keep a link to their redesign competition, showing a bunch of the winning designs. Predictably, there's nothing radical here, but all the layouts are clean and smart -- a good reference point.

Schools Kids Would Build

Via Stephen comes this wonderful article in Architecture Week about what kinds of schools kids would build.
"There is some disquiet among the teaching profession about the standards and quality of buildings that have recently emerged and concern that the design of schools today will rapidly become outdated as the organization of learning changes in the future."

Saturday, November 20, 2004

UBC E-Portfolio Day...Reflecting on Reflecting

I just returned from Vancouver after attending the latest e-portfolio conference at UBC. I took a few pages of notes that I'll be mucking through and posting in the next week or so, but I wanted to take note of some of the wonderful people I met. And I must say that the UBC facilities and campus completely blew my mind.

The day was organized by the talented Kele Fleming, although I'm sure Director Michelle Lamberson must also have been pulling some strings behind the scenes. Tracey Penny-Light and David Tosh presented and drank beer with me both nights, and Helen Barrett did the excellent keynote, graciously staying late with a few us to talk shop after a long day.

We heard about a fascinating course, an e-portfolio implementation with first-year pharmacy students, and Helen Chen was wired in from Stanford to talk about a cool project they're doing with first-year design students. Finally, we got to hear from a few students who have been forced to do e-portfolios or are part of related projects at UBC, which was quite insightful. One of the late highlights was meeting learning object dude and fellow edtech blogger Brian Lamb. Now to sleep, before I have to think about or type e-po*&%$#s one more time.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Teaching the Future

From the editorial in this month's International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning:
We teach history but do not require future studies. The tools of the futurist are basic to research and development, but the future affects everyone, and everyone is part of the future. Do you want to accept the future somebody else designs for you? Or do you want to be part of the process? You cannot change the past, but you can exercise a great deal of control over your own future and positively influence the future of your family, professional associates, communities, and students.
Courses in financial literacy and career planning get pooh-poohed in most schools, as if they couldn't possibly be as important as thermodynamics or calculus, even though the vast majority of students will be far more likely to be faced with real issues surrounding credit, mortgages, budgets, and career moves than they would be to require the use of advanced equations. I like this quote because it frames these things as future oriented activities. Should schools teach the future? Only if they can do it better than they've traditionally done with history.

Stephen Downes also has an excellent paper in the same issue, talking about learning objects and the future of education:
"What unfolds is not only a new way of understanding the future, but a new way of understanding the world itself, and for us, as educators, a means of doing what we must, of preserving and propagating the knowledge and values of the past (and we have to do it right – we only get one chance)."

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Planning 10

I occasionally blather on about how school doesn't really prepare kids for real life (financial literacy, career development, wellness, etc). Today I was looking into BC's Planning 10 (PDF) course, which is designed to replace the three high school Career and Personal Planning (CAPP) courses that just got axed. The goals of the course are interesting...here's the main goal:
"The aim of Planning 10 is
to enable students to develop the skills they need to become self-directed individuals who set goals, make thoughtful decisions, and take responsibility for
pursuing their goals throughout life."
Sounds like a lot to pack into a single course.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Audio Blogging...Not

Back in September, I was a bit rankled by the tone of Tom's sort of slagging Helen's e-portfolio comparison project (and also enjoyed Will's response), but I had to agree with most of what he was saying. That same post included a link to this hilarious rebuttal to the audioblogging/podcasting hype, which I couldn't find again until today.

Audio blogging really sucks as a medium for gleaning information. I have no patience to listen to someone blather through twelve things in 20 minutes that don't interest me to get to the few sentences that are compelling. Worse, they can't link out to anything, and I can't copy or quote anything they've said. Skimming as you read and following links makes blogging work well -- it's part of information literacy to learn to discard what isn't relevant and focus on what is.

That's not to say that there's no potential value for audio in the context of education and blogs. Recording and distributing lectures just doesn't get me fired up unless they're properly chunked and indexed so I can skip sections easily. It is nice for a getting a one-time sense of the author's personality and tone. For the info-geeks who want to record these things to listen in the car or whatever, it's portable. And there may be applications for teachers looking to help kids learn a language or working with slow readers...but right now it looks like everyone is simply exorcising their childhood fantasies to be radio DJs because they can.

Oh, and Tom's SchoolTool looks like a great project. Need to check it out some more later.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Future Lifestyle Aggregator

I'm haunted by this idea of a web app that will let people create plans for how they want their future lifestyles to be. The career plans we developed for Choices Planner include some lifestyle factors like your living arrangements and hobbies, but it doesn't help users find other people with similar interests and plans.

So I've been thinking about how to match people up again. One thing many current sites just aren't getting is that I want to see people who share the most number of my interests. Blogger profiles let me find all the people in the Blogger system who share any individual characteristic, like all the people who like The Weakerthans. But shouldn't there be one giant flashing button on my profile that shows me an ordered list of the people who have the most in common with me? There's probably somebody out there who has read a few of the same books, lives in the same province, has a couple of the same interests, and likes two or three of the same bands -- now that would be interesting!

It's the same limitation with Livejournal profiles. You can click individual interests, but can't combine them. Apparently a few years ago they offered the function to find "best matches", but it overloaded their servers. Surely the technology has come along far enough to facilitate that functionality. Webjay shows me other playlists sharing the most songs with one of my playlists, but the next step in connectivity would be to show me the people who share the most songs across all playlists -- what a great way to find new music that I'm likely to enjoy.

Flickr is doing some interesting things with photo tagging to relate groups of photos. I love "related-to" loops like that, but I'm also interested in finding the people behind the photos. Flicker does similar things to find people who share an interest and they've got great profiles. How to relate them? Wouldn't it be exceptionally cool to have a single click show me the people on Flickr who have the most similar photos (based on the most shared tags), and the most similar interests (hobbies, music, books, etc.)? From what I've seen from the Flickr folks, it's probably only a matter of time.

So, bringing it back to this idea of a site that lets me create a blueprint for my future...it should also match me up with people who most closely share that future. Maybe it could even let me choose to find people who share my current interests and attributes as well as my future plans. Once I've found a few people like that, we could work toward our shared goals together, become friends, connect each other to resources, other people and experts we've found, and learn about the process. That sounds like real learning to me.