Monday, January 31, 2005

Masters Thesis

I've applied for a leave of absence from my masters program. After completing the coursework (including an inexplicable A in the final course, which I honestly expected to fail), I realized that I wasn't ready to launch right into my thesis. The leave gives me a few months to catch my breath and focus on a meaningful thesis question. It has to be related to education and technology (both of which have a fair bit of latitude) and could involve some original research, but wouldn't have to.

I’m tossing around a bunch of ideas, all centered around how people are using (and will be using in the future) the web to discover, define and pursue their aspirations. There’s also an element of mapping aspirations over values, both stated values and how they’re reflected in lifestyle choices (how we spend our time, energy and money), which I’m exploring right now through my lifestylism blog.

An example at the mundane end of the spectrum might be how high school students use college searches and college sites to decide where they want to go and what they want to study. It may also include some aspect of online career planning, which I’ve been working on for the last few years. I think the web can be used in better ways to help people envision their future work, especially by putting it in the context of figuring out how work will fit into the rest of their future life, including relationships, leisure, and learning.

Myron is doing some amazing work with high school kids, getting them to use the web to create a presentation of what they want for the future, using MLS to choose the home and location they envision themselves in, AutoTrader to select their vehicles, Expedia to plan their annual trips, etc... They create a sort of "surface view" of what their future life might look like, and then they add up the main costs to figure out what type of work will sustain those lifestyles, discussing values and choices in the context of what kids want. I love that approach, and I've seen how powerful the learning is for his students.

I'm fascinated by the psychology of aspiration and the concept of possible selves. Eddy Elmer sent me a helpful list of psychologists to use as a starting point for researching identity and self-actualization: Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, and Carl Rogers seem to be the most promising.

43Things could be right in the middle of this stuff -— it’s currently the best example of a site that really harnesses the power of the web to help people figure out what they want to do. I love how it connects people with shared goals and informal expertise. It led me to this fascinating paper about goal-setting and the Delmore Effect.

So I’m not lacking interests...just need to focus. Any ideas for further reading, or more specific questions that emerge from these ideas? E-mail me or leave a comment here, and I will be most grateful.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

What You'll Wish You'd Known

Gwen linked to Paul Graham's graduation speech, which he unfortunately never delivered. It's more honest and realistic than most talks about finding your path in life (although not as gritty as Dave Pollard's undelivered commencement speech). His general advice relating to high school and self-actualization it to treat school as a day job and spend as much time as you can pursuing interesting questions and projects (outside of school, mostly):
"And what's your real job supposed to be? Unless you're Mozart, your first task is to figure that out. What are the great things to work on? Where are the imaginative people? And most importantly, what are you interested in? The word 'aptitude' is misleading, because it implies something innate. The most powerful sort of aptitude is a consuming interest in some question, and such interests are often acquired tastes."
It's all about taking responsibility for your life (and learning), rather than deferring responsibility to your school, employer, parents or peers. I suppose it would probably still sound preachy to any teenager, but I think it's closer to the truth than most advice about figuring out your future. It's really worth reading the entire thing.

This came hot on the heels of great thoughts from Aaron Campbell and Will's discovery of a wonderful post dug up by Rob...all about a new vision for learning that is entirely focused on what people care about.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Context, Blogfolios and Managed Learning

I guess I'm linkblogging mode these days. This too shall pass...
  • Rob has been on fire in the last few weeks, and I love his take on how we've taken all kinds of learning (formal and informal) out of its proper context.
  • Brian shows off the blogfolio concept they're working on, along with some good commentary on the intersection of blogs and more traditional portfolio presentations -- the comments are worth reading as well. It looks very close to what I was describing last week, which was sort of dismissed by Karina's excellent second round of explanation of why she thinks blogs are not a good tool for portfolios. She didn't seem too impressed by Brian's blogfolio concept either, but I don't understand the parallel between it and fill-in-the-blank institutional systems.
  • Fascinating conversation centered around James Farmer's vision for learning management (or unmanagement), with follow-ups here, here, and here.
And finally, Aaron Campbell had one of the best short posts about the mismatch between the intrinsic motivation of students and what we require of them in schools:
"Students are motivated inwardly to learn. Like all people, they're driven in some form or another to pursue what interests them, be it video games, sports, nature, books, or the proverbial 'sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll'. What propels many students through the educational institutions of society is not these genuine interests, but rather those motivational factors applied from without: pressure from parents and society, fear of failure, the power of authority. If a student is lucky enough for his or her intrinsic interests to be aligned with what school offers, fine. But for a significant number of students, much of what school offers is a grinding chore. In many school settings, there is little outlet for students to pursue what truly interests them. In this sense, their interests are supressed, their creativity stiffled, and their freedom curtailed. Is it no wonder so many behavioral problems exist?"

Friday, January 14, 2005

Navigation Blindness

Gwen sent me this article about navigation blindness, which pokes big holes in the neccessity of consistent global navigation, focusing on the specific needs of a goal-oriented visitor.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

University for Everyone?

Gwen's collected an excellent set of articles and observations, mostly around the concept of whether we should be pushing more and more kids into university after high school. She also sent me a fascinating NYT article on the topic:
"The leveling off of the wage premium for a four-year college degree has lasted long enough to suggest that it is not just a pause in an otherwise constantly rising payoff for those with bachelor's degrees, but another significant shift in labor market dynamics."

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Blogs as E-Portfolios?

Rob's got another great post on e-portfolios again today, still struggling with the question of why blogs can't be used as e-portfolios. I left an overly long comment over there including this part describing what I'd want my blogging application to do if it was going to be properly used for creating a type of e-portfolio presentation for a job application:
"I'd like to be able to go to my blog editor and publish a new copy of my blog that only contained the categories, posts (with comments and trackbacks) and artifacts that I had selected for the specific audience. I'd like to be able to customize the front page so that it created context for the rest of the site instead of just listing a bunch of disconnected posts -- I might also emphasize a couple of key artifacts (presentations, case studies) there that deserve better prominence than an interesting post. I'd want to reorganize (combine, split, make new) the categories for the specific audience. I'd also like to be able to make this entire site copy private, so I could include work samples or case studies from clients who don't want their stuff to be opened up to the web.

None of this is designed to keep potential employers from seeing the rest of my stuff -- like you said, they'll find it with google if they're curious anyway -- it's to help them easily find the most relevant reflections of my self and work that have the most impact in their context. It's mostly a question of good design, but right now it would be very challenging to do this with the most popular blogging applications."
A note I just thought of now...a site like this is already easy to create if you have web design skills. The process of selecting your own content, customizing, organizing and publishing it would have to be as easy to do as as blogs are now, at least if expected the masses to do it.

Education Purpose

Rob also outlines his frustration with the education system in PEI (and everywhere else, really) and offers his vision for a better way:
"Can we try an experiment? Can we set up one school on PEI where the kids can choose what they want to do and then we pile in and help them get there. It would be likely that such as school, would have a string bias towards the arts of all types. This does not have to be big at first. See it as a living experiment."
Before I forget, Will also had an insightful post about the frustrating gap between the needs of the system and the potential he sees for authentic learning with technology:
"Now I'm not saying my school can't get there, but it won't be anytime very soon. And unfortunately, you won’t find much to support that in the new tech plan, which, for all intents and purposes, seems pretty much rooted in sustaining the NCLB model for preparing a country of factory workers; everyone knows the same stuff and has the same skills. Does anyone see the irony in educating kids for jobs which are being shipped offshore? And I mean really, what relevance do iPods and blogs have for standardized tests, anyway? Right? Way too risky.

What’s even more ironic (scary? sad?) is that we have an educational system that still asks students to basically try to learn independently (they work collaboratively but seldom learn) and use that learning to impress a very limited audience of teachers. Meanwhile, what the real world expects are students that are able to truly learn through collaboration and share that learning with large, extended audiences for meaningful purposes."

Monday, January 10, 2005

The World Question Center

Another amazing collection of responses to this year's Edge question: "What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?" There's enough real learning and striving for human knowledge in there to keep any thinking person reading for days.