Monday, November 28, 2005

More Purpose of Education

Some solid big-picture thinking about Education's Three Conflicting Pillars, followed up by a wonderful discussion in the comments.

43 Connections

From today's post on the Connectivism Blog:
"It's also worth considering what happens when we create connections between content - we create a network or aggregation of different ideas...which adds meaning (pattern recognition) to the individual voices. Connections change content. Content is imbued with new meaning when situated in a network (or is it more accurate to say that the network acquires new meaning when new content is added? - either perspective validates the importance of creating connections over content). When the network is sufficiently large to account for diverse perspectives, it achieves a certain level of meaning that is reflective of the combined force of individual elements."
Some interesting thoughts here, combining all kinds of good concepts. It makes me think that the kind of learning I want to study in 43Things would certainly fit George's emerging definition of connectivism.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lit Review 1

I'm working on the literature review of the literature related to my new thesis topic. This is my way of assigning myself reading over the next little while. I'm seeing that the main common thread may be self-organized social learning:I'd also like to get a copy of this PDF if someone has it kicking around -- Online self-organizing social systems: The decentralized future of online learning -- the link appears to be dead right now. The intro sounds promising:
"In this article we discuss such an innovation, the online self-organizing social system (OSOSS). Briefly described, the OSOSS structure allows large numbers of individuals to self-organize in a highly decentralized manner in order to solve problems and accomplish other goals. The OSOSS structure is neither an instructional design theory (such as those described by Reigeluth, 1999) nor an application or Internet protocol (such as Netscape or HTTP). However, due to its distributed and highly decentralized nature, the authors feel that the OSOSS structure could prove as disruptive to traditional notions of online learning as Napster proved to traditional conceptions of the Internet...."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Master's Thesis Update

A couple of loyal readers occasionally ask me about the status of my thesis, and there's finally some news. The bad news was that none of the faculty wanted to touch my topic (how young people are -- and will be -- using the web to envision and pursue their future lifestyles, encompassing careers, post-secondary education, leisure, etc.) One prof agreed to supervise my thesis from afar if I'd consider changing the topic to something related to educational blogging. I'm not particularly interested in a general view of educational blogging in institutions -- that was more interesting to me two years ago and I'm not convinced that assigned "blogging" in schools will ever be valuable.

So I pitched her three ideas along similar lines, but with more personal interest for me -- a case-study on at least one elgg implementation (preferebly with a non-institutional focus), an investigation of community blogs used by citizens' groups for learning and organizing political action, and...drumroll please...the "winning" pitch:
"Using social software as a method of identifying and collaborating on learning goals. 43Things is the most obvious application of this idea, letting users define goals, many of which are goals requiring learning ('I want to learn PHP and CSS', 'learn to cook great vegetarian meals', 'learn to record music on my laptop', etc) and then connecting individuals to others who share that goal so they can collaborate on achieving the goal together -- sharing resources, expert recommendations, online tutorials, links and comments to support each other. I think it's a powerful model of self-directed, self-organizing collaborative learning. There's an ongoing discussion about how 43Things might be used to support online learning that gives a good overview of the challenges and opportunities."
Perhaps that doesn't sound so exciting to anyone else, but I'm seeing good potential here. I started by looking at some of the top 100 goals tagged with "learning", like "Learn to play guitar". Of the 2,000+ people who say they want to learn to play guitar, about 250 have written posts describing what (and often why) they want to learn, reflecting on the process and sharing helpful links. Of the 250 who have reported that they've already learned to play, 98% say it was worth doing and about 100 of them have written posts offering some combination of advice, support or suggested resources to the ones who want to learn.

So 43Things can be viewed as a place where hundreds (thousands?) of asynchronous learning discussions are taking place without any clasrooms, tuition, administration, courses or instructors. Learners are guided only by their personal interests and motivation, forming informal learning communities that emerge out of shared goals. It also seems to function like a learning referral service, accessible to anyone on the web -- search for "Learn Ruby on Rails" on google, and the 43Things goal page comes up as the second result. Anyone can read the advice, follow links to resources, and "join" by adding the goal to their own list and contributing. It's not a tutorial or advanced developer's group, but seems to be a decent place to start the process of learning.

As far as methodology goes, I'm going to focus on content analysis. The artifacts of learning (and teaching, in the broadest sense) are just sitting there in public waiting to be mined, and I'm already seeing patterns in the ways people are using the site to learn. It shouldn't be difficult to place the investigation within a framework of constructivist learning (or even emerging connectivism). My first task is to review related literature, which I'm finding more challenging than I had hoped. Any advice for articles, papers and resources would be much appreciated -- please send me any suggestions related to informal learning communities, asynchronous learning discussion, and self-organizing groups online.

Unfortunately, this shift in focus means I'll be neglecting lifestylism for a while -- I suppose it was not meant to be as a thesis topic. That said, it will still form the philosophical underpinning of the web app I'm developing with a friend. More on that later.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Die LMS die! You too PLE!

It's worth checking out this conversational post covering the future role of learning management systems, personal learning environments and other acronymed educational technologies. The author is bouncing off of the hilariously named Die LMS die! You too PLE! post from Leigh Blackall.

Update: Stephen adds his two cents (worth more, of course).

Thursday, November 24, 2005


A smart call to revolution in Educational Leap-Frogging:
"We need to leave behind ideas of incrementally increasing our understanding, and incrementally changing our teaching methods, slowly bringing people up to speed. This idea worked fine when ideas of literacy and education were not rapidly changing; but they are. We need to be be able to leap - frog in our understandings, in our methods, and in our tools, allowing us to move to where the kids are. If we do not become leaders to our students, we will be followers, seen as irrelevant, and left to cry in our books while the kids are off setting the agenda."

Monday, November 21, 2005

Killer App

This one's already made the rounds, but it seems pretty solid and worth keeping: Distance Learning – Social Software’s Killer Ap?. Cool that they're using Elgg for this Athabasca pilot program, but I'm still not really clear exactly what they're trying to do. It seems that the expectation is that it will be used voluntarily for "optional" educational tasks, in the context of programs at the university (only open to registered students). What would be the incentive for students to use it if it's optional?

As I was writing this post, Dave pointed me to Scott Leslie's take on it, which clarifies it -- I'm looking forward to hearing about the project as it develops.