Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Informal Learning with Technology Outside School

Stephen linked to the literature reviews at NESTA, and it is a treasure trove for me right now. Probably the one that will prove most valuable for my thesis is the one on informal learning with technology outside school...just skimmed it last night, but it will require a thorough read. Extensive, deep and surprisingly interesting to me these days.

Friday, January 27, 2006

More think:lab

Don't you love it when you discover a blog in your field that you've never seen before and then it proceeds to blow your mind over and over in the next week? So you go back and read nearly every post the author has ever written? That's what happened with me and think:lab. In Imagine: Blogging for People Who Do Not Read, he skewers some of the pointless debates in education and returns the conversation to Stuff That Matters. It's not specifically about blogging, although the title reminded me that my four-year-old already adores blogging and sees it as a communication medium. No, this is more than that:
"Learning without passion is not learning. They make velcro-closure sneakers and spell check for all the rest. Or they simply outsource it (skill, knowledge, 'fact') to India or via TurboTax. Period. Without something profound pushing your soul, without a journey, without a Bilbo returning the ring, without a blind turn in the woods, without finding your absolute best self facing the blind trust fall of adventure, there is no learning worth fighting for that should divide communities based on bond increases or place technologists against administrators within the professional debate hamster-wheel or incite home schoolers to mock public schoolers (vice versa) or to ask anyone to worry about 21st century skills (and the tests that will get you there)."
All of this revolutionary talk had me pondering Brian's Enquiring Minds as well -- he's always thinking about these issues in similar incendiary ways, and he's already wondering how we'll make sure that the good ideas we implement soon will actually last:
"I believe that projects like Enquiring Minds are very worthwhile and needed in education. But after you have created and implemented a few of them yourself, you come to realize that in spite of the efforts of people to promote change, the education system itself does not evolve as a result. Why is this? It certainly does not mean we should stop trying. We ask students to take responsibility for learning, but are the systems we create responsible?"

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Digital Apprentice

So how are real, live, tech-savvy, smart teachers thinking about this idea that learners should be able to focus their learning on things they care about most? It's obviously a difficult balance if they're expected to keep up with the curriculum. One of the best teachers I had in high school completely discarded the curriculum -- he distilled it down to a couple of major concepts and assigned one massive project for the entire course, giving us tons of latitude to pursue our own paths within a very broad topic. It was fantastic.

Clarence is probably too conscientious to chuck the curriculum (and they probably have provincial exams now, which we didn't back in 1989 in Manitoba), but I appreciate his front-line thoughts on the topic -- Personal Learning and Personal Networks:
"Along with this time advantage comes thoughts of personalizing learning for kids, allowing them to capitalize on their interests and the learning infrastructure available at the school for their greatest benefit. Like most other jurisdictions in Western nations today, my classroom follows a prescribed set of outcomes that have been closely mapped by our provincial department of education. I've been thinking of how these things fit together. How can we personalize the learning of the students in our classes while still making certain that we are meeting the required components of our over - prescribed curricula?"
I was also inspired by his reflection on the educational experience of a student at his school who is pursuing audio engineering:
"Certainly her classroom hours will make her into a well rounded person with a (hopefully) fuller understanding of the history of our nation, of literature, science, and math. She is a smart kids and I'm sure the hours spent in a classroom were not wasted, but given a more flexible schedule at school, a schedule which allows her to pursue the interests that she has, would have certainly made her time in our building more productive and useful for her."

Learning 43 Things

There were so many social networking sites launching a year or two ago that it seemed like 43 Things was lost in the shuffle in the ed.tech network that I've been following. People who did notice back then didn't seem to see much potential (or focused on the Amazon conspiracy theory), although a few thought it might impact online learning. This week, two ed.tech'ers I respect were poking around the site, and they're at least curious: Alan Levine writesOne Thing Out of 43 and D'Arcy Norman thinks about 43 Nouns and Verbs of Social Software.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Lifelong Learning at University-Linked Retirement Communities

I made a note offline yesterday to take a deeper look at "lifelong learning", and then today stumbled across Lifelong Learning at University-Linked Retirement Communities over at Think : Lab...all kinds of goodies there.

Learners as Contributors...a Revolution

Anyone else feeling overwhelmed trying to keep up with all the incredible big-picture thinking floating around these days? It's like a hundred of the best ed.tech bloggers included "revolutionize education" as their only New Year's resolution.

In Learners as Contributors -- The End of the Industrial Model, Harold Jarche uses some great personal examples of the contrast between his kids' learning in school vs outside of school. He bounces off a fantastic (and in-depth) Think : Lab post from a designer of physical learning spaces on how blogging will change the future of learning.

Christian Long also bounced off of David Warlick, and in the process declares (rightly, methinks) that "school is no longer the default 'place of learning' or the 'center of information'." This from a designer of schools! Occasionally cantankerous Tom Hoffman is in the mix as well, and he linked to this fascinating historical account of educational revolution: The New Curriculum brought about by students at Brown University in the late '60s. Brain. Turning. To. Mush. And. Loving. It.


PXN8 is free photo-editing web app. Very simple and slick -- it behaves like you'd expect it to. Upload photos or "fetch" one from a URL, make your changes, then save to your machine or upload to Flickr. It's fast and doesn't require any plugins...stuff like this reminds me why I love the web. (Valentine's Day must be coming; I think I've used "love" a half-dozen times this week in posts.)

Your Goals are the Future

Why shouldn't the creators of 43 Things use a milestone (200,000 users) to think about their own future:
"Here’s a dream for the future. Five years from now, people will be hired based on their 43 Things. Ten years from now, degrees will be granted based on completing your 43 Things. What you’ve done in the past matters, but not as much as what you want to do in the future. The performance review, the prenuptial agreement, the resume, the transcript are nothing compared to a well crafted list of what you want to do with your life, a thoughtful collection of entries and the support of your fellow human beings."
The bolding on that middle sentence is my own -- I think there's truth in this. Although it does sound ambitious to have your goals play such a prominent role in these areas of life, I think traditional portfolios and resumes/CVs haven't paid enough attention to the future.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Love Social Software

The good thing about bad presentations, or how I came to love social software
Smart stuff from Scott Leslie:
"We need software that is obvious in the value it offers its end users so we aren't forcing them to do things they don't want to already do. We need software that recognizes users not just as the 'operators' of software, but as having identities that are important, identities that are the basis for rich connections and enabling possibilities. We need software that notices and records these conections and interactions in order to add even more value to those users and to other people trying to do similar things. Hallelujah!"

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

How to Do What You Love

I just love Paul Graham's writing, especially when he veers into advising people what to do with their lives. That could be irritating if it was done poorly, but he does it in such a warm, funny way that I want to read it again and again. How to Do What You Love:
"Teachers in particular all seemed to believe implicitly that work was not fun. Which is not surprising: work wasn't fun for most of them. Why did we have to memorize state capitals instead of playing dodgeball? For the same reason they had to watch over a bunch of kids instead of lying on a beach. You couldn't just do what you wanted.

I'm not saying we should let little kids do whatever they want. They may have to be made to work on certain things. But if we make kids work on dull stuff, it might be wise to tell them that tediousness is not the defining quality of work, and indeed that the reason they have to work on dull stuff now is so they can work on more interesting stuff later."
My interest in his advice relates to my thesis -- I'm coming to see that in a world where our work and learning are becoming more self-directed (or we'd like it to, anyway), we're finding that we're not particularly good at identifying and pursuing the goals that will make us happy. Schools have been making decisions about our education for us, and employers decide what we should be working on, both organizations "freeing" us from having to decide what we really need/want to learn and work on. I think the web has helped many of us realize that we have the resources and power to make these decisions for ourselves.

Learning Outside the School

Lessig on the Significance of the Read/Write Web
Most of the stuff Will writes bends my brain and gets me thinking -- his writing since Christmas has really been on fire. In one of today's posts, he quotes a fair bit from one of Lawrence Lessig's articles where he was talking about about animé music videos (AMVs), created by slicing up chunks of animé movies and editing them to synchronize with (popular copyrighted) music. Kids do it for fun, to show off their mixing skills and promote the movies and music they love. Of course the record companies (and probably the distributors of the movies eventually) are trying to shut them down, even though they're not trying to profit from the re-mixing. Although I'm interested in the intellectual property issue in this context, one of the quotes jumped out at me for another reason:
"After a talk in which I presented some AMV work, a father said to me: 'I don't think you really realise just how important this is. My kid couldn't get into college till we sent them his AMVs. Now he's a freshman at a university he never dreamed he could attend.'"
So you've got a kid with a passion for animé and music (and editing software) who mucks away in his basement and maybe doesn't worry about his homework too much. Meanwhile, in his drive to create AMVs, he's learning hardware, software and a new mode of expression within a network of likeminded souls (sound familiar?)...in the process he'll probably even learn some hard lessons about intellectual property, big media and legal challenges. When he applies to college, his marks aren't really good enough (kept forgetting to do that 11th Grade biology homework) to get accepted, UNTIL he also submits his finished AMVs. His informal learning/play/hobby shows them that he has the commitment, perseverance and vision to create things of value...and the stodgy old university suddenly realizes this kid is the type they want!

This is certainly part of what I got out of Paul Graham's inspiring undelivered commencement speech -- he advises students to treat school like a day job and to find interesting problems or projects and really work hard on them (maybe inside, but likely outside of school). He also recommends finding difficult problems and questions to pursue, which reminds me of some of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's conditions for flow (total engagement in an activity) -- a level of challenge sufficient to stretch your skills, a sense of personal control over the situation or activity, and an activity that is intrinsically rewarding. These sound more like hobbies than school, don't they?

As K-12 schools move further toward more standardized testing (and pay for teachers based on their students' results on those tests), it makes me think that the real smart, interesting, engaged kids -- the nerds, the curious, and the creative -- only engage in school at the minimum level required (by their parents, probably), and develop their own real learning spaces outside of that formal realm. Artistic kids have often chosen this path already, ditching chemistry to draw/paint/write, but what happens when your "average" kids start finding that their real learning, meaningful projects and connections to a network of people with shared goals is happening entirely outside of school? I guess I've just described the conditions and value proposition for gang recruitment...but surely we could design ways to help kids find meaningful questions/projects/ideas to pursue without them having to drop school altogether.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Roger has an excellent ed.tech blog, and he recently pointed to a commercial e-portfolio service called my-iPlan. It's interesting to me because their focus is more on future learning than other similar applications I've seen. They're thinking along the lines of individual education plans (IEP, otherwise known as EDP, PDP, etc, etc), where the learner uses the site to chart out their customized future learning plans. I hesitate to use "learning goals", because it seems to have a strong institutional focus, with courses and standards at the purchasing school as the framework. Although course selection could be one way to manifest learning goals, I suspect that in most education institutions, mandatory courses and schedules mean that these goals don't tend to be very personal at all.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The Learner's Charter

An interesting document from the NESTA Futurelab in the UK: The Learner’s Charter for a personalised learning environment

It's a simple one-pager of bullet points of what they think learners will be (or are already) requiring. You can tell that they're still having trouble separating learning and education (this week's topic, it seems), but much of it is still thought-provoking and worth digging into. I picked a couple of points from each category to give the flavour:
• To take joint responsibility for and be seen as an active agent in determining
my own learning priorities.
• To understand the potential implications of these choices personally, socially
and economically.

Skills and knowledge
• To be supported to co-design my own curriculum and learning goals.
• To develop my expertise and understanding in knowledge domains that are of personal
significance to me.

Appropriate learning environments
• To have access to people who are able to extend and develop my understanding in my
chosen areas.
• To have access to learning environments and resources that enable me to develop my
understanding and experience in authentic and appropriate contexts.
The "Feedback" section appears to be based on the idea that we will continue to depend on institutions to assess whether we've learned anything of value, but perhaps I'm reading it too narrowly. Anyway, there are 10 more pages explaining and expanding on the ideas in the charter. It also includes little case-study overviews of innovative educational programs and some good thinking about the role of PLEs (across institutions, outside of institutions, YES!).

section covering choices is representative of the rest of the report -- the authors appear to be shooting for the middle ground between truly self-direct learners and students jumping through hoops in institutional programs:
"On the face of it, being in a position to make choices about where, how and what you learn in light of your long-term goals and ambitions is a positive and exciting entitlement. However, this is only true if the necessary support is provided as unguided choice is intimidating and could even be disempowering as the learner is faced with an apparently unending series of options and possibilities. The current state of careers guidance suggests that the education system as it stands is not in a strong position to support learners in making informed choices. The contribution of digital technologies in this area is often limited to unhelpful psychometric tests. In reality, the potential is much greater."
So, to summarize in my own words:
"Once the ability to pursue things that interest us has been beaten out of us as children (in school), we become incapable of deciding for ourselves what we'd like to learn...and so if the benevolent authorities ever let us choose what we want to learn, we'll need 'support' from the system to help us do so. Unfortunately, the only existing institutional model we have for this kind of support is career guidance and it's been a total disaster. Meanwhile, technology has been underutilized in this area, but it probably has the potential to deliver us."
If I've interpreted this correctly, I actually believe that most of what they're saying is on the right track (even though my summary is a touch facetious). And they've collected all kinds of ideas that look promising -- so many, in fact, that it's a lot to digest at once. I'll have to go back in to dig again.

Informal Learning Blog

Jay Cross's Informal Learning Blog looks promising. In treat me like a human being, Jay looks at engagement at work:
The statistics on workforce engagement are shocking. According to the Gallup Management Journal’s semi-annual Employee Engagement Index [in 2001]:
  • 29% of employees are actively engaged in their jobs
  • 54% are not-engaged
  • 17% are actively disengaged

Friday, January 13, 2006

Connectivism 1.0 1.2

George is done with Everything 2.0, and he's doing some solid thinking about the nature of learning. Has learning changed?

More on Prof Ratings

The Village Voice's Hot for Teacher article got me thinking about ratemyprofessors and other teacher-rating sites again. I may be reaching a bit, as I'm immersed in learning about learning goals right now, but I'm wondering whether this is another example of learners using social software to figure out and take action on an important component if a learning goal within an educational program. They may not have much lattitude in course selection, but if they can choose a section with an instructor who seems likely to be a better match for them, isn't that a type of empowerment? Taking responsibility for their learning? Perhaps not for those students who are choosing based on optimizing the "easiness" and "hotness" ratings for the prof.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Personal Learning Environments

James Farmer's excellent post about personal learning environments pulls together and stimulates some good discussions. I enjoyed Autono Blogger's take on the issue enough to craft a rambling comment. I was glad to see ELGG popping up all over the place as an example of a personal learning environment that is already working.

Terry Anderson's skepticism about the likelihood of universities providing students with personal learning environments isn't surprising. He writes:
"Similarly, PLEs are nowhere near as easy to use to facilitate and support many of the educational functions that are trivial in modern LMS systems."
Isn't this a bit like criticizing the design of a screwdriver because it doesn't work well for hammering nails? As far as I know PLE's were not created to facilitate the process of institutions educating students -- they're designed to help learners manage their own learning. Pretty much by definition, they are not institutional. An anonymous writer at myWORLD already articulated most of this view better than I could, and I was also reminded of the conversation that broke out in November around Dave Cormier's related post.

This stuff reminded me of an existing pattern and sent me back into my own virtual memory bank, particularly to a productive phase in this blog from late '03 to early '04. This is the same debate we've been having over the integration of other personal technology spaces into educational programs, especially blogs, games and e-portfolios (can anyone articulate how a PLE differ from a proper e-portfolio, or are we just bored with e-portfolios already?). Anyway, for my own reflective amusement, I collected a few of my own thoughts along that thread, most of which link out to the usual suspects:I'll extend this exercise in narcissism by quoting what I
wrote about this topic last year. Simply imagine PLE in the company of blogs and e-portfolios:
"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')."
Of course none of this is a criticism of the value of these concepts and technologies to help motivated people learn in self-directed ways -- I'm still fired up about that -- but please, let's not pretend that the education system can adopt them so that students will miraculously engage in the curriculum they're being taught.

Oh yeah, and much of this stuff came from OLDaily at some point...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Concept Map: Social Software and Learning Goals

I've been struggling with coming up with a representation of my thinking on the role of social software like 43Things in helping people set learning goals. Dr. Murphy suggested a concept map, so I attempted to create one -- it helped get me on track, but I'm still not getting further on the research methodology or theoretical framework. It's a bit of a brain dump. The addition of the LMS and ELGG were kind of afterthoughts as a way of comparing and integrating the type of "learning goals" that people are already familiar with (the kind instructional designers create for instructors...and students). Feedback on this first kick at the concept map is welcome (and needed).

I've also been collecting and organizing some data from 43 Things. I'm looking at the top 100 goals tagged with "learning" and seeing some obvious patterns emerge. This week I took a shot at categorizing the most popular ones, and it wasn't as difficult as I thought. For example, 29 of the top 100 (representing over 17,000 people) are either goals to learn specific languages (Spanish, French, etc) or more general ones like "learn another language". Another 5,000+ people want to learn to sing or play musical instruments (split into only nine goals). Nine goals focused on learning computer/internet programming languages or specific software are shared by over 4,000 people. And so goes the list, pulling together goals under titles like sports, cooking, driving, photography, and others, each with between 1,500 and 2,600 people's learning aspirations represented. I'm not sure why anyone would, but you can download the complete MS Excel file, which also links out to each individual goal.

So this is all very interesting, but I probably need to start focusing further. More on that later...

Update: Since it was after midnight at the end of a six-hour thesis session following a full day of work, I missed including the most obvious example of social software -- blogs. What do blogs have to do with learning goals? Here's the updated concept map with a few half-baked ideas on that.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Extinction Management

Given that I'm going for this M.Ed IT degree, it's not particularly encouraging to see smart, focused people in the community deciding to quit good jobs in educational technology for all the right reasons.

Update: Forgot to include a pointer to Brian's excellent post, which is how I originally found my way to John's site. I found his take on exits from education jobs interesting, too:
"However, having teaching degrees and experience on a resume is not a particularly useful thing outside of education. Many wind up following a path in consulting, or embrace a life of entrepreneurship."
My path is probably pretty non-traditional, taking an education degree into web development without any teaching experience, but I've seen teachers struggle with the transition out of schools. After all, many of them have been in school (as a student, university student and then teacher) for nearly their entire lives!).

Brian also eloquently tied together two other posts I had already saved in Bloglines with Transformation: Stephen Downes and Will Richardson -- powerful stuff.