Wednesday, 28 January 2009

DMU Learning Exchanges

At our last e-Learning Symposium in May 2008 we decided to continue and extend this blog to incorporate e-learning and technology development at DMU. In that spirit we have now finally migrated the DMU Pathfinder blog [located here] to a new site called DMU Learning Exchanges, which will incorporate a blog, with reports on projects and faculty developments, as well as help and guidance for staff and students.

As a result there will be no further extensions or postings to this blog. We'd like to thank you for reading and hope that you pop over to DMU Learning Exchanges to find out what we are up to going forward.

Friday, 12 December 2008

The 2008 Horizon Report

Just finished re-reading the 2008 New Media Consortium Horizon Report. I decided to cut-and-paste some quotes around the six technologies highlighted within a short, medium and longer-term time frame. I found these quotes thought-provoking with clear implications for our practice at DMU. They are pretty self-explanatory.
  • grassroots video and collaboration webs, both on the short-term horizon
"The effect of all these developments is that the capacity for video production has been distributed to the grassroots level, to the point that even major news outlets routinely feature audience-captured cell phone videos of breaking news stories."

"A virtual collaborative workspace for a course or study group can be assembled quickly using tools, or widgets, that can pull information from a variety of sources... The same tools can be used to set up a personal portfolio where a student can display his or her work in any form — photos, blog posts, shared videos, and more can be pulled to the page by widgets that grab the student’s contributions on other sites."
  • mobile broadband and data mashups, both on the mid-term horizon
"The combination of social networking and mobility lets students and colleagues collaborate from anywhere they happen to be. Add to that connectivity the multimedia capacities of phones, and the storage they offer for podcasts, videos, photos, PDF files and even documents and spreadsheets, and it is not hard to see why phones are increasingly the portable tool of choice."

"The power of mashups for education lies in the way they help us reach new conclusions or discern new relationships by uniting large amounts of data in a manageable way."
  • collective intelligence and social operating systems, both on the long-term horizon
"Two new forms of information stores are being created in real time by thousands of people in the course of their daily activities, some explicitly collaborating to create collective knowledge stores like the Wikipedia and Freebase, some contributing implicitly through the patterns of their choices and actions. The data in these new information stores has come to be called 'collective intelligence' and both forms have already proven to be compelling applications of the network. Explicit knowledge stores refine knowledge through the contributions of thousands of authors; implicit stores allow the discovery of entirely new knowledge by capturing trillions of
key clicks and decisions as people use the network in the course of their everyday lives."

"Social networking systems have led us to a new understanding of how people connect. Relationships are the currency of these systems, but we are only beginning to realize how valuable a currency they truly are. The next generation of social networking systems—social operating systems—will change the way we search for, work with, and understand information by placing people at the center of the network. The first social operating system tools, only just emerging now, understand who we know, how we know them, and how deep our relationships actually are. They can lead us to connections we would otherwise have missed. As they develop further, these tools will transform the academy in significant ways we can only begin to imagine."

There are some other quotes that I like, which should shape or impact our pedagogic engagements, as curriculum facilitators or mentors, with learners who are utilising social media tools, or who would benefit from their affordances.
  1. "learning-focused organizations who want their content to be where the viewers are" [does that include a VLE?]
  2. "data mashups that will transform the way we understand and represent information" [are we too hung up on plagiarism?]
  3. "expand our understanding of ourselves and the technologically-mediated world we inhabit" [do we do affective learning in HE?]
  4. "base the organization of the network around people, rather than around content" [but we are obsessed with subject-specific content in HE]
  5. "The expectation is that advances in technology over the next twelve to eighteen months will remove the last barriers to access and bring mobiles truly into the mainstream for education" [best crack on with our JISC project, MoRSE then]
  6. "it is critical that the academic community as a whole embraces the potential of technologies and practices like those described in this report" [does this demand a change in institutional commitment to professional development?]
  7. "This is more than merely an expectation to provide content: this is an opportunity for higher education to reach its constituents wherever they may be" [see 1 above - the structure and operationalisation of the traditional University appears friable]
  8. "The renewed emphasis on collaborative learning is pushing the educational community to develop new forms of interaction and assessment" [I'll raise a glass to that if it involves proper deliberation between learners and mentors]
  9. "Web-based tools are rapidly becoming the standard, both in education and in the workplace. Technologically mediated communication is the norm. Fluency in information, visual, and technological literacy is of vital importance, yet these literacies are not formally taught to most students" [wow! The subject is king, so engaging with 6 above is critical]
  10. "The gap between students’ perception of technology and that of faculty continues to widen. Students and faculty continue to view and experience technology very differently" [Is that really true throughout institutions?]

Obama, social media and pedagogic change

Last month I blogged about whether the manner of an Obama victory had any implications for higher education. Since then, several reports have followed analysing the Democrats use of web and social media tools to connect their followers and organise campaigning. the excellent blog, ReadWriteWeb has analysed Obama's Social Media Advantage with several interesting outcomes:
  1. the demographics of democratic support aligned with the demographics of social media users;
  2. the number of people wishing to be connected with Obama rather than McCain, using social media, was demonstrated by the number of blog postings mentioning him and the number of Twitter and MySpace friends he had;
  3. the second act of Obama's use of social media, namely his engagement with citizens as President through, highlights that "the Obama campaign may have found another way to continue the conversation that they started".
The site highlights Obama's commitment to ongoing conversation: it argues for "the great things we can do when we come together around a common purpose". The site asks people to share stories and goals, and focuses upon crowdsourcing new agendas. Old ways of looking at the world are under pressure from social media and extended networks.

To be honest, this is a relatively simple, democratic approach that utilises established social tools and political ends, coupled to an apparent willingness to listen. This holds out hope for social change that might underpin progressive pedagogies with distinct characteristics.
  1. The design of meaningful, whole programme curricula, rather than atomised modular courses, which start from the learner within her/his social networks. Empowering the learner to make sense of how units in a curriculum might build to something more will then scale personal involvement in decisions about: materials to be analysed and produced; tools to be utilised; educational networks to be developed (possibly from social networks that already exist); and tasks and activities that enable actions to be taken.
  2. This links to a greater emphasis on negotiated, personalised assessment, which might be linked to patchworks and portfolios, which connect to, include and celebrate informal learning opportunities, and which can be represented in multiple media forms.
  3. Linked to this is an engagement with an enquiry-based curriculum for personal change, and more of an emphasis on learning agendas set by individuals through personal enquiry. Negotiating a curriculum, or a set of problems that will support change in the individual, and enable that individual to achieve a set of personal outcomes requires the type of socio-constructivist scaffolding that is central to the use of social media.
  4. Critical in the emergence of a curriculum that is co-managed by the learner is the partnership role of an experienced adult as mentor or facilitator. This mentor may be and more experienced student or tutor, but the key is for that facilitator to negotiate with the individual learner around: problems and concepts within an enquiry-based model; relevant social, educational and subject-based methods for analysing these problems; how to develop an appropriate social, educational and subject-based approach to knowledge creation; and the social networks and tools that can enable personal understanding and change.
The choice of technologies and networks, participation within multiple social forums and associations, a personalised definition of learning within a subject-specific context, and the development of critical literacies, are a function of partnerships between learners, mentors and institutions. For the institution, the mentor and the learner, the possibilities for empowered, pedagogic autonomy are strengthened by an active engagement with social media.

Monday, 8 December 2008

ECEL 2009

Thought I'd highlight the 8th European Conference on e-Learning (ECEL 2009) to be held in Bari, Italy, next year. Papers on the read/write web (or Web 2.0 if you must) are especially welcomed, after an excellent conference mini-track last November.

There is also a Twitter hash-tag: #ECEL09, and I'll be tweeting some more @

Review of current and developing international practice in the use of social networking (Web 2.0) in higher education

I just finished reading this review of social networking in HE. After the previous Franklin Consulting review of Web2.0 for content for Learning and Teaching my expectations were raised. The key outcomes for me are as follows.

  1. The Executive Summary notes that the report provides " an assessment of the relative position in the UK and the likely attendant consequences". It's a real shame then that the UK report focuses upon the usual Web2.0 suspects in HE and shows an obsession with UKOLN events and reports, like they are the only game in the read/write web town. It was particularly disappointing not to see the outcomes from HEA-JISC Pathfinder or Benchmarking noted here, or links to the plethora of other read/write web reports that are out. Given the limited data and context, and the lack of student input, the assessment is very relative.
  2. I also despair that assertions like " Facebook, it seems, is becoming a mainstream service for use by institutions", are made based upon the numbers of fans of universities on Facebook. Isn't this lazy research?
  3. The report clams that HEI "Usage to date has been driven primarily by the particular interests of individual members of staff rather than institutional policies" Again with no reference to projects arising from the JISC e-Learning Programme or HEA-JISC Pathfinder or Benchmarking, this statement appears to be an assertion. Not sure that it is true here at DMU for example, where there is a mix of academic and institutional drivers.
  4. The report clams that " The mind sets and frameworks of reference that we have used hitherto are no longer adequate". In part this is because of the impact of Web2.0 tools on: social and professional lives; privacy and safety; user identity; institutional policies; a lack of new pedagogic models creating uncertainty; time constraints; a culture shift for academics; and issues for students. Actually, I reckon the issue is less in terms of the creation of uncertainty for users and HEIs, and more the use of these tools for managing uncertainty in the world. This type of research needs to be underpinned by Barnett, Friere and Illich.
  5. There is also a focus on informal learning, whatever that is.
  6. There are apparently three key advantages of the read/write web: affordances that are not found in other technologies around the co-creation of knowledge; students are already using these technologies and are therefore engaged with them; and, many tools are free to use and come without the restrictions found in many institutional systems. Now the first of these runs the risk of becoming an extension of the old, conservative, empty-vessels-to-be-filled-up-with-knowledge model of education. There are other, progressive pedagogies on offer that focus less on content and more on power, like the empowerment work of Mike Wesch, the TESEP project, and that noted on this blog last month in the wake of Obama' victory. There has to be more than content, surely?!
  7. The report notes the fears that some technologies will disappear "giving concerns over the longevity of others". I've never really understood this argument, for two reasons. Firstly, staff here generally use: Facebook; MySpace; wikispaces; WordPress; blogger; YouTube; Twitter;; Why are these any less likey to be around in 5 years than Blackboard? Secondly, aren't we all in game of trying to empower people (staff and students) to make decisions from which mortgage to take, to which tool to use, and what to say/do in the world? So what if tools die? That's life - flexibility in managing content, materials, identities and PLEs is part-of-life.
  8. "The rate at which technologies and products are appearing is difficult for people to keep up with." Is this really true? This strikes me more as perception than reality. The core tools are pretty steady - see 10 below. However, I will buy the argument that staff are still concerned about how they can be used effectively in learning and teaching.
  9. "Use of external systems can mean that students have to make use of many more user names and passwords and that their learning space becomes atomised." Given that there is no student evaluation data in the report I struggle with this assertion. It is certainly not the case with the students I have interviewed here at DMU, where students have a keen sense of their own PLEs. The Ravensbourne Learner Integration model highlights one cognitive model.
  10. The authors' highlight that Gartner's emerging technology hype cycle suggests that Web 2.0 is falling into the "trough of disillusionment". It has broken out beyond the enthusiasts and is being more widely taken up. Whilst wikis have entered the "Slope of Enlightenment", no tool has yet made it to the "Plateau of Productivity". I love this stuff.
  11. I did like the focus on a lack of social capital as a barrier, and the fact that HEIs need to engage with read/write web tools and cultural approaches in order to build the social capital that they need to overcome uncertainty and innovate.
  12. The South African report is really interesting in terms of highlighting a clear pattern of division between those that are connected, and those that are not, and that the mobile phone might provide a more promising trajectory for integrating the social web into education. A key question for me is how the West is helping developing nations engage with new tools and ways of working, to enfranchise the dispossessed on their terms and NOT ours. As Czerniewicz & Brown (2005) note "by coming to grips with the digital identities of local youth and by understanding what kinds of new practices students bring, we can better design appropriate educational interventions." [Czerniewicz, L. & Brown, C. (2005). "Access to ICT for teaching and learning: From single artefact to interrelated resources." International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology, 1(2): 42-56.]
  13. "Lecturers on the other hand lack some of the social drivers for familiarising themselves with these new tools, and given their teaching and research loads, may not invest in learning new tools if their relevance and use is not immediately obvious. Typically, lecturers rely on their institutional e-learning support departments to identify suitable tools, and provide training and ongoing support. However, not all institutions have the capacity for extensive training and support or the ability to support newer Web 2.0 tools. While students will develop the needed skills to communicate with their friends, lecturers are not as likely to use Web 2.0 tools for social uses and will need to expend more effort into familiarising themselves with these technologies." Fair point.