Preparing Learners…For the 20th Century?

September 5, 2013

Students, faculty, and administrators at Wyoming Catholic College are voluntarily, collectively, and enthusiastically engaged in an unusual approach to the use of contemporary technology, a Yahoo!News “Born Digital” series article reports in the following terms: “No cell phones allowed: Some colleges ban modern-day gadgets.”

Yahoo--Born_Digital“Also banned…are televisions and access to most websites in dorm rooms,” Ron Recinto writes in his article about the small liberal arts college. “Administrators allow only limited Internet connectivity throughout the campus, so students can do online research.”

It’s a fascinating contrast to the approach taken by another school with strong spiritual roots—Abilene Christian University, in Texas—which was the first university in the United States to provide incoming students with smartphones. It’s also a fascinating response to a problem described by a Wyoming student as “our inability to genuinely communicate at a human-to-human, face-to-face level,” and an interesting approach to the school’s stated “primary educational objective” of offering “a traditional liberal arts education that schools the whole person in all three dimensions—mind, body, and spirit.”

And while I couldn’t help but feel drawn to and impressed by the school’s description of its rigorous intellectual standards and broad-based curriculum embracing “history, imaginative literature, writing, reasoning, oratory, Latin, art history, music, mathematics, natural science, philosophy, theology, spirituality, outdoor leadership, and horsemanship,” I am left wondering whether the approach of agreeing to prohibit the use of cell phones except in extremely well-defined situations really is an effective way to help contemporary learners respond to the problems they believe technology fosters and the challenges technology produces.

The college’s dean of students, for example, explains that the policy helps eliminate the temptation to disengage from face-to-face interactions by answering cell phone calls and text messages as if “people you aren’t with are more important than the people you are with.” He also is quoted as suggesting that “We’re allowing a freedom and a vacation from all that so that students can work on something different: true friendship, true virtue, true study.”

What all of this seems to miss—at least as described in the Yahoo! News article—is a greater, far more dynamic learning opportunity: the chance to develop first-rate 21st-century person-to-person and online communication skills, friendship, virtue, and study by discussing, adopting, and maintaining nuanced forms of positive behavior in our onsite-online world rather than simply agreeing to remove bits and pieces of contemporary technology from an apparently wonderful learning environment.

Wyoming_Catholic_CollegeHelping students develop practices that prepare them for effective engagement in a highly-collaborative, globally-interactive world where tech tools can, if used judiciously, foster incredible levels of creativity, innovation, and collaboration seems far more responsive to contemporary learning needs than simply removing widely-available tech tools from their daily lives. Helping students develop habits that encourage them to control rather than be controlled by their tech tools seems to offer greater long-term benefit to them than having them, during this phase of their formal education, withdraw from what is commonly used in the world they inhabit. And helping students define, develop, and maintain digital literacy to remain competitive and effective in the contemporary workplace seems to be a more productive approach to their intellectual and societal development than setting aside the tools those workplaces and that society expect them to be able to effectively use.

I’m not at all unsympathetic to the challenges the Wyoming Catholic University community is attempting to address. As my own friends, colleagues, and learners know, I’ve traveled similar extremes over the past several years, having gone from having little interest in using laptops, cell phones, and social media to being someone who works face to face and online with learners across the country to help them adopt new technology and social media tools in their professional and personal lives. I’ve gone from holding a strong preference for face-to-face learning to an evidence-based belief that the best of online learning can be every bit as engaging and effective as the best of face-to-face learning. I’ve gone from not having a cell phone to having an admittedly old cell phone—a friend disparagingly refers to it as a “cellosaurus”; a (fairly up to date) laptop; and a tablet that provides me with levels of connectivity and engagement at a deeply personal and professional level I couldn’t have imagined just a few years ago.

What I’ve also developed, with continual experimentation as a trainer-teacher-learner, is a sense of when to set the technology aside so that I don’t miss that human-to-human contact the Wyoming community seems to crave. By consistently paying attention to people rather than technology, I believe I’ve had the richly-rewarding benefits of experiential learning to become even more adept at nurturing the person-to-person connections that make life worth living—on as well as off campus.


Learning Time and Heads That Spin

March 14, 2013

We may be identifying yet another digital literacy skill: an ability to function simultaneously within a variety of timeframes we don’t normally consider while we’re learning.

Before we take the leap into a bit of virtual time travel to pursue this idea, let’s ground ourselves within a familiar idea: much of the formal learning with which we’re familiar takes place within clearly-defined segments of time, e.g., an hour-long workshop or webinar, or a course that extends over a day, week, month, or semester. We work synchronously during face-to-face or online interactions, and we work asynchronously through postings that extend a conversation as long as the formal learning opportunity is underway and participants are willingly engaged.

etmoocWhat we are seeing as we more engagingly explore online learning in general and, more specifically, through a well-designed massive open online course (MOOC) like #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013, is that this connectivist learning process is far from linear—rhizomatic is one of the terms we’ve been using extensively throughout the course. We are also seeing that our learning process does not have to be limited to exchanges with learners and others who are participating within the formal linear timeframe suggested by a course such as #etmooc that officially begins in January 2013 and formally concludes at the end of March 2013. And that’s where we find ourselves on relatively new time turf.

What now is happening is that conversations can be comprised of those wonderfully synchronous, in-the-moment exchanges that are most familiar to us; those asynchronous exchanges that extend the “moment” to an hour, day, week, or semester-long period that formally defines a course; and those unexpected moments of participation by people not currently enrolled in a course, but drawn into a current extended moment of conversation by having their previously-posted work become part of a current conversation.

The seeds for viewing learning time in this unorthodox way were planted before I joined #etmooc at the beginning of February 2013. While facilitating two offerings of the online Social Media Basics course I have developed with colleagues at ALA Editions, I saw that learners from the first four-week offering (completed in June 2012) were beginning to interact with learners from the second offering (completed in early February 2013) via the private Facebook group I had established for any interested participant.

Social_Media_BasicsSome of these interactions took place during live office hours held within the Facebook space in January and February 2013. Some of the interactions took place via asynchronous postings between members of the first and second groups of learners. But most intriguingly, some of the interactions involved learners in group two going back to read postings completed when the first offering was in session—then incorporating aspects of those earlier (past-tense) comments into present-tense conversations that clearly have the potential to extend into future conversations when the next group of learners join the group (and the extended conversation) as the course reaches a third group of learners in July 2013 (or “reached” a third group if you’re reading this after July 2013).

The same backward-forward extension of conversation has crept into #etmooc. Ideas initiated in one setting, e.g., through a blog posting, extend into other platforms, e.g., within the course Google+ community. Cross-pollination and cross-time postings then occur via additional conversation within the context of a blog posting that may have been completed a day, week, or month earlier—but that remains very much in the moment through new postings within the context established within that initial post.

Where this becomes most fascinating and most worth noting is when the asynchronous postings attached to a specific blog posting then lead us to postings completed long before the current course was even in the planning stages—and those earlier postings are drawn into the current moment, as happened recently in an exchange a MOOCmate and I were having.

This becomes a bit tricky, so let’s take it step by step to bring a little order to the learning chaos this so obviously creates. I posted “Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy” on February 20, 2013. A couple of #etmooc colleagues transformed the piece into an extended conversation by adding comments that are continuing to be attached to that February 2013 posting as I write this piece a few weeks later. The conversation also is growing rhizomatically through extensions via Twitter, Google+, and the follow-up blog posting you are currently reading—which makes me realize that we not only have an organically-growing example of what we are discussing, but a conversation that will benefit from a rudimentary level of curation. (I’m providing that curation in the form of “see-also” references added at the bottom of the various postings within my own blog so anyone joining one part of the conversation can easily find and follow those rhizomatic roots and shoots in the form of the other postings).

The latest shoot came in the form of the online reference, posted by #etmooc colleague Christina Hendricks, to an article that Pekka Ihanainen (HAAGA-HELIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland) and John Moravec (University of Minnesota, USA) posted in November 2011: “Pointillist, Cyclical, and Overlapping: Multidimensional Facets of Time in Online Learning.” It’s all there in the first two lines of the abstract to that wonderfully twisty-turny densely-packed exposition: “A linear, sequential time conception based on in-person meetings and pedagogical activities is not enough for those who practice and hope to enhance contemporary education, particularly where online interactions are concerned. In this article, we propose a new model for understanding time in pedagogical contexts.”

Perhaps, by this time, your head is spinning beyond the boundaries of time and space; mine certainly is. But there’s no denying that what Ihanainen and Moravec explore in their thought-provoking article—and what many of us are experiencing in online venues ranging from live Twitter chats (that extend beyond the synchronous sessions via retweets appended with follow-up comments) to those Social Media Basics interactions that now include conversations that have extended over a half-year period and will undoubtedly take on extended life through an even longer “moment” when the course is offered again later this year—extends the challenges. And the possibilities. Which provides us with another wicked problem: how our traditional concepts of formal learning are adapting to learning in timeframes that increasingly include extremely extended moments without firmly established beginning and ending points. Our communities of learning are clearly one part of this evolving learning landscape, and we may need to acknowledge that we haven’t yet defined or developed some of the other key pieces of this particular learning jigsaw puzzle.

N.B.: This is the twenty-first in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Learning and Misinformation Management: #etmooc, Digital Literacy, Crap Detection, and Librarians Alphabetizing Spice Racks

March 7, 2013

When a friend and I first read about Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel releasing a stream of expletives and walking off of Sean Hannity’s Fox News program in November 2012, we immediately began an online search to locate a video of that explosive moment. I’m admitting up front that our search wasn’t driven by skepticism; we simply wanted to see the altercation with our own eyes. And within a couple of minutes, we not only had determined that there was no footage to be viewed, but that the original source—The Daily Currant—clearly identifies itself, on its “About” page, as “an English language online satirical newspaper that covers global politics, business, technology, entertainment, science, health and media.” The site also informs readers that the stories “are purely fictional. However, they are meant to address real-world issues through satire and often refer and link to real events happening in the world.” But we had to take the extra step of looking at the “About” page, because nothing on the page containing the original story hinted at anything other than a news report posted by on online publication.

Think of The Daily Currant as an online version of The Daily Show on Comedy Central or a subtle version of The Onion. And also think of it as a reminder of the need for finely-honed crap detection skills—one piece of the overall skill set seems to be an integral part of any definition we can create for our constantly evolving sense of what “digital literacy” means in its broadest as well as its most specific sense.

etmoocDigital literacy is a theme many of us began exploring a few weeks ago within the context of a wonderful  massive open online course (MOOC), #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013. For a couple of weeks and with the guidance of some wonderful learning facilitators, we struggled with the wicked problem of trying to create a workable definition for digital literacy—a term that appeared straightforward at a glance but that proved to be incredibly nuanced, subjective, and complex as we gave it increased attention.

But there’s nothing nuanced or complex about the obvious need for highly-developed crap detection skills in our onsite-online world—a theme brought into full focus for us through Howard Rheingold’s #etmooc digital literacy presentation on “Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Collaboration, and Network Know-How” last month. Picking up on themes he has obviously covered elsewhere, he talked about walking his daughter through the process of exploring a website that initially appeared to be an official site about a well-known historic figure, but eventually turned out to be a far-from-objective source of information. He also recalled taking an online pregnancy test that confirmed he was going to give birth to a baby girl and that the father of his child was Fabio Lanzoni.

Daily_CurrantWe don’t need the extreme example of the online test that confirmed Rheingold’s pregnancy to see how alert we and those we help in our roles as trainer-teacher-learners need to be. When we find ourselves or our media learners taken in by something along the lines of that Daily Currant story about Rahm Emanuel, we need to be able to laugh at ourselves as well as at the story; remember that what seems improbable to some appears to be completely credible to others; and do a little follow-up in sifting through the deluge of information—and perhaps, along the ways, honing what a colleague referred to as “deluge literacy.” We can, for example, see right through stories about how Pope Benedict XVI actually resigned because he is gay, how Sarah Palin announced her intention to run for president of the United States in 2014, how New York Times columnist and award-winning economist Paul Krugman has filed for bankruptcy, and how Facebook is going to begin charging us if we want to remove our photos from its site—once we know that we’re viewing a satirical website. But those who don’t have the digital literacy skills to make that determination are not only going to believe what seems credible to them, they’re going to forward that misinformation on to others via Twitter and other social media platforms and react through postings on the Daily Currant site itself. (If your crap detectors are going off and you’re wondering whether people actually do post comments indicating they believed the stories, skim some of the comments. A running joke among regular readers of the fake news within The Daily Currant is the fake dilemma of whether to point out the “About” page to those who believe they’re reading real news reports—or whether to egg them on by responding with comments including “Quick, go make a chain status! Everyone must know about this!”.)

When our crap detectors let us down and we fall prey to something displaying truthiness rather than truth, we can at least take solace that we’re not alone—as we recently saw when a Washington Post blogger fell into the trap of believing a Daily Currant story reporting that Sarah Palin was going to begin working for Al Jazeera after leaving Fox News. Adding insult to injury, the Currant writers ran a follow-up story reporting that Palin had accepted a position as a visiting scholar at Harvard, a situation that “will finally put to rest the rumors, first reported in the Washington Post, that she would be joining Al-Jazeera as an on-air commentator.”

I suppose, given all these twists and turns, that we should be grateful some of our best online pranksters are transparent about the reliability of what they are disseminating. One of my favorites, for example, is the Fake Library Stats (@FakeLibStats) Twitter account, where we have, within the past 24 hours, fake-learned that “35% of librarians send overdue notices to their friends & family to whom they’ve loaned a book,” “97% of librarians have alphabetized their friends’ spice racks,” and “98% of all librarians secretly want to weed and then rearrange their friends’ book collections.”

If laughter helps us learn, then we should acknowledge and thank The Daily Currant, The Daily Show, The Onion, @FakeLibStats, and many others for helping us hone that part of our digital literacy skill set covered by the concept of crap detection. And, in the meantime, let’s see if we can track down confirmation that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is demanding that Donald Trump produce a copy of his birth certificate so he can be assured that he won’t be disqualified, as a non-citizen, from running for president if he ever again considers pursuing that path.

N.B.: This is the seventeenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Redefining Digital Literacy for Our Learners—and Ourselves

February 27, 2013

Taking day-long hikes into an exquisite national park like Desolation Wilderness, west of Lake Tahoe, provides a wonderful metaphor for learning: just when we think we’ve reached a destination we have established for ourselves—a summit, a pristine lake, or a meadow—we realize there are even more to pursue. Which is exactly how several of us are feeling in #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013.

Nearing the end of a two-week exploration of digital literacy that was initiated by Doug Belshaw’s introductory session on the theme, our entire #etmooc learning experience is both extending all around us rhizomatically and circling back in upon itself.

etmoocWhen we think about some of the #etmooc themes—the idea that learners in this sort of (connectivist) MOOC set our own goals within the broad framework established, and that there is no pressure around keeping up or falling behind since we each approach the course with a desire and ability to set our own learning goals and learning pace—we gain a visceral appreciation for and understanding of what a well-run MOOC can offer. And we have to ask ourselves a simple question: how do those concepts play into the challenge of defining and nurturing digital literacy? When, for example, we find ourselves starting with what appears to be a basic course text—Belshaw’s What is ‘digital literacy’?—and then, through our own learning hikes, locating other texts that can be equally engaging, attractive, and important in helping us shape ideas of what digital literacy means to us, we come to the realization that we’re using digital literacy skills we may not have previously considered. This, of course, can’t help but shape our own attempts to define and nurture digital literacy.

Two of those digital learning texts came my way this week through digital connections. The first, Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (2009), caught my attention when a colleague (Cleveland Public Library learning strategist Buffy Hamilton) mentioned it in her Goodreads account. The second, the New Media Consortium’s online publication A Global Imperative: The Report of the 21st Century Summit (2005), came my way directly from the first in that it was mentioned in Confronting the Challenges.

Jenkins--Confronting_Challenges--Participatory_CultureHenry Jenkins and his co-writers, in Confronting the Challenges, engage us in a book-length exploration regarding “core social skills and cultural competencies” for anyone interested in being “full, active, creative, and ethical participants in this emerging participatory culture.” The book (available free online as well as in a printed edition) is well worth reading for its concise descriptions of those skills; for the examples provided at the end of each section; and for the summary of those elements on pages 105-106: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, and negotiation. More importantly, the writers conclude the book with a reminder of why digital literacy is important: to “ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community, [creative,] and economic life…”

The same concern drives the New Media Consortium report. The first few pages remind us that 21st-century literacy is “multimodal,…includes creative fluency as well as interpretive facility,…means learning a new grammar with its own rules of construction,…lends itself to interactive communication,…implies the ability to use media to evoke emotional responses,…[and] has the potential to transform the way we learn.” A call to action on page 19 of the report provides one possible road map that, through its proposals, helps us focus on the digital literacy skills we might want to foster.

A striking element of Confronting the Challenges and A Global Imperative is that both works focus on the need to promote digital literacy among our youngest learners. There’s no reason to limit our attention to that audience, however; it’s clear that older learners have as strong a need for digital literacy—however we define it—as those younger learners have. If we expand our thinking a bit and apply the same needs for digital literacy to learners of all ages, we stand a good chance of fostering the sort of digital citizenship that is going to be a topic of discussion during the final weeks of #etmooc. Which brings us back to the #etmooc challenge of defining, understanding, and, by extension, fostering digital literacy: if we want to understand the theme, we need to take a hike. And expect to keep going long beyond the destination we originally intended to reach.

N.B.: This is the thirteenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Technology, Learning, and More Wicked Problems

February 25, 2013

For anyone fascinated by the concept of wicked problems—those complex, ambiguous challenges that are not subject to easy or perfect solutions and that were a topic of discussion at the recent New Media Consortium (NMC) Future of Education summit in Austin, Texas—a book called Dancing with the Devil would seem to keep us in the right company.

Katz--Dancing_with_the_DevilWritten by Richard Katz and several of his associates for EDUCAUSE and published by Jossey-Bass in 1999, Dancing with the Devil: Information Technology and the New Competition in Higher Education is fascinating not only for the way it addresses the wicked problem of effectively incorporating technology into learning, but for how contemporary it continues to be more than 12 years after publication in a field of study that feels as if it is evolving faster than we can document that evolutionary process. The book also offers plenty of inspiration for anyone involved in learning—not just those in higher education—and can, in many ways, be a valuable resource for those involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs as well as with libraries, museums, and other organizations with clear and vital roles to play in lifelong learning.

Dancing even stands out as another example of how learning expands rhizomatically in ways that are increasingly familiar to those of us exploring #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering. The book’s various writers anticipated, through the six essays they published in 1999, the very forms and themes of learning that #etmooc in 2013 is encouraging learners to explore: online, learner-centric/learner-driven efforts that are encouraged through well-run MOOCs; learning opportunities that are available anywhere and anytime that learners can access them;  “the need for new thinking about property rights, risk sharing, royalties, residuals, and other cost-sharing and compensation strategies” (pp. 44-45); and reminders that online learning isn’t necessarily or even inherently less costly than face-to-face learning—a valuable response to those who mistakenly promote online learning primarily as a way to reduce expenses (pp. 90-91).

Each of these rhizomatic learning tendrils can and will keep us busy for quite a while and leave us free to put as little or as much time into them as our interests and available time allow—something that becomes obvious as we read Dancing with the Devil with an eye toward how timely it remains.

James Duderstadt’s opening chapter (“Can Colleges and Universities Survive in the Information Age?”), for example, offered the prediction that “The next decade will represent a period of significant transformation for colleges and universities as we respond to the challenges of serving a changing society and a profoundly changed world (p. 1).” All we have to do is look at the expansion of online learning and the best of the MOOCs that have been developed since MOOCs were first offered in 2008 to see how prescient he was. It only requires one small additional step for us to be able to acknowledge that similar transformations are occurring are occurring in any learning venue.

etmoocHe also suggested that twenty-first century instructors would “find it necessary” to become “designers of learning experiences, processes, and environments”—something we see in settings as varied as #etmooc itself, library and museum learning offerings, and the best of workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts. This is not to say that the transition is anywhere near complete or universally embraced—that’s why it remains part of the wicked problem we are exploring here and in gatherings including the NMC Future of Education summit last month. It’s still fairly easy to find articles asking why we rely so heavily on lectures and other long-established methods of learning facilitation in spite of evidence that many of these models are far less effective than experiential learning, flipped classrooms, and other models can be in the best of situations.

The virtual time travel that Dancing with the Devil offers is wonderfully obvious when we read the 1999 version of a few case studies Duderstadt (president emeritus and university professor of science and engineering at the University of Michigan) documents, and then revisit those studies via the websites that suggest where the University of Michigan projects are in 2013: the School of Information, the Media Union (now the James and Anne Duderstadt Center); and the Millennium Project. Further online searching leads us to yet another virtual program thriving in Michigan: Michigan Virtual University, started by the State of Michigan in 1998.

Duderstadt ends his chapter with a challenge that flows through the entire book: “Rather than an ‘age of knowledge,’ could we instead aspire to a ‘culture of learning,’ in which people are continually surrounded by, immersed in, and absorbed in learning experiences?” (p. 25)—and I suspect that efforts such as #etmooc show that we’re well on our way toward responding positively to that question and gaining a better understanding of the digital literacy skills necessary for us to function effectively and creatively in our onsite-online world.

N.B.: This is the twelfth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


#etmooc: A Midterm Review of Connectivity, Collaboration, and Learning

February 20, 2013

With massive open online courses (MOOCs) at the center of hype, overhype, and plenty of justifiable criticism, a midterm review of one—the highly interactive Educational Technology and Media MOOC (#etmooc, organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others)—shows what a well-designed and well-facilitated MOOC can offer to learners with the digital literacy skills required to benefit from them.

etmoocDiving into #etmooc to gain my first hands-on experience in the burgeoning world of MOOCs—one of two technologies cited in the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report (Higher Education edition) as likely to “see widespread adoption in higher education over the next 12 months”—has far exceeded anything I expected. In less than three weeks, I have gained a rudimentary understanding of and appreciation for the differences between two types of MOOCs (the xMOOCs that many mainstream journalists seem to be addressing, and the much more interactive cMOOCsconnectivist MOOCs)—and much more. I have become an active part of a newly formed, dynamic, worldwide community of learners; continue to have direct contact with some of the prime movers in the development of MOOCs; had several transformative learning experiences that will serve me well as a trainer-teacher-learner involved in onsite and online learning; and have learned, experientially, how to use several online tools I hadn’t explored four weeks ago. My MOOCmates and I have already explored connected learning and digital storytelling; are currently engaged in efforts to better understand—and contribute to an understanding of—digital literacy; and will also have explored the open movement and digital citizenship by the time the course ends on March 30, 2013.

#etmooc shows more than 1,600 people registered. Of that group, at least 850 are part of the #etmooc Google+  community; more than 500 have already contributed to the course blog hob—an example of how digital literacy involves acts of creation as much as the acquisition of a pre-determined set of skills; and many have engaged in acts of learning and creation through the more than 150 #etmooc videos that have been posted on YouTube. Live sessions on Blackboard Collaborate generally attract at least 75 participants, with many more viewing the programs via the course archives—which suggests that the course is providing content that will be useful to far more people than are currently participating in the live version of #etmooc. And there is an official course Twitter feed that reflects only a small number of the 12,000 tweets collected and archived as of this evening via the #etmooc hashtag—many of them containing links to valuable resources.

etmooc_graphic[2]What it really comes down to is contacts, connectivity, collaboration, and learning. It’s about individually and collaboratively producing significant learning objects including, but far from limited to, Alec Couros’ course introduction; Dave Cormier’s session on rhizomatic learning; and the digital literacy sessions led by Doug Belshaw and Howard Rheingold. Any of the ever-growing list of sessions within the course archive provides stand-alone engaging examples of what online learning at its best provides. Each also inspires connections between the course designers/facilitators, other presenters, and learners; where I had initially expected very little direct contact with those delivering the course, given the large number of participants, I’ve been absolutely floored by the personal responses delivered in the form of tweets, responses to blog postings, and other interactions.

Outside of the course, on the other hand, I continue to see snarky comments from those who either haven’t had or aren’t willing to seek out these opportunities and the benefits they offer.  I also see that New York Times editorial writers have just published an editorial on why MOOCs and other online learning opportunities may not be appropriate for all learners—a valid point of view, but one that only in the most cursory fashion acknowledges the idea that MOOCs are a perfectly fine addition to the learning landscape for those of us who develop the digital literacy and learning skills to take advantage of what they offer—those who develop, in a sense, the very thing we’re studying at this point in the #etmooc curriculum (digital literacy and the skills that support a form of literacy that is increasingly becoming essential to 21st-century learning).

The point here is not what is wrong with MOOCs or how they might pose a threat to our current learning landscape. The point is what can be right about them and how the best of them are already becoming essential elements of training-teaching-learning. It makes no more sense to ignore the important, positive roles MOOCs can play than it would make to propose the abandonment of any other element of our learning landscape—from classroom-based academic offerings to the workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts that are essential to lifelong learning. And participation in high-quality offerings like #etmooc are the best response of all to those curious about how MOOCs might fit into that landscape.

N.B.: This is the eleventh in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Synchronous Sessions, Asynchronously: Blending Meetings, Learning, and Digital Literacy

February 20, 2013

The borders between well-designed synchronous and asynchronous experiences are becoming increasingly indistinguishable. And that raises a fundamental question for all of us: in an onsite-online world where interactions travel rhizomatically, how do we as trainer-teacher-learners define, plan, and deliver a learning event or any other event grounded by a specific timeframe and centered around online meetings? The answer may be that as we explore ideas about digital literacy/literacies and 21st-century learning, we’re finding the word “event” becoming less and less important while the word “process” much more adequately describes life in a digital world.

etmoocMy own recent experiences with virtual meetings and my ongoing participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others –suggests how permeable those (perceived) barriers between synchronous and asynchronous interactions have become and how expansively we can define the concept of meetings.

Unable to attend Howard Rheingold’s wonderful live #etmooc session on “Literacies of Attention, Crap Detection, Collaboration, and Network Know-How” yesterday within Blackboard Collaborate, I “participated” this morning by watching the archived version. I could see and hear Rheingold as if he were speaking to me live, in the moment. Skimming the very lively chat as it was appearing on the screen augmented the impression that I was part of a live event. Following numerous links to related resources provided by those who contributed to the live chat allowed me to gain from the collective wisdom of that community of learning as effectively as I would have had I been participating in the original program. Reviewing the Etherpad transcript that includes links to the numerous resources mentioned in the live chat further engaged me in that synchronous/asynchronous experience. And carrying that newly-acquired knowledge into a live #etmooc tweet chat at noon PT today took me even further.

etmooc_blog_hubIn a very real sense, the separations between the Rheingold recording and the tweet chat are insignificant. Some of the same participants were present for both. The opportunity to learn more about digital literacy by treating both sessions as one continuous “meeting” helps me define what digital literacy actually implies (the ability to move seamlessly within these various digital platforms to create one cohesive experience). And, as MOOCmate Glenn Hervieux observed recently in one of his #etmooc blog postings, participation in #etmooc through its various online gathering places gives participants incredibly rich and rewarding opportunities to “help nourish each other.”

Flexibility, adaptability, and participation—particularly participation—seem to be key elements of this experience as well as of digital literacy, for the less we tether ourselves to time and place, the more deeply we can engage each other—something that became more obvious to me last week during an online meeting I was facilitating for the American Libraries Advisory Committee. We have, over the past half year, made the transition from being a group that met face-to-face twice a year to being a group that meets monthly; we augment those semiannual onsite meetings with monthly conference calls via FreeConferenceCall.com and opportunities to continue our conversations asynchronously online via a site provided by the American Library Association. It wasn’t until we had an unexpected miscommunication last week that I realized how continuous our interactions had become. Part of the group had the impression that the monthly call was beginning at noon ET, while the other half of the group believed that the meeting was beginning at 1 pm—something I didn’t discover until those meeting at 1 pm contacted me via email to find out whether I was going to attend.

The opportunity was irresistible. I joined the 1 pm group; briefly covered the same agenda items with them; shared the comments from the earlier discussions so they had a chance to interact (asynchronously) with who had already participated one hour earlier; and will close the circle by posting minutes of the meeting that includes all the comments. The result: two synchronous meetings, held asynchronously, will become a synchronous experience for any of us who take the few minutes required to read the set of minutes. And we can continue those discussions through our online site over the next few weeks and/or resume them when we meet virtually again in March.

What we can’t afford to miss here is that there certainly is a set of skills needed if we’re going to operate in this sort of synchronous-asynchronous world, and those set of skills can move us a bit closer to seeking broad definitions for digital literacy/digital literacies,” as #etmooc participants are attempting to do at this point in the course.

Rheingold, in his session that complemented what Doug Belshaw provided two days earlier in his #etmooc digital literacy/literacies session, drew from a lifetime of experience and the content of his book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online (“wh@t you need to know to use soci@l medi@ intelligently, hum@nely & mindfully”)  to move us toward a deeper understanding of a topic many of us have explored only at the most superficial of levels. Trying to summarize the session here is unnecessary not only because the archived version remains available online, but also because #etmooc colleague April Hayman summarized it so beautifully in a masterful display of digital literacy on her own blog.

Those still hungry for more of Rheingold’s work—and who wouldn’t be?—will find plenty of nourishment through some of the links provided by the #etmooc community, including Steve Hargadon’s Education 2.0 conversation with Rheingold; Rheingold’s 10-minute YouTube video on “crap detection”—determining credibility of information on the Internet; his 2008 TED talk on “The New Power of Collaboration; and online excerpts from Net Smart. One additional resource well worth perusing: a reposting of Neil Postman’s 1969 essay “Bullshit and the Art of Crap-Detection”—a wonderful reminder that the issue isn’t solely a product of the digital age or a digital literacy challenge.

N.B.: This is the tenth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


Digital Literacy/Literacies 101: Doug Belshaw and #etmooc

February 18, 2013

Let’s begin exploring our quickly changing ideas about digital literacy by noting the various skills required to engage in a contemporary online learning experience: a live session (now available in an online archived version) on digital literacy/literacies led by Doug Belshaw for #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.

etmoocIf we really begin with the basics, we have to start by navigating time zones since the session starts and ends at different times depending on the time zone within which you’re living (noon, PT, on Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday 2013 here in San Francisco, 8 pm in Northumberland, England, where Belshaw is facilitating the live session that initiates a two-week course of study on digital literacy). Then we have to find our way into the online session within Blackboard Collaborate—recognizing that we’ll need a desktop, laptop, or mobile device to access the session.

Once we’re there, choices abound. If we simply want to observe, we can stay within the Blackboard Collaborate platform, watch, and listen. (Watch out for that live chat stream flying past us on the left-hand side of the screen—another skill to master.) Or we can actively participate by using our skills to engage in that online chat. We can go a few steps further by using online tools to place symbols on the map at the beginning of the session to show where in the world we are while participating, or draw/type responses to questions posed on some of the slides displayed during Belshaw’s presentation, or use the live VoIP interface to actually ask questions.

If we’re having trouble seeing the slides through the Blackboard Collaborate presentation, we can hop over to SlideShare and view the slides there—knowing they will remain on SlideShare as a resource to us and to other learners long after the live session has ended.

EtherpadBut wait: we’re far from finished. Belshaw invites greater levels of interactivity through use of yet another bit of free software—Etherpad—if  we want to participate in a few live exercises, including the act of individually and then collaboratively defining digital literacy to show how our own ideas evolve during the hour-long learning opportunity. We can also return to Etherpad, after the session ends, to review what we’ve accomplished together within this #etmooc session and also view a variety of links to other resources that were mentioned during the live session. And there are even a few people out there carrying on yet another backchannel discussion on Twitter via the #etmooc hashtag; postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub can’t be far behind.

Because Belshaw and others in the session are sharing so many wonderful resources, we need to be able to grab some of those resources for later viewing, so another very useful skill is the one that allows us to click on some of those links to open them in other browser windows. That will allow us to review them in a more leisurely fashion once the live session ends and to bookmark those to which we want to return later for even more in-depth exploration—which means that having an account with Delicious, Diigo, or others and knowing how to use at least one of those accounts is going to be helpful to us in keeping track of and accessing session resources when we’re ready for them. We’re certainly also going to want to be able to view Belshaw’s TEDx Warwick session on “The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies”; or the web literacies white paper he, his colleagues at the Mozilla Foundation, and others have produced; or his “NeverEndingThesis” page with links to his other digital literacies presentations and his “What Is ‘Digital Literacy’?” Ph.D. thesis with its sections on new forms of literacy worldwide, ambiguities of digital literacy, new literacies, and a matrix of “the eight essential elements of digital literacies.”

Belshaw--Digital_Literacy--Eight_EssentialsHaving mastered at least some of these skills, we’re now in a position to actually deal with the fabulous content and begin defining and understanding what digital literacy/literacies means to any of us involved in training-teaching-learning. At the heart of this one-hour session is Belshaw’s wonderful digital literacy version of a periodic table comprised of the eight essential elements of digital literacies he developed for his Ph.D. thesis publication: Cognitive (Cg),  Constructive (Cn), Communicative (Co), Civic (Ci), Critical (Ct), Creative (Cr), Confident (Cf), and Cultural (Cu).

If we now step back and take a long, deep breath, we see the bigger picture of digital literacy/literacies and learning. What we’re obviously dealing with in a session like this one is the challenge of processing the deluge of information and information resources coming our way—which means that a major skill to develop is how to focus on essentials while sifting through the huge number of claims on our attention documented in this article. Recognizing that an ability to multitask while engaged in complex cognitive endeavors (e.g., learning) is largely a myth, it seems to me that a basic element of digital literacy/literacies is recognizing and acknowledging what we are and are not capable of doing; compensating for what we cannot do; and finding ways to gain as much as we can from our digital experiences so that we can be successful rather than being overwhelmed.

And if this review of some of what happens during a dynamic and wonderfully rewarding one-hour learning experience leads us to a better understanding of what we (and our learners) face and how we can resolve some of our learning challenges, it has helped bring us one step closer to developing the sort of digital literacies #etmooc and its creators and facilitators are inspiring.

N.B.: This is the ninth in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 1 of 4): Tech and Learning Trends in Higher Education

February 5, 2013

The release this week of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report on “new and emerging technologies, and their potential impact on teaching, learning, and research,” reminds us once again what a great resource the reports are for trainer-teacher-learners around the world.

Horizon_Report--2013With its summaries of key trends and significant challenges along with the usual explorations of six technologies reviewed in each report, it serves as a thought- (and action-) provoking resource, an up-to-date reference source, and a potential course of study for anyone willing to follow the numerous links to online resources compiled by everyone involved in its preparation and production.

It also, as if becoming an example of one of the technologies it explores, could easily serve as an unfacilitated massive open online course (MOOC) on the topic of technology in learning for any of us with the drive and self-discipline to treat each section as a module of an online course; it is, furthermore, easy to imagine someone setting up a discussion group within LinkedIn, Facebook, or some other social media tool for learners interested in exploring the themes and technologies; it is, in fact, not much of a stretch to also imagine the possibility of live Horizon Report learning sessions via a tweet chat or virtual office hours within Facebook or a Google+ Hangout. Even the process of preparing the reports could be a topic for study and discussion among learners interested in understanding how a well-facilitated wiki can inspire learning and produce learning objects.

But let’s not go too far afield here, since the content of the report is already spurring plenty of online discussion. The technologies themselves are fascinating. Within the one year time-to-adoption horizon we find tablet computing and MOOCs. Within the two-to-three-year adoption horizon, we see gaming and gamification and learning analytics. And in the furthest horizon (four to five years away), we find 3D printing and wearable technology (think about Google’s Project Glass foray into augmented reality here). And for those who want a broader picture of what is on the horizon, there is the short list (four technologies per horizon) that NMC staff and report advisory board members developed as a step toward determining the final set of horizon technologies, along with the overall list of topics that served as the starting point for the entire process of  identifying key trends, challenges, and technologies.

nmc.logo.cmykThere are obvious themes that run through the report, and they’re not just of interest to those working in academia. The trend toward opennessopen content, open data, open resources—is at the top of the list of key trends documented in the report; it serves as a foundational element for at least a few of the others. It’s a natural step from that broad brushstroke of openness to the next important trend—the explosion of massive open online courses—and its close cousins, informal, self-directed, and collaborative learning that, in turn, lead us toward the learner-centric concept of personal learning environments. If all of this inspires you to suspect or acknowledge that huge disruptive changes are underway in the world of learning, then you’re well on the way to appreciating the level of thought the report inspires: “Education paradigms are shifting to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models,” the report writers note.

Equally important are the significant challenges documented in the report. Faculty, the report suggests, aren’t acknowledging “the fact that digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession”—a challenge that I believe could also be documented in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs. We’re also facing—and not dealing particularly well with—new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing, and researching; our own resistance to change; learners’ demand for personalized (and learner-centric) learning; new models of education and learning that challenge long-standing models; and the need to adopt new technologies for learning and teaching.

The beauty of this and other Horizon reports released throughout the year—others focus on K-12 education, museums, and specific regions—is that they are free, accessible, well-researched and well-written, and transparent. Anyone wanting to review and use the advisory board members’ discussions for their own learning purposes has access to them on the project wiki. And those interested in playing a more active role in the Horizon Report process are encouraged to complete the online application form.

Next: On the One-Year Horizon (Tablets and MOOCs)


MOOCed into Learning via #etmooc

February 2, 2013

I’ve been MOOCed. And it’s not as if I could have avoided it. I knew, as soon as I began exploring the topic of massive online open courses (MOOCs) in November 2012 with colleagues on the New Media Consortium (NMC) Advisory Board for the 2013 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report, that it would only be a matter of time before I stepped into the vortex and was completely immersed in learning more about the topic.

etmoocIt’s not as if I fought it very hard; when Google recently announced its Advanced Power Searching MOOC, I registered for that course. But the increasingly frequent references I’ve been seeing to ETMOOC—the Education Technology and Media course organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and several “co-conspirators”—made me curious enough to dip a virtual toe into the MOOC surf. And, as so often happens when we stand too close to the water, I’ve been swamped by an enormous wave of MOOC.

This is a community under development, a place where trainer-teacher-learners are working with each other to explore a variety of topics in two-week chunks: connected learning, digital storytelling, digital literacy, the open movement, and digital citizenship. The use of technology is not only at the heart of our learning explorations, but provides the tools for those explorations: live online sessions held in Blackboard and archived for those who can’t attend the live sessions; a network of blogs; a twitter hashtag (#etmooc); a Google+ community with connections via Google+ Hangouts; postings on YouTube; and content on social bookmarking sites including Delicious, Diigo, and Reddit.

And while Couros is clearly at the center of the process, his conspirators and the learners are, with his encouragement, very much building the course by developing content as we go, as Sue Waters did in a blog post that about working harder and staying connected in a learning community—her guide to how to use the various course tools to engage in effective learning opportunities.

Less than three weeks into ETMOOC, there already is a robust and still-growing archive of programs including a very lively 80-minute orientation session; introductions to Twitter, social bookmarking and content curation, and blogging; and an introduction to connected learning. The orientation itself included a wealth of resources, including links to online articles about how we can assist learners in building out “their digital presences in an environment made of the medium of the web itself” and how the development of open learning systems can “dramatically improve learning.”

There is also a “Dynamic Guide to Active Participation” that could serve as a primer for anyone interested in developing great contemporary learning habits, and a “Dynamic Guide for Facilitators” that will be a tremendously valuable resource for any trainer-teacher-learning working in online environments.

“Think of #etmooc as an experience situated somewhere between a course and a community,” the course developers tell us on the website and in that engaging introductory session. “While there will be scheduled webinars and information shared each week, we know that there is a lot more that we will collectively need to do if we want to create a truly collaborative and passionate community. We’re aiming to carry on those important conversations in many different spaces – through the use of social networks, collaborative tools, shared hashtags, and in personalized spaces. What #etmooc eventually becomes, and what it will mean to you, will depend upon the ways in which you participate and the participation and activities of all of its members. You may even establish and grow your personal and professional learning network (PLN).”

And by encouraging us to learn by participating, by creating content and establishing new online accounts in platforms including about.me, and by engaging in conversations that extend far beyond any formal onsite or online classroom walls, they are inspiring all of us to contribute our own learning objects—like this blog post—that extends the conversation and the learning even further.

N.B.: This is the first in a series of posts responding to the assignments and explorations fostered through #etmooc.


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