Checking Out Disagreements and Learning by Re-Viewing Our Landscape

March 26, 2014

One of the many inspiring and great learning moments to occur during recent community meetings sponsored by the Mendocino County Library with support from their Friends of the Library groups came during a discussion of recently-installed self-checkout machines at the Ukiah Library.

The issue was superficially clear cut. Some people in the community appreciate the convenience self-checkout machines provide. Others absolutely hate this introduction of technology in a setting they value for its person-to-person interactions.

Ukiah_LibraryThose appreciative of the service specifically mentioned that they like being to locate library materials online, visit the library to pick up those materials, and handle the checkout transactions quickly (without having to ask for staff assistance). Others mentioned that checking out materials without staff involvement might appeal to teens and others who don’t want others seeing what they are borrowing.

Opponents to the recently-installed machines expressed unhappiness with the appearance of the tall, upright machines for a variety of reasons—and it quickly became clear that more than anti-technology feelings were at the foundations of their objections. They said they didn’t like the fact that the machines, placed just inside the entrance (where those about to leave the library could complete their final checkout transactions just before they exit the building), were the first thing they saw; having the devices there made them feel as if staff were being replaced by machines (something that is not happening, particularly since a local ballot initiative to provide additional funding for library services passed in November 2013 and library administrators have been hiring more staff members to support increased hours system-wide). Further exploration of the feelings leading to their opposition revealed a sense that staff was becoming less accessible to them and that they were concerned they were losing what is extremely important to them: the person-to-person interactions that are a valuable part of their library experience.

Fort_Bragg_Library--2014-03-24

Mendocino County Library staff and users continuing conversation after meeting in Fort Bragg branch

The inspiring part of all of this was that although people attending the meeting and two others held in Fort Bragg and Willits—one element in the library’s current strategic planning process—offered a variety of (sometimes conflicting) opinions on several different issues, there was little overt animosity expressed between meeting attendees. By providing forums for discussion about the library’s future and how the library could even more actively be part of an effort to address community issues, library staff and users were able to document what is important to them, see issues from differing perspectives, and almost immediately begin looking for ways to address some of the less difficult challenges they face.

A few of us, in fact, continued the discussion after leaving the Ukiah meeting by using a technique employed by a colleague who helps library staff improve library users’ experiences: each of us walked into the Ukiah Library with the intention of looking at it as if we had never before seen it, and paying attention to what caught our attention.

Whereas I had, during my first visit one day earlier, quickly walked past the self-checkout machines and immediately looked for (and found) staff—easily spotted both at a desk almost directly in front of me (across the room) and at a service counter to my left after I passed the machines—I spent more time after the meeting looking at the self-checkout machines and how they did serve as a visual focal point to anyone entering the building and looking only at what was closest to the doors. (Wonderfully enough, a staff member approached me while I was looking at the machines and initiated a conversation.)

Conversations with library staff members produced at least a few options they plan to quickly explore for those who fear the loss of that person-to-person level of attention library staff strives to provide: rearranging the entrance in a way that makes the self-checkout machines less of a visual presence; incorporating a few visual changes that tone down the bright lights that are part of the machines themselves so they won’t, as one critical library user commented, look like “slot machines”); and determining whether volunteers (who were unhappy to have been moved out of public service areas and placed next to staff in crowded workspaces in the staff area) would be interested in sitting at a desk in the entrance area to greet library visitors and help first-time users familiarize themselves with the self-checkout machines—a nice solution to two different challenges (the introduction of the machines and unhappiness expressed by volunteers in search of more opportunities to support the library while interacting with other members of their communities).

It was impressive to see the library representatives react so quickly to the concerns expressed; even if whatever changes they propose and implement don’t please everyone, the changes will have come from a position of listening and learning by re-viewing familiar situations and settings. It was equally impressive to see how positively members of the community interacted even when there were clear disagreements that they recognized they, in collaboration with library staff, will have to work to resolve together. And it was wonderfully refreshing to contrast the visible and obvious levels of civility, respect, and collaboration with what we so often see elsewhere when people talk at rather than with each other until conversations sink into confrontation and an inability to address what is important within and to a community.


NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 5 of 6): Educational Technology on the Mid-Range Horizon

February 12, 2014

With all the justifiable attention given over the past few years to 3D printing and gaming/gamification in learning, it’s not surprising to see these topics highlighted in the latest Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverIf we take the additional step of looking at two additional technologies (wearable technology and the Internet of Things) that grabbed the attention of Horizon Report Advisory Board members but were not formally included in the section of the report listing important developments in educational technology expected to “have a significant impact on the practice of higher education around the globe” over the next two to three years (the report’s mid-range horizon), we find wonderfully interconnected resources that are clearly on our training-teaching-learning landscape but haven’t quite reached complete mainstream adoption yet.

The report is a road map for any trainer-teacher-learner who wants to keep up with what learners are currently exploring and experiencing. Report co-principal investigators Larry Johnson and Malcolm Brown, along with lead writer/researcher Samantha Adams Becker, help us by offering background on the two featured mid-horizon technologies and providing links to resources to support our own learning. There are, for example, connections to an article showing how the University of Delaware is incorporating 3D printing into learning and an article showing how learners use 3D printing to collaborate with members of a local artists collective. If we are curious and inspired enough to engage in our own self-directed learning, we easily find other wonderful online resources, including the “3D Printing in the Classroom” video from Marlo Steed at the University of Lethbridge; another video, featuring East Carolina University of Technology Professor of Instructional Technology Abbie Brown, on the topic of 3D printing in learning; the EDUCAUSE article “7 Things You Should Know About 3D Printing”; and “3D Printing in the Classroom: 5 Tips for Bringing New Dimensions to Your Students’ Experiences” from The Journal.  (“Admit you don’t know it all” and “Don’t grade the results” are two wonderful tips that could be applied in many learning situations.)

“3D printing is an especially appealing technology as applied to active and project-based learning in higher education,” the new Horizon Report reminds us—and that suggests that 3D printing in many other training-teaching-learning settings can’t be far behind.

The same can easily be said of the second mid-range horizon technology (gaming and gamification): “Gameplay…has found considerable traction in the military, business and industry, and increasingly, education as a useful training and motivation tool….the gamification of education is gaining support among educators who recognize that effectively designed games can stimulate large gains in productivity and creativity among learners” (p. 42).

Following a link from the Horizon Report to the EdTech article “The Awesome Power of Gaming in Higher Education” provides further context for our exploration of gamification. EdTech writer Tara Buck tells us about “a future in education where MOOCs [massive open online courses], live events and extraordinary gamification initiatives all blend into a new way of learning,” summarizes a presentation by “games designer, author and researcher Jane McGonigal,” and provides three examples of educational gamification discussed by McGonical.”

nmc.logo.cmykAnd that’s where we come full circle, finding the same sort of interweaving of key trends, challenges, and developments in educational technology that I’ve noted throughout this series of articles on the latest Horizon Report. We can’t really look at 3D printing or gaming and gamification in isolation if we want to fully grasp what is happening in our learning environment. Exploring 3D printing in learning connects us to the report key trend of “the shift from students as consumers to students as creators” as well as some of the other technologies tracked through the Horizon Project (e.g., makerspaces and collaborative environments). Exploring gaming and gamification in learning connects us at some level to the key trend of integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning, the challenge of keeping education relevant, and other technologies including flipped classrooms, social networks, and augmented reality.

Our greatest challenge, of course, is simply finding and making the time to explore and incorporate into our work all that the Horizon Report and our own insatiable curiosity provide.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the Four- to Five-Year Horizon—the Quantified Self and (Digital) Virtual Assistants.


NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 2 of 6): Key Trends in Learning and Technology

February 6, 2014

We can easily see, in the newly released (2014) Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report, a cohesive narrative that helps us understand what we and our learners face not only in academic settings but also in many other training-teaching-learning settings where learning, technology, and creativity intersect.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverThe newly-expanded “Key Trends” section of this wonderful annual report on  trends, significant challenges, and innovations in educational technology, first and foremost, is itself an example of the spirit of innovation that drives NMC projects (e.g., reports, summits, and a wiki-thon): it provides more in-depth explorations of each trend than have been included in previous Horizon reports, and places each trend within a specific time frame (fast trends, which are driving changes in higher education over the next one to two years; mid-range trends, which are driving changes within a three- to five-year horizon; and long-range trends, which are driving changes in a horizon of five or more years from the date of publication of the report). Again, I suspect that what we’re seeing here has strong parallels in our extended lifelong learning playground.

Report co-principal investigators Larry Johnson and Malcolm Brown, working with lead writer/researcher Samantha Adams Becker, take us from those fast trends (the growing ubiquity of social media and the integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning), through the mid-range trends (the rise of data-driven learning and assessment, and the shift from students as consumers to students as creators), and then up to the virtual doorstep of the long-range trends (agile approaches to change and the evolution of online learning) in a way that leaves no doubt as to an overall consistent trend of engaging learners in the learning process through the use of tools that are as useful in learning settings as they are in many other parts of our lives. A key conclusion we might reach: barriers are falling; work and play are intersecting with increasing frequency; and undreamed of possibilities continue to come our way.

nmc.logo.cmykAnyone with any level of involvement in social media understands that the various and ever-growing set of tools available to us (everything from Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to Pinterest, Scoop.it!, Delicious, and many others) provides collaborative learning opportunities not previously available to us. We see, in the 2014 report, the connection between those fast-trend elements of social media and online/hybrid/collaborative learning where social media tools are an integral part of learning. Being aware of data-driven learning and assessment as well as the shift from students as consumers to students as creators draws us further into blended onsite-onsite interactions with social media tools and other resources in ways that are reshaping—at last—how we approach the training-teaching-learning process. (While recently rereading decades-old literature on the state of learning, I was fascinated to see sources from the 1920s calling for a shift from lecture-based learning to learning that had students acquiring knowledge outside the classroom so that classroom time could be used for experiential/collaborative learning opportunities, so it’s wonderful to see relatively new technology supporting that concept through the flipped classroom model that receives attention elsewhere in the 2014 Higher Education Edition of the Horizon Report.)

When we move into the long-range trends, we see agile approaches and the continuing evolution of online learning (massive open online courses—MOOCs—being one of many relatively new innovations that are adding to our learning toolkits and expanding the way we think about and deliver learning opportunities).

The theme of collaboration that is an integral part of so many of these trends takes us down some interesting paths. Libraries, for example, are cited in the report as key partners in the trend toward shifting learners from being consumes to learners becoming creators. Makerspaces and other collaborative spaces are increasingly a part of libraries as learning spaces with support from a variety of sponsors, including the Institute of Museum and Library Services. We also, in the report, see examples of collaborations between learning organizations and business entrepreneurs—relationships where businesses serve as models for an agile approach to learning while connecting learning and learners to the development of critically-important business skills.

It all neatly wraps back into that final long-range trend—the evolution of online learning—in the sense that online learning itself is fostering a level of exploration that makes us question some of the most basic assumptions that have guided training-teaching-learning for centuries: the role of grades in learning, the tension that often exists between traditional instructor-centric teaching and learner-centric learning, and even the increasingly intriguing question of what it means to “complete” a course or other learning experience. (Is completion, for example, defined by a final exam or instructor-defined project, or can and do learners play a role in deciding when then have completed a learning experience, as sometimes happens in the more innovative connectivist MOOCs available to us?)

The report itself offers trainer-teacher-learners a variety of levels of engagement. We can simply read and absorb what is of interest to us; follow any of the numerous links to other articles and resources so we learn more about the trends that are most interesting to us; or start with the report summaries of the trends, follow a few of the links, and then carry those learning experiences into conversations with colleagues face to face and online—which means we’re not only fully engaged in integrating online, hybrid, and collaborative learning into our work and play, but are also helping define the evolution of online learning through our own online learning efforts.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Challenges.


NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 1 of 6): Tech, Trends, and Challenges in Learning

February 4, 2014

If we wanted to design a course on the current state of technology in learning, we could easily adopt, as our online textbook, the latest Higher Education Edition of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology.

Horizon_Report--2014-CoverThe reports are consistently a magnificent learning resource not only for those involved in higher education, but also for anyone involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) or any other part of lifelong learning endeavors. And the release of the 2014 edition earlier this week—in a revised format that provides much more extensive explorations of trends and challenges—suggests that what we have is a Horizon Report on steroids.

As I note each year while exploring the reports, even the highly-collaborative process of preparing the reports could (and should) be a topic for study and discussion among trainer-teacher-learners interested in understanding how a well-facilitated wiki can inspire learning and produce learning objects. Those of us who serve on the report advisory board become immersed in a combination of well-facilitated research and asynchronous exchanges via the report wiki before co-principal investigators Larry Johnson and Malcolm Brown work with lead writer/researcher Samantha Adams Becker to produce the document that does so much to shape conversations about learning worldwide. Previous reports have documented how the modified Delphi Method approach inspires fascinating exchanges and produces results that survey our learning environment and shape the conversations we have throughout the year; the latest report introduces us to yet another tool—the Creative Classroom Research Model developed through the Up-Scaling Creative Classrooms (CCR) project—that is well worth our attention.

But all of this, as important and stimulating as it is, is just a prelude to the real meat of the report. Glancing at the table of contents tells us where the rest of the document is going to take us.

Key trends this year receive significantly more attention and space; they also, for the first time, are placed within their own horizons: fast trends driving changes in higher education over the next one to two years (the growing ubiquity of social media and the integration of online, hybrid, and collaborative learning); mid-range trends driving changes within three to five years (the rise of data-driven learning and assessment, and the shift from students as consumers to students as creators—think makerspaces here and you’re on the right track); and long-range trends driving changes in five or more years (agile approaches to change and the evolution of online learning).

nmc.logo.cmykSignificant challenges, arranged in the same type of horizons and with the same expanded attention and space, include solvable challenges (the low digital fluency of faculty members and the relative lack of rewards for teaching); difficult challenges (competition from new models of education and ways to scale innovations in teaching); and expanding access to educational opportunities and keeping education relevant).    

Then we arrive at what we have come to expect from Horizon reports: the list of important developments in educational technology, divided into a one-year horizon, a two- to three-year horizon, and a four- to five-year horizon. Flipped classrooms and learning analytics are what we can expect to see having the greatest impact in the next year, according to the report. 3D printing and games and gamification are on the two- to three-year horizon; and the quantified self and virtual assistants are placed in the four- to five-year horizon.

We’ll explore each of these areas in upcoming blog postings and see what they suggest for anyone engaged in lifelong learning. In the meantime, it’s well worth repeating that 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.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: Key Trends.


ALA Midwinter Conference (Postscript): She Has Toys

February 3, 2014

We now have a new, unexpected corollary to American Library Association (ALA)  Strategy Guide Jenny Levine’s belief that ALA conference hallways provide an extensive network of informal learning venues: those hallways extend much farther into our blended onsite-online world than any of us could have imagined—and create amazing intersections.

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoWhile most ALA 2014 Midwinter meeting attendees were leaving Philadelphia Monday and Tuesday to return home last week, I remained in town an extra couple of days to relax, to explore the city and its wonderful museums, and to continue conversations and other informal learning opportunities with colleagues who were still there.

Georgia Public Library Service Director of Continuing Education and Training Jay Turner and I, for example, had an unplanned dinner, followed by an additional meal together the following day when it became apparent that the severe storm disrupting all forms of travel in Atlanta was going to force him to remain onsite in Philadelphia far longer than he anticipated. We took advantage of that opportunity to continue learning from each other about some of the tech trends in libraries and library learning endeavors we have both been exploring and, in that way, extended the conference hallways far beyond the walls of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

In between those shared meals, I carved out time to visit libraries on the Temple University and University of Pennsylvania campuses—and had no idea that the ALA hallways were about to intersect with the hallways created and nurtured by colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) one year earlier.

The visit to the University of Pennsylvania begins with a return to one of the most lovely libraries and library reading rooms I’ve ever seen: the Anne & Jerome Fisher Fine Arts Library. The reading room is the sort of space where you ache to find something to read just so you can read it in that space—and if you love art, it’s not at all difficult to find something to meet that need. Leaving the Fisher, I decide to cross the quad for a brief visit to the Van Pelt Library. And that’s when the ALA Midwinter meeting hallways and the NMC hallways expand and collide in the most unexpected and wonderful way—transcending time and space.

Weigle--Entrance--2014-01-29Attending the NMC 2013 Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas exactly one year ago—immediately before flying from Austin to Seattle to attend part of the 2013 ALA Midwinter meeting—I had met an NMC colleague (Anu Vedantham) who serves as director of the David B. Weigle Information Commons. Dinner with Anu and a few other NMC colleagues in January 2013 was a spectacular experience for me for many reasons: I had loved the Weigle Information Commons from a distance ever since I had come across a playfully clever introductory video prepared by Weigle students using Weigle resources; sitting with Anu and other colleagues in Austin a year ago gave me a chance to hear first-hand about how the Commons had developed since the video was produced; and the conversation unexpectedly continued a few days later in Seattle when one of our dinner partners unexpectedly showed up on the ALA Midwinter exhibits floor at the same time I was browsing the exhibits—and, furthermore, turned out to be sharing a room with a colleague with whom I was serving on an ALA committee.

And now, I’m experiencing that NMC-to-ALA process in reverse, for as I enter the Van Pelt Library, I turn to my left on the first floor of the building and see a large sign marking the entrance to Weigle—which I had completely forgotten was on the University of Pennsylvania campus. I approach a person sitting at the Commons reception desk and ask if she can “help me find a colleague who works here” (because, of course, I had also forgotten that Anu is director of the Commons). Less than a minute later, Anu is giving me a fabulous whirlwind tour of the Commons in the 15 minutes she has available before her next meeting.

Anyone interested in training-teaching-learning and the intersection of technology, learning, and libraries needs to see the Weigle Information Commons. It doesn’t matter how you see it. In person. Online. Through blog pieces like this one. Or through videos. What is important is that you become aware of what it means to contemporary training-teaching-learning endeavors.

Weigle--Talk_Away_Sign--2014-01-29The spaces are lovely, flexible (furniture can easily be rearranged to accommodate various learners’ needs), well lit, and inviting. Data diner booths, for example, include prominently-displayed cards encouraging learners to “Talk away” and reminding them that “Weigle Information Commons is for discussion and group collaboration”—key elements in many successful learning experiences.

Walking past a variety of group study rooms designed to facilitate conversations onsite as well as online (through Skype), we arrive at the original Vitale Digital Media Lab—another sign that those ALA Midwinter conference hallways are reaching beyond the spaces within the Pennsylvania Convention Center, for I see a physical manifestation of the sort of tech learning and lending library that former ALA President Barbara Ford described to me a few days ago (at the Midwinter conference) when she was discussing the roles libraries can play in helping learners explore new technology. Staff and student interns are there in the Digital Media Lab to work with their peers. And for those of us involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) endeavors in a variety of settings, there is yet another opportunity to be pursued: students who in the course of learning to help other learners explore new technology could easily be part of the talent pool from which we will draw new trainer-teacher-learners as they enter our workplaces in the next few years if we welcome them into learning organizations such as ALA and ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) to provide them with a gateway to our profession.

Dot Porter, in the "Vitale II" media lab

Dot Porter, in the “Vitale II” media lab

The tour doesn’t end there. With my usual luck, I have arrived just in time to attend a launch party marking the opening of an extension of the Digital Media Lab: “Vitale II,” a wonderful space that operates as a smart classroom/collaborative meeting room, on the sixth floor of the Van Pelt Library, to support digital research in the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts. Vitale II has a moveable conference table and chairs in the center of the room; a high-resolution camera in the ceiling so that what is being demonstrated on the table can be projected onto a large screen in the room and also transmitted to offsite colleagues who want to participate in whatever is happening in the lab; and a white board listing upcoming formal and informal learning opportunities, Curator of Digital Research Services Dot Porter shows me as Anu leaves for her next appointment.

To say that I’m inspired and overwhelmed by all I’m trying to absorb during this 30-minute visit doesn’t even begin to capture all that Weigle, its labs, and its staff and students suggest in terms of where we are going in training-teaching-learning. I want to be working and learning in one of those spaces. Now. But knowing that my time in Weigle and the two Vitales is limited, I play one of my favorite games with a staff member: I ask her to blurt out whatever words come to mind as she thinks about what Weigle offers so I can see the Commons through the eyes of someone very familiar with it. She confirms what I expect: Collaboration. Learning. Technology. Playfulness. Whimsy. And then she captures what she loves about what Anu fosters throughout the extended Commons: “She has toys”—and she makes them available.

It’s clear that our opportunities to learn from each other in this sort of creative, playfully collaborative setting are steadily increasing. And it remains in our hands to reach across the onsite and online hallways we all traverse to see where these opportunities will take us—and those we serve—in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead of us.


ALA Midwinter 2014: Prelude (Dream Baby Dream)

January 23, 2014

With the release of Bruce Springsteen’s High Hopes album earlier this month, many of us are hearing his version of “Dream Baby Dream” (originally recorded and released by Suicide in 1980) for the first time, and hearing how he transformed that simple song is as intriguing as comparing the Holly Cole trio’s version of “Tennessee Waltz” to the original Cowboy Copas version (1948) or comparing Neil Young’s version of “Four Strong Winds” to Ian Tyson’s original.    

ALA_Midwinter_2014--LogoThere are at least two lessons here for all the trainer-teacher-learners arriving in Philadelphia for the American Library Association (ALA) 2014 Midwinter meeting from Friday, January 24 – Tuesday, January 28: like well-composed songs, the work we do can be approached in myriad ways, and like the advice in that song on High Hopes suggests, we need to dream—and dream big.

Dreaming (and then acting upon those dreams) is, of course, at the heart of any conference of the caliber of the ALA Midwinter Meeting. This, unlike its larger, more presentation-oriented counterpart held each summer by ALA, is where Association staff and members gather to do the actual business of ALA within the context of the numerous division, round table, and other committee meetings that draw participants from across the country together for several few days, and I couldn’t be happier than to be among them.

This, for me, is a chance to participate (as a volunteer serving on the ALA Publishing Committee) in that committee’s work through a daylong planning and review session; we will, among other things, be dreaming and acting upon ideas to assure that ALA publications continue meeting Association members’ needs. I also hope to catch up with colleagues in the ALA Learning Round Table, where volunteers dream about and actively promote continuing education and staff development among their colleagues in libraries across the United States. With any luck, I’ll also be able to attend at least part of the American Libraries Advisory Committee meeting so I can learn more about what colleagues have been doing to make American Libraries online and in print a dynamic source of information and a means for promoting discussions and actions on issues affecting those fabulous learning organizations that we serve on a daily basis.

Each of those groups is composed of ALA staff along with ALA members who are interested enough in Association business to travel, at their own expense, to help shape and further the business of an organization they/we support through our collaborative efforts. And the fact that these business/committee meetings draw us together each January is just the beginning: the formally scheduled meetings are just part of the learning opportunities we create for each other. Some of us arrive early so we can attend informal dinners to keep each other up to date on the trends and challenges we are seeing in the industry we serve. At least a couple of us will be serving as guest bloggers on the American Libraries blog. Some of us fill otherwise unscheduled time by attending panel discussions on topics including tech developments in libraries, digital learning initiatives, how massive open online courses (MOOCs) might benefit libraries and library users, and how partnerships and collaborations benefit libraries and members of the communities they serve. And some of us look forward to those unplanned encounters that bring us together with some of the best, most dynamic colleagues we have so we can exchange ideas; become inspired, once again, by what those colleagues are accomplishing; and return home to even more effectively tackle the challenges we willingly face. Because we care. And because we dream, baby, dream.


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.



Connected Learning, Project-Based Learning, and Learners as Authors

August 20, 2013

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” Peter Steiner suggested in his well-known The New Yorker cartoon two decades ago. And nobody would know that a recently-published book on connected learning and learner-centric education that effectively incorporates technology into learning and is available on Amazon.com is a project-based learning achievement produced by 27 Norwegian high school students under the guidance of their teacher, Ann Michaelsen—unless they had found the ebook Connected Learners: A Step-by-Step Guide to Creating a Global Classroom or heard a few of the authors interviewed this afternoon on the latest episode of Steve Hargadon’s Future of Education series online.

Connected_Learners--CoverHigh-school projects generally aren’t available as ebooks on Amazon.com. Then again, most high-school projects don’t effectively and engagingly lead us into an exploration of contemporary “webucation” while providing a first-rate example of what project-based learning can produce among students of any age. Michaelsen herself describes the book as a “compendium of articles, advice and how-to instructions, designed to help high school teachers and their students around the globe shift from classrooms that are isolated and teacher-centered to digitally rich environments where learning is student-driven and constantly connected to the global internet.” But there’s no need to believe that the publication doesn’t apply to a far wider audience of trainer-teacher-learners.

The writers’ goal is explicitly stated up front: “…we want to teach YOU how to master the skills of webucation. We will teach you how to make a blog and integrate it into your learning. We will discuss the positive effects of a digital classroom and inspire you to use digital tools.”

And while this is hardly a revolutionary idea—the #etmooc Educational Technology & Media massive open online course (MOOC), Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Library, and the Social Media Basics and other courses I design and facilitate for ALA Editions, are just a few examples of how richly rewarding many of us are finding online experiential learning to be. It’s also another fabulous reminder that anyone involved in teaching-training-learning needs to be aware of these explorations not only to keep our learning toolkits fresh, but to be ready for the learners who are entering our worksites rapidly and in increasingly large numbers.

Future_of_EducationOne of the benefits of learning from these learners via Hargadon’s Future of Education interview was the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of their own learning environment. The live chat, for example, suggested that what Michaelsen facilitated is widespread in that particular Norwegian school; confirmed that final exams were replaced by reviews of the work the learners produced for the book; and showed that the learners themselves found the work to be “extremely interesting and exciting” and instrumental in fostering “student engagement and motivation”—elements apparently equally strong in the innovative Finnish school system, as we saw in Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland.

Another benefit was to hear the students’ post-learning assessments. Asked whether he would consider writing another book collaboratively outside of school, co-author Haakon Bakker admitted “Maybe not; it’s a big process. But that would be really fun.” Another co-author, Ulrik Randsborg Lie, suggested that a key lesson learned was the importance of advocating for educational change: “It’s all about making the teacher take action” to move toward more connective, experiential technology-supported learning.

Even the most cursory skim of the book excerpts available on Amazon.com suggests that the writers have produced a book rich in resources. There are links to recommendations for setting up Twitter accounts and blogs, using Google Docs and Dropbox, and tips on embedding videos into PowerPoint presentations. There are explorations of 21st-century learning skills. And there are chapters on gaming to learn, digital literacy, and assessment.

Hearing Bakker acknowledge that collaborative authorship is “a big process” suggests how successful this particular learning experience can be. And the possibility of inspiring other learners to produce equally impressive learning objects to help others reminds all trainer-teacher-learners of the key roles we can and must continue to play in contributing to effective and inspirational learning at all levels.


NMC Horizon Project Technology Outlook: Where Our Learners Are Going

June 24, 2013

With the release of their first Technology Outlook: Community, Technical, and Junior Colleges (2013-2018), our colleagues at the New Media Consortium (NMC) have provided the fourth of a four-part comprehensive overview of how the learners headed for our workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs are using technology in their own learning endeavors. (The other three parts of that overview are the 2013 K-12 report, with a brief overview video; the Technology Outlook for STEM + Education 2012-2017; and the Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report with its own video overview.)

NMC--Tech_Outlook_Community_CollegesAlthough the flagship Higher Education report remains one of NMC’s key publications each year (as I documented in four interrelated blog posts earlier this year after serving on the report advisory board), the K-12, STEM + Education, and Community/Technical/Junior Colleges editions help us see how technology continues to be an important element of the learning experience for everyone, from our younger (K-12) learners through those involved in colleges and universities. And if that weren’t enough for those of us working with graduates of our formal academic system, NMC also has facilitated annual future of education conferences over the past couple of years to produce lists of metatrends and essential challenges in teaching-training learning to guide us in our own efforts to keep up with what our learners and colleagues involved in facilitating learning are experiencing.

As is the practice with other NMC reports, the Community, Technical, and Junior Colleges report focuses on highlight lists of technologies that are likely to have significant impacts within short (one-year), medium (two- to three-year), and longer (four- to five-year) horizons. Top trends impacting technology decisions within the venues are explored within the report; significant challenges facing learners and learning facilitators within those venues are also summarized and highlighted.

But most interesting in terms of bridging the venues covered by those four (K-12, STEM + Education, community/technical/junior colleges, and higher education) complementary reports is a section in the new report comparing final topics across various NMC projects.

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoWhat we see from that summary on the first few pages of the new report is that innovations including flipped classrooms, the use of mobile apps in learning, augmented reality, games and gamification, and wearable technology are finding their way into learning at all levels—just as they are in our own workplace learning and performance endeavors. We also see that attention-grabbing innovations including massive open online courses (MOOCs) are changing the way we view our approach to online education, but they are entering our learning landscape at differing rates. (Higher education seems far better positioned to effectively incorporate MOOCs into our learning landscape than do community colleges, where a recent first-rate study—“Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas,” published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University—documented the difficulties that community-college students face in learning how to learn in online environments.)

And this is where the new report makes a firm connection to what we are doing and facing in workplace learning and performance: “The workforce demands skills from college graduates that are more often acquired from informal learning experiences than in universities,” the report writers note (p. 2). This provides new challenges for teacher-trainer-learners in community, technical, and junior college settings, they continue: “As technology becomes more capable of processing information and providing analysis, community college efforts will focus on teaching students to make use of critical thinking, creativity, and other soft skills.”

The learning circle becomes complete when we acknowledge that our own training-teaching-learning roles are rapidly changing in ways many of us still have not completely understood or accepted; just as our colleagues in academia are having to come to terms with facilitating learning as much as attempting to control it, we are going to have to argue—with our employers, our colleagues, and our clients—that one-size-fits-all learning was never a great model under any circumstances; that learning offerings that remain focused on learners passing exams and achieving certification/recertification really don’t serve anyone very well; and that creating communities of learning where technology facilities rather than drives learning ultimately produces learning that meets learner and business goals in magnificent ways.

Reading, thinking about, and acting upon the contents of any single NMC report certainly places each of us—and our learners—in a great position: we walk away from these reports with our own crash courses in what is happening in our ever-expanding and wonderfully challenging learning landscapes. Reading, comparing, and acting upon the content of the various reports helps us viscerally understand what we need to know so we can help our learners more effectively shine in a world where learning never stops—to the benefit of all involved.


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