NMC Horizon Report 2014 (Pt. 3 of 6): Opportunities Among Solvable, Difficult, and Wicked Challenges in Learning and Technology

February 7, 2014

Any of us involved in training-teaching-learning might take comfort in the idea that we’re not alone in the challenges we face—something made abundantly clear 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-CoverAlthough by definition focused on challenges in academic institutions, the report readily lends itself to serving as first-rate documentation of challenges—and potential solutions to them—far beyond the physical and virtual walls of its intended audience in higher education. Those “significant challenges,” arranged along three distinct time horizons, are grouped into 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 wicked challenges (expanding access to educational opportunities and keeping education relevant) that will take much longer to resolve.   

One consistent theme that connects several of the challenges is the need to help teachers (and, by extension, other learning facilitators) develop better teaching/training skills. It’s an obvious element of addressing the problems of low digital fluency among teacher-trainer-learners, lack of rewards for teaching/facilitating learning, addressing new models of education as well as workplace learning and performance (staff training), and keeping education (and training) relevant.

It’s not as if we’re lacking in options in dealing with some of these issues. The report contains links to a variety of articles documenting creative approaches, such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation/Davidson College collaboration to “create a comprehensive curicular model of digital studies to support the faculty’s development of digital skills.” With a bit of creativity, we might be able to apply, to other training-teaching-learning settings, what comes out of that collaboration.

Sahlberg--Finnish_LessonsMoving to an even deeper level of engagement, we might find ourselves inspired to seek productive and creative collaborations by the fact that “[e]mployers have reported disappointment in the lack of real world readiness they observe in recent graduates who are prospective or current employees” (p. 21)—something clearly not solely a problem for those in academia. Pasi Sahlberg has already, through his book Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, provided one potentially fruitful route of exploration for those seeking business-education collaborations. Sources cited within the Horizon Report, including the UK-based JISC, provide other collaborative models through which “schools, public libraries, and community learning bodies” partner to explore information and communications technology in learning (quoting from Wikipedia).

And our own experiences working in and with a variety of learning organizations places us in a great position to tackle a broad and particularly wicked problem: “It is difficult for institutions to stay ahead of workforce needs” (p. 21).

My own involvement in New Media Consortium projects, American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) activities, and a variety of training-teaching-learning endeavors through the American Library Association, has convinced me that collaborations among these three first-rate learning organizations could produce positive results that the organizations and their members cannot accomplish on their own—it’s really no different than the JISC approach to bringing schools, libraries, and community learning bodies together. And I suspect that trainer-teacher-learners with experiences and affiliations far different from my own can readily see equally strong prospective partners capable of addressing the challenge of finding ways to stay ahead of workforce needs.

nmc.logo.cmykThe resources mentioned in passing in the “Significant Challenges” section of this new Horizon Report could (and probably should) keep us busy for several weeks or months. In addition to the references to JISC, we find brief, easy to overlook mentions of the 2013 Report to the European Commission on Improving the Quality of Teaching and Learning in Europe’s Higher Education Institutions; Harvard University’s WIDE World online resource for teachers, professors, teacher trainers, and administrators; and the European Commission’s Opening Up Education and Training initiative in addition to numerous links to shorter articles and videos. There are also abundant reminders that expanding access to learning opportunities relies as much on helping people learn to learn in online environments as it does on technology infrastructure. Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars’ “Adaptability to Online Learning” report through the Community College Research Center at Colombia University is one significant resource that carries us far beyond what can be documented within the pages of the new Horizon Report and is an invaluable resource for anyone interested in helping learners thrive in online learning environments.

Learners themselves seem to understand that we need to be working more diligently to create a vibrant and responsive lifelong learning environment moving beyond traditional silos within our organizations (academic learning opportunities that don’t interact with staff training programs that don’t interact with learning opportunities provided by libraries). There is clearly recognition—at least among Millennials—that lifelong learning has become essential to lifelong success in the contemporary workplace, the 2010 Pew Research Center report Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next, documented. Expanded interactions among NMC, ASTD, and ALA members alone could produce positive responses to that perceived need and the challenges noted in the latest Higher Education Edition in the Horizon Report series.

What the report does, then, is highlight the challenges we face so we don’t lose sight of them. It reminds us that we are far from alone in trying to resolve those challenges. And it encourages us to draw upon available resources to better serve those who rely on us to provide effective learning experiences that address their—and our—short- and long-term needs.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Flipped Classrooms and Learning Analytics


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.


Open Introductions: #etmooc, Open Education Week, Wikinomics, and Murmuration

March 9, 2013

Trainer-teacher-learners worldwide are on the cusp of a magnificent collaborative opportunity: participation in Open Education Week, which runs from Monday – Friday, March 11-15, 2013. Ostensibly for those involved in formal academic education programs, this is an opportunity that should appeal to anyone involved in the numerous entities comprising our global learning environment: K-12 schools; colleges, universities, and trade schools; libraries; museums; workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs; professional associations and organizations like the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), the American Library Association, and the New Media Consortium ; and many others. It’s a chance for us to collectively examine the roles we can play together to tackle the wicked problem of reinventing education and developing ways to effectively support lifelong learning in a world where we can’t afford to ever stop learning.

Open_Education_Week_2013_LogoAt the heart of this endeavor is the open movement—the latest of the five massive themes that we’re exploring in two-week bite-sized segments within #etmooc (an online Educational Technology & Media course), that massive open online course (MOOC) developed by Alec Couros and his wonderful gang of “conspirators.” The course itself is a living example of the spirit of open, and it is quite literally transforming not only those who are directly participating in it, but also those who are learning about it and participating vicariously through the blog postings we are producing and sharing openly, the Blackboard Collaborative sessions that are archived and openly available, the live tweet chat sessions and numerous unfacilitated stream of tweets it is generating, exchanges in a Google+ Community, YouTube videos, and various other rhizomatically spreading learning opportunities that will continue having an impact on learners worldwide long after the current January- March 2013 offering comes to an end.

It’s a movement I first encountered several years ago within the pages of Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything, by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams, and that we all can continue to explore through the #etmooc panel discussion moderated earlier this week by Alberta Distance Learning Centre learning innovation lead teacher Verena Roberts. As has been the case with the handful of #etmooc presentations I’ve been able to attend or view, this one provides great content while also serving as an example of what it discusses. It was held as a Google+ Hangout to make it as accessible as possible; it was live-streamed on Roberts’ YouTube channel; interactivity between the panelists and learners was facilitated across platforms, including a Google Doc that also is openly accessible; and it is taking on a life of its own through tweets, blog postings, and other openly-shared resources.

etmoocTo watch the recording of that hour-long Google+ Hangout panel discussion is to sense the power of online learning and engagement while receiving a full immersion that leaves us with hours of material to return to at our own leisure. We see and hear Mozilla Foundation staffers sharing resources and encouraging us to participate in them, e.g., through the Mozilla Festival and efforts to help define digital literacy. We learn about a magnificent repository of open resources curated under the title “Open High School of Utah OER [Open Educational Resources] Guide” under the auspices of the Open High School of Utah (which will become Mountain Heights Academy in fall 2013). We hear panelist Christina Cantrill, from the National Writing Project, suggest that open is about resources, but “is also about practices.” And we walk away from the session with a clear understanding that four basic tenets of the open movement are reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content without losing site of the fact that we still have an obligation to acknowledge the sources upon which we draw.

For those of us wanting to continue our explorations within the context of the Wikinomics model, we turn to another variation on the open theme: the TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) talk“Four Principles for the Open World”—that Tapscott delivered in 2012. He takes us a bit deeper into the open movement by suggesting that there are four pillars of openness: collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment: “The open world is bringing empowerment and freedom,” he tells us at one point.

The fact that these brief but stimulating explorations of openness take us from Open Education Week’s key themes of “connect, collect, create, and share” to those four tenets (reusing, revising, remixing, and redistributing content) on to Tapscott’s quartet of collaboration, transparency, sharing, and empowerment confirm that we’re facing the same wicked problem here that we face in digital literacy/digital literacies: settling on a firm definition is a far-from-completed endeavor.

We aren’t, at this point, anywhere near achieving that goal. But Tapscott, by introducing us to the concept of murmuration near the end of his TED talk through a video showing an exquisitely beautiful murmuration of starlings, provides an example from nature that should inspire all of us to start by participating and collaborating in Open Education Week (conversations on Twitter will be organized though use of the #OpenEducationWk hashtag and nurtured through the @OpenEducationWk Twitter account) and then incorporating open practices into our training-teaching-learning endeavors wherever we can. 

N.B.: This is the nineteenth 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.


Massive (and Not-So-Massive) Open Online Courses: Libraries as Learning Centers

March 5, 2013

Completely immersed in #etmooc (the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course) with more than 1,600 other learners from several different countries since early February, I have just received a lovely reminder that we make a mistake by not paying attention to what is happening in our own learning backyards.

SFPL_LogoAlthough far from massive, a new free learning opportunity provided by the San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) system for its users is beginning to roll out. It promises to be another great step in libraries’ efforts to brand themselves as learning centers within the extended communities they increasingly serve in our onsite-online world.

Using courses purchased from Cengage Learning’s Ed2Go, San Francisco Public is making these courses available at no cost beyond what we already pay in the tax revenues that support library services. The list of subject areas covered is magnificent: accounting and finance; business; college readiness; computer applications; design and composition; health care and medical; language and arts; law and legal; personal development; teaching and education; technology; and writing and publishing.

The initial list of courses is spectacular, as even the most cursory review reveals. Following the teaching and education link, for example, produces several subcategories of courses: classroom computing; languages; mathematics; reading and writing; science; test prep; and tools for teachers. Following that classroom computing subcategory currently produces links to 13 different offerings, including “Teaching Smarter with Smart Boards,” “Blogging and Podcasting for Beginners,” “Integrating Technology in the Classroom,” and “Creating a Classroom Website.”

SFPL’s Ed2Go offerings under the personal development link are organized into 10 subcategories including arts; children, parents, and family; digital photography; health and wellness; job search; languages; personal enrichment; personal finance and investments; start your own business; and test prep.

The offerings appear to be wonderfully learner-centric in that each course listing includes a “detail” page that provides learners with a concise description of the learning need to be met by the course; a formal course syllabus; an instructor bio; a list of requirements so learners know in advance what they need to bring to the course; and student reviews offering comments by previous learners.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the Ed2Go roll-out is how it reflects SFPL’s growth as a learning organization that uses learning to serve its community; when I last spoke with colleagues a couple of years ago about their plans to offer online learning to library users, the plan was still in its early-development stages. Discussions, at that point, were centered on short staff-produced videos using Camtasia or other online authoring tools. Members of the library’s Literacy and Learning Area Focus Team have clearly made tremendous progress since that time in finding ways to offer learning opportunities to library users, and they are far from finished.

“We’re rolling it out slowly,” a colleague told me this afternoon. “Training is one of our big pushes right now. It [Ed2Go] is our first start, and we have other ideas down the pike…We’re serious about internal [staff] training, external [non-staff] training—going out to the public.”

The idea of having staff produce videos is still under consideration, as is the idea of having library staff take an even more active role in providing more learning opportunities for the public: “We’re talking about doing out own trainings and putting them online, but that’s down the road. We’re not reinventing the wheel—but we are rounding it.”

As I have mentioned in other articles, the wicked problem of reinventing education continues to receive plenty of creative attention in a variety of settings, including the New Media Consortium’s recent Future of Education summit in Austin, Texas, and the “Future of Education” document that came out of that summit. Seeing increasing collaboration among the various providers of learning opportunities (e.g., our colleagues in academia, in museums, in libraries, in professional workplace learning and performance organizations including the American Society for Training & Development and other professional associations including the American Library Association) helps us understand why offerings along the lines of the massive open online courses and libraries’ freE-learning opportunities are quickly becoming part of our learning landscape—and suggests that those collaborations might be part of what leads us closer to effectively addressing the wicked problems we face in training-teaching-learning.

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


Revisiting Our Recent Wicked Past: Malcolm Brown, John Cleese, Creativity, #etmooc, and Light Bulbs

February 28, 2013

If we want to learn at a deeply significant and long-lasting level, we clearly need to keep re-walking familiar paths while remembering, each time we recreate those journeys, to look at them as if we’ve never seen them before this moment.

This becomes more obvious than ever to me earlier today when I have an unexpected opportunity to re-view EDUCAUSE Director Malcolm Brown’s stimulating “Ideas That Matter” presentation from the New Media Consortium Horizon Project Summit on the Future of Education held in Austin, Texas in January 2013. I enjoy the presentation when Brown originally delivers it. I take notes that I reread with fresh eyes a few days later. But it isn’t until I watch the newly-posted video of that discussion of the creative process needed to address wicked problems—those complex and ambiguous problems requiring innovative approaches—that I see how much my perspective on the topic has evolved over the period of a single month.

What makes the viewing of that video transformative is that it places me, in a very visceral way, in two distinct yet interwoven moments and frames of mind. The original moment, environment, and frame of mind is the one created by the act of being part of a summit where all attention is focused on a single, spectacular theme—the future of education. The contemporary moment is the one that is here and now, just one month later, when I continue to be part of a group absolutely transformed by participation in #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering through March 2013.

etmoocBrown, like Couros and his associates (his “co-conspirators”), lays the foundations for explorations without establishing a clear vision of the outcome. We know we’re going somewhere, we know it’s going to be a journey well worth taking, and we know we’re going to experience unexpected pleasures along the way, but we have no idea what the destination is until we help create it through our own participation. It’s a learning process, and the most successful learning processes are those that the learners themselves—ourselves—help define, create, and complete. We allow for successes far greater and more significant than we can envision at the beginning of the learning process; we create an expectation and acceptance of the possibility and likelihood of failures along the way; and we create the most wonderfully odd juxtapositions that in and of themselves serve as the sandboxes capable of producing results worth seeking.

Brown, at a key point in his presentation, draws our attention to John Cleese’s lecture on creativity—a spectacularly entertaining and thought-provoking presentation that was originally delivered in 1991, yet continues popping up via online links with great regularity and proving itself to be as timely today as it was more than two decades ago. Being onsite with Brown means that we experience Cleese second-hand; watching the video of Brown’s presentation provides the invitation (consider it a command performance) to take the time to actually relive Cleese’s lecture in the moment, in juxtaposition with what Brown is offering. And we’re all the richer for this opportunity to re-walk both those paths again as frequently as we allow ourselves to be drawn to them, just as we’re able to re-walk some of the paths we’re creating, visiting, and revisiting through the various platforms that #etmooc uses (Blackboard Collaborate presentations; blog postings; live tweet chat sessions; postings in a Google+ community; and a variety of other settings limited only by our own imaginations and the amount of time we have to give to our continuing education efforts in a vibrant community of learning).

But let’s stay with a key point that Brown makes by quoting from Cleese’s earlier yet virtually contemporaneous presentation: creativity “is not a talent; it is a way of operating.” Every time we creatively pull ourselves back into an inspiring learning moment by re-reading our notes, or re-viewing an online presentation, or re-reading a blog posting (and, perhaps, adding to what is already there by posting a new comment that draws the original blogger back to what he or she wrote days/weeks/months/years ago), we keep our learning moments alive, productive, and fertile.

Jumping from Brown to Cleese also takes us deeper into that fabulously Cleesian world where he begins by telling his audience (which, thanks to the video, now includes us in the sort of wonderfully synchronously asynchronous moment that I’m attempting to create with this article) that he can more easily explain humor than he can explain the creative process. Then proceeds to do both by talking about creativity while continually interrupting his own presentation with a seemingly endless string of light bulb jokes. Then finds a way to connect the learning dots by helping us understand how the juxtaposition of seemingly unrelated ideas (like creativity and light bulb jokes) can move our minds from a comfortably closed state (that is antithetical to creativity) to one open to unexpected possibilities (which provides a field where seeds of creativity can sprout, grow, and thrive). He makes us laugh repeatedly by reminding us how important these absurd juxtapositions are, and then producing more of them to prove the point. By the time we leave Cleese and Brown, we have strengthened our ability to engage in the process—and even make sense of the sort of juxtapositions I calculatingly create in the headline to this article.

N.B.: This is the fourteenth 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.


The Spread of Learning Rhizomes

February 14, 2013

It would appear that the learning rhizomes are spreading uncontrollably—which, for any trainer-teacher-learner, is a wonderfully positive phenomenon.

etmoocHaving been introduced recently to what Dave Cormier calls rhizomatic learning—a connected learning process that mirrors the spreading of rhizomes so there is no center, just a wonderfully ever-expanding network of learning connections rooted in creation, collaboration, and the building of communities of learning—I now am seeing this connected learning phenomenon nearly everywhere I look. (There seem to be more learning rhizomes than the total number of Starbucks outlets or branch libraries around me.)

This has happened amazingly quickly—primarily because, less than two weeks ago, I was introduced to Cormier and rhizomatic learning through #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.

There is no denying the rapid spread of the rhizomes and my awareness of this wonderful phenomenon. Interactions with a small (but growing) number of the more than 14,000 people who are signed up for the current offering of #etmooc are already taking place through live-tweet sessions and the absolute flood of tweets under the #etmooc, @etmooc, and #etmchat hashtags, along with postings in our Google+ community and our blog hub, and responses to their YouTube posts. It requires a tremendous sense of discipline—and an acknowledgement that there is life outside of #etmooc—to keep from being overwhelmed by the information deluge produced in this course.

Those learning rhizomes, furthermore, are not just firmly rooted in the fertile ground of #etmooc itself; they are reaching far beyond the incredibly permeable walls of the course. Posting comments on a few MOOCmates’ introductory videos on YouTube apparently initiated some sort of algorithmically-triggered response from YouTube, for among my incoming email messages yesterday morning was a first-time alert from YouTube under the subject line “Just for You from YouTube: Weekly Update – February 13, 2013.” And under the subheading “We think you’d like…” was a learning link I really did like—to a video posted by Kansas State University associate professor Michael Wesch—whose work I happen to adore.

Although the “Rethinking Education” video turned out to be one posted more than a year ago, it felt completely fresh. An extension of his earlier “A Vision of Students Today” video coming out of the Mediated Cultures/Digital Ethnography projects at Kansas State University, it was right in the center of a playing field—the wicked problem of rethinking education and online learning—that I’ve been recently been exploring in conversations with colleagues in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project, with American Library Association associates Buffy Hamilton and Maurice Coleman, and many others with whom I’m increasingly rhizomatically and quite happily entangled.

Tower_and_the_CloudWatching the “Rethinking Education” video gave the rhizomes a significant growth spurt, for the numerous references in that brief yet densely-packed video sent out new learning shoots ranging from references to Wikipedia articles on commons-based peer production, education, Education 2.0, and knowledge to numerous glimpse of other resources easily accessible online. Even in his ending credits, Wesch managed to send out one final learning rhizome: a reference to the EDUCAUSE book The Tower and the Cloud: Higher Education in the Age of Cloud Computing. Being a huge fan of what EDUCAUSE produces, I went to the site; discovered that the book was available both in a print version for purchase and as a free PDF; and soon had a copy on my tablet. My home-based online learning experience morphed into a mobile-learning (m-learning) experience as I left home, tablet in hand, and continued learning by reading the beginning of the book while using public transportation on my way to an appointment in downtown San Francisco.

So many rhizomes, so little time! The simple act of having created a personal learning environment that, in the space of one morning, included the MOOC-inspired use of print materials, online materials accessed from a desktop computer, exchanges with colleagues from the desktop and from the mobile device (the tablet), and reading material from that same mobile device, helps any of us understand viscerally why the 2013 Higher Education edition of NMC’s Horizon Report documents tablets and MOOCs as the two technologies currently having the greatest impact on higher education—and, I would suggest, on much of what we see in training-teaching-learning.

Buffy_Hamilton--Nurturing_Lifelong_LearningMy head explodes. I need to the intellectual equivalent of mind-to-mind resuscitation. I need to breathe. So I spend that latter part of the day more or less offline in face-to-face conversations with friends and colleagues, then attend an evening neighborhood association meeting that includes interchanges with two recently-elected City/County supervisors. But the rhizomes are not dormant. While I’m asleep, they’re expanding. Lurking. Waiting for me to log back on this morning and discover that Buffy Hamilton has posted her stunningly beautiful PowerPoint slides from the “Nurturing Lifelong Learning with Personal Learning Networks” presentation to Ohio eTech Conference attendees yesterday. And through the act of posting that deck, she brings us and our tangled-spreading-sprawling learning rhizomes right back where we started, for she includes references drawn from our conversations about #etmooc, rhizomatic learning, and much more to inspire me to complete this latest act of digital storytelling that draws upon the #etmooc rhizomes.

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


Learning Innovations: Crossing the Finnish Line with Pasi Sahlberg

January 31, 2013

Pasi Salhberg, in Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn from Educational Change in Finland?, doesn’t pretend to have a universally applicable solution to the problems we face in providing effective learning opportunities. But the wonderfully produced snapshot he provides of the Finnish school system and its support of vocational training is something none of us can afford to ignore. If we’re at all interested in seeing how the top-ranked education system worldwide produced its successes, we’re in the right place with Finnish Lessons.

Sahlberg--Finnish_LessonsThis is not a book that is useful only to those in academia. The descriptions of a learning system that eschews a single-minded emphasis on testing and explores, instead, ways to engage all learners and provide them with communities of learning that produce results, touches any trainer-teacher-learner. It’s a fabulous approach to the wicked problem of reinventing learning, and Sahlberg engagingly and concisely helps us understand what he and his colleagues have achieved.

As writer-speaker-researcher-teacher Andy Hargreaves tells us in his forward to Sahlberg’s book, Finnish Lessons shows how a vision “of educational and social change connected to inclusiveness and creativity” that relies on “high-quality, well-trained teachers” engaged in creating, nurturing, and sustaining communities of learning has propelled the Finnish education system to recognition as a world leader.

There are many striking elements to what Sahlberg documents—not the least of which is the difference between Finnish perceptions and those held by the rest of us. He describes the transformation as having been relatively quick—extending over a 40-year period, with much of the crucial work done between the 1980s and the turn of the millennium. It’s a staggeringly different view of time than that held by many of us here in the United States, where we seem foolishly stuck in a way of life predicated on the belief that every two- or four-year election cycle marks a time for a “new start.”

Sahlberg summarizes his work concisely within the first few pages of Finnish Lessons: “The main message of this book is that there is another way to improve education systems. This includes improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals” (p. 5). He also tells us that “The Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation—not choice and competition—can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Paying teachers based on students’ test scores or converting public schools into private ones (through charters or other means) are ideas that have no place in the Finnish repertoire for educational improvements” (p. 9).

It’s not hard to see how we can apply that philosophy to any learning environment—from K- 12 all the way through any workplace learning and performance (staff training) program by focusing on learning rather than on lowest-common-denominator testing–by developing our faculty/trainers rather than, as so often happens in staff training, shoving “accidental (unprepared) trainers” into learning environments in a sink-or-swim endeavor that serves neither learners nor learning facilitators.

The Finnish system, according to Sahlberg, also works within a framework that “places a stronger emphasis on understanding students’ cognitive development and also invited schools to make the best use of their own and their community’s strengths” (p. 25)—something our best colleagues incorporate into academic settings as well as successful workplace learning and performance programs.

The results, for Finland, have been spectacular: “What is noteworthy is that Finland has been able to upgrade human capital by transforming its education system from mediocre to one of the best international performers in a relatively short period of time” (p. 42).

Sahlberg turns to a broad roadmap, in the final pages of his book, to help us explore what he and his colleagues have created. Suggesting that we create “a community of learners that provides the conditions that allow all young people to discover their talent” (p. 140)—and there’s no reason why we have to limit ourselves to “young people” here—he suggests four broad steps: development of a personal road map for learning; less classroom-based teaching; development of interpersonal skills and problem solving; and engagement and creativity as pointers of success.

If we can adapt any part of these Finnish lessons by applying them in our own settings, perhaps the wicked problem of reforming education and lifelong learning in our country will become a little less wicked.


The Big Ideas Connecting People, Conferences, and Conversations

January 27, 2013

Developing and acting upon big ideas sometimes requires big leaps, so it’s no surprise to me that the leap from San Francisco to Austin to Seattle over the past several days has left my head spinning.

ALA_Midwinter_2013Three days of participation in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas followed by a few days with colleagues attending the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting here in Seattle created the sort of Intersection discussed by Frans Johansson in The Medici Effect, a book about “breakthrough insights at the Intersection of ideas, concepts, and cultures.”

That NMC summit fulfilled its implied promise of creating an Intersection:–in this case, a gathering of what NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson has called “100 thought leaders” to discuss wicked problems and plans of action to address those challenging problems that require entirely new ways of thinking and that help redefine the way we view our world. We were there to try to make a difference.

nmc.logo.cmykHaving already written about the first and second days of the NMC summit and reflected on subtle and not-so-subtle interweavings of themes between that summit and what I’ve been discussing and experiencing with friends and colleagues at the ALA conference, I continue finding the connections to tremendously strong. It’s as if both conferences have melded into one nearly week-long immersion in a profound, intensely deep well of ideas that challenge us to rethink much of what we take for granted in our work and personal lives.

At the NMC retreat, we were looking for ways to address the challenges of redefining roles and identities for students, faculty members, and administrators; fostering an ecosystem for experiential learning; and defining ethical boundaries and responsibilities in learning, among other things. Here in Seattle, some of us are looking for ways to address the challenges of redefining roles and identities for library staff and library users in a world requiring intensive lifelong learning efforts; fostering an ecosystem for information literacy, digital literacy, and open access to information resources; and defining ethical boundaries and responsibilities in strengthening the communities we serve.
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But it all comes down to people. That’s what was at the heart of the future of education summit and the ALA Midwinter meeting. Sitting with my colleague Buffy Hamiltonthe Unquiet Librarian—at an ALA conference session on “the promise of libraries: transforming communities” this morning, I quickly realized that this was yet another opportunity to engage in metalearning—learning about learning—by observing how all of us in the room were learning from the presentation.

The obvious primary focus was the content of that panel discussion—something so deeply inspiring, challenging, and rewarding that I’m going to return to it in a separate article. Equally important was the way content was being offered, consumed, and disseminated. It wasn’t just about how the presenters engaged us. It was equally about how Buffy and I, along with several other audience members in the room, were recording and commenting on that content via the conference Twitter backchannel—and how that content was reaching and being further disseminated outside the room by others retweeting what we were documenting. There were even times that Buffy and I, even though we were sitting side by side, interacted by retweeting each other’s notes when one of us had missed something that the other had captured.

Because I work with and help others learn to use social media tools in ways that open up opportunities for them by providing access to people and resources that might otherwise not be available to them, I know we still have plenty of people who see Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and many other tools as frivolous distractions. But what continues to become clearer to me day by day is that those tools can equally serve as means to foster the dissemination of information that helps us tackle those wicked problems that are at the heart of so many challenges we might otherwise be inclined to ignore. And whether we use them to augment our daily face-to-face interactions, the Intersection moments that are created at events along the lines of the future of education summit and the ALA Midwinter meeting, or backchannel exchanges, we miss something essential if we don’t acknowledge the seeds we plant each time we gather, talk with, listen to, and build upon the conversations that turn big ideas and dreams into even bigger solutions that sustain healthy communities. It’s learning as a step toward action, and each of us helps build the world of our dreams when we embrace these offerings.


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