NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Not In My Wildest Dreams!

June 20, 2014

The words “ambassadors” and “learning spaces” might not be at the forefront of your mind if you’re attending an educational-technology conference, but they certainly were for me while I was in Portland, Oregon for the New Media Consortium (NMC) 2014 Summer [ed-tech] Conference earlier this week.
NMC Summer Conference - PortlandIt was, in fact, at the intersection of ambassadors and learning spaces that I again saw what most attracts me to ed-tech and all other aspects of training-teaching-learning: the learners themselves. And what I saw needs to be seen by every one of us involved in and passionate about learning.

The ambassador connection initially came within hours of my arrival onsite early in the week through my conference roommate, Jonathan Nalder—an Australian educator/ed-tech enthusiast who partially funded his trip to the conference by running an online fundraising campaign via Kickstarter. Nalder was among the more than 20 ed-tech aficionados worldwide chosen to serve in the first cohort of NMC ambassadors for their willingness to play the role of “knowledgeable members of NMC Horizon Project K-12 Advisory Boards in the discussions that lead to future K-12 editions of the NMC Horizon Report series, be the experts in their field in the NMC Commons, and gain recognition among an international body of colleagues as innovative educators,” as we are reminded on the NMC website. (The ambassadors earned their positions by submitting video applications that describe the innovations taking place at their schools and also give us a wonderful overview of what was happening in the world of K-12 ed-tech at the time those videos were submitted.) So it was an unexpected pleasure to join him and several other ambassadors for dinner—which is when the learning-spaces connections began.

Hearing NMC Ambassador Lisa Gustinelli chat, during dinner, about a library that had become an “innovation center” she recently joined in a private high school in Florida teed up the topic nicely because it connected transformations I have been following: learning spaces that feature equipment and furniture that can easily be moved to accommodate the needs of learners and learning facilitators; collaborative environments; and the continuing evolution of libraries in ways that more overtly acknowledge and promote their long-standing role as learning centers. My own extremely rewarding onsite conference explorations of learning spaces continued during the week through a series of experiences including attendance at Houston Community College Northwest Director of Technology and Instructional Computing Tom Haymes’ session on idea spaces, and Al Biles’ engaging session providing an overview of innovations at the Rochester Institute of Technology Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC)—which is beautifully described on the MAGIC website.

The ambassador-and-learning-spaces connection came full circle early in the afternoon of the final day of the conference when I joined colleagues in exploring the conference “Idea Lab”—a stimulating ed-tech version of poster sessions designed to serve as “a dynamic place where creativity flows,” and where displays took various shapes including simple yet elegantly-designed stand-alone posters and informal presentations that incorporated content viewable on tablets.

 

Cheryl Steighner with students

Cheryl Steighner with students

Walking over to the “Social Media: Connecting Young Learners to the World” session organized by NMC Ambassador Cheryl Steighner, I found what I hadn’t even known I was seeking: learners at the center of an Idea Lab session about the training-teaching-learning process. And not just any learners: Steighner’s co-presenters (lovingly referred to as her “Steighnerds”—were an amazing group of fourth- and fifth-grade students who were the youngest presenters ever to be included in an NMC Summer Conference, conference organizers confirmed. With Steighner standing nearby and intentionally taking a back seat to her learners, the students described how they had studied an interwoven variety of subjects by using Skype, Twitter, and other social media tools. Via Skype, for example, they interviewed students from other parts of the United States; their initial challenge, shaped through gamification techniques and involving a series of yes-no questions, was to determine where their Skype colleagues were physically located. Once they determined the geographical setting inhabited by their fellow students, they located and marked those places on a map that is usually kept in their classroom and was brought onsite to the NMC conference to be incorporated into their Idea Lab display. But the learning didn’t stop at that elementary level during the Skype sessions; the students learned about their Skype-partners’ cities and states through conversations during those online sessions. The students also honed their English reading and writing skills by composing grammatically correct sentences that became tweets, and by using iPads to compose writing assignments on a variety of topics including the civil rights movement in America.

Skyping to learning geograpny...and more

Skyping to learn geography…and more

Most striking about this blended learning/blended presentation approach is that it made me think far more broadly about the interwoven nature of our learning spaces than I ever had before. The Idea Lab space was a temporary learning space in which adults were learning about Steighner’s approach to teaching as well as about her learners’ sophisticated and enthusiastic approach to learning. The students’ learning space is an intriguingly blended onsite-online classroom that reaches as far as Steighner, Skype, Twitter, and NMC Summer Conference attendance will take them. The conference itself was a dynamically-inspiring learning space comprised of numerous elements: the smaller overlapping learning spaces ranging from the Idea Lab displays, workshops on massive open online courses (MOOCS) and other topics, and session break-out rooms to the larger ballroom settings where plenary sessions were held—and then beyond the hotel where the conference took place, extending into the restaurant where the ambassadors and I talked about innovation spaces and so much more Monday night, then extending even further into another restaurant the following evening with a slightly expanded group that included NMC staff, a workshop facilitator, and one of the conference plenary speakers.

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

NMC CEO Larry Johnson chats with one of the youngest conference presenters

I clearly wasn’t the only one to notice the spectacular nature of what was occurring in this wonderfully expansive learning space. NMC CEO Larry Johnson, visiting with Steighner’s learners during the Idea Lab session, was clearly as moved by the experience as any of us were. After listening to the students describe what they have gained, he reached into his pocket and in what was clearly an unplanned act, handed each of them a business card and told them that when these fourth- and fifth-grade students were ready to enter the workforce, there would be a place waiting for them at the New Media Consortium.

“When NMC started the Ambassador Program a year ago, did you have any idea that people like Cheryl would be producing results like this at an NMC conference?” I asked him a few minutes later.

“Not in my wildest dreams,” he responded without hesitation.

It simply has to be said: the ambassador project is one well worth observing and emulating, and those fourth- and fifth-grade learners who are becoming our partners merit all the attention we can give them, for they are going to be entering our workplaces sooner than we think. And the learning experiences and expectations they bring with them are going to offer us magnificent opportunities to continue growing with and responding to the evolving challenges of training-teaching-learning—or they are going to leave us in the dust.

“They are going to change the world,” Steighner predicts in a way that cannot be denied, for they already are as we spend time with them. Learn from them. And are inspired to be even better than we are at what we do.


NMC 2014 Summer Conference: Adventures, Guilds, MOOCs, MOLOs, and Gamification (Play With Me)  

June 17, 2014

You won’t hear any of the “MOOCs are dead” lamentations here at the 2014 New Media Consortium (NMC) Summer [ed-tech] Conference in Portland, Oregon. In fact, many of us attending New Mexico State University Assistant Professor of Curriculum & Instruction Julia Parra’s pre-conference workshop this morning walked away understanding that the world of MOOCs (massive open online courses)  is still very much evolving. As is the approach to designing and delivering them. As is the vocabulary that attempts to describe them.

nmc.logo.cmykParra took an appropriately playful approach to the topic as she suggested that incorporating concepts of gamification into the evolving world of MOOCs might produce more engaging and rewarding learning experiences for all involved. If we apply the playfulness of gamification to MOOCs, she suggested, we begin trying to cultivate “fans” rather than designing coursework for “students.” Those “students” then become “adventurers” in learning “adventures” rather than completing uninspiring assignments in weekly “modules,” and they engage in connected learning by working in small “guilds” comprised of less than 10 people per guild so they can more effectively become learners as creators rather than learners solely as consumers—something I’ve experienced and documented through participation in #etmooc—the Educational Technology and Media MOOC—and other connectivist MOOCs.

Even the terminology applied to these online courses can reflect the variety of options available, Parra noted: MOOCs, in a variation she is exploring through an “Adventures in Learning Design, Technology, and Innovation” course she is developing, become MOLOs—Massive Open Learning Opportunities. Other variations she noted in passing include LOOCs (little open online courses), SPOCs (small private online classes), and LeMOOCs (limited enrollment MOOCs).

The way we and our learners approach MOOCs and define completion and success is equally open to variations. One of her own practices is to engage in what she calls “scavenging”—diving into a MOOC long enough to find something of value to her or to achieve a particular learning (adventure) goal rather than feeling that she has to finish every assignment designed by those creating and facilitating the adventures she is pursuing. It’s the same approach many of us are taking in our lifelong-learning endeavors: we maintain that we have “completed” this sort of learning adventure when we have met our own learning goals rather than standard one-size-fits-all definitions of the term “course completion.” The bottom line, of course, is that we help create and foster a culture of lifelong learning that provides the opportunity for learning facilitators to learn alongside their learners.

NMC Summer Conference - PortlandParra further helped us explore our ever-evolving learning environment by reminding us that some of our familiar approaches to learning (e.g., pedagogy and andragogy) are complemented through increasing attention we give to other “gogies,” including heutagogy (the study of self-directed learning) and hybrid pedagogy. The push to explore, synthesize, and build upon the myriad approaches and influences trainer-teacher-learners encounter every time we step back from our work enough to see all that goes into it helped clarify the exciting range of possibilities that come our way each time we convene at a conference as inspiring and as eye-opening as the NMC Summer Conference is.

Leaving the session—and looking forward to all that is before us for the next few days—left at least  few of us appreciating the elements of a framework for learning that Parra outlined: clarification; community and collaboration; creation; crystallization; and contemplation—a framework that should serve us well as we continue learning from our colleagues here in Portland and within the much larger communities of learning to which we belong through all that we attempt and accomplish.


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 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.


NMC Horizon Report 2013 (Pt. 3 of 4): Gamification and Learning Analytics

February 7, 2013

Two emerging technologies—gamification and learning analytics—are less than three years away from reaching widespread use among educators and learners, the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project 2013 Higher Education report, released earlier this week, suggests.

Horizon_Report--2013While each subject receives separate attention in the report’s two- to three-year “Time-to-Adoption” section, it’s not at all difficult to see how these two technologies, like the two technologies in the report one-year adoption section (tablets and MOOCs), can and should be thematically linked. Both appear to be strongly grounded in a learner-centric vision of training-teaching-learning; respond to learners’ needs with a sense of immediacy that provides support rather than hindrances during the learning process; and are already receiving plenty of attention worldwide.

“Whatever the scenario, online gaming enables strangers to build camaraderie and social networks in mere minutes, and to compete in a public forum where recognition is highly desirable,” we read in the report (p. 20). “Research has long indicated that video games help stimulate the production of dopamine, a chemical that provokes learning by reinforcing neuronal connections and communications. Furthermore, educational game-play has proven to increase soft skills in learners, such as critical thinking, creative problem-solving, and teamwork” (p. 21).

And just as game-based learning provides these obvious sources of support for learners, learning analytics—the real-time use of up-to-the-minute data to help learning facilitators identify and respond to obstacles hindering learners—provides a powerful tool to “build better pedagogies, target at-risk student populations, and to assess whether programs designed to improve retention have been effective and should be sustained—important outcomes for administrators, policy makers, and legislators” (p. 24), we learn from the latest Horizon Report.

As is always the case, the real meat of the report is in the links to examples and resources showing us how these technologies are already developing. We visit the Henry Madden Library at California State University, Fresno, for example to see how a game introduces learners to library resources and helps them develop the skills to those resources—and the library is smart enough to show us (and its learners) several winning entries from a gamification contest which encouraged students to produce videos and other materials to help others use the library. We learn about McGill University’s Open Orchestra simulation game through a well-developed website. And a link to an EdTech magazine article and infographic takes us further into the subject as engagingly as the gamification process it explores.

In the same way, the examples in the learning analytics section of the report introduce us to the dynamic examples of Santa Monica College’s Glass Classroom project; the American Public University System (APUS) multi-campus data-collection effort designed to “identify trends contributing to student success, program momentum, and online course completion” (quote taken from APUS press release); and Stanford University’s five-year multimodal learning analytics project that is “investigating new ways to assess project-based activities, examining students’ speeches, gestures, sketches, and artifacts in order to better characterize their learning over extended periods of time” (quote taken from the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab website). And in what can only be described as a big-bang finish, the learning analytics section includes a link to a PDF of the entire 337-page October 2012 issue of the Journal of Educational Technology & Society with 10 articles—nearly half of its content—focused on “the maturation of learning analytics and its impact on teaching and learning” (p. 27 of the Horizon Report).

Next: On the Four- to Five-Year Horizon (3D Printing & Wearable Technology)


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

February 5, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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