Rethinking Digital Literacy: Moving Out

July 24, 2015

Out of chaos sometimes comes more chaos—and that can be a very exhilarating and productive learning environment under the right conditions, as we’re seeing in our ALA Editions four-week online course “Rethinking Digital Literacy.”

Rethinking_Digital_Literacy--Course_GraphicThe course is literally and somewhat chaotically all over the virtual map. It has an obvious, easily-accessible  home base, which is our learning-management-system (Moodle). During Week 2, Rethinking has fostered increasing levels of digital literacy by moving out, beyond our virtual classroom walls, and expanding into Twitter; Facebook; blogs; and, as of this morning, a learner-produced video posted within and shared from Google Drive. And there’s no end in sight as to how far it can and will extend, which is fine: this connected learning, rhizomatically-growing learning experience is at least partially helping well-supported learners within a vibrant community of learning to viscerally understand that a key digital-literacy skill is an ability to navigate a variety of online resources and venues without allowing ourselves to become overwhelmed.

Our methodology, so far, appears to perfectly match and support the content, learning goals, and user experience within Rethinking. In designing and facilitating the course, I’m attempting to create an engaging, stimulating, learner-centric, results-based experience where learners (or to borrow one of my favorite terms that continues to evolve from the Educational Technology & Media MOOC—#etmooc: “co-conspirators”) are partners in the digital-literacy learning process. Where the original conspirators (those designing and facilitating the course)  in #etmooc inspired a group of co-conspirators in the form of #etmooc learners who collaborated on designing and facilitating a follow-up massive open online course (MOOC), the co-conspirators in Relearning include every learner who is joining me in shaping and learning from the course.

etmoocAnother match between methodology and content/learning goals/experience within Rethinking is the focus on co-conspirators learning how to define and foster digital literacy by identifying and further developing the digital literacy skills they bring to the course. They are offered—and some are taking advantage of—opportunities to learn about digital literacy by exploring digital tools and resources of interest to them and to those they serve. The process is still very much in its early stages, but is already producing results similar to what I saw—and was inspired by—in #etmooc. A few Rethinking learners are using blogs to document and build upon what they are learning. Others, as a result of asynchronous online group discussions within Moodle, have agreed upon a Twitter hashtag (#ReDigLit) they can use to carry their discussions and learning into the Twittersphere.

The latest expansion of our semi-controlled chaotic approach came this morning through the creative approach course participant/co-conspirator Joan Jordan took in playfully completing a warm-up exercise I offered for Week 2: she combined the assignment with an ongoing optional avenue I’ve encouraged learners to explore (try a new digital literacy tool of their own choosing each week to expand their digital-literacy toolkit). Joan decided to learn how to use the video capabilities of her smartphone, learn how to upload the video she created, and learn how to share a link to that video from an online venue (in this case, Google Drive). With that as the foundation for her approach, she responded to the actual warm-up assignment: watch a brief, charming video showing young learners displaying a variety of digital literacy skills, identify as many digital literacy skills in use as possible, and post the resulting list of skills within our Week 2 online discussion board. The result was extremely engaging: she filmed her cat, produced a video that had the cat telling us which digital literacy skills were observable in the video Joan and other course participants are viewing, and shared that video with us in place of providing a text-based inventory of the skills on display. In the best of digital-literacy approaches, she not only managed to learn what she wanted and needed to learn, but also inspired a lively conversation that is continuing to develop back at home base (Moodle).

An additional intriguing element of our collaboratively-developing methodology—very much what I would call “the #etmooc method” because that’s where I first experienced it—is the opportunity to see whether what grew out of #etmooc could develop from an online course that is not a MOOC: a sustainable community of learning that continues long after formal coursework concludes—what I have only half-jokingly referred to as a MOOChort elsewhere. As my Rethinking co-conspirators continue to define and explore digital literacy by carrying their conversations into a variety of digital settings, I suspect the seeds of a post-Rethinking community are already beginning to germinate.

N.B.: This is the second in a series of reflections inspired by our ALA Editions “Rethinking Digital Literacy” course.

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Jesse Lee Eller: Mapping the Way to Successful Learner-Centric Design

June 2, 2014

Many of us try to open doors for learners. Jesse Lee Eller, a trainer-teacher-learner whose instructional-design efforts always strive to keep learners front and center in the process, uses those doors in a somewhat different way: to create low-tech high-impact storyboarding maps that keep all of us who are working with him on track in our collaborative instructional-design efforts.

“I’m a visual learner,” he explained when he recently introduced me to his innovative way of assuring that learners remain at the center of all that we do together. “These charts help me keep track of everything we’re doing.”

Eller--Door[1]--2014-05-20Eller’s tools to sketch flexible first-draft storyboards of learning modules are wonderfully simple. He starts with a blank door in his studio/apartment, post-it notes, felt pens, and, when the process advances a bit, pieces of tape and large sheets of paper that most of us more frequently use as flip-chart paper with sticky backing. In the early stages of the process, he prints out text from Word documents provided by his subject matter experts, cuts the text into pieces that can be taped to his door to show where they will be incorporated into online lessons under development, and places post-it notes with questions he expects to address as he completes his part of the instructional-design process for online learning modules.

Once he has arranged and rearranged the notes on a door, he begins to formalize and reassemble the map he is creating by transferring it onto the pages of flip-chart paper that are connected into a continuous top-to-bottom sheet to be hung on those same doors and shared with his instructional-design partners.

What helps maintain the focus in his design process are the headings he jots onto those top-to-bottom sheets reflecting his own commitments to facilitating learning and supporting learners: “Hook ME! Get my attention,” “What Do We Already Know?”, “Where Are We Going? (What’s in It for Me?)”, “New Info,” “Example/Show Me!,” “Assessment,” and “Summary.” Those headings provide the working space for efforts that eventually produce storyboards to be used by his partners creating online videos and other instructional materials. And this is where the process begins to feel familiar, for the headings unintentionally mirror several of the nine “events of instruction” that Robert Gagné outlines in The Conditions of Learning (p. 304): “Gaining and controlling attention,” “Informing the learner of expected outcomes,” “Stimulating recall of relevant prerequisite capabilities,” “Presenting the stimuli inherent to the learning task,” “Offering guidance for learning,” “Appraising performance,” and “Insuring retention.”

Engaging with Eller and his instructional-design door hangings can be wonderfully stimulating. Where many of us understand and apply the guidelines that Gagné and others have provided, Eller’s questions and prompts continually remind us that we need to foster engagement with learners if we’re going to serve our learners well. Seeing that reminder to “Hook ME!” consistently reminds us that if we don’t immediately provide an engaging invitation to the learning experiences we are preparing, our learners will see our products as just another set of exercises to complete, set aside, and forget the moment they have completed a lesson. “Hook ME!” provides one of the most important reminders we can receive at any stage of learning development: we’re writing to an audience we need to keep in mind; that audience has plenty of competing calls for its attention; and we must be competitive in attracting members of that audience to what they, those for whom they work, and those they ultimately serve in their workplaces expect us to facilitate—meaningful, useful, and memorable learning experiences.

Eller--Door[2]--2014-05-20It takes a bit of time to completely appreciate how flexible and useful Eller’s system actually is. Looking at the text and post-it notes on the doors throughout his studio immediately and implicitly reminds us that the early stages of storyboarding require lots of thinking and rethinking, so the convenience of being able to move blocks of text and comments on post-it notes around keeps us from locking ourselves into a specific plan of action too early in the design process. Moving those blocks of text, notes, and headings onto large sheets of paper that can be hung on doors or walls moves us a bit closer to developing a useable roadmap for the learning experiences we are crafting; it also proves to be amazing resilient as a way of making information available to others: collaborators working with Eller in his studio can easily contribute to the process by moving elements around on the sheets of paper; those who are responsible for transferring those rough drafts into PowerPoint slides to further finesse the storyboarding process can physically carry the rolled-up sheets to paper to their own offsite workspaces. And those of us who don’t have time to visit Eller’s studio to retrieve the rolled-up sheets of paper can access them through digital photos Eller quickly takes and forwards as email attachments. Having seen one of those door-hung maps and becoming familiar with the instructional-design process it represents, most of us can easily keep one sample in our own workspace and use it to format text provided by subject-matter experts for other learning modules.

The door-hangings that Eller and those of us collaborating with him are using may not replace the posters, photographs, and artwork we hang to stimulate our creativity in our workspaces. But creating and developing those rudimentary and flexible storyboard templates upon our doors provides an effective reminder that doors to learning can be used in many different creative ways to serve our learners well.


Learning Magic in Moments of Improvisation (Learning With Our Learners)

May 9, 2014

It’s far more than sleight of hand, this act of learning alongside our learners. It’s as delightfully magical for the way it occurs at the most unexpected moments as it is for how it rapidly produces small and large shifts in our own training-teaching-learning approach. And the stimulation that accompanies that level of collaboration in the learning process is one of the most consistently rewarding aspects of formal and informal learning opportunities we are likely to encounter, I was reminded again yesterday morning.

Oldenburg--Great_Good_PlaceI didn’t even, when the moment of magical learning began, know I was walking into a classroom; I thought I was actually walking into a neighborhood café—the sort of Ray Oldenburgian third placeThe Great Good Place—where we meet friends, interact, and walk away the better for having set aside the time for exactly that sort of encounter. But that morning quickly and unexpectedly turned into a far deeper and richer learning experience that a friend and I had expected to produce.

It began when I spotted the friend and sat at the restaurant counter to join her for a cup of coffee while she was eating breakfast. Commenting on how nice it had been to see her engaged in journaling as joined her, I inadvertently opened a door to a wonderful conversation about how she wished she had more time to write and how, more importantly, she wished she could find a way to combine her love of writing with work that produced an income.

“Want to play a game?” I asked. “It takes about two minutes and is a great learning exercise I know that helps people find what’s eluding them.”

Not wanting to skew the results or lead her in any specific direction other than helping her identify the sort of work that might combine her varied interests, I didn’t tell her that this simple exercise I had leaned in a creative writing class many years before had served me well in helping learners achieve a variety of goals including creating branding/marketing slogans for their personal businesses; crafting mission statements for their organizations; and even finding a name for a volunteer-driven community-based project that was so perfect that participants were still discovering lovely nuances in the name a couple of years after they shaped it. I also didn’t tell her that I used a two-minute time limit for the exercise because experience showed that most people and groups were winding down after 90 seconds and that two minutes was generally all it took to complete the most important element of what we were doing together.

Hearing her agree to accept the challenge, I told her to use her journal—I have generally used blank pieces of paper when working with individuals and paper on flipcharts or large whiteboards in classroom settings when working with groups—and take no more than two minutes to write down every word—no editing allowed—that came to mind when asked to think about the question “What makes me happy?” (When working on the mission statements, I’ve asked those learning the technique by using it to write down every word that came to mind when they thought about their organization; when working with those crafting marketing slogans, I’ve asked them to write down every word that came to mind when they thought about what concrete results they wanted to help their clients produce; when I worked with colleagues in the volunteer project, I asked them to think of every word that came to mind when they thought about the site on which the project was to be completed.)

Fountain_pens--2013-02-05I knew magic was about to occur when my friend/learner actually began jotting words down into her notebook even before I had a chance to start the timer on her smartphone. And it continued to take shape when I realized that, after 90 seconds, she not only was still writing as quickly as her hand and pen could place ink onto paper (with no slowdown in sight), but was also writing from left to right and top to bottom on the page rather than doing what every other learner had done before—simply throwing words helter-skelter all over a page or flipchart or whiteboard so the words could be grouped thematically later.

As the two-minute mark approached, I recognized I had my own unanticipated moment of leaning to address: stop the exercise as planned or respond to her obvious engagement and complete immersion in what she was doing by ignoring the timer and seeing where additional time would take us. After she finally raised her head five minutes and fifteen seconds into her wonderful stream-of-consciousness flow and asked if her two minutes were up, we both had a good laugh before beginning the process of reviewing what she wrote to see if she could spot meaningful connections between those apparently disjointed words and phrases. And as she read back what she had produced, I felt another moment of leaning magic unfolding: not only had she written down numerous nouns, verbs, and adjectives, but she had actually jotted down words reflecting what she was thinking as she wrote comments along the lines of “oh, this isn’t working” and “oh wait there it is.” Not only had she produced the most richly complex record of a learner’s thoughts I had ever seen in response to this simple exercise, but she had reminded me of something no trainer-teacher-learner can afford to ever forget: set the rules, then break them as soon as they become a hindrance to the learner’s learning process.

When we were finished with the review, she told me how helpful the exercise had been in identifying things she knew innately but hadn’t consciously acknowledged, and confirmed that she had learned enough to strike out on her own by returning to the results, running the same sort of exercise using individual words that resonated strongly with her from round one, and creating the sort of pithy summary of what would most appeal to her so she could try to match that statement with work that would reward her far more than what she currently does. And I, in turned, told her that the simple act of running that exercise with her and watching all that she produced had revitalized and freshened a tool I had long enjoyed—and now magically, unexpectedly, and inspirationally, would use with even more enthusiasm for learners who would never know how much that she as learner-teacher had contributed to their learning process—and a wonderfully adaptable tool to help them on their journey.


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.


New Librarianship MOOC: Learning and Community Engagement

July 26, 2013

Members of library staff (and many others involved in training-teaching-learning) need to facilitate conversations and engage in them as well as part of our efforts to nurture and be part of the communities we serve, we are reminded through R. David Lankes’s “Community: The Pressure for Participation” lecture posted online in his “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and in his book The Atlas of New Librarianship.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_Logo“Participation in a system, however minimal, exerts pressure on that system,” he explains, and that thought reminds us that whether we’re facilitating learning in physical and virtual library settings or in any other environment, we must be actively engaged with our learners if we want to understand and effectively meet their needs.

I suspect that many of us connected with learning efforts in or through libraries understand, viscerally, the importance and the rewards of being integrally involved in our communities; if we’ve read the Urban Library Council’s Making Cities Stronger: Public Library Contributions to Local Economic Development (2007) report or been following Maureen Sullivan’s American Library Association (ALA) presidential initiative “Promise of Libraries Transforming Communities,” we have very strong reminders of how important involvement and activism within a community is. I am not, on the other hand, at all convinced that trainer-teacher-learners across the board have that same sense of how far-reaching our efforts are within the communities we serve; responding to employers’/clients’ needs with our (in the best of situations) finely honed learner-centric endeavors, we don’t often enough take into consideration the importance of evaluating the results of those endeavors where they most matter: among the customers and clients who ultimately benefit from how learners apply what they have absorbed—or suffer from those learners’ inability to successfully apply what has been offered.

Lankes, obviously focusing on the world of librarianship and libraries, continues throughout his course and book to offer guidance, inspiration, and provocative ideas not only for that target audience of library staff, but to anyone involved in training-teaching-learning. He encourages us to think about how we can open up our systems to those who are ultimately affected by our resources, our offerings, and our actions. He reminds us that “people will go where they can have an influence. People will go to where their voice is respected or listened to”—a confirmation that if we want to be effective in facilitating learning, we need to act in ways that demonstrate our willingness to partner with our learners, listen to what they say, and respect what we are hearing from them.

He takes us even further in his discussions of community through his online lecture “Communities: Environments” and sections of The Atlas (pp. 97-101) where he documents efforts by staff at the Free Library of Philadelphia to renovate and expand the main library in ways that serve the community rather than in ways that solely reflect library staff’s perceptions of community needs. Discussions with community members led staff to focus on proposals for an Entrepreneurium that would support community entrepreneurs at their greatest moment of need; a writing center that would provide writers with the salon opportunities and publication opportunities that were most important to them and their community; and a music center that would meet musicians’ needs for performance spaces and newly-written compositions that have been performed. Having that level of exchanges with our learners and those affected by the ways those learners apply what we provide could have magnificent impacts on how we dream about, design, deliver, and evaluate the learning opportunities we offer face to face and online. And the payoff for the communities we serve could be incredible.

In the third of his three lectures on community—“Communities: Assessment”—there is a concluding line that ought to be pasted on our learning walls: the reminder that we are stronger if we avoid fragmentation and seek inclusiveness in our efforts. Rather than think of ourselves in terms of “public librarians” or “academic librarians” or any other sub-category of the larger field of librarianship, he encourages course participants to simply think of ourselves as “librarians.” And the same, I believe, can be said of learning facilitators regardless of the venue(s) in which we work: we should be far less concerned with whether we refer to ourselves as “teachers” or “instructors” or “trainers,” or whether we work primarily in face-to-face or online or synchronous or asynchronous learning situations, and much more concerned with the fact that we are involved in learning—as facilitators and as learners, regardless of whether we work in libraries or in schools or colleges or universities or in other workplace learning and performance (staff training) settings.

The foundation that keeps us productive and essential members of our communities is a dedication to learning—and that’s where we need to maintain the focus that comes from one of Lankes’s final questions in his presentations and writing on community: “What are people talking about? What do they want to learn?”

N.B.: This is the fifth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


New Librarianship MOOC: Partnerships in Creativity, Innovation, and Learning

July 25, 2013

The further we move into R. David Lankes’s “New Librarianship Master Class”—a massive open online course (MOOC) under the auspices of the University of Syracuse School of Information Studies— and his book The Atlas of New Librarianship, the more obvious the overlap between librarianship and the entire field of training-teaching-learning becomes—which makes me wonder why I don’t see more interactions and sustainable collaborations between colleagues in the American Library Association (ALA)  and the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and others involved in the professions those two associations represent.

New_Librarianship_Master_Class_Logo“All of New Librarianship is about knowledge and training,” Lankes reminds us in his online lecture on the role facilitation plays in knowledge and training and throughout his book. “Everything we do is about helping people develop their own knowledge.”

But it is his follow-up comment in the lecture that particularly resonates for those of us who work both with library colleagues and with colleagues in other organizations where learning is facilitated: “I think a lot of instruction in libraries should be about things within the community and not about the library itself”—an idea I’ve supported consistently through a “Rethinking Library Instruction” course for ALA Editions.

In the same way that learning facilitated within libraries ultimately is at least as much about serving community members’ needs as much as it is about making library services and resources accessible, the learning facilitated in other organizations is at least as much about customers and clients served as it is about the learners who are employed by those organizations. If trainer-teacher-learners are reading, hearing about, and talking about anything these days, it is about how we are fostering a learner-centric approach to our efforts. That learner-centric approach can be most productive when it helps learners themselves make connections between what they are learning and how it helps them serve others. So as we bring that back into the context of librarians and other members of library staff who are offering learning opportunities that move far beyond a focus on bibliographic instruction and explicitly address libraries and their staff as partners within the communities they serve, we have yet another reminder that there is plenty of room for, and much to be gained by, greater collaboration between the trainer-teacher-learners in libraries (i.e., almost every member of library staff who interacts with those relying on libraries and librarians as trusted resources) and the trainer-teacher-learners who serve other organizations and constituents without ever realizing that partnerships with library staff can expand the successes of what all of us are attempting to facilitate.

And it goes beyond that, beyond the learning process: It is, Lankes suggests, “about bringing people to action”—a theme he explores extensively in the course and in The Atlas: It is about being outside of our organizations, being visible within the communities we serve, and being part of the conversations that shape the directions our communities take.

Our role as facilitators—librarians as facilitators, in the context under discussion by Lankes, and trainer-teacher-learners as facilitators in the broader context I’m pursuing here—is critically important. And this role provides another example of the common ground we share: Librarians, Lankes says, are constantly learning and “need to be constantly learning”—a statement that is equally true for anyone involved in helping others learn.

That necessity to continually engage in learning reveals another challenge that is, at the same time, an attraction for many of us: The requirement that we provide stimulating environments for learning and innovation while, at the same time, being willing to learn alongside those whose learning we are expected—and have offered—to facilitate. We don’t necessarily have to know about everything that is going to take place in a learning environment such as the makerspaces that are becoming increasingly prevalent in libraries, he suggests, but we do have to be willing to learn with the learners who are working within those spaces: “This idea of creating a safe place for experimentation, for innovation, is part of what librarians need to do,” he adds in a lecture on facilitation and environment, and the same applies to trainer-teacher-learners outside of physical and virtual library (and other learning) spaces.

“What we need to think about,” he continues, “is our physical spaces and our digital spaces: ‘How can we create inspiration? How can we create an environment where people instantly walk in and feel smarter, or feel part of something great, and know that they are part of something great, and not [be] intimidated?”

The ultimate payoff for libraries and librarians, he concludes, is that “Libraries are safe places, but they are a safe place to come up with dangerous ideas. They are a safe place to come up with revolutionary ideas. They are a safe place in which we can plot the future greatness of a community that may need to overthrow the norms of community.”

And that, for me, is as fine a description of what any great training-teaching-learning endeavor I’ve ever seen or helped facilitate can offer. And produce.

N.B.: This is the fourth in a series of posts inspired by the New Librarianship MOOC.


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.


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