NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 6 of 6): Adaptive Learning Technologies, Internet of Things, & Engagement

February 26, 2015

We might mistakenly think we’re moving into a place where technology becomes more important than people and engagement in the training-teaching-learning process as we look at the farthest reaches of the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition on key trends, significant challenges, and developments in educational technology.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverThis, after all, is where we find concise descriptions of adaptive learning technologies (learning opportunities programmed to respond and adapt in an apparently personal way to an individual learner’s progress, performance, and unmet learning needs) and the Internet of Things (automated tracking and control of objects within our world) discussed within a four- to five-year time-to-adoption horizon.

We would even be well-justified in approaching these developments—particularly adaptive learning technology as part of a larger movement toward new levels of personalized learning—with a great deal of skepticism. We have, after all, seen well-intentioned colleagues in instructional design create asynchronous online learning modules that appear to offer learners different learning paths with personalized responses based on learners’ choices, only to discover in the worst of cases that the “different” paths all lead to one generic screen of feedback that is so broad as to be meaningless—particularly if a curious learner works his or her way back through a lesson and sees that the various allegedly personalized and divergent pathways all lead to the same meaningless one-screen-serves-all response.

nmc.logo.cmykBut this is not the world of adaptive learning technologies described within the Horizon Report. Here we really are seeing a well-documented “emergence of adaptive learning technologies” reflecting “a movement in academia [and in other learning environments] towards customizing learning experiences for each individual” in meaningful ways (p. 44): if a learner is clearly mastering a topic, the adaptive programming advances the learner to an appropriately more-challenging set of problems or to the next topic to be studied, while a struggling learner is moved to different content that offers additional supportive learning opportunities to plug that person’s learning gaps.

The winning element in the best of these examples is that learning facilitators are encouraged to remain integrally involved in the design and use of this technology to the benefit of the learners they serve; those trainer-teacher-learners understand that adaptive learning “is best suited to take place in hybrid and online learning environments” (p. 44), Report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada note.

Following resources cited within the NMC Horizon Project 2015 Higher Education Edition, we find descriptions of a “flurry of activity and experimentation around adaptive learning,” “the relatively recent emergence of sophisticated adaptive learning software and platforms,” and plenty of collaboration and partnerships between key players in training-teaching-learning (John K. Waters, “The Great Adaptive Learning Experiment,” Campus Technologies). If we follow that article to first-rate adaptive-learning technology reports prepared and posted online by Tyton Partners (formerly Education Growth Advisors), we are rewarded with two additional reports well worth reading to quickly immerse ourselves in the state of adaptive learning: the overview “Learning to Adapt: A Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning in Higher Education” and “Learning to Adapt: Understanding the Adaptive Learning Supplier Landscape,” a survey of several vendors engaged in producing and supporting adaptive learning technology.

The authors of the Tyton Partners “Case for Accelerating Adaptive Learning” conclude their white paper with comments providing a fair assessment of where we remain for the moment: “…adaptive learning applications…still remain long on promise, and we must start where we are. But we are already somewhere quite interesting…fostering more personalized collaboration among students and with instructors by virtue of new tools and new data that promise to bring the power of learning to more learners more effectively and more efficiently than ever before” (p. 16). If trainer-teacher-learners collaborate to drive the process in ways that focus on learners rather than putting the tech tools at the center of the learning process, this remains a world well worth exploring, as we see in a brief video produced by Knewton, an accelerated-learning vendor.

When we turn our attention to the “no longer far-fetched” world of the Internet of Things/The Internet of Everything, we find ourselves in “a world where all people, objects, and devices are connected to act in concert, regardless of brand or vendor” (Horizon Report, p. 46). Our New Media Consortium guides, in this instance, write about how this technology provides the potential for learners to “carry connected devices with them” so they can “benefit from a host of interdisciplinary information that is pushed to them from their surroundings” and to “create an environment where learners are informed by crowdsourced contributions and observations from the community via networked objects” (p. 47). Examples of the Internet of Things in action within learning settings include those fostered by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Internet of Things Lab, which features hands-on experimentation by learners, and efforts by University of Pennsylvania students to engage in product development.

If we engage in the spirit of the Horizon Project reports, we don’t stop here; we continue exploring the numerous resources available to us to learn more about the Internet of Everything and its potential to combine people, process, data, and things in ways that further support learning innovations, as described in Cisco’s brief “Education and The Internet of Everything” video. This ultimately reminds us that reading Horizon Project reports is the beginning, not the end, of an important process in our own lifelong-learning efforts; what matters most is what we do with the information and inspiration these reports consistently provide on educational technology, its key trends, and the challenges we face in the dynamic world of training-teaching-learning. 

NB: This is a final set of reflections in a six-part series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report.


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 5 of 6): Makerspaces, Wearable Technology, & Skillsets

February 24, 2015

Helping trainer-teacher-learners place educational technology in a meaningful context remains one of the many strengths of the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project—a strength fully and engagingly on display in the  Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition survey of how makerspaces and wearable technology are supporting positive learning opportunities in a variety of settings.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverReport co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada go far beyond simply describing makerspaces (learning spaces where people, technology, and learning interact in creatively dynamic and innovative ways) and wearable technology (tech tools that can be worn to support learning and a variety of other endeavors). At the beginning of the makerspaces section of the 2015 Higher Education Edition, they remind us we are seeing a significant “shift in what types of skillsets have real, applicable value in a rapidly advancing world. In this landscape, creativity, design, and engineering are making their way to the forefront of educational consideration…” (p. 40).

As we think through the need for and repercussions of developing new skillsets, we see that overtly working to develop the skills to effectively incorporate makerspaces and wearable technology into our training-teaching-learning endeavors is an often-overlooked part of our ever-evolving learning landscape. It’s not enough for us to simply enter a makerspace or put on the latest piece of wearable technology; we actually need and benefit from guidance in what these developments offer us and, more importantly, how we may have to rethink our approach to training-teaching-learning if we’re going to effectively incorporate them into our most stimulating and productive lifelong-learning efforts. Makerspaces and wearable technology, after all, have the potential to move us further away from a focus on lecture-based learning and closer to creatively-engaging experiential learning opportunities.

Touring the Autodesk makerspaces on Pier 9 in San Francisco

Touring the Autodesk makerspaces on Pier 9 in San Francisco (July 2014)

Walking into Autodesk’s high-tech makerspaces here in San Francisco several months ago with a colleague who had arranged for us to join a tour of the facilities, I was initially struck by the numerous unfamiliar tools on display and in use by those using the space. Although familiar with the expanding use of makerspaces in libraries, I had not yet had the opportunity to use a makerspace as a learning space. It didn’t take long for those of us on that Autodesk tour to move past the state-of-awe stage; through impromptu conversations with artist-learner-makers who were incorporating 3D printers, lasercutters, and other high-tech tools into their own learning and creative-production efforts, we began to understand what an engaging approach to learning and collaboration these spaces foster—something that would not have been so obvious and engaging without the guidance of Mark Gabriel, the Autodesk rep who was serving as an Autodesk intern when we were onsite. Our own learning-about-learning experience was, furthermore, tremendously supported by our onsite learning colleagues—the artists and others who contributed to our wonderful informal-learning experience by helping us take the first steps toward raising our own skill levels in ways that may eventually lead us to more active engagement in makerspaces wherever we encounter them.

The need for that same relearning-how-to-learn guidance is obvious as we monitor and dive into the rapidly-changing environment of wearable technology and how that is going to affect our training-teaching-learning efforts. Watching (with admittedly great enthusiasm) the apparently inevitable move toward mainstream adoption of Google Glass—the 800-pound gorilla of wearable ed-tech—over the past couple of years made many of us involved in the Horizon Report expert-panel explorations last fall firmly place wearable technology in a two-to-three-year time-to-adoption horizon for higher education; we were already seeing numerous examples of how Google Glass prototypes were being incorporated into learning, and some of us were taking steps to hone the skillsets necessary to effectively connect wearable technology to training-teaching-learning. It was, therefore, a real Black Swan moment—that moment when we come face-to-face with something that had previously appeared improbable—when we read (shortly before the 2015 Higher Education Edition was released but long after the text for that report had been written and submitted for publication) that Google Glass in its current iteration was being pulled back for further development.

There were the inevitable and completely predictable mainstream media stories and blog posts about how it had been clear that Google Glass was never going to work, and I was briefly among those who saw that two-to-three-year adoption-horizon rapidly slipping away (as horizons so often do in the extremely volatile world of ed-tech developments where today’s snapshot can unexpectedly fade, only to be restored later by additional Black Swan developments that make the improbably suddenly so obviously real). There were, however, new wearable-tech announcements within days of the announcement that Glass was being withdrawn, and a glance at the Tech Times website shows that wearable technology is not going to disappear in training-teaching-learning or other endeavors anytime soon.

 

Our eLearning Guild colleague David Kelly, in fact, was quick to point out intriguing ways in which Glass, even at this point, can be seen as a success because of the ways it “opened minds” and “explored important questions”—which brings to our attention the most important skillset we need to continue developing: the skillset which helps us to look beyond the momentary successes and setbacks, the changes in specific technologies’ placement within one-year, two-to-three-year, and four-to-five-year adoption horizons, so we’re not completely flummoxed when a black swan lands in our learning nests.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the Four- to Five-Year Horizon—Adaptive Learning Technologies and the Internet of Things.


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 4 of 6): Potential, Bringing Your Own Device & Flipping Classrooms in the One-Year Horizon

February 20, 2015

It would be easy, while immersed in New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project reports, to miss a critically important word: potential. But that’s the word—and the world—we explore as we move into the “Important Developments in Educational Technology” section of NMC’s Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition: the six technologies, including Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and, for the second consecutive year, the Flipped Classroom model, “have the potential to foster real changes in education, particularly in the development of progressive pedagogies and learning strategies; the organization of teachers’ work; and the arrangement and delivery of content,” Report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada remind us (p. 35).

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverAs always, the six highlighted technologies are placed within specific time frames (BYOD and the Flipped Classroom model within a time-to-adoption horizon of one year or less in higher education settings; makerspaces and wearable technology within a two- to three-year adoption horizon; and adaptive learning technologies and the Internet of Things within a four- to five-year adoption horizon).

As we saw when reviewing the 2014 Higher Education Edition, the Flipped Classroom model—with its use of brief lectures online to free up students and learning facilitators for learner-centric experiential learning/project-based learning opportunities in onsite (or online) learning spaces—has repercussions that extend far beyond formal learning settings in higher education. It is already extending further and further into our lifelong learning landscape from its roots as a response to the need to reach young students who otherwise couldn’t be present for classroom lectures; workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs are also looking at how the Flipped Classroom model builds upon what is already in place and extends learning opportunities in the workplace—and beyond, if we consider the way in which learners within connectivist massive open online courses (MOOCs) initially watch videos and engage in other learning opportunities before coming together online to engage in collaborative learning opportunities.

Flip_Your_Classroom--CoverIt’s when we take the time to see the repercussions of this simple yet far-reaching flip that we begin to also see how interwoven the content is throughout the 2015 Higher Education Edition. In viewing the Key Trends section, we explored advancing cultures of change and innovation along with the increasing use of blended learning and an increasing focus on redesigning learning spaces. While viewing the Key Challenges section, we explored efforts at personalizing learning and blending formal and informal learning. And as we now focus on the Flipped Classroom model, we see how that flip leads us to respond to the need for redesigned learning spaces that foster more personalized as well as collaborative learning, embrace cultures of change and innovation, blend formal and informal learning opportunities, and even engage in additional explorations of teacher-trainer-learning facilitators in the learning process. Our colleagues in the Flipped Learning Network offer one possible framework centered on a combination of flexible environments, learning cultures, intentional content, and evolving roles for professional educators (and other trainer-teacher-learners). Clyde Freeman Herreid and Nancy Schiller offer us “Case Studies and the Flipped Classroom.” And our colleagues at the New Media Consortium remind us that there is still plenty of potential to nurture.

nmc.logo.cmykThe second technology included in that one-year-or-less-to-adoption timeframe, Bring Your Own Device, has equally far-reaching and abundantly-noted implications. As the Report co-writers note, increasingly large numbers of learners are bringing their own tech devices into our learning and work spaces. BYOD, furthermore, reduces overall spending, by organizations, on technology; increases productivity among those who are using their own (familiar) devices rather than having to spend time learning other (unfamiliar) devices; provides each user-learner with the personally-chosen content installed on those personal tech devices; and also creates potential disparities in learning and in workplace opportunities and performance among those who are not able to afford to provide their own devices. Perusing resources cited within the 2015 Higher Education Edition, we find plenty of guidance on how we can get the best devices into higher education and how innovative learning spaces incorporate BYOD into learning. Armed with this information and sensitive to the challenges, we’re better prepared to respond to the potential provided by BYOD while also working to address the challenges is poses in our learning and work environments.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the Mid-Range Horizon—Makerspaces and Wearable Technology


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 3 of 6): Personalized Learning, Digital Literacy, & Other Key Challenges

February 19, 2015

Intriguing educational-technology challenges ranging from “solvable” to “wicked” remain on the horizon for trainer-teacher-learners, the recently-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition reminds us.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverAlthough focusing on learning in formal higher education settings, the report’s summary of six “significant challenges impeding technology adoption in higher education” covers a set of challenges trainer-teacher-learners in a variety of learning environments would do well to consider—and attempt to address. In the short term (a one- to –two-year horizon featuring challenges “that we understand and know how to solve”), there are the challenges of blending formal and informal learning and improving digital literacy. In the category of “difficult” challenges—those “that we understand but for which solutions are elusive”—we find personalized learning and teaching complex thinking. And in that wonderfully knotty area of “wicked” challenges—those which become more difficult the more we attempt to resolve them—are the efforts to address competing models of education (massive open online courses—MOOCs; competency-based degree programs; and other alternative models of learning) as well as the need to find effective ways to reward teaching.

Cork_Lifelong_Learning_FestivalReport co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada begin with the solvable challenges by noting that “there is an increasing interest in the kinds of self-directed, curiosity-based learning that has long been common in museums, science centers, and personal learning networks.…Many workplaces already encourage informal learning methods for professional development…” (p. 22).  They help us better appreciate the roles social media and other resources are playing in helping us blend formal and informal learning, expose us to innovations including the Cork City Lifelong Learning Festival that “promotes and celebrates learning of all kinds, across all ages, interests and abilities, from pre-school to post-retirement” on an annual basis, and discuss numerous “informal professional development opportunities,” including NMC’s Academy; among the resources explored are the European Union’s Lisbon Recognition Convention—in essence promoting recognition of learning achievements across learning organizations—and the “Formalising Informal Learning” article written by Rory McGreal, Dianne Conrad, Angela Murphy, Gabi Witthouse, and Wayne Mackintosh and published in the Open Praxis distance- and e-learning journal in 2014.

NMC_Horizon_Project_WikithonIf we care to go beyond what is already copiously documented in the report, we might further explore efforts to support the blending of formal and informal learning by looking at proposals for a lifelong-learning database (item #6 in NMC’s 2014 Wikithon list of new topics in educational technology) and Stephen Downes’ efforts through the National Research Council of Canada to create and promote learning and performance support systems.

Remaining in the realm of solvable challenges, we join the report co-authors in a brief survey of efforts to improve digital literacy. They begin by noting that “[l]ack of consensus on what comprises digital literacy is impeding many colleges and universities from formulating adequate policies and programs that address these challenges”—a failing that is equally prevalent in many other learning environments, including workplace learning and performance (staff training)—and point out that “[c]urrent definitions of literacy only account for the gaining of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes, but do not include the deeper components of intention, reflection, and generativity” (p. 24). But they don’t just leave us at that juncture where need and confusion intersect; they take us to “20 Things Educators Need to Know About Digital Literacy Skills” (from Innovation Excellence) and the “Jisc Developing Digital Literacies Infokit” as points for departure for addressing the challenge. The Public Library Association division of the American Library Association offers links to additional digital literacy resources for those interested in going beyond what the 2015 Higher Education Edition offers.

When we follow the report into the area of personalized learning, we find ourselves immersed in the intriguing world of learning designed to “enable students to determine the strategy and pace at which they learn”—learning opportunities that support the learning process at an individual learner’s own pace: “The goal is to give the student the flexibility to make…learning as effective and efficient as possible” (p. 27). Those already familiar with self-paced learning in settings ranging from the online staff training efforts to the flexible learning environments provided by connectivist MOOCs will find themselves on familiar ground here, and those wanting to become more familiar with the challenge and possible solutions can follow the report links to “Personalized Learning Changes Everything,” from the University of Maine at Presque Island, and Mike Keppell’s engaging “Personalised Learning Strategies for Higher Education” article that explores interrelated topics ranging from “learning in ubiquitous spaces” to “personalized learning strategies.”

Moving through the final three challenges (teaching complex thinking, working with competing models of education, and finding ways to effectively reward teaching), we find ourselves in areas interwoven with other topics covered in the report. We can’t, for example, explore competing models of education/learning without thinking about how we try to transform the formal-and-informal conversation from an either-or proposition into an and-and proposition. When we seek ways to effectively reward teaching, we find ourselves struggling to even define what “exemplary teaching” is: lecturing, facilitating learning in ways that encourage learner-centric approaches, guiding learners to a level of proficiency that allows them to pass competency-based tests, or a combination of these and additional learning goals and objectives we are still struggling to define within our various learning sandboxes?

One of the many strengths of the Horizon Project reports is that they help us focus on these challenges and, in the process of fostering that level of attention, encourage us to actively participate in the creation of effective, creative responses to these and other challenges to which curious, dedicated, innovative trainer-teacher-learners are drawn.

NB: This is part of a series of articles exploring the latest Horizon Report. Next: On the One-Year Horizon—Bring Your Own Devices (BYOD) and Flipped Classrooms


NMC Horizon Report 2015 (Pt. 2 of 6): Learning Spaces, Blended  Learning, & Other Key Trends  

February 19, 2015

If you’re noticing increasing amounts of attention given to collaboration, blended learning, and efforts to redesign learning spaces in training-teaching-learning, you’re not alone. And if you are new to or remain curious about these topics, you’ll find plenty to stimulate your interest in the “Key Trends” section of the newly-released New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Report > 2015 Higher Education Edition.

Horizon_Report--2015_CoverHorizon Project reports, for more than a decade, have been guiding us through what is changing and what remains consistent in our learning landscape; the flagship Higher Education Edition, which currently is accompanied by K-12, Library and Museum editions, consistently helps us identify and become familiar with key trends that are “accelerating technology adoption in higher education”—and, I continue to maintain, in many other parts of our overall lifelong-learning landscape.

Reading through the latest Key Trends section confirms, among other ideas, that collaboration is a common thread weaving the trends into a cohesive tapestry of ed-tech developments. We see, through the report, that key trends (in addition to an increasing use of blended learning and significant amounts of attention given to redesigning learning spaces) include advancing cultures of change and innovation; increasing cross-institution collaboration; a growing focus on measuring learning; and the proliferation of open educational resources—OERs. And the 2015 Higher Education Edition includes plenty of examples to help us see how we can adapt, in our own learning environments, what our more adventurous colleagues are already doing.

Looking first at the long-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for five or more years”—we encounter examples of how learning organizations are advancing cultures of change and innovation and increasingly fostering cross-institution collaboration. We are, according to the Horizon Project team (New Media Consortium staff, along with the volunteers who serve on the report’s panel of experts), seeing an increasing awareness among “higher education thought leaders” that agile startup models and the lean startup movement  are stimulating positive change and “promoting a culture of innovation” in learning (p. 8). “It has become the responsibility of universities to foster environments that accelerate learning and creativity,” report co-authors Samantha Adams Becker, Alex Freeman, and Victoria Estrada bluntly tell us—an assertion that I consistently apply to workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs as well. Among the examples provided are the University of Florida’s Innovation Academy, where students work innovatively in a variety of dynamic learning spaces to “learn more about creativity, entrepreneurship, ethics, and leadership,” and the University of Colorado, Denver’s ten-week Online Skills Mastery training program “designed to prepare you for teaching with digital tools, with a focus on great digital pedagogy” and culminating with a project in which participants actually produce a learning module—experiential learning at its best. (Modules are available online for those of us interested in further exploring what the program offers.) And for one of the many examples of how learning organizations are engaging in productive collaborations, we can follow the report link to “7 Ways Higher Ed Institutions Are Increasingly Joining Forces” from EducationDive.com—yet another resource well worth pursuing.

As we move into the mid-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education for three to five years”—we turn our attention to the growing focus on measuring learning (think learning analytics) and the proliferation of open educational resources. With the growing focus on measuring learning, we are reminded, “The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success” (p. 12); among the numerous first-rate resources cited in the 2015 Higher Education Edition are the “Code of Practice for Learning Analytics” prepared by Niall Sclater for Jisc, and records from the Asilomar Conference (here in California) that was designed to “inform the ethical use of data and technology in learning research” through development of six principals (“respect for the rights of learners, beneficence, justice, openness, the humanity of learning, and continuous consideration”). Turning to the trend toward increasing use of open educational resources, we see how they represent “a broad variety of digital content, including full courses, course materials, modules, textbooks, videos, tests, software, and any other means of conveying knowledge” (p. 14). Among the open textbook projects receiving attention here are Rice University’s OpenStax College and College Open Textbooks; massive open online courses (MOOCs) and the North-West OER Network also receive much-justified attention for their ongoing collaborative and open approaches to learning.

Haymes--Idea_SpacesThe Key Trends section of the report concludes with the two intriguing and fruitful short-term trends—those “driving ed tech adoption in higher education [and elsewhere] for the next one to two years”: increasing use of blended learning and redesigning learning spaces. “[B]lended learning—the combination of online and face-to-face instruction—is a model currently being explored by many higher educational institutions” (p. 17) and some of us who work in other learning environments, as we’re reminded through a link to a blended-learning case study (written by Carrie Schulz, Jessica Vargas, and Anna Lohaus) from Rollins University. And changes in pedagogical approaches themselves are driving the need to re-examine and redesign our learning spaces: “A student-centered approach to education has taken root, prompting many higher education professionals to rethink how learning spaces should be configured,” the report co-authors confirm (p. 18). If, for example, we are interested in having the learner at the center of the learning process, we’re going to have to rework the numerous lecture halls that continue to place the focus on learning facilitators. The FLEXspace interactive OER database and the Learning Spaces Collaboratory are among the wonderful resources cited for those of us interested in diving much more deeply into the world of learning-space redesign, and Tom Haymes’ Idea Spaces presentation provides additional food for thought while also serving as an example of how we can create online content in a way that creates its own type of learning space—the website itself.

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


ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting: Learning How to Make a Meeting

February 1, 2015

When as association like the American Library Association (ALA) sets out to empower its members by fostering collaboration, magic happens, as a few of us saw again yesterday while attending an open discussion about online learning in libraries at the ALA 2015 Midwinter Meeting here in Chicago.

ALAMW15--LogoArriving early for a 90-minute session, seven of us who had not previously met engaged in brief, informal conversation for several minutes while waiting for the session facilitator to arrive. And when it became clear that the facilitator was not going to arrive, we quickly decided we weren’t going to take the typical tact of assuming we should leave because the session had been cancelled. ALA, after all, does many things very, very well—including creating opportunities where members interact informally, help shape the conversations we want to join, and extend conversations across onsite and online platforms to be sure no interested member is left behind.

Because most of the members in that room are involved in training-teaching-learning endeavors in university libraries, we’re familiar with how to design and facilitate effective learning opportunities, so we quickly agreed to start by introducing ourselves and the work we do. We then agreed that we wanted a couple of  clear-cut learning objectives: an exchange of ideas about the current state of online learning in libraries, and the possibility of initiating a conversation that would continue long after that initial 90-minute session came to an end. So we exchanged business cards, took a few minutes to describe what we hoped to learn from each other during our time together, and even, thanks to one participant’s action, created an online document to capture highlights from the conversation in the hope that the document would quickly evolve into an ongoing “learning space” where we could continue to learn with and from each other.

One of the most striking elements of this entire meeting created on the fly was how it reflected so much of what is happening in training-teaching-learning today: a recognition that learners gain by shaping their own learning experiences—as we did during those 90 minutes of conversation. And that collaborative or connected learning is most effective when there is no one dominant voice in a learning situation. If everyone contributes, everyone gains—which is what ALA so effectively nurtures by bringing colleagues together in ways that combine formal and informal learning while connecting onsite and offsite colleagues in engaging ways.

Community_College_Research_Center_LogoAs we created our own meeting/discussion within the overall Midwinter Meeting context, we found immediate payoffs. In sharing observations about what is happening among undergraduates engaged in online learning, we learned that the University of Arizona University Libraries has an open source program called Guide on the Side and that is has been successful enough to be adopted by others. We explored the challenge so many of us face in trying to define and support digital literacy and shared links to resources including Doug Belshaw’s online Ph.D. thesis on digital literacy: What Is Digital Literacy? A Pragmatic Investigation. We briefly explored the challenges of working with learners in online environments when those learners have been inadequately prepared to thrive in online learning environments, and heard a bit about the first-rate report Adaptability to Online Learning: Differences Across Types of Students and Academic Subject Areas, by Di Xu and Shanna Smith Jaggars, published through the Community College Research Center, Teachers College, at Columbia University.

Moving on to the topic of Open Educational Resources (OERs) in learning, we heard a colleague summarize what she had learned earlier in the day while attending an Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) OER session here at the Midwinter Meeting. OERs, she noted, are offering great benefits for international distance learners—including access to OERs in a timely fashion instead of making those learners wait weeks for standard printed textbooks to arrive via mail. We learned that Rice University is doing great work with OER textbooks through its OpenStax College and that more libraries are beginning to work in this area—actually appointing “OER librarians.” We heard about colleagues who are first-rate resources for us on the topic of OERs, e.g., Nicole Allen, Director of Open Education for SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition); David Wiley, Associate Professor of Instructional Psychology and Technology at Brigham Young University; and Steven Bell, Associate University Librarian Temple University, through his work on open textbooks.

We heard numerous examples of how colleagues are engaging learners by creating and embedding personal videos in online courses, facilitating online forums that include audio feedback to learners, and using Twitter, Facebook, and Google Hangouts for online office hours and other learning opportunities that are showing online learning can be every bit as personal and engaging as face-to-face learning can be.

A frequently-used tagline used by ALA to describe its conferences and large-scale meetings is “the conversation begins here.” Conversations certainly began in that small conference room yesterday afternoon, and may well continue through extended interactions in virtual “learning spaces” including live tweet chats, development of that shared online document, and even blog articles along the lines of this one. They key is that we are responsible for fostering our own learning, creating our own meetings, and taking full advantage of the learning opportunities that continue to come our way through the simple act of association.


Bob Herbert: Finding Inspiration Through Losing Our Way

January 28, 2015

Those of us involved in training-teaching-learning viscerally understand the power of a good story and the value of a good storyteller. So when New York Times columnist Bob Herbert left the newspaper in 2011 to accept a position with the public policy organization Demos, some of us felt as if one of the great storytellers in American journalism was vanishing—and that our world, consequently, would be a bit less vibrant.

Herbert--Losing_Our_WayHerbert’s writing in the Times was always strong, passionate, inspiring, and laser-sharp in its focus on stories that provided context and gave meaning to the overwhelming flow of reports that inundate us day after day. His final column (“Losing Our Way”), in fact, began with the observation “So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.” Those words provided a searing reminder to that learning, libraries, and involvement in the setting of public policy are integral parts of the overall responsibility each of us has to actively working to create the world we would like to have.

It’s a pleasure, therefore, to find that the storyteller has returned with a book that effectively and engagingly expands the thoughts included in that final New York Times column—Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America—and continues what he has occasionally produced via columns for Demos.

Losing Our Way focuses “most intently on four specific areas: the employment crisis, which was badly underestimated and poorly understood; the need to rebuild and modernize the nation’s infrastructure and the relationship of that vast project to employment; the critical task of revitalizing the public schools in a way that meets the profound educational imperatives of the twenty-first century; and the essential obligation that we have as rational and civilized beings to stop fighting pointless and profoundly debilitating wars,” he tells us in his introductory author’s note (p. 6).

As always, the real strength and value of what Herbert produces is in his attention to the human side of the story—just as so much of what we do in training-teaching-learning benefits from focusing on the human element of our efforts. We don’t, in Losing Our Way, find the typical unengaging diatribe against our failing infrastructure; we follow—and are moved by—the story of Mercedes Gordon, a woman who was driving across the I-35 bridge across the Mississippi River the day the bridge collapsed and sent Gordon and others into a plunge that shattered and took lives. We don’t find ourselves in another exploration of the financial cost of wars; we follow Dan Berschinski from the moment he loses his legs in Afghanistan, through the unexpected story of how he struggles to regain an incredible amount of mobility, and then muse, with Herbert, over the way the honoring of Berschinski for his achievements carries with it the deeper question of why “there seemed to be no collective sense that it was insane to allow the maiming of men like Dan…to continue so may long years after the attacks of September 11, 2001….What was the point?” (p. 169)

And when we move into the realm of learning, via an exploration of what is happening in our public schools, we don’t simply rehash the failed policies that, according to Herbert, have undercut rather than enhanced our educational system; we see how individuals including Jessie Ramey and Kathy Newman, in Pennsylvania, refused to accept billion-dollar cuts to educational programs and, through hard work, created partnerships that drew attention to the human cost of those reductions.

“The United States needs to be reimagined…” Herbert writes at the conclusion of his book. “Ordinary citizens far from the traditional centers of power…profoundly changed American society. Through sustained, thoughtful, and courageous efforts they…shifted the nation onto a better path. A comparable effort by ordinary citizens is needed today if the United States is to regain its great promise of fairness and opportunity for all” (pp. 245, 247).

ALAMW15--LogoAs I sit here in Chicago, about to join colleagues for a variety of discussions at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, I think about Herbert’s earlier references to the closing of libraries, about the challenges we face in providing effective learning opportunities, and about his call for reimagining the world around us—and I think I couldn’t be in better company to explore what training-teaching-learning, effective collaborations, and engagement in active communities of learning and communities of practice can produce.


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