Technology, Learning, and More Wicked Problems

February 25, 2013

For anyone fascinated by the concept of wicked problems—those complex, ambiguous challenges that are not subject to easy or perfect solutions and that were a topic of discussion at the recent New Media Consortium (NMC) Future of Education summit in Austin, Texas—a book called Dancing with the Devil would seem to keep us in the right company.

Katz--Dancing_with_the_DevilWritten by Richard Katz and several of his associates for EDUCAUSE and published by Jossey-Bass in 1999, Dancing with the Devil: Information Technology and the New Competition in Higher Education is fascinating not only for the way it addresses the wicked problem of effectively incorporating technology into learning, but for how contemporary it continues to be more than 12 years after publication in a field of study that feels as if it is evolving faster than we can document that evolutionary process. The book also offers plenty of inspiration for anyone involved in learning—not just those in higher education—and can, in many ways, be a valuable resource for those involved in workplace learning and performance (staff training) programs as well as with libraries, museums, and other organizations with clear and vital roles to play in lifelong learning.

Dancing even stands out as another example of how learning expands rhizomatically in ways that are increasingly familiar to those of us exploring #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media massive open online course (MOOC) that Alec Couros and others are currently offering. The book’s various writers anticipated, through the six essays they published in 1999, the very forms and themes of learning that #etmooc in 2013 is encouraging learners to explore: online, learner-centric/learner-driven efforts that are encouraged through well-run MOOCs; learning opportunities that are available anywhere and anytime that learners can access them;  “the need for new thinking about property rights, risk sharing, royalties, residuals, and other cost-sharing and compensation strategies” (pp. 44-45); and reminders that online learning isn’t necessarily or even inherently less costly than face-to-face learning—a valuable response to those who mistakenly promote online learning primarily as a way to reduce expenses (pp. 90-91).

Each of these rhizomatic learning tendrils can and will keep us busy for quite a while and leave us free to put as little or as much time into them as our interests and available time allow—something that becomes obvious as we read Dancing with the Devil with an eye toward how timely it remains.

James Duderstadt’s opening chapter (“Can Colleges and Universities Survive in the Information Age?”), for example, offered the prediction that “The next decade will represent a period of significant transformation for colleges and universities as we respond to the challenges of serving a changing society and a profoundly changed world (p. 1).” All we have to do is look at the expansion of online learning and the best of the MOOCs that have been developed since MOOCs were first offered in 2008 to see how prescient he was. It only requires one small additional step for us to be able to acknowledge that similar transformations are occurring are occurring in any learning venue.

etmoocHe also suggested that twenty-first century instructors would “find it necessary” to become “designers of learning experiences, processes, and environments”—something we see in settings as varied as #etmooc itself, library and museum learning offerings, and the best of workplace learning and performance (staff training) efforts. This is not to say that the transition is anywhere near complete or universally embraced—that’s why it remains part of the wicked problem we are exploring here and in gatherings including the NMC Future of Education summit last month. It’s still fairly easy to find articles asking why we rely so heavily on lectures and other long-established methods of learning facilitation in spite of evidence that many of these models are far less effective than experiential learning, flipped classrooms, and other models can be in the best of situations.

The virtual time travel that Dancing with the Devil offers is wonderfully obvious when we read the 1999 version of a few case studies Duderstadt (president emeritus and university professor of science and engineering at the University of Michigan) documents, and then revisit those studies via the websites that suggest where the University of Michigan projects are in 2013: the School of Information, the Media Union (now the James and Anne Duderstadt Center); and the Millennium Project. Further online searching leads us to yet another virtual program thriving in Michigan: Michigan Virtual University, started by the State of Michigan in 1998.

Duderstadt ends his chapter with a challenge that flows through the entire book: “Rather than an ‘age of knowledge,’ could we instead aspire to a ‘culture of learning,’ in which people are continually surrounded by, immersed in, and absorbed in learning experiences?” (p. 25)—and I suspect that efforts such as #etmooc show that we’re well on our way toward responding positively to that question and gaining a better understanding of the digital literacy skills necessary for us to function effectively and creatively in our onsite-online world.

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


The Spread of Learning Rhizomes

February 14, 2013

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

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

This has happened amazingly quickly—primarily because, less than two weeks ago, I was introduced to Cormier and rhizomatic learning through #etmooc, the Educational Technology and Media MOOC (Massive/Massively Open Online Course) organized by University of Regina professor of educational technology and media Alec Couros and others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Learning Innovations: Crossing the Finnish Line with Pasi Sahlberg

January 31, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Big Ideas Connecting People, Conferences, and Conversations

January 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Connecting the Dots in an Onsite-Online World: Metatrends in Travel, Life, and Learning

January 26, 2013

Having the unusual experience of jumping from one professional conference to a second this week is providing learning experiences most of us rarely encounter—and one that shines an extremely bright spotlight on what it means to live, work, and learn in a completely blended onsite-onsite world.

nmc.logo.cmykAfter leaving San Francisco on Monday, I was completely immersed in the New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” in Austin, Texas from mid-day Tuesday to mid-day Thursday. Trying to capture even most cursory set of highlights of the discussions held on Tuesday and Wednesday meant absorbing highly stimulating and challenging ideas from some very bright colleagues from schools, colleges, universities, museums, and libraries all over the world—then condensing them into blog–sized posts late at night before returning to the intellectual arena the following day for even more of the same.

Making the transition from Austin to Seattle Thursday evening to attend part of the American Library Association (ALA) 2013 Midwinter meeting at first suggested the need for a major shift in thinking. I assumed ALA_Midwinter_2013I was leaving behind the education summit themes of wicked problems including the need to rethink higher education, rethink online learning, and deal with how we effectively incorporate technology into learning. Diving into the ALA conference, I suspected, would instead focus on a different set of wicked problems, including the roles libraries play in a variety of arenas including lifelong learning, information literacy, intellectual freedom, and the overall development of communities—geographically defined communities as well as global online communities.

It didn’t take long to realize that there were dots to be connected between the two conferences and the two sets of wicked problems—and one of the major connections is the technology that makes it possible to jump between two such conferences so seamlessly.

Some of the subtle connections rapidly became apparent as I started running into colleagues in the Washington State Convention Center here in Seattle late this afternoon in hallways, reception lounges, and more formally organized activities; the conversations we had were amazingly similar to those in which I participated during the education summit—the need to rethink what we’re doing, abandon some of our core assumptions, and take advantage not only of our face-to-face opportunities to explore and act upon the challenges we are facing, but also to draw offsite colleagues into the conversation via tweets and twitter feeds, posts on Facebook, and other online extensions of the onsite conversations.

There were also the completely unsubtle reminders that geographic barriers are far less constraining then they were even ten years ago—barriers often reduced or completely knocked down by how quickly relationships are established in one arena (e.g., virtual communications), extended into a physical setting, and then extended even further in both settings.

My latest moment of revelation came this evening when I connected the dots between meeting, for the first time, an NMC Horizon Summit attendee Tuesday because we were both live-tweeting the summit from different parts of a meeting room housing approximately 100 attendees. By mid-day Wednesday, she and I had managed to engage in face-to-face conversation, then continued the conversation via the Twitter feed throughout the afternoon, and then ended up across a dinner table with eight other colleagues that evening. We said good-bye to each other early Thursday afternoon in Austin—and then unexpectedly were face to face again this evening while walking the exhibits floor at the ALA Midwinter meeting—an event drawing thousands of people from libraries across the United States. But even that isn’t the remarkable and marvelous part of the story. We ran into each other twice in that huge exhibition area this evening, and it was only during our second encounter that I realized the colleague with whom she was traveling is a member of an ALA committee that I chair—a colleague, I should add, that I’ve only met face to face one time, and with whom I will be having lunch tomorrow before our committee meeting begins. Turns out the two of them are rooming together here at the conference, and neither of them had known how the three of us were connected until we met on the exhibits floor.

While all of this may sound like some freakish “who would have thought it” sort of encounter worthy of little more than a “wow, how strange” sort of reaction, I believe it speaks to something far deeper and more important in our world of rapid travel, seamless onsite-online communication, and learning. It speaks to our natural inclination toward socializing and learning since a thirst for learning drew us to these events; our need for affiliation anywhere we can find it; our drive to create, nurture, and sustain community wherever and however we can develop it; and our willingness to continually push the envelope on what it means to “meet” somebody, engage with somebody, and build upon relationships that, without attention, could begin to grow and then quickly wither away if left unattended. It also speaks to the almost magical, mystical nature of how we forge connections in a world of countless interweavings through a variety of means— not the least of which is the creative and effective use of social media tools—with an eye toward solving some of those wicked problems we continued exploring at the NMC education summit.


NMC Horizon Project Summit 2013 (Future of Education, Day 2): Fun and Wicked in Austin

January 24, 2013

Wicked problems, a high-tech Shark Tank, a survey of ideas that matter, and fun provided the foundations for an inspiringly overwhelming second day of the 2013 New Media Consortium (NMC) Horizon Project Summit on “The Future of Education” here in Austin, Texas.

nmc.logo.cmykLev Gonick, Vice President, Information Technology Services and CIO at Case Western Reserve University, laid the foundations for the discussion of wicked problems by reminding summit participants that those challenges are complex and ambiguous; require disruptive thinking; and require innovative solutions that actually change the nature of the problems and the contexts in which they operate. They are not generally subject to perfect solutions, but they can be fun to tackle. And that’s where Gonick, summit graphic facilitator David Sibbet (President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International), and NMC Founder/CEO Larry Johnson led us in an exercise designed to identify wicked problems we thought would be fun to address in the world of teaching-training-learning.

By early afternoon, we had identified a core set of 10 of those wicked problems in learning:

  • Reducing risk aversion in education
  • Finding ways to set aside time for learning innovations
  • Rethinking roles and identities for students, faculty members, and administrators
  • Reinventing education
  • Creating successful all-device interfaces in learning
  • Addressing the need for social and emotional development in curricula
  • Reinventing online learning
  • Addressing the challenges and benefits of learning from around the world
  • Fostering an ecosystem for experiential learning
  • Defining ethical boundaries and responsibilities in learning

There were a variety of other playful ideas, including one inspired by one participant’s mention of laws in several countries (Costa Rica, Estonia, France, Greece, and Spain) guaranteeing internet access to every citizen: advocating for a constitutional right to internet access as strong as the constitutional right to bear arms.

Joining the discussion on reinventing online learning, I was impressed by the range of options compiled during that brief segment of the daylong proceedings:

  • Start with a goal of creating engaging online course that address subjects to be taught; don’t just transfer onsite courses to online settings
  • Include lots of choices, e.g., collaborative and individual study, and synchronous and asynchronous, that provide learner-centric experiences
  • Use social media to engage learners, and foster plenty of interaction
  • Design courses that move learners out of a learning management system and into online communities that continue to exist after courses formally conclude
  • Engage in blended learning by using asynchronous courses to serve learners world-wide, and build in live online and onsite interactions whenever possible
  • Partner with other teaching/learning organizations
  • Strive for more authentic learning opportunities
  • Provide more project-based learning opportunities that produce learning objects
  • Involve learners from all over the world so that the learning experience is enhanced by increased exposure to diverse perspectives
  • Entice faculty into online learning by creating faculty communities of learning to draw upon the knowledge base of that faculty
  • Develop flexible formats for crediting learners’ accomplishments
  • Capture and document teaching and learning for repurposing
  • Provide more just-in-time learning experiences

Comments from all of the breakout discussion groups were to be compiled this evening so discussions on the final day of the three-day summit could be used to propose plans of action in addressing these various wicked problems.

Interspersed throughout the activities conducted during the second day of the summit were wonderful presentations on a variety of “ideas that matter,” and the culmination of that process was the Shark Tank competition in which eight predetermined competitors were each given 10 minutes to describe an education-tech initiative under development and make a pitch for support (including a $2,500 cash award) from the New Media Consortium.

It was a winning exercise for everyone. The eight competitors involved in the first round (round two, with three survivors, was scheduled to be conducted at the beginning of the final day of the summit) had an opportunity to finely tune their project pitches, and audience members had an opportunity to learn about eight wonderful cutting-edge proposals that combine creativity, learning, and collaboration in ways designed to further our approaches to educational successes.

A sampling of the proposals provides an enticing glimpse into the state of tech and learning innovations:

  • Learning from experience through the Scroll Ubiquitous Learning Log
  • The One Million Museum Moments social media tool providing museumgoers and museum professionals an opportunity to document their museum experiences
  • A learning analytics project centered on “X-Ray Analytics”
  • The Taking IT Global project designed to cultivate future-friendly schools and foster global collaboration in addressing the world’s greatest challenges
  • The development of digital technology supporting educational software simulators and other products through Axis3D
  • Global collaboration among students through the Global Efficient Cook Stove Education Project
  • The FLEXspace community of practice, centered on an interactive database that serves as a flexible learning environment exchange
  • Capturing learners’ information and analytics through Citelighter, a free social media tool that allows learners to store, organize and share research data and other educational information

The entire round of presentations left many of us not at all envying the tough choices the judges had to make, and we’re looking forward to seeing how finalists Citelighter, Taking IT Global, and X-Ray Analytics fare when the summit resumes in the morning.


Horizon Report Retreat (Pt. 1 of 3): Reflections, Provocations, Lightning, and Thunder

January 25, 2012

At the opening reception for the New Media Consortium’s “The Future of Education” Horizon Project Advisory Board retreat here in Austin, TX, one of the opening keynote speakers (Lev Gonick) said the Consortium has gathered 100 thought leaders from 20 countries to reflect on what the Horizon Report accomplishes; to provoke; and to think about the future.

The wonderful provocations began even before any of us took a seat to listen to a series of introductory comments and wonder how we magically became transformed into “thought leaders.” We were treated to printed signs around the room that summarized metatrends documented through 10 years of Horizon Reports, and those trends ought to be posted on the physical and virtual doors to every learning space around the world, and conveyed to every trainer-teacher-learner who is helping shape the learning industry today:

Horizon Metatrend #1: People expect to work, learn, socialize, and play whenever and wherever they want to.

Horizon Metatrend #2: The Internet is becoming a global mobile network – and already is at its edges.

Horizon Metatrend #3: The technologies we use are daily more cloud-based, and delivered over utility networks.

Horizon Metatrend #4: The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.

Horizon Metatrend #5: The Internet is constantly challenging us to rethink learning and education.

Horizon Metatrend #6: Real challenges of access, efficiency, and scale are redefining what we mean by quality and success.

Jim Vanides, Senior Program Manager for Hewlett-Packard, Skyped in with a wonderful wake-up call that included reminders about how the mixture of great technology and great pedagogy is a recipe for success, and that the Horizon Report itself is a fantastic model for gathering and sharing information.

EDUCAUSE Director Malcolm Brown drew from Jim Brown’s Harvard Business Review article “Change by Design” to talk to about “wicked problems”—those problems whose causes are complex and ambiguous—to remind us that when we have a problem, we also have an opportunity. The two, he suggested, always co-exist. We deal with wicked problems by engaging in design thinking, he suggested, and we benefit from the primary elements of design thinking: they are strategic, human-centered, fully innovative, and team based—benefitting from drawing together people ,with a variety of expertise (as the Horizon Report process does every year through the use of an exceptionally well-facilitated wiki (managed by Chief Executive Officer Larry Johnson and his NMC colleagues) as the vehicle for discussions on technology, learning, and creativity. The process, Brown explained, includes three phases: inspiration, ideation, and implementation.

“Design thinking, in our context, starts with the Horizon Report,” he explained.

And then there was David Sibbet, President and Founder of The Grove Consultants International, who was present at the birth of the New Media Consortium in Hakone, Japan in August 1992. A gifted graphic facilitator, Sibbet spoke and documented, through his words and images on large sheets of paper at the front of the room, about the legacy of Horizon reports. As any good facilitator would, he coaxed out thoughts from attendees about what the reports and involvement in the shaping of those reports have done for all of us:

  • Serving as annual springboards for conversations
  • Providing a collective workspace for Advisory Board members
  • Offering a robust methodology for the activities we document
  • Helping us work locally, think locally, and connect to a larger (global) community
  • Pulling us into a learning ecosystem (what a lovely term; wish I’d thought of that one!)
  • Serving as a strategic learning tool—exposing individual best practices—so we can translate trends to end users

As the evening drew to an end, Gonick delivered one final summary of what the annual report accomplishes: “It’s a challenge document.” So as we began leaving the room, we had our challenge before us: Now we begin discussing the work we have yet to do.

In the early hours of the morning, I found myself unexpectedly sitting up in bed. Enjoying one of the most brilliantly beautiful lightning and thunder storms I’ve ever witnessed. There were ripping bursts of light. Room-shaking blasts of thunder. And it struck me that I couldn’t imagine a more visceral physical manifestation of what conferences and collaborations like this generate in the most positively disruptive of ways. I finally did get back to sleep. But rose again early this morning. Because I know there will be plenty of time for sleep later. Much later.

Next: Reflection, Reinvention, and Transformation at the Horizon Retreat


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