Digital Mediation – Living in the Digital Age

For some time I’ve been thinking about the current dichotomy that frames modern technology. The attempt to split and compartmentalise “real life” as distinct from the “virtual” – Analogue vs Digital. The reason why I’ve struggled with this concept is because for me that divide has collapsed to the point that it no longer exists. Real life exists across the analogue and digital realms, rather than being the domain of one or the other. Friendships exist, some are proximal and analogue others are mediated across vast distances through digital technology – neither is more real than the other – they simply exist. My work is experienced and expressed in the same way with colleagues spread across a vast swathe of the continent.

More and more of my life is mediated through digital media because I am what they describe as an early adopter. But it’s not as simple as that, the truth is I am an early adopter because these technologies offer real and tangible rewards. I can destroy the tyranny of distance that living and working in regional Australia bring with it. So to the sense of isolation. Fuck the big city, the world is at my finger tips. Wagga Wagga becomes the centre of the world!

The benefits for me aren’t about efficiency or efficacy, they are merely side effects of being more connected, more engaged and more in touch with the world. Digital technology empowered the user so we are no longer the passive consumers of culture by proxy, which is the experience of the Broadcast age of TV and Radio, but active participation. Culture is something I can be part of.

However, digital is still new. It’s still embryonic in the way that it’s still essentially unformed. It lacks definition, formal structure, coded patterns and behaviours, pathways and even roadmaps. Interaction through digital technology is still a proto-culture that still needs to be developed, shaped and formed.

It took centuries to become fluent in translating our oral culture into a written one. It will be the same process to become digitally fluent. We still lack ways and means of embedding and encoding the nuance and subtleties of communication and interaction.

How can you express emotion in a meaningful way? An emoji?

How do you embed the history and individual experience of lived life? A thumbnail avatar?

Yet our digital selves and the lives we lead through the technology are no less real than those of our physical selves. In fact are they actually something more than human? They are ourselves completely untethered from physical constraints – our geography, our bodies, our deformities and handicaps. The potential is there for us to move beyond our grounded and bound bodies. Our digital selves are capable of being transcendent and hyper real as pure expressions of our self and who we wish to be unhindered and untethered.

Yet we lack the ability to translate that which makes us human into our digital selves. Empathy, emotion, intelligence, love – they still require our bodies and brains to codify, understand and respond.

Design is the process of making goal-oriented choices under constraint.

- David Wiley

In his post David describes the challenge of designing for “open” when the (perceived) constraints of copyright loom over head. It reminded me that what shapes good design is not the goal but the set of constraints it must be done under. Good design is often a result of making the constraints tougher not the goal more expansive. More with Less. Less, but better.

Beyond Content

Do yourself a favour and read The Future of Education: Programmed or Programmable from Audrey Watters. I am a big fan of Audrey’s ability to create a narrative that combines and connect ideas in an engaging and immersive way. Reading this post in particular pushed a number of buttons for me – in particular in the discussion around moving of Beyond Content.

Professionally I’ve spent a lot of time trying to rethink edtech, what it means and where it’s going. In general my thoughts have always been heading down that path of “beyond content”. Yet it seems that we’re stuck on that point. Content rules our systems, clouds our views and shapes both the models and mindsets we have around education. Content holds us back.

Those “interactive resources”, as Brett Victor illustrates so clearly in Magic Ink, are nothing more than a navigational overlay to access existing content. Despite their immersive potential, say for something visual like Google Maps, it’s nothing more than navigation of content. The obsession with gamification is another form of navigation of content and so to are most “personalised” learning systems. Fancy navigation does little to realise the potential of digital technology.

In an earlier post around digital literacies I floated the idea that they were “a way to understand the abstraction of interaction into an entirely constructed and virtual environment”. When I start thinking about what is “beyond content” I end up somewhere that looks, feels, sounds and smells like interaction. Most often mediated through digital technology, but real purposeful interaction. Reading Audrey’s story about her Political Violence course bought me back to that idea of interaction. In this case it mediated via a teleconference rather than anything digital, but it was through interaction that the educational experience moved beyond content, in fact,

The content — the assigned readings, the lectures, the videos — were not, could not possibly be, the center of that class.

Understanding interaction and developing systems for it are what underlie the success of Domain of One’s Own and the Connectivist movement. Rather than a focus on content, the shift to interaction changes the relationships, the pedagogy, the teaching practice, delivery methods and assessment. I’d say it’s the catalyst for rethinking the model and the mindset with which we conduct education.

The Content Lifecycle

As part of some work on digital publishing I thought I’d put together a content lifecycle to help explain the implementation and gaps in technology, workflows and practices. By mapping these elements to the lifecycle it hoped we can work towards identifying areas of concern and where attention needs to be focussed. I’d be interested in any feedback or if you notice anything I’m missing. Happy to put this one out under CC BY SA as I’d love to see how people use it, add to it and modify it. Love to see your work.

Stage Process Detail
Plan organise develop organisational model and content strategy
discover find existing content for re-use and/or re-purpose
structure define a structure for content to inhabit
responsibilities assign responsibilities for each stage of lifecycle
Develop author write new content
create record, capture and generate new media
collect collect and catalogue existing media
edit revise, modify, check and prepare for publication
Manage presentation attach presentation attributes
quality assurance procedural activity to ensure functionality, usability & objectives
workflow ensure content goes through defined approval, versioning
Deploy publish final generation of content as packaged artefact(s)
syndicate delivery of artefact(s) to appropriate platforms and channels
promote raising awareness and access
Evaluation metrics capture measurement data relating to access, hits, views
analytics develop analysis of performance, success, improvement
Preserve storage live location and access point of artefact
archive artefact is recorded and store for posterity
reuse content is reused in a different platform/channel
repurpose content is repurposed in a different artefact
dispose content is destroyed

Creative Commons License
Content Lifecycle by Tim Klapdor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://timklapdor.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/the-content-lifecycle/.

The Failure to Disrupt or Innovate in Education

Below is the genesis of my last assignment for my Graduate Certificate in University Leadership & Management. It’s based on some scribbled notes and it has quite a cynical tone – which does get watered down in the final piece. In the final work I was much more solution focussed and quite optimistic but this, this was the initial seed of an idea and it’s why I wanted to put it here on the blog. This is a starting point and an acknowledgement of where I was. It’s the catalyst that kind of led me down a path of finally being able to identify a reason as to why things kinds of suck at the moment. Doing the course has provided the necessary time and framework to dig a little deeper into why disruption and innovation have failed to take hold within education.

We all seem to be stuck with a single model of what education is – what it looks like, how it’s done and where it’s done.

It’s structured around subjects, courses and degrees.

Consists of teaching through classes, lectures and tutorials

And is provisioned on campus or by correspondence.

Despite 30 years of digital technology and a reform agenda to match, not much has changed. For all the hype, the structure of online is simply the same constrained model in a different medium. Where is the real innovation? What has been really disrupted in education?

I have to acknowledge that there is a fringe that has been experimenting and exploring the possibilities outside this model (DS106 is a good example), but it’s far from the accepted model and further away from anything like mainstream adoption.

If education were a pie then it’s inconsistent and mostly underdone. It might have a nice crust (out on the edges where the fringe lives) but the middle is undercooked – it’s a soggy and mostly in edible mess. For the most part it’s expensive, boring and elitist. Despite all the books, posts and infographics – this is what 21st century education actually looks like.

All those “interactive” resources are really just a layer of navigation overlaid on unwieldy, long and and complex information.

Boring lectures are now delivered via video instead of the classroom, rather than being rethought and restructured to take advantage of the power of video as a narrative tool.

The current emphasis in education is on passive information being presented to students. It creates a model of learning that in reality is dependant on osmosis as the dominant pedagogy. Here’s stuff – if your read it, you will learn. If you watch it, you will learn. If you attend class, you will learn.

The same kinds of issues that lead to obesity are happening in education.

  • an over abundance of food (information) is available
  • a corporate push to consume more “snack sized” portions – high in energy low in any real benefit
  • steeply declining rates of activity
  • play becoming increasing sedentary and sandboxed from reality
  • lack of foundational education in the underlying mechanics, physiology and psychology
  • a system too cumbersome to properly address the underlying issues.

To get innovation into education we need to rethink the model. We need to learn from the past – there are decades of research and we know deep down what works! We just don’t do it! (MOOCs are the perfect example – elearning that harks back to the 90s and simply ignores decades of research and best practice.)

Model around activity, not content.

Interaction not information.

Remodel and rethink learning – it occurs from doing, not osmosis. Move away from the approach “here is content – absorb and regurgitate” as it’s not what learning actually looks like.


In the next couple of weeks I’ll put up the rest of the work I’ve done in the course – which will hopefully give this more context. This is the criticism – there are suggestions and ways forward to come to make this a critique rather than a whine.

What do Gartners Top 10 Tech Trends for 2015 really mean?

I thought I’d put a different spin on the typical tech reporting. Computerworld published a post yesterday as Gartner lays out its top 10 tech trends for 2015 today. In it Gartner analyst David Cearley put forward the company’s Top 10 Tech Trends for 2015 at the firm’s annual Symposium/ITxpo.

So what do these mean for corporations and tech companies?

  1. Computing Everywhere = Surveillance Everywhere – yep once computing is everywhere so to is the mechanism to monitor and surveil you. Everywhere. You. Go.
  2. The Internet of Things = Sensors Everywhere – but if there’s anywhere we can’t put a computer, we’ll put a sensor. So we’ll know where you are and what you’re doing – no matter what.
  3. 3D printing = Plastic Toys – yep you’ll be able to put your logo on pointless plastic toys. 3D Printing might be the future of manufacturing (in about a decade), but in the meantime make some branded useless plastic crap.
  4. Advanced, Pervasive and Invisible Analytics = Um… what it says – Every application is analysing you apparently. So not only are you being tracked, but monitored too! Just so someone can sell your data to an advertiser via their “free” app.
  5. Context Rich Systems = In Your Face Sales – after you’ve been analysed we’ll know everything about you so just imagine how good our ads are going to be! You might as well just hand over your bank details so we can direct debit your accounts.
  6. Smart Machines = Losing your jobs to Robots – We’re working hard to replace squishy demanding humans with machines.
  7. Cloud and Client Computing = Everything in an environment of control – it’s really hard to surveil you when you distribute data across multiple machines, hard drives etc, so make it more convenient and do it all in an environment we already control.
  8. Software Defined Applications and Infrastructure = We don’t need IT – and don’t worry IT guys, you won’t get replaced by a stupid robot – it’ll be an algorithm instead. Seriously don’t worry as software is always running fully optimised and is totally stable – what could go wrong?
  9. Web-Scale IT = Buzzword bingo – we don’t know exactly what we’re talking about here, but it’s always good to have some buzzwords on one of these lists. So this is where we can say stuff like “risk-embracing culture” and “collaborative alignments”. It’s todays “synergy”.
  10. Security = Pay for surveillance – and while we skim off every usable bit of data and on sell to to advertisers you should definitely pay us so you can tell the boss “everything is secure”.

Now I’m sure Gartner wasn’t trying to be malevolent, but sometimes you’ve got to think…

A Lost Pony

@seriouspony is no more, and it makes me really sad.  

My experience of @seriouspony borders on the profound and I’m extraordinarily happy for having that experience in my life. I would not have thought it possible to deliver any wisdom that would change your perspective or your outlook and force you to rethink your entire mindset in 140 characters – until I encountered @seriouspony. I’m extraordinarily grateful for being able to interact a couple of times in that weird space between technology, learning, education and experience. She’s enabled me to experience the ocean while living in a fish bowl

I wish @seriouspony all the best. I hope she’ll return one day and as I’m grateful she littered our feeds with majestic Icelandic ponies and gallons of insight. 

There’s no blame here – the decisions she’s been forced to make (more than once) are unimaginable – but I am sad and mad at the Internet. Sad that it can be used to shut someone down and force them out rather than empower them. Mad that it can be used with such malice and enhanced the powers of those seeking to do damage. It’s wrong and it needs to change.

For starters Social Networks have a duty of care. Free speech is a nice ideal, but not at the expense of safety. The cost of free speech shouldn’t be somebody’s silence. What constitutes safety isn’t rocket science. When any social media is being used as a vehicle for threats of rape, death and violence – that’s not a good thing. Threats are not “free of speech” and they don’t promote safety – they force people to flee. Instead of working on an algorithm to improve advertising how about you concentrate on making your environment somewhere people actually want to be. You can think of it purely as a business decision – no one wants to feel unsafe and you will loose customers if they do, impacting on those remaining and your monetary potential. Quick lesson: that’s really shit UX. 

But more importantly is we have to have a real conversation about this idea of “free speech”.  

It’s not free speech if there’s a cost involved. It’s not your right to say anything you please – you’ve missed the fucking point if you think that – it’s the right to say things without the expense of silence, alienation, violence, intimidation and fear. As I said before:

The cost of free speech shouldn’t be somebody’s silence

LMS Week: The Ring & My Hat

OK I couldn’t resist the opportunity to comment on this growing thread of posts. I got CC’d into a tweet

and the more I though about it the longer it got… and turned into this post.

The Ring

Thankfully Brian Lamb put this amazing list and summary together.

My Hat

For most organisations the LMS had come to be the online environment. Not part of the broader world wide web, but the institutions own mini version of it. For the right kinds of reasons the LMS has been driven by administrators and vendors into becoming a closed system.

Rather than being the devils work the LMS is the result of good intentions – trying to increase access to online education in an equitable fashion and at scale. It’s evolved through the process of institutions seeking out scalable online solutions (scalable being the operative word). This search has been driven by a desire to create equity across the institution and bridge a significant technical divide and, as [Kate](https://twitter.com/KateMfD/ points out, build a tool to provide some quality assurance.

What I’d suggest though is that this QA has only ever applied to opportunity and access – not the experience of actually using the system. This had led to administrators choosing, and vendors offering, an LMS based around a feature list rather than the quality of the experience. Yes it has a wiki, by no means a good one, but a wiki none the less. I don’t think you can really blame vendors for this, they’re simply responding to their customers. You also can’t really fight the logic of administrators either as the importance and level of investment in the LMS has grown, decision making about it have risen up the hierarchy. A lot rests on these decisions so there’s an imperative to play it safe.

This is where I see we are now:

  • Vendors who are stuck in a vicious “feature list” cycle that’s almost impossible to break without loosing customers and money.
  • Administrators who are too far removed from the experience of using the LMS and lack the required technical knowledge to understand such a complex system, but are in charge of pretty significant business decisions. Playing it safe and going with a feature list as their primary guide is the smart thing to do in this situation – for their career and their institution – but it’s also the only thing they can actually base a decision on.

Those who are entrusted with those choices and responsible for the accompanying funds you play it safe. And the circle is complete.

However, the LMS isn’t the whole story. At the same time there is an upswell of DIYers, indie hackers, edupunks and bricoleurs who are operating edtech outside the LMS. They’re piecing together an alternative to the closed system by embracing openness. This mode of operation is so profoundly different to the status quo they’ve managed to spawn entirely new concepts for education such as MOOCs and an OER university. They are the avant-garde of edtech, pioneering new and exciting possibilities, and their approach has a focus on the quality of experience rather than institutional opportunity and access.

It’s in this concept of “quality” and the related assurances where tension lies and poses some important questions. There are trade offs and compromises required to balance experience with scalable quality.

Should institutions quality assure the opportunity and access to an online environment across their degree programs or on the quality of that experience and sacrifice consistency and stability?

The reality is that quality assurance has less to do with the binary of technology (LMS vs other) and almost entirely with the people using the technology. My overall experience is that Academic staff just aren’t well versed enough to tackle the broader digital and online space. The LMS provides a closed but relatively safe space for staff & students and one that can guarantees a minimum of opportunity and access. It does this by providing a tool that can be used to assess, manage and oversee what’s being offered. To me the LMS has always seemed like something that provides an academic with a way to get online, but something that you would grow out of eventually. It’s the equivalent of training wheels for the “real” web. Yet the LMS in limits this growth by being cut off from the web. Staff never learn to use a real wiki – just the one that lives in the LMS. They don’t learn about blogging platforms – just the blogging tool. They are never exposed to the real web and so begin to fear it, re-enforcing the safe status of the LMS. This starts with the decisions of the institution, then actions of the staff which directly affects students in terms of the tools, technologies and practices they’re exposed to.

Dealing with the lack of technical prowess and digital literacies in academic staff is much harder and more expensive problem and it’s this – not the LMS – that needs to be addressed. The LMS isn’t inherently evil, I’d actually suggest it’s often the least evil choice an institution could inflict. What makes it bad is that for most institutions it’s the only choice for doing anything online. The web isn’t a part of how learning and teaching works in most institutions. Citing the web is still frowned upon, actually using it means you’re actively breaking the rules.

The fact is that there are only a few good online teachers who are able to craft and wield technology well enough to effectively create and deliver the type of experience they want and address issues around scalability and equity. There can only be one Jim Groom ;-).

We need to empower our staff and students – to show them whats possible but also to give them the literacy and language to articulate their needs and desires so they can offer the best experiences. They shouldn’t have to build the technology – but they need to be able to tell those that do what it is they really want.

It’s in this space though there is so much potential! The avant-grade gives us a tangible vision of the kinds of experiences possible and the alternative technologies available. This is vital because it provides a way for people to begin to articulate the kinds of experiences they too would like to create. They can point and say “I want that” rather than delve in to the technical details. (I’m thinking of Mike Caulfield’s work on Smallest Federated Wiki – technically difficult to explain, easier to show). Bringing the qualities of opportunity and access to the kinds of experiences the avant-garde are demonstrating is where we should be heading. There is no technology binary we need to choose from – to LMS or not to LMS – get them working together. There’s enough space to coexist and learn from one another.

The LMS is still relevant and it could actually form a pivotal component because, whether we like it or not, management is still part of modern education. What the LMS needs to do is to become porous. The experience of learning can simply pass through it. In many ways it needs to be of and for the web – not the “black box” we are used to. Part of this is on vendors to produce products that allow this to happen, the other is on institutions and administrators to recognise their role in this and part of this is on staff to join the conversation and articulate their needs.

There’s opportunities for symbiosis and collaboration between the avant-garde and the LMS. In a modern institution quality assurance actually requires they work together rather than go it alone.

Competency vs Time

A quick comment on the concept of competency that Stephen Downes makes note of:

We don’t have any courses, and we don’t have any credit hours, but we have 120 competencies, and you can master those as fast as you like, or as slow. The thing that we don’t care very much about is time. And that is such a fundamental reversal of the basic structure of higher education.

The sentence I’ve emphasised is something I have issue with – we don’t care about time. Who’s time don’t they care about? The students. They can take as looong as they like, why would they care, it’s not their time and it’s not their expense. I think framing competency based education like has an air of contempt for the student and the value of their time. I think in some cases it sets some students up to fail as it re-enforces feelings of inadequacy and being dumb. I’d also suggest that this mindset affects the learning design. Why would you build complex constructivist activities when you don’t care about time? Why would you remove endless readings when you don’t care about time?  Design is as much about what you remove as it is about what you add. I think this mindset could instil a behaviourist approach to design where primacy is given to recall and simple pedagogy of reading and quizzing.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with competency – it’s a far better standard for education to align itself to than time. Just don’t compare the two.

The “Older Academic” Trope

I was asked today about the wording I used in a tweet last night

Firstly I agree with Kate’s article 100% – older academics are not the problem. The zombie question of whether unproductive older academics are refusing to make way for the next generation being asked in this post frustratingly masks fundamental problems in the structure, function and measurement of higher education.

What I was commenting by adding “a narrative that emphasises the erosion of soul” wasn’t at all about academics, but the unfolding narrative around universities and higher education around the world. A narrative focused on trying to turn a cultural institution into an economic one. This narrative has led to concepts like productivity and efficiency driving the discussion around how education should adapt to significant cultural changes rather than quality and benefit. This focus on “produfficiency” has allowed governments around the world to defund education over the past couple of decades, while drastically pushing larger enrolments and to then have the audacity to cry about falling standards, literacy and employability. It feels like a conspiracy or at least policy that at its heart is being driven by a neoliberal agenda.

What has happened during this debate is the development of certain tropes that aid the “produfficiency” agenda. One of the most common and convenient is that of “older academic” who is pretty easy to assign characteristics:

  • stuck in the past
  • out of touch
  • can’t use technology
  • don’t contribute
  • have outdated wisdom
  • past their use by date

… and in general are unproductive members of an imaginary elite. In fact here’s a great list of TV Tropes around elders they could borrow from. Tropes build on our own stereotyped and overgeneralised experiences – so there’s alway a nugget of truth in there. But using tropes and playing into them has the effect of allowing the debate to be de-personalised and de-humanised which assists produfficiency by reducing and abstracting real people, actual human beings, into a column on a ledger.

When I made the comment about the “erosion of the soul” it was a about the simple fact that educations contribution to society is the development of knowledge, and knowledge = people. Without people education shifts from being a cultural activity and one that embodies the soul of its community, to something that simply performs an economic function, transactional and ineffectual.

By debating the tropes and feeding the trolls we become distracted from the real issues that are manifest in education – increasing casualisation, insecurity and debt – which point to significant and fundamental problems with how education is measured, funded and recognised.

Update: from twitter just this afternoon these are the kinds of issues that warrant discussion – Student Debt Linked to Worse Health and Less Wealth and Most university undergrads now taught by poorly paid part-timers

Update 2: According to Pearson the proper term isn’t produfficiency but “efficaciousness”. Apologies.

Update 3:  Or this becomes reality for more students

or an industry develops to exploit a generation of young people for profit.

This is great reporting from Jon Oliver: