Reading List #9

So I tried my very best this week to keep up the Reading List as a weekly project. It was a lot easier given that I spent most of the week laid up sick!


OK so I’ve created a new category of awesome just for Yiibu just for this list. These are fantastic self contained presentations from the Yiibu team of Stephanie and Brian Rieger.

Beyond Progressive Enhancement

I saw Stephanie Rieger present at the Breaking Development conference I attended in 2010 and I’ve been a huge fan of hers and Brian’s work ever since. Each presentation offers insight – which I honestly feel is in short supply in the whole tech sector – rather than just spewing data. This presentation while specifically about progressive enhancement and the role of the web does have significant relevance to education – as I think that we are facing many of the same issues. For example what we do is not about

web vs apps, print vs digital, or bricks + mortar vs online… it’s about leveraging technology to build relationships and enable conversations

Its words like that demonstrate another dimension of understanding that’s just not apparent in much of the tech press (or the educational for that matter). In this presentation we can get glimpses of the future which is important because

shifting culture can be hard, but the first step is to understand what’s possible, and why embracing it might be better than what we’re doing today

This sums up what I believe educational technologist have to start doing – to help develop understanding. This is why I love the work of Audrey Watters so much because she offers the same kind of insight – past the PR and the press release and tries to tackle what the issues really are. In this vein I want this to become the edtech mantra:

technologies aren’t solutions, they’re simply tools that help us tell stories… our job is to tear down the walls, build bridges, and fill the gaps between the people, spaces and devices that surround us

Designing for diversity – how to stop worrying and embrace the Android revolution

So the second presentation from Yiibu delves deep into the world of Android. Now to be honest I’ve been a little scared of Android for a variety of reasons (practically speaking the fragmentation alone is just a pain in the arse) but after going through this presentation I can honestly say I am not afraid. In fact I’ve experienced an about face and would actually say that I’m excited by it.

I think Android has been framed in my mind as Google’s answer to Apple’s iOS – a duality, a ying and yang kind of thing. However I think thats a very Western way of thinking – in terms of competition and market share – when what should be made clear is that really Android represents opportunity. The adoption of Android in the East demonstrates the versatility, creativity and abundant permeability that an open platform allows. Seeing the diversity of devices now available on the Android platform from dual SIM phones in Indonesia, to dual screen e-ink devices in Russia and crowd-sourced platform modifications in China you get the taste of the diverse and vibrant environment that Android has created. Interestingly I now don’t consider Android a Google thing at all now – the East has liberated and co-opted it into its own entity and thats what’s actually really exciting!


Seven Steps to Build Your Experimental Capability

I really like Tim’s blog and he curates some great content. This one takes a look at a few points from Scott Berkun’s book The Year Without Pants (which is on my reading list). In this we explore the experimentation techniques used at Automattic, the company behind WordPress.

  1. Pick a problem – rather than of a cool idea let a problem drive the work
  2. Write a launch announcement and a support page – create a compellingly & simple explanation
  3. Consider what data will tell you it works – what does success looks like?
  4. Get to work – get stuck in and build it!
  5. Launch – but never launch with everything in place
  6. Learn – learning is what distinguishes experiments from mistakes.
  7. Repeat – It’s always a loop, not a line.

Change comes in cycles & Innovation in waves

OK I’m plugging my own work – but given how much this reading list has influenced me I figured it was appropriate. It’s a bit of a collection of ideas about innovation as I’m still on a mission to really determine what innovation actually is and what it looks like. The post is my first attempt at defining what innovation is to me. It might not align with the common cultural usage of the term – but as I articulate in the post I think thats where I’m having issues.


Improv and Content Strategy

Who’d have thunk it – content strategy and web design have something in common with improv comedy? I support it’s more to do with process but this is a great outline of how we should work (regardless of the field) day to day. I really love the three main points:

  1. Say Yes (The Rule of Agreement)
  2. Say “Yes, and …”
  3. Make Statements

Basically build, contribute and work with people – yes simple but often we don’t carry through. Worth noting that good advice is universal:

A good improv actor advocates for the audience through listening and collaboration with colleagues


The Ontology of the Web (Or, Why I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Learning Standards)

Doug Belshaw put together this post to discuss his process of coming to terms with the idea and concept of standards. I hadn’t read through Clay Shirky’s ‘Ontology is Overrated’ but the quotes that Doug has pulled into his article really are fantastic. I think my knowledge and understanding of standards is inherently different given my background in design and web – but I had come across the negative connotations before in the education sector. I think standards are an interesting space and why I felt I needed to comment:

My favourite analogy to explain my view of standards is that of the paintbrush, oils and canvas – the standards used in painting. They do not stymie creativity or whitewash the individual – they simply provide a context in which art can be formed. They are the tools and implements to exchange ideas and challenge practice. They provide a constraint, an edge to work against that challenges the creativity, skill and mastery of those involved. I hope thats what learning standards do too!

The Dictatorship of Data

I’ve been trying to write a post about some of my concerns and issues with the current interest in Big Data and Learning Analytics. This article does more than I ever could and exemplifies the problems with terrifying examples. At the heart of my problem is that we are relying on numbers to speak truth, but they are far more fallible than we could possibly think. This stems from my recent read of Gleick’s The Information and the discussion around numbers, math and data and the abstraction inherent in this process. When we start employing these methods to guide, influence and even control education alarm bells start to ring. The simple fact is that:

The underlying data can be of poor quality. It can be biased. It can be misanalyzed or used misleadingly. And even more damning, data can fail to capture what it purports to quantify.

Fundamentally I question this key point – the need quantify. This has become the driving force in government as well as the entire private and public sectors. Yet no one seems willing to question why we need to quantify in the first place. Gone are ideals and just doing it because it’s the right thing to do or a simplistic sense of duty. No we need to quantify it, put a number on it and then its OK. When we start to see the need to quantify everything we lose creativity, actual insight and talent. Instead we get, as ex-Google employee Douglas Bowman described, organisations that

Reduce each decision to a simple logic problem. That data eventually becomes a crutch for every decision, paralyzing the company.

Overcoming The Tech Trap: Why the Future of Business Is Relevance

Despite a focus and language based in the business world there is a lot that educational organisations can learn from. The idea of the tech trap is quite consistent with a lot of educational technology, so to the blind faith and religious further that come with it. This idea of Generation C (although I wouldn’t say its an age category) is a nice way of demonstrating changing cultural markers:

As customers and employees become part of Generation C (C = connected), they way they discover, share, and interact changes the dynamic in how they relate to businesses and organizations that they value.

I also really liked the idea that “insight and prescription materializes when you distinguish between trends and opportunity to achieve those goals”. I am starting to see (at least in the people I am following and reading) a massive upswing in insight because there is disengagement from the current range of trends, and it’s because they don’t address the issues, problems and goals of education.

(I’ve articulate some of these points in my most popular post The EdTech Revolution – According to Pearson

John Hattie – Visible Learning

This is a great video from John Hattie discussing some of the ideas of making learning visible. It was posted on our Yammer network and tied into another conversation I was having on there. The idea of creating a more visible sense of learning and teaching process and practices is one of the missing features in most institutions, software and technology at the moment. There are huge knowledge gaps in each of the relationships involved in education – teacher, student, institution, administration, support, IT, educational designer, etc – of what is known and what should be.

Feedback is often the missing ingredient but I think that there is something else more important – wayfaring. The more complex our software, system, taxonomies and organisations become the more important the ability to way-fare becomes. Individuals often lack the resources to orient and navigate themselves – and feedback is an important component of this, but not the only one.

Despite the call to be more self-directed & learner centred we rarely equip students (and staff!) with the means to navigate themselves. In my mind it is the same misconception that drives the myth of the digital native – they just inherently know about technology, they don’t need to learn it. We need to provide staff and students with better maps, compasses and signage not just better ways to ask for directions. This ties back into Hattie’s video quite nicely and he provides some practical components to teaching practice – but I think we need to start the same process in the technology we use too.

What is the Tin Can API?

I have some new work that I’ll be doing over the next few months exploring EdTech Support for Assessment & Moderation that coincides with the implementation of CSU’s new assessment policy. Part of this work is to explore the potential for new technologies and how they can align and create new opportunities in the assessment space.

While we have only just kicked off I am really interested in the TinCan API. The basic premise is that the API can provide simple experience statements structured on the premise of “Noun, verb, object”. The potential here is almost limitless – and not something entirely confined to education, where there could be some really interesting things done. It also has the ability to tie in to our criterion based assessment but also to other kinds of credentialling – like open badges! Fingers crossed I’ll get to do some more work in this space but this whole site has been really helpful in getting my head around the key concepts.

Flipped Classroom – A Student Perspective

I love getting a different perspective on things – so this students perspective on the flipped classroom was great. Still have to ask – why is this not standard operating process? Why isn’t there more of this kind of articulate student response? Too much reliance on survey data me thinks.

Polysynchronous Learning: A Model For Student Interaction and Engagement

A presentation from CSU colleague Barney Delgarno this is a really interesting theoretical framework of our online/offline & digital/analogue lives. It’s a great segue into my last article…

The End of the Offline World as We Know It?

I really enjoyed the concept that there isn’t a clear distinction between on and offline or what’s digital and analogue. That our reality is an amalgamation of the two:

This idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline.

Just for fun

I love this stuff – Magenta – and why it’s not a colour!



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