Ditch the Duality

This presentation was developed for a series of Think Pieces at Charles Sturt University. I’ve nominated to do these for the last few years, mainly because it gives me an opportunity to explore issues relating to education and technology in a slightly more expansive (and sometimes provocative) way. My take on these think pieces is not for me to do all the thinking – but open up a channel to explore some different ideas.

I developed the topic for this presentation about 6 months ago – having a notion of what I wanted to discuss. What I’ve ended up with is probably not what I orginally intended but actually more cohesive. It brings together a number of ideas I’ve previously blogged about (interaction, abstraction & mediation) and ties in with some interesting pieces I’ve been reading recently – most notably this post from Nathan Jurgenson. Nathan’s post appeared at the perfect time – one where I had the ideas but not the taxonomy laid out – so I’ve borrowed quite a bit of his post.

Let me know what you think!

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The Network & Me

This post is the script I wrote up for a presentation I record as part of CSU’s Think Pieces project for 2014. The aim is to create a series of presentation that explore different aspects of the theme “Towards the future CSU graduate”. I’ve embedded the video below but you can also view the slides on Slideshare. The time for these is limited so I know I’ve glossed over a few details throughout – but feel free to comment below if you have any questions or ideas.

The Network

I want to start this think piece discussing some of the concepts and beliefs that frame our understanding of networks.

The emergence of commercial enterprises operating online social networks has created a notion that networks are an entity unto themselves. They’ve given life to this idea that networks are things that can be created, manipulated, bought and sold. But that’s not really the truth.

The Network is an Expression

A network isn’t a thing – it’s an expression of individual nodes, how they interact with each other and the relationships they develop.

Maps Rather than Places

They are more like maps than places. They exist as ephemeral expressions of the bonds and ties that we, as individuals choose to express, but they lack a tangible existence. It’s because of this that a network cannot be directly controlled or manipulated – it can only react and respond – in the same way that a map has no effect on the geological patterns or landmarks, it simply displays them. There is no power to control the network as a whole because power is distributed and contained within the nodes themselves.

Networks aren’t things we build – they map the connections we create.

Networks are about relationships and interaction and it’s for this reason that they are vitally important. They provide a way to externally express and conceptualise complex relationships in a way that we can understand and learn. In a network each individual is important, but what makes them powerful is in improving the ability for each individual to connect with others.

Connectivism

Networks are an interesting way of framing concepts. Siemens and Downes have done this with learning through the theory of Connectivism. But Networks provide us with a flexible way to develop understanding which is transferable to other areas – including the role and practice of institutions like CSU.

Meaning

What we do as an institution is create connections, and connections create meaning.

The Medium

The creation, formation and sustainability of a network relies on a medium to facilitate the connections between individuals. It also needs to support and propagate the relationships between them.

Medium ≠ Technology

The medium isn’t explicitly about the technology, but the structure and support needed to facilitate the functions of the network. Traditional mediums has been the institutions and organisations that societies established – like universities and community groups.

The Medium Is

A medium provides a way for individuals to

  • create & share
  • participate in dialogue
  • facilitate experiences

It is through these functions that interaction occurs and relationships are established.

Networks are not new

Networks are not new, but the reason they have grown in prominence is that digital technology enhances the essential functions of a medium.

  • Create/Share = abundance
  • Dialogue with others = complexification
  • Facilitate experiences = enlargement/expansion

– Siemens

Technology has increased the abundance, complexity and expansion of networks. It has created the opportunity for new mediums to develop while at the same time challenging those of the past.

Beyond the Physical

Digital technology enables networks to exist without geographical and physical constraints. It enables better networks – ones that are bigger, broader and more diverse but more significantly – faster – reacting and responding in real time and without delay. They use consumer grade technology so we’re not reliant on access to the most sophisticated infrastructure or systems. The mediation of networks through digital tools has allowed the simplification of complex interactions and bridge some of the most significant challenges of our physical world.

Logistical Freedom

The technology of today has allowed networks to evolve quickly. They are now free from many of the logistical challenges of the past where they were required them to build the infrastructure and bear those costs.

The Personal Network

These limitations which restricted the growth and spread of networks are gone, and it has allowed the networks of today to become tailored and personalised to suit the individual rather than having to be scaled to cover costs. Despite their complexity, they can be created, developed and managed by the individual, with little to no external intervention. We now have an environment where we can create networks to suit our own goals and aims. We can base them on our personal and professional interests, research topics, issues we wish to discuss or to improve our engagement with our broader communities.

Connecting the Campus

For those of us living and working in regional Australia, networks enable the world to come to us, and us to it. For those working in specialised roles and areas of research this is vital. It provides a way to overcome one of the big advantages that metropolitan universities have had –

Geography’s Effect

As larger populations that can maintain better networks of specialists. Today’s networks are no longer constrained by location so the effect of geography is diminished significantly.

The Digital Divide

The technology to achieve these aims is available today and it provides everyone with the opportunity to connect – If we allow ourselves and if we use the medium. The problem for many staff and students is that the medium is no longer the traditions and institutions we know – it’s digital. Digital is still an unknown, a medium where we don’t feel entirely comfortable, and it’s why digital literacies are vital, not just for our graduates but for our staff too. Digitally enhanced and enabled networks are increasingly the natural state of affairs, not because they are new but because they are faster, bigger, more diverse and more personal.

The Digital Self

What is important to remember is that networks are maps, not places. You can’t go to a network, you have to engage with others and become part of it. You have to establish yourself as a node, and this means getting online and using the tools that enable you to connect. It’s in this way that we create networks that are strong and robust but also fluid and changing. What matters is not the medium but the nodes themselves and how well they can connect to each other.

Social Systems

It’s not about systems or tools like Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn – it is about finding a Self that can be expressed in a digital space. In this way digital literacy is not about learning a specific skill but becoming fluent in our ability to interact in a new medium – finding ourselves and how we can articulate and express that self.

The Self Aware Node

What is needed is to go beyond a mere avatar that represents the real you. It’s more like a persona – you’re not role-playing or assuming an identity,

In Digital form

You are that identity – this is you in a digital form. If you want to build better networks, you need to have better nodes. Nodes that are self aware and able to connect and relate in a digital space. The challenge we face is how we develop those literacies and that awareness.

… and me?

The title of this presentation was the network and me – so what about me?

I work in a niche area and have a niche set of skills. Living and working in Wagga has often felt like being a fish, living in a bowl while dreaming of the ocean. But over the last few years I’ve made a concerted effort to go out and establish and develop my digital self.

Blog + Twitter + Yammer

I created a blog, got on Twitter and started to use Yammer to develop multiple networks to engage professionally. They provided me with a platform for expressing and sharing my thoughts, communicating with those working in similar fields around the world and it’s acted as an incubator for ideas. What has come out of this process have been real connections, conversations and opportunities.

Real Opportunities

Instead of feeling trapped in a bubble, I now feel like I am part of something bigger. It’s not virtual or fake – even through it’s mediated through digital technology. It’s engaging with real people in real things. It goes beyond simply broadcasting – it’s about creating opportunities to interact and create more connections.

The Effect

Right now

  • I have a readership located right around the world.
  • A network of professionals that spans the oceans & disciplines feeding me information
  • My work is escaping the bubble and has now started to be re-blogged, quoted and referenced.
  • What’s really satisfying is seeing what I’ve created and shared stimulating others to create and share.

Connected

Today I don’t feel like an isolated node, but part of a intricate, rich and rewarding network.

The Network and Me

And that’s the story of the Network and Me.

Thanks

Network Ideas:

These think pieces are a challenge to get everything into such a short timeframe. If you’d like to know more here’s some reading and further ideas on the topic:

The Information Age to the Networked Age: Are You Network Literate?

The Mostly Unread World of Academic Papers/

What is Connectivism?

Thoughts on Connectivism

Connectivism as Learning Theory

Reclaiming the Web for the Next Generation

The Self Aware Node

Literacy and the Digital Self

Digital Literacy: Interaction as Language

From Natives & Immigrants to Visitors & Residents

Images

The Changing Context of Learning

In 2013 Charles Sturt University, my workplace, decided to develop a new project aimed at creating a space and forum to think through some of the issues, challenges, problems and opportunities we face as an institution. The Think Pieces Project was born and I was asked to contribute, which is a real honour. Initially I just needed a title so seeing as I was working on mobile learning I figured that “The Changing Context of Learning” sounded like a good fit.

When I actually came to sit, think and write-up the presentation it became a little harder than I thought. For starters there was a time constraint which I was determined to stay within. I needed to ensure I was concise and I was starting to realise I already had way too many ideas to stuff inside the presentation – the result being that everything was touched on but nothing was explored to any depth. I needed to think harder!

After a number of drafts, slide revisions and a lot of practice I really felt like I was getting to the heart of the problem – a single, simple idea that I think goes to explain some of the issues we face in Higher Education. My talk evolved into discussing the need to shift the perspective through which we view the context of learning – away from the campus and onto one more centred around the student. This reframing and changing of perspective allows us to rethink the role of the university and as well how we think about pedagogy, practice, content and technology. 

I would love to get some broader feedback – as hopefully it does provoke and prompt some thinking to occur! If it does, even if there is disagreement, debate and conjecture, I think I fulfilled the task at hand.

The Think Piece is available as a Slideshare with audio or as a video if you prefer. Feel free to share and comment here or on twitter @timklapdor

What we need is a Tech Boom

I’d like everyone in rural and regional Australia to read “Screw the mining boom, let’s create a tech boom“. In essence it discusses how the mining boom is on its decline (it will be a long slow burn, say 40-50 years) and that what Australia needs to do now is start investing in the next big thing now – and that’s going to be the tech industry.

I’ve always seen the investment in the NBN as the equivalent to the investments in the railways that helped open up our country (and most of the western world), generate an income and connect our vast country. However over the last 50 years the biggest problem we in the regions have faced has been the drain of population towards the cities. Then along comes the NBN which creates a new paradigm and gives regional Australia an opportunity for growth and prosperity that will be great for the country as a whole. Instead of services being centred around the cities we will see a shift to the regions because we will be on par for the core requirement of the tech industry – fast, efficient data access.

So why won’t the opportunities and investment remain in the cities? Well over the last 20 years they’ve become too expensive, really really expensive. So much that Sydney is now the second most expensive city in the world behind Tokyo to do business. Regional Australia looks really good when you look at the cost of living and the cost of building space – let alone the benefits to lifestyle. When you equalise the main component of an industry through the NBN you can decentralise the workforce – so why wouldn’t you move to the regions?

Well that probably has something to do with talent, which is often in short supply in the regions having been vampired by the cities. What the regions need is a way of creating a continuous pool of talent and keeping them in the regions. If we take a look across the pond the tech industry is primarily located in Silicon Valley. That’s because of its links to the talent pool generated by Stanford University and the early investment by the University to keep that talent close by. To address the financial demands of Stanford’s growth requirements, and to provide local employment opportunities for graduating students they used university lands to set up the Stanford Industrial Park. To tap into the talent pool they also created the Honours Cooperative Program to allow full-time employees of the companies to pursue graduate degrees from the University on a part-time basis.

So my proposal? We already have a number of universities situated across regional Australia. So lets capitalise on the NBN and start to invest in the tech boom! Let’s invest in our students and our communities and help make them strong by building a future for them. We can capitalise on the number of graduates across a wide range of disciplines to feed into the new system. Lets start an Honours and Post Grad programs that allows students to work and build an industry while gaining key qualifications. Let’s invest and promote innovation on a global scale.

I would love to hear Wagga Wagga mentioned in the same breath as Silicon Valley – without it being in jest 🙂

Bring Your Own… Choice

It’s one of the hot topics at the moment, Bring Your Own Device. Institutions and companies around the world are searching for an answer. I think the problem is that they are looking for the answer rather than answers. 

At a strategy level its nice to think that there is a neat little solution to everything, but as we zoom in we start to see that things aren’t quite how they seem. The same principles that apply to the universe – the rules and functions of planets and galaxies are thrown out the window when we get to an atomic or sub-atomic level. In business we know that what gets decided in the boardroom has little to do with the actual service being conducted on the ground.

Maybe as humans we need to have things simplified, which leads me nicely to my point. The BYO movement is about choice. It’s about empowering staff, students and customers, with the freedom to choose.

In a broad and quite general sense enterprise and large scale IT has worked on the assumption that one size fits all. Big servers, big systems, big numbers & big costs. Then along comes the cloud which offers a new way of doing and thinking about IT. It offers scalable, customisable and adaptable systems and applications. It provides flexibility and freedom to choose what it is you want and have the system customised to what you need.

Cloud thinking has now, for want of a better word, ‘infected’ users with a desire for freedom of choice and the BYOD movement is about bring that freedom to choose to the devices we use everyday.

However, when we start talking about BYOD what seems to get confused is this word – choice. So often it is interpreted through the lens of a capitalist – that its about providing a variety of choices – dozens of them. Colgate can’t just be happy to make toothpaste – they need to make it in 10 exciting flavours, with whitening, with tartar control, in small medium and large sizes, travel versions and one for kids. But no one wants just one option – thats way too communist – they want options that are clear, understandable and curated for their needs, and from that selection they can decide. The freedom to choose is very different to providing a myriad of choices as its about empowerment rather than confusion and entropy.

Technology is confusing and users need guidance through it. Mobile and the cloud has changed what technology means, how we categorise it, label it even use it.  The language, the jargon and the taxonomies that have emerged over the last 5 years challenge previous knowledge – its like someone redefined all the words.

The biggest problem with the one size fits all approach is that it never serviced the individual. An open BYOD policy is actually worse as its a cop out that removes responsibility and costs away from the business and onto the user. It puts the onus on the user not on the business to cope with changing technology. It’s up to the technologically challenged to navigate through a quick treacherous period of rapid change and development.

BYOD needs to be seen as a chance to engage with our users, not an opportunity to shift responsibility.

So what’s my solution? I think it about the business actually working on defining concerns, issues, risks and then matching them to the needs of the business to form a matrix that users can easily navigate and make appropriate choices. I liked the approach outlined here on Lifehacker as a starting point.

  • On your own
  • Bring your own
  • Choose your own
  • Here’s your own

Matching the YO headings to a scale that takes into account the business requirements – support, security, privacy, access, funding etc – is the next step.

One final thought for this post.

We no longer live in a single device world. All of us have multiple devices that we interact with at home, at work and on our person. Just as we should be looking for answers to BYOD, so too should we be thinking devices – plurals rather than singulars. Part of the BYOD discussion needs to discuss what different devices should be used for and why. Some devices lend themselves to the personal parts of our work others are explicitly part of the work we do, and in this sense different devices should be treated differently. A tablet should not be treated the same way as a laptop, desktop or a smartphone – they should each have their own place and purpose in the strategy.

An Online Learning Environment looks like…

So in the last post I discussed the case that regardless of what you deploy – to provide a good online experience you will end up with an Environment. It might be made up of a group of single systems but in essence it operates and functions like an Environment.

To help define what an online Environment might look like I thought it might be best to start off with listing what the Environment should DO!

What are the core functions of an Online Learning Environment?

  1. Single Point of Access
    Users of the system want the simplicity of a single point of access. They want one location to go and perform their tasks, not migrate from channel to channel, system to system.
  2. Single Identity & Profile
    Users want one log in, one profile, one bio and one password! Developers want this too – one set of users, one set of permissions, one source of data.
  3. Structured Collaboration
    The environment needs to be able to set up groups or sites according to their enrolled courses and subjects. This creates a space that is unique to that group and centralises access to all systems, resources and tools for that group.
  4. Fluid Collaboration
    Structuring groups around courses and subject is nice for administration purposes, but with the advent of social media that can hardly be considered best practice any more. Users want and should have the ability to define their own groups and collaboration. From study groups to social clubs – these are all part of the learning process.
  5. Scalable Provisioning & Administration
    Setting up groups, defining membership, access levels, adding, removing, editing and merging sites – these are the facts of administering an LMS and it happens every single session so it should be simple, automated and scalable – from 40 students to 40 000.
  6. Content Development & Delivery
    Academics aren’t designers or publishers but they need a way to develop and deliver content in a variety of forms. More importantly students need to be able to access this content on a variety of devices in a variety of contexts.
  7. Online File Storage
    Despite the post-PC age being upon us we still have files and we need ways to share & store them. The cloud provides a key to unlocking the potential of improving a multitude of systems and creates a space for users and systems to read/write/share information.
  8. Real Time Communication
    As we head towards a more blended approach to our learning and teaching methodologies there is a greater need to offer equivalency or replacements for face to face. Webinars, online meetings and video chat provide ways of replicating some of our spacial settings but in far more dynamic and flexible ways.
  9. Asynchronous Communication
    Chat, email, forums, discussions, comments – are all ways of improving the flexibility of our teaching and communication with our students.
  10. Group Communication and Notifications
    Academics and Universities need to be able to communicate and inform large groups. Staff and students as a whole want to remain connected and know what is happening, how and when.
  11. Rich Media Delivery
    Video and audio are becoming a bigger part of the resources we provide to students. They provide unique opportunities to show students and improve their ability to comprehend. Rich media also forms the backbone of the Flipped Classroom and other initiatives (MOOC, EdX, iTunesU etc)
  12. Assignment Submission & Return
    Key to all educational institutions is the ability to assess. The online environment needs to provide a round trip for students and academics to submit, mark, grade and return assignments in a range of formats.
  13. Evaluation and Feedback
    Key to the development of our academics and their students is the ability to provide be evaluated and receive feedback – early and often. Facebook’s Like button shows how easy this could be from the user’s perspective.
  14. Analytics
    Data drives evolution in a digital sense. We need opportunities to harvest data – but more importantly we need better ways of analysing, interpreting and using it.

That’s my list of the key features. Feel free to contribute any others you can think of!

Sit down, we need to talk about the LMS

Big news this week when it was announced our university will be looking for a new LMS to implement in 2014.

While I am a great supporter of our LMS (Sakai), I have never been a big user. I’m not an academic so I don’t have any learning to manage and with a background in web development I never had a problem getting content online. It’s in these two areas that have been the big wins for our university – managing our complex enrolment profile and getting people and their content online.

So at the moment the question is what replaces the current LMS? Is it another LMS or should we be looking for something else?

Lets start by talking about the current technology landscape because a lot has changed since our first implementation:

  • For starters the world of the web has changed dramatically over the last 5 or so years. The extensible servers of the Cloud and the anywhere, anytime access that mobile brings are huge shifts in how we build large-scale systems and how we access them.
  • At the same time our web ecosystem has broadened. So many new best-of-breed tools are now available that its hard to justify the centralised Swiss army knife approach of the traditional LMS.
  • Finally, there is a push for universities to provide a more personalised and customisable learning experience. The traditional LMS does not provide that, instead it offers a cookie cutter approach that’s easy to scale, maintain, deploy and sell.

At this point I’d recommend some reading to understand that this is a big issue for higher education across the globe – first this article by David Jones especially the discussion in the comments. This series of articles from Canada a are extremely relevant. Finally this presentation from Whitney Hess on framing the problem.

OK finished? I hope that helps frame my thinking – let’s move on.

The dilemma that we face is one where we need to define what it is we are trying to offer in the online space: Are we looking for a Single System or an Environment?

Single System vs Environment.

The Single System approach continues the paradigm of the LMS. A centralised hub that provides a defined set of tools. There is limited customisation available to the teacher, the student or the pedagogy. It provides a management approach to learning and teaching where things are controlled, standardised, measured and scheduled.

The Environment approach instead looks to create a suite of separate tools that operate as a cooperative ecosystem. This approach is highly customisable by both teachers and students and allows each subject or course to be developed and delivered to match the content and context. Rather than a structured approach the Environment provides organisation and a way to navigate.

Reality is…

The reality we actually find ourselves in is… even if your university has the latest and greatest LMS you’re probably still running a patchwork of separate systems to provide all the functions for your university. Despite best intentions technology moves too fast and there is no one size fits all approach. Yes, it would be nice to have a system that can do everything, but it’s not a reality. Despite what an LMS offers the reality is that it is a jack of all trades master of none. To get the quality and performance required you end up with is a patchwork environment of specialised tools and single systems.

So the solution? Well take it as a given and embrace the fact that whatever you deploy it is going to end up as an environment. So take the time to design and plan it properly, make sure it can talk to each other and use the best systems and specialised tools to provide the core functions.

For higher yields and healthier fruit you plant a garden that is symbiotic and complementary rather than throwing seeds to the wind.

Thoughts on the Future Forum

So recently we had the First Future Forum at CSU. I get to take some credit (or blame) as it was my original idea – and it’s great feeling to see one of your ideas enacted and released into the wild.

The idea for the forum came from a desire to share and collaborate outside the normal means. I wanted to get together a range of different staff as a way to stimulate thinking outside the square. So the objectives were to:

  • Get out of our silos and share the ideas from staff across different divisions/faculty/positions
  • To expose ourselves to different visions and ways of seeing what the future holds
  • Level the playing field and creating a space for executives and ground staff to meet at the same table.
  • Stimulate new thinking and ways of seeing CSU.

I can’t speak for everyone but my objectives were met and I came away happy and with a head full of thoughts.

The theme of the day was: “What would distance and on-campus learning and teaching with educational technologies at CSU be like in 2020?”

So here are some of the things I got out of the day:

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