SXSW: Meeting the People

If Day 3 at SXSWedu was a day of disappointment the Day 4 was one of affirmation. Affirmation of the fact that there are people that care, are looking at how we can change and actively working on those transformations.

The morning panel was titled Breaking the University From the Inside Out hosted by Allison Dulin Salisbury (EdSurge – Dir, Higher Education Strategy) and included Josh Kim (Dartmouth College – Dir of Digital Learning Initiatives), Sean Hobson (Arizona State University – Chief Design Officer EdPlus) and Paul Freedman (Entangled Ventures – CEO).

The discussion centred around how innovation was structured and supported in the two institutions while Paul provided an industry perspective on working with institutions. Josh and Sean offered quite different models for how innovation works in their institutions. Josh outlined how at Dartmouth it was often an outside in approach that worked. Innovation occurred at the edges and made it’s way into the core learning and teaching via the main learning and teaching support unit. Sean offered a radically different approach, where at ASU innovation has become a central part of the organisation. The EdPlus part of the organisation was in charge of developing new models and technology for digital teaching and learning. This central unit was also responsible for strategic partnerships and they’d developed relationships with 150 companies and ventures. Paul’s insight was that the only companies that are successful in EdTech do it with an institution – outside in is a design flaw & doesn’t work. One of the key hurdles noted here was that often University incentive structures work against innovation, which re-enforces a risk adverse environment. A model suggested to mitigate this was to start innovation outside the core, where the risk of failure isn’t there, but to ensure there is a transition path so that successes are bought back into the core.

The discussion around the links between the educational institutions and EdTech companies was interesting to note. Both sides seem to agree that the relationships with vendors are too often transactional. They’re not partnerships, or even collegial and maybe because there is little transparency and divergent interests. The reality is that Edtech can’t answer the questions universities are asking – is effective, does it improve learning, does it improve retention – and they won’t be able to until they start to show respect for instructional design and research. EdTech dishing out the “education is broken” narrative at every opportunity is reducing the possibility of collaboration because it shows little respect for the profession, for history and for the practitioners who are working damn hard. Partnerships are a better way of working but they need to be nurtured and based upon respect.

One thing that was said that I’m still mulling over was the statement:

Education is a system. An app is not going to disrupt a system – it’s too big and too complex.

While it’s true, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about what it implies. Particularly when you see the influence of the Khans and Gates on the policy and direction of that system. One app might not change the system, but the billion dollars made from one app just might.

After the panel I had lunch with Allison, Josh and Anne Keehn and discussed some of the issues that came out of the session. One themes was around collaboration – how do we get more meaningful collaboration happening at institutions? What are the mechanisms, tools and models for doing this? I liked Josh’s insistence that Centers for Teaching and Learning are an incredibly relevant and important part of this conversation. Just about every university has one, but the degree in which they collaborate, pool their knowledge and influence is pretty minimal. What if we empowered these unit and gave them greater visibility? What if they became a louder voice in the conversation? Josh outlines this argument in one of his recent blog posts EdTech Units, CTLs and the Postsecondary Subordination Narrative. I think this is a viable model and a way to quickly gain traction on a global scale. I know a lot of EdTech professionals, but more on an individual basis and what they do personally, not what their university is working on. There’s also little acknowledgement of the EdTech professionals out there – the actual people who work under a thousand different titles, perform similar jobs and have similar problems. EdTech is not a profession just yet, it’s something still undefined and under appreciated. Quite often they are the glue that makes everything work – from technology and systems to professional develop and training through to learning design and pedagogy. I’ve had a few conversations recently discussing this problem – how to we empower people in these roles? What do we need to learn? How can we gain recognition and become part of the broader conversation about education and technology? How can we access the kinds of resources and information we need to work better?

SXSWedu didn’t provide any answers, but it did connect me to more people – and that’s a powerful thing. The solutions will never come from technology, it will come from people. An app won’t change the system, but people can.

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SXSW: Pop Edu

Day 3 at SXSW was a bit of a bad day. My Bubble Burst and then I was exposed to (by my own choice), what I can only call “Pop Edu”.

First up was the keynote presentation How to Think (and Learn) Like a Futurist from Jane McGonigal and then in the afternoon I went to the panel Igniting a Practice Revolution that included Sal Khan and discussed a project to improve the SAT performance using Khan Academy. I went to these presentations already a sceptic to the evangelical pronouncements both speakers are know for, and it was very much driven by a need to “know thy enemy”.

If Pop Music can be adequately described as music that appeals to teenagers and is a bland watered-down version of rock’n’roll, then these two panels are very much in the vein of Pop Edu. They also illustrate that the banal evil that lies behind pop music – commercial interests and maintaining power structures – exists in Pop Edu too.

If I was to break Pop Edu down it would look a bit like this:

  1. Neophilic – it’s all about the new, what’s next, quick fads not quality, high turnover, everything is replaceable – and will be in ever shorter cycles.
  2. Shallow – there is no depth to what’s being proposed. Everything is simplified and provided in bitesized pieces.
  3. Manipulative – it’s persuasive because it deploys tactics aimed at presenting a specific narrative. There’s always a half truth, but the whole truth is always glossed over with a convenient narrative (e.g. Everything is broken)
  4. Saccharine – The message is always too sweet and positive. It never delves into anything that looks painful or reflective of reality (e.g. never addresses race, inequality, sexism).

Unpacking the McGonical talk is a case study in Pop Edu. It started well. Here’s a narrative about a “successful” person – without addressing what it was they were really successful in doing. We can gloss over the pedagogically poor “projects” undertaken because they were “massive”. Lots of people equals success right? Just like platinum albums go to the best musician! That’s all before we get to predicting the future! McGonical hails from the Institute for the Future (which has sounds as credible as the Ponds Institute and the Laboritoire Garnier) which claims “helping all kinds of organizations make the futures they want”. So who wants the future McGonical is presenting? Who paid the Institute for the Future for the Learning is Earning campaign and what it represents? Let’s get an answer to that before we invest in that vision, OK? Now let’s get into the mechanics of what’s on offer. Just like a three chord pop song there’s not a lot of depth or nuance here, instead it relies on effects and gimmicks (think auto tune). Edublocks sounds cool and has all the right buzz words that Edu Pop needs – badges, blockchain, unbundling – but brush aside the buzz (no need to dig deep here, it’s shallow remember) and there’s nothing here that’s particularly innovative or good. The base unit of an Edublock is still time, this isn’t about learning it’s about delivering. I think you can see quite clearly this is an attempt to disrupt the monopoly that universities and community colleges currently have over accreditation. The end game however is not about accreditation – it’s about access to funds. Government funds in particular, and once you’ve got access to those then you can degrade the product to maximise profits. That’s how disruptive innovation works remember? But to get to a point where that’s at least possible you’ve got to get into the market – and Silicon Valley isn’t there yet. Yet – because Learning is Earning is part of a very distinct form of Edu Pop. Country had Nashville, Grunge had Seattle, Edu Pop has Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile Sal Khan is changing policy. I personally don’t have a problem with the Kahn Academy in the same way that some people do. I think for certain topics – in particular foundational mathematics – the drill method of learning works because it is about committing stuff to memory and then recalling it. Students can do this at their own pace in and in their own time. It’s simple but thats fine and making resources freely available to assist student is a nice thing. Beyond that specific purpose though you’re going into different waters, waters where the pedagogy the Khan Academy utilises falls over pretty quick. What works for foundational maths is not going to work for History, Art or even Science where there is more complexity and understanding required. What was interesting about this session was the good buddy routine with the head of the College Board – the people who set the SAT exams. What was interesting was not the fact that Khan Academy was involved in providing students preparation for the exam, that seems like a natural market, but the fact that the SAT WAS CHANGED in this process. That’s right they changed the test in order to assist students studying via Khan Academy. They removed the logic questions because, not only are they hard, you can’t really study for them, especially using the Khan Academy model. Despite waffling on about “mastery” what they were doing was removing the only real means to test mastery in the exam. Memorising and applying a set formula to a question is not the same as applying logic to it. The most galling fact though is that Khan Academy was influential in changing the exam to suit their product, not for the students. Again, no depth. Instead of assessing the suitability of the SAT they just changed the test to suit what was currently the new trend. Pop Edu pop at work again.

Rather than shake my beliefs, this all just confirmed my suspicions. It just made them clearer and tangible.

What was interesting was that during both session is how the audience reacted. McGonigal had the crowd right up till the video for Learning is Earning. At that point the sighs were audible as was the grumbling. The guy next to me was particularly explicit about how he felt with several audible groans, sighs and expletives. What was more noticeable was the walk outs. Streams of people just getting up and leaving. Pop isn’t to everyone’s taste.

Honestly the Pop comparison only came to me last night, but it’s been subconsciously inspired by the recent musical musings of various EdTechers out there and the fact that I’ll be talking Indie EdTech later this week. Indie music is a really interesting model for discussing Pop, because Indie is the antithesis of Pop. Indie is:

  1. Retro – there’s an understanding and knowledge of the past. Indie utilises history in order to make better decisions, avoid the pitfalls and do things more simply.
  2. Deep – it shows a real understanding of the underlying structures, is self critical, reflective and embraces the complexity of what’s involved. Talent is able to be exhibited and challenged in this environment.
  3. Open – it’s truthful and honest, often to a fault and its own detriment. There is no need to manipulate, Indie is what it is – it’s what’s on the label, it wears it’s heart on its sleeve (right next to the tattoos).
  4. Bitter – Indie relies on the ying & yang and often goes to the other end of the scale in order to justify itself. Disaster porn rather than candy. It wants to tackle the hard stuff and creates a space for real conversations.

What’s important to note is that Pop never changed anything. It’s never really disrupted or innovated anything. Seriously, ever. Music has always been changed from the outside and those on the fringe. Change is driven by the independent artists not those married to the mainstream. Pop just steals from Indie, distorts it into its own image and strips it of history & context. Pop always claims to be the new sounds, but it’s really just the same thing over and over and over again.

All this means I’m looking forward to Friday, when I can finally get my Indie EdTech on. And the drive there so I can listen to a few of my favourite tunes!


PS: While Jim Groom loves his punk I will always be a metal guy, and to me Metal is the great example of successful indie music scene. Here’s an entire genre that thrives outside the mainstream – no radio, no TV and no media. Yet it succeeds inspire of this, in fact it succeeds because of this. It’s global yet highly localised. It’s mobile and agile yet always remains committed to its roots and history. And metal is diverse, this is not a homogeneous or single strained style – this is a full genre that requires a whole family tree to encapsulate it. Metal is the antithesis of Pop, but also of rock and roll (for those not with me on that one, it at least bites it’s head off, swallows it up and vomits its back out). If we want indie EdTech to go far, become more Metal!

SXSWedu: The Obvious Innovation

My revelation or insight from one day at SXSWEDU:

What’s needed in education is better dissemination of good practice.

Based on the sessions I attended yesterday and the level they were pitched at that’s the only conclusion I can come to. But it supports my experience. At my own institution little is articulated by faculty staff about what good teaching practice is, what it looks like and how to do it. There is a disconnect from the practice required to do well and the profession itself.

Don’t get me wrong – there are many, many staff out there who don’t fit this generalisation. I’ve worked with them, listened to them speak and share, but they are not the majority.

Good practice in education seems to be nebulous – no one really knows what it is, what it looks like or how to describe it. They might be able to recognise it – but articulate it? No. That’s a big problem and may be why the education system seems to be in a quagmire at the moment and unable to truly move forward. If we can’t articulate what good practices are, then how can we move forward? How can we fight the colonisation from Silicon Valley? How can we petition against funding cuts and student debts? What are we fighting for?

I went to a session with members of the University Innovation Alliance which was interesting. What struck me though is their description of their work: Innovate – Scale – Diffuse. Nothing wrong with that at all, but given the climate my mind started to wonder – is that the right order of things?

If I was to make a change it would be to concentrate on the Diffusion of good practice first. Get it out there, get people discussing it, give people a vocabulary and shared language and provide rich examples that allow people to learn, share, adopt and adapt.

Then focus on scaling up. Once people know what it is you want them to do, they can get on with it. Show them how, provide them with the incentives, policy and structures to support their work. Scaling up what you know is easy, scaling up to early will only highlight issues and introduce an element of risk.

Finally, Innovate on top of a solid foundation. Innovating first leads to obvious issues and only entrenches the “pockets of innovation” that is the heart of our current problems. Get good practice embedded – diffused across teaching staff and scaled across the organisation – and then innovation becomes easier. Improve first, not fail first. The fact is that there’s 100 or so years of research and practice to draw on – we can do this without a whole lot of effort. I’m not advocating for a single form of good practice – far from it – education needs diversity and best practice should suit the organisation and student cohorts.

This Diffuse – Scale – Innovate pattern seems to match quite nicely with the work that I’m actually involved in at Charles Sturt University. We’ve developed a strategy and articulated a model that suits our institution. We’re working on the initial pilots to help us articulate and illustrate that model and we’re planning our scale up now. Once we’re there then we have a real solid foundation to innovate on and around.

There’s a lot of work to do – but the in the search for the newest shiniest innovation, we’ve forgotten the most obvious.

The Apples & Oranges of Online Learning

I’m sitting in the airport right now, about to board a 16 hour flight to Dallas before making my way to Austin for SXSWedu. I’m going to the conference with eyes wide open, it will take a lot to impress me in terms of buzz words and vendors, but there are some amazing people attending which makes it a worthwhile journey. Online learning and EdTech & consumer technology’s role in it will form a large part of a lot of conversations that happen over the next few days. I’m really glad that events like this occur, but I’m hoping that the kinds of conversation that are happening are far more nuanced that they appear to be at the moment.

As online learning has grown up it has changed and adapted in many ways. This has precipitated a complexification in terms of what online learning is, what it looks like, how it’s conducted and what is possible if we choose to learn online. What that boils down to is that online learning is not a singular thing anymore – it’s diverse and multifaceted – yet the discussion about online often fails to make any acknowledgement of this diversity. What ends up happening is that Apples get compared to Oranges, Oranges compared to Pears, Pears compared to Pineapples – in fact the whole fruit cart is often at play. This means that any real debate about learning online, and the conclusions people make about it and the technologies involved, stunted and ineffective. It allows history to be glanced over, rewritten or completely ignored. Research that is conducted and written in ways that make validity impossible and vendors to make claims that verge on fantasy.

What is needed is for the conversation around online learning to become more nuanced. Ideas, technologies, statements even advertising has to become more qualified and more definite. Basically we need to compare Apples with actual Apples and Oranges with actual Oranges and compare like for like instead of the hyperbolic mess that we have now.

So a couple of ideas of some key areas when differentiation is necessary and helpful:

Real Time vs Asynchronous – the temporal constraints are one of the key ways the learning is differentiated because you simply can’t operate the same way. Real time has specific affordances that Asynchronous doesn’t and vice versa. The interactions that are possible are different, as are the textual vs oral nature of the communications. You just can’t do the same things in Real Time that you can Asynchronously – it would be great if we acknowledged that.

Linear vs Non-linear – The structure that learning takes also influences the design – and one of the biggest influences on design is whether the structure is linear or non-linear. Linear design makes specific assumptions about how students are going to travel through the course. It changes the way information is contextualised, accessed, architecture and presented. Again what works in a linear environment won’t work non-linear one. They don’t work the same way – they can’t. They aren’t compatible with each other and so have to be treated that way.

Automated vs Artificial Intelligence – While they sound similar they are not the same. Automation are actions that occur based on preset and programmed parameters. AI however requires the program to learn, make the decisions and their associated actions. By this definition AI is a long way off – and that’s kind of the point. Regardless of how complex your program – if it’s programmed, it’s automated.

Interaction vs Transaction – What is described as “interactive” these days has virtually rendered the term obsolete. But I personally like it – when its applied correctly. Clicking a button or a link is not “interactive”, Watching a video is not “interactive”. At best these are transactions – navigation or consumption – but very far from any real “inter” (between or mutual). I click this, I get that – that’s a transaction not an interaction.

Social vs Civic – Social has become the new black but I think it oversimplifies the ways in which people interact. Just because someone is in my class doesn’t mean they are my friend nor does it mean I want to socialise with them. Not everything happens in a social space either, and so I think we need to think about defining some of the spaces and interactions we expect from students as Civic. They are about interacting and creating a community, that doesn’t have to translate into friendship. I don’t necessarily want to invite them into my space, to meet them in social spaces – but I’d be quite happy to interact in a civic space. The town square vs the living room.

Personal vs Personalised – Another contentious one – but some differentiation between what is personal and what is personalised needs to be made. Personal is that which is of the person, Personalised is what is suited to the person. Personal is about the individual, personalised is about matching something to that individual. It would be unwise to try and program for the personal, but OK to parasitise something to suit the person.

OK, well the plane is starting to board – so I better finish up. Would love to hear your thoughts on this, and if you’re at SXSWedu – maybe catch up for a coffee or beer and chat!

A Better Academic Authoring Environment

I’m putting all this out there beause I’d love to hear from anyone with suggestions or experiences with something similar. If you’ve got some nifty plugins, themes or code I could use, feel free to recommend them! I’m happy to provide feedback on how it goes and share the work on this openly.

Content is still very much the infrastructure in education. in this sense Learning and teaching, the associated activities and assessments are built on and around the content. For this reason concepts like openness, OER, OEP, shareable, reusable and forkable resources are important. But too often the process of authoring and publishing these resources leaves a lot to be desired. Many people utilise the LMS as both their authoring and publishing platform but having attempted to do this recently – it’s a terrible experience.

Things you take for granted when using something like Word – styling, editing, versioning, embedding, linking – are all incredibly difficult, if not impossible to do. It’s a clunky experience equivalent to writing webpages with a typewriter. Or transcribing code from a dictation. It simply adds work to the process. And don’t get me started on reuse!

As I’ve said before:

What goes into the LMS stays there … and then gets deleted.

A number of projects I’m involved in are focussed on reuse and developing resources that make sense to be available to many students across different courses, but available in the context of their study. Something that they can access from the LMS (as the central contact point) but it doesn’t have to be in the LMS.

Blackboard’s lack of anything that resembles proper support for mobile is another issue. At the moment the best option is to not use Bb at all as a content tool if you want the content to be mobile friendly. Why responsive design isn’t a feature of Bb yet I do not understand but it’s a massive barrier to making the system truly accessible.

What I’ve started to look for is a way of creating a simple tool/system for developing resources – and not just text but rich media – as well as publishing them to students. A singular environment that is built for the web and is of the web. Some of the resources, due to content and copyright issues can’t be made available openly so we need to authenticate users who wish to view it. I don’t want to store information about the student – just for them to be authenticated for access.

So my thoughts so far:

  1. WordPress – does most of what we need in terms of authoring and publishing. I can spool an install in matter of minutes thanks to @reclaimhosting and it’s completely customisable. In this way we can have rich and mobile friendly content available quickly. It also has roles and permissions and is generally pretty extensible in terms of the types of content and configurations we might need.
  2. H5P – if you haven’t come across this go an check it out. It’s an open source library for creating HTML5 media for learning. Using it with WordPress you can author, host and share media assets via an embed code.
  3. Quiz Plugin – a number of the projects utilise quizzing as formative feedback for students. I’ve noted there are a number of quiz plugins available for WordPress, so I think that ones covered. While H5P does have quizzing a couple of resources would like to utilise randomisation and question banks to improve reuse by students.

The last piece I’m currently looking at is the authentication into the site. From a student/teachers perspective what I want to offer them is a way to generate a link from the WP site that can be added to the site in the LMS.

So how can I do this?

Well my thoughts so far are that I can setup a specific Role (or user Subscriber) in WordPress that allows Read access to the private pages in a site. I should be able to turn off the Admin menu for these users too so it doesn’t get in the way of the experience. It also means I can create a few public pages so there is something front facing incase anyone stumbles across the site.

My initial thinking was to utilise LTI – but after searching through the plugins available it looks like LTI integration does way more than I want or need. I don’t want to provision sites, just access to existing ones. I’m also not sure if I’d need to do something in our Blackboard backend to enable the WP site for LTI. Might just be overkill at this point in time.

Another (probably simpler) option could be to utilise an “Auto Login” feature. I haven’t found a maintained example yet – but there seems to be few out there. It would be nice if it was a “proper” plugin too – so that someone can set this up without modifying code, just change some settings to access the URL to cut and paste.

I want to start putting this together in the next week so I can test it out – so feel free to comment below!

Cheers!

#dLRN: The Cynefin of Conferences

So I’m flying home to Australia after a challenging week here in the US. Challenging is good, but damn, it’s hard work!

I got some time to myself, to be with my thoughts and be away from the situation at home, which was a bit of a relief. I was also away from those dearest too me for too long and there was a definite sense of isolation there. I’m beginning to really understand how close knit we are as a family, and any extended time away from each other is hard for everyone. Can’t wait to see them soon!But the conference … How do you describe #dLRN15? It’s complex.

This was not your usual conference. While some of the structure was familiar, some was new. The conversation was different. The themes were different. The people were familiar but new. The discussion was broad and inclusive. There was respect and balance and care evident by everyone who spoke.

There were a lot of first for me:

  • first time seeing a lot of this community in the flesh, I only new them as an avatar and a @ handle before;

  • first time interacting with many of these people outside the digital, so ditching the blogs and tweets and actually having a dialogue;

  • first time discussing topics outside of text, pushing language and the limits of oral thought processes;

  • first time discussing actual issues that are having a real impact on people;

  • and first time in Palo Alto, Silicon Valley and an elite institution like Stanford.

That’s a pretty heady mix and a brew shared by many of the attendees and why I think it’ll require sometime before we’re able to really process the conference and what we might do next.

So to be honest I don’t think I’m ready to unpack the themes yet, but I do want to make an observation.
This is the first conference I’ve ever been to that dealt with education in the complex and chaotic domains.

I’m referring here to the Cynefin Framework and  I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful way of trying to in which to frame what’s going on in the world and the solutions and approaches required. As Wikipedia describes

The framework provides a typology of contexts that guides what sort of explanations or solutions might apply.

If you’re new to Cynefin if suggest you check this video best describe I’ve found

If I was to think about the conferences I’ve been to historically I’d suggest that they fit the various domains:

Simple = Vendor/Commercial Conference

Well to be honest the relationship between cause and effect is obvious – it’s the vendors product – and the content is usually about applying best practice

Complicated – Society or Professional Conference.

While taking it up a notch these conferences focus on analysis of the relationship between cause and effect. Content focussed on investigation and the application of expert knowledge. Through this we get a sense of what good practice is.

Complex – dLRN15

This conference really did focus on discussing the relationship between cause and effect in retrospect. There was a lot of presentations that referenced the past – success and failures – and attempted to place what was happening in a historic context. We discussed a lot of what had happened but there were not a lot of predictions of what will happen. There was an acceptance that the environment is a complex mix of social, political, cross cultural and economic issues that are locked in step. There was acceptance of complexity for the first time ever – in particular that there is no single solution. As such the presentations and discussion for the most part was very much focussed on  the emergent practices of digital learning. It also attempted to place them in a much broader and connected context.

Chaos – Bits of dLRN

To complement the complex there was definitely elements of the chaotic too. These were more like fleeting moments where the  relationship between cause and effect was left out of the equation and instead a focus on

novel practice. Mike’s discussion of the federated wiki and garden metaphor, while

grounded in the history of information, was very much a novel approach and alternative to the current model. 

Disorder 

It’s important to point to the final state of Cynefin – disorder. Which is very much the state of higher education and edtech. 

The fifth domain is Disorder, which is the state of not knowing what type of causality exists, in which state people will revert to their own comfort zone in making a decision. 

That to me sounds very much to the system (and the battle) that everyone at dLRN is involved in. 

The California Effect

There was something so refreshing about this conference and its ability to move into that complex and chaotic space. Maybe it was the location, the weather or the people, but it felt like something significant happened on the Stanford campus. Maybe it’s the Californian Ideology at play – but judging from the blog posts so far (from @acroom & @googleguacamole) whatever it is it’s left a mark on many of us who were there. 

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!

Personality in Teaching: Content, Activity & Relationships

Martin Weller’s post on the role of personality in education has stimulated a lot of really interesting conversation and dialogue (it’s particularly interesting to see so many comments on a blog post these days!). I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing a response to Martin’s post but I honestly couldn’t articulate what I was trying to say. This post is like Martin’s – some musings on the idea of personality – and how it relates to teaching and pedagogical models. There’s a disconnect for me between the personality in say an xMOOC and a course like DS106. How it’s expressed and what it represents are two very different expressions of “personality”. One sees personality as something akin to celebrity – the other uses personality as an adhesive or conduit that connects people, ideas and expression. MOOCs made embedding the personality into the content the main feature of their curriculum. Don’t learn a topic from just amy old hack, learn it from the “best”. The video has become so ubiquitous in MOOC pedagogy because it provides the simplest and most immediate injection of personality. Text is too hard, too nuanced and it’s not like you ever interact with the actual lecturer anyway. Content provides the only real way to embed any sense of the “teachers” personality. (Yes I’m using a few terms “loosely” in that paragraph). To me the objective dilemma that plagues institutions like the OU aligns quite nicely with the Reusability Paradox that illustrates the inverse relationship between reusability and pedagogical effectiveness. The more something becomes objective the less personality it retains and the less that there is to relate to. You need some personality but just how much? Yet when you think about it, particularly in the case of say the OU, personality is there – it’s just down the line. Rather than be in the content it occurs when the individual tutors that students interact with. Personality comes through this relationship rather than through the content. As I listened to Doug Belshaw and Dai Barnes discuss Martin’s post on their TIDE podcast the concept of “relationship” was raised. Rather than content being the focus in the classroom it’s the relationship that really matters. Which is one of the affordances of face to face teaching, particularly in schools where you have time and proximity on your side. That kind of deep and meaningful relationship is pretty difficult to establish online and so that expression of personality tend to be lost Interestingly when I think about the kind of work someone like Jim Groom, personality is often exhibited not through the content nor through establishing a deep relationships, but the activity of the course. Jim embeds himself in the tasks and activity of the course in a way that’s unmatched by most of his contemporaries. The wacky topics, the gifs, the assignment bank this is where Jim’s personality is embedded. Why? Because he makes himself a vital part of that activity. He is part of the action, not a passive observer, but an active participant – a learner as much as a teacher. It made me think that there are these three key expressions of personality in teaching:

  • Content
  • Activity
  • Relationship

Each of these components compliments the other and by changing the order of emphasis, where the personality is most expressed, there’s a fundamental shift in the pedagogical approach and the delivery to the students. What’s also interesting is that if any of these items are missing the learning experience is compromised. Content, Activity and Relationship actually provide an interesting model for understanding and mapping teaching, and more broadly education. When I think about it, it may provide an interesting lens to look at current trends. At first glance I’d say that MOOCs represent the pinnacle of a Content First approach. DS106 of Activity First and classroom teaching (perhaps best exhibited in primary and lower secondary schools) the focus is Relationships First. Shifting the emphasis between the three components provides a way of changing the possible pedagogies deployed. An online course that shifts from being fairly content centric to relationship centric would be pretty different in terms of design and structure. So too would shifting the emphasis in higher education to a more Activity First model – both in face to face and online.

Thoughts on Learning Experience (LX) Design

Straddling a background in design and an evolving career working in Education I’ve been aware of the the commonalties between the fields of user experience (UX) design and learning/instructional/educational design and the opportunity for cross fertilisation. So I’m really interested to see the emergence of an attempt to formalise the relationship between two. This post are some of my initial thoughts.

At this early stage I think it’s vitally important that Learning Experience (LX) doesn’t fall for some of the misconceptions that mystify and befuddle UX.

One of my personal bug bears is the inability for many people to actually define what the User Experience actually is. Take this image for example:

design vs UX

I fundamentally disagree with the way the image is labelled. What we have here are two alternate USER INTERFACES. The User Interface is the tool or process in which to achieve the intended goal, it’s central component but it is only part of the user experience. The experience relates to the journey to the destination. Of course the interface, or the way that we get there impacts on us but it’s not the user experience. It’s part of a greater whole.

Another way to look at UX design is to take a look at the factors that make it up:

Those interested in learning design can quite quickly see the commonalities between this model and say TPACK and how things tend to overlap and overlay rather than act in isolation. You can also see why the User Interface is so often confused with UX – it’s the central component that overlays each of the other disciplines, but the centre is not the whole.

For those interested in understanding a more nuanced approach to UX and how it impacts on LX I’d suggest engaging with the work of Whitney Hess. Whitney has been a guiding light for me in the domain of UX because she provides so much clarity in here writing an speaking. Let start with her 10 Most Common Misconceptions About User Experience Design and this summary side:

For LX to take off I think it needs something similar to explain what it is, and perhaps more importantly, it needs to articulate what it isn’t. (See MOOCs for what happens when these things don’t get articulated)

Whitney also put together these comparisons of interface and experience which might also be useful to clarify LX:

User Interface is a street light. User Experience is an evening stroll.
User Interface is a surfboard. User Experience is riding the tube.
User Interface is a camera. User Experience is a memory.
User Interface is a door knob. User Experience is keeping your conversation private.
User Interface is a book. User Experience is a land far, far away.
User Interface is a dimmer switch. User Experience is a romantic evening at home.

Why it matters?

Understanding UX and designing for it is almost the antithesis of business as usual because as human beings we don’t take the time or make the effort to see how things connect. In that sense its very much the same way we see Learning. We tend to think of learning as this linear storyline but that’s only how we picture it in hindsight. LX could provide a way for education to move beyond thinking in this linear way because it’s not how UX works and it’s not how learning works either. We have to start embracing the complexities of learning and design with that in mind, rather than seeking the simplicity of a single model, technology or mode.

I think LX is a concept that not only has legs, but it’s one that is vitally important as we attempt to make use of the affordances of our rich, connected and digital world.

User Experience is a big concept made up of tiny details, connections and relationships.

Learning Experience needs to ensure that it thinks of itself in the same way.


*PS Thanks to Joyce and Jess for kickstarting this whole thing 🙂

The Current State: Mobile Learning

I’ve written a couple of opinion pieces over the years about the Current State. There’s this one on the The Education System, this one on Society Transitioning, and Educational Technology and my personal state. They’ve been a nice way of articulating a specific view of space and time relating to a theme. They’re interesting as markers in the sand, for wayfaring and digging around the past. They’re also a way to think more deeply about what we’re doing. So in that tradition, here’s the current state of Mobile Learning.

I’ve been working around mobile in higher education since 2010. I’ve written a few papers, done presentations, developed mobile content, systems and apps – so feel I’ve got a good handle on it as a topic. While it’s true that mobile is now part of the conversation, I still wonder if Mobile Learning is even a thing yet.

Here’s some observations:

  • Single app adoption is widespread, but that seems to be the extent of “mobile learning”. A single app for a single use in a single subject with a single purpose. That’s nice and all but is that what we would call mobile learning?
  • Students and staff are ill prepared to use their devices for learning. They lack the knowledge, practice and skill to integrate the technology into their learning and teaching. Those fresh faces out of high school have just emerged from an environment where mobiles have been contraband, so have little concept of how or why to their mobile in a learning environment. Staff and mature age students have barely got beyond mastery of text messaging (see parents that text) let a lone anything more complex. It’s an interesting dilemma as far as technology goes because for maybe the first time the issue isn’t access or event equity. The issue is cultural and what we are willing to invest in.
  • Content is still rarely mobile friendly. There’s limited use of “eBook”s – ones that go beyond text on a page and cater for on screen reading experiences and interaction with content (highlighting, notes etc). There’s also the systemic reliance on PDF which means that content is locked away in an A4 page and nothing is “mobile friendly”.
  • The administration systems we tend to use are still only designed for the desktop. They still only ever support a full and rich experience from a desktop browser. Mobile is a poor cousin and the experience shows.
  • Institutional web teams are often too small to affect the kinds of redesigns at the kind of scale that’s required. Instead the result tends to be a set of piecemeal components that shatter any hope of a coherent user experience.
  • The only system or practice that seems to have a consistent increase in use and reach is…. email. Yep, it now infects every device we own with pings and vibrations that we attempt to ignore. Email – the most un-mobile of technologies. It fundamentally fails to provide a good experience – for reading or writing – or utilise any of the amazing affordances of todays mobile devices that open up the opportunity for improvements to communication.

Yay us!

The reality is that institutions (and the entire edtech industry) have under estimated the paradigm shift required to embrace mobile. It’s still treated as just a feature, or a nice to have rather than the future of computing.

In fact it’s the failure to actually treat mobile as a legitimate computing device that is perhaps the biggest problem.

Mobile is still treated like a toy rather than a serious device.

This is despite the fact that mobile is more contextual, more powerful and packed with more affordances than any PC. Somehow if it doesn’t have a keyboard or mouse it doesn’t seem to count. Mobile just doesn’t seem to justify investment in the eyes of most IT departments. This is despite the fact that the mobile device we have in out pockets is in most cases newer and more powerful than the junky PC we, and our students, are working on. Compare working with video on your phone vs your PC. Which one struggles? Which one drops frames? Which one renders longers?

The underlying fact is that mobile represents a significant change – in the type of technology, the kinds of affordances it makes available and more importantly, in the way we interact with it.

I published this table in 2013 to illustrate the kind of shift that mobile represents. It sticks out to me because I don’t think that much of the change or transition has actally occured. I think we’re still too PC in our mindset and have yet to actually embrace the reality that mobile represents. The current state of Mobile is that we’re not there yet – we’re stuck in the PC Age. Thinking PC thoughts. Doing things the PC way.

I developed this table at the end of 2013 as a way to express the diffferences I could see between the PC and Mobile mindsets and the way the thinking defined the two Ages. The idea was to encapsulate the change in affordances that each technology bought with it.

PC Age Mobile Age
affordances
tethered location mobile
static environment dynamic
slow speed of change rapid
separate technology embedded
formal structure organic
low level of convenience high
abstracted authenticity situated
centralised resources distributed

Since I published that earlier table I’ve worked on developing a more expansive list.

Version 2 Additions
passive interaction active
broadcast communication dialogue
institutional data sovereignty personal
linear timelines polysynchronous
curated content contributed
physical storage digital
possession content communal
concealed practice shared
isolated learning connected
generic interaction personal
consumtion information creation

The Current State?

So what’s the current state of mobile learning?

We’re haven’t even started.