The Digital Revolution and the Educator's Dilemma

Share

The digital revolution is already here and it is changing the way people expect to communicate or share knowledge and information. Educators are facing technology changes together with changing expectations from students about the use of technology in an educational context.

A key challenge for teachers is also the delivery of personalised learning. This is happening the context of the growth of social and collaborative technologies, that reach outside the traditional walls of educational institutions.

The digital revolution has seen a shift in communications technology that has even begun to engulf the traditional book. Newspapers as we knew them are a dying breed. Television is now mobile and digital, and we can consume it wherever we like in the western world.

We are seeing a shift in communications from the old style broadcast towards an interactive and mobile style. Advances in mobile technology mean that handheld devices like iPhones and Android mobile phones often have just as much computing power as desktop PCs. Once these devices proliferate the ability to deliver localised, customised and personalised content to users regardless of location will be generally available.

Traditionally education was a teacher centred process with the teacher in the role of an expert who delivered objective information in a linear fashion. The teacher was the owner of the privileged truth and the role of the learner was to acquire the knowledge and demonstrate via exams their successful acquisition of knowledge. Teachers were in control and learners were not in control.

For 21st century education computers are the norm. But also the notion of education taking place in a particular fixed location is becoming irrelevant with proliferation of mobile computing and wireless broadband. It also means that collaboration does not need to be confined to a group who are physically co-located. Learners can collaborate with people all over the world using cheap and accessible technology. It also means that teachers are liberated from the tyranny of place too.

Over the past few years the social web has built up a value system that is quite different to the educational and business value systems of previous centuries. This shift is now flowing out into general society and influencing news media, social interactions and education. It informs the expectations of students in both explicit and implicit ways.

This new digital world looks very daunting to most of us. I love this picture by Alec Couros that shows the teacher at the centre of this bewildering new world (it applies just as well to other knowledge workers).

The teacher is at the centre of all of these new technologies, expected to master new technologies as well as their specialist knowledge domains.

But that is old world thinking. Because in the old world the teacher had to be the expert in every sense. But now the teacher is liberated to be the expert in narrow areas and facilitating the learning experience. Thus the picture above is not so daunting at all. And, most of all, it is not about the teacher as entertainer. It is about using the technology resources available so as to engage the attention of learners enabling them to discover information and build appropriate knowledge sets. The role of educators in this model is that of facilitator, as a guide on the journey.

The problem is that we’ve all been educated to know the answers. And we feel bad or inadequate when we do not fulfill that image. But knowledge today is so vast that even experts of have huge swathes of things they do not know. The leadership that our learners need is for us to model the behaviour of discovery rather than knowing in many cases.

While there are simple things we can know (multiplication tables are a good example) there are many more things for which knowing how to find them or how to derive them is more important. Thus educators are moving from purveyors of facts into facilitators of discovery.

The average person confronted with the plethora of social media and social networking sites is confused. And educators are being asked to assess which of the many platforms available they should incorporate into their classes. It’s enough to make the average person break out in a sweat.

The transparency enabled by web 2.0 is also enabling comparisons to be made more easily. And, while we all love it for shopping, it is not so much fun when you’re the one whose performance is being publicly monitored and compared with your peers. Looking on the bright side, it is happening to many others (even kittens).

Some people talk about the new pedagogies of engagement or inquiry but I prefer to think about it in terms of attention, engagement and discovery.  Teachers have moved into the engagement economy.

Share

Libraries for the future

Share

I spent most of my youth and childhood hanging about in public libraries and reading their books. In fact I blame libraries for most of my quirks these days, since it was there that I was exposed to dangerous ideas from philosophers, historians and fiction authors. The local, school and state libraries provided a welcome haven away from my rowdy siblings at home and the somewhat unpleasant school bullies of my youth.

Last week I was lucky enough to join a distinguished panel at the State Library of NSW to discuss the future of libraries. The event was the Futures Forum 2010 (PDF of media release available here).

The panel and assembled librarians were considering the possible futures for libraries in NSW – looking at these via the The bookends scenarios : the future of the Public Library Network in NSW in 2030 (PDF copy of the scenarios available here).

The booksellers on our panel were very worried about the impact of e-books and readers such as Kindle or iPad on their existing business of selling physical books.

This concern is no surprise with the rapid shift of consumption towards virtual rather than physical media for both books and audio. It seems very clunky to buy a CD for music now when I can just download the music I want to my mobile phone. It’s not hard to imagine the same scenario for books once equivalent reading devices are more widely available.

Another feature of the shift to virtual goods instead of books is the growth of recommendation engines and the ability to share our enthusiasms widely and immediately via social networks.

Thus if I love a new book, article or song it is easy to share it was all my contacts via Facebook or Twitter with a click or two. And interested parties can acquire it almost immediately based upon my recommendation. Thus the role of the mediators (like booksellers) is being replaced by the broader community of my social connections.

The growing hyper-connectedness facilitated by the internet and our connected devices make sharing of media a communal thing. In the same way that we pass physical books and CDs around amongst our circles we are sharing our passion and interests for virtual media.

Libraries are either going to adapt or go the way of the dinosaur. Judging by the level of thinking, debate and discussion I saw last week, my money is on adaptation.

Of the future scenarios considered, the one I see as most probable is that libraries become shared community spaces providing a hub for local activities and collaboration.

Have you been to your local library lately? Why not get along and check it out?

Share

TAFE Showcase – some cool use of technology in education

Share

I love going along to the TAFE NSW Western Sydney Institute Showcases because they always have demonstrations of innovative uses of technology. It is great to hear practising teachers share how they are using technology to improve outcomes for their students and also to make their own jobs easier.

Often with limited budgets these teachers are being extremely creative, sometimes without much prior technology experience or skills. Today I saw an excellent implementation of moodle in an automotive parts course; good use of wikis for delivery of IT, fine arts and hospitality/tourism courses.

One really nice feature of this Showcase is the humility and openness to new experiences these teachers demonstrate. They appear to have a genuine lifelong learning style approach to their craft. I learned a lot today from the sharing of their real life adventures, tips and lessons learned.

I’d love to see more things like this happening in business.

The slides from my presentation this morning follow. Any questions please let me know.

Share

International Women's Day 2010 #IWD

Share

It is fascinating to note on this International Women’s Day that one of our major newspapers has an article titled “Gender pay gap shows no sign of abating

The gender pay gap can cost women up to $1 million over a lifetime

* Women earn 17pc less than men
* Pay inequality worth $1m over lifetime
* Women have more self-managed super

WORKING mothers and daughters can expect to be $1 million worse off during their lifetime, compared with fathers, as pay inequality and financial bias keep their incomes and assets low.

By Karina Barrymore
March 08, 2010 6:34AM

What does this tell us?

It tells us that even on International Women’s Day and even in Australia, the right of women to a fair go and equal treatment still has a long way to go.

It tells us that women’s higher participation in education still does to not pay off equally with men’s participation in education.

It tells us that women still need to strive together to achieve parity with men in many areas of life.

The recent Febusave campaign by ANZ also highlighted the need for women to take control of their financial destiny. Better finances are an important component of choice and freedom for women.

But these are all first world problems.

There are terrible and sad situations with women in many developing parts of the world. In those places women suffer physically and mentally due to oppression, violence and war.

On this IWD think about how we might help those women too. There’s microfinance ideas like Kiva or Unifem.

Why not reach and help a woman in developing world this IWD?

Share

Social media and its implications for education Part 2

Share

There are three areas that are relevant to both our society in general and to us as educators in particular. They are: (1) the overall landscape in which we are operating; (2) the social implications of the changes being driven by technology and how we are using it; and (3) the changing models that are beginning to impact on educational practice.

Landscape

Before we leap into a look at the landscape it is important to clarify some things about web 2.0 and some key trends that are impacting on the landscape. Key points about web 2.0 are that:

  1. It is not new technology – the technology stack is decades old in many cases
  2. It is new ways of using older technology – we are putting the technology together differently enabled by reasonable broadband access
  3. It is not using the old mindset where technology was the province of gurus – now any script kiddie can make things happen with technology
  4. It is democratizing technology – this is breaking down the old cabals of experts
  5. It is applying new business models – we are seeing this with companies like Google and Facebook

In terms of the broader landscape I have identified five macro trends that are shaping both computing and our world at present:

  • Next Generation Internet – semantics, contextual, geo-aware
  • New interfaces – gesture, haptic, auditory, human-computer, voice user interfaces
  • Hardware – Virtualization , cloud computing enabled by solid state drives, blade technology
  • Social computing – It’s here and it will continue to grow
  • Ubiquitous computing – Wearable, networks, convergence

Of these I will concentrate on social computing and the next generation internet as they are driving a lot of change that is impacting on the education sector.

But probably the biggest change over the past thirty years is the rate of change. Once it was completely acceptable to wait a week for a letter to arrive, to ponder one’s response for a few days and then write and dispatch a letter by post. Then the fax machine changed all of that. Now we receive emails immediately followed by a phone call asking why we have not yet responded.

The pace of change is increasing and has increased substantially over the past 30 years. Look at the mobile phone as an example of this. From the time the telephone was invented until the mid-1980s it remained recognisably the same device. Now, to a person who last saw a telephone in 1980, the iPhone or SmartPhone would not even seem to be in the same family of devices. And, indeed they are not. The modern mobile phone is really converged computing, telecommunications and entertainment device. They even have more memory than my first server.

The next thing to consider is the revolution of the internet. Originally conceived as a bulwark against nuclear war and as a way for academic researchers to communicate it has reshaped the world. Now many people use the internet every day as an integral part of their lives – for sending email, chatting online, shopping, entertainment and business.

Along with this growth in the pragmatic use of the internet, social networks are also becoming mainstream; with Pew Research from 2009 showing 46% of US adults have used a social network at least once, and 27% used one yesterday.

This area of social computing has been the real area of growth and the data clearly shows how social computing is changing how ordinary people share, communicate and interact.

Some examples of these changes include:

  • In the past email and search engine internet traffic exceeded that of social networks. However, in December 2009 search traffic and social network traffic approached parity in Australia for the first time.
  • Also previously in late 2007, social network traffic surpassed that from email in the UK for the first time.
  • And adult website traffic was also overtaken by social networking traffic for the first time in late 2008.

The important thing to note here is that the behaviours of searching, sending emails or checking out p~rn did not change. What changed is the location in which it happens. Thus if you are in Facebook and so are all of your friends it simply does not make sense to leave the application to use another email client.

There has also been development of niche networks for different interest groups. For business there are LinkedIn and Plaxo (amongst many others) and Facebook is winning the war as the de facto social network for everyone else.

Another interesting characteristic of this landscape is that ordinary people are creating and participating online in ways that were once unthinkable. Without specialised technical assistance people are creating videos to share on YouTube or Viddler; they are creating blogs on WordPress, Blogger or Typepad; they are sharing photos on Facebook or Flickr. Remixing music or visual materials is rife –questions of provenance and copyright remain unanswered. Video downloads, online shopping, banking and travel arrangements are becoming the norm.

Against this backdrop various researchers have mapped the generations:

  • GI Generation aged 73+
  • Silent Generation aged 64-72
  • Older Boomers aged 55-63
  • Younger Boomer aged 45-54
  • Gen X aged 33-44
  • Gen Y aged 18-32

And, while the notion of dividing up the population on the basis of age cohorts is useful for analytical purposes, it ignores some simple facts about people. In each age cohort is a bell curve for change adoption – with some members as early adopters, the mass as early & late majority, followed by the laggards. I fundamentally disagree with the idea that mere membership of an age cohort determines a person’s relationship to technology or propensity to adopt change. Rather the determining factor will become one’s willingness to be connected.

This willingness and desire to be hyperconnected via technology will become the new generation gap. A great example of this is the loose confederation of people who meetup on Thursday mornings on the northside of Sydney for coffee. Most of them met originally on Twitter, decided that they liked each other and thought it would be good to catch up informally for coffee.

What has happened is that this has created a vibrant group of people who know each other in real life now. Business ideas are exchanged, family and social tips are shared and other connections are made and broadened. More can be seen at their Posterous site at www.nscm.posterous.com .There are now many similar groups all around Australia – I have attended them in Perth and Brisbane.

What is interesting here is that online and offline activities are blurring and the boundaries between public and private are no longer clear. The conflicts between the connected and the unconnected are already being seen in schools, colleges and workplaces around the world. Just try asking members of your class to turn off their mobile phones to test this hypothesis.

Social implications

The social implications for all of this are astounding. They reverberate across all areas of life from business to education to socialising.

This technology and the way it is being used now is creating massive interconnections between people and enabling the creation of groups and communities. This kind of community building and collaboration is similar to that we experienced when living in smaller villages rather than in large cities.

But think on this – the children of today will stay in loose contact with every group of people the meet throughout their lives from kindergarten onwards. It is going to be a challenge to manage over a lifetime. The only way to manage these masses of loose connections is by chunking them up into niches. This is where richer technologies that enable this to happen seamlessly based on use rather than manually based on effort.

Another feature of this interconnected world we live in is that we no longer need to wait. Delayed gratification is becoming a thing of the past in many respects. For example in the area of entertainment we used to wait for a movie to come out or wait until our favourite television show was broadcast. But now with the advent of decent broadband and streaming video there is no more waiting. Anyone can watch what they want when they want. And they do exactly that, as anyone with teenagers in the house with a broadband connection knows all too well.

However, against the backdrop of this explosion in connections, information and entertainment at our fingertips we remain unreconstructed human beings. This remains similar to our cave dwelling days.

We still retain our tribal brains that work best in small groups the size of a basketball team. Our brains are wired to deal with small chunks of information – like the magic number seven, which is the number of items we can retain in our short-term memory.

Also we are constrained in our ability to handle a great many close relationships. Many cite Dunbar’s number which is the supposed cognitive limit to the number of individuals with whom any one person can maintain stable social relationships: the kind of relationships that go with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person.

Imagine how many contacts you would have if everyone you had ever met since kindergarten was a friend on Facebook. This is precisely what is happening to our young people today.

This means that we need to chunk up all of those massive networks we collect so as to manage them over time. It also means that we are maintaining increasingly loose ties with larger numbers of people.

Ultimately we are social creatures and want to create social networks either on or offline. I often use the example of Facebook, where ordinary people of all ages are routinely creating affiliation groups. These online groups are even creating real life relationships – for example the Twitter community in Sydney often meets up physically with most of us having met online originally.

Another element to the mix is the amount of information we are required to process everyday – email, news, social networks, entertainment, etc. We can no longer store all of this information in our heads.

spartan-brad-pittThis is not merely a gratuitous picture of Brad Pitt. It harks back to a time in the past when our societies used epic poetry to store and transmit important information, but now it is all in nearline or online storage. For example, many of us no longer recall the phone numbers of our nearest and dearest since they are stored so handily in our mobile phones.

Also the question of how we are going to retrieve a lot of that information in the future is open to question. I’ve got a floppy disk at home with some interesting photos of a data centre I built a few years ago, but no longer have any technology to access that information.

Changing models

So where does all of this put us as educators? There are some who talk of a nirvana where all students are self directed learners and we are coaches and facilitators. But I suspect that those people have not met some of my students.

Let’s look back to the web 2.0 meme map from O’Reilly’s Foo Camp a few years ago. It clearly talks about all of the things that have become part of social computing (and this includes social media and social networking).

The social web has developed a set of values based on that original web 2.0 meme map and this Wordle map shows some of those enacted in social computing at present.

social web values

But teaching has its own longstanding set of values. And today we are seeing a conflict between those two sets of values in classrooms and lecture halls around the world.
traditional teaching valules
But first a few comments on the nature of these new tools. These tools are a great enabler for minority groups. It levels the playing field for them in many ways. However, it is well to note, as Grady Booch once said: “a fool with a tool is still a fool”.

Our learning institutions are sometimes slow to change and adapt to new ways. On the other hand teachers are often the ones in vanguard embracing change and pushing the boundaries. The institutions of learning in this country are pretty conservative and slow to adopt new fangled technology, usually quite sensibly on the basis of cost.  But now with web 2.0 social computing and open source the main arguments against new technology adoption are being destroyed.

Individual teachers are embracing change, but sometimes when I meet these visionary folks they seem more like revolutionary cells of the vanguard than part of the institutional mainstream.  But the learners will eventually force our hands by disengaging if we do not respond to the shifts in their cultural practices.

This leads into another area of contention, that of boundaries. These new tools are creating disputes about the appropriate times and places where it is appropriate to use the technology (for example, have you ever tried to get a Gen Y class to turn off their mobile phones?). Also questions about the content and authority of information created or shared. Think about the endless discussions about plagiarism and the appropriateness of Wikipedia as a research authority.

We are dealing with a radically different set of expectations – from our staff, administrators and students (or consumers). Many of these people were socialised in the old non-digital world; while others are digital natives.

As part of my preparation for this session I’ve been trying to distil my thoughts on the implications of new technology on culture and learning.  And for me it has all come down to sensemaking as the purpose of education.  Dan Russell provides a nice definition of sensemaking: “Sensemaking is in many ways a search for the right organization or the right way to represent what you know about a topic. It’s data collection, analysis, organization and performing the task.”

To a certain extent I think that these changes mean we need to become co-participants in the learning experience.  Become facilitators of the process rather than the experts.  This does not mean that our experience or empirical knowledge is not valuable.  We need to establish mutual respect and open dialogue. And luckily now we have the technological tools to facilitate that dialogue.

It is going to be an interesting balancing act between those different sets of expectations. Defining boundaries in a hyperconnected world is a challenge, but it is worth remembering that interesting discoveries are made at the boundaries of the currently known world. Some of the tools to help with this sense-making process are to embrace the values of web 2.0 as part of classroom practice.

But the challenges to the authority of the teacher and of the institution are not only coming from students and society in general. They are also coming from competitors.

By this I mean the institutions that are subverting traditional ideas of the university or college and putting their intellectual property out online for free.  The institutions doing this include the august (e.g. Stanford, MIT) as well as the ambitious (e.g. USQ) as Lifehacker so kindly lists.

Other challenges are coming because of the radical transparency that the web enables. Here I’m thinking of things like Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor. No more hiding from bad appraisals by students it’s all out in the open now. But looking on the bright side it’s happening to kittens as well.

All of this brings us tremendous opportunities as both a society and as educators. It seems like we’re not in control any more. But I do question if the control we once had was merely an illusion. And I wonder if this new world might not be a healthier one for all of us?

The biggest shift is that we are dealing with connected individuals who are at the centre of a web of networks enabled and mediated by technology. This will give rise to power shifts that we will need to live through and embrace in order to survive.

Note: all data mentioned above is detailed in my slides here

Share

Full fees mean universities owe good customer service

Share

In recent times I had parallel customer service experiences with two different universities: Queensland University of Technology and Charles Sturt University.

It was very strange to hang up from one phone call only to have a diametrically different conversation on the next call with the other university.

Also, it seemed bizarre to be having a completely different customer service experience to the excellent one with QUT pretty much simultaneously.  My experience with Charles Sturt University was a horse of a different colour.Women_graduates_University_of_Toronto_circa_1915

Many courses in Australian universities now require students to pay full fees, in particular for post-graduate courses.  It was in one of these that I enrolled at CSU with high hopes.

But my hopes were not realised.  Everything seemed a little hard to work out and the website provided little help. These were small dissatisfiers, of the kind that can easily be dismissed until something tips the scales.

The something that tipped the scales was the online forum.  I noticed that it displayed my official full name (the one that only a cranky parent or the Australian Tax Office call me).  Usually at other universities this is something easily fixed – a quick change to display my preferred name and all would be well.

Well that’s how it was at other universities I’ve attended (University of Sydney, MGSM, Macquarie University, Queensland University of Technology) – each easily accommodated use of an official name for use on testamurs and a preferred name for everyday use.

But, after several unhelpful phone interchanges with different people, a person in the student centre at CSU simply told me (in a very rude manner) to either put up with it or change my name by deed poll.  It was at that moment that I replied that there was a third option – one could choose to withdraw from that particular institution.  And it was this last option that I selected.

Once you start charging commercial rates for educational services a commercial relationship is created.  The fundamental principles of customer service must become part of the equation.  Of course, this is not to say that academic principles should not also be upheld.  But in matters of administration the customer has rights where a commercial fee is charged.

Here I’ve voted with my feet, not willing to give my hard earned cash to a place that did not treat me with the consideration due to a paying customer. Not a very good brand experience, and thus not a good word of mouth advertisement.

So here’s my recommendations:

These are places where I’m happy to spend my hard earned cash on acquiring an education.

Share

Stages in the Learning Journey

Share

Speaking with friends who are educators of the young one, thing has become apparent. The idea that learning is achieved by building foundations or layers of knowledge is passe. The MTV generation want their learning pre-packaged and easily digested. No more learning the basics and practising them to become expert and then moving on to the next stage. The idea that one commences by becoming an apprentice and then progressing to journeyman and on to a master is no longer in favour.

In fact, our educational institutions are loathe to say that some people are cleverer or more highly skilled than others. Heaven forbid we should damage a fragile ego by telling a person the truth about their capabilities! Students are no longer assessed objectively against their peers. Instead, all students are held to be equal, in spite of manifest differences in outcomes and abilities. This reduction of all to the level of mediocrity means that it is harder than ever to find people who excel in technical areas.

One friend who teaches computer science in high school noted recently that students think that just because they know how to build a web page or load some photos on a web site that they know a lot about technology. But he argues, they do not know how a computer works, they do not know how to write programs, they do not understand the fundamentals of computing. In effect, they are users of a utility in the same way I am when I turn on a light. I do not know how it happens, the light just works when I flick the switch. Now this is not a bad thing. Not everyone in the world needs to know about how the utility of electrical lighting is made and delivered. It is just important that one understands the limits of one’s own knowledge and capabilities.

To attain mastery in technical domains requires many years of learning the craft, not just book knowledge but also hands on experience. As noted recently in a computer magazine:

“Here is the message to all aspiring security experts out there: You must first master the craft in the area that inspires you, whether that’s networks, operating systems, databases, languages, whatever. Do your apprenticeship, get to journeyman level, and be excellent. This may take a few years. Along the way, read the security books, grasp the concepts. But there are no shortcuts if you want the credibility that is so necessary to make a positive difference in this world.”

(Peter H. Gregory, Computerworld 22 Sep 2004)

This advice is not only appropriate for security practitioners, but for all technologists. You need to live and breathe the technology for quite a while to attain the kind of tacit knowledge required to become expert.

In my experience, during times of crisis the gut feeling of of an ‘expert’ is worth 100-times the book learning of the less experienced. We need to respect the wisdom and knowledge of those technologists who have invested the effort (not just time served) to master their knowledge domain.

Share

MBA – still value for money?

Share

The other day a friend who has just completed an MBA from a prestigious university was disconsolate to read an article by Tim Dodd in the Australian Financial Review (AFR, 17 May 2004) titled “MBAs are losing their cachet”.

Dodd argued that employers prefer people whose postgraduate studies were in a specialised field rather over a generalist MBA. This is all well and good, but I am fascinated by the idea that any pedagogical activity at all occurs in a management school, specialised degree or not.

Based on my own experience you can earn reasonable marks based upon judicious quotes from the Harvard Business Review and a day or two of swot before the exams. And do not get me started on the idea of ‘syndicate groups’. These are supposed to approximate team work in the real world.

But, in fact, they approximate the worst of all possible worlds. In syndicate groups no one can hear you scream!

Syndicate groups do not approximate work as there is no hierarchy underlying the exercise & no external definition of verities. Thus it is truly an exquisitely painful experience – there is the mismatch between people early in their degree and those who just want to end it all, not to mention those with children and full time jobs.

All in all postgraduate management studies are a good thing to have in one’s past!

Share