and so data collection begins

This evening I demoed Knowledge Forum with the Virtual Margin to the students in the first of two graduate level classes. If all goes according to Hoyle data collection will be complete in December. I already have four signed consent forms. I’m stoked to see the Virtual Margin in real use in a couple of real classes. I’m looking forward to seeing what the students do with it.

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Connected to Sharing

In The Power of Sharing Mark Pesce makes some very good observations. In a paper I wrote recently, Connected Everywhere, Connected All the Time, Connected to What? I made some similar points, however, I came at the subject from a different angle and projected the results even further. When I wrote it, it felt like speculative fiction. It seems less fictional all the time. While the drivers are exponential it seems to me that there needs to be some kind of damping effect–every motor needs a governor or it spins out of control. I’m wondering what the governor will be here.

btw, the vimeo link quit at about the 24 minute mark for me. I found Mark’s presentation on YouTube.

thanks Stephen

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Response to L.’s Theorizing My Practice paper

One flower
on the cliffside
Nodding at the canyon
by Jack Kerouac

L.’s teaching practice is informed firstly by her own desire to help her “…students to grow into the fullness of their humanity.” To aid her understanding in this endeavour she has called upon the works of various scholars such as Giroux, hooks, Freire and Noddings. But there is still much that goes on in her classroom that remains unexplained. She seems to feel that there is more she could be doing, if only she knew what it was. This sense of professional unease reached a crisis point when she introduced a web based civic simulation into her class. It’s introduction into her course was deliberate attempt on her part to be ‘relevant’ to her students. They had grown up with computers and the internet, so incorporating a web-based component to her program would be in some ways familiar to them. All of which sounds fairly innocuous. Where she found new challenges was in the degree and depth of her students’ engagement with the simulation. Their involvement exceeded her expectations and comfort level. After reading her paper a couple of times, I’m not sure there’s anything I can say that would help to restore her sense of balance and provide her with the firm footing she desires.

It seems to me that we’ve been here before. In the place where the rules are changing. In the uncertain transition zone. Where what we used to do feels out of alignment. The old touch points have been hidden on us. Our accustomed role is ill-suited to the stage we’re on. The other players are performing their parts fluidly, while we stand around awkwardly, wondering if we’ve missed another cue.

Let’s go back a few hundred years to a time when there were no books, and no papers. All the teaching was oral. Teachers professed and students listened. They monologued and dialogued. A large part of the curriculum was the Bible. But very few people had one. Books were laboriously made and extremely valuable. Then Gutenberg came along and invented the printing press. Suddenly, many people had their own Bible and learned to read it for themselves. And the teachers were called to account for their teachings. “Where does it say that in the Bible?” Students could read ahead or discuss or even read other text without their teacher. The boundaries of the classroom had expanded and the balance of power had shifted.

In more recent times, teachers wrote on chalk boards while students used slate tablets because writing materials were so expensive. As production costs came down more students had paper and ink. Now their works had permanence. They could make drafts. They could collect their writings. The boundary of the classroom expanded and the balance of power shifted again.

Another example, in the 70s calculators started to replace slide-rules. More people could use them, do more complex calculations and do them faster and more accurately. Teachers initially opposed them because their curriculum was no match for the speed and processing power of the calculator. The realm of what was possible expanded and the balance of power shifted.

Here’s a concise list of some educational technologies: speech, drawing, writing, tablets, paper, books, computers, the web, laptops, handhelds, what’s next? Moving through the list the range of what is possible increases. Technological change begats social change. As the possibilities expand the established order must change in order to accommodate them. Denying the new possibilities, repressing the new found freedoms, comes at an escalating cost the longer they are denied. The question becomes how do we incorporate these new abilities with their concomitant expectations? There is resistance because doing so upsets the established order. That established order is usually the result of a great deal of work, not to be cast aside lightly. How do we integrate this new thing into the existing system while making use of its new potential?
How do we carry forward what is useful and valuable in the presence of this new thing?

There are two kinds of technological change: incremental and disruptive. Incremental changes can be woven into existing systems without too much stress. They are just a better way of doing what is already being done. Most people can accommodate better fairly well. Disruptive changes on the other hand, by their very nature change everything. They can’t be fit into an established system without changing the system itself. Computers on their own, are an incremental change (from an education point of view). A faster calculator, a more forgiving typewriter, a more precise drawing tool and so on. Computers connected to the internet, the World Wide Web. Now that’s disruptive change. Nothing is the same once it tries to accommodate the web. Any system that tries is going to be transformed by it in unforeseen and perhaps uncomfortable ways. Education is starting to deal with this. The next few years are going to be painful because the web can’t be held back any longer.

So what do we do? Just what L. did. She tried something new. And her classroom, her teaching methods, her teaching strategies have been disrupted. She’s not alone in this. It’s as though she’s come to the edge of the map and stepped into the part labelled ‘There Be Dragons’. And they are there. They are called administrators, parents and veteran teachers. People who know what they’re doing, who know what to expect because they know the way things work. They know. But disruptive changes, change the rules. You do something they don’t know; in their eyes, you’re probably wrong. Applying the old standards, expecting the old results is a recipe for conflict in the presence of disruptive change.

Incorporating the web as an integral part of class instruction takes a new set of skills. A new way of thinking of course content and of leadership. What does it mean when every student has access to exactly the same information as the teacher—more than anyone can ever absorb. How does it work when anyone can talk to anyone else at anytime—without disturbing anyone else? What happens when the inert knowledge prescribed by the curriculum comes to life in the students’ minds? Standardized testing doesn’t account for that. The K-12 curriculum can be thought of as a set of expanding boxes each one slightly larger than the one before. The classroom has kept students in the box; the web lets them out. Like Pandora, we’re not going to be able to put them back. We are still early in this transition period. It is going to take a few years before we have a stable system again, and it’s too soon to say what it is going to look like. There’s more than one way to help students “grow into the fullness of their humanity.” The principles are the same though the particular tactics might change. I think if we can hold onto those principles that L. knows intuitively that we will be fine, and so will our students.

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I’m a stinky blogger

The analogy is that bloggers are like sponges, they absorb a bunch of stuff and then they need to be squeezed out. If they aren’t squeezed regularly, they start to stink. Clearly, I haven’t been squeezed regularly enough… 🙂

My next posting was originally a response paper to a class presentation by another student, I’ll call her L. My response was intended, in the first place for L.’s benefit, and secondly for my benefit in receiving a mark for writing it. Those reasons were probably conflated at various times during my writing it. But it occurs to me that others, besides L. might find it helpful, or at least amusing. She thought it was hilarious.

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Here’s the thing…

A lot of pixels have been burned promoting and evaluating the advantages of Web 2.0 and its social collaboration approach to business and learning. Here’s three I came across today:

Six ways to make Web 2.0 work

9 simple and free ways to measure social media marketing results

IBM Lotusphere 2009 Highlights – The Business Value of Collaboration Software

Buried at the bottom of the last one, is the question “…is your business culturally ready?” And there’s the rub. Collaboration isn’t something you can just start doing one day. It requires a particular kind of mindset within a supportive culture. Here’s the best explanation I’ve found of what collaboration is:

Learning and Working in the Collaborative Age Randy Nelson

Randy sets a pretty high bar. In the current economic climate, it seems pretty audacious to aim for that. Wouldn’t it be far safer to simply hunker down and look out for number 1? Collaboration, of the knd Randy talks about, requires a degree of vulnerability that “…is your business culturally ready?” only hints at. But here’s the thing, we’re already vulnerable. The question is how to respond to that insight.

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Now this is inspiring

Chris Lehmann in 5 minutes and 20 slides tells us what is wrong with schools and what should be done about it.

Key point: computers are transformative technology. Kids get it. How many teachers and administrators do? How many administrators what things to be the way they were?  ’cause that’s what they know. Outside the classroom kids have access to more information and more people than they do in the classroom. So, what are they learning in the classroom? Are we helping them deal with the information available to them? Are we helping them figure out how to make sense of it? Are we hoping the “problem” goes away?

hat tip The Thinking Stick

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Graduate Fellowship

To my amazement and delight I have been awarded a graduate fellowship for 2008/2009. Effectively this means that my first year of tuition and student fees are fully funded, with some left over. I feel like somebody just raised the bar on me. Never-the-less, it’s happy dance time.

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Done, done and done.

Well, it’s been a long time coming but I can now say that my masters thesis on the virtual margin is fully and completely done. I now have a couple of months off before I start the doctoral program in September. For those who are interested, here’s the abstract.

Applications like Knowledge Forum enable a group of people to work together in a collective effort to improve their ideas and develop their understanding. One of the primary features of these applications is a communication mechanism that enables the group members to discuss multiple topics via a system of publishing messages. This study considers the usability and usefulness of a virtual margin added as an interface element on the right side of Knowledge Forum windows. The virtual margin provides each group member with their own private writing space adjacent to the space containing the public notes. For the study, a group of graduate students used Knowledge Forum, with its interface modified to include the virtual margin, in a knowledge building exercise. Their interactions with the virtual margin and the comments they wrote in it are discussed. Additionally, several potential new features are described and a longer term study outlined.

Keywords: annotation; knowledge building; Knowledge Forum; marginalia; usability
Subjects: educational technology; group work in education; knowledge building;
annotations; application software – development

money where mouth is

My son has tremendous difficulty making legible letter shapes. Writing stories is really a trial for him. A teacher suggested perhaps a laptop would work for him. He has no problem typing and he’s actually an excellent speller. Maybe that would work. So, I went laptop shopping and found a Toshiba A200-AH1 on sale at the Future Shop for $530, for $50 more I picked up an HP C4280 printer/scanner/copier. I don’t need a printer, but I’ve been wanting a new scanner. I brought the system home and booted an Edubuntu install disk. A short time later, the drive was reformatted and the laptop is now running Edubuntu.

My kids are delighted to have two systems to play on now. One uses iggy (the iMac) while the other uses tosh (the laptop). They’re learning there are multiple ways of doing things. They’re also learning that what works in one environment doesn’t necessarily work in the other. Even so, they can still get done what they want to do. Mind you, their needs aren’t all that demanding, yet. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

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end of compulsory schooling?

Someone at work asked the question: what do you think would be the result of the end of compulsory schooling?  To which I responded:

I predict that there will not be an end to compulsory schooling. Schooling serves some very useful purposes outside of education. It used to be that kids were needed for chores around the house. It used to be that kids could be put to productive work at an early age. It used to be that kids could be put outside unsupervised for hours at a time. It used to be that one could learn a job by watching someone else do it. Today parents are spending less time at home. Today the knowledge and skills required for productive contribution to society, for all but the simplest tasks, are increasing. Today the world is a much more complicated and dangerous place than it used to be. Today, parents don’t know what their kids are going to need to know.

Schools will be with us for a long time yet.

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