Thursday, June 26, 2008

Learning Opportunity – Connectivism as a Theory of Learning

Stephen Downes and George Siemens are offering a 12-week, college-level course looking at the latest theory of learning: Connectivism. The course is free to audit or you can pay and receive college credit. Here’s how they describe the course.

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge is a twelve week course that will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. It will outline a connectivist understanding of educational systems of the future. George Siemens and Stephen Downes – the two leading figures on connectivism and connective knowledge - will co-facilitate this innovative and timely course.

This course will help participants make sense of the transformative impact of technology in teaching and learning over the last decade. The voices calling for reform do so from many perspectives, with some suggesting 'new learners' require different learning models, others suggesting reform is needed due to globalization and increased competition, and still others suggesting technology is the salvation for the shortfalls evident in the system today. While each of these views tell us about the need for change, they overlook the primary reasons why change is required.

The course will begin in September 2008.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning Digital Native Style

Received a notice from the Digital Natives Facebook group of a two-hour online forum on Wednesday, June 25th entitled: Creativity and Media Literacy Forum. The forum is hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

The focus of the forum is “about current creative obstacles and opportunities media producers, teachers and others face in their fields. The presentation will be webcast in Quicktime, the conversation can be joined in the Berkman IRC room (irc:// using an IRC client such as Trillian, and can be viewed and interacted with in Second Life.

To quote from the Digital Natives’ Facebook page and the Berkman Center website:

We're excited about the group of presenters and attendees we've assembled, and wanted to let you know what the general game plan is. The conversation will be fluid, interspersed with very short presentations from team members of

I’m fascinated by this effort not only because of the subject matter, but also the virtual means of presenting it. Tags: ,,

Monday, June 23, 2008

Developing Productive Online Discussions

Fascinating opinion piece posted at Campus Technology last week about grading conversations in the Web 2.0 world. The piece written by Trent Batson focuses on the academic world but has a lot to say to corporate training initiatives that seek to employ Web 2.0 tools.

Two items jumped out at me as I read the piece. Batson explains how a professor based all of his/her grades on student conversations in Blackboard.

The students' first impulse was to just write essays. However, these were not conversational turns, but performances, so they were graded very low. When the students instead started picking up on elements in the previous comment and including references to these elements in their own comments, their grades went up. If the students extended their discourse skills to synthesize several comments in their own comments, they got even higher grades.

He then cites four criterion for grading a written conversation:

  • Cohesion in which students need to show they are conversing with one another rather than just posting items to the message board/blog comments field/other conversation tool. This means repeating or restating elements of a previous post on which they are commenting, or at least referring to the post.
  • Awareness that because this is a conversation between all class members and not just between the commenter and the teacher. They need to be attempting to convince all to their point of view, not just the teacher.
  • The conversation must be directed to the purpose of the class, not just “social chit chat.” While the conversation does not have to be purely straight-laced, the social element must be related to the discussion points.
  • Finally, the diction employed must be academic in nature. Batson says “[a] discussion of an idea is not the same as the discussion of a party.”

As the corporate world starts to apply web 2.0 tools to their training environment it is essential that the individuals who will stand in place for the university professor be aware of these elements and maintain a watchful eye on online discussion boards. While grading may not be a factor, these elements offer clear guidance on how to maintain a productive online environment.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gen Y and the future of IT

Web Strategy by Jeremiah asks some interesting questions about how corporate IT is going to deal with the waves of Gen Y'ers that are entering the workforce.

These questions remain:

  • Do the once finite lines of the corporate firewall between work and personal start to fade?
  • Who is really an official spokesperson? Is there an unofficial spokesperson?
  • As Generation Y moves into the workforce, how will their communication habits change? How about ours? (I work with several talented ones)
  • Will Generation Y, who is accustomed to Facebook Applications, Google Docs, Rich internet application interfaces, and advanced web technology (all public) be shocked to find out how bad your enterprise software is?
  • How will companies adapt and changes their corporate policies to meet this change?
  • These are questions that need to be considered as well by learning professionals who still think that Level 1 elearning is an appropriate means to "train" their staff. This was touched upon in the comments section of the post:

    Elliott Ng June 22nd, 2008 6:48 am

    The questions this raise for me are:

    1. What can we Gen X and older learn from Gen Y and Millennials? In terms of social media?

    2. What assumptions do we have about Gen Y and Millennials that are wrong but we don’t know it?

    3. What do we have to teach in order to get the most out of our Gen Y and Millennial people?

    Cool post.

    jeremiah_owyang June 22nd, 2008 6:55 am


    What I’ve learned about Generation Y is that because they are digital natives, they know how to learn. They can figure it out on their own, you just need to provide them direction and let them bump into a few walls to get experience.

    Jeremiah's comment that company's need to "let them bump into a few walls to get experience" leads me to wonder whether they will be permitted that leeway during these tough economic times. Tags: ,,

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Free Experiential Learning Webinar

    Learned about this through the Instructional Technology Forum post by Christine Nickel of Regent University:

    Want to know more about how you can use experiential learning in you traditional, technology-enhanced or online courses? Then plan to attend a free webinar brought to you by Wimba’s Distinguished Lecture Series.

    Instructional designers Robert Fitkin and Christine Nickel of Regent University will explore Kolb's model of experiential learning and its application in higher education today. Scenario Based Learning, Digital Game Based Learning, and Storytelling will be examined as practical ways to use experiential learning in the traditional, technology-enhanced or online course.

    Please mark your calendars and attend!

    When: Wednesday July 2, 2008 at 2pm EDT

    How to register:

    Remember, the webinar is free and accessible to people throughout the world.

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    E-mail over Essays?

    email I’ve been meaning to blog about this for a month now. I saved the Campus Technology Web 2.0 newsletter in my inbox for more than a month, and now that I have the time I want to comment it. Dr. Trent Batson, PhD, is a professor of English and an ePortfolio consultant in the Office of Educational Innovation and Technology at MIT.

    Dr Batson made an interesting proposal in the May issue of Web 2.0; in his viewpoint piece, Writing: It Ain’t the Same Anymore, he proposes that for the new digital age the basic form of writing that should be studied is the email instead of the essay.

    A native form (“the boots”) in the digital world is e-mail. Yes, the first reaction to suggesting e-mail is a form worth studying and teaching is, “Oh, e-mail is simple, nothing there to teach or examine.” Until you look under the hood, that is. We thought spoken interaction was pretty simple, too, back when many people predicted we’d have natural language processing software by 1967. Forty years later, we’re doing ok, but no one counted on it taking us 40 years.

    In fact, e-mail is one of the most complex written forms any of us has ever written. Essays only seemed hard in school because educators made it artificially difficult: Though many writing teachers are changing the paradigm, the essay has traditionally been taught as an autonomous (not collaborative -- that’s “cheating”) structured communication written by a novice to an expert, telling him or her (the teacher) what that expert already knows.

    Being the recipient (and the sender) of hundreds of emails each week, I’m not convinced that email is a complex writing form. In fact, I’m not sure it qualifies as a traditional writing form, it has evolved into an asynchronous dialog. Anyone who has been cc’d on an email chain that consists of one or two sentence responses will attest to that. In fact I would wager to say that most email constitute a Web 1.0 solution to the instant messaging clients of the Web 2.0 world.

    Dr. Batson then asks the question “Is ‘real writing’ the context-less essay or is real writing what we all do during a large part of each day as we work at our computers?” He contends that an essay constitutes a “design challenge” while an email is a “communications challenge.” I’m not really sure what the difference is explains that with an essay you must "state your thesis in the first paragraph, limit yourself to five paragraphs, and conclude by summing up." He doesn't explain how an email differs from this. In my experience a well-written email follows the same formula, except you can't count on your recipient reading beyond the text initially shown in their email client viewing pane.

    So, I guess I respectfully disagree with Dr. Batson's proposal.

    Red Cross Using Web 2.0 Tools in Emergency

    The American Red Cross is using a variety of Web 2.0 tools to coordinate its response to the flooding occurring in Iowa and the rest of the Midwest.

    ReadWriteWeb reports:

    Getting information out to victims and their families during a disaster is a major issue for any relief organization. So while the Central United States recovers from a spate of storms that has ravaged towns with tornadoes and flooding, the American Red Cross is relying on a number of web 2.0 technologies to spread information to the press and people affected by the severe weather. The online newsroom that the organization has set up relies on a number of web 2.0 widgets.

    The newsroom site runs off of Wordpress, and it's being used to push out press releases, media, and information about shelters. The Red Cross is using Utterz to post audio reports from the field, Flickr for photos and YouTube for videos, as well as a Slide-powered slideshow widget that allows anyone to upload photos of disaster areas. The site also features a Google Maps mashup that depicts the surprisingly large number of relief operations currently being run by the American Red Cross (hint: click the "view larger map" link, because viewing the informative popups inside the widget on site is next to impossible).

    Read the whole story.

    Friday, June 13, 2008

    Twitter alerts me to free online presentation on Emotion, Learning and the Online Learning Environment.

    Picked up info about this free program via blog posting by  Inge de Waard (Twitter name: Ignatia). The program is being offered by the Canadian Institute of Distance Education Research at Athabasca University.

    Title: Emotion, Learning and the Online Learning Environment.

    In spite of evidence that more and more students are engaging in online learning experiences (Alan & Seaman, 2006), clarity about the transition to a new learning environment is still at arm's length (Cleveland-Innes, Garrison & Kinsel, 2006). In addition, the impact of the emotion created by dealing with this new environment on learning is virtually (pun intended) undiscovered. In this session, Dr. Marti Cleveland-Innes and Zehra Akyol will review theory and data regarding emotion in online environments, with opportunity for discussion of the effect of emotion on teaching, learning and instructional design. In addition, this presentation corresponds with the launch of a web-site to support continued discussion and research on emotion and online learning. The web-site will be introduced at the end of the session.

    I cite Inge’s Twitter name because I was alerted to the posting via Twitter complete with a TinyURL link to the post. Inge, nee Ignatia, has linked her blog to her Twitter account so that everytime she posts a blog entry on her Blogger account Twitter sends out a notice to her followers. I maintain a similar set-up.

    Ignatia Webs: CIDER free online presentation on 'Emotion, Learning and the Online Learning Environment.

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    The Dangers of Social Networking

    One can only wonder how management will react when a post like the one displayed below finds its way onto a corporate Social/Professional network. This is a snapshot of the comments, the original can be found at

    Hat tip: The most Disgusting Digg Comment Ever (Pic) |

    Friday, June 06, 2008

    Free Online Learning Book

    Athabasca University Press has released the book The Theory and Practice of Online Learning, edited by Terry Anderson, for free download as a PDF.

    The book is published under the Creative Commons License copyright. Meaning it can be reproduced for non-commercial purposes provided the author is credited.

    You can download the entire book or any of it chapters. Here's a snippet from the chapter In-Your-Pocket" and "On-the-Fly:" Meeting the Needs of Today's New Generation of Online Learners with Mobile Learning Technology by Maureen Hutchison, Tony Tin, and Yang Cao of Athabasca University.

    If one assumes that the learner is in full control, what influence does this have on preferences for mobile learning? Given our knowledge of the Net Generation, Wagner and Wilson (2005) argue that mobile learning – while enabling equal opportunity access, ubiquitous connectivity, multi-generational uses and users, services for the mobile worker, and services for the mobile learner – will benefit most those who can leverage their digital communication skills in a world that has been levelled by mobile technologies. (Page 204)

    Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    Edupunk: the new generational battlefield

    I don't know if this is just a tempest in a teapot or we are seeing the next stage in the evolution of learning from the old industrial model to a new individualized approach. Over the past six days a figurative firefight has broken out over the concept of Edupunks. It seems to be an outgrowth of the uproar around an advertising pitch by BlackBoard surrounding its new academic suite. The promotion on its website reads:

    Engage. Interact. Collaborate.

    Release 8.0 is the complete engagement solution with smart grading capabilities that will delight faculty; tools that promote critical thinking skills and increase student engagement; and a single content management solution that enables users with diverse needs to collaborate across the institution. Learn more about the benefits and find out what it can do for you.

    This announcement seemed to be a call to arms for education bloggers on the overall topic of whom should be controlling the means of learning and discussion. It appears that Brian Lamb Jim Groom of BavaTuesdays started the ball rolling back on May 25th when he argued that BlackBoard was turning learning from a community effort to a technology effort. My take is that the Edupunks endorse the concept that Web 2.0 tools are just that tools used to facilitate individuals' ability to learn from one another. Stephen Downes offers this definition of Edupunk (prefaced with the proviso that "true edupunks deride definitions as tools of oppression used by defenders of order and conformity.").

    [E]dupunk is student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance.

    Stephen has done great work on collecting the disparate threads of conversation around this concept. You can read his posts starting here, and then here, and the latest here. All are chock full of links to follow. Chronicle of Higher Education  provided a brief cover of the piece as well.

    Whether the Edupunk attitude carries on or not it does focus a spotlight on the future of Web 2.0 tools especially as formal organizations such as educational institutions and corporations look into using these tools. As David Warlick puts it in his blog post What's this about Edupunk?:

    I do not have any real objection to corporate embrace of these tools.  We’re all trying to make a living. 

    What worries me, though, is school officials  hearing the buzz, and thinking that they can buy their way into the crowd, rather than learning their way in.

    Replace "school officials" with "corporate officials" and Dave's line still rings true. I have to say that I think I have at least one foot in the camp of the Edupunks. The key to learning is not to use new tools to deliver the same top-down approach. As our society is opened up to alternative sources of information they are naturally becoming critical thinkers. The main stream news media are financially hurting because the public no longer has to rely on the single newspaper in their community or the three local television affiliates to provide them with news. The Internet has removed them from the isolation and dependence on these outlets to provide them with information.

    Likewise, learners, especially those who have graduated out of organized schooling and have entered the workforce, no longer have to rely on organized training sessions to learn about their job responsibilities and how to perform those responsibilities. Professional organizations looking to use Web 2.0 tools to enhance learning need to step back and be willing to relieve control to the learners. Provide them with the resources (videos, podcasts, computer-based learning, monthly seminars, and the tools to create their own content) and let them construct their own learning at their own pace and let them talk about it.

    UPDATE: I guess once again I'm late getting to the barricades, Intrepid Teacher brands Edupunk as "so yesterday."

    I am not here to out punk anyone or defend terms I had no hand in creating. I am also not here to cheerlead a group of people who could articulate their ideas much better than myself. This post is already one of many, probably too many, posts trying to attach meaning to a label. The creators of the term are probably sitting back and laughing at the direction their idea has taken. Some students are already angry that adults without their input are once again hijacking their movement.

    A commenter notes "I agree that the edupunk is just other stuff rebranded. what is more interesting is the notion of open source and cooperative approaches." They're both probably right, yet as William Shakespeare said, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet." If you don't like the term "edupunk" than don't use it and look at the arguments within.

    FURTHER UPDATE: Hat tip to Serena for correcting me on who blogs at babatuesdays. Jim Groom runs bavatuesdays, while Brian Lamb blogs at Abject Learning.

    Monday, June 02, 2008

    Brain Rules and presentations

    I've read Dr. John Medina's brain rules book and I have subscribed to both his Facebook page and his blog. The book is a very readable review of what we know about the brain, how it functions, and its impact on learning. The following slideshow was created by Garr Reynolds who publishes the Presentation Zen blog and it expertly captures three critical rules outlined by Dr. Medina in his book.