Thursday, July 22, 2010

Final Reflections on the Campus Technology 2010 Conference

Today was only a half of a day, so, first of all no free lunch was served. Drats! As a result, as I start to write this I’m sitting in Boston’s South Station mezzanine eating Cajun fast food (go figure, I travel to Boston, the heart of Yankee sensibility – although I challenge you to tell a diehard Sox fan that) and I’m eating a quintessential southern meal of chicken, jambalaya rice, and corn.

On the other hand, the half day was packed with wonderful information, anecdotes, and demonstrations of how technology is changing the face of education that it was a perfect capstone for the whole four day event.

Most of this new technology resides in the cloud, which is what I think both awes and scares the corporate world. It requires a great deal of courage to expose yourself in this way and to play in the clouds requires forfeiture of a great deal of privacy. Of course there is also a great deal of courage needed to bet on any cloud application. I spoke with Jeff Riman, an instructional designer from FIT-SUNY after he and his teammates finished presenting how their school implements the use of social and collaborative media. I was curious about what the time it took for their faculty and students to get use to Videothread, their collaborative cloud app that allows audio and video multimedia to be seamlessly meshed with forum discussions.

Anyone familiar with forums knows that they are text heavy and requires a bit of scrolling to read long threads and intuitively figure out where branches occur. Adding audio and video makes it a great deal more interactive. He acknowledged that there is a level of risk in buying into cloud apps.

You don’t know if it is being run by one lone guy from his basement with his lone server sitting next to his furnace.

And that vision is what will inhibit the corporate world from proceeding down this avenue…at least for a short while longer. I suspect the corporate world will want to continue to figuratively whistle while walking by the graveyard until the voices force them to stop and listen. The voices will not only be that of learners passed who they failed in their adherence to the LMS universe, but also those of the learners present and future who have been exposed to the new collaborative learning world and will not be happy with stale classroom events measured in hours of seat time and page-turning elearning with its mandatory final assessment filled with multiple choice and true/false questions.

As I write this I see a young man sitting in front of me eating his lunch while checking his Facebook account using his Smartphone while down below me, standing next to a row of pay telephones is a young lady who is chatting away on her cell phone. Sitting at a table is a 30something professional lady studying her Smartphone, I can’t tell if she is reading email or texting. In fact as I scan the floor of South Station I see a host of mp3 players, Smartphones, laptop computers, and netbooks in use. These devices have become ubiquitous and to deny their applicability as learning devices is a mistake. And the people who are using them will most likely need to be exposed to our training, or more likely not.

But does this mean that every teacher, training facilitator and instructional designer needs to acquire a Facebook or Twitter presence and then send out friend requests or follow invitations to every learner they may interact with? No, in fact this is one message that rang throughout the conference; students do not want that form of engagement. Just as we want a wall between our work lives and our family lives, so students want a wall between their social lives and their academic lives. So to move forward educators of all stripes will want to become the learners once again and learn to use these new collaborative tools in a way that they can reach and engage their students.

It can be as simple as learning the details of how to manage these tools themselves. We actually got into a somewhat heated discussion about this in the middle session of the day when we discussed how educational professionals can use social media to develop themselves. In that session, the debate was about the ratio of noise to sound on Twitter feeds. One participant argued that a lot of what is posted on Twitter is narcissistic. “Why should I care where Clay Shirky is eating dinner?” the participant said. And he has a point a person can quickly get overrun trying to follow all of the twitter feeds they have, but as others pointed out there are means to filter out the noise either by limiting who you are following or using specific codes within messages so that the feeds are more direct.

The other method is to employ technology to bridge the divide just as Dr Grant Warner of Howard University demonstrated with the use of ConnectYard. This tool, and I’m sure others like it soon to come will serve as a courier to carry simple email or text messages from the faculty member and deliver it to the students’ Facebook or Twitter accounts or straight to their text messenger service.

Note that earlier I used the words “want to” and “can” instead of  “have to” or “need” or “must.” I almost used both of these words, but I fortunately caught myself. I nor anyone else that argues for the use of social and collaborative media should insist that others adopt their views and this is for two main reasons.

  1. To insist on adaptation of your concept of learning crosses the line from educating and sponsoring new tools and applications for teaching to preaching and the creation of new dogma. Once a topic moves from education to holy writ it too become rigid and unwilling to change. As technology grows and improves the Facebooks and Twitters of today will become as archaic as the list servs and forums of the 1990s.
  2. To continue to insist that the educators and the administration that pays their salaries while they continue to resist means you have adapted their approach of lecturing, which, ironically, is the system you wish to displace and your resistors are trying to preserve.

Of course privacy is also an issue. I am now writing onboard an Amtrak train hurtling south toward my home. The seat behind me is inhabited by a businessman, apparently a hedge fund salesperson. I got this information from overhearing him conducting business over his cell phone while we travel. I now know from listening to him (I couldn’t help it, he has a loud voice) that he is staying in a hotel on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston and I know his cell phone number which I will not give out here. All of this I gathered while listening to him call and leave messages with clients and prospects over his cell phone. Could I use this information to my advantage, I don’t know, but I bet a more unscrupulous, but tech savvy person could.

As we move into this brave new world we need to be mindful that we are giving out a lot of information we think should be private when we use these devices. If we are to integrate cloud apps with training we must be equally careful. The closing keynote speaker, Josh Baron of Marist College spoke of this and he thinks that in the near future there will be the capability to mash up collaborative apps with LMSs’ so that student personal and private information will be safe behind a firewall while the collaborative elements will reside in the clouds.

In the end I keep going back to day 1 and John Kuglin’s demonstration of how interactivity can be built into even a two-hour presentation. It’s not rocket science, but it does involve a certain familiarity with the technology. And that’s my goal to learn more about these social tools so that I can speak with greater authority regarding them.

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