Flex(ing) My Head?

Even though I’ve always been told that explaining the joke is bad form, it’s never stopped me from doing that. This one was too good to pass up – the classic Flex Your Head compilation which documented the DC hardcore punk scene in 1982, combined with Adobe’s Flex product and my head banging on the wall trying to use it.

I got a chuckle out of it.

My experience with Flex has been relatively painless so far, the developer network and the sharing that goes on is pretty impressive. Lots of people are very accomodating, offering their code and techniques. I have a bit of history with Action Script, which is the programming language attached to Flash, which also works with Flex. It’s very similar to C, and bears a resemblance to Lingo which was used by Macromedia in their Director project.

Now getting this to do what I want it to is a different story. I was attempting to do a timeline, where a central node was scrolling along from left to right, and highlighting and creating new connections (and repeated ones) to new people in my network. It’s been a while, so maybe it’s just the rust on my brain. I’m going to dedicate the better part of tonight to get it nailed down, maybe it’ll be a simplified visualization with some sort of text? I did find a great example of how to do the network mapping side of things. I’m not sure I can get the rest of my ideas to work though, with such a short deadline.

Enough talk more action!

Reflections on Systemic Change – Week 11

CCK08 – This was written but forgotten in draft mode for the last week. So, through the magic of the internet, I’ve backdated it to reflect that. It’s interesting to see the connectivism work to some extent in a small class (and let’s face it, this large class is actually a large class with a small active component of 40-50 people). Can this change over into a larger scale? In one of my earliest Moodle postings, I commented that the paradigm had already shifted, albeit that was in reference to copyright, the sentiment is the same. I’m sure there a definite change in how people interact with computers, especially the newest influx of higher education students.

So there’s a change with how people interact with computers, so does that necessarily mean there’s a shift in how they learn? No. It does mean that there’s a shift in how they operate, and in which environments they feel comfortable in. Does that mean there’s a shift in how educators should teach? Yes. In my opinion, good teachers find new ways regardless of what is going on around them. Curiosity should be rewarded.

Dunbar’s number of approximately 150 suggests that maybe networked theories of learning are limited to smaller social connections than what a systemic change might require. Perhaps the weaknesses of prior learning theories were in that they didn’t account for informal learning as much as connectivism does. We’ve been working with Dewey for almost a century, Freire for about half that; not exactly a ringing endorsement of formal education being a social emancipator.

Informal education, well, there’s another story all together. Social organizations understand that formal education is to fit people into roles in society (whether that be engineers, artists, musicians…). Political movements understand that as well, and I think that’s why we see a distinct lack of formal training outside of the corporate world, who wants to deal with the classes, boring lectures and the formality of it all? Anything you need to learn in a social context you learn by doing. Lots of what you learn in school is by listening and reading. Is it any surprise that there’s a gap?

Hopefully connectivism addresses this gap. I think, as it stands now, it does.

Reflections on Openess – Week 10

CCK08 – I have a serendipitous relationship with the world. Case in point, when I decided that the job I am currently doing is not good enough (for me) – three other positions that suit me pop up. When I have to write about openess, and my thoughts about the week, I find this blog post about UVU goes open. Well, the article was posted last week – but much like my life, I’m about a week behind.

What’s interesting about that is that UVU is seen as a vocational University. I’ve always associated openess with regards to philosophy and sociology and history, not necessarily vocations. Of course, why not? I suppose my own perception of vocational skill training as specifically hands-on – but what’s to stop people from working on their own?

I’ve often thought that open courseware was always appropriate for computer skills (with it’s history of open source software, peer to peer sharing and the undercurrent of piracy of software), and I can certainly see that things like automotive repair would and could lend itself to sharing over the web. In fact, the last few times I’ve been interested in learning something new, I invariably end up at YouTube, watching a video how to do it. Installing taps? Attempted to do it (actually couldn’t get the bolts off) without any sort of help – except for the videos online. Configuring software? Went online to find a tutorial. All because someone thought someone else would need it.

In this age of information gluttony, it’s easy to just google it. It’s hard to find experts, though. I think open courseware attempts to address this sort of thing. You don’t have to have a degree in Philosophy to understand Wittgensten (although it probably will help…), see what others say about him. You don’t have to have a plumber’s certificate to do some basic plumbing.

Of course, this is a major adjustment from where we are – socially things are going to change a lot. Sure, you’ll still have dinner parties, events to go to – but some of the culturally diverse things where you meet different kinds of people may start slipping away. The plumber that comes to your house to fix your taps may tell some sort of story that sparks an inspiration or has an effect on your viewpoint of an issue. Or maybe they tells an off-color joke that reflects poorly on them. Strangers are becoming stranger; more estranged if you will. As we become more open in one area are we becoming more closed in others?

CCK08 “Paper” #3 – Opportunities and Resistance

CCK08 – Why is change so difficult? The first thing that needs to be examined is the reasons why things change – usually there is a need that has gone unfulfilled that requires other things change. Change doesn’t occur when things are comfortable or safe. Look at the recent election in the United States; change happened not just because Obama was the better candidate, but because he offers hope of a better future, something that most people do not see from the same party as George W. Bush.  Change was a powerful word for Obama, summing up his campaign, becoming his slogan and certainly the focus of the election. Change. Hope. If people were more economically secure, safe if you will, this would have been a different election. There was a desire for change.

The same desire for change must happen for change to occur anywhere. In the classroom change occurs because an instructor realizes the instruction method does not convey the learning they wanted to, or they think of a better way to deliver and deploy material. If the impetus for change is not present, there will be no change. Of course, the more powerful the position, the easier to change other things. The instructor is rarely the person who can change curriculum, but can at least adapt that curriculum to be delivered in the framework that suits their personal beliefs.

I believe that instructors can take solace in the effort that they put into their planning they will receive back from the students. Students know when an instructor cares about their subject, has put care and time into crafting a lesson or activity. Every inch of lateral thought that is allowed will bring an opportunity to show that an alternative way can work, no matter how small. Every small battle won, and yet dismissed by administrators or the general public as irrelevant or even worse than that, can show that change can occur. Of course, that means that the instructor wants to change. For every progressive, thoughtful person interested in reaching students and attending to their needs, there are several professors and teachers that use their position as a position of power and authority. I would say that ignoring your student’s needs are a form of authority abuse – and a disservice to yourself.  At the least it is simply egotistical to think you know better than the students how they need to learn.

And not only how they need to learn, but what they need to learn as well. Prescribed learning is coming to an end. Maybe not in my lifetime, but that’s the course we’re charting. We’re seeing shorter time frames for graduation, accelerated learning, more on-line learning, more collaborative learning and more flexibility in the choices students have in their courses of study. Our world is much more complex that it ever has been before, with more choices and more ways to access information than before. We suffer from information gluttony (not just overload). Certainly, there are many people who have a cursory understanding of some subjects, but not a deep understanding of any one. Is this a problem? Not if there exists an easily accessible repository of deep understanding of a subject – all one has to know at that point is where to look for the deep understanding. Some may argue that deep understanding can only come from experience of the subject. Certainly historians might disagree with that perception; many were not born of the time that they study in detail. As we become more literate with technologies like the internet, we will become more adept at filtering (or having computers filter for us) data that is considered superfluous. We are seeing the rudimentary beginning of such activity through technologies like RSS feeds and XML (which allows you to write tags that describe the content of webpages or other information).

Where does one go from here? Well, one area is using the power of teaching for good and not evil. While that might seem so common sense, and a smidgen idealistic, it is time to take responsibility for the power that teachers have. Once the power is recognized, begin to understand how this classroom can be used to not only teach the curriculum that is required, but to do it in a way that reflects the ability to question and question intelligently. Critical thinking leads to critical thoughts. It is no longer good enough to teach the man to fish so that he can eat forever; it’s time to teach people to think about whether the fish is good to eat at all.

Reflections on The Changing Role of The Teacher – Week 9

CCK08 – Part of this concept is explained in my previous post, “Paper” #2 for the CCK08 course. I’ve read some others’ papers (Lisa’s, Maru’s) and probably realized that I went in a different direction than maybe I’d wished. The benefits of hindsight, no? There was a lot of discussion about how teachers are going to give up their instructional power (and I’m sure a lot of teachers will point out that they are not as powerful as maybe this course suggests and that the curriculum designers and administrators of the higher education institutions are really the power mongers…) and transform into any number of possible titles.

Oh, how beautiful that concept would be. The reality of the situation is that this isn’t going to be an overnight process. Which is unfortunate, because by the time we get around to it, the moment will have passed and there will be yet another theory to replace connectivism et al. Schools are mostly still in a didactic, lecture first, ask questions later mode. In fact, that phrase makes me think of “Kill ‘Em All, Let God Sort ‘Em Out” t-shirts hanging in the head shops of the 80’s. Maybe a t-shirt with a very suit-and-tie lecturer holding up a pointer stick with the tip smoking, with “Lecture First, Ask Questions Later” on the front and “Fail ‘Em All, Let Admissions Sort ‘Em Out” on the back. 

I digress. I also went for  a job interview yesterday, which was interesting because the position was for a tech support-like, e-learning position at a university. The support would be for a strictly problem based learning program. During the interview I was always mentally aware that “oh yeah, I have to remember to think of a program, not a distinct course…”. So there are places that are doing this decentralization of learning, shifting the teaching from the teacher to the learner. Was really a great interview from my perspective, I learned a ton about how things can work.

The changing role of the teacher will always be tied to the power issue, who has it, what are they willing to give up to others’ and are they set on keeping it.

CCK08 “Paper” #2 – The Changing Roles of Educators

Do you agree their roles are changing?

Whether or not I think educator’s roles are changing depends on the point of view of the educator. If you are a professor who believes that they “profess” the truth and ideas then it is up to the student to get what you say. If you are an instructor who teaches skills, maybe this change applies to you; maybe you investigate how to facilitate skill acquisition. Another factor in whether or not educators roles are changing is how responsive are educators to student needs?

Yes – clearly students today are not the same as students in previous generations. Several blogs and papers (Media Multitasking Among American Youth, Teens And Social Media, Defining “Creepy Treehouse”) have looked at how this generation functions on the internet. As an educator, I believe it should be your duty to use whatever format is necessary to enhance learning; a Hippocratic Oath for teachers. Similarly, part of the Hippocratic Oath that “acknowledg[es] that it is impossible for any single physician to maintain expertise in all areas. It also highlights the different historical origins of the surgeon and the physician“, an educator cannot maintain expertise in all areas of their field of study. As such, educators should go out of their way to find the knowledge experts in the field and bring them to the classroom, using educational technology and communication technology to do so. Much like how surgeons are specialists, guest speakers take those roles in our classrooms – guest lecturers. The physician’s role is played by the teacher/facilitator.

If so, what are appropriate responses?

Again, this all matters on your teaching philosophy. If the power of didactic lecturing is your preferred mode of knowledge dissemination then you won’t be affected by a paradigm shift as much as someone who thinks that the learner has a role in their own learning. One response that could occur and is not at all dependent on technology is to shift your personal role from teacher to facilitator – help students facilitate their own learning. Facilitated learning often leads to deeper understanding and comprehension of the subject matter. But, as Lisa states in her second paper for CCK08 “[a]ctive learning and facilitation creates a more participatory learning environment, but its basis is still in the learning of the individual via the method controlled by the instructor. It is ‘learner-centered’ but not ‘learner-directed’.” So really, two shifts need to occur for some educators. One change, from teacher-centered to learner-centered; then a second change from learner-centered to learner-directed.

Another shift that could occur is to recognize that students are generally more comfortable with new technologies – make sure that alternative options are available to a student who might not put the same effort into an essay as he or she would into a YouTube video, flash presentation or some alternative form of analysis. A Skype conversation with an industry or technological leader may bring greater learning that still matches pre-determined learning outcomes. This could provide more learning than a simple essay. This customization may not increase educator workload during the marking phase, but it does demand that the educator think in creative and complex ways that may be outside of their norms.

What are impediments to change?

The main impediment to change is the educators themselves. Many educators have a vested, personal interest in the power they command at the front of the classroom. For these educators, lecturing is a display of their power, their knowledge and their position in life. Just looking at the language of that sentence, the implied ownership of knowledge and even the arrogance that didactic educators own something like knowledge that is so nebulous and ever changing is to someone like me, a ridiculous statement.

The other major roadblock to change is the administrative power that cannot see how to capitalize on a new learning theory such as connectivism. People who administer in higher education institutions cannot figure out ways to keep money flowing in – even though current classroom deliveries are lacking in the methods those students want them in. Modern students require more flexible options – some want online delivery, some want different hours of instruction, some want credit for what they already know. The current models in most higher education settings are incapable of that level of flexibility.

Beyond that Bob Bell states in this Moodle discussion that K-12 learning is affected by safety issues. Brookfield talks about safety in the classroom in his book The Skillful Teacher (p. 94) and discusses how one way he deals with it is by letting students know what’s coming. I can’t describe a better way to help students discover new learning than by letting them know what might be out there. Certainly, that requires a maturity about others’ viewpoints and beliefs, which may be absent in the K-12 classroom.


Bell, B. (2008, November 9). Changing Role: Fast Forward To The Past. CCK08 Moodle Forums. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://ltc.umanitoba.ca/moodle/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=1064#p6758

Brookfied, S. (2006). The skillful teacher. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Lane, L. (2008, November 6). Paper #2: Insurgence for Emergence. Lisa’s CCK08 WordPress Blog. Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://lisahistory.wordpress.com/2008/11/06/paper-2-insurgence-for-emergence/.

Wikipedia (2008, November 7). Retrieved November 9, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hippocratic_Oath


Hmmm, dunno what I think about Thinkature, but it seems like a decent little tool. I was looking for a free web based collaborative tool for my Searching The Internet class – came across this. We don’t have elluminate available college-wide (although I would like to use elluminate sessions in my Distance Ed offering of the same course). The idea that I wanted to do is a whiteboard session where people add different ideas as to what web searching means to them – it bombed in class. Terribly. It resorted to me talking and drawing answers out of people. I think one of the reasons it failed was that it just wasn’t something people expected. They expect to come in use the computers and leave. Asking people to get up in front of the class and express how they feel about searching doesn’t work for them. So, maybe using a website will be more in line with what they expect, but get what I want out of them.

As an aside, the whole webmaster certificate course is very silo’d. I don’t know what other people are teaching, I just know my areas. So if I teach something, it’s quite possible it’s been taught before. In another class. It’s also very geared to the web individual. The part that’s missing is that web designers rarely act alone. They interact with clients, other designers to figure out problems, other programmers to deal with database code or scripting and have a brief idea of what consumers want out of websites.

E-Learning Is Not E-Teaching

I woke up this morning with a start. It was about 6:30 AM, which meant it was early enough to be almost light out, but late enough that going back to sleep was an exercise in futility. I was having a dream that I was giving a speech in front of my colleagues, the faculty of the Language Studies department. After being introduced by the dean of the department, I gave my “farewell” speech. Or at least it felt like it. Here’s what I recall of it:

I hope that my absence will not be seen as a reason to abandon e-learning, but a platform for you to take the next step. I have shown you different tools to use, now you have to use them without my aid. The shift from e-teaching to e-learning has already happened. E-learning is not e-teaching. You are no longer in control of what happens in the classroom. The students are in control. You are a guide, not a director. Show people how to learn, don’t teach them.

Clearly, all this theory work in the CCK08 course and the facilitation course are starting to sink in. Even in my unconscious state. I think though my subconscious though brought forth an interesting idea. E-learning is not e-teaching. So many people use e-learning as an e-teaching place. They use the new technology with the old rules because they don’t see the distinction, even though it’s right there on the name. E-learning. Learning, not teaching. Subtle difference I suppose, but it’s there. It’s spelling out the paradigm shift that’s already shifted (and I’d say that we’re in the process of shifting again, beyond a learner centred focus).