Experience vs. Memory in Teaching and Learning


The concept of the experience being different than the memory of it is an interesting one (and probably explains more about me than need be). Certainly we color things that we remember, but I never really thought about this issue when teaching. In a face to face environment, a teacher delivers a lecture; the student receives the lecture, and if they’re lucky an activity is created to reinforce the concepts. Participation might occur, or might not. The concepts are restricted to what was said in a particular environment – so at least the teacher can restrict some external distractors which might color the memory. In this situation, the student who succeeds best is the one that remembers the closest to the experience.

In the last two decades, we’ve seen plenty of studies asking for more critical thinking in schools. Critical thinking requires less wrote memorization. To put it in terms of the Ted talk by Daniel Kahneman, does that mean that less memory and more experience? Or is critical thinking a process that some of us engage in to turn memory into experience? And when we don’t process information critically, what then?

Ten Web 2.0 Tools I Can’t Live Without

This post is inspired, or a direct response to, the “Tools of My Trade” post by Steve Wheeler. So here’s the ten Web 2.0 tools that I can’t live (although I would) without:

1. Twitter/Tweetdeck – I grouped these two together because my use of Twitter is non-existent without Tweetdeck. Twitter has gone from a second thought to the first thing I open at work in the morning. In fact, I open my Twitter account and scan it before I open e-mail. I never thought when I first started using Twitter that it would have this profound an effect, but it does.

2. WordPress – Without WordPress, there would be no blog(s) for me. In fact, I chose to buy and host on my own because of the ease of installing WordPress. Certainly I could’ve continued with the free hosting at Edublogs, or moved to a Blogspot location, but for me it only seemed logical to roll my own.

3. Google Search – Yes, I’m a bit wary of the monolithic Google  and the amount of information they can potentially know about me. Of course, I’ll trade what they know about me for the wealth of information that is available. Sure, it’s becoming second nature that the first result will probably be the best one for me – which will be an issue once that second nature is unquestioned. Until then, and not only because I used to teach searching techniques, Google Search is crucial.

4. bit.ly – Again, if you follow my Twitter stream (@dietsociety) you’ll know that I use this shortening service exclusively. I like that I can know something about the people who click on the links, and it often leads me to new people I choose to follow (if I’m not already).

5. Scribd – I can’t imagine that this service, where you can read books online, won’t be affected by the iPad, Kindle and other portable e-book readers. Still, lots of good information out there.

6. Flickr – I do maintain only one stream of photos – mostly for the live music I’ve seen and been lucky enough to get a workable photo at. My wife uses it as a dumping ground for all things – so I leave the photos of my life over there. Plus she’s much more talented than me.

7. Yahoo Mail / Gmail – Does this count as a Web 2.0 tool? I’m a chronic checker of e-mail – so much so I forget to check the one associated with my home ISP. I’ve had my Yahoo mail account for just under a decade… so by default I guess it’s not Web 2.0… maybe Web 1.5?

8. LMS – As a user I’ve used Blackboard, Desire2Learn, WebCT 4, Moodle, FirstClass and Sakai. As an instructor I’ve used Desire2Learn, FirstClass and WebCT. I’ve also had administrative powers for most of those systems at one point or another. I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t login to one of these systems.

9. Wikipedia / Media Wiki – I used this in my teaching, and often refer to it as a starting point for inquiry.

10. Facebook – Occasionally I use Facebook to keep up on my family’s coming and goings, as well as my friends. Having friends in several different cities across the world – Facebook makes sense. Otherwise, I’m not interested in Farmville or any other Mechanical Turk work.


I was reading ReadWriteWeb’s posting about finding design balance – specifically between aesthetics design and functionality. This tension is something educators find all the time – especially when you factor in pedagogy and/or andragogy. Educators should be looking for some window dressing as well as the view, meaning there needs to be some beauty with the functionality. Too often, teachers are too consumed with the content, and not the presentation. As we know from communication and media theory, the way the message is conveyed plays a role in the way it is understood. Back to the article… it puts out there that sometimes users prefer a more complex interface. Certainly we see this sort of techno-snobbery with the iPhone being accused of being a toy (at least at first) – I think there’s an elegance that exists with the iPhone (and iPod Touch) that is lacking in other phone interfaces. Does this idea shift to e-learning?

Are there instances where a more complex, and potentially more confusing, interface could benefit some learners? Certainly, I like the idea of instilling confusion in learners – personally I hate feeling confused, but it tends to drive me to understand whatever I’m confused about more. If I feel that way, maybe someone else out there benefits from confusion too? Certainly, you can go too far – as confusion for most people is a huge turn off.

The Future Is Now?

Been a busy week so far, but I’m rounding out my teaching here at the College – no more XML, Fireworks or Searching courses for me. I’ve been thinking about putting together a course about 21st Century Literacy using online resources, free and open sources and in general making the course as open as possible. Of course, this won’t appear overnight, and will probably take a long time to cull and gather into themes. Here’s a quick list of topics that might be covered:

  • Evaluating website information (CRAP method, 5 journalistic questions method)
  • Searching strategies (how Search Engines work)
  • Tools that aggregate information (RSS)
  • Methods to collect/sort information (not exclusively tool based, some cognitive)
  • How authority is challenged in (by?) the new paradigm
  • The art of the remix (video capture, editing and narratives) and what it means for the end user

Am I missing something? I’m sure I am – let me know if there’s something crucial that I’m out to lunch on. I want this to course to be 50% theory and 50% practical skills… understanding the why and the how.


I’ve been playing with Netvibes, after Howard Rheingold’s rave review of the site’s ability to help make sense of information abundance. It’s taken a while for me to cobble my sites together, and I’m still working through some more advanced ideas with the tool (integrating Reader alerts with it). I guess oneof the start up costs have been the time it’s taken to find all the feeds and add them to my Netvibes desktop. Previously I had worked with the Windows Desktop widget for RSS feeds that did an OK job – although it forced me to use Internet Explorer. I never really got into Google Reader, much like how I got into (and out of wave) after the fact. I like the idea of distributing my identity around a couple of sites, not only for redundancy, but for privacy issues as well.

Now that I’ve got a lot of feeds working into it – I feel like a quick glance and I have a brief understanding of what’s going on, and I think this sort of aggregation has a nice element of serendipity to it. Often I click on a posting I want more information about, click once or twice, and find something related (or entirely unrelated).

Howard Rheingold’s Crap Detection 101

This may be one of the most important thing that will determine success or failure in the future. Not just to determine who is telling us bullshit, but what their motivations might be in telling us bullshit. Otherwise, we’ll be exposed to sending personal information to Nigeria to help out princes, which is this generation’s prime real estate in Florida and bridge in Brooklyn.

What I Learned This Week (Part 9)

MagicJack sued Boing Boing to get them to shut up about MagicJack’s TOS. Of course, they want to analyse your calls…. much like how Google analyses your searches (and matches it to demographics). The fact that so many people are attracted to “free”, and are willing to give away privacy at the cost of nothing is a little disturbing. Of course, if MagicJack said it like that, chances are they wouldn’t be in business.

Much like the ideas about making sense from an abundance of information, that grew from the Connectivism theory, I’ve been looking for ways to delve through the 100,000 plus apps available in the AppStore. App Store Overpopulation points to a couple websites who do a good job with reviews of apps. iPhone Tiny is another website who review mostly new apps and rank them on a 5 star scale. The real great website would combine the 5 star ratings available in the AppStore, review sites and users experience. Certainly anywhere ranking is involved (especially with ranking where money is involved), there is a certain amount of gaming the system, so there would need to be some authority and reliability with this site.

A brief touch from Zeldman (via Craigmod) on media and how the iPad can change how we view “books”. I think digital books have always been seen as either inferior, or second class as compared to physical books. Certainly displaying information on screen presents a set of challenges with regards to fidelity and precision that can’t be functionally overcome… so I think we need a different understanding of what a “book” will consist of in the future. The linked Craigmod article posits that barriers to publishing are falling – we’ve seen this idea before, with bands, fanzines, oh yeah punk rock. Well, fanzines and DIY culture extends back to the 60’s, so really this is an old idea with a new platform. The problem is that we haven’t seen too many breakthrough incidents – not too many fanzines have grown big enough to break through to mainstream culture (perhaps some skateboarding mags started as fanzine endeavors – I’m thinking Big Brother as an example) and even then, nothing on the scale of People or Time. Any of the huge punk bands (Sex Pistols, Ramones, Clash) were already accepted by mainstream record labels. I don’t think the iPad will change access points for independent publishers, just add more books available to people. The mainstream will still only see the 99% pushed by mainstream publishers.

Reflections on My Use of Wikis in the Classroom

Wikipedia has fundamentally and finally altered epistemology itself—our commonly held ideas about knowledge. For the academy at large, the significance of Wikipedia is roughly equivalent to that which the Heisenberg uncertainty principle had in the sciences in the 1920s—stating what is not possible rather than what is. It is no longer possible to plan, tax, and budget for universities as if their model of knowledge creation is the only epistemological path. No matter how improbable it might seem that a Web page that anyone can edit would lead to valuable knowledge, Wikipedia makes clear that there is now another model for knowledge creation. And it also recasts the comments of the diplomatic chancellor in a supremely ironic light: here is the leader of a massive state system for knowledge creation stating that “when every one is responsible no one is responsible,” while he, and certainly everyone in that audience, has probably relied upon a knowledge acquisition path—from Google to Wikipedia—for which everyone is responsible and no one is responsible at once. — Robert E. Cummings, Wiki Writing: Collaborative Learning in the College Classroom (online book) (link to quote)

I’ve written previously about my wiki problems, assessing the wiki work, but never really assessed the impact of my decision to turn the Searching the Internet course into a guided research course. Now is a good time to do this as the second iteration of the course is done, and I’m handing it off to someone else. For the most part, people embraced the technology once they understood the purpose of using the wiki – which was hard to explain to some people. It was important to understand that user-created content needs some critical consumption before you trust it. It’s constantly amazing that many people don’t think to question broadcast news, newspapers or media in general, which really is the main goal that I hoped to get out there to people. I think in some ways I failed, more on that later.

One major hurdle that I still am not sure about how to get around (through?) is student expectations of what should go on in the classroom. Using the wiki for everything was conceptually difficult for those who attended lectures in the face-to-face offering. They wanted to discuss the issues in class – and I didn’t persuade them otherwise. It’s the thing I love about classrooms – the discussions therein. I should’ve made a better attempt at summarizing these in class discussions in the wiki, that way there would be a digital record of what was discussed, what the decisions were and where to go post-discussion. Of course, having the discussions robbed them of a crucial piece of the collaborative work – the discussions on talk pages. This discussion serves two purposes. The first being the revelation that the general public have a democratic say in the content published. The second being that hopefully the fact that they’re editing the content means that other non-experts are also editing content, and that means you have to take everything written with a grain of salt (sometimes a pound).

Another classroom expectation that I had trouble with was a small minority of students were just not comfortable doing their own research. They wanted specific instructions from me as to what to do. I was clear in that this course would be unlike other courses they may have taken. I didn’t want the authority of the teacher (and considering the subject matter, let’s face it, people have to get over this authority complex they have – it’s decentralized just like the Internet) and was looking for ways to bust ye olde teacher as authority. I tried telling people that I was not an expert and that my role was as a guide through the material laid out before them. Yes, I wrote it and yes, I researched it. Yes, it could be wrong too. I tried telling people that it wasn’t a course, and they weren’t students and they weren’t doing assignments they were doing exercises. Of course, the exam at the end was real. I tried telling students that I only know this stuff because I looked it up on the Internet. That didn’t work out so well, and I never repeated that one. Nothing will devalue the course than telling the truth. In the end I didn’t try to break this power structure, and it’s one of the reasons I won’t be teaching after this semester.

I disagree with Cumming’s assertion that everyone and no one is responsible for the content. It’s neither. It’s you who is responsible for assessing the information you consume. I think that’s where I’ve failed, not getting this point through, that every piece of information you consume has a bias, a history and a reason. Nobody publishes a story in the newspaper or on a blog without a reason. Some are transparent, some are difficult to read. While I’ve given the students of the Searching the Internet over the last seven years the tools and some experience in using them, I’m not sure anyone stayed with it.

With that said, it wasn’t an all-around failure. I did become a better teacher, more confident in the skills I do have (and able to improve the ones that I’m lacking). The content on the wiki was well crafted, well thought out and showed that when students would engage with the subject, they could become subject matter experts on their own.

Change in Education

“We change when it hurts less to change than it does to stay the same.” – George Siemens

It’s a big ship to turn around, but I suspect that we’re no where near hurting enough to change. There’s too many people who are involved in the old way of doing things, too many systems in place that advance their own agendas rather than the future’s agenda or student’s agendas. That’s not to say that it can’t be done. It’s unfortunate that change needs to happen relatively quickly and large organizations cannot respond in a timely manner. Perhaps our large institutions need to operate smaller? I’m not advocating downsizing, but maybe giving smaller units more autonomy to respond quicker?

Multiple LMS Usage

At Mohawk College, we use multiple learning management systems. I know this is odd, not many folks have the luxury of playing with Blackboard, WebCT, FirstClass and Desire2Learn (as well as Moodle). We’re closing in on the dates that will eventually close Blackboard and WebCT as our license will be up. I’ve been alternately happy and sad about this; I’m happy because these are aging systems, and with Blackboard, hasn’t seen widespread adoption in the College. Originally it was our upgrade path from WebCT, until Desire2Learn became our platform of choice.  I’m sad because I think there was a small opportunity for a program of study to build in flexibility in teaching and learning for their students. I’m disappointed in the usual push-back that multiple systems are clunky and that students don’t want to manage multiple sets of passwords and user names. Well, sure, but they do that already with Hotmail, Gmail, Myspace, Facebook and whatever other stuff they’re using. Really, isn’t it better to simulate real life, where you might have to login to one system for payroll management, but another for communication? Isn’t that building a mental flexibility and an ability to adapt to new systems quickly, a crucial skill going forward?

That’s not to say that I’m unhappy with Desire2Learn,  it doesn’t have any performance issues (much like what Stephen Downes wrote about the Sakai vs. Moodle in the OLDaily) and it’s been the best of the lot by a longshot. I wish it was more robust in the web 2.0 area, and a built in collaborative document would be a good way to have student collaborate (without their LiveRoom add in), but it’s easier to use than Blackboard and WebCT and is web-based, which is a plus for those who don’t want to download the client for FirstClass.