New Theories

I just finished reading this post by Steve Wheeler about learning theories for a digital age. I don’t know about whether these new theories are making older theories as anachronistic as he thinks. While connectivism and other  learning theories are enhancing our understanding of how humans learn, it’s not as if the new ideas render all that old work obsolete. In fact, I think it scaffolds our understanding of education quite nicely. If we go back a mere fifty years ago, there were only a few people interested in explaining how we learn. If we go back a hundred, there were even less. What Dewey said in the 1930’s, was amplified by others throughout the 60’s and is presently augmented to reflect our current way of thinking in the modern day. Sure, Steve’s not suggesting we forget where we came from – at least I hope he’s not – but Dewey resonates as an overarching theory as much as connectivism applies to how we learn online. Perhaps that’s because the shifting of what an “experience” exists as. An experience in 1930 is different (contextually and functionally) than an experience is today. Our perspective is broader (although our focus may be narrower).

Dewey could never have anticipated YouTube, but in a way we can watch a video on YouTube, experience it, and then attempt to practice it in our own reality. Dewey certainly thought that experiential learning was doing something and learning from it. While we can draw a parallel between watching a YouTube video and listening to a lecture in the 1930’s, I wonder if there’s enough of a difference between the two (referencing R.E. Mayer’s work with multimedia learning, Innis’ work with communication theory) that they are cognitively different. Factoring in motivation (typically YouTube videos are viewed with purpose, lectures, well, we all know about them) may have a big difference in whether or not information is retained. I think it’s incredibly valuable to return to the foundations of educational theory to ground ourselves and think about what we know.

Reflections on Week 1 of Udacity’s CS101

Udacity’s CS101 is a beginner programming course, which I’m taking (even though I’m fairly well versed in programming, having done web programming for years prior to getting into e-learning). I’m not all that interested in the content, however the introduction to Python will be interesting, and the project, building a search engine, is very appealing.  Python is a language that I’ve never learned, and always felt I should – it strikes me as a handy complement to PHP (which is bloated) and Perl (which does text processing well, but suffers in other areas).

I am in the course because I’m curious how the course works. When you have a course the scale of this, what checks and balances are there? I’m sure there’s analytics behind the platform that describe how much time the viewer spends on each page. What’s really interesting is the students in the course – many of whom have professed to be excited for homework for the first time. I’m sure the vocal ones will be pumping the tires so to speak, and there will be many who are not excited for homework, or found that the first week was just a bit too much for them – those people we’ll never hear about, because they’ll just stop and do something else. The ones who are excited for homework (and no doubt will be a soundbite that Udacity uses over and over to legitimize their approach) are excited because they are motivated (some for the first time). They signed up, they chose this course because it suits their needs, and frankly, they should be excited and motivated. It’s not often higher education gives something away.

I haven’t done the homework yet, but here’s some criticisms of the videos, and general approaches to the teaching. For those not taking here’s how a week works – several topics are broken down into chunks – usually 5 to 8 minute videos interrupted by a quiz, then another video, then an example code chunk to write, which is the best part. While the videos are good, they do take up the whole screen, so YouTube in their infinite wisdom, obscures things drawn on the screen in the video with their branding, and controls (should you want to rewind). The production values for the course are par for education, which means they could be improved by a bumper at each end, with some visual written title to further accentuate what we’re watching.  As much as I like the instructors, I don’t think their two talking heads interlude, congratulating the student, is necessary. Your students should be motivated, they signed up, they are watching – wait to motivate us (and do it in an authentic way, not wooden as this video comes across). I think the course could be vastly improved if we could have the development window and the video at the same time – that way experimenting as the video explains. I understand that cognitively, it’s not ideal, but it would be useful to actually write out the code that’s being explained and run it.

My biggest peeve is that any work done in their interface is not downloadable – at least isn’t clearly downloadable. I wish I could take those example scripts and build on them. Again, this would save me time doing the homework… something I am not surprised I do not want to do. I guess it shows how much I value an essentially useless piece of paper that will be unlikely to be recognized anywhere as an accomplishment of anything. Another issue, while this isn’t a big problem, I know how to write a couple lines of Python – but shouldn’t I actually be taught early on how to write a whole python script? You know, something as a standalone file with a dot py extension? Isn’t that the point of this – and fundamental to the use of Python (and modularity in programming…)?

At best I see this as a replacement for HR training for some – so that labour costs can go down again (hiring laypeople who are just out of high school, then run them through a series of training courses over a few weeks to get them trained how you want the job to be done, with no transferability). Maybe that’s overly critical. Udacity’s model is clearly rooted in a very American approach to education, which as a whole is outdated and certainly ripe for revolution. That’s not Udacity’s fault in any way, but as long as jobs require degrees, this will not be socially transformational for the majority of the population – unless Udacity figures out the accreditation part of the deal.  Which I suspect will require some sort of money.

With all those criticisms aside, they’ve done an admirable job in developing a free course that seems to be scalable.  They do attend to ones needs, and are quick to respond to bugs and errors that are found. The community around CS101 is quite impressive for being about a week old, and that’s in part to the efforts of the Udacity community representatives.


The Value of Well Designed Edu-Spaces

I began working on reviewing and revamping a history module for the Searching The Internet course today, as well as providing some basic training on Audacity for a faculty member. It was humbling, because often I forget how much I know and how much I can help.

While I was gathering sites, notes and other ephemera for the history piece I asked myself why I was including this piece? Who cares about the history of the internet? Is it important? Maybe. I think it’s important, but that’s a real dictatorial thing to do. How is it important? Well, history dictates the future in ways we can’t always predict (although my RRSP (401k for you Americans) wishes that someone was more on the ball seeing the economic conditions before the Great Depression and this recession). Someone out there is going to want to know this stuff. It informs us better. Doesn’t it?

Also while I’m gathering content, I’m also mulling over a couple of other things. Design of LMS learning spaces – I’m not going to have the same look to my courses. I’m putting my hypotheses into action. My thinking is that we have so many well designed websites, we need better designed education spaces. Not to show off, or embarrass others, but to make a statement. We need better designed, better looking spaces. I’ve seen how cleverly designed websites can distort truths (or my truths). Education should be fighting back with our view. We need better looking materials. We have the means now – it’s easier and quicker to put together something that looks good. Why isn’t this policy at institutions?

Isn’t better design, and better eye-candy, a way to combat the Huxley-ian Brave New World/Postman Amusing Ourselves To Death scenario? Attract people to education, and in the process get them to ask tough questions? Isn’t that the case with Michael Wesch and his students work on “The Machine is Us/ing Us” (embedded below).  It’s nearing 10 million views in a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at. If it were a lesser product would it have less impact?

I suspect the answer is that no one really thinks about this. Or maybe they don’t think much of it. Much like the connections between ARPANET, the history of the Internet and it’s sharing of information that has influenced our daily lives. Is that enough of a hook?


Not that anyone is particularly following me – couple of quick updates to shock people I guess.I know, I know, good blogging etiquette is to maintain contact, but when you have very little to say, is there a point to add to the chatter? I don’t suspect that it’s good to blog for blogging’s sake… yet that’s kind of what this post is. Conundrum wrapped in an enigma packaged in a problem, neh?

1. I hate that whatever edublogs did borked my ability to track information in Google Stats. It was a good way to discover what was going on, and make new contacts, read new insightful things… yeah. Bummer.

2. I’ve been slaving away at creating, compiling and documenting “stuff” on D2L, or Desire2Learn (for those who don’t follow LMS’s).

3. I did a presentation of “research” (and I use research in quotes only because there’s no real research going on, it’s pseudo-research where we plan our research but don’t execute it) using some Presentation Zen techniques and people were really blown away with it. Thank you Garr Reynolds. I tried to be conversational, or as conversational as the subject matter (student perceptions of multimedia instruction in an e-learning) would allow. I tried to get people involved with their experiences with my subject topic, which is a good engagement strategy regardless.

3a. On the same note, um and so are my enemy in public speaking. You’d think I’d have learned that after many years presenting and practicing presentations, I’d be able to consciously stop saying ummmm. Guess not. Maybe I’ll video capture myself and see how many times I do speak of mine enemies.

4. An interesting old concept popped up again. I was watching a newish documentary called “Punk’s Not Dead” which actually does a pretty convincing job of saying it’s underground (well, shocking). I’m waiting for the documentary that treats punk like Ken Burns did with jazz… there’s a depth there that can be mined for sure. Anyways, one of the arguments of the new school of punk, bands like Sum 41, My Chemical Romance and The Used is that they are quick to embrace corporate sponsorship which they feel can be co-opted and used to promote their message. This argument has been going since Bad Brains and Husker Du (and before them, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Sham 69) signed to major labels.

A nice parrallel to edupunk, some of whom reject the Blackboard LMS model and distribute the learning across several free, open resources (Moodle, Pageflakes, RSS feeds, blogs).With that said, I think there’s a value to having a centralized point of entry. Is there an answer to the criticism? Well, sometime you have to work in a system; education is certainly a system. The end result of the system is what’s important, not necessarily the means.

5. When Mohawk decided to go with Desire2Learn, the other competitors were Blackboard and Angel. Funny how in hindsight, there really was only two competitors.

6. Even though I’ve been thinking about transferring this blog, resurrecting my other blog and adding a third blog about Hamilton punk and putting them all under one umbrella/domain, I still haven’t been overwhelmingly motivated to do so. Maybe in the Fall.

Twitter Week 1

OK, I decided to give twitter another go, now that I know some people that use it (and use it regularly). You can follow me @dietsociety. I did sign up for it a year or so ago – I’m not sure the initial reason why – maybe to investigate the usefulness of it (or even what it was).

I’ve found that lots of edutech people use twitter – I’m getting the sense that it’s as a microblog type deal. It’s also being used by a lot of businesses that I frequent for records or Japanese ephemera or marketing that seems to update their brand, I mean, product lists with new products. I’ll keep it up for a month or two – tweeting about what I’m doing at work mostly, and see how I feel about it. It certainly seems to be a little more useful than a year ago where I logged in and couldn’t find anyone interesting to follow (that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there, I didn’t necessarily know about them yet).

New Job, Old Tasks

Ah, yes, the post-semester lull – everyone is busy marking (including me) and I’ve had a ton of rewrites to complete my work for the facilitation course I’ve been taking. Finally, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I also was in the process of changing jobs, which officially occurs next Monday. I’ll be still working within e-learning, just no longer limited to second language learners and language in general. It’s a step up in my opinion. I’ve talked to them about revamping their blog, and working on some e-learning evangelical stuff. Also I’m hoping we can make some Wii Remote Interactive Screens.

I also want to create a Wii Theremin originally seen through Boing Boing, if I can at home.

Of course, there’s going to be some roadblocks. IT may be reluctant to put the software behind this on their image. The handling of creating many of these infrared/UV pens will be unknown (who’s responsible for this?). There’s going to be some issues I’m sure. And then there’s always application of such a technology. I can think of using it as an illustration tool to highlight an idea on a powerpoint, or in demonstration of an AutoCAD function. Beyond that, it’s still a cool cool toy.

So if this blog becomes a little less frequently updated, I apologize. I didn’t intend to continue to post here post CCK08. Now that I am though, it’s maybe a nice little way to stay in touch with some of those folks (which is part of the reason I took the course).

A Question Posed…

I was thinking on the walk home last night about how I could change my Searching The Internet Effectively course so that it might have more impact. Currently it’s a fairly straight forward deal – lecture for one hour, then give students class time to complete an exercise which I will help them with over the next two hours.  Most students choose to leave after the lecture and complete the work at home, or another place. The last question on the last exercise asks students to factor in everything they know at this point, and search for something that is related to searching and outline this in a word document with evaluations of the websites they’ve found – sort of an annotated bibliography. Then there’s an exam, which is mandatory.

This course is far too straight forward for my tastes. I think I’d like to keep the weekly worksheets as an exercise, but make the markable stuff in a wiki. I was thinking each student wiki account would also allow the student to journal their searching terms, perhaps on an account info page that the student would cut and paste search terms into so that I was sure of the technical aspect of searching was covered.

Anyone out there mark contributions to a wiki other than this one? How would such a beast exist? I’d break it down to deal with content (is it a good website?), form (how it was discovered),  editing (did they revisit and revise content?)… Frankly I’m a pessimist, and what happens if the students reject this sort of (in my institution anyway) radical idea?

Bruce Sterling about Mobililty and the Poor

I lost this link a while ago. It’s Bruce Sterling talking about (among other things) the emancipatory power of the cell phone. I think that it’s something that I want to keep in mind, because not only is it great globally and socially for a bunch of reasons, but it’s a really interesting thing about e-learning. Will education institutions take the bull by the horns and leverage their knowledge to provide classes and self directed learning over cell phone technology for a small fee? For instance, in the not so far off future, it would be great to have someone take a picture of a sign, have the phone-cam OCR it, access a translator, and tell you if this is the store that you intended to go to, or what’s the description of that dish that looks good in the window… Language training could occur over cell phones – type in what you want to say at the end of the two hour train ride to Shenzen, and have the program teach you how to say it in Cantonese, Mandarin and use the cell phone microphone to perfect your accent.

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).