2016 Horizon Report for Higher Education

So I seem to only write about the Horizon report in even numbered years – for other looks what I’ve thought here’s 2014’s Horizon Report and 2012’s Horizon Report. For the record, I’ve though this report missed a lot because it looked solely at trends without a passing nod to history, how technology has impacted education (especially systematic education like higher education) or even a passing wink at the fundamental challenges for technology in education.

This year, they did actually change the structure of the report a bit, and it now factors in some challenges. That’s a positive change.

One of the challenges that they think is solvable is the blending of formal and informal learning (I guess one could distill that down to “learning”, but that might be a tad reductionist). I’ve written before about the challenges of institutionalizing informal learning (and thus changing it to formally accepted learning, which changes the nature of the thing), but we’ve seen some interesting developments on this front – especially when you consider how open badges can play in this realm, where groups who value prior learning can award a digital badge based on whatever criteria they set. Sheesh, that sounds like a learning outcome or something. It’s too bad that the Horizon Report totally glossed over that fact (even though one of their case studies, for Deakin Digital  does exactly that.

Also under solvable challenges is Improving Digital Literacy… which I think is actually a difficult problem to solve as you’re going to be “teaching” this as a moving target. What literacies in a broad sense encapsulate are useful as guideposts, but do jack squat for the translation of those literacies to skills (with specific tools) that is the real thing that can be measured. Never mind that tied into this context of improving digital literacy is also improving access for all (not just white North American and European folks, who are disproportionately active online when compared with worldwide access), and not access in a Facebook-preferred context either. The bigger issue that gets uncovered with digital literacy is much like literacy in the recent past. Literacy has a color, and a privilege that we cannot ignore. Except this time, I don’t see any Great Awakening.

So, in my opinion to solve digital literacy, you have to solve some of the inequalities in society, which are built upon the hypercapitalist notion that people have a monetary value, and once society has spent more on the person than they’re worth, there’s no use for them. So social handouts, programs and the like get cut. OK, off the soapbox.

I also really wonder about the personalized learning entry under challenges – because we barely understand what people need to learn (and don’t get me started about how best to help people learn). How can we truly personalize learning if the person doesn’t necessarily know what they need to know? So I have concerns about the idea of personalized learning, but I’m very interested in helping people figure that one out. Really, personalization is an engagement strategy that almost always works. We know that making something relevant to a student will get them engaged, hell, even excited to participate. So maybe we’re not looking for personalization, but relevance?

Life Is Just A Game?

There’s been quite an upswing in talk about gaming your life, where you add an application to assist yourself in achieving a goal. For instance, you could use the Nike app for the iOS platform, and track your progress as you walk 5k, or more like me, walk to the fridge. Naturally, educators have seen how people learn on their own, usually with a great passion, and want to leverage that into the classroom. The common one I’ve heard is that people will memorize the various class requirements and bonuses on a piece of gear for World of Warcraft, but of course don’t bother memorizing the times tables, who the president of Nicaragua is, or any other mundane information that is useful but ultimately discarded in favour of how many bonuses Cloudsong has.

Full disclosure: I actually played World of Warcraft, and the game Dark Age of Camelot, and did in fact have my Cloudsong stolen during an artifact raid in Dark Age of Camelot. I also knew the bonuses for a level ten Cloudsong, but since then I have forgotten them. I’m sure I could look it up, but it’s not that important.

The simple conclusion is to make education more like a game – add “achievements” and “unlockables”… oh wait. Education has already tried that. Achievements like diplomas, and unlockables like second year. So what’s the difference? Well, now we add gaming designer to the crew of people who are involved in curriculum design. Actually, we already had a gaming designer, except the “games” (ahem, classes) weren’t that well designed. The problem isn’t that classes need more “gaming” elements or achievements, the problem is simply that education practice has not kept up with changes in society over the last (I’ll be generous and say) fifty years. Adding more gaming elements that don’t have a purpose for learners is not going to help them learn, it will only frustrate them. Moreover, anyone asking an instructor to be a gaming designer and not only be a web designer, engaging lecturer, techno-guru, curriculum designer, tech support for their class as well as subject matter expert, well, that’s not going to happen. One can only wear so many hats.

It’s interesting that television really brought this to my attention. I was flipping around the dial after the Daily Show, and up popped an interview with Jane McGonigal, the author of  the book “How Video Games Will Save The World”. Of course, anything with that title is going to pique my interest. I wasn’t that interested as it’s the same ground being tread by Stephen Johnson’s book about popular culture’s effect on society. Towards the end of the interview, Jane mentions a charter school in New York that has employed a game designer in addition to the  usual battery of curriculum designers. Of course, it was out of the scope of the interview, but it would have been really interesting to see what were the drawbacks of this approach. In gaming there is a relatively harsh penalty for not completing a task – your character dies, your game is over. Learning is not so binary (of course, good games don’t have to be that binary either).

So ultimately, I think gaming in education will be a marginalized thing for formal education, and it will continue to drive informal education as it has done for the last decade.  I think that gaming can learn from education though – and that hopefully gaming will learn not to push out so many crap games year after year.

Is Formal Education Important?

I was looking at the results of A List Aparts 2009 survey results, and was downright flabbergasted by the results of the question asking whether the respondent’s education was relevant (figure 8 on the main page for those looking at the data results right now). 18.2% found that their education was not relevant to web design. That’s one in five. When combined with the next figure (a little), it jumps to 47.9%. Almost half felt that formal education was essentially only marginally useful for their career. On the further breakdown by age (figure 2.3 on this page) ,   there is an almost 15% drop in relevance for the 65+ crowd. This makes a lot of sense, most of these people would have gone to school in a very different climate of the mid-60’s. Computers took up the size of rooms and networking was a high end venture. It makes sense that a lot of people who ended up as web designers would probably have come from graphic design backgrounds as print morphed into web. Many of these people may be in managerial positions as well – who may not need the technical skills that the front line grunts require. It would be nice to have a basic breakdown by age and job title to see if there’s any sense of that information.

Now there’s not a lot of web design programs – even fifteen years later. Most students who are interested in the field learn HTML in high school – either in a class or on their own, then develop whatever skills they need to complete the task. Informal learning for the most part, these people are task oriented, which school does not really address well. School does a good job of broadening people’s horizons.

I feel that while I didn’t get an education that informs my skills as a web designer (I am mostly self taught), I do draw from the lessons learned in software engineering  and in media arts as well as education (the three things I’ve studied formally) and apply them to design in a greater sense. I wonder if I think about these sorts of questions more than others though.

The Learning Self

This post is a little off-topic but relates to learning, and more specifically, my own learning online. In a previous lifetime (about 15 years ago now) I was going to school to be an audio engineer – and we learned about electronics as part of the core courses to graduate. It’s been handy to know about circuits and electrical theory, but I haven’t used it in many years so it’s not on top of my mind. I’ve been thinking about building guitar effects pedals, so I’ve been prowling around the web looking for lessons on soldering (my weakness), schematics and whatever else I could find. And I’ve found a lot! Tons of message boards, plenty of PDF schematics, lots of discussion around noise-making, adapting circuits, bent circuits and many beginners tutorials. In fact, had I known back then what I know now, I might not have given it up to do something else.

What this has to do with learning is simple, in my case, I’m motivated to learn and will spend most of my time doing so if given the freedom to do so. Much like learning in informal settings – motivated learners taking on tasks that are directed to solving their problems.

Flickr Hits 5 Billion

Flickr hitting five billion photos is interesting for a couple of reasons.

The first is that I’m sure not everyone on Flickr has organized their pictures which means a lot of unorganized, untagged photos. Sure you can tag them, but most folks aren’t interested in spending a lot of time telling the computer what’s in the photo, they’re more interested in sharing. I would like my tags to align to sets but hey, I’m a bit obsessive about organizing things.  (I also just realized that they dropped the 3 sets maximum for a standard account)

It also means that digital photography has replaced the shoebox full of  physical photos. Yes, not a new thing, but the volume of photos being taken, captured and uploaded to not only Flickr, but Tumblr, Facebook, Photobucket (despite their pisspoor terms of service and inconsistent management of “violations” which can’t be explained) and elsewhere are at least double that. The search engine that can manage that information across multiple sharing sites and does it intelligently (no, Google isn’t doing that right now) will be a big player.

Another big piece of the puzzle that interests me the most is whether or not people are getting better at taking photos. If one could look at the 3000 photos a minute that are uploaded, I suspect that we’d see that a lot of people have gotten better at taking photographs. Maybe some have taken courses, or actively sought out instruction (online or in person) how to take better pictures, but most have just gotten better because they’ve done it more or received some feedback on a picture that people liked and did more of that (whatever that is). I guess the five trillion words that the five billion photos are worth would make for some decent instruction on how to take a good photo.

Searching and Learning

We already have changed how we get information – instead of reading books or taking a course a lot of us just use Google or other search engines to grab the information we need. Unfortunately, there’s a contextual issue, where grabbing information off the Internet doesn’t necessarily provide some linear context for that information that may be important. Sure, with books you can use the index, find the pages that the information is on and scan for just what you need, but inevitably you end up reading at least a few paragraphs before and after and getting some context. Searching the Internet is different – we have Google as a situational context provider (even if it is false context, like Google lending it’s authority to search results). I’ve been thinking about how this ties into education – specifically higher education – and I think the way we informally learn information like we do through Google will trickle up to higher education. In ways, we already see this with how students use the Internet for research.

I’m not the only one thinking about this either, Futurelab released a poll a couple days ago asking (primarily K-8 teachers) which search engine they used. I answered the poll, even though I’m not in that demographic, I figured the more data the better. I think that this poll indicates that others are beginning to use search engines in their teaching – which further moves the teacher away from being the sage on the stage, and more towards the guide on the side (with thanks to my friend Otto who had a habit of saying this at least a couple times a semester and burned the phrase into my head).

Also, I was turned on to the book Search Patterns and the accompanying Search Patterns website – both of which the patterns of how people search – which has tremendous implications for how people learn using the Internet.

Games, Marks and Informal Learning

Games. I love them. I used to play World Of Warcraft, Warhammer Online and going back further, Dark Age Of Camelot. I’ve been Elderitch (a bastardization of Palmer Elderitch, a character in a Philip K. Dick novel) in each of those games, so if you see me around feel free to say, “hi”. I’ve also played a whackload of others, doing beta testing with half a dozen more. What really strikes anyone  who spends a few minutes is the capacity for a group of players to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time – people learn a whole lot about how the game works and what the best matchups are, or the best skills. Educators have long wanted to harness some of the zealotry that gamers have put into games, and put it into education. Yet, that zealotry rarely translates. Why? Lots of theories abound – motivation is the “big push” though. What makes learning in games tick is the same stuff that makes informal learning tick. Why talk about this? Well, I’ve been looking at the patterns I’m exhibiting since buying an Xbox 360 (gamertag: dietsociety) and I’ll spend time searching out how to do something online, or connect with another gamer to figure out the problem. With my traditional education, I don’t necessarily jump to collaborate first. I wonder if that’s because I feel like a formal education is an individual competition – for marks – whereas my informal education (for games specifically) are a group competition – for points.

Spam (spam spam spam)

I was watching the first couple of parts of the documentary about Monty Python’s Flying Circus last night,  “Almost The Truth” and  it was interesting to see how they didn’t dumb down things and it was an inspiration to continue to not dumb down things in the hopes that people will then go off and learn about Proust or Heidegger. Informal learning at it’s best.

Along the same lines it’s interesting the spam I get has this Monty Python quality; it’s almost surreal and absurd. Clearly, it’s spam, but it’s very entertaining. I almost consider publishing many of the spam comments, just to share them with you. Unfortunately, that would only encourage them.