One of the really good things about being a writer is that there is a written record of your ideas. I was watching a video clip this morning on the Professorial lecture by Linda Creanor at GCU and I was struck in her short review of “Learning and Technology – evolution or revolution” how far we have come. In a book that I co-wrote about ten years ago called “The Connecticon: learning for the connected generation” we explored the enhanced ability of using digital networks to connect with people and share ideas. We called this “hyper-interactivity” and though “social networks” were not really on the radar to the same scale as today – networks certainly were. It’s the inter-activity that stimulates learning. I think there is a fundamental difference between talking about a “networked generation” versus “digital natives”. We are all able to join the “networked generation” (even if we are ‘the older generation’ 🙂 ) but the idea that people are dropping out of the womb with an in-built ability to use digital networks effectively just does not stack up. I liked Linda’s mention of the use of “animateurs” to facilitate connectivity in digital networks (I was a big advocate of animateurs in the early 1990’s and trained many), and I also liked her comments on the changing perceptions of MOOCs and how they might interact with the institution. One of the criticisms sometimes levelled against digital resources is that they have a short shelf-life and the link is liable to vanish – but you know what, the same is true of the “traditional” printed media! Publishers normally run very limited print-runs of books these days, and as a result even some very good books go out of print very quickly. Unlike old library books, which seem to be pulped or sent to second-hand stores, the digital artefact has the ability to be permanently archived and permanently accessible, even if just for historical comparison. Check out Linda’s lecture here
Two very different quotations came to mind during the last week in conversations with colleagues. The first is when the Highlander Folk High School was being (temporarily) closed down by segregationists – when asked why he was laughing as the law-officers padlocked the gates, Myles Horton replied it was because “you can’t padlock an idea!” The second quote relates to the Buddhist concept that to really get the best out of something, we have to ‘let go’ of it, and share it with others. I am referring, of course, to the idea of Open Educational Resources. Some people just don’t seem to get it. There is an idea that if it is free, and on the web, then it can’t be of any use. Naturally, there are a lot of poor quality resources on the web – but there is also a huge amount of very poor books in print, and that doesn’t mean to say that all books are terrible, or that we should not learn to be able to distinguish the good from the bad. Many years ago, an Australian colleague, who was far in advance of his time in making web-based educational resources a ‘public good’ told me the reason that his university was backing his open-access initiative. “Prospective students see what we put up free on the web and think, if that’s what they are showing us for free, what else do they have? I want to go there!” Other institutions, such as the Open University UK, have talked about the value of attracting learners to using their OER, who then may go on to enroll with the OU. It becomes a sort of ‘kite-mark’ of quality. The crucial word is “quality”. If we produce quality resources and share these openly, it will only enhance our reputation as a university of choice. On the other hand, no matter how good our learning resources may be, if they are hidden away in the darkest recesses of academia behind lock and key, they will only benefit a minimum number of students, and our reputation will take longer to become established. Give me transparency and openness over close rooms and closed minds any time!
I had several interesting conversations today, all revolving around networks and learning. One of my PhD students made an excellent submission on e-learning, but (I think) pulled her punches on a critique of Connectivism because she assumed that I am an advocate of this. Despite being a supervisor for George Siemens PhD, I am rather agnostic on Connectivism as an educational phenomenon. I know it may seem heretical to some of my colleagues, but I think that Connectivism, though very plausible, just lacks that final … well… connection! In a book several years ago, Robin Mason and I tried to capture the workings of networked, connected learning in a book called “The Connecticon”… it was perhaps rather presumptious for its time, but we thought (and I still do) that the process of online learning can be broken down to three basic levels… 1) the digital, computer-hosted resources; 2) the network and infrastructure of the internet that can link these resources at great speed ( we called this hyper-interactivity); and 3) the humans at each end of the network connections, who absorb, process, and act upon these transmitted resources. They (the humans) will act differently according to their abilities, experience, and cognitive capacities. This (to a large extent) is the basis of situated learning and of social constructivism. Responses in less than 100 words on the blog reply please! 🙂
I was sent an interesting link from a colleague recently https://apps.uow.edu.au/ which is a store of apps created at the University of Wollongong, Australia. It seems a very good idea to me. When discussing it with colleagues I came upon an interesting disagreement (or “contested issue” as academics like to call it!). Most people I spoke to were very much in favour of being able to use social software with their students – especially students of education and/or technology. Perhaps not for direct teaching, but for support, social back-up, and certainly for teaching about the subject itself. It is accepted that it is not good practice to demand that students submit assessments through third-party software providers, but surely the best way of teaching about social networking in education is to allowed controlled use of social software in courses? There should be a system to allow students to sign up at the start of the course that they realise the conditions of use of Facebook, Twitter, and so on. It could even be accepted that students who hadstrong objections could opt out of using these tools (but that would be a bit like opting out of reading the core texts!) Surely, however, by the simple fact that a student is studying the subject (and may already be using these technologies in their personal life) it would seem reasonable that the way to learn best practice , and to guard against unwitting bad practice, is to study the media systematically. I think that objections to this are just another example of education lagging behind the technology practices of society as a whole (and it is interesting that the staff with the most vigorous objections to the use of social media are not tutors, but some ‘support’ staff). It would be interesting to learn about what other universities are doing in this area.
I have been mulling over a really good discussion that I had at the end of last week with some UHI colleagues and some new colleagues from Edinburgh Napier University. Part of the discussion was about a new online journal of “applied academic practice” (listed in the Delicious links to the right). The new journal is online, open access, peer-reviewed, non-blind reviewed, creative commons, and especially encouraging to new authors and new ideas in presentation (multi-media etc) So what’s not to like? This seems to me to be a great democratising force in academia, and it’s high time we academics took control and got our (publishing) house in order! As a thinker, I want to share my ideas with as many people as possible who are interested in the same subjects. As a writer, I want to produce the best, most stimulating, most easily-readable presentations that I can. It’s partly the result of publishing my latest writings direct to Amazon as an e-book, but if it is really so easy, why are we not doing more of this? I can get more accurate and up-to-date statistics on my e-books than I do from my ‘conventional’ publishers, so what is the benefit to the new media? Speaking as someone who is married to a Manager of a ‘conventional’ publishing company (albeit in the minority area of Gaelic language) I have to acknowledge that there is a place for outsourcing the design, proofing, setting, distribution, marketing etc in the mass market, but with the tiny interest (and profit-margins) in academic publishing – monographs, course textbooks, extended essays, and areas of highly speciallised interest – it seems to me that the self-publishing route is the most appropriate. I think we need to look at the university as an institutional publisher of e-books that share the knowledge of the academy!