On “The Perils of Stargazing” and the NMC Horizon Report


Catherine Howell writes (and Stephen Downes secondsstill no RSS feed in GReader today, Stephen, and how about some permalinks the rest of the world can understand) of the time lag and conservative nature of this year’s NMC Horizon Report choices for technologies that will have a significant impact on teaching and learning. [Disclosure: I was one of the 30 wannabe prognosticators on this year’s Advisory Board members.]

First off, the assertion that “this years� list have already achieved significant impact” I think belies a bit of a rarefied view of actual technology practices in higher ed. My own expeience is that for every edublogger, for ever teacher using a wiki in their class or sharing podcasts on iTunes or publishing Creative Commons, I meet 30 others who still squint funny at the word wiki or have NEVER heard of the Creative Commons. I wish it were different. I often act like it is. But I know its not.

But don’t get me wrong – I actually agree that the list is small ‘c’ conservative, but that’s because I’m mostly off in left field anticipating the coming revolutions in AI, robotics and 80 Core chips! That’s why I actually found the process we went through quite fascinating, and the fact that NMC documented it, all out in the open on the Horizon Report wiki, to be an exemplary practice.

If you actually want to see where the advisory board started from, check out the answers to the 5 research questions, especially Question 3, where I think you’ll find all of the alternatives suggested by Downes and Howell, and more.

What was fascinating (and maybe a bit frustrating, but in a good way) about the process was how we went from these sprawling lists down to a list of 6 that actually seem to bear some resemblance to conceivable futures, not ‘wished for’ futures, not ‘if only everyone would listen to me’ futures, but ones that bear some resemblance to where these slow moving beasts called post-secondary institutions will get to. Now the frustrating part is how this doesn’t really deal well with discontinuous or disruptive innovations, but hey, that’s kind of their nature, to disrupt and not be so easily assimilated.

So, is this my list? No; mine included amongst other things Intelligent Tutoring, Internet-wide User-centric Identity Systems and Real-Time Language Translation. But is it a list I can get behind. Yeah, definitely; if 5 years from now all of these are significantly adopted in higher ed, that will represent a positive shift from where we are today, and in many cases, however lamentable, a large one. – SWL

BioDieselNow – Informal Learning, Mass Amateurization and Open Science in one tasty package

BioDieselNow – Biodiesel from Algae

It truly is not that remarkable to find examples of informal learning communities online, indeed these are the very genes on which the net has grown so explosively. What’s maybe more remarkable is that people even feel the need to remark on them. So why highlight this one? Well…

– I like the fact that in this one spot you can see the convergence not only of informal learning communities, but also the “mass amatuerization of everything” and “open source science” in one fell swoop. Take a look at the post titled “Biodiesel from Algae Reading List” where a propsective Master’s students solicits feedback from the forum’s members on a proposed reading list as he has no access to local experts on as specific a topic as “generating biodiesel from Algae. What’s even better – he not only gets feedback on specific Thesis topics that could greatly advance the field, someone in the forum actually knows about a researcher at the student’s institution that might be worth hooking up with. Awesome!

– I think it illustrates quite well how discussion forums aren’t going away and can be quite powerful for facilitating community discussion. Sometimes we need to take a step back and realize not everyone has the same problems or goals as us, and that blogs aren’t the only way.

– in writing about this specific forum, I’m outing myself as a closet biodiesel fan. If I’m still writing EdTechPosts 10 years from now, please givem me a kick in the #@@. ‘Cos secretly (well, I guess not so secretly anymore) all I want to do is homebrew! – SWL

Slightly Tongue in Cheek Presentation on “The Future of CMS”

Scott Leslie caressing magic 8 ball

So last Friday I gave a talk at the WCET conference titled “The Future CMS.” A flash version (13Mb) with both audio and slides is available, but if you’d prefer you can just grab the slides on their own (7Mb) (if you view them in ‘Notes’ mode you can pretty well see the full text of the talk.) Be warned, I have a hard time taking myself seriously as a prognosticator (as likely will you by the end of the presentation.)

A little context; the crowd at this conference is mostly policy and admin folks – very few techies and faculty in the crowd. While there were certainly more people who had heard of the social software/Web 2.0 explosion than in previous years, it’s still a crowd that I hope finds value out of this kind of presentation. This year was notable for the marked increase in both Web 2.0/e-learninig 2.0 topics and blog-savvy presenters. I had the pleasure of co-presenting with Jaren Stein and John Krutsch, the two lads responsible for the recently announced Moodle OCW module. In addition, I got to hang out and see present both Terry Anderson and Chris Lott, and finally meet the indomitable patent battlers Al Essa and Barry Dahl. Rather than being one of the self-congratulatory post-conference blog posts Terry mentioned that he hates, I actually mention all of these folks, as well as the number of blog and wiki-savy attendees in the audience, as proof of the every growing awareness and practice; at this conference I I have seen through the last 3 years the topics and practices of Web 2.0/elearning 2.0 slowly moving into what I’d consider the ‘early adopters’ and even the start of the ‘early majority.’SWL

Great Social Software Presentation from WCET 2006 Presentation


I am sitting in a session at the WCET 2006 conference in Portland listening to a really fabulous presentation by Chris Lott and Terry Anderson, amongst others. Chris is presenting with the above wiki, and offered up this tagcloud of affordences for education by social software as a new rubric to organize examples of social software use. Have a good example, add it in, we’re live right now (1:42 PM Friday November 3). – SWL

NoteMesh – another student-centric note taking service


Along the same lines as stud.icio.us, which I wrote about last month, NoteMesh is driven by students and creates wikispaces for an entire class to take notes in. I actually much prefer the stu.dicio.us model, in which each student is taking their own notes but the class ‘tags’ create a collective note space, over this one, where instead students collaborate on one set of notes for the entire class. If I’m understanding correctly, this is partly the distinction Stephen was getting at in his recent whiteboard drawing. Still, encouraging to see the being aimed directly at the student taking control over their own knowledge creation processes rather than having to be always mediated through instituional infrastructure. – SWL

Campus 2020 Think Pieces – Envisioning Post-Secondary Education in BC 15 years out


It’s pretty easy as a Canadian to become jaded about the various reports, commisions and inquiries that our various levels of government sponsor. We’ve had no end of profound studies and reports that seemed to accurately identify both the ills and possible solutions on things like Aboriginal Self-Government or the Concentration of Media Ownership and yet years later see no real improvement on these matters (and yes, to be fair, those are both Federal examples).

So you’ll be excused if you look on this exercise sponsored by the B.C. government to help “shape the vision, mission, goals and objectives of B.C.’s post-secondary system for the next 10 to 20 years” with some skepticism. I know it’s my first inclination.

And yet I am encouraged in reading some of the first things to come out of the initiative, the Think Pieces on topics like “E-Learning and Beyond” and the truncation found in our institutional landscapes between types of knowing.

The e-learning piece is the one I paid closest attention to so far, and it at least hits all the right notes, urging a move towards ‘elearning 2.0,’ which they characterize as having an “architecture of participation.” I’m sure someone will find fault with this paper, but it seems to me that if we don’t move in that direction as a provincial system, it won’t be because a picture of what could be wasn’t painted, by people officially asked to do so. They even go further than I think many ‘think pieces’ would in offering a set of ‘internal review questions’ in Appendix 2 for educators and administrators to use examine their current technology implementation and adoption practices. It’s a good read. Let’s hope we can all make the follow on a reality. – SWL

stu.dicio.us – what a student-developed, student-focused learning/study tool looks like


Thought I’ve been away I did try to catch up in Bloglines the last 2 days and I didn’t see this making the rounds so hopefully of interest – stu.dicio.us, while still in beta, is an incredibly simple student-focused tool that currently supports note taking and scheduling, with file storage and self grade-tracking coming soon. There are three things about it that are really beautiful:

– it is REALLY simple, and yet quite useful. Try the note creation facility; it’s a very nice web-based outliner that uses keyboard commands (more below)

– all class notes are shared (you have to agree to this to use the system). So not only does this create an ecology of class notes for individual classes (with basic ‘tagging’ principles in play as to how to identify a class, no heavyweight SIS-integration here) but by searching on certain terms you may find class notes from other classes, even from other institutions, around specific keywords (which does raise quality issues, but one assumes the developers could bring practices from other social softwares to bear here).

– based on the amazingly simple interface, I assume (though I couldn’t find such an announcement on their site) that a prime target for the app will be cell phones/PDAs and other mobile devices.

So… a web-based, mobile-accessible site for students to store THEIR notes/information about THEIR studies, which simultaneously gives them access to other students’ notes as well. So cool. – SWL

“The Future of…” – Three Contrasting Views



At some point in the fall I have to dust off my crystal ball for a presentation on ‘the future of LMS’ (yikes!) so I’ve been keeping my eye on various ‘Future of…’ presentations of late, and recently came across these two.

The first, a report by Kineo and Intel, promises to be on the “Future of E-learning in Universities.” While it looked promising, I found it ultimately pretty disappointing; fairly safe predictions on a very near future in which universities plod down the same CMS/VLE path of elearning with a little wireless thrown in for good measure. It’s likely pretty accurate in the 2-3 year range, but uninspiring at best.

More interesting to me is the piece by Morton Egol in the latest Educause Review titled “The Future of Higher Education.” While comparing these two articles is maybe a bit of apples-to-oranges, the vision he presents of “Community Learning Centres” is for me a far more interesting one to contemplate and seems to fit much better with some of the dissatisfactions with current models that I regularly hear grumbled in the edublogosphere. Undoubtedly many will be troubled with the vision of corporate entities entering the formerly public space of education, but (at least in the US and perhaps elsewhere) this burgeoning reality does need to be engaged with, as does the notion that K-12 represents a competitive threat to higher education. What!?! The argument goes that in the new model, “that with self-paced learning, thirteen years (K-12), including internships, provide ample learning to qualify for entry-level positions.” If it seems unlikely, maybe contemplate the phenomenom of kids jumping from high school directly into professional athletics, which 25 years ago was unheard of. I heard a similar notion almost 10 years ago by the president of Mount Royal College who described the greatest threat to the College as not the neighboring colleges and universities but large corporate entities and commercial certification bodies that would take students direclty from high school and train them in the workforce.

Which brings me finally to the prognostication which I’ve recently enjoyed most, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s Social Life of Information which I revisted over my holiday. I wanted to go back to the final chapter on ‘Re-Education’ (an earlier version of which can be found on the web in this paper titled ‘Universities in the Digital Age.‘) While the book is now 6 years old, I think much of it holds up well, and the message (summed up by one reviewer as “it’s the people, stupid”), especially in the education chapter, challenges the predominant “informational” picture of learning with a social one, tries to preserve the positive aspects of the university while asking what new forms ‘degree granting bodies’ could take, and I think also resonates really well with many of the dissatisfactions with the status quo apparent in the edublogosphere.

The caveats at the end of the chapter are well worth noting – it is entirely possible that higher ed institutions will prove to have more staying power than any of us could predict and survive the current digital revolution largely intact. But somehow this seems unlikely. For a while I’ve been carrying around the question of “what would a post-secondary institution that took seriously the disruptions poised by social software and emerging visions of learning (and the mass amaturization of everything) look like?” But after re-reading this book I’m wondering if I’ve framed that wrong; maybe the question is “how can we preserve the positive aspects of how higher education currently creates and shares knowledge while designing learning technologies that compliment, improve and expand that social formation?” – SWL

Futurelab paper on Social software and learning


I wanted to like this paper but was frustrated with the first 12 pages or so, mostly because it is just review of the ‘social software’ field and forrays into how knowledge and learning are changing à la Downes and Siemens. Nothing particularly wrong with it, just nothing that new.

But it was worth sticking with for the practical suggestions in section 4, “How Do We Move Towards ‘C-Learning’?” especially the section on what educators can do…

“You can plan your curriculum as though education does not stop at the classroom walls.”

Doesn’t get much more succinct than that! Or this line – “In particular, schools should not expect students to leave the 21st century in the cloakroom.”

This is an important paper. It is both academically respectable, readable (though a little longish for time constrained Deputy Ministers and the like) and ‘gets it’ without being fanatical or evangelical. Send it on to those who can help affect this change. – SWL

UMW’s Bluehost/Fantastico Experiment

If posts by the cogdog, blamb AND Jon Udell weren’t enough to convince you, then take MY word too and run, don’t walk, over to Gardner Campbell’s blog to listen to a 45 minute recording from their latest faculty academy on using a 3rd party hosting solution and application ‘control panel’ as a way to inexpensively support faculty innovation and experimentation. (And for the record, this hasn’t changed my mind at all about podcasts, though Brian’s right, Gardner’s voice is remarkably soothing to listen to 😉

I must admit to feeling a little dissatisfied with the discussion about ‘enterprise computing’ -type questions (around minute 20 and following, and in the questions and answers in the end) but it’s not a simple complaint either.

First off, they really should be commended for adopting a mechanism that greatly increases the authentic assessment of new technologies, part of the aim that’s described in the first 20 minutes. And in regards to the ‘enterprisey’ issues, some stock also needs to be placed in the retort of how enterprisey these systems should have become anyways. This has come up a few times in conversation for me over the last weeks – while the use of computer technology in teaching and learning isn’t that new, this beast we call the ‘course management system’ is barely 10 years old…do we really believe we got it right the first time, in just 10 years, and that the model will never need changing? So there’s a lot to be said in general about an approach that stays flexible, especially in light of Web 2.0, which if anything could be described as massive, non-stop disruptive innovation, the only constant being change. Sure, we thought the internet in general meant that, but now it really seems to be unfolding in front of our eyes.

So I’m left both inspired but wanting to eat my cake too – can we not have this flexibility and experimentation AND the guarantees of service we seem expected to provide? (I liked Gardner’s response about trust and agreeing to a certain amount of risk, but I’ve never seen that calm down an irate professor during exams when the system goes down.) Udell’s comment regarding Ray Ozzie’s speech really resonates for me here – “In his vision of the future of enterprise software, services are delivered on demand, they produce value in incremental steps, and they’re paid for when — not before — that value is proven.”

Still, Gardner and his crew are to be totally commended for their approach – maybe instead of a ‘learning management operating system‘ we might start thinking about a control panel for instructor-controlled (or student controlled, how about sticking that in your pipe!) mix- and matchable lightweight apps that already had the connectors to the SIS and authentication systems built in (or can these be the same thing?) – SWL

(the first step to dealing with your problem is admiting you have a problem…My name is Scott, and I am a blog addict…really, I’m working on my other machine right now as I write this!)