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

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

“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

BC Educational Technology Users Group Spring Workshops

One of my other destinations last week was the BC Educational Technology Users Group annual Spring Workshop, this year held at North Island College’s lovely Comox Valley campus.

If the workshop schedule was actually reflective of current practices in BC, then you’d be led to believe we have almost ubiquitous adopting of elearning 2.0 in the province – 2 different wiki workshops, a podcasting session and blamb’s always entertaining and educational social software tsunami (with guest D’Arcy Norman, who we keep letting into the province, but I told him he better just move out here or else we’ll start asking to see his papers!) BCcampus’ Executive Director, David Porter, has a good writeup on one of the wiki sessions as well as the invigorating opening session by journalist Mark Schneider over at his new blog.

And as D’Arcy has mentioned, I also made my small contribution, a Web 0.1-ish session on our new service, SOL*R. More to come on that soon, but so far I have avoided being pelted with rotten fruit, always a relief when rolling out new services. – SWL

‘Blog Uses in Education’ Drag and Drop Exercise

Back in 2003 I created what’s become one of the more popular things on the EdTechPost site, the ‘matrix of blog uses in education.’ For whatever reason it’s gotten lots of links and traffic over the last 3 years, but what has been especially gratifying is when people have picked it up and actually done something new with it (like, you know, re-used/re-mixed it!)

The first example I found a year or so ago was the Dutch site Frankwatching, which took the original sketchy document and translated it into Dutch, along the way making it much more fetching to the eye.

But I was really blown away by a recent example emailed to me by its creator, Tony Lowe. Tony, through a company called Webducate, has developed a number of flash-based tools for creating learning content. Using one of those tools, Dragster, he created an interactive version of the ‘matrix of blog uses in education’ with a cool innovation – in addition to a pre-existing list of “uses,” which the user can drag and drop into their chosen quadrant of the matrix, it allows you to create new ones on the fly to then be placed there.

In an email Tony writes that in future versions people will be able to save completed exercises and look at a gallery of others’ work, but even as it is now I can see this being a useful tool to use with faculty or others in workshops to brainstorm different uses they can make of blogs and blogging and help them see it as an activity and process, not an end product (which was a main goal of the ‘matrix’). – SWL

Plex project beta

Exciting stuff, the first beta of the Plex tool is available for download now. The Plex tool is being developed at the University of Bolton by Phillip Beauvoir, Mark Johnson, Oleg Liber, Colin Milligan, Paul Sharples and Scott Wilson and is the output of the JISC-funded Personal Learning Environments project. Scott Wilson has also posted a powerpoint presentation on the new tool as well. – SWL

Paper – “Personal Publishing and Media Literacy”

Are the Norse known for being terse? The only reason I ask is that my one complaint about this paper from Jon Hoem and Ture Schwebs is that it is too short! (which to be honest, is usually not the problem with academic papers!)

Even if you feel you’ve had your fill of papers on “why to use blogs and wikis in education” please do yourself a favour and read this one. In seven short, packed pages they lay out a number of strong rationales for using blogs and wikis in the classroom (in this case mostly the K-12 classroom), introduce for me the interesting concept of “personal publishing as ‘staging‘.� They also show off their own, in-house blogging tool called ELOGG (no, not that one), very recognizable as a blogging tool but which also contains some sensible additions like “assignments, projects, friends & favourites, selected works, and media archives” that make the tool even more affable to a school setting.

I expect this paper to become one of the regularly cited as we move into the ‘early majority’ and onwards adopting these technologies and practices into their classrooms. It is passionate without being dogmatic, and informed by more than the blogosphere’s intelligentsia. – SWL

Great post on “Educational Social Overlay Networks”

The only post so far in this new blog (oh the marvels of Technorati, like it or not here come your readers, Terry A. ;-). Not so much a response to my posting on the false dichotomy that is being set up between Moodle and ELGG, instead it just takes that as its starting point for an extended musing on what the relationship could and should be between institutional provided systems and the users social networks, which by definition can and do cross all sorts of boundries. Personally, I find this approach a lot more palatable and mature than a lot of the all-or-nothing-it-must-all-be-open diatribes I come across these days, but maybe that’s just me being a good Canadian, trying to mediate between poles, and be a reformer, not a revolutionary. – SWL

ELGG vs. Moodle – defusing a false dichotomy

I’ve had a few people come up to me at conferences recently and ask me to compare ELGG and Moodle, and choose between them as if they were somehow mutually exclusive. Indeed, even within the Moodle community itself there seems to be a bit of dismissiveness about what ELGG does, and the notion that with just a couple of twists of code Moddle can easily replicate its functionality.

Well maybe, but this is what excited me so much about the paper linked to above by Terry Anderson and the work he describes taking place at Athabasca University. I had the pleasure of seeing Terry present on this recently and wish I could link to those powerpoints as I think the illustrate the point I’m trying to make better than the article does, but what is exciting for me is that Terry and Athabasca are putting together a large, production environment in which Moodle and ELGG will seemingly co-exist quite nicely, thank you very much, and take care of different problems. Hopefully I am not going to mangle this too much, but as I understood it, Moodle was being positioned to handle conventional ‘course management’ problems like the delivery of content, assessments, discussions. In Athabasca’s case (and I’d argue in all of our cases, but that’s another post) they also have to deal with a continuous uptake model, where instead of cohort-based programs they also have very much self-paced programs with differing start times. Thus they are using ELGG as one of the ways to build community “between” the space of courses, community that is formed not because of one’s membership in a pre-ordained group or cohort but out of your interests. Sounds to me like a job for social software!

Can Moodle support similar ad-hoc community formation across course (and even institutional) boundaries? Maybe, and it sounds like we will find out fairly soon through upcoming releases. And bully for them if they can. But what I love about ELGG is that it is built from the groud up around the user and their connections as they key focus, rather than on ‘courses’ or ‘content’ (I’m not trying to levy a criticism at Moodle here as I like it very much as well). Far from being only a ‘blogging’ tool or a ‘eportfolio’ tool, what excites me about ELGG is that it is becoming a social networking ‘framework’ (o.k. you can dispute that term as much as you like) that while it has initially focused on tools to create blog posts and share files, isn’t interested in restricting you to only its blogging tool (and why would it? RSS anyone?) and is looking at a whole set of other interesting apps (Calendaring? Synchronous tools?) that are also of intrinsic value but become even more useful if people can use them with other semantically related users.

Should elearning providers be looking to one single tool to provide all of these aspects and more? Maybe. Right now though, the best bet seems like trying to get the best solution possible through a set of provisional measures. Personally, I’m more interested in making these and others co-exist, and seeing if we can get the integration between them to be more than lame-ass ‘pointing to their URLS’ or simple single sign-on; if instead we see if we can get shared identity happening across a number of these services in a way that takes identity mean more than your username and password. – SWL