Monday, July 31, 2006

Dear Professor: Content Mastery is Not Enough

My apologies to Michael Feldstein - I seem to be posting his content verbatim - primarily beacuse it says so much that is necesssary to be said, he says it well, and it is what I would like to have said! In this entry we meet the dilemma facing today's Faculty - the networked sand is shifting below their feet and authority and control are in question; can they cope with the rising tide of change? Michael says it well, and I'm happy to be the messenger here...

There have been a few interesting responses to the “Sisyphus Taught Videography” post. For example, in a comment on that post, MIDizen X observes that students can be the producers of the media:

We have a wealth of student knowledge and talent available to us, all we have to do is find a way to utilize them. For instance, regard what Ithaca College has done in this respect: all the material they’ve linked on their accomplishments page was created using student workers (graphics designer, programmer, still/videographer) and one, count ‘em, ONE instructional designer.
There are two issues here. The first is content production and the second is teaching of literacy. The fact that students can be able producers of content indicates (no surprise to anyone) that they are, in fact, often more highly literate in new media than the faculty. We can use that.
But to switch from Greek mythology to eighth grade philosophy, we have a chicken and egg problem here. Don’t faculty members have to have some idea of what they are evaluating, of what they are trying to accomplish with these student productions? And doesn’t that, in turn, require faculty to feel a need to learn this stuff? Alex Reid, whose blog post inspired my original musing, hits the nail on the head:

The real challenge here is an epistemological one. The existing model assumes that knowledge is relatively fixed. Once you get your PhD, you’re pretty much good for life. Yes, you have to stay current in your field, but the changes are incremental and vertical within an ever-narrowing degree of specialization. With the infoscape, we are looking at exponetial and horizontal change in a proliferating network of associations. Managing that kind of information flow requires different skills.

This is a tough one. The trick is to understand how that authority operates in a different infoscape. Once upon a time, academics had to accept the appearance of libraries on campus. It wasn’t easy, and now everything is happening much faster. Essentially I see the necessary change this way. We used to think of disciplinary education in terms of mastery: you rise to become a master in your field; you have control over your context. Now we must think about education as providing an expert perspective, a unique set of methods from which new knowledge can be produced.

This is the crux of it: Defining knowledge and authority. Once you crack this nut, faculty can begin to contemplate the possibility that textual literacy need not be privileged over other forms of media literacy, and that the fundamental locus of academic authority is moving under their feet. (And by the way, if they get this, they will also begin to get wikipedia.)
The best way I know of to experience this new world in a positive way is to blog. To experience a trackback-induced blorgasm is to understand a new kind of authority. To watch blogrolls shift and technorati scores change is to experience the nuances of that authority. And to engage in a cross-blog conversation is to participate in that structure.

Educational Use of Social Software

An article on social software in the Academic Commons provides an overview of a number of social software tools and suggestions about how to use them. The author, Joe Ugoretz , is also interested in exploring what may happen if we fail to embrace social software...

UK Survey Shows Moodle on the Rise

IM+M (Jim Farmer’s company) has published some survey data on VLE adoption by higher ed institutions in the UK from 2001 to 2005.

• In the four years from 2001 to 2005 the percentage of universities and colleges without a VLE declined from 19% to 5%.
• While the average number of VLEs in use at a university of college remained nearly constant—1.64 to 1.77 per institution, statistically insignificant—it appears colleges are tending to implement fewer VLE systems.
• The use of proprietary VLEs—those with fee-for use licenses—declined from 93% to 57%. The largest decline was IBM’s Lotus products. It would have been WebCT if it had not acquired by Blackboard Inc. and combined with the increase in Blackboard’s market share.
• The software products most rapidly gaining market share are Moodle, Bodington, and Microsoft’s SharePoint.*
• The use of open source systems increased from zero to 11% with 8% of that increase from 2003 to 2005.
At the same time the number of locally-developed VLEs in use increased from 7% to 30%.

* The survey would not reflect the increased use of Moodle in Further Education. At the April
2006 OSS Watch Conference preliminary data suggested that 66% of further education
colleges were using Moodle.

Making the Case for Open Source

Michael Feldstein has an excellent entry on stating the case for open source:

Campus Technology has a strong backgrounder on Open Source that could be useful for educating your stakeholders. It covers the basics--and a few not-so-basics--in very clear, simple terms. In the latter case, I’d like to highlight just three of a handful of fine points that the article brings forward. First, one critical strategy to consider is “aggregating support costs across institutions so that ongoing costs of running the software can be shared.” In other words, the more organizations can collaborate on support, the better Open Source generally looks in terms of total cost of ownership. The economy of scale reduces the significance of any support cost differentials that may exist. Second, the future value of Open Source on campus is really going to be unlocked via loose coupling:

A typical workflow within a college eLearning environment today might look something like this: A faculty member creates a Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint document as the basis for a student assignment. The faculty member uploads the document into the Blackboard Content Repository and makes it available to her students through the Blackboard Course Management System. Students create their own Microsoft Word documents and submit them to the faculty member, still within the Blackboard environment. The student also saves a copy of the assignment and submits it to his LiveText ePortfolio system. All of these interactions may be accessed from a university portal application, or they may each require a separate entry and authentication scheme.

Now consider an alternate workflow. The faculty member uses OpenOffice to author the assignment and saves it to what appears to be a network drive on the faculty’s desktop. In reality, the network drive is the faculty’s space in a Fedora-driven content repository – providing functionality such as version control and collaborative access. The Fedora system also serves as a universal document repository from which content is drawn into the Sakai course management system. As the student completes the assignment and uploads it into Sakai, the student’s work is automatically added to the Fedora repository, where it can be referenced from OSP (the ePortfolio system integrated within Sakai), or through collaboration tools used in conjunction with other students.

LMS Operating costs

Jim Farmer has posted a slide stack (in PDF format) on the economics of interoperability. There’s a lot of good general stuff here about service-oriented architecture (SOA) and interoperability issues from a business perspective, but 90%+ can also be read to apply directly to the LMOS concept.
Here are some highlights:
To begin with, it’s important to understand how small the resource pool is to solve instructional technology problems. Colleges and universities, on average, spend well over 60% of their IT budgets on administration and only 20% on instructional technology. And we know that, on average, $6 out of every $10 (or 60%) of any IT budget goes to maintenance. That means the total average IT budget for instructional technology devoted to something other than just keeping the lights on is 40% of 20%, or 8% of the total IT budget.
One reason that maintenance eats up so much is the cost of integration. Campuses increasingly want thier Course Management System (CMS) to integrate with their SIS system (to auto-populate class rosters and auto-report grades to the registrar), library systems (to integrate courses with e-reserves and other resources), a portal, an eportfolio, a learning object repository, and so on. (Note that these integrations are more than just single sign-on; there are other types of data being passed.) Traditionally, these integrations are wired up one at a time. Want to integrate your CMS with your eportfolio and your SIS? You need to write one connector for each of those two integration points. But if you want to integrate your eportfolio directly with your SIS directly, you have to write a third connector. The number of integration jobs increases almost exponentially with the number of application-to-application connections you need.
(By the way, an added consequence that Jim doesn’t mention in his stack is that vendors also are forced to spend increasingly large percentages of their revenues on writing connectors. That’s money that could have gone into improving the product as a learning and teaching tool.)
Now, consider that the average age of CMS’s at institutions is under four years, and that the migration rate to new CMS’s is about 12% annually (which, if that rate remains constant, means a migration roughly every six years). Migrations are expensive, and they take time. A heavily-utilized system may take as long as three years to go from initial migration planning to putting the last courses up in the new system. That means many institutions are undergoing some phase of CMS migration maybe 50% of the time. It’s more or less a permanent drain out of that 8% of the budget available for non-maintenance investment in instructional technology. With all of that, there’s little or no budget left to invest in fostering innovation.
What would the solution to these problems look like? Well, one possible solution looks a lot like an LMOS--lots of tools plugged into a central service hub ( via standard interfaces, with communication between tools choreographed via the hub. To begin with, it should lower maintenance costs by dramatically simplifying the integration code. Furthermore, being able to swap out functionality of the learning environment on a tool-by-tool basis should help break that 4-year migration cycle. As Jim says, “better service, lower costs--now.”

LAMS open source authoring tool

LAMS is a revolutionary new open source tool for designing, managing and delivering online collaborative learning activities. It provides teachers with a highly intuitive visual authoring environment for creating sequences of learning activities. These activities can include a range of individual tasks, small group work and whole class activities based on both content and collaboration. Click here for an interactive demonstration of LAMS.

Blackboard Patents the LMS

Blackboard patents the LMS?! ... The US Patent and Trademark Office has apparently granted Blackboard a patent for...well...pretty much anything remotely related to learning management systems. As I read it, Blackboard basically owns the patent on any sort of groupware at all that is used for teaching purposes. This could have very serious consequences for both proprietary and Open Source competitors-- another nail in the coffin for open learning.

Educational institutions should take note - Blackboard is obviously out to control the marketplace, and control the automated learning system.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

2036 end of teachers?

The end of teachers - or at least teacher accreditation - is the opinion expressed by Peter Wood provost and VP of The King's College NYC (now where did he get his degrees?)

He rails against teacher training because it "diverts students into studying “methodology” at the expense of learning much of substance about the actual subjects they will teach."

Hmm - I suggest they need more methodology - content changes, teaching strategies and learning design should too.

He goes on to suggest that we "will move to a system in which a degree in education will mark a potential teacher as under-educated and mis-trained.... teachers will be recruited from the ranks of the liberally educated and will learn, as good teachers have always learned, by devotion to the task itself. ... the undergraduate teacher’s degree is, for practical purposes, useless. What makes anyone think a master’s degree from the same school with courses taught by the same faculty is any better?"

I'm all for looking and finding mentors wherever you can, and drawing as much knowledge from a variety of sources - not just the accredited "teacher". But a good teacher with a grounding in learning design and a respect for the learning process is a pot of gold. But drawing simply from the ranks of content masters is not what is needed. Odd that Mr Wood, a provost of an institution of higher learning, should be so dismissive of teacher accreditation. Then again his college espouses a narrow, world dominating view of learning...."The mission of King’s is to prepare outstanding students for leadership in America’s strategic national institutions... will then be commissioned as ambassadors of Jesus Christ to lead and serve the world. In a nutshell, this is what King’s is all about."

I guess he thinks it is better to have a non-teacher devoted to a narrow vision of study than an accredited teacher devoted to learning for the sake of learning.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Free Admission - Share The Truth

Free Admission - Share The Truth

Here's an intersting P2P social software approach - Share the Truth website has seen Al Gore's The inconvenient Truth and feels that it is such a seminal, must see film that they are willing to pay for you to see it, and have developed a forum for others who have seen it and are willing to fund others to see the film - contributing to a spreading of the word!

"Sharethetruth has one goal: to relentlessly encourage the viewing of one very necessary movie. It will promote An Inconvenient Truth, ask others to help, and explore every sensible means possible to advance public awareness of its lucid science. I am in no way affiliated with Paramount Classics or Participant Productions, though will certainly write them for assistance in this cause. As of June 15th, you can donate to sharethetruth! Following are the timeline and future plans. Your ideas for improvement are welcome, so please contribute them at the forum.

Net Inventor on Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality: This is serious

Tim Berners Lee on net neutrality - also see site for video of Tim speaking on the issue - seeking to clrify what the fight is about in the face of the great misinformation and propagandizing by the telcos -

Net neutrality is this:
If I pay to connect to the Net with a certain quality of service, and you pay to connect with that or greater quality of service, then we can communicate at that level. That's all.

Its up to the ISPs to make sure they interoperate so that that happens.

Net Neutrality is NOT asking for the internet for free.

Net Neutrality is NOT saying that one shouldn't pay more money for high quality of service. We always have, and we always will.

There have been suggestions that we don't need legislation because we haven't had it. These are nonsense, because in fact we have had net neutrality in the past -- it is only recently that real explicit threats have occurred.

Control of information is hugely powerful. In the US, the threat is that companies control what I can access for commercial reasons. (In China, control is by the government for political reasons.) There is a very strong short-term incentive for a company to grab control of TV distribution over the Internet even though it is against the long-term interests of the industry.

US Dems stand up on net neutrality

Lawrence Lessig: "The Dems get Net Neutrality

Lawrence has a summary of the senate discussion on net neutrality - perhaps we are now seeing that what was once a cakewalk for the telcos may actually prove to be a little less so - finally someone is standing up for the internet consumer against the telco apologists.

..."the Democrats seem to have decided that this is their issue. The extraordinary tie created in the Senate Commerce Committee (11-11) on party lines (plus the amazing Senator Snowe) seems to signal a decision by leaders of the party that this is a fight they want to lead.

Sen. John Kerry on the vote...

Yesterday in the Senate Commerce Committee I warned that those of us who believe in net neutrality will block legislation that doesn’t get the job done. It looks like that’s the fight we’re going to have. The Commerce Committee voted on net neutrality and it failed on an 11-11 tie. This vote was a gift to cable and telephone companies, and a slap in the face of every Internet user and consumer. It will not stand.
I voted against this lousy bill for two reasons: because net neutrality and internet build-out are crucial to building a more modern and fair Information Society, and both were pushed aside by the Republicans. Everyone says they don’t want the new world we’re living in to be marked by the digital divide — the term is so cliched it’s turned to mush — but yesterday was a test of who is willing to ask corporate America to do anything to fix it, and the Commerce Committee failed miserably. Why are United States Senators afraid to say that companies should be expected to foster growth by building out their broadband networks to increase access? Free and open access to the internet is something all Americans should enjoy, regardless of what financial means they’re born into or where they live. It is profoundly disappointing that the Senate is going let a handful of companies hold internet access hostage by legalizing the cherry-picking of cable service providers and new entrants. That is a dynamic that would leave some communities with inferior service, higher cable rates, and even the loss of service. Not to mention inadequate internet service — in the age of the information. This bill was passed in committee over our objections. Now we need to fight to either fix it or kill it in the full Senate. Senator Wyden has already drawn a line in the sand — putting a “hold” on the bill, which prevents it from going forward for now. But there will be a day of reckoning on this legislation soon, make no mistake about it, and we need you to get engaged — pressure your Senators, follow the issue, demand net neutrality and build-out.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Podcasts and forum for ESS

The Bazaar - Bazaar project � Sounds of the Bazaar No. 2
Graham Atwell has given those of us exploring educational social software another avenue of learning. He is recording and delivering a series of podcasts, and created an open forum for fellow travellers of ESS. I commend him for it and have posted a comment on his site that I have copied below - for the sake of keeping my own (shared) copy:

Graham - these podcasts are an excellent additional access route to your thinking and ideas. I can sit and much my lunch while listening to you rather than wade through rigid lines of text.
The "learn and play" concepts proposed by John Sealey Brown are in evidence all around us. Having worked in the corporate and educational sector as a learning designer/training consultant I have seen evidence of informal learning and organized learning.I have seen people learning through play, sharing, mentoring and advising. I've been involved in attempts at "organizing" informal learning in the workplace without limiting participant freedom and destroying the creativity of the moment. I have attempted to "assess" such learning, and make it an example of ROI. I have also struggled to find my own place in the picture of learning - as a learning designer. My behaviourist training and education often works against my natural connectivist, constructivist nature. Different forms of "pedagogy" come into play - heutagogy, connectivism, constructivism, - demanding new approaches that question the concepts and practices of control, ownership, security, "packaged" learning, instructional objectives, formative and summative testing, competencies. In short, my professional and lifelong learning lives are in flux, what was once solid is now fluid, and seeking a form - but not form with borders or containment - more of a form of intention, desire, searching. It is a chaotic time for me, transformative and challemging. But it just seems right, as if for too long I've been working and applying within restraints that are foreign to my nature. I'm glad there are fellow travellers like yourself to take the journey with.

Searching for a Safe Port in Lifelong Learning

I received a message from David Tosh (Curverider, Inc. and cofounder of Elgg),
"I was reading back over your blog post about Elgg - I was wondering if you have had anymore thoughts on this comment: "I'd like to see a non profit organization established that would offer free, secure storage of learner owned Elgg's"

My thoughts are still sketchy on this, but demand formulation at some point. Issues of ownership and control have to be discussed. As is normal a vaccuum of indecision will be filled by a lesser than solution - usually commercial. WebCT is already announcing it's foray into e-portfolios - built as a tool for institutions to administer and control student content; student control, access and ownership will be relegated low status and impinged upon in the name of confidentiality and security. Another row of bricks will be added to the walled garden and the silo of containment will rise. As will the licensing fee.

My view of e-portfolios - personal, student owned and portable - is akin to "institution as space station", where student Elgg' docks for a period of time taking on "supplies" - personal and institutional learning artefacts, and then moves on to the next institutional port (or any other learning organizational port). But if we accept the student as owner principle, they need a neutral space port to park their Elgg ship.

When an institution hosts an eportfolio, or a learning landscape, the institute has to decide what content is theirs and what content is the students'. When they part company the student owned content needs to be portable (in WebCt terms, these are html files that the student can take away but has no way of "plugging" them into anything other then WebCT). Alternatively an institution could pay an ASP (application service provider) like Elgg to brand and host their eportfolio and/or learning landscape tool. But upon course completion where is the student in this equation - how can they house their content, continue to access it and prepare to transport it to their next course/program/institution? Looking at the space station docking analogy - the student is in free space when not asscoiated with an institution; once integrated with an institution, the institution must pay for that linkage, a "user" fee.

Where does the learner store their mobile learning artefacts - a Smart card, a flash drive, a networked site? Can they "port into" and "out of" an institution's LMS? What neutral body will house the "unported" mobile learner? A non-profit server maintained by the United Nations, by provincial/state department of education, a consortium of universities, a non-profit foundation, or a commercial site?

And who will fund the development of open source toolsets like Elgg? It would seem as viable an option as paying for WebCT' idea of an e-portfolio. there has to be some way to keep the Elgg creators David Tosh/Ben Werdmuller creators in room and board and opportunities as they respond to the needs of lifelong learners in the development of a portable, personal learning space.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Chronicle: Wired Campus Blog: Restricted Access for Kent State's Athletes

Kent State restricts student use of social networks -

Officials at Kent State University have backed off on a plan to ban student athletes from creating profiles on Facebook, reports The Columbus Dispatch. But the university will still place some tight restrictions on how its athletes can use the popular social-networking site.

The original Facebook ban was intended to prevent students from being contacted by strangers...but also to protect its own reputation: Pictures of hazing and underage drinking aren’t exactly good news for athletics programs.
- Wouldn't want to actually put a stop to hazing or underage drinking, just make it unreported.

Athletes who choose to use Facebook will be required to let coaches and academic advisers monitor their profiles for content—a provision that may cause some of the affected students to avoid the site altogether.

student freedom? student control? unknown concepts

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

PLE independent electronic student record

Derek Morrison continues with his discussion of the PLE:

Auricle: "With regard to the PLE and its relationship to the current MLE/VLEs one of the mental hurdles we perhaps have to overcome first is the belief that the centre needs to remain owner of the information rather than the vehicle for its dissemination to persons and their own devices and environments. "

I couldn't agree more. derek goes on to make the comparison with the proposed health smart cards - they contain personal info in control of the health user, that can be linked to and integrate with a central system but are independent - "substitute the Phillips article's Electronic Patient Record (EPR) for Electronic Student Record (ESR). "

I am also in agreement with derek's observation that we have to stop "thinking of the next generation of VLEs as evolutionary iterations of what we currently have, i.e. first generation VLEs with bits added on." The LMS is not the framework of the PLE.

What is a PLE? The future or just another buzz word?

JISC e-Learning Focus - What is a PLE? The future or just another buzz word?

It's good to see a continued discussion on the premise of the PLE - personal learning environement. Traditional institutional learning environments (a.k.a Virtual Learning Environments or VLEs represented primarily by the LMS - learning management system) are monolithic, boxed environments designed for institutional management needs, not student needs. "They are administration environments not learning environments." This discussion asks:

" Are systems like these an inevitable compromise to the perennial problem of education: too many students and not enough teachers? Can we re-examine the online learning experience and design a set of tools which more fully support the learning process and are more closely matched to the needs of individual learners?"

Specifically can we allow the learner greater control over their learning experience, povide them with a PLE that they can "use to interact with a number of different institutions throughout their studies."

Here's some points that came out of the discssions, with my comments in italic:

There were opposing views on current institutional systems, from those who thought they were straightjackets, stifling learning, to those who realised their value in facilitating large scale online provision of learning materials.

This sidesteps the issue - yes the existing systems are stifling and sure they facilitate learning - but they don't facilitate continuous, mobile learning from the persepctive of the learner's needs beyond an individual instutuion (or even course)

There was some concern that the introduction of PLEs would be highly disruptive – highlighting a key challenge: that there should be a gradual and managed transition between current and future learning environments. Recent moves by BlackBoard and other VLE providers to open up their systems and adopt a more Service based approach are seen as essential to the long term prospects of learning systems more closely matched to learners needs.

Disruption is bad thing? progressive cnage is nice, but not within the same box. Why wait for blackboard to impose its idea of a PLE (which will surely be designed like a movable jail cell to be linked into the next penitientiary of higher learning. take a look at a tool like Elgg, open source, and can be linked into webCT or Moodle. The real question revolves around who will freely and confidentially "store" student generated data/profile. This is an issue larger than any one or a group of educational institutions, and is in fact a question that ministries of education or better yet the UN should be considering. All citizens should have a personal respository of their learning experience, associated with a set of interactive toolsets, that they can "port" around the web and link into educational institutions at will, then "port" back to their home base (maintained by ministry of education or world body like the UN.

There was an acknowledgement that the Web 2.0 tools and services (blogs, wikis, chats, shared workspaces) which form the basis of the PLE concept would be an inevitable component of education in the future...Failure to utilise these tools would alienate students and institutions would risk becoming technology ghettoes.

Well yes this is true. And those tools should be in the control of the students.

There was some debate as to whether the technology really matters at all. Inherent in the concept of a PLE is a move away from large-scale high-stakes assessment towards assessment by portfolio and generating evidence of competency. Is such a shift ever likely to occur, and if so, to what timescale?

The technology is and should always be secondary to the philosophy. Why are we doing this? To let the student control their learning. How can we do it? the technology allows us the opportunity. is it a big change? Inevitably, and it will call into question many existing practices - institutional control, student confidntiality, content ownership, student control of actions, content, and assessment - will it all change at the same time? Not likely. But it will change. And it will change us.

Open university courseware from SA

TECTONIC: Open university courseware trend comes to SA

Another educational institution finds its true calling and has made content available for free. "The University of the Western Cape (UWC) has made a policy decision to make its course material freely available over the Internet. Material that will be made available includes courses, syllabuses, lecture notes and exam papers." And considers this - when MIT went "open" it was working with $11 million in grants to get its OCW initiative going. UWC has no outside funding but they see it as " part of our normal university function." When will the first Canadian educational institution become "open"?