Adlt 641: 12 “Building smart rooms, one network at a time.”

Wommavideo-DAVIDWEINBERGERONTWITTER775Student teaching is an experience that I anticipated with enthusiasm.  After several years of hard work, tutoring, internships and participation in an emergency school setting in Philadelphia I was now ready to become the teacher. All eyes would soon focus on me, rather than the cooperating teacher.  For as all good students knew that the person in the front of the room was the source of all knowledge. Suddenly the anticipation that I felt was overpowered with anxiety and fear.   The confidence build over three years began to erode with the mere thought of being responsible for all the knowledge necessary to progress front he beginning to the end of the day.

In the days before anticipation guides and reading strategies such as K-W-L charts, I would pay games with children to encourage them to pay attention to the content surrounding the lesson.  “Who could stump the teacher?” would challenge learners to pay attention to lessons or read the homework.assignment the night before class.  A student generated list, at the beginning of each unit of study, identified the knowledge at the class as a whole brought to the unit.  Elementary students enjoy the opportunity to bring knowledge that they’ve discovered on their own to the lesson. As the list lengthens, we marvel at how “smart” we are as a class and how the members have contributed to the knowledge shared and collected as a community.  The practices of this new little community invigorate them as pursuers of their of knowledge, knowing that what each contributed was welcomed and acknowledge.

Educators will point to hormones and socialization as two key factors that influence this change between primary and middle school years.  What happens, though, between middle and secondary, secondary, and higher education?  The subtle shift between students as possessors of knowledge and students as recipients of knowledge is very real, yet very telling when considering the question, “What is knowledge?”  When the teacher as facilitator moves from the coach on the sideline to the sage on the stage, the message that the smartest person in the room is the teacher is quite clear!

David Weinberger’s work, Too Big to Know, is a comprehensive look at what constitutes knowledge in a networked society.   As technologist, professional speaker and commentator he postulates that society should reconsider what is knowledge now that we know that the facts are not the necessarily the facts and that experts are everywhere. This idea is relatively easy to digest considering that; our society is awash with information.  The idea that the smartest person in the room is the room requires one to consider how the world of knowledge has changed with as a result of the internet.

His work addresses ideas that surround knowledge as well as exploring how the body of knowledge is lifted now that the limitations of the old medium of knowledge are lifting. I “scooped” articles, video and audio recordings that support many of the ideas within his body of work.  The “Scoop it” contains his bibliography, where some links are provided that support his research.  The “scoop” is certainly not inclusive of each piece of data used; however, it is sequential and does not deviate from the text.  The resources within it give extensions for learning and knowing on the part of the reader.  The topic is daunting at best, yet worth the time to consider each component carefully before proceeding to the next.  The Scoop it collection is arranged by topic for personal consideration. I have extrapolated ideas that both resonated with me and challenged me.     Here is the Scoop it:   Too Big To Know

  • The Crisis of Knowledge
    • The foundations of our most important institutions are being shaken as we ask questions that we thought were already settled.
    • Traditional journals are now being viewed as blockage systems.
  • Knowledge Overload-
    • Then-
      •  Knowing by reducing what fits into our library or journal.
      • Old knowledge institutions derived their authority by filtering information for the rest of us.
      • Knowledge was structured by a foundation.
    • Now
      • Include every draft of an idea-the web is full of loosely connected ideas.
      • Our social networks are our new filters.  Authority is shifting from experts to networks of people that we know and respect.
      • Filters no longer filter out-they filter forward.
      • Knowledge is taking the shape of the net; it is messy and does not have any edges.
  • Bottomless Knowledge-
    • Then-
      • Massive amounts of information can cause us to go wrong.
      • Too many facts prevent us from drawing a conclusion.
    • Now- 
      • Learning a fact can be the same as publishing a fact
      • Networked facts point to where they came from and sometimes where they lead.
      • The new medium is shedding the old optimism-we can no longer all agree on a conclusion.
  • The Expertise of Clouds-
    • Then-
      • Professional knowers needed professional institutions for support
      • Information was “fenced in”
      • An enclave-work produced by those who share your assumptions
    • Now-
      • What’s difficult for an individual to know, can be easy for a network
      • Connections find and generate experts
      • Expertise multiplies when it exists between people
    • A Marketplace of Echoes?-
      • Then-
        • Echo chambers like quiet libraries in quiet communities
        • Within a discourse, some interpretations are privileged                                                               
      • Now-
        • The net is transparent-outsiders look in and insiders look out
        • Connections occur across boundaries
    • Long Form, Web Form-
      • Then-
      • Physical books-dominant culture of society.
      •  Everything that is relevant is contained within the covers.
      • Author determines sequence of ideas, when they start/finish
      • Now-
      • Web-form allows ideas to ‘uncurl into their natural shape’
      • Ideas escape the author’s grasp-change the world
    • Too Much Science-
      • Then-
        • Facts are about particular things, knowledge should be about universals.
        • Amateurs can succeed because institutional professionals can validate them.
        • Old model of publishing-a point in time.
      • Now-
        • Bigness is the first property of networks the scientific world is absorbing.
        • The engagement of/with amateurs is widespread-we take it for granted.
        • Hyperlinking of science-links back to sources, links into human context and process that produce it, use it, debate and make sense of it.
        • Media may always get science wrong because of the attractiveness of a dramatic headline.
    • Where the Rubber Hits the Node-
      • Then-
        • Top of Pyramid-all big decisions would flow.
        • Hierarchical, top-down decision-making prohibits the common person from contributing. Local knowledge is not used.
        • Lack of resilience-when pointed end of pyramid is on one individual.
      • Now-
        • Hyper-networks-huge organizations spread out and differentiate to solve a problem.
        • Network decision-making motivates people to use their local knowledge.
        • Moment of decision is a node in a network, which contains more knowledge.
    • Building the New Infrastructure of Knowledge-
      • Then-
        • Technodeterminism- technology causes us to use and understand it in prescribed ways.
        • Important knowledge was kept from the “common folk.”
        • Academic journals are so costly that only a few are able to access them.
      • Now-
        • Social class, age, and subculture affect how we use the internet and what it means to us.
        • The abundance is apparent and changes how we understand knowledge.
        • Knowledge is a playlist-not a realm, but a path that gets us to where we wish to go.
        • Links change the topography of knowledge.Daniel Moynihan quoteEvery evening my family and I discuss the events of the day over a shared meal.  They know that I am engrossed in a big, semester long project, but find the ideas that surround it rather dubious.  In an attempt to prepare them for the premise behind Weinberger’s ideas, I shared the quote that is attributed to Daniel Moynihan:   “Everyone is entitled to his own opinions, but not to his own facts.” * My husband’s eyebrows arch and his mouth begins to form a little, “Oh, I don’t think so….” I thought that this would be a good opportunity to engage in a little bit of lively discussion. “Take the common tomato,” I suggest.  It is a plant grown during the warm months of the year.  My son quickly counter points by reminding me about tomatoes that grow hydroponically or in hot houses!  The door opened for a discussion that touched merely the tip of the iceberg.  I’ve begun to talk with my son about his learning network and how his is “personal,” that each of use has a network that surrounds us.  The key lies in understanding how to use this knowledge now that the facts are no longer the facts, that experts are not necessarily experts and that the smartest person in the room is the room. Therefore, hinges the door of our smart room, built by one network at a time!
        •  *No one is sure if Moynihan actually made this statement or not. Like Weinberger, I found it on the internet

Adlt 641: 11 “The Power of my PLN..a call to pay if forward!”

Visitors to Niagara Falls, Ontario know that the wait time to ride “Maid of the Midst” is rather lengthy during summer vacation.  The cost for this adventure, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, is $15.50.  I pay my fee; stand in line for nearly an hour before donning the blue rain poncho offered to me as a visitor.  As a rider, I knew what awaited me; wearing the poncho is a practice that I accepted as part of the experience. Like most of the riders exiting the boat, I was partially wet, for what is the fun in riding close to the falls without the opportunity to get wet?

The exploration and creation of my personal learning network is an adventure similar to the Maid of the Midst ride.  The period to take Adult 641, Social Media for Adult Learners, is rather lengthy, as the class occurs once every other year.  Unlike the vacationers in Ontario, I knew that my ride through the waters of social media would shower me with a wealth of ideas to consider and applications to try. I paid my tuition, and with several electronic devices in hand boarded the ride, anticipating that I would be thoroughly drenched along the way.

I discovered early in this adventure that the creation of my personal learning network was not about how I would reform my habits.  I would begin with an overall transformation from how I think, act, connect with others and create rather than simply consume.  Pam Moran, the superintendent of Albemarle County Schools, contends that the implications for learning in the new century (sic my words) are profound. She insists that we are living in a time of unprecedented changed.  When I consider how the world of teaching has changed from 1985, when I began my career, until 2011 when I left the traditional classroom, I am astounded.  What is more amazing to me is what this period of transformation is producing in me as a learner and a teacher.  In many ways, I find who I was as an educator “then” and what I am “now” closely parallel David Wiley’s observations about connection and network building.

Jeff Bullas asserts that everyone needs a landing pad.  The phrase, “Tweet to connect, Blog to reflect” is one that resonated with me quickly.  Through a twitter connection, I found Mathieu Plourde’s open education resource page.  I noticed that each of the students in his digital media course at the University of Delaware created an “About.me” component for their blog site. The about.me aspect of my blog is my landing pad.  It is a place where readers can find other ways in which to connect with me, for me to share ideas and resources with them and for us to exchange ideas.

The desire to link myself to networks of individuals as well as organizations is one of the core values of my PLN.  My “transformed self” regards networking through Linked in as a way to understand my friends and colleagues in a more professional manner.   There are details about the professional lives of friends that surprise me!  These details are not evidenced on their Facebook pages. For me, Facebook is a medium for photographs, stories, and updates. It is purely social in nature.  I respect the privacy of my friends and family members. I would prefer to keep that space personal rather than include it as part of my professional network.

I consider myself a lifelong learner, one who is very resourceful in terms of accessing informal ways in which to learn. TED talks, while nearly 30 years in existence, are a new medium for me in which to learn. Professional development, anytime, anywhere that encourages me “…to listen consciously in order to live fully” is a key component of my DIY education.  The value of a traditional classroom setting is important to me. This component of formal learning provides the dialog, interaction, and rigors of higher education that I desire; Virginia Commonwealth University is an integral component of my PLN.  The world of professional networking is comprised of tools and programs that are not naturally intuitive for me.  The opportunity to learn from those who have an established “on-line” presence provided a path for me to follow rather than one to stumble through. In order to enjoy the serendipitous moments that will occur through my PLN, I needed a prescribed set of tools and lessons.

Everyone needs a tribe! I have a group of people that I “hang with” in order to feel like I belong.  Twitter has become the first place that I look each morning to see what my tribe is discussing.  David Weinberger’s idea that “The value of networks of experts can be in opening things up, not simply coming to unshakable conclusions,” has philosophical meaning for my professional development. While I follow many individuals, I have found the experts who live in the clouds to provide a “web of ideas that foliate endlessly.”

Two members of my tribe, Sue Waters and Jeff Bullas reside in Australia.  I read “The Sue Water’s Daily” each day and always find something relevant to my life. Over the Thanksgiving holidays, my friend and I were discussing the Common Core Standards. Sue included a video clip about the CCS in today’s paper that I quickly sent to my friend in North Carolina. We are sitting on the fence and have not decided how we feel about it, however, I anticipate that my tribe will provide greater context from which I may formulate an opinion. Will Richardson’s tweet today, “The more we want our kids to learn, the more we should turn away from ‘raising standards,” give me something to ponder as well a topic for my next coffee social. His attachment, Alfie Kohn; From a Culture of Performance to a Culture of Learning, intensifies the idea of global thinking and connection among the members of my tribe! (How does my tribe know what I need?  Are they all talking with each other?)

Jeff is a wealth of knowledge about every form of social media!  He is “the man.” He tweets several times each hour, which means that I have many ideas to consider and bookmark in my Diigo account. His idea about each person needing a landing pad, to consider my core brand values as well as what flows from me provide that coagulation for my PLN.

George and Alec Couros, brothers and educators from Canada are at the cutting edge of what works and does not work in 21st Century education.  Their tweets exemplify dana boyd’s idea about “tweeting honesty and passionately” about their work and lives. Thanks to George, I am aware of people Flash Mobbing at a Target in Edmonton, Alberta. Alec’s The #math Daily paper is one that I peruse for ideas that I can use as a parent.

Imagine my surprise to find the name of a former middle school parent on page 15, of Will Richardson’s book Personal Learning Networks, Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education. Pam Moran has spent over 30 years of her life working in the field of education.  When I knew her, she was a principal of a small rural school and the mother of one of the most vivacious students I have ever encountered.  Her son must have inherited this quality from Pam as her connections and tweets are evidence of one who fully embraces the power of social media. Her passion for learning and social media reminds me to imbue that passion when connecting with others.

The wealth of information that I receive each day is beyond overwhelming.  I abandoned the idea of maintaining an RSS in favor of allowing my connections to feed me each day. The Chronicle of Higher Education and Linked in keep me informed about topics that are of interest to me as both a graduate student and a professional.  Several members of my tribe publish papers through paper.li.  At this moment, I have over 75 articles (from last week…forget about this week!) to peruse and file in Diigo.  While I find it useful to scroll through Twitter and add bookmarks on my cell phone, it does present difficulties when attempting to provide attribution.  Mathieu Plorde’s social media policy is a component of his landing page.  Many ideas that circulate through education are not new, but are ones that recirculate and collect new concepts along the way.  He tries not to break the chain of attribution when retweeting or sharing ideas.  This is an idea that I now consider when posting.  He actually thanked me for a “ping back” earlier in the semester.  Manners are important when interacting with my network.

My personal learning network has transitioned from rocky waters to a more solid ground during the course of this class.  The most powerful transformation in me will be the shift from one of consumer of information to creation of content.  The 3rd habit of the“7 Habits of Technology Teachers” insists that technology teachers share best practices.  They share, share and then share some more. For years, I have scoured the internet looking for teaching materials and power points that could enhance lessons. I have files of power points that I have saved for my son to use.  My initial intent was to trash them when he completes a course.  Slideshare is a convenient way to engage the idea of “paying forward.” Likewise, I have thousands of images in my photo library.  The opportunity to share globally now means that I will post an image to my Flickr account in real time with my cell phone.  The process is not difficult; it simply requires a transformation of thought. Participation in an open education, through a connected world means that I transform my way of thinking as well as my way of acting. Image

Adlt 641: 10 “Yes, Jon Bon Jovi…this is now my life now and forever!”

Faculty meetings are the bane of a teacher’s existence. It doesn’t matter whether the meeting is held in a large, airy room or in a small, cozy room.  Snacks or no snacks, anything that a teacher is asked to do after a long day can tax an already overtaxed group of individuals.  One particular meeting in 2008 featured a video clip, A Vision of  K-12 Students Today.  What was meant to inspire us to consider how to engage students in greater technology use, drew blank expressions from some and quizzical looks from others. What was this all about, we wondered?  Nice idea, but how do we accomplish incorporating technology with relatively little technology on hand to use?  for many,technology meant hardware, and our reservoir was rather dry. I left the meeting feeling frustrated over what I perceived as yet another possible mandate with little or no training and tools.

This video clip has aired over a million times. When I look carefully at the the signs that the students are holding, I realize  that in order to be prepared for this new generation, I would need to change my visitor status to that of digital resident.” Of all of the signs on the white marker boards, the only one that I engaged in with regularity is email.  I was a part of that 76% of the teachers who never used text messaging, instant messaging, blogs or even knew what the word “wiki” meant. Podcasts were as foreign to me as the use of technology to create  something mathematical.  I had hundreds of dollars of manipulatives and games in my room to engage students. Unfortunately, I didn’t even approach the 14% of teachers identified as asking students to create something new with technology. I was a member of the 63% of teachers who never did! How can a teacher, who is not of member of this community of practice, envision students who think, create, analyze and apply what they have learned using technology?

Fast forward twelve months.  I have moved beyond email; I navigate the web with greater confidence. I record and share what I am reading through Goodreads and have learned that the new email system, Gaggle, contains a blog component. (But…I still don’t read blogs or write them myself…not good!) My students are teaching me about IM language when they respond to a question by placing, “IDK” in the blank.  They chat less  frequently about Myspace and more about Facebook. They joke about the videos that fellow students have posted to  Youtube   The chatter that surrounds Youtube reflects music video and silly clips. Beyond these encounters, I am a basics babe who has moved to a new grade and has changed curriculum. I have relatively little experience with it and absolutely no physical resources. When I look back at the video clip about a new vision of the K-12 learner, what I find missing from the whiteboards that the student’s are holding up is “Youtube.”

My transition from using the Discovery Channel’s “United Streaming“programs, to an almost total dependence on Youtube was seamless. I had ten months of curriculum to learn in four months as we worked in semesters, rather than a full year.  It was either sink or swim and this basics babe had found a new BFF.  As with any friendship, there is a period of adjustment where each begins to learn about the other.  What I learned very quickly, is that Youtube is considered evil and that teachers needed to formally request a password to use it.  In James Bond fashion, I memorized what was written on the paper, swallowed the code and shared it with absolutely no one.  There’s always a catch….after a given time period my friendship with YT would close and need to be reopened with the password.  So much for a natural transition between each class.

When Michael Wesch   talks about how people game the system to get more views, it’s easy to understand the paranoia that ensues with the use of Youtube. Several teacher friends have communicated to me that although they are now allowed to use YT without a passcode, they must do so after signing a waiver. This waiver makes the teacher accountable for video content shown in the classroom.  Good teachers carefully screen videos before using them for instruction. I had no idea prior to seeing Wesch’s An anthropological introduction to Youtube that the thumbnail image associated with the video, may in fact have nothing to do with the content, but rather is designed to attract viewers.  Teachers would automatically discriminate against such videos based on the thumbnail!

The New York Times reports that “Educators are giving YouTube-long dismissed as storehouse of whimsical, time-wasting and occasionally distasteful videos-another look.”  Google, the parent company of YT, unveiled a Youtube for Schools program, which offers schools the ability to select video content with the knowledge that profane comments and inappropriate links have been scrubbed from the pages. The Google in Education site is a wealth of resources for teachers and parents, yet it is not visible when selecting the “even more” tab at the top of the Google screen. Teachers that I queried through my Facebook messenger were unaware of this component of Google.

Wesch’s contention that everyone is an independent producer on Youtube provides the education system with a valid reason for teaching digital citizenship.  Many videographers play with the concept of identity.  When characters, such as the one’s in the clip, state that viewers don’t always know what is real on here (sic)  and what isn’t, users should employ digital citizenship skills.  While Jack’s multiple characters are hilarious, they could spark an interesting conversation between parents, students and educators about what is real and what is a lie. The second lesson in the Understanding You Tube and Digital Citizenship curriculum, Detecting Lies, addresses statements made in Wesch’s ethnography about understanding what is real.  Students engage in activities where social media sites are analyzed as we did in a class earlier in the semester.  Of the three examples provided, one is no longer available.  The alien podcast might be interesting for older students who are enthralled with government conspiracies,ghost hunting and December 20, 2012.  Unfortunately neither make as poignant a statement as the Martin Luther King, Jr. site  explored in class.

My Youtube playlist, Digital Citizenship, contains 15 videos and is certainly not inclusive of what’s available for parents and teachers to use when discussing how to engage social media for learning.  (There are 327 videos identified as Digital Citizenship for Students.)

Here is a sampling of the videos on this playlist-

  • Elementary Viewers-One aspect explores how young people live in the moment and are unaware of how their digital footprint follows them as they transition from playful engagement (i.e. the Flicker image of the boy with the pencils stuffed up his nose) to digital resident.
  • Middle SchoolViewers– Students will enjoy this cute video created by an iPad2 and netbook learning community. The members share how they use digital devices instead of banning them! Yes, a little music for you, Mel!)
  • High School Students-This is a really cool example of how a television station engaged students in the San Francisco, CA with Twitter prompts called “Do Now!” 
  • Adult Learners-EduOnAir: A Panel of Educators, “Digital Literacy and Citizenship” is Google’s first on-air Google+Hangout! It also identifies the Google in Education site mentioned above.

 

While I no longer work in a public education system with students, I still maintain a community of teacher friends.  These friends are encircled  by an even larger number of adult friends who recognize the importance of digital literacy, yet often lack the resources to help them in parenting their children.

A basics babe no longer…social media is my life now and forever!

 

Adlt 641: 9-“Bye, bye birdie!”

My twelve year old son admonished me the other day by stating ,”Mom, you just don’t understand the 21st century!”  In essence, I was out of touch with the demands and expectations of the real world.  I did my best not to burst out laughing, but rather bit my lip as I listened to him ramble about the intricacies of life in the new century.  The last time that I looked, the new century began over 1o years ago.  I sure hope that I had “a clue” about what had occurred.  What I do understand about this new century is that the world has become more sophisticated and that parents, and teachers, are often left in the dark when contemplating how to ride the technology train of parenting.

Over the last several years, I found that parent-teacher conference time often became more parent focused rather than student centered.  With each adoption of technology purchased by my school district, I discovered that what was purchased to be a tool for parents soon became an agent for widening the divide between us and them.Conversations with parents asked me to consider how to reduce this digital divide.  I am an ardent believer in the idea that the parent is the first and most important teacher in the life of a child.  In my experience, most parents truly want to help their child to be successful, which leads me to ask what could be done to encourage parents to use digital resources?

Ten minute conferences would extend to become 15 and 25 minute conferences as I showed parents how to use the parent portal system, my class website and the on-line bookmarking system for practice, called portaportal.   Eyes widen with interest as I explained these on-line systems, yet puzzled expressions revealed that one opportunity to explore a piece of software or social bookmarking system was not enough time for adults to feel comfortable using them. Parents who appeared appreciative of the time that I took to demonstrate these learning management systems, didn’t use them  with more regularity after the explanation. Parents were unaware that teachers could notice how many times grades had been viewed. The bookmarking system that I used does not allow the owner to keep track of the viewers and number of times a resource has been used. This lack of participation could cause one to draw the wrong conclusion about parental concern and involvement.

I began to voice these observations to anyone and everyone who would listen.  Shouldn’t we do something to help parents understand how to use these tools?  Wouldn’t it be advantageous for us to provide some sort of pre-school or mid-year training for anyone who was interested?  My concerns fell on deaf ears.  Something needed to be done, but what and by whom? * My class load involved the planning and presentation of two intense courses for over 125 students.  I didn’t have the time or resources to meet their needs, yet the compulsion to do something did not subside with time. Screecasts that explained how to use the tools the system purchased or the social bookmarking system that I used would have made a wonderful tool for parents and student, IF I had known what they were and IF I knew how to create them.

Screencasts could become a wonderful resource tool for classroom teachers and school systems.  As a true believer in the new punctuation, the hyperlink, I explored a trail that  led me to discover “The Shamblesguru.” Shamblesguru, the alter ego of Chris Smith, refers to himself as a digital nomad evangelist. The Prezi that he created about Screencasting provides a wealth of resources to help me to further understand how to create a screencast as well as examples of where they are used.  He showcases, Mathcasts as part of the “Video in Teaching and Learning” section of this prezi. What an invaluable tool for parents who struggle to help students with mathematics from fourth grade concepts to examples of vector calculus.! (Remember the “new” math of the 1960’s?  How cool would it have been to have a screencast to help my parents through the treacherous method of solving algorithms!) The software to create these programs could provide students with the tools that they need to show mastery of the subject as well as to build a school library of resources for other students to use.  (I quickly jot an email to my son’s algebra teacher!  I am excited and on a roll.  Never mind that it’s nearly midnight.  I found something innovative, as a result of ‘uberhyperlinking’ for the kids to use!)

Jon Udell, the father of screencasting, considers Tim Fahlberg an innovator. His podcast explores how their shared interest in screencasting/mathcasting is transforming the effectiveness of learning technology. This form of technology  is making teaching more effective!  It has the power to transform individuals  from passive viewers on the sideline to active players in the field of parenting!

So here is my first attempt to create a screencast-“How to Access the Portaportal.” I’m really pleased with it as a first attempt to create a screencast. In the past, I have used screen prints pasted to word documents, coupled with arrows and directions, to help students to understand how to use a site. The possibilities for using this tool are limitless.  This method is more efficient and would help students and parents to feel empowered to manage their own learning. Bye, bye baby bird syndrome!

* In all fairness to the system, the state and federal governments evaluate schools on how well students perform on standardized tests.  I am unaware of any documentation that is required to show how parents are included in the educational system.  This burden that I feel led me to consider how I might transition from that of classroom teacher to one of adult educator.  Teachable moments are often serendipitous, yes?

Adlt 641-8 “Did anyone say MOOC?”

When you live in a small college town, it’s difficult to shed the feeling that the town exists to support the university.  Everywhere one goes in Charlottesville, the presence of the University of Virginia is felt.  When graduation is over, the community unleashes its belt, sighs and relaxes. Summer break is our time to wander around town with ease, to walk around the grounds and to admire Mr. Jefferson’s  Academical Village.  We don’t expect news about the university to dominate the media at this time, which made the events of June 2012 disconcerting.  The resignation of the beloved president dumbfounded everyone while drawing national attention to the town.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, which announced Sullivan’s abrupt decision on June 10, garnered over 125 comments.  Helen Dragas, the rector of the board of visitors, “specifically cited the need for a leader who would be open to changes in curriculum-delivery methods, including online learning.” My Facebook page was alight with daily status updates.  Rumblings over the ethical treatment of “our community’s” president  supersede those regarding the concept of “online coursework.”  However, most paled in comparison to the lengthy diatribe contributed by readers, several that questioned the purpose or validity of open, online education.                                                                                                                                     http://www.connectivism.ca/

I followed the local and national stories with interest, filtering through the gossip with details that were funneled to me as a university volunteer. The dust had not settled before  the university’s new relationship with Coursera was announced on July 17, 2012.  I’ve taken numerous graduate courses over the years, of which only one was a hybrid course and none was free. Over the last several years, I have seen advertisements on television regarding the University of Phoenix, as well as other online for profit institutions.  I’ve always wondered how coursework from such institutions compared with that offered by traditional universities.The “21st Century Literacy” hybrid course, offered through Longwood University, was both rigorous and academically rewarding.  An important component of my Personal Learning Network is to read articles regarding higher education. I have read journal  articles during the last six months but have not responded by submitting comments.   (I will consider commenting on articles as a way in which I will become a more connected learner!)

One of the comments on  July 17, 2012 article was particularly interesting-

This individual, jspqr 4 months ago states,

Regarding such online program revenue streams: I’ve taught in a technical discipline at large state universities for about 15 years, and I’ve been teaching in a major online university in the same discipline for 2 years.  I can say without reservation that many (most?) online courses in my general discipline are a course design, pedagogical, and learning assessment nightmare; and this isn’t unique to the university for which I teach, based on many discussions I’ve had with faculty in other online universities.  In short, the students simply are not achieving near the same levels of learning as students in traditional universities. Their real world performance is, on average, nowhere near their peers educated in traditional universities with similar grades and degrees. (This comment received 43 “likes.”)

While this comment is certainly not positive,  it is could certainly be a spring board for conversation regarding the objective for teaching and taking online courses. The concept of a MOOC was  unfamiliar to me prior to the summer, of 2012, however,  that didn’t deter me from the excitement over something new! I quickly dug into the Coursera website. It was easy to immerse myself in the offerings of the company.  I  discovered that the courses are not for the faint of heart! Many appear to be quite challenging and are created for those with an extensive background in science, mathematics and engineering.  After considerable thought, I decided to enroll in two courses, one at the University of Virginia and the other at the University of Edinburgh. Both courses begin in 2013.  One intrigues me as I consider the possibility of owning my own business after graduate school.  The advertisement for this course, at the time that I viewed it, consisted of a written explanation of the course. There was also just one course posted, “Grow to Greatness:  Smart Growth for Private Businesses.” Since my enrollment  an additional course, along with a video created by the professor, was posted to the Coursera website. While enamored with the possibility of trying something new and exciting, the question Why plagued me.  What would cause any university  teach me for “free?” Surely there must be something that the university will gain by asking professors to provide instruction for free!

I found that I wasn’t alone in my thinking.  There were others who posed questions that I had about the motivation of free courseware. Consider these comments posted in response to the July 17, 2012 article in the Chronicle-

vlwyss 3 months ago “I don’t understand how the universities make money with this design….yet I know they would not do it if it were not a potential money-maker.”

observer0001 3 months ago “They don’t expect it to- this is simply a marketing ploy with some public service thrown in. It is intended to extend the  reach of their brand (but not its product, since they are indeed luxury products), present them as innovators, ‘build buzz,’ and gain prestige by being part of an elite group who can throw resources at it.”The other primary audience is to US legislatures to protect their not-for-profit statuses and endowments from taxation, providing an easy to understand free outreach ‘service’ they can point to. “

tgraham13 3 months ago “The burning question is whether the overall revenue will drop precipitously as a result of MOOCs. “

Several week’s after a class discussion of open coursework,  Joanne posted a blog discussing the similarities between marketing and adult education.  The dashboards created by Coursera Universities are attractive and engaging, in my “non-marketing background opinion.” This blog prompted me to look again at the course that I selected, Grow to Greatness.   She asserts that there is growing interest in massive open online courses. I wonder if Coursera is generating data about why students are selecting to take these classes along with what students are learning? What will they do with this data?  What is their return on their investment?  Students don’t technically purchase a course.  I assume that the act of selecting and completing a course is considered the purchase? What is the catch?  Who is paying for the course? J. Milton Adams, the vice provost for academic programs at UVA believes that Coursera classes ” would allow Virginia to fulfill its mission as a public institution of higher education, and would give faculty members a virtual testing ground that they could use to improve their courses.”
Hum…I think.  There you have it!  The vice provost has provided a clue as to the reason why some institutes would consider participating in this platform.  I don’t have a problem being part of a study, however, I would like to know before I take a class if a study will occur.  Sounds ethically responsible, yes?  During my last two years of teaching, I participated in a research study conducted by CASTL, The Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning.  I enjoyed the experience, found my relationship with the research scientist productive and the project overall rewarding.  Research is an important way in which to understand how our work impacts the community.  As an educator, I feel that it’s part of my professional civic responsibility.
Civic responsibility isn’t a new concept and is one that I consider with each volunteer opportunity that I select.  Civic Value is another concept altogether.   According to Clay Shirky, civic value is created by the participants but enjoyed by by society as a whole.  He contends that one of the goals of CV is to make life better for everyone in society. Jess shared a TED Talk about cognitive surplus, which asks me  to consider open courseware with a new perspective.  Shirky contends that society has trillions of hours of time available for individuals to contribute to society without a large amount of contractual overhead.  Weinberger concurs when considering how the net is a place to build knowledge with this burst of collective creativity.  He submits that “…we’ve always pursued knowledge for an impure mix of reasons, simply because we are humans.”
The motives for well-known universities to collaborate vary just as the motives for participation vary from student to student.  I am excited about this new adventure in learning. I feel confident that  I will benefit from the cognitive surplus of those who like to create and share.  In terms of building a new infrastructure of knowledge through Coursera, I concur with Weinberger who believes that there is so little that stands in our way of learning and contributing.  The weakest of reasons can be a good enough reason to contribute.  He says that we have no idea what cannot be done by humans when they are working at the scale of the web!
Coursera’s  vision,” to give everyone access to the world-class education that has so far been available only to a select few…. to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in,” reflects the philosophy of 21st Century learning where individuals are motivated to design and share, where free cultures get what they celebrate. 

Adlt 641-7: “Send in the Clouds”

Years ago I remember my education professor talking about the “tools” that I would need to carry with me as a student teacher.  The curriculum lab at my college was the source for all the materials and supplies that I would need to prepare to become an  elementary teacher.  I spent hours pouring through files, exploring the cabinets for objects to complete a learning center and for BOOKS  to generate interest in the new unit that I had created.  Information about this new experience, student teaching, was found in her office in the lab. This incredible center of information was available to students during school hours and periodically during the weekend. Grades were kept in a secret compartment in the professor’s office, which was certainly off limits and unknown to me until the end of the semester.  The Blackboard was a place to project sheets from the overhead or to scribble notes to copy!  The toolbox that I would use with my new third grade class closely mirrored that which my professor used with me.  Welcome to the 1980’s!

Over the course of the last thirty years, I have embraced staff development in many different forms.  The 180 points necessary for teachers in Virginia to maintain a state teaching license requires me to take a three credit course every five years.  While many teachers lament over both the cost and the time involved in taking a course, I have enjoyed the experience of returning to the classroom. It’s refreshing to be on the other side where I am not in charge of  planning and implementing the class.  Most of these classes supported me as an educator.  While content reflected contemporary thought and movement in the world of education, implementation and assessment did not.

Eleven courses and five universities later, I am introduced to the concept of a learning management system! In fairness to the first two courses and universities of my graduate experience, a management system did not exist. Imagine my surprise when learning that one did during the last several years! Hey, this doesn’t sound too bad, I think!  No longer am I a prisoner of the ditto system of paper management.  I have one location to open to find everything that I will need for the course, providing that  the professor knows how to use the system and does so routinely.  I like to work during the weekend and into the evening, which is perfect when the LMS is functioning correctly. I am a big picture person.  It’s important for me to be able to see where I will go during the semester, where I have been and how to plan my work accordingly. This is perfect when the professor is willing to post materials ahead of time and when materials remain after the class is over. All of this sounds perfect for the student who enjoys the professor who is the sage on the stage, the fountain head for all knowledge, and for students who resemble baby birds waiting for regular feedings. In the year 2012, I  am not interested in a culture of dependency, but rather wish to maintain a sense of autonomy. My learning, when controlled by a traditional management system, resembles the graph of learning “ups and downs” vs. one of exponential growth.

Blackboard could easily become the “mother ship” where students dock  on a regular basis. According to Jon Mott,the learning management system employed by many universities does little to encourage students to become independent learners who take responsibility for their learning. As both a 21st Century educator and a life long learner I continuously ask, “What does it mean to learn?”  Not only do I question what I give and expect of my students, but also what I am allowed to use as a learner.  The ability to connect with people in a variety of different ways means that I need tools, such as Twitter to back channel with classmates or to form relationships with new people through a hashtag.  The opportunity to engage in dialog allows me to create and publish ideas in the form blogs and wiki-spaces.  The creation of a social bookmarking system and social readers allow me to leverage the network in a way that greatly impacts my research.  These tools are powerful to me as a learner and signify that I am taking ownership of my education.  Unfortunately, they are not found within the learning management system that is available to me, but is rather a part of the personal learning network that my professors invite me to create!

Mott suggests  in order for learning to persist over time that students must have access to people, content and ideas.  His talk, The Genius of “And,” explores the idea that Learning Management Systems and Social Network Sites do not necessarily need to be viewed as an either/or situation.  I understand the legal and ethical reasons for controlling the flow of information from the university to the outside world. Universities and learners do not need to align themselves as in political parties.  Educators do not need to fall into the “this or that” path of thinking.

As a young child, I was fond of daydreaming.  It was not uncommon for me to hear an adult tell me to pull my head out of the clouds and to return to earth. Mott suggests that we consider integrating an Open Learning Network, which couples a secure, traditional system with an open “cloud-like” system. The “cloud-like” system would  allow me to create my own content. I am intrigued by the “middle ground” which employs the best aspects of both systems. This short interview presents  BYU’s Loosely Coupled Gradebook System.  I think that the subtle way in which the interviewer counters Mott is rather hilarious and found it both entertaining and to the point.  I was raised during The Free To Be, You and Me educational philosophy of the 1960’s and 1970’s. (Hey, a few of my teachers were hippies!  I loved them!) Unfortunately, that movement has long been replaced by stringent standards for learning in both the public school setting and institutions of higher learning. While I understand that academic institutions have standards to uphold, I know that I am thriving in an atmosphere that couples the best of both the LMS and The Clouds!  (My apologies to Judy Collins.)  Send in the clouds…don’t bother they’re here…  

Adlt 641-6: “The new punctuation mark-the “hyperlink”

I was always the kind of kid who loved projects.  Three dimensional objects, posters and models that accompanied a traditional report made my academic heart sing.  Reports were almost always just one or two pages in length.  Our preferred method of research in the 1970’s consisted of The World Book Encyclopedia. Every child wished for a complete set of these books as ownership was the pinnacle of academic success for each home.  Imagine my surprise to find that for just $699 I could order the 2013 set of books for my middle school child!   Which choice should I could make? Invest the money in a laptop, which leads to unlimited knowledge with the click of a link, or purchase a set of books with limited connections?  Hum…hum…what is a concerned parent to do?

If I purchase the books, I will follow a time honored tradition of placing this colorful set at my son’s disposal.  A set of encyclopedias from 1974 occupy a shelf in the home of a family friend.  On several occasions my son has been welcome to use them for homework.  They were good enough for those of my generation, but are now far from adequate for those of my son’s generation. I decline the offer without offense. I ponder how to explain that the concept of knowledge, as proposed by David Weinberger, does not reside in the paper medium.

Traditional research has consisted of endless hours of study using traditional peer reviewed journals and books.  The idea that when a theory was reiterated in numerous publications by many well-known scholars that the idea must indeed be a truth worthy of use in my research. These endless loops of sameness made it challenging for me to determine how and when to interject theories that looked different from what I had read.  Each scholar’s work reverberated producing a chamber that initially fit the pattern of research taught.  If I read widely on one topic, I would begin to wonder if each of the scholars organized a retreat prior to publication. I imagine that the sole purpose of meeting would be to agree upon a similar way in which to state the same ideas over and over.

One of the most exciting and intellectually liberating aspects of reading on-line is the power of the hyperlink!  Traditional punctuation directs my reading and thinking.  I know when to begin, where to pause and when an idea concludes or changes. Weinberger contends that links are the opposite of stopping points.  They invite me to continue the idea, to explore more fully or to consider how a network of ideas could be in contention with one another.

In the “World According to Wallace”, the idea of connectedness is explored first mathematically and then relationally.  If an algorithm can explain how individuals could be linked in six steps, then perhaps these networks of people could lead to networks of ideas.  While ideas may at times be in contention, as is explored through one blogger’s dissonance with technology, it can also be a bond that fuses nodes together! Hyperlinks lend authenticity to both my writing and that of my peers.  An individual point-of-view, how a classmates evaluates information from readings and what he cares about is evidenced through writing. Blog reflections and hyperlinks support the ideas of the writer and arouse the curiosity of the reader.   The time that I engage in reading blogs provides a echo chamber of sorts through which ideas reverberate.  While reading blogs, I question how the writer’s ideas fit both the readings and research with my own ideas.  Each time I hyperlink to a new resource, I recognize that in order to understand the unfamiliar, I must first absorb it into the familiar.