scholarship in public

I am a social media machine

I have been thinking lately in Vonnegutian terms. I am apparently a machine that is designed to post to social media and then respond to others. That may not be my job in life (at the moment, I am an Assistant Professor of Education at Pace University), but it is the place from which my value as a public person is (seems to be) derived. And it is the way I have started to (re) think my lived existence.

So, this article has really resonated with me. And especially this bit:

The folks at Facebook and Twitter have achieved something remarkable: they have made their users regard the world as staging ground for inputs to their products. The world and its events and relations are, so to speak, so much raw material to be submitted to the formulation and framing of Facebook statuses and tweets. The world is not the world tout court, it is the provisioner of ‘content’ for our social media reports.

I am not naive enough to believe that I (or anyone for that matter) is independent of outside influences. But this effect is really quite something. I debate ending my Facebook account and spending less time on Twitter, but there are connections there that are very meaningful to me. So, for now, I am staying put.

What worries me more at the moment is the way that Facebook and Twitter (and Pinterest and Instagram, etc.) have successfully and efficiently modeled exactly what we expect from learners in traditional settings (which, by my read, is still pretty much all K-12 schools here in the U.S). To make this point, I will need help from Mike Caufield.

In a post from July, “Information Underload,” Caufield makes the argument:

I’m increasingly convinced, however, that our problem is not information overload but information underload. We suffer not because there is just too much good information out there to process, but because most information out there is low quality slapdash takes on low quality research, endlessly pinging around the spin-o-sphere.

One of his examples really hit me. Caufield discusses Netflix:

Take Netflix as an example. Endless thinkpieces have been written about the Netflix matching algorithm, but for many years that algorithm could only match you with the equivalent of the films in the Walmart bargain bin, because Netflix had a matching algorithm but nothing worth watching.

He could also be describing the traditional role of teaching and learning in schools. The teachers (as a living recommender engine) is recommending to the students what is in the teacher’s “inventory”, not what is the next most interesting or relevant thing for the learner. The student is supposed to respond, like in the social media Pavlovian vision from the earlier article, by responding in the way that the teacher or school expects. The teacher who fulfills this goal is considered successful. The student who complies with these expectations is considered successful.  But is remains unclear how much authentic learning is actually taking place beyond the fulfillment of these complementary algorithms.

I think that the formation of personal learning networks and the concomitant  transformation of the roles of teacher and learner are the way through this quagmire.

I am not sure yet sure how to get my worldview back from Facebook and Twitter, however. I will keep working on it.





Emergent Learning Networks


For the past chunk of time, I have been doing research into the emergence and evolution of learning networks in learning environments of all kinds. In my slightly (okay more than slightly) schizophrenic way of doing things, I have been looking at secondary science and high ed settings for this work.

Thanks to Stephen Downes, I have been thinking a lot about the differences between groups and networks. This this video and this presentation for the distinctions he makes between these two entities.

While I was still a secondary science teacher, I spent the last two years in the middle school in which I taught having redesigned a high school biology into a completely self-directed experience (or set of experiences) for 8th grade students. They could choose which unit to start with, their pathway through the set of units for the course, with whom they worked (or not), and when they considered themselves ready to be assessed.

Despite no prior experience with this degree of autonomy and accountability, all of those 50 students completed the course successfully and did extremely well on the state mandated final exam.

Most interesting to me was the emergence and evolution of the connections they formed over the course of the year.

Figure 5

This image depicts the arrangements of these students at two points of the school year. The diagram on the left illustrates their working connections (which I have taken to calling “student learning networks”) in about week 3 of the school year. At this point, as with most secondary students doing group work, they have organized themselves into dyads and triads, with a couple of singletons. The diagram on the right illustrates these student learning networks at about 3 weeks before the end of the school year (9 months later). At this point, we can see that some these dyads and triads have evolved into some more complex networks.

So far, I am fairly confident that two things are essential for the evolution of these student learning networks:

  1. Autonomy/Competence Supportive Learning Environment. As Self Determination Theory (SDT) predicts, these students responded positively to have a great deal of autonomy over their learning environment.
  2. Authentic Work. There is much debate about what constitutes authentic work for students. Some argue that authentic work is work that looks like that done by practitioners in the content area being studied. For example, in science this might look like students designing and conducting experiments and then analyzing and sharing their findings.  I have come to think that students are not necessarily budding scientists or historians or writers (although they might be). I am now thinking that the learning environment itself must seem authentic to them. They seem respond to being authentically challenged as learners.  I am still working out what that means.

The next big hurdle is to figure out how to capture and document the emergence of these learning networks.



pedagogy, scholarship in public


For the past 3 to 5 years I have been reading some reliably great bloggers, like Stephen Downes, Audrey Watters, Maha Bali, and Laura Pasquini.

In addition to being provoked and challenged by their writing, I have been inspired by their example. They are disciplined, articulate, creative thinkers and writers. I see each if them – and others as well – as being public scholars. It is something I have aspired – and been inspired by be.

So, with this relaunch I hope to follow their lead. It is my goal to write here every day. To build a habit, to get thoughts on (digital) paper, to do crayon versions of my research.


MOOCs: A Toolbox for Course Designers?

This is a really succinct and focused take on MOOCs and their possible benefits. Added bonus – no hype and no products.

Educational Technology and Change Journal

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

In a video interview, Jonathan Moules1 asks Simon Nelson, CEO of FutureLearn, some tough questions about the current state of MOOCs. Noules’ questions caught my attention:

  • “How much of an issue is it that most of the people signed up for FutureLearn and other online education platforms already have a degree?”
  • “What’s more important, is it broadening access to millions of people across the planet to education or is it about making money?”
  • “How do you make money from online education?”
  • “A criticism of online education has been that a lot of people signing up for these courses don’t complete them. Do you see that as a challenge?”Simon Nelson CEO FutureLearn2

And I found Nelson’s responses succinct, clear, practical, and informed.

As much as these questions and responses are enlightening, however, I can’t help but feel that they continue to pigeonhole MOOCs as fascinating but peripheral, impractical…

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Reflections on the Closure of Yahoo Pipes

I found this really relevant to the issues revolving around technology in education, garden walls, and student ownership.

OUseful.Info, the blog...

Last night I popped up a quick post relaying the announcement of impending closure of Yahoo Pipes, recalling my first post on Yahoo Pipes, and rediscovering a manifesto I put together around the rallying cry We Ignore RSS at OUr Peril.

When Yahoo Pipes first came out, the web was full of the spirit of Web2.0 mashup goodness. At the time, the big web companies were opening all all manner of “open” web APIs – Amazon, Google, and perhaps more than any other, Yahoo – with Google and Yahoo particularly seeming to invest in developer evangelism events.

One of the reasons I became sos evangelical about Yahoo Pipes, particularly in working with library communities, was that it enabled non-coders to engage in programming the web. And more than that. It allowed non-coders to use web based programming tools to build out additional functionality for the web.

looking back, it…

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What’s Metaphor Got to Do With It?

is the metaphor broken? Oops!

For the past several weeks, I have been participating in a discussion/group/online “course” called Rhizo15, hosted by Dave Cormier. From an early blog post by Daniel Clark about the course:

Cormier’s idea is based on the Cynefin framework, which was developed for business, and the need for education to take account of uncertainty is extremely relevant to my own field of management education.

I have been finding the experience, ideas discussed, and interactions with participants to be really intriguing and provocative, and I have been enjoying the course.

But, as the weeks have gone by, I have become more and more uncomfortable with the metaphor of the rhizome itself. Here are some comments I just wrote in response to a blog post by Sarah Honeychurch:

I really appreciated your post. At times in this experience (Rhizo15), I have felt like we have been committing that same fallacy to a certain degree. There are times when the experience of learning seems like and even feels like a rhizome. I find myself moving from idea to idea and seeing some connections and the making new ones. But, to me, that is different than a theory of learning. And I am not convinced that this experience of the rhizome is the same as talking about how learning actually happens. Maybe it is not supposed to, but I feel this has been blurred in some of our discussions over the past few weeks.

There is also one more problem I see, metaphor-wise. In biology, a rhizome is a form of asexual reproduction.It is a way of a single plant replicating and passing on its own DNA. That means that all of the offspring are genetically identical to the parent plant. In my understanding, learning is growth and change, and I get concerned that the metaphor is limiting.


How IT and the Role of the CIO is Changing in the Era of Networked Organizations

I keep thinking about how this model (see the diagram) could also apply to learning environments. Rather than a top (teacher) down (student) model, what about a network of connections leading to real learning? What would learning environments look like then?

On Digital Strategy | Dion Hinchcliffe

As I’ve examined the case examples below, and talked with many top CIOs about how they were operating their departments over the last several years, it’s become clear that the contemporary IT organization — at least ones that are successfully leading their organizations into the future — is now wielding a new kind of power.

I don’t mean power in the traditional, hierarchical sense through departmental mandate, titles, and the org chart. In fact, those don’t seem to mean nearly as much as they used to, as I hear more and more concerns about the growth of shadow IT and the lines of business increasingly going their own way with their budgets, all with minimal formal IT involvement.

Yet, looked at another way, these very trends — worrisome as they should be for most CIOs — might actually represent vital asset pools and change capacity that we could actually tap…

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