Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Where Has All the Learning Gone?

EDUCAUSE 2014 Exhibit HallAnother year, another EDUCAUSE.

Meetings. Meetings. Ah yes, a few more meetings.

Meetings and plenty of pitches from intrepid sales and marketing people eager to explain how their product is unique and will actually transform Higher Education, or at least some small portion of it.

This year, leading up to the big event, we had a long online discussion about the LMS and the ills and possible futures of learning platforms in general. For a fairly quick recap, I would suggest these posts by Brian Lamb, Tim Klapdor, and Jonathan Rees.In addition to these discussions, we also had big lead-up announcements like the one from Unizin and its founding institutional members.

Exciting times, healthy skepticism, and some potential disruption. What's not to like, right?

And speaking of disruption, Clayton Christitensen delivered the opening keynote with the message that online learning could fundamentally change the role of universities. The rest of the conference highlights/buzz, which parallel the prevailing trends and business models in Higher Education, were summarized quite nicely by Steven Mintz in his post on the future of Higher Education. His list includes: learning analytics, microcredentialing, competency-based education, personalized learning, curricular optimization, open educational resources, shared services, articulation agreements,  flipped classrooms, and one-stop student services.

On the floor of the exhibit hall, the vendor booths underscored these opportunities clearly.

EDUCAUSE 2014 Analytics 4

And more analytics.

EDUCAUSE 2014 Analytics

And if you want some variety...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Analytics 3

Of course, there was also a healthy dose of...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Flatworld

And a heaping portions of...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Difference Engine

Naturally, there were also many smaller companies with worthy products and messages, such as...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Lumen Learning

and...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Higher Quality Ed

and...

EDUCAUSE 2014 MyEducator

Then, somewhere in the midst of this...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Floor View

I stumbled across this ...

EDUCAUSE 2014 Analytics 2

And I paused to ask myself, "What's wrong with this picture?"

The answer, at least for me, was clear. So many companies, so many products, and so many institutional solutions (almost all endorsed by institutions embracing or investing in them), all driven by the business of education. All driven by that most fundamental of business school questions -- What problem are we trying to solve?

At EDUCAUSE, it seemed evident that the problem we are trying to solve is that of making our businesses -- our institutions, companies, products -- more successful. Paraphrasing and linking the multitude of signs and signifiers on display in the Exhibit Hall, we want our businesses to be more successful in terms of user-friendliness, user retention, and user satisfaction. Judging from the many displays and demonstrations, it certainly seems that we have the technology to do these things and are devoting impressive amounts of money and human intelligence to reach our goals for success.

What problem are we trying to solve?

The question was being asked explicitly and implicitly at every presentation, booth, and meeting. It seemed that everyone had come ready to pitch their solution -- big or small -- for Higher Education, and could elucidate nicely how their solution solved an important problem in education and how it could help the bottom line (for institutions or investors).

But what problem are we trying to solve?

The question is a good one, but I felt it was being asked in the wrong context (at least for me). Instead of "What problem are we trying to solve in Higher Education?" I was wanting to hear, "What problem are we trying to solve in learning?"

That's because Higher Education, like education is general, is only a conduit for what really matters -- learning. Education, for all its temporal grandeur, is but an evolving symptom of a more important, and more fundamental human requirement -- learning. It is a container while learning is the elemental sustenance it is designed to hold.

Education is a cultural or civilizational artefact. It is tactical, linear, and concerned with corporate outcomes.  It is about external achievement and measurement.

By contrast, learning is an inside-out proposition. It is about ongoing personal growth and is owned entirely by the individual learner. It can be facilitated by other learners but cannot be forced from the outside.

Education is about tangible measurements and standard outcomes, while learning resists measurement and delivers outcomes that are entirely unique for each learner.

Education is an institution and a market. It is something that can be quantified and managed. As a result, it condenses nicely into pitch decks and products that can be sold.

There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Education is a good thing and everyone I talked to at EDUCAUSE 2014 -- educators, administrators, publishers, educational technologists (institutional and corporate) -- seemed genuinely committed to and concerned about education. They were trying hard to create better containers for this thing that is learning.

But education is only a container, while learning is THE ACTUAL THING. No, learning may not lend itself to pitch-deck paradigms, but it is, ultimately, what really matters.

So I went to EDUCAUSE again and, as always, had fascinating discussions about educational technology, met really smart people with intriguing ideas, and was mesmerized by innovative products and marketing.

I also went to EDUCAUSE looking for ideas, for insights, for solutions that target the heart of our our mission, solutions that will help learners grow up and grow out.

I found much that was interesting and promising for education, but I'll admit, I left Orlando asking myself where all the talk about learning had gone.

Friday, September 26, 2014

More Mobile Means More Learning Opportunities

Photo courtesy of phonerebel.com
With Apple’s release of the iPhone, selling more than 9 million in the first three days, it’s hard not to think about the mobile lives of teenagers. After all, this is just further fuel for a mobile fire that already has 74% of teens (ages 12-17) accessing the Internet using mobile phones.

The good news, at least for teachers, is that the growing percentage of teens with smartphones and tablets creates all kinds of opportunities for learning. Here are three ways that mobile devices can broaden the learning potential at your school.

  • Create more distributed learning opportunities -- Before the Digital Age, distributed learning meant the occasional organized field trip or sending kids home with assignments from their textbook. Today, most every young learner has the entire Internet in his or her pocket. They can access information, record their experiences, and communicate in a variety of ways -- all while they are going about their daily activities outside the traditional classroom. This means that learning can be truly centrigugal and persistent -- it can go with students wherever they go. We can extend the learning environment to include the whole world of information and experience! Of course, it doesn't happen automatically. We have to prompt or help students in their use of mobile devices for learning. One easy way to do this, for any subject, is to create an optional/alternative mobile (distributed learning) activity for every lesson or learning unit.
  • Design more opportunities for creation -- Mobile devices also open up an incredible world of creation for our students. Photos, audio, and video are all easy to create and edit. Mobile devices afford our learners new tools for creating new learning stories. If you want to be inspired on this front, just look at this post from Wes Fryer about teaching iPad videography to kids in Alaska via videoconference.
Videoconference to Alaskahttp://audio.speedofcreativity.org/wp-content/uploads/quick-edit-videoconference-sept2014.mp3



  • Introduce new forms of content -- Mobile devices are made for audio, video and photos. They are designed for interactivity and touch. This opens up exciting new content opportunities for our classes. And the great news is that there are so many fantastic learning resources that are already perfect for mobile learning. Now is the time to make sure that you are providing mobile-ready content to go along with every lesson.


Creating Learning Communities with Individuals

I've been sampling a number of xMOOC courses lately, with a particular interest in their approach(es) to community-based activities. Most feature a fairly common template, one which is also popular in traditional online courses.

In this approach the instructor/course treats the class community as a homogeneous element -- trying to move it in lock step from Point A to Point B. Community-based assignments, then tend to be discussion prompts in which homogeneous community members provide an answer to a homogeneous question set based on a collection of homogeneous information. After each member of the homogeneous class community has posted their fairly homogeneous response to this homogeneous question based on a homogeneous set of information, individual students are then asked to reply to the homogeneous responses. It is at this point, I believe, that the community connections are supposed to occur. In reality, by this time, all posts are pretty much the same so students just pick a couple and write their homogeneous replies without needing to give much thought given to the original posts. Occasionally, some student who either doesn't understand the instructions or doesn't understand that they are supposed to be acting homogeneously, will fly off the rails and disrupt the whole enterprise. The homogeneous structure of the course is generally so strong, however, that this type of insensitive behavior is quashed rather effectively.

I contrast this with the Storybook Project that my friend Laura Gibbs employs in her Mythology and Folklore online course. In this course design models, students are treated as heterogeneous community members who are allowed to select and write heterogeneous stories/posts based on heterogeneous information sets tied together by a common set of ideas. As a result of the individualization of the information and the topics, students write creatively and passionately. Other students, when asked to comment on the storybooks created by other students, often do so with equal interest and passion, which leads to legitimate connections and a vibrant community.

In case I haven't made the contrast clear, ere is a simple visual of the two models.



Homogeneous_Community
Heterogeneous_Community


Monday, September 22, 2014

Teaching Matters More than Ever in a Digital Age

Thirty years ago, I traveled to Argentina to study at the National University of La Plata for a year. It was a transformative experience, one full of café con leche and facturas in local confiterías, haunting book shops in Buenos Aires and La PLata, and incredible learning experiences in a country experiencing democracy for the first time in almost a decade.

Naturally, as my teaching career evolved, my experiences in Argentina (from that and future trips), played a significant role in the courses I taught on language and literature. The allowed me to give detail and weave narratives. They enabled me to provide a meaningful, added dimension to the information my students were processing.

I was reminded again of the importance of that added dimension as I read about the latest virtual reality (VR) headset from from Oculus Rift, the company purchased by Facebook this past summer. The company's latest prototype allows users to "explore the virtual environment as you would in real life." The reviewer comments that he found himself "regularly crouching down and moving around to examine the digital objects surrounding me me from all angles." All of which translates into a more immersive experience, and one that moves closer to capturing "the feeling presence."
I did come close to the feeling of presence, I think, during one portion of the demo that had me moving slowly forward through a giant disintegrating orb. I was stationary, of course, but my brain definitely thought I should be moving, and I found myself actively trying to balance myself as a result. It is the first time that I truly felt like the digital world had begun to take over more than just my visual perception. That sensation was fleeting, but Oculus' latest dose of virtual reality gave me a glimpse of presence.
 I have experimented with VR headsets in the past, and have long believed that, at some point in the future, VR will allow our students to experience the presence of relevant locations as part of their learning.They will be able to don headsets (or glasses) that will allow them to tour the landscape of the literature they are reading, or to walk through the streets of Buenos Aires as they learn Spanish, all without ever having to leave their actual time and space.

Of course, immediate questions arise when I talk about such technology trends with educators. "What will my role be?" "Will this kind of technology replace me?"

My answer to such questions is the same one I've been giving since I presented a series of lectures on technology in education to high school teachers around Oklahoma in 1998. "If your only purpose is to oversee the processing of information then, yes, technology will replace you (and be an improvement). If, however, your role is more than that, if it is about connections, understanding, and to facilitate the accrual of wisdom, you are providing a unique service that will always be in demand."

In fact, I would argue that teachers and teaching matter more in the the 21st century and the digital age than they ever have. In this era, every day in a course is much like the study abroad experiences I have enjoyed with my students. As we traveled along with me, they were seeing the same objects and had access to the same information I did. I didn't need to describe the Amazon ecosystem to them because they are experiencing it for themselves in real time and incredible technicolor. In spite of that, however, they still lacked the necessary context to really "see" it completely, to experience it meaningfully.

In the digital age, teachers and teaching matter more than ever because information/learning context is more important than ever. Today, students have access to incredible information resources, virtual experiences, and easy "answers," but what they need most is context and understanding.

This is what teachers do. They are the meaningful ligaments that make possible a true learning motion.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Key Trends in Educational Technology -- Preliminary View

The image below is a visual representation of my recent thinking about educational technology and the important trends that I see emerging, particularly within the world of Higher Education. I will put up a complete post with explanations later in the week, but wanted to share this today.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Shift to Touch Will Introduce Major Changes in Education


In spring 2010, when the first iPad was released and Steve Jobs announced that the device would not provide support for Flash, a senior product manager at a major educational publisher asked me how long I felt his company had until it would need to replace its Flash-based animations and interactivities.

"Fall 2012," I said. "My guess is 25% of students in the Higher Education market will be using tablets by that time so you'd better aim to fix the Flash problem by then."

In the ensuing two years, I have tracked the growth of tablet devices in Higher Education and have consistently predicted that 25% of incoming first-year students would own tablet devices. That number seems to be corroborated, at least indirectly by the latest Pew report showing 25% of American adults own tablets, and a survey of college and university students by my employer that showed 24% tablet ownership across all student types.

Of course, the popularity of tablet devices in only just now beginning to hit its full stride. NPD's Display Research is reporting that tablet sales will surpass PC sales for the first time in 2013. According to Gartner, we have already seen the market shift, with worldwide PC shipments dropping 4.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012.

In presentations, I'm always quick to point out tablets for a variety of reasons. Adoption/market penetration trends for tablets are much higher than those we witnessed for laptops and smartphones  In addition, primarily because they are personal lifestyle devices, we are seeing a higher and more rapid refresh rate for tablets than we did for laptops and smartphones.

The biggest disruption introduced by tablets, however, is that they are touch devices and are fundamentally altering the way we interact with content and information. The ability to touch, move, and interact with information without the use of an artificial intermediary device (such as a keyboard) may prove to be the most radical shift in learning in the last century -- bigger than modern schools and universities and bigger than computers.

Touch devices will not only cause us to redesign and redefine educational technology solutions, but also our curricula and our learning content. How should we design and package content so that it can be touched and connected, and so that it offers up interactivity? How do we change our courses so that they address the kinesthetic interaction with and synthesis of information?

By the way, if you find yourself skeptical about the real popularity and impact of tablets with regards to the adoption of touch technology, keep in mind that tablets are only part of the force shaping this shift. As this CNET News article points out, laptops are also moving to touch whether we think we need it or not. By next fall, in fact, it will be difficult to find a newer Windows 8 laptop or ultrabook without touch capabilities.1

At first, I believe we will see a fairly even split between using the touch screen for navigation, Web browsing, music, and reading applications, while the physical keyboard will remain the primary method for entering formal data and working with productivity applications. That status quo isn't likely to persist, however, as voice commands added to touch capabilities will continue to expand the quantity of activity that users engage in directly and without a keyboard.

1It's easy to scoff at the impact of Windows 8, but we should keep in mind that the operating system has already tallied 60 million licenses, which puts it on par with Windows 7 adoption.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Trends in Information Search Portend Changes in Education


The latest stats from comScore show that mobile search continues to grow rapidly and is eroding the traditional desktop search business. Mobile and vertical search — retail, travel, social — are killing the traditional desktop search business. According to Ben Schachter, of Macquaire:
"We estimate that as much as 25-30% of all Internet search traffic could be coming from mobile devices as of year-end. Moreover, in certain categories, such as restaurants, we believe that well more than 30% of queries are already coming from mobile devices (other key categories such as Consumer Electronics, Beauty & Personal, Finance/Insurance, and Autos also have a meaningful share of mobile queries)."
This latest data reflects the continuing evolution of consumer information habits, which are mutating rapidly as our lifestyles and professions become increasingly integrated with mobile devices. In terms of the broader implications of this change, here are a number of trends to watch.
  1.  Desktop-->mobile -- Mobile is just getting started. Smartphones already outsell PCs and tablets will likely follow suit this year. With desktop search our pursuit and discovery of information is limited to specific locations and specific temporal boundaries. For mobile users information research is ubiquitous.
  2. Linear-->organic -- In the desktop era information searches have been associated with a specific project or personal need and have been mostly unidirectional. We search for one thing at a time, review the results, filter those results, and search again if necessary. It's focused and linear, and we stay with the process until we manage to find what we're looking for. In the new information era, our queries are like our real life -- they are messy and organic. We look for multiple, often disparate, pieces of information at the same time and follow a crooked, serendipitous path to discovery.
  3. Discovery-->connected -- When I first began working with information in a formal manner, I used analog methods like browsing through a card catalog or printed periodical index, or simply wandering through the stacks in a library. As search technology was introduced into the process, I became focused on information discovery. In both of these phases I navigated to specific locations and and executed targeted and linear investigations. When I found what I was looking for I was left to figure out how the information was related to my overall research goals and how it might be connected to other information or areas of interest. In the new information era, however, we have come to expect consumer services that deliver increasingly connected results -- a piece of information is connected to other personal activity or research interests, or it is connected to communities of interest or related topics that lie beyond my initial inquiry.
  4. Type-->touch/voice -- Over the next five years we will witness a majority of children in elementary and middle school for whom the primary method of information research is entirely through touch or voice. Within ten years, this same phenomenon will rule information interactions of university students and the general adult population. This radical change in modalities means big changes in the way information itself is designed and distributed.
  5. Text-->graphic visualization -- Most people think of information in terms of text. That's because, historically, we have retrieved and processed information in amounts that can be rendered  feasibly as text. Moving forward, however, the amounts of information/data are becoming so large that text cannot always communicate information results adequately. This means a greater occurrence of data visualization and other new forms of presorting information.
Few would likely deny that this shift in information technologies and user behaviors portends big changes in education and learning. At the very least, I believe it means that:
  • We will need to help students develop new information literacy skills, curricular strategies for new modalities such as touch. This may well be one of the biggest challenges we face as educators since we have only known a world in which information has always been accessed indirectly through the use of intermediary devices such as keyboards.
  • We will need to adopt new methodologies for course/learning delivery. The current pedagogical model based on the linear presentation and evaluation of information will necessarily expand to embrace new information types and skills.
  • We will need to create and adopt new information/library technologies to take advantage of the incredible evolutions of information and, just as importantly, to meet the expectations of students and faculty who are also technology consumers and accustomed to the information services offered by innovative technology giants.