Thursday, 31 January 2013

Response to Prensky’s (2001) Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Prensky’s article is relatively old now (2001) and many of his ‘radical’ technological determinist contentions have been overtaken by reality. Back in 2001, it may well have been the case that ‘Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach’ (page 1, para 1), but education has moved on since then. Here, I will use Prensky’s terms Digital Native and Digital Immigrant for the purposes of response to his article, though I do not believe (now in 2013) in the clear existence of either.

On page 1, (para 4), Prensky asserts that ‘today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors’. He presents no evidence for this. Neither is it clear that students’ ‘brains have changed’. Prensky also assumes that only students have been changed by the digital! We must remember that many lecturers have been dealing with the digital reality for as long (or longer) than their students. Prensky might now (in 2013) have to admit that many lecturers are ‘digital natives’. Many of us do not print out our emails, nor do we use ‘the phone’ more than email, blogs, twitter, the web, youtube, digital production tools or distribution media.

The language of the pre-digital or Digital Immigrant Instructors is not necessarily outdated as Prensky contends (page 2, para 4). Much of that ‘pre-digital age’ language is called ‘human learning’ – it contains lessons going back to The Stone Age. Naïves (students, some lecturers, politicians and business people) often make such simplistic techno-determinist assertions when confronted with new technology – thus Bill Gates contends that Khan Academy is ‘the future of education’ etc.. The reality is that society must retain (and continue to provide) the best learning and lessons from the past. Without these lessons, humans at the very least are stuck in rather pointless and fruitless ‘reinventions of the wheel’. As Peter Lunenfeld (2011, p132, top para) contends ‘technologies are introduced as social or commercial ‘revolutions’ without being slotted into an overarching narrative of general progress’.

Much of what Prensky discusses about the supposed learning styles of Digital Natives has a certain validity, though reality is more complex than his technological determinism will admit. Attention spans decrease and ‘twitch speeds’ increase as humans are exposed to digital media. However, humans will engage with tv, internet and games for unhealthily protracted durations. Facebook, twitter, Youtube, skype, text-messaging et al do modify communication, and not all for the best. As Peter Lunenfeld (2011 p.82, top para) points out ‘as keyboards, screens and even lenses get smaller and smaller, discourse tends to revert to the text-messaging level.’ Referring to the digital and the internet as the information-depositories of a ‘culture machine’, Lunenfeld (2011 p. 60, para 2) also points out that ‘deep reflection is by no means a default setting given the immediacy of the culture machine’s archives’.

Some of Presnsky’s other assertions are pretty offensive. Lecturers no longer assume (page 3, para 3) ‘that the same methods that worked for the teachers when they were students will work for their students now.’

Prensky does make good arguments about what needs to change in education. On (page 4, para 4) he asserts that ‘“Future” content is to a large extent, not surprisingly, digital and technological. But while it includes software, hardware, robotics, nanotechnology, genomics, etc. it also includes the ethics, politics, sociology, languages and other things that go with them.’ This is very much an argument for the ‘repurposing or remastering’ of ‘old’ or existing learning.

Prensky gets to the reality of modern education on page 4 (para 5) ‘As educators, we need to be thinking about how to teach both Legacy and Future content in the language of the Digital Natives. The first involves a major translation and change of methodology; the second involves all that PLUS new content and thinking. It‟s not actually clear to me which is harder – “learning new stuff” or “learning new ways to do old stuff.” I suspect it‟s the latter.’

This is our current and future reality. Using technological tools or media changes the way we do things, but core human needs, activities and behaviours persist. Education must change how it does its business, whilst preserving, repurposing and remastering the best of what it has always done. A user determinist approach is still appropriate – we are still in charge and pedagogy should always drive technology. Users (both lecturers and students) still make choices about how (or how not) to use technology. In the face of the digital tsunami, I do believe in the human necessity for what Peter Lunenfeld (2011) calls ‘Info-Triage’.

However, blindly resisting the utility of at least some educational technology is very definitely making a problematic statement. Change happens. We must make use of some (not necessarily all) change.

In conclusion, many of Prensky’s assertions have, since 2001, been overtaken by changing reality. Some people continue to resist change, but they do not represent all in society or all in education. If demarcations did exist between Prensky’s ‘Digital Natives’ and ‘Digital Immigrants’, I believe they’ve been feathered away to inconsequence.
Prensky’s assertions are interesting. I will now read some of his most recent writings.

Lunefeld, P.,(2011) Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading : Tales of the Computer as Culture Machine. MIT Press: Massachusetts

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

edcmooc - The Disruptive Education Learning Experience

The learner experience within the MOOC is rather like waking up in a learning storm. It’s a threatening, cacophonous, attention-grabbing, clattering synchronous space, very different to our notions of a ‘conventional’ learning space, even a ‘conventional e-learning space’. This is more like ‘academic facebook/discussion boards/twitter’ – all at the same time. The resources are good, the readings are challenging and the discussions and peer-activity is really helpful.

But it’s still a learning storm! The learning experience in disruptive education?

edcmooc - Technological Determinism in Education

There’s currently a lot of “strong” technological determinism in education – telling us that facebook and ‘academic twitter’, google docs, tumblr, flikr, mahara or ‘the latest thing’ are the way we 'must' Teach and Learn, telling us that technology is “The Way”, rather than “a way”. Many academics are bemoaning poor technological uptake amongst their peers, resistance to change, or give out about ‘people not using the software to its full potential’. In reality, most humans are already conducting what MIT's Peter Lunenfeld calls 'Info Triage' - in an attempt to manage precious time, live human lives and protect their fragile brains against infodump overload.

In education, I believe a weaker determinism can now be considered appropriate. Technology can help but ‘if it’s not working, stop using it’. The focus should be on pedagogy, not technology - on the student experience, on student learning, rather than on inflexible systems of information transfer.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

edc MOOC begins!

The Coursera E-Learning and Digital Cultures MOOC has commenced!

These early days are a tsunami of resources, suggested readings and cacophonous fellow learners. I don’t know how many people are doing this MOOC (someone mentioned 40k), but the facebook page and twitter feeds seem frantic – a frenetic learning space.

I’ll start with some reactions to two of Week 1’s video resources…
In Bendito Machine 3, the original oscilloscope object, with its single wavy line, seems a very benign god object. The tv god object exhibits increasingly surprising, cruel and randomly violent behaviour to the supine 'worshipper' audience. The net god object is not explored (another film perhaps), being destroyed by the ‘deus ex machina’ alien stilt machine, which is in turn destroyed by the descent/fall of  some horrible measly call-centre corporate selling machine. Despite all the abuse from their gods, these 'natives' are very much 'living with' their techno gods. They are random and unimportant victims of those gods. But the victims are in thrall.
Viewed in another way, the god objects continually assume a crucial central position in the society of the natives. The early god objects are placed on the altar by the adoring natives. The more advanced god objects  climb onto the altar, onto the podium, assuming their power place – so they’re very conscious that the centrality of their god position is the source of their power as gods. Humans remain important to the ‘alien imposed’ technology.

I haven’t watched any of the other Bendito Machine videos, but I will, when time permits.

Apart from the rather obvious ‘sinister tentacled aliens from the sky’ similarities, I don't see an visual echoes with Bendito Machine in this film. NEWMEDIA  is very much a sinister, subtle apocalyptic depiction, an alien invasion, a destruction. Humans are not depicted in this video, apart from one human face seemingly attached to alien tentacles. The aliens or alien craft hover over the post-apocalyptic disintegrating, moss-covered city, sinisterly vacuuming up 'stuff'. Black smoke billows into the air, to exacerbate the disturbed scene. This is a war scene, a catastrophe. The humans have lost.

all comments and suggestions welcome...

Friday, 25 January 2013

8 Great Technologies and 24th January 2023...

I don't make a habit of quoting UK Conservative Ministers, but I was impressed with Rt Hon David Willetts MP, UK Minister for Universites and Science policy speech yesterday about our future's 8 great technologies...

big data
robotics and autonomous systems
synthetic biology
regenerative medicine
advanced materials

As a relatively junior lecturer in an Irish Institute of Technology, I wonder if our Institute's strategic vision, or the strategic vision of our Irish IoT sector sufficiently factors in the potentials and challenges of such technologies...

I've shamelessly stripped Willett's speech - removing much of his government PR and his fiscal ideas. Here I try to quote something about the ideas... (The link to the full text (official) of the Minister's speech is at the bottom of this blogpost...

1. Big data

The power of computing and data handling is now becoming so great that classic distinctions between micro and macro effects are breaking down. We are reaching the stage of being able to model airflow across a turbine blade or the movement of a liquid through a tube at the molecular level. Computer modelling of an economy, a substance or a process is therefore becoming very different and far more sophisticated than it was even a decade ago. The importance of these developments is being recognised around the world. I note that I am giving this speech on the same date as the Data Innovation Day in the US.

We have set up the e-infrastructure leadership council co chaired by Dominic Tildesley, formerly a senior business executive from Unilever, and myself. We share with industry our plans for research funding so as to encourage co-investment by them. We are seeing the benefits already with companies such as IBM, Cisco and Intel making a number of investments into the UK. Business will invest more as they see us invest more in computational infrastructure to capture and analyse data flows released by the open data revolution.

2. Space

The UK is once more seen as a leading space science nation. Companies have focussed on making satellite technology more affordable with smaller, lighter-weight satellites that lower the cost of commercial launches. Surrey Satellites Technologies (SSTL), one of the UK’s single most successful university spin-outs, is the world leader in high-performance small satellites. Roughly 40 per cent of the world’s small satellites come from Guildford – and now even smaller nano-satellites are coming from SSTL and Clydespace in Glasgow.

The Space Leadership Council is co-chaired by an industry executive and myself. The Coalition has made a series of significant investments in space over the past two years, and these investments have given the industry confidence to invest more for the future. Every major public sector investment has triggered commercial investments several times greater. We have also set up a Satellite Applications Catapult at Harwell.

3. Robotics and autonomous systems

The UK has some distinctive strengths in this area, going back yet again to our abilities in software programming and data handling. Effective handling of data from a range of sources is key to autonomous systems and we have real skills here. It was an extraordinary feat of engineering to land NASA’s Curiosity probe on Mars last year. Its Mars Rover vehicle is however largely controlled from Earth with a delay of at least seven minutes as instructions travel to Mars. The European Mars Rover vehicle, due to land in 2018, is more autonomous, using mainly British technology to enable it to travel further during the Martian day and therefore carry out more investigations during its design life.

4. Synthetic biology

Many of the critical discoveries related to DNA were made in Britain, in perhaps the world’s greatest post-War research institute – the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. It is not just the original discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick, drawing on work by Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins.

More recently researchers funded by EPSRC, have successfully demonstrated that they can build some of the basic components for digital devices out of bacteria and DNA, which could pave the way for a new generation of biological computing devices. The researchers, from Imperial College London, have demonstrated that they can build logic gates or switches, which are used for processing information in devices such as computers and microprocessors, out of harmless gut bacteria and DNA. Although still a long way off, the team suggests that these biological logic gates or switches could one day form the building blocks in microscopic biological computers.

5. Regenerative medicine

Regenerative medicine involves restoring function by replacing or restoring human cells, tissues or organs. There are three main approaches researchers are pursuing – transplantation of cells, tissues and organs, stimulation of the body’s own self-repair mechanisms; and the development of biomaterials for structural repairs. This is led by world class research in centres such as Edinburgh (where Dolly the sheep was cloned), Cambridge, Leeds, and London. Our research has moved on from Dolly the sheep to Jasper the dog. He had spinal injuries but was able to walk again by injecting his spinal cords with a specific type of stem cell. The potential applications for human medicine are easy to envisage.

6. Agri-science

Britain did not just lead the Industrial Revolution, we pioneered the Agricultural Revolution too. From leading that Agricultural Revolution in the late eighteenth century to new biotechnology-led advances, the UK has remained at the forefront of agricultural research.

Chickens are a prime example. Chickens are the world’s biggest source of meat, and are particularly important in Asia. We breed the world’s chickens - of the £85 billion global poultry market, 80 per cent of breeding chickens come from genetic stock developed in the UK. Thanks to our genetics research you get twice as much chicken for a given amount of chicken feed as 20 years ago. Each year we launch a new breed of chicken which will produce many generations over a year or more before a new improved version comes along. This is possible because of close links between the Roslin Institute, with its world leading R&D, and our commercial sector.

7. Advanced materials

Advanced materials are a key tool for advanced manufacturing. UK businesses that produce and process materials have a turnover of around £170 billion per annum, represent 15 per cent of the country’s GDP and have exports valued at £50 billion. There has been quite rightly a flurry of interest in 3D printing, or ‘additive layer manufacturing’. This new technology is possible not just because of advances in IT but also because of advances in the materials that go into the process. It is no longer just a matter of printing out designer dolls: Southampton University has used advanced materials to show how we could print out a new aeroplane.

8. Energy

Efficient energy storage technologies could allow the UK to capitalise on its considerable excess energy production. While UK consumption peaks at 60GW, the UK has generation capacity of 80GW but storage capacity of only 3GW (primarily from the single Dinorwig water system in Wales). Greater energy storage capacity can save money and reduce the national carbon footprint at the same time.

It has the potential for delivering massive benefits – in terms of savings on UK energy spend, environmental benefits, economic growth and in enabling UK business to exploit these technologies internationally. Energy is one of the largest single themes in Research Council funded research, with a portfolio of over £600 million of total current awards. In addition the government will invest an extra £30 million to create dedicated R&D facilities to develop and test new grid scale storage technologies.
We are also considering a strategic opportunity to partner with the US Department of Energy in the development of small modular reactor technology.

Minister Willetts also asks us to place a date in our diaries... 24th January 2023...

The pamphlet on our eight great technologies is being published today. I would like to invite you back in ten years time on 24 January 2023. There are risks of course. I may not be around. Policy Exchange may not be. But I hope most of us are and that we are still excited about science. Imagine that today we are burying a time capsule and we are going to open it up in ten years when we can take stock. One possibility is that of course technology has developed in a way completely different than set out here. I am still waiting to commute to work on a personal jet booster pack as operated by James Bond in Thunderball. There could well be new technologies which we just have not considered. We are not claiming perfect foresight. But in addition there are six real possibilities for the long-term impact of our strategy for these eight great technologies. Here they are.

1. False dawn
We are still waiting. The analysis broadly stands but it all takes longer than we had hoped. Robots for example are still trundling round labs but not yet waiting at our tables.

2. Transmutation
The technologies will not have worked out in the way we expected but new businesses have emerged in a more indirect route. As every romcom shows, things rarely work out in the direct routes we expect. ARM originates with the BBC Acorn computer project run out of Bristol.

3. Gone abroad
The technologies play out roughly as we describe but it all happens abroad. We have a few multi-millionaires who sold their ideas to foreign multinationals but not much else. This is one of my fears. It is the observation that we grow the world’s best corporate veal.

4. It’s here but it isn’t ours
We have grown the companies here so they have put down roots and we have got genuine expertise which cannot be shifted. But ultimately they are owned by a big corporate which has HQ somewhere else. Illumina is a happy example.

5. We have grown big new companies
Just as the US has got Google Amazon Facebook Ebay. We have got more companies like Vodaphone or GSK or Rolls Royce. We get regulations right. We have patient capital. We are the home to more top 500 companies than we are now.

6. We are purveyors of R&D to the world
We host the world’s clusters. From Formula One in Oxford/Warwick/Birmingham to Tech City in East London and space activity around Harwell, we are famous for our world class R&D centres. The emerging economies are keen to work with us because creating a world-class university from scratch is hard. It is smarter to work with ones you have. Britain is increasingly recognised as the world’s best R&D lab. We have achieved our ambition of being the best place in the world to do science. Multinationals base their R&D facilities here. Smart people from around the world want to come and research here. We have also earned a reputation as the best managers of big international scientific projects.

I believe that with our eight technologies we will probably have a mix of these outcomes. But I am optimistic. With our strong public support for R&D and these new measures for converting discovery into commercial opportunities we can indeed achieve a lot. We can help new businesses grow. We can be world’s R&D lab. We can indeed be the best place in the world to do science.

Ewan McIntosh NoTosh

I just wanted to create an aide memoire link to Ewan's NoTosh site...

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s leading voices in developing engaging experiences through digital media for public services. He has worked on and created high profile digital coups in the past 10 years: led the first high school blogging and podcasting in Europe, created world’s first iPad investment fund and has managed the SNP’s digital re-election campaign to the Scottish Government. He still works with school teachers and students every week.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Word Clouds and other UDL Resources

A few UDL sites and resources...
These examples and resources are interesting and often excellent...
Accessibility Guidelines for the Web Designer
the Museum of online museums... Of course...
create word clouds

Wordle allows you to create word clouds...

Saturday, 12 January 2013

French Action In Mali

As French military strikes in Mali kill over 100 (on day one), and as the French fail in a hostage rescue attempt in Somalia, I post an aide memoire link on The French Military in Africa (Council on Foreign Relations)...

Monday, 7 January 2013

Review of The Edupunks' Guide to A DIY Credential

(review for Technology Enhanced Learning module)

The Edupunks’ Guide To a DIY Credential by Anya Kamanetz is the online resource I’ve chosen to evaluate for this blogpost. The guide is available to read online for free at…

Alternatively, it can be downloaded as a pdf, if a $9 Day Pass is paid to scribd, or if you sign up for a monthly ($9 per month) scribd membership - the business model for this resource can therefore be described as ‘freemium’.

The Guide is just over 100 pages long and has been read on scribd 58,000 times.

What’s an Edupunk? Anya Kamanetz explains…

An edupunk is someone who doesn’t want to play by the old college rules. Maybe you have interests that don’t fit the academic mold. Maybe you’re in a remote location. Maybe you have a family, a job, or other responsibilities and you can’t take on life as a full-time student. Maybe you love new technology and new ways of learning. Or maybe you’re just a rebel! (page 2 para 2)

The thrust of the Edupunks’ Guide is excellent - encouraging people to take ownership of their own learning and (for educators) framing the need to be open and flexible to student needs (and to the needs of the ambient (societal, educational, media and industrial) environments.

However, as educators we know that undirected or self-directed learning can be as problematic and as protracted as the ‘self-taught’ path which has always existed.

I pointed out some of the dangers of a naïve approach to self-directed education in a blog response to an interesting March 2012 BBC video article on ‘the internet sparking an educational revolution’ (‘blackboards and textbooks are so old school’). In the BBC video, Christina Cacioppo - a ‘School of Visual Arts, Design co-teacher argued…

‘…students don’t have to do things that they don’t want to do, and not just paper things that they don’t need, things a traditional university would have them do…’ - Christina Cacioppo - School of Visual Arts, Design co-teacher.

Whilst Adam Pritzker - General Assembly Co-Founder swiped vaguely at the pointlessness and cost of traditional educational models…

‘diy education offers a wider array of potential experiences. You’re not committing to paying a huge amount of money and to give a huge amount of time to a program which, if you look at the statistics, may not have a definite outcome.’

In my March 2012 blog response, I said that…

…these people strike me as experienced media communicators and new-business people behaving as amateur educators…

In her Edupunks’ Guide, Kamanetz sagely anticipates our concerns as educators…

In the case of DIY education, it means getting the knowledge you need at the time you need it, with enough guidance so you don’t get lost, but without unnecessary restrictions. DIY doesn’t mean that you do it all alone. It means that the resources are in your hands and you’re driving the process. (page 3 para 5)

Kamanetz is also extremely pragmatic about the skills and commitment required for the DIY or edupunk student…

Being an edupunk is not for the faint of heart. Without exception, the students I talked to said that being self-motivated and having good time management skills are absolutely essential for success along a DIY educational path. I would add that you need to be the type of person who’s willing to try something new, even if it’s a little unproven and untested.

Much of Kamanetz’s guide consists of clear and concise advice on creating a personal learning environment – through the Edupunks’ DIY Education Manual. Kamanetz gives excellent advice on how to create a Personal Learning Plan, on ‘How to Teach Yourself Online’ (basic strategies for online research, inquiry and reflection), on how to build a Personal Learning Network, on how (and why) to Find a Mentor, on how and why to demonstrate (your) value to a network. Much of this section of Kamanetz’s guide resembles conventional publications like Judith Bell’s (2010) OU book ‘Doing Your Research Project’.

Page 55 (in The Finish Line section) looks at colleges specialising in degree completion - suggesting excellent, efficient and cost-effective routes to accreditation.

Empire State College (link on page 56 (top para)) describes itself as…

…a college unlike any other. We believe that people deserve the opportunity to study based on their personal and professional goals. Rather than have a prescribed associate or bachelor's curriculum, your degree program can be customized to focus on an area of study necessary to achieve your objectives.

However many of the colleges mentioned Western Governor’s University offer courses in relatively ‘hard’ disciplines (Nursing, IT, Business, Science), which can be easier to assess and feedback through tests...

At WGU, you can earn your whole college degree by passing tests. (page 59 (bottom para))

The guide does also look at ‘low-residency’ programmes, where learners can design personalised study programmes, guided and challenged by faculty advisors.

Goddard College’s (link on page 62 (bottom para)) MFAIA Intro page says…

The Master of Fine Arts in Interdisciplinary Arts (MFAIA) is a self-directed learning community that fosters a climate of ethical, lifelong, creative inquiry.

Each one of our students designs and pursues an individualized course of study. Based on your unique personal interests, intentions, and professional goals, faculty advisors - themselves accomplished and evolving artists - work with you one-on-one, providing personalized feedback, guidance, and challenge.

Despite the more flexible or open student pathway, colleges are building pedagogical rigour into the individualised course structures, using faculty advisors to provide ‘feedback, guidance and challenge’.

Though the Open World section of the Edupunks’ Guide (from page 67 onwards) is packed full of free course and site links, the listings are concise and by no means exhaustive – MIT OpenCourseware, Khan Academy and others are represented whilst MOOC’s and Coursera aren’t mentioned at all? Almost all of the courses, colleges and universities are (of course) in the U.S.. Other small irritants include an inference that the OU (not specifically the OU’s OpenLearn component) is free

On page 82 of the Guide, the profile of the OU OpenLearn students is described by PhD researcher Kasia Kozinska…

“Everybody I have spoken to is a really, really keen learner,” she says. “They are very strongly motivated, because there is no assessment. And they’re not necessarily interested in formal feedback - they don’t want to do tests, they just want to talk with others in discussion forums.”

While some learners are more independent, captivated by the sheer intellectual pleasure of learning, others are much more social, and interested in belonging to a group, supporting and helping each other learn. A lot of students, of course, are using OpenLearn to get more information before deciding to study formally at the Open University, which is a great way to use open educational resources.

So, programmes like OpenLearn are still being framed as ‘informal’, an information-gathering gateway to formal study at the OU?

On page 100 of her Guide, Kamanetz concludes with rallying calls for DIY education…

After reading through the resources in this guide, I hope you’ll agree that it’s never been a better time to be a learner.

From following a new interest, to finding and collaborating with peers and mentors, to getting recognition for your work, there are new opportunities blossoming all the time. I hope you’ll also get the message that there is no one recommended path within DIY learning. If there’s any single change that I’d personally like to make in the education world, it’s the realization that you, the learner, are in charge.

You should be able to decide what you need, and you should be given the resources to accomplish it, as long as you’re willing to work hard and be a self-starter.

Once again, for all of its faults and limitations, ‘The Edupunks’ Guide to A DIY Credential’ is an excellent online resource.



Bell, J. (1999). Doing your research project: a guide for first-time researchers in education and social science. 3rd Ed. Buckingham, Open University Press.

Other Resources

Coursera MOOCs

Today, for my sins, I've signed up for two short Coursera MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses - Introduction to Digital Sound Design (Emory University) and E-Learning and Digital Cultures (University of Edinburgh). There's no point in continually going on about the potential of e-learning if I'm not prepared to engage in the medium (as a student and as a lecturer).

The courses don't start until the end of January - plenty of time to get my various affairs in order by then...


Friday, 4 January 2013

2 Anya Kamanetz URLs

I'm posting these Anya Kamanetz URLs here as an aide memoire, as part of my TEL Module research... Anya's DIY U website is one of the most garish I've ever seen, but full of nice resources and links...

The Edupunks' Guide To a DIY Credential

I'm going to read and review Anya Kamanetz's 'The Edupunks' Guide To a DIY Credential' for the next Technology Enhanced Learning submission, due date 11th January 2013?

Feeling ill with a persistent cold. Everything's taking three times longer to muddle through. Next stop GP...

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Some Responses to OU's Innovating Pedagogy 2012

Submission as Part of Technology Enhanced Learning Module...

The OU Innovating Pedagogy 2012 Report can be downloaded from...

Briefly describe your selected item.

Innovating Pedagogy 2012 is a 38 page OER pdf resource, incorporating a series of short reports focusing on ‘ten innovations that are already in currency but have not yet had a profound influence on education.’ This is the first of what is hoped to be annual Innovation reports.

Why did you choose it?

I read through many of the other supplied readings, but was especially taken with the pointedly futuristic view of this report. It takes as its model David Wood’s 1993 Report to the UK National Commission on Education, ‘A Day in School: 2015 AD’. I like the idea that we can create a vision of how we’ll be Teaching and Learning in 10 years time, or in 20 years time. This is a valuable and creative exercise, which can help us to cut through many of the challenges we face today, whilst having the confidence that our core educational goals are being preserved and enhanced.

On page 7, Sharples and his OU team set the tone for the report…

We explore current and emerging innovations in education for the 21st century, in the hope that it will guide teachers and policy makers in making informed decisions about curriculum design, course development and teaching strategies. (page 7 (end para))

What did it tell you that you already know?

Much of what’s in the report, and indeed in the associated reading and resources is already in place. The educational opportunities and potentials provided through new technology and social networking are there, but they need to be grasped and (crucially) they need to be shaped into true hybrid teaching and learning environments.

The challenge is to create a hybrid system that can offer simple or complex assistance, or perhaps a link to a human tutor where needed, embedded into the structure and content of a study text. P. 9 (last para)

We are already creating such hybrid systems – most of our course materials have been distributed as pdfs (and similarly open digital formats) for years. If we treat pdfs (and similarly open digital formats) as our OER (Open Educational Resource) course source materials, we start with robust and transferrable digital material. Pdfs and similar formats allow for multiple documents to be open at once, on tablets or on pc screens. Pdfs can be annotated, bookmarked and (I would suggest this is very important) text and images (including diagrams and charts) can be stripped out of pdfs to be quoted (always with correct attribution) in the students’ subsequent ‘manifestations’.

Wiki and blog platforms (either within the VLE or on outside platforms) can allow learning groups to collaboratively assimilate the gathered material and ‘manifest it’ (as LIT’s Bernie Goldbach says) to the wider audience. Free platforms like Prezi can achieve similar results. These existing platforms can already incorporate (at least links to) more dynamic ‘mixed media’ such as video. They can already make use of the collaborative potentials of social media (through comments etc).

If we use these platforms (blogs and wikis) within our existing VLE, the human tutor (as described above) can (and should) be directly involved in our ‘hybrid learning system’. Assessment (including data tracking and some analytics) is already built into our VLE. We shouldn’t underestimate our requirement to act as ‘guides on the side’, providing the ‘simple or complex assistance’ which helps our students’ learning (less teaching and more facilitating learning).

One further point relates back to concept, environment and design. Though the designed limitations of current e-book readers as described in the Report may be overcome in future iterations, that doesn’t mean that they can’t already form part of a current hybrid learning system. The same with mobile phones, handheld devices, tablets, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube et al… all of these can already form part of hybrid learning systems, part of our students’ learning environments.

However, for me a laptop currently remains the best device for the creation of an student educational environment, with internet connection, a keyboard, soundcard, speakers and (crucially) a larger screen (for synchronous collation of multiple documents and OERs). I currently have three text documents, three pdfs, a word doc and six webpages open as I construct this blogpost on one of my four laptops.

If we look beyond the nitty-gritties of the current technology, we can see clear potentials and objectives for the next few years. In her DIY U book, Anna Kamanetz quotes Judy Baker at Foothill-De Anza…

The way I see it, higher education, ten, twenty years from now is going to look very different. It won’t be the brick and mortar and the semester and a course in this and a course in that. It’s going to be more outcomes based and skill based, project based. You don’t have to take these sixty courses or whatever it is to be a journalist. Someone will identify your gaps and then you address the gaps, in what-ever way is possible. And that may mean taking an online course from New Zealand, being in a discussion forum with people in Canada, an internship in Mexico with Habitat for Humanity. You just need to get the knowledge and skills whatever way you can and then test out or present a portfolio. And when you add it all up, a few years later, you actually are ready to be a good journalist. (p. 133 (para 2))

This is the future of education for me – a seamless integration of (possibly interwoven and matrixed) undergrad courses, part-timers at work in your industry and conventional full-time students, postgrads, distance learners, special purpose award students and lifelong learners all learning together.

The potential for this model, the demand for this model already exists. The need for this model exists amongst the learners, but our education system can afford to complacently ignore that need because our system is comfortably fuelled by thriving CAO numbers and government funding.

In her Aug 2011 blogpost ‘Humanities Grad School and its Discontents’, Anna Kamanetz quotes William Pannapacker…

“In order to reform higher education, many of us will have to leave it, perhaps temporarily, but with the conviction that the fields of human activity and values we care about—history, literature, philosophy, languages, religion, and the arts - will be more likely to flourish outside of academe than in it. As more and more people are learning, universities do not have a monopoly on the “life of the mind.”"

I think it’s possible that many of us may have to move out of the conventional IoT sector in order to pursue our Teaching and Learning potentials.


What did it tell you that was new?

I’d never heard of latent semantic analysis…

Technology-enabled feedback can include immediate automated responses to open assignments and written student reports. The computational technique of latent semantic analysis processes a corpus of text (such as previous student work over a range of marks, or a set of model answers) to uncover similarities in meaning

between words and phrases, then uses this to simulate human judgements of the coherence and style of a new piece of student writing. (P. 13 (para 5))

The badges idea was new to me. With its immediate association with the Boy Scouts, it strikes me as highly appropriate for young children, but not for third level. I thought the conceptualization behind this was fundamentally flawed and very badly worked out. However, the idea has some merit. I was struck immediately with its similarity to the military ribbons system – where achievements, merits, long-service and awards can be discretely displayed within a simple coherent colour-coded system.
Briefly discuss a question or puzzle that you have in the light of your reading.

The Report mentions disruption twice…

In compiling the report it became clear that the innovations are not independent, but fit together into a new and disruptive form of education that transcends boundaries between formal and informal settings, institutional and self-directed learning, and nd traditional education providers and commercial organisations. (p. 6 (para 3)) (my italics).

If education is ripe for disruption, it may be that the assessment of training and the offering of examination services at higher levels of education will provide a route by which publishers can develop credibility in the assessment and award of an ever wider range of qualification products based around their content offerings. (p.12 (para 3)) (my italics).

I’m not arguing against the fact that our current environment, fiscal, political, sectoral, technological, social is undergoing (and will continue to undergo) disruptive change. We are in a storm and we must cope with the storm in order to survive and to thrive (through the success of our students). Coping with disruptive change is what we do. In order to cope, we are agile, we attempt to lead, we attempt to be ‘ahead of the curve’ if possible, but we do this whilst preserving and enhancing our educational goals, knowing that therein lies the success and full potential of our students.

But I question whether ‘disruptive forms of education’ is a concept I’d value? Neither do I believe that it’s useful to believe that all ‘education is ripe for disruption’. I think we must be keenly aware that the OU operate largely within a UK environment, and the UK’s education model (at every level) is in tatters. Without being complacent, we need to recognize that we work in an Institute, in an IoT sector in Ireland, where innovation, autonomy and problem solving are valued (even if they’re not wholly supported always). Our environment is not perfect, but that doesn’t mean we have to continually defer to a huge, neighbouring and defective model.

We must face the challenging and disruptive storm, whilst having the confidence that our core educational goals are being preserved and enhanced.

I don’t believe we are the storm? Disruption for its own sake will lead to many chaotic and broken educational models, thousands of students who are unable to achieve their full potential.


Kamanetz, A., (2010) DIY U Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education. Chelsea Green Publishing. White River Jct., Vermont

Sharples, M. et al (2012). Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University Innovation Report 1. Milton Keynes: The Open University.