5 Dec 2008

Educa Online 2008 is over

The bar offered some interesting conversation to conclude another very interesting Educa. I will try to post some more about the things I've seen and learned in the next days and on monday, my teacher meeting will no doubt be very interesting indeed.

Our teachers deserve our support

I saw a good Dutch example of multimedia usage for future teachers. It was a Dutch presentation by Petra Fischer & Els Scheringa from the University of Amsterdam, who did a couple of projects. All of the projects involved collaboration and were quite interesting as well as successful.

The teachers were obiously the right participants for the experiment, as they quickly adopted the methods and techniques. The future projects will also involve measuring if the things they have learnt were actually put to use in the teachers practice.

It is an experience which spurs quite nicely with the one I had in the Toll-shop (a workshop organized by Toll-Net, Techonology enhanced (Ondersteund) Lifelong Learning) about the tools available to e-teachers. I talked to some of the participants quite extensively, and she experienced she would use online tools quite easily once she had gained some experience with e-learning. The usage in actual formal learning, however, depended on her receiving some support from a school facilitator.

So learning the techniques is a very necessary step, but receiving support within the organization is equally important. It is a lesson for all promotors of e-learning, and one which the success stories certainly make clear.

Training teachers: a possible answer

Motivating teachers into technology supported learning is one of the bottlenecks for successful teaching. So how can we as facilitators get our teachers on top of the technology, instead of avalanched by it?

During the different discussions I have had about this topic, it occured to me that everyone had a specific, usually slightly different approach. So I stepped outside for a while and with the snow falling on my face, I came to the conclusion that this must be the way it must be.

There is no uniform to approach teachers to engage in this activity. Just as there never was a fit-for-all solution in the past, there isn't one now. This was a bit of a bummer because I was looking for easily applicable techniques. Our teachers are in general very professional but in high demand. So a completely customized approach, requiring a lot of time from both facilitator and teacher, will not be easily accepted.

It is, nonetheless, the only possible answer. Clearly, this has always been the case. Every individual prefers one-to-one education. We have been taught in schools that safety is in mass, because you can blend into the crowd. But as individuals, we always prefer as small a group as possible. The teacher only needs to focus on my individual needs, no other disturbances are present. Ask any music student what they prefer, they'll all go for the individual approach.

A way around this impossible - since the approach is not economical for teachers or facilitators - answer is diversity. We can provide tools for teachers so they can pick from the menu the ones they prefer and use those. This can make the experience more personal and rewarding. So the answer to a multitude of possibilities is, in my opinion, a large enough choice to allow each person's preference.

Training teachers will have to leave the classroom, just like teachers themselves will have to get out more. A different challenge, but a more feasible one.

The digital divide revisited

One of the questions after the talk on generation Y took on the digital divide. Ton Zijlstra made a good point with which I agree fully. The divide which is now between people connected and those not connected through a computer, will probably shift.

With more devices connecting to the web, people left behind might not be the same as those without internet today. Some people in the middle strata (lower middle and middle middle class) may lose out due to ill-advised scepticism. In many families, connection to the internet is regulated by the parents on time grounds and not necessarily content grounds. In a time when teachers are (re-)learning the value of play in formal education, parents should not limit the access to the net by restricting the time and activities carried out by their children. As a lot of these rules are imposed out of fear for the unknown, educating the parents in these groups could aid the children.

Of course, the lower strata in society will be facing similar challenges. Something they have going for them is the facility with which they adopt mobile technologies. In a mobile network world, this is an advantage these groups may be able to use to their advantage, thereby diminishing the current (but increasingly past) digital divide.

In government, it's obviously important to aid those that run the greatest risk. In future, bridging the digital divide will not become obsolete. Our current - and perhaps not very effective - tactics may be even more misplaced for the future.

4 Dec 2008

The answer is not knowledge management

The Norbert Bolz talk was quite enlightening. One of the key concepts I take from it is the knowledge management paradigm. If you think the idea of attention management through to its extremes, the answer to our questions is not knowledge management.

The reason I would like to elaborate on this conceptual problem, is the nature of knowledge itself. If you look at the way knowledge is created, this used to go through a overseeable body of information distribution, mainly governed through, though not by, university staff and its affiliates. This meant that to become knowledgeable about a subject, one had to read through a published aggregate of texts.

To become a true expert in a field, reading wasn't enough, obviously. Discussion, teaching and writing are also useful. But these are activities typically performed within the university context. So to become a scholar was to become an expert. In some fields of expertise, it still is. But these are diminishing in number and the level of expertise to be gained is also dropping.

If we look at knowledge now, this is quite a different beast. The speed with which it is created, is up considerably. The nature is becoming more diverse. How do you grab, fossilize, or control a forum discussion? If there are 15 replies, reading still does the trick. But what if there are 275 replies to a forum topic? Or 275 thousand? What about a chat session where the value of the Q&A can be limited or universally profound? How can we value the knowledge available in our online and offline universe?

So knowledge management, a typical controlled activity, is in a conundrum.

I would love to be able to say or write encouraging remarks such as "technology will save us" or "we'll figure out a way such as we always have" but I think this is the wrong answer to the wrong question.

The question no longer is "How can we manage the available knowledge" but rather "How can we distribute the knowledge to use it collectively?".

The problem we're faced with is no longer management but availability. How do we make knowledge into something that is available to those of us who are looking for insight? And how do we share those insights to make them applicable to others?

I have no answers to these questions, but I'm hoping others will contribute to refine the questions to aid looking for answers.

How can we integrate our self into the network?

The interesting talk I heard from professor Norbert Bolz leaves me with a couple of questions. If our economy is increasingly determined by our networked self, then how can we carry out the rest of our lives?

After all, people are born in families and the first thing they learn is how families work. Of course, some families don't work and perhaps the adults from these fragmented relationship childhoods are the best positioned to cope with new social networks. If they manage to create their own social skills, that is.

Our traditional image of a family is very much influenced by the nuclear family, parents and children in a house. The reality today is very different, and perhaps more the way African families work (if you take away the typical isolated context). Divorce and separation are common, so children often have more complex relations with adults. The moment we stop seeing this as detrimental to kids, perhaps we can work out a new ethics of the networked individual.

So am I saying this is good or bad? Far from making moral statements, I am trying to understand and share what the future demands from us. What I am convinced of, is the divide which will become deeper. Between rich and poor, obviously, but also between successful and mainstraem.

People who manage to create a working social network will be the most proficient. But they will also have to live a life. Enjoy things, not necessarily the supposedly wonderful simple things a lot of people grew up with. Many of the fine things in life will be more complicated. All of us will have to learn how to enjoy this, not fear it.

I am hoping to get an answer to this question in one of the later sessions on simplexity, so stay posted.

Educa Online 2008

Continuing my effort of last year, I'll try to share some insights gained while attending Educa Online 2008. Since the online method is a complex one, I will post mindmaps to go with the written posts.

As courtesy to some of my colleagues and friends - who specifically asked me to do this - I'll try to finalize the mindmaps a bit faster than normal. Your thanks is much aeppreciated.

I'll try to post on as many topics as possible. And they're off!

3 Dec 2008

The tools are in. Are teachers?

In adult education, online tools are a great benefit to the teaching process. They provide many new possibilities. These have in common that they detach the physical presence from the continuing learning experience.

Unlike daytime education, many continuing learners have their classes in the evening. This makes for a difficult marriage of spare time - or daily chores - and class attendance.

When we started a project to engage more women in evening courses in informatics, one of the ideas was to start the course after 8 p.m., since women then had the opportunity to put the children to bed.

Some might think this as anti-feminist, but most women in the committee agreed it was a good idea. The reality is, after all, that women spend much more time working for the household. To take this into account is a good strategy to gain women's attendance to traditionally more difficult subjects, such as informatics.

Of course, many men also have difficulties coping with modern agenda management, so the idea was to allow everybody to start later, not just the women. Training analyst-programmers in continuing education is a challenge to anyone.

Why didn't we go through with the project?

First of all, there was a lot of resistance from teachers. The thing is, we wanted to start classes later and end sooner. But the time not spent in class would be spent online. We'd set up a platform with assignments and a forum so that the classes would only take place every two weeks. When there wasn't a physical class, an online exercise session would take place. The week of the class, an assignment as a follow-up to the online exercises would be posted, the result then submitted to be discussed in class.

This way, the course takers gained time for their assignments - which are traditionally done solitary or in pairs in class - since they could work from home. The forum would allow interaction with teachers and other students and the physical classes could remedy any deficiencies in knowledge, as well as provide the knowledge transfer. This last aspect is quite limited for analyst-programmers, since most is learnt by practising.

It is still a model I fully support. We couldn't get the necessary backing for the experiment, but I hope it will happen in the future, for there is much to be gained from such a blended approach.