I Have Moved

7 04 2010

Thanks for visiting this blog.

I hope you enjoy reading some of my reflections on CCK09 at this site.  However, I am now doing most of my educational technology focused blogging at a new site.  After perusing the archived posts here, please visit TeachThinkTech, my current blog, at http://teachthinktech.learningconnective.org

Resurrecting “Disconnectivism”

18 11 2009

Aside from exploring the “content” of the CCK09 course (including content generated by the instructors and by the “student” community) related to the theory and pedagogy/androgogy of connectivism, the aspect of the experience that I have enjoyed most is seeing how participants are mixing and matching various online tools to create mashed up learning environments uniquely suited to their learning preferences, professional roles, lifestyles, aesthetic sensibilities, and technological comfort levels.  I have certainly appropriated bits and pieces of what I have seen into my own strategies for gathering and filtering pieces of the distributed conversation and archiving and organizing the key ideas, pithy quotes, and big questions I want to be able to recall and reuse in the future.  I know I have become a better online, semi-independent learner as a result.  Not only do I know more “stuff” than I did at the beginning of the course, I feel smarter because I’ve improved the part of my brain that is outside of my skull.

Unfortunately, this experience has also dramatically increased my sense of frustration with the dominant view of technology in K-12 education in Ohio (my state.)

Earlier today, I read Antonio Fini’s paper summarizing responses to a survey he conducted with 2008 CCK MOOC participants, which, in part, explores the online tools used by CCK08 participants and their perceptions of the value of those tools in the learning process.  While virtually all of the survey participants reported using the “official” tools of the course (Moodle, the Daily e-mail newsletter, and Elluminate) to some degree, almost all participants also reported using at least one (and usually several) tools that were not required to access the content specified on the syllabus or follow the instructors.  These tools included social networking sites like Ning, LinkedIn, and Facebook, blogging tools like WordPress, virtual environments like Second Life, and Twitter for “backchannel” communications, brief comments, and resource sharing.  Additionally, content aggregation tools (e.g. PageFlakes and RSS) and social bookmarking and link sharing tools like Twine and Diigo were key elements for several participants.

What frustrates me going back and forth between my CCK09 experience and my “day job” in public schools is being made acutely aware every day of the power of social learning technologies in the course and then going back into systems where most of these technologies are not merely “unfamiliar” to learners, but preemptively blocked or banned, and actively demonized, by educators, many with (ironic?) titles like “Instructional Technology Supervisor.”

For example:

  • I recently participated in a conference on STEM education — held at a technology education center — where virtually every social networking site, social bookmarking tool, video portal, and even Google Sites were blocked.
  • In 2007, the state’s largest professional association for teachers issued guidance to members advising them not to join or cancel their accounts with Facebook and MySpace.  Many districts also ban or discourage educators communicating with students via cell phone, text message or Twitter.
  • The state school boards association advises against using social networking sites for K-12 educational purposes while simultaneously posting links on the front page of the organization’s website directing visitors to follow it on Twitter or become a fan on its Facebook page.  (As of today, the association has only four fans — possibly because most of their would-be audience either can’t access Facebook or is afraid to make their presence on the social network known to school officials.)  I attended their state conference recently where the keynote speaker, a purported expert on creativity, spent a good part of his presentation comparing the growth of social networks and mobile computing via cell phone and iPod to the growth of the Borg from Star Trek, destroying relationships, subjugating people to machines, and crushing the individualism of poor ignorant students too naive to comprehend the dark powers of the network.
  • Poorly informed fear-mongering in local media produces knee-jerk reactions of many K-12 educators only compounds the problem.  Lauren Angelone nicely catalogs the lopsided “discourse” in the non-debate over school policies and reactions to technology in this blog post and highlights the growing chasm between views of technology between K-12 and higher education with examples from her e-mail inbox.

A term that emerged briefly in CCK08 (and which I stumbled across in some curious Googling) which I think fits my day job universe much of the time is “disconnectivism.”  I’m going to repurpose the word, though, to describe the opposing force to Downes’ and Siemens’ thinking to help bring (sarcastic) clarity to the debate.

To compare and contrast:

  • Where connectivism proposes that learning occurs through interaction, disconnectivism holds that learning occurs in isolation (and MUST be assessed this way.)
  • Where connectivism suggests “freedom” involves being able to construct and choose your own community, disconnectivism argues that that freedom is actually a threat to community (which must be defined by place and demographics.)
  • Where connectivism sees a student’s  ability to create and customize networked learning environments to connect with external sources of information, expertise, and mentorship as an expression of individualism and indicator of learner self-efficacy, disconnectivism sees these personal learning environments as debilitating for students (as they should learn “on their own” and do “for themselves”) and, sometimes, as an affront to the profession of teaching.  Where connectivism proposes that knowledge largely lies in network connections, disconnectivism is skeptical, asserting that while some knowledge may exist “out there,” so too does grave danger which must be avoided (kind of like starving to avoid the potential risk of choking inherent in eating food.)

Unfortunately, right now, it looks like the disconnectivists are winning the K-12 debate.  However, there’s still hope for a come-from-behind shift.  After all, connectivists can use tools to organize themselves that the disconnectivists are afraid to touch.  Connectivists can collaborate 24/7.  Connectivists can get smarter faster.

However, to succeed, K-12 connectivists need more support from their allies in higher education and industry — and not just in the form of research and theory development, but in the form of policy advocacy and engagement with popular media to balance the technological horror stories that dominate thinking today with news of success and promising possibilities that go largely uncovered in mass media (which remains the primary source of information and consensus opinion for people not yet participating in social media.)

Connect Project: How Do You Connect?

11 11 2009

D’Arcy Norman posted a request on his site for people to help out with a grad school research project looking at how people connect online.  Here’s the assignment:

To start the project, I have a single simple question:

How do you connect to people online?

I’m guessing people will interpret the question in radically different ways, so I’m intentionally leaving it vague and open. Define “connect” however you like. Same for “people” and “online.”

Please take a moment to think about the question, and if you’re willing, submit a contribution to the project. Contributions can be in any format – video, audio, text, photographs, interpretive dance, poetry, or whatever way you can express a response. I will take the contributions and assemble them into a narrative based on the themes and ideas provided by contributors. The end result will be published online on this website to serve as a starting point for conversations about the nature of connections between people online.

All contributions may be made anonymously, or with your name to be used for attribution in the assembled narrative.

Contributions will be accepted until midnight on Friday, November 13, 2009, and the assembled narrative will be published on this website on Monday, November 30, 2009.

Like probably everyone else online, most of my online journeys start with either a Google search or something popping up in my Google News Clips, Twines or Diigo groups (or, in some cases, a totally random skimming of a general news site or magazine.)  Since this is pretty typical, I won’t go on about this.

With regard to “connecting” (to actual people), though, I would summarize my method as “one degree at a time.”

A few examples:

  • I’m a fairly introverted person by nature, so half or more of the people with whom I am “friends” on social networking sites (e.g. Facebook) are people that I am actually friends with from having worked together, gone to school together, shared a neighborhood, etc.  However, I have made new connections online through these connections when paths have crossed on a mutual friend’s blog comments or Facebook page.  Let’s call these FOAF connections.
  • Twitter.  I’m an infrequent tweeter.  I’m not a Twitter snob, but if I’m not doing anything interesting, I don’t see a point in broadcasting it.  If I am doing something interesting, I usually get so wrapped up in it that I don’t think to document it in the moment.  (This is a problem with photos, too.  If I’m traveling and see something awesomely spectacular or bizarre, I stare at it but usually forget to snap a picture or take a video.  Therefore, my personal photo and video collection is mainly of places and events that I found moderately, but not astoundingly, amazing/beautiful/weird.  If I wrote a series of pictorial travel guides, they would have to be titled “Things to See and Do in ________ If You’re Stuck There a Day Longer Than You Had Originally Planned.”) So, I don’t contribute much to the Twittersphere, but I do use it to find a lot of interesting people and stuff.  For example, if I stumble across a really interesting article or blog post online, I’ll often see if I can find the author on Twitter and then browse some of their posts.  If it’s interesting, I’ll follow them.  Further, continuing the one degree at a time strategy, I’ll see who they are following and browse a few of those people’s posts as well.  Often, this helps me find other writers and researchers that produce stuff I love but would never have thought to Google.  It is also fun to sit in on informal, sometimes messy, sometimes impolite conversations among people I follow in books and journals (where you get clean, well organized thought but little hint that the author is actually a living breathing person who gets the swine flu, pissed off at airports, loves or hates a movie, celebrates or mourns birthdays and election results, and spells badly on their BlackBerry or iPhone.)  I adapted this strategy from a strategy that Donna Enersen taught me for conducting literature reviews at Purdue University.  She suggested starting with an article that’s related to what you want to study, then finding all of the articles referenced in that article and reading them, then finding all of the articles those articles reference, and so forth until you reach a point where you’re either reading works that are irrelevant to you or you’re just turning up the same set of authors over and over.  It’s much faster and more fun on Twitter, though.
  • Blogs.  I have just recently started being more active in conversations initiated on blog posts and comments, but really think this might be one of my favorite media for conversations with strangers.  First, there is always mutual interest (even if there isn’t agreement), which is a necessary ingredient for good discussion.  Second (unless I or the other person acts like a jerk), you can usually count on a “warm” interaction, since most of us appreciate people who take the time to read what we write and give us feedback.  The format also lends itself to longer, more thoughtful conversations than you typically have via Twitter, Facebook, or a discussion board, although public discussions via blogs do sometimes shift to more private, personal media like e-mail, Skype, or online chat.  However, often, conversations will continue in public forums where third persons will join in, bring fresh perspective, and form a new connection.

So, nothing earth-shattering or terribly strategic, but there it is.  It’s interesting to read and view the other submissions, though.  There are some fun, informal video submissions over at D’Arcy’s site, so to read them or add to his data pool with your own submission, click here.

Connecting for CCK09

4 09 2009

This morning I’m starting to stumble across unofficial groups of people set to participate in the course organizing online.

I joined the Diigo group “CCK0809” today.  I really think Diigo is one of the most underrated tools on the web for learning and writing.  If you’re not familiar with Diigo, it’s a social bookmarking tool that does many of the same things that more well known social bookmarking tools like digg and delicious.  What makes it special is that, in addition to social bookmarking, it allows you to “highlight” right on a webpage, and add comments wherever you want on the page that then appear as sticky notes to you when you return.  Your highlights and notes can also be shared with other diigo users who visit the same page.  (You can decide whether a particular bookmark, note, or highlight should be totally public, totally private, or available to specific diigo users you select.)  This feature is incredibly useful if you are teaching a class or working on a collaborative project, especially if you want the people with whom you’re sharing to key in on a specific passage or think about the information on the page in a particular context. The other nice feature of Diigo is that you can use the “share” feature to send e-mails to individuals or groups that automatically includes a link to the bookmarked page and embeds in the message all the passages on the page that you highlighted.  This is very handy when you are just trying to point out a few specific parts of a long report or complex page.

Unfortunately, the highlighting and annotation features only work with HTML pages, but not with PDF documents or iPaper, so some webpages can really only be bookmarked.  Overall, though, diigo provides a great set of tools that are easy to use, especially if you’re a Firefox user and install their toolbar.

This afternoon, I’ll check out delicious, Facebook, and Twine to see if any CCK09 related groups have formed on through those communities.

Setting Up My CCK09 PLE

14 08 2009

This is the public part of my personal learning environment for the upcoming Connectivism and Connective Knowledge course for 2009 coordinated by Stephen Downes and George Siemens.  As things get rolling, I’ll be journaling about my activities here and posting reactions and reflections on course material and ideas and information shared by virtual classmates.

If you’re participating in CCK09 and stumble across this blog, please drop me a line or leave a comment to let me know how to see/hear about you and your ideas and experiences.

This is also my first blog using WordPress, so if you have suggestions for my blog or tips on cool things to do with WordPress tools, please let me know.