Monday, November 30, 2009

Belief to Behavior and the clash of Social Media

I have been giving myself migraines lately trying to figure out how traditional institutions of learning can be married with new emerging networked forms of learning such as those apparent in Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). On the surface this seems like it should not be an issue. Both largely serve the same objective. Both exist with the intent of trying to promote learning and improve the lives of their patrons. However, on closer inspection, a fundamental quality of these learning environemnts places them at odds with one another in a rather disruptive way.

The clash that exists at the core of both educational approaches, I believe, runs deeper than just the education world and embodies and infects all aspects of our world effected by a new world paradigm. This new world paradigm encapsulates what lies at the heart of what we have all come to identify as social media, web 2.0, wisdom of crowds, grass-roots endeavors, the "cult of the amateur," participatory politics, user-created content, etc. We are seeing the effects of this clash today most noticeably in two realms: media and religion. Church attendance and membership is at an all-time low and traditional media outlets are quickly going under. The pinch these groups feel is evident in how much they are lobbying congress to pass anti-net neutrality legislation and how in recent years right wing evangelical agenda has been on the front lines of politics. These are hot button issues because the status quo in both these fields has been upset. The same is true in education. For the past few years we have been fed a line about social media tools in school as being dangerous for kids. Schools were quick to ban or limit the use of these tools by students. Teachers have felt the pinch too. Louisiana recently enacted a new state law that moves teacher use of the social web within the jurisdiction of their k-12 employers.

What is the common denominator for these three great institutions (the church, traditional media, and schools)? What is the common denominator of endeavors that fall within this new world paradigm? Last week I saw a TED Talk by Devdutt Pattanaik called, East vs west -- the myths that mystify that I feel answers this question. In this talk Dr. Pattanaik discusses how the fundamental belief structures between east and west cultures clash. He illustrates this with a simple story about Alexander the Great meeting a gymnosophist, "When they met, the gymnosophist asked what Alexander the Great was doing. To which he replied, 'I am conquering the world. What are you doing?' 'I am experiencing nothingness,' replied the gymnosophist." Neither could see the point in the others endeavor because the denominator for Alexander's life was One and the denominator for the gymnosophist's life was Many. This fundamental element of belief informed everything about how both individuals interpreted these actions.

In this talk Dr. Pattanaik shows this slide that I think explains it all. It explains the clash between the world views of the gymnosophist and Alexander the Great, and it explains the clash between new and old world paradigms we are seeing played out right now.

Today, I read two posts by Ira Socol, Crossing America: An Education, and The Colonialism of Michelle Rhee or TFA v BoA that bring to our attention that this sort of clash is nothing new. Ira serves up some examples of how we have disastrously addressed this conflict in the past which should serve as a warning to reactionaries and policy makers to be careful how they deal with this new conflict. In these posts two distinct conflicts similar in their relationship to the "belief to behavior" equation are discussed: racial integration and the effect of environment on learner background. Here are some excerpts:

"When you leave Michigan and head west, first entering "The Prairie" in Illinois, the world begins to change, and thus, so do the ways in which people see, hear, think, and learn."

"And the inherent "truth" of that creates one of the great fallacies of our current educational debate. Yes, there is only one right way to add 2+2 or spell "tomorrow," but there are hundreds or thousands of ways to perceive both "2+2" and "tomorrow," and as many different ways to learn about both."

"This lack of appreciation of cultural and physical environment on the process of education makes our teachers and our political leaders look like fools. And it results in diplomatic and schoolroom disaster."


"Impoverished minority kids need to learn "to be white" as Rhee insists. They must learn how to speak the English, and behave in the way, that will get them hired...'Wait,' I said, 'still colonialism, still the powdered wigs for Nigerians and Indians so they could become Brits.' And, I added, there's a counter-narrative, an anti-colonial narrative.'"

"This counter-narrative suggests that we need not force minority students to learn to march and chant (KIPP), we need not "just" give them white role models to copy (Teach for America), we need not deny them the creative education all children deserve (Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Paul Vallas, Arne Duncan). Rather, we can help them take control of their communities and their lives within the context of their own culture."

The belief system that governs the institutions effected by current change and the systems of the west Ira describes all have one thing in common. They all are built upon a belief system that requires a top-down hierarchy, a denominator of One. When that system clashed with antithetical structures in the past it was usually disastrous. Can we find a way to marry the new world paradigm with the old or are we doomed to repeat this kind of battle? Can systems rooted in bottom-up hierarchies meet those with top-down hierarchies half way? Can they coexist? Is there a way to lend credit to networked learning learning experiences without causing the demise of traditional institutions of learning? Is school doomed to suffer the same fate as the newspaper or will PLN's always aspire to be "school-like" only to fall short of ever being able to reach that goal? I still have no answers, just more informed questions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Weekly Tech Tip - Data Mining (results of a technology survey given to 7-12 students)

Tech Tip:

This week's tech tip is not so much a tip but rather a report. Earlier this week all students grades 7-12 at Goodhue Schools took a survey about their own personal computer use, what they have access to at home, and their attitudes toward school (click here if you would like to see a copy of the survey questions). The survey produced some interesting results that should help us to make informed decisions regarding technology policy, purchases, and instruction. Please take a moment to look over these results. Did you find any of these results surprising? Does knowing this information change anything about what we expect of students or what we can or should do?

Link Stew:

Friday, November 13, 2009

Weekly Tech Tip - Vuvox

Weekly Tech Tip:

Many of us assign students presentation assignments where we have students create slide show presentations with PowerPoint or Google Docs either to enhance an oral presentation or as a stand-alone project. However, when we do this three issues almost always emerge: 1. Many of their presentations are too information heavy (too many bullet points); 2. Students (and teachers too) will be tempted to read their slides instead of using their slides to support what they are saying in their presentation.; and 3. Too often students get caught up in the flashy features of PowerPoint and don't focus enough energy on the content. There are many free web-based multimedia presentation tools that can solve or at lease alleviate some of these problems. In the Digital Backpack I have many of these tools collected under the category "Multi-Media Presentation." For this week's tech tip I walk you through how to use one of these tools called "Vuvox."

Link Stew:

Blog Carnival:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Open Networked Learning & Accredidation

I like my ever expanding PLN. I find both intrinsic value in participating in it and extrinsic rewards for what it does for me professionally. I know that there are growing numbers of people in all fields and domains experiencing the same kind of learning revolution. The problem I am struggling with is how do we find a way to accredit this kind of learning. I arguably have done the equivalent of all the coursework for an additional degree or two in the past three years in this online environment comprised of the sum of my interactions in the Edublogosphere (both posts and comments on others posts), the Twittersphere, the Tubes (YouTube, TeacherTube, Blip.TV, Vimeo, listening and writing about podcasts and vodcasts (iTunesU, TED Talks, Big Ideas, etc.), attending virtual conference and workshop sessions and webinars, and countless other communities gathered around web2.0 tools.

This seems like it is a problem that needs to be solved. But, how does one apply a formal accreditation to open access online networked learning? Traditional degrees and diplomas are things people work for with attaining them as the ultimate extrinsic reward for their hard work. There are a few exceptions of individuals getting so engaged in their studies that the reason to study, research, and explore becomes more about the education than the degree but for the most part, if the degree did not matter an individual would just jump online or visit a local public library to get their learn on.

The problem with motivation does not reside solely with the individual but even more so within formal degree granting institutions. What motivation does a 4niversity or public school have in granting credit for informal learning experiences? The closest I can think of this happening is when a college or university bestows an honorary degree on someone for a lifetime of achievement. But, what can a person use an honorary degree for? It is not like having an honorary degree is going to help you get a job. Chances are, if you had an honorary degree you would not need whatever job it would theoretically qualify you to do.

So, this begs the question, "How did our society come to value diplomas and degrees?" At some point in our past we did not have these institutionally concocted branding devices. Could we be starting to see the birth of a new form of distinction online? One hallmark of nearly all social media sites is a ranking feature. For example, YouTube allows users to rank videos by giving them 1-5 stars. It also keeps track of how many views a video has, how much of the video gets watched every time a visitor comes to the page, and how many people have saved it in their "favorites." Google Analytics tracks how many people link to your website or blog post, how may hits your site or page gets, how long people stay on your site, and how often they return. Technorati does the same and gives bloggers a rating. The web is full of these kinds of markings but by these measures a thought-provoking article by Ira Socol, Scott McLeod, Doug Johnson, or Clay Burell ranks far below "Sneezing Panda," "Leave Brittany Alone," or LOL cats.

So, at the very least, here is the rub: Why is it that I can get 1 continuing ed credit for sitting in an hour-long presentation by an obviously biased corporately-employed presenter and not engage myself meaningfully in the topic at hand but for an hour of reading and meaningful career related reflection in my PLN I get nothing institutionally recognized?

Could an institution be formed to grant formal distinction for meaningful work within a PLN? Would people apply for this sort of credential or would it be bestowed upon them like an honorary degree? Would either of these even be desirable? Would trying to get that credential be the same as getting it as a result of work you have done for other more intrinsic reasons? How would you feel about getting a credential bestowed upon you from an organization you have philosophical or moral disagreements with? Perhaps an institution could approach a those who they would like to bestow this upon and ask them if they accept. But then, what would that person be able to do with that credential? Who will value it? Who is going to invest int the human capital to research and track potential candidates? Perhaps a portfolio of ongoing PLN work could be submitted to formal institutions for review and credit be applied based on the degree of a person's involvement.

What do you think? Is this a problem that needs solving? What are potential solutions?

I posted some of these questions in Twitter this morning. The following is a record of the conversation that followed:

Open Credential Ing Twitter Conversation 11-12-09

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I have been playing with a presentation program called Vuvox today. Vuvox is a web app that lets you create unconventional presentations. The one I chose was called a "collage" but it can best be described as a a scrolling panoramic image. Vuvox nicely integrates multimedia and lets you make objects in your presentation links to other media or websites. One of the best qualities of Vuvox is it forces you to think visually about your presentation. It is nearly impossible to create a boring bulleted slideshow with this tool. I may be using this tool for one of my TIES Conference presentations this year. Below is my working draft for a session titled, iTeach Mobile: Exploring Mobile Technologies for Learning, Instruction and Professional Development that I will be presenting with three of my Goodhue Public Schools colleagues. Enjoy the teaser: