Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My EDCMOOC Artefact

My reason for being here is twofold.  Firstly I am here to learn about MOOCs, what they are, how they work, what value they have to the development of knowledge and perhaps skill, should I recommend them to others or not.  Secondly I want to ‘know more’ about ‘E-learning and the Digital Space’.  I had a view of that before I started this MOOC.  I have a different view now.  I have found the subject matter very interesting at times, at others a bit confusing.  I have been determined to contribute to the threads as I find it a way of connecting, however briefly, with other people with similar backgrounds and interests and consolidating what I have learned.  I have religiously written up my personal ‘Learning Log’ and made contributions to my blog for my own motivation and to enable others, if they are interested, to view my thoughts.

I have been constrained by my low digital literacy, particularly in the social media and by the alarmingly unresponsive speeds at which I have been able (or not able) to download material, particularly videos.

One of the most enjoyable subjects for me was the discussion between Clay Shirky[1] and Aaron Bady[2].  This was followed up with ‘Elite Education for the Masses’ from the Washington Post[3], the Crisis in Higher Education (Nicholas Carr)[4], Steve Fuller with his assertion that Homo Sapiens is an artificial creation[5] and finally in this same context, I read Steve Kolowich[6].

There were others – Digital Diploma Mills (Noble, D 1988), Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants (Prensky, M 2001), The Human Touch (Monke, L (2004).

Perhaps the most riveting and mind-changing MOOC event for me was watching David Wiley on a TEDx video about the new Open Education and the Future.  Whatever views I may have had before, watching this video created a mindset for me that will take a lot to change.  I have, maybe forever, been infected by David's 'virus of the mind'

Somewhere amongst the other deluge of information I encountered on the dystopian and/or utopian effects of technology on humankind I came across the story of the ‘Stagecoach and the Railways’, and how the railways, in an effort, conscious or otherwise, to bring a sense of psychological comfort to their passengers undertaking journeys in this new technology, re-created the railway carriage in an image of the stagecoach.  I suspect this was an unconscious development.  It was simply the way things developed.  Later of course, the railways discovered that re-creating the stagecoach was not the most efficient or effective way of moving people.

It is not only the stagecoach and the railway carriage.  What about the passenger aeroplane?  Air conditioning systems?   Lifts (Elevators to you Americans) and escalators.   This kind of development has occurred throughout technological history.  One only has to look at how telephone technology has developed and the computer with its QWERTY keyboard is another most relevant example to us EDCMOOCers.

What is a MOOC today is modelled almost entirely on the educational system of the 20th century – which is the same system that has been in use since the 13th century – or thereabouts.  And we learned from Charles Ross through research conducted in the United Kingdom [7] of the anachronistic nature of the present system.  Which is of course arguable, and I’m sure there are some educationalists out there who will disagree vehemently with Charles Ross’ view.

For the moment it seems to me that MOOCs are the railway coach modelled on the stagecoach of the past.

[1] Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy. shirky.com, 12 November 2012. http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2012/11/napster-udacity-and-the-academy/
[3] Anderson, N. (2012). Elite education for the masses. The Washington Post, 4 November 2012. http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/elite-education-for-the-masses/2012/11/03/c2ac8144-121b-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_story.html 
[4] Carr, N. (2012). The Crisis in Higher Education. MIT Technology Review, (Compares MOOCs to Correspondence courses) http://www.technologyreview.com/featuredstory/429376/the-crisis-in-higher-education/
[5] Humanity 2.0: defining humanity - Steve Fuller’s TEDx Warwick talk (24:08http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/newsandevents/podcasts/media/more/tedx?podcastItem=steve_fuller.mp4
[6] Kolowich, S (2010) The Human Element. Inside Higher Ed http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/03/29/lms

[7] Charles Ross asserted the education system currently in use by all western nations was an anachronism unworthy of the 20th, let alone the 21st century.  It is based, he says, on the world as we used to know it in the middle ages.  It survives because educationalists have yet to develop another more acceptable model.  That they have failed to do so is an indictment of educationalists in general and will be the undoing of modern man unless we can somehow change the paradigm. (Ross, Charles  (1997)The Renaissance of Education.  The Computer Bulletin)

13th- 20th Century Education

Choose which photograph most accurately represents the MOOC 2013

The MOOC of the future?
Photographs courtesy of Heritage Zimbabwe, David Young and Wikipedia

What of the future?  Imogen Bertin, an IT Educator, writing in her MOOC Blog[1] on her reasons for quitting EDCMOOC presented some ideas on how this MOOC could change.  There are others on this MOOC – some full of complaints, others with suggestions and still others somewhere out in cyberspace making their contributions and there will be more.  Each contributor to the discussion will lend ideas and the MOOC we know today will develop, will change, will become more relevant to the present.

Will the MOOC consign the old stagecoach ways to disappear?     Not for a long time!  There are too many vested interests in the old ways, too many aspiring professionals who need the status of a stagecoach degree and too many employers who still demand them.

[1] Imogen Bertin, Confused of Cork, February 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

On "The Human Touch" by Lowell Monke

Very interesting, readable document. Monke could almost be classed as a Digital Luddite but he makes some very good points about the Human Touch or the lack of it. Some of his points can be easily argued but others I find far more difficult to do so.
A computer can inundate a child with mountains of information. However, all of this learning takes place the same way: through abstract symbols, decontextualized and cast on a two-dimensional screen. Contrast that with the way children come to know a tree–by peeling its bark, climbing its branches, sitting under its shade, jumping into its piled-up leaves. Just as important, these firsthand experiences are enveloped by feelings and associations–muscles being used, sun warming the skin, blossoms scenting the air.”
This is absolutely correct but I would argue that the same applies to the traditional classroom. Give me the two dimensional screen and the abstract symbols, then let me climb a tree, feel its bark, sit under its shade and I will learn well. He tells a story about the computer game, Oregon Trail. I don’t know it at all but I can imagine it from Monke’s description. Then Monke goes on to say:
"But this completely misses the deeper significance of this great American migration, which lies not in the computational capabilities of the pioneers but in their determination, courage, ingenuity, and faith as they overcame extreme conditions and their almost constant miscalculations. Because the computer cannot traffic in these deeply human qualities, the resilient souls of the pioneers are absent from the simulation".
I remember well my history teacher writing on my school report ‘He fritters away his time”. I did. The teacher was a total bore. He presented us with no evidence of determination, courage, ingenuity and faith of the people who made history. I was bored out of my mind. What would have brought some life to his teachings? Perhaps some technology would have helped. Today I thoroughly enjoy the excitement and the drama that I can watch and almost feel from the History Channel on DSTV. I think that the advantage of the teacher in the classroom is that students have the opportunity to question, to discuss, to explore more. But technology – e.g. the computer - no longer limits that possibility. It can be done though I do confess that on this MOOC it doesn’t happen much. So yes, the Human Touch is still important and for me, a digital immigrant, I find it difficult to impart it in some of my work. I am an External Verifier for an International certification body. I have 18 centres to look after in Africa and I do nearly all of my contact remotely through the medium of the laptop and the connectivity of the Internet. It is not easy to demonstrate the ‘Human Touch’ with the centre contacts, many of whom I have never met face to face. But I try to put ‘feelings’ into my communication with them. I wonder too, how leaders of the great and not so great nations of this world would be able to lead without their human touch and their communication skills. But even then, the Barrack Obama’s of this world rely very much on technology to spread their word. His final comment is where I think Monke misses the point:
Filling schools with computers will not help find the answers to why the freest nation in the world has the highest percentage of citizens behind bars or why the wealthiest nation in history condemns a sixth of its children to poverty. So it seems that we are faced with a remarkable irony: that in an age of increasing artificiality, children first need to sink their hands deeply into what is real; that in an age of light-speed communication, it is crucial that children take the time to develop their own inner voice; that in an age of incredibly powerful machines we must first teach our children how to use the incredible powers that lie deep within themselves.
I can’t be sure of the statistics but I would suggest that the prisons have always been far too full of citizens. I do know that Zimbabwe has run out of prison space and I suspect the same can be said of South Africa. This has been done largely without technology. Add to that in Africa (without technology) a far greater proportion of children are steeped in poverty than the 1/6th of the children in the USA. And I do believe that technology can help the children of Africa to learn.

On Steve Kolowich and the Human Element

An interesting read. One comment stands out for me
"For Hersh, engagement goes hand-in-hand with audio-visual communication. The more that exchanges occurring within an online learning environment resemble those that occur in classrooms, he says, the more that students will feel connected to their professors and classmates, and the more likely they will be to stay in a program”
This reminds me of the Stagecoach/Railway analysis where the early railways adopted a Stagecoach seating arrangement to give passengers a ‘feel’ for the old ways. Yet the Stagecoach seating arrangement on railways has disappeared for far more practical designs. We are still trying to get a feel for the old ways of doing things. We need to learn and adapt to the new. John Locke’s response resonates with me on this MOOC:
“when the instructor takes the time to actually call each student a week before the course starts, the rate of anxiety is greatly reduced and the student realizes that there is, in fact a caring, feeling person who is also an expert in his or her field on the other end of the connection”
I had a high degree of anxiety before I started this MOOC. It dissipated in the first week but has resurged now in week 3. I am hampered by slow internet speeds (I have been to my service provider yesterday to upgrade my ADSL speed but yet to see any better response times). I am stressed that I cannot speak to any faculty member at Edinburgh and I am relying on my fellow students for help. What is helping me to ‘stay engaged’? I recall two years ago I ‘attended’ a course on the ILM VLE (Institute of Leadership and Management Virtual Learning Environment). I found it very hard going. I was lonely. I was the only student at the time undertaking the learning. I made it through in the end because I hate starting something that I do not finish. On this MOOC I am working hard to stay engaged by reading the threads of my colleagues, by responding to them, by writing my personal ‘Learning Log’ (with thanks to Dr Peter Honey so many years ago who introduced me to such things and some others), and by writing up some of my thoughts on my ‘Learning Blog’ and getting the odd bit of feedback. All of this is most definitely part of the ‘Human Element’. Do I need audio-visual content? Not really.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

On Steve Fuller - Defining Humanity

What is ‘Homo Sapiens’. What was he in the days of the Greeks? What is he today? According to Steve Fuller, Homo Sapiens is an artificial creation. What makes him different from the Apes? (The ability to reason, says Descartes, is what distinguishes man from the apes) Fuller suggests man has been 'artificially' created by education where he has been ‘changed’ to portray certain traits and behaviours. (Is that not what all training is about – changing behaviour? I am reminded of 'Virus of the Mind' yet again). What makes a human ‘more human’? In the days of the Greeks and the Romans homo sapiens had his place as either an elite or a serf. Along came Christianity that told us we were ‘human’. Then we changed, we became concerned (or guilty perhaps?) about the distribution of wealth, of education. In the 18th century Africa was ‘colonised’ to bring Christianity (and education) to those humans that had neither. This was a response to the guilt. So what of the future? We have reached a stage where humanity ‘believes’ (has been educated to believe) that humankind is destroying the planet, that he has no place here. That he will make himself extinct. Humans are more concerned about animals than their own. And some people prefer to live in their other selves in cyberspace. Where is this taking homo sapiens? A Question posed by the Faculty: “He (Fuller) suggests that we are questioning the very existence of the ‘human’ because we have failed in the humanist project (for example, we are far from achieving racial, gender or class equality): do you believe this?” No I don’t believe this although my change in belief is recent. Last November I attended a conference in Johannesburg titled “Live and Unplugged”. One of the speakers, a South African woman, made a presentation titled ‘The SHEconomy’. She presented her ideas on the current and future of women in business. It was a staggering presentation of the rise of women in business suggesting that soon women will be the dominating influence. Her thesis was postulated largely on the emancipation of women due to the freedom they gained after the introduction of ‘The Pill’ – women no longer have to have children and when they do, today, they very often prefer to have them outside marriage. Then followed the Social Media revolution and women, being more socially adaptable then men, are, she suggests now better able to make better business decisions than men. She presented a lot of evidence to support her thesis. Women are even making rapid strides in politics and business in Africa where women have been far more stringently suppressed in recent times than in, say, Europe. In Asian countries we have also seen a definite attempt at improving the place of women within the Asian (and Muslim) versions of humanity. Turning to racial equality, I have lived through a revolution in the equalization of racial equality in Zimbabwe. Although there are still elements of inequality to be overcome largely because the black elite in Africa are seemingly more intent on suppressing the (black) masses than the previous colonisers. So ‘class equality’ in Africa has still a very long way to go. But that it will come is inevitable. The only question about it is when. As a last point in this blog, earlier this week I read about the ability of dogs to ‘reason’ following a research project in the United Kingdom. So being human is not confined to their ability to reason. Descartes got it wrong!

Friday, February 8, 2013

On Questioning Clay Shirky by Aaron Bady

This is an excellent response to Clay Shirky’s view that On-line Education is going to happen whether Universities like it or not. It is well thought through, easy to read and understand, albeit that it is a bit wordy. Bady seriously questions the value of the MOOC but he also misses some points mainly because he is talking only about the USA and California in particular. Here are some of my observations: - My organisation in Zimbabwe needs ‘Just-in-Time’ learning for many of the technical and non-technical staff we employ. We cannot afford THE TIME or THE MONEY to send them to a local university where the quality of education is, today, abysmal due largely to under-funding by government, the drift of qualified and experienced teaching staff to ‘greener pastures’ in the region, and indeed worldwide. We tried this once and sent a key member of staff to a local university on an MSc in Computer Science. He probably learned something but the evidence is not there for us to see. We spent money – and the much more needed resource – time – to help him learn. Right now we have completed an exercise in Risk Management development with an expensive consultant. Now we need a Risk Management Officer. We have a relatively junior member of staff who was involved in assisting the consultant. She has a high intrinsic motivation to learn to be a competent Risk Management Officer. She needs to learn the principles and the practice. How do we help her to learn? Sending her to University on an MSc in Risk Management is not an option. We need her working now. We cannot afford the time or the money. Do we ignore her and hire a qualified Risk Management expert? Or do we help this young lady to learn? We haven’t answered that question yet. We will have to answer it very soon and it will depend entirely on how, and at what cost and TIME we can afford her. I was intrigued by the comment to Bady's blog from Donald Scott: “Corporations would benefit from educated students, but what they want is trained students...the internet is wonderful for training” This comment was later rubbished by another respondee. But Scott’s comment is accurate in the sense that corporations need trained employees. It may not be so accurate in his assessment of ‘the internet is wonderful for training’. Nothing is FREE! Not even the MOOC. For me it is an expensive investment in my time. That I am learning is beyond question. But the question does remain how valuable is the learning to me as a ‘corporate mentor’? Hopefully this question will be answered in the next few weeks. Now here’s a lesson that I learned many years ago and still applies, even to Bady and his colleagues. ALL (and I use this word in spite of being warned against doing so by Bady) education and training is USELESS unless the learner is able and willing to apply some of the lessons to his work, his life, his family, whatever the purpose of the learning. If a learner simply learns from Yale, Harvard, Edinburgh, Oxford, Cambridge, Ohio, University of Zimbabwe, wherever and then does not apply and practice the principles, he/she should have saved his/her money and spent it on something else – perhaps to climb Mount Everest or traverse the South Pole. The probability is that the seat of learning is unable to help the learner follow through. The learner has to do this. Not necessarily alone, but with the help of others. Many years ago I went on my first ‘Leadership Course’ and I learned many new ideas that I had never heard of before. I was enthused; I was motivated to change my behaviour. (Changing behaviour is essential if one is to learn anything of practical value). I returned to my workplace. I discussed my new ideas with the MD. He rejected them out of hand with a statement that when he was a young man, if he didn’t do what he was told, he was kicked in the a*se, and that was the way he managed things. My ideas were rejected out of hand. I had no opportunity to try them out, learn from my attempts, find out more. I left the organisation. I could afford to. I found another place to practice my ideas. Some worked, some didn’t. I learned from my experiences. That’s how people really learn. But back the argument for and against the MOOC principle. There may not be much value in the USA but here in Africa I can see many opportunities for many underfunded, underprivileged people. Yes, I do miss the opportunity to talk directly to the Faculty, but surprisingly, or perhaps not, I am learning from my colleagues, from the threads, the blogs and the tweets and if I want to talk somebody about the MOOC, I can!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Technology Is the Answer – What was the Question? Professor Daniel

This is a fairly balanced paper which sets out to convince us that technology will answer the needs of education – the needs being access, quality and cost. How can more people receive a quality education at a lower cost? Daniel asserts that using technology is the answer. And he would seem to be right by virtue of the rise of the MOOC. But how much quality do we get from the MOOC? I read a blog yesterday that suggested this MOOC had been well prepared, planned and presented but the blogger had been on another MOOC that was obviously vastly different. So there are MOOCs and there are MOOCs. But there is no doubt in my mind that technology can assist in lowering costs in education/learning. Here’s a simple example: Yesterday my Payserv team undertook a ‘Finance for Non-Financial Managers’ course. We used the FD and another member of his staff to present the learning; we were given exercises to do. But prior to attending the course we were provided with an URL to access in which we could learn the definitions of various financial and book-keeping terms so that when we arrived we knew these. This was time saving and therefore cost saving.

Of Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants

I have been reading David Noble's paper - "Digital Diploma Mills". He writes about Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants. I am definitely a Digital Immigrant although I have been able to migrate reasonably well. Perhaps writing this Blog is part of my Immigrant culture – I need to write to consolidate what I have learned. At Payserv we have some Digital Natives. I sit next to one who cannot stop messaging on her phone. It seems it is just part of her culture. But is she working? Is she learning? I somehow doubt it. We have another DN in the organisation – a brilliant young lady. I must run Marc Prensky’s ideas past her. She has learned substantially during her year with us. How has she learned what she has learned? Some of it has been by ‘attending’ our E-learning software programs but she has got bored with those (generated by Digital Immigrants). Mainly she learns by doing. Time to find out more from her. Is Mark Prensky ‘right’? Partly, perhaps. But is he just trying to promote his ‘learning game’ ideas and his business? Probably. I’m not convinced of his thesis. I need to see confirmation from other sources. I recognise that DN’s have been brought up differently – my grandson and I exchange mail messages on WhatsApp while he is doing his homework – but how do the DN’s learn to behave, how do they learn to lead others, how do they learn Emotional Competency? Probably just the same way we did – by observing, by copying, by practicing. David Noble would seem to be a latter day Luddite. Perhaps we could call him a Digital Luddite. I note that his paper was written in 1998 so a lot of water has passed under the bridge since his offering. He has this fixation that anyone who does anything about educating others, other than his red brick University is ‘peddling’ (illegally selling) their wares. That is indication enough that he is prejudiced. He uses the word several times in his paper. He thinks that students are on his side. While some of them may be, it certainly doesn’t apply to 2,000 (or is 42,000) students on this MOOC. He asserts that campus students outnumber distance students by 6:1. That may have been true in 1998 but it is surely not the case in 2013 where the numbers could well be reversed. He makes the extraordinary statement “ Last but not least, behind this effort are the ubiquitous technozealots who simply view computers as the panacea for everything, because they like to play with them” Some digital teachers and learners will take umbrage at this! One factor that he has overlooked is that no matter how education may be ‘peddled’ around the world, there will always be a need for professional coaches and mentors who can be looked upon to provide their education and experience to help digital learners wherever they may be. As an example of a successful E-learning programme in 2008 Paynet Zimbabwe, a company in the EDI/EFT business realised their urgent need for additional software developers to develop and maintain their systems. The new developers would need special skills. Paynet is a very small company. They had no teachers or trainers to develop new people that the market was unable to provide. So we launched a programme which we named “LIPZ” (Learning Initiative Programme for Paynet Zimbabwe). We took the view that we had no teachers but we could provide mentors. We had no reference books, no learning programmes. We created learning objectives that we needed our trainee developers to achieve. We provided them with some tools (PC, access to the Internet and access to a suite of E-Learning Programmes provided by Skillsoft). We told them to then learn using these tools and each week we mentored their progress. We needed more than simple systems development skills; we needed them to develop sound communication skills, business skills, project management skills and emotional competencies. In less than 12 months we achieved our objective – to bring in new developers to take over the testing and maintenance functions of our systems while the senior developers were enabled to focus on new software developments.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Google Hangout

It’s come and gone. For me it was hard work. Internet speed very slow and constant freezing taking place interspersed with conversation from the presenters. But impressive presenters who gave their all to a new concept not only for us but probably for them too. I have a question for Jeremy in particular and the faculty in general: “Is E-learning seen to be all about learning off the internet/Skype/twitter/blogs or is it something more?" One of the reasons I joined this MOOC is because I manage an E-learning system at Payserv, a company in Zimbabwe that provides Financial Institutions with EDI and EFT systems as well as running other technical services – a payroll bureau and a loan management system. We have an E-learning system installed on our server provided by a South African supplier and have access to technical and soft skills courses that are relevant to the business. One issue with it is the RTC factor, an issue that arises for a number of reasons – it is not a traditional method of learning. There are other reasons to be here. I mentor many of the staff, helping them to identify and pursue learning opportunities that will provide them with knowledge and skills for their personal growth and qualifications that will meet the demands of their CVs. That there are MOOCs available in many areas means a great deal to me and possibly to them – if they can be persuaded to engage in the real educational change opportunities that MOOCs will surely come to provide in the near future if they do not already do so. So I need to learn about MOOCs and how they work and what kind of learning value they can provide. I see the future of learning being a predominantly E-future. Universities have to adjust – Edinburgh is clearly anticipating a changed future which is why they are here and experimenting with the rest of us. So back to my question. Will someone please answer me?

Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology - Lincoln Dahlberg

This was a tough one to follow but I think I made it in the end inasmuch as I have learned that research into the ‘Digital Space’ needs to be more complex than it has been hitherto – according to Lincoln Dahlberg in any event. But other things I learned were the questions for the future: - Who ‘owns’ the Internet? Is it a tool of the rich and powerful capitalistic economies? Is it going to determine our collective futures? How can it be controlled? Should it be controlled? What happens if it grows – like New Media have suggested it will grow – into a mean people eater? Will it help mankind to develop for the better or will it replace people and eventually destroy mankind?