Wednesday, March 5, 2014

What's the Story, Morning Glory

I was listening to a snippet of a CBC Ideas radio show today Paul Kennedy Aging by the Book on the topic Narrative Gerontology. The idea is that the richer you tell your life story the more resilient you are in old age. I checked Wikipedia and created a new entry when I found nothing there. The program and my subsequent research gave me some interesting ideas for the creative non-fiction class that I have been trying to get off the ground as part of a journalism minor in the English and Creative Writing department at the local University. People tell stories naturally and great story tellers are always in demand. We can learn how to tell better stories, for the entertainment and illumination of others but also for personal transformation and to provide closure for ourselves and others. Some authors studying aging determined that we sometimes begin writing the final chapters of our life stories long before they are due in response to social pressures, expectations of retirement, diminished physical capacity. They called this "foreclosure and suggested that this resulted in unnecessary unhappiness and depression. As I thought about these stories I was reminded of an older story in this blog Secret, Sacred and Cover Stories. I'll have to think about this some more and see what emerges. One of the most well regarded self-help/mutual aid organizations, Alcoholics Anonymous employs the therapeutic effects of story telling. The fourth and fifth steps involve the development of a personal moral written inventory which is then shared aloud with another person. The amounts to the story of a persons life to that point. For alcoholics, the therapy comes from the recognition of the way that their emotions and attitudes had been infected by the disease of alcoholism. The act of writing down the personal inventory, detailing the way that fear, resentment and sex (three issues if left unresolved were considered to be the most likely to return an alcoholic to active drinking) was essential to the change of character necessary for recovery. The act of telling that story to another person provided additional therapeutic punch and allowed the individual to hear themselves tell their story aloud. Seeing your story on paper and hearing spoke provides the transformational power. Transformation and transformational learning theory (Merzirov, 19xx) Information and communication technologies provide a potent means of amplifying this already powerful effect. If a picture paints a thousand words, then a 5 minute YouTube video paints 10,000 words. Applying digital multimedia to the personal story telling amplifies immensely. Whereas in the past the creation of audiovisual artifacts required costly equipment and extensive training, current multimedia is much more accessible. Everyone has a smartphone which has the capacity to create audio and visual materials and to share them in an instant.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Wikispaces being fattened for market like Mendeley?

I've been using Wikispaces for years. I have a number of free wikis and pay for a few others. Over the years I have been recommending Wikispaces.com to the teachers and graduate students who I teach in a variety of settings, online and face-to-face. I always liked Wikispaces because of the WISIWIG editor and the simple process of getting set up. I feel that it is important that professional educators have a web presence, an e-portfolio or personal encyclopedia that allows them to explore and develop in their own web- based multimedia applications, their own website. I hope that they model the process to the students that they will soon be teaching. This is the essence of education for me, encouraging independent learning. When I say I want people to take ownership of their learning I mean it figuratively AND literally. Do your work in your own space and not in some institution's Learning Management System (LMS).

 I am currently teaching a group of pre-service teachers how to use ICT and social media as part of the Literacy with ICT across the Curriculum initiative mandated by the Manitoba department of education a few years ago. People learn how to use the Googleverse of Maps, Blogger, YouTube, Gmail, Calendar etc. Skype, Mindmeister, Brainshark, Audacity, Vocaroo and any number of web applications. They are encouraged to set up their own instances of all of these things (using their own anonymous accounts while they are learning) and to use a central web-space as a display/demonstration/reflection/personal learning environment. Mostly, I have recommended Wikispaces as this central space  because of their policy of support for educators and because of the excellent education community that has emerged around Wikispaces and for the excellent support that I have always received when ever I have had occasion to need help directly from Wikispaces. The current group is the ICT class for the Brandon University PENT program. Things have been going well and people have been putting their work in a Wikispaces wiki. We are at the point where I want to start demonstrating the collaborative and communication dimension of wikis but when the students try to make their Wikispaces wiki public they are asked to pay a $1.00 fee.

While the cost is not onerous, the problem is that the Wikispaces subscription requires a credit card or Paypal account that students don't necessarily have. Wikispaces says they are trying to eliminate spammers who have been setting up wikis for unspecified and undocumented nefarious purposes. What it looks more like to me is that Wikispaces is trying to build up a customer base who have provided a billing option. I don't begrudge them wanting to be compensated but it seems a little suspect to me that they are doing this. I would happily cough up the $15.00 to set every class member with a Wikispaces account. I can set them up as members of my Wikispaces Classroom but that doesn't support the principle of personal ownership. I don't want people to work in my learning environments, I want them to work in their own personal learning environments.

One of the reasons that I am a bit suspicious is the recent example of Mendeley. Mendeley is a wonderful web-based bibliographic tool that has a social networking dimension. You can set up Mendeley groups to share bibliographic resources and to establish scholarly communities of interest. I have established a number of Mendeley groups on a range of topics with significant numbers of followers. I started doing this with Zotero many years ago and when Mendeley came up with something similar, thought I would try it out. The groups have been working and sharing and building up a huge repository of user generated content in an open platform. Recently, Mendeley announced that it had been purchased by Elsevier publishing. Reactions have been predictably unfavorable because Elsevier is not known for its support of open scholarship. So now all of the user-generated content is owned by Elsevier and it seems likely that they will be selling that data as part of their regular business practices.

When I first signed up for Mendeley I was a little concerned about putting my eggs in a commercial basket and I feel vindicated in that hesitation. I have continued to develop my Zotero collection and groups so that I am not worried about losing data. Zotero is a different type of enterprise, established with a Carnegie Mellon Grant and maintained by George Mason University. Although anything can happen, I feel more confident that Zotero is not going to sell me and my content and connections to a publishing company or to a learning management corporation.

 Another similar situation is Moodlerooms where the CMS behemoth Blackboard has been acquiring some of the partners of the open source Moodle platform. Blackboard is hardly an open source or open access proponent and is not likely to hesitate to capitalize on the BS and T that educators have been freely helping develop over the years. No question the corporatization of education is well underway.

I have no illusions about the motives of corporations -- more profit each quarter. Is Wikispaces planning to do the same thing? I will be putting my eggs in another basket although it is hard to figure out exactly where to go. Likely Google Sites for the meantime.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Unchallenged assumptions

One of the obligations of graduate scholars is to challenge taken for granted assumptions. One common unchallenged assumptions in elearning ( and education generally) is the notion of learning styles. Beginning scholars in this field should be aware that the learning styles theory is contested. This is the case with all theories and scholars are charged with the testing and verification of theories. One of the most common criticisms of learning styles theory is that the theory has not been very well supported by empirical research. To understand some of the dimensions of the scholarly debate over the issue of learning styles see:

 Coffield, F., Moseley, D., Hall, E., & Eccleston, K. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. Learning and Skills Research Center. Retrieved from https://crm.lsnlearning.org.uk/user/order.aspx?code=041543 and

Jay Cross, one of the architects of the learning model used by the University of Phoenix reviewed Coffield et al. (2004) and has this to say about Learning Styles Theory. Cross, J. (n.d.). Learning Styles, ha, ha, ha, ha. Time. Retrieved from http://www.internettime.com/2013/04/learning-styles-ha-ha-ha-ha/comment-page-1/#comment-43513

 Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Roher, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3). Retrieved from http://personal.crocodoc.com/xw1pugQ

Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham has be working to test and verify learning styles theory.

Willingham, D. (2005). Do Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Learners Need Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic Instruction? Ask the Cognitive Scientist, Summer. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/newspubs/periodicals/ae/summer2005/willingham.cfm

 Willingham also has a short YouTube video which presents his position on the matter.

 Incidentally this is a good model for the scholarly use of web based multimedia. Willingham, D. (2008). YouTube - Learning Styles Don’t Exist. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIv9rz2NTUk&feature=related


Friday, March 1, 2013

Learners must take ownership of their learning

This seems to be a bit of a buzz phrase and I hear it mentioned a lot with respect to 21st C learning skills and elearning. To often it means holding learners responsible for their failure to learn or more often blaming them for their failure to learn. I agree that taking ownership learning is essential but as educators how do we enable learners to actually accomplish this? One of the most important ways to actualize taking ownership of learning is to allow learners to use their own devices, in their own preferred online learning environments. This means BYOD instead of institutional computer labs and it means the learners using their own blog, wiki, or interactive web-page instead of an institutional content management system. It is no good to insist that learners take ownership of their learning and then force them to use technology owned by the institution. What is worse is to insist that people do their work inside a learning management system where all their effort will be filed away after the course is done and the tuition has ended. Most institutions keep digital archives for a legislated period but then just scrap them without anyone ever looking at them after the final grade has been recorded. Let people BYOD and let them decide where they want to do their learning and connecting.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A Tommy Douglas Tale


One the true heroes of Canadian Politics was Tommy Douglas. This is one of the stories he would tell to educate people about the imbalance in the capitalist economic system.


"THE CREAM SEPARATOR

I used to visit in farm homes, particularly around meal time, and if I got in around dinner time of course, everybody in the family was busy. They were unhitching the horses. They were pumping thewater. They were milking the cows. They were pitching down the hay and the oat sheaves. Somebody else was out gathering the eggs.Somebody else was feeding the pigs and the chickens. Everybody had something to do. Even the youngsters were given a job doing something, for instance gathering the eggs or feeding the chickens.
And here I was, right off the city streets. I didn't know what to do, and I said "give me something to do." Well, nobody was going to trust this city boy with milking a good cow. They gave me the one job thatanybody could do. They gave me the job of turning the handle of the cream separator. Any of you ever turned the handle on the cream separator? Well it's quite an experience. I got to be quite good at it. I got to the place where I could tell you how many verses of "Onward Christian Soldiers" it takes to put a pan of milk through this thing. And as I was turning the handle and they were pouring in the milk, and I could see the cream come out the one spout and the skim milk coming out of the other spout, one day it finally penetrated my thick Scotch head that this cream separator is exactly like our economic system.
Here are the primary producers, the farmers and the fishermen and the loggers. They are pouring in the milk. And here are the workers, whether they work on the railroad or go down to the mines or sail ships or work in a store or a bank, or teach school, clerk in the store, work in a hospital. They are the people whose services make the economy go round, and they're turning the handle. So here you have it: primary producer puts in the milk; people who work with hand and brain turn the handle. And then I thought, but there's another fellow here somewhere. There's a fellow who owns this cream separator. And he's sitting on a stool with the cream spout in his mouth. And the primary producer and the worker take turns on the skim milk spout. And they don't like skim milk. Nobody likes skim milk.

And they blame it on each other And the worker says, "If those farmers and fishermen, you know, would work a little harder, well I wouldn't be drinking this skim milk." And the fishermen and the farmers say, "If those workers didn't demand a forty hour week, didn't want such high wages, I wouldn't have to live on this blue milk." But you know, they're both wrong.

The farmers and the fishermen have produced so much we don't know what to do with it _ we've got surpluses of foodstuffs. And the workers, they've produced so well that today nearly a million of them are unemployed. The fault is not with the worker. It is not with the primary producer. The fault is with this machine. This machine was built to give skim milk to the worker and the primary producer, and to give cream to the corporate elite.
As a matter of fact, it doesn't always do that because every once in a while this little fellow sitting on the stool with the cream spout in his mouth gets indigestion. And he says, "Boys, stop this machine. We got a recession!" He says to the worker, "You're laid off, you can go on unemployment insurance. and after that on welfare." And he says to the farmers and the fishermen, "You know, we don't need your stuff. Take it back home." And then he sits for a while,
indigestion gets better, burps a couple of times, says, " Alright, boys, start the machine. Happy days are here again. Cream for me and skim milk for both of you."
Now what the, what the democratic socialist party has been saying to Canadians for a long time is that the time has come in this land of ours for the worker and the primary producer to get their hands on the regulator of the machine so that it begins to produce homogenized milk in which everybody'll get a little cream."

The other famous Tommy Douglas lesson was Mouseland


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Keeping Your Distance with Social Media

How social media allows you to control your interactions and Keep Your Distance. We all want and need to interact with other people and most of the time those interactions are healthy, beneficial and rich with information. However, many times the richness of the communication environment can be a distraction or impediment to the hoped for outcome of the interaction.
A recent commercial survey for a web meeting platform suggested that people and women in particular prefer online meetings to face-to-face meetings for a number of interesting reasons. Most of those reasons involve some desire for people to keep their distance from annoying, ineffective, irritating and offensive elements of meat space interactions. The environment is too rich for the purpose and the extraneous elements are actually an impediment to communication.
Same thing applies in a high school classroom where you pile in a bunch of hormonally inflamed adolescents and expect them to control their biology long enough to enjoy some sort of cognitive and intellectual development. Yes social development is important but the two should not necessarily be combined at all times.

In circumstances like these using social media to control or "keep your distance" is an adaptive response and one that planners and organizers should bear in mind when redesigning work or educational environments.

Gatin, G. (2009). Keeping your distance: A basic social process (Dissertation). Fielding Graduate University.