Sunday, November 22, 2009

Organizational Shadow in Ed Tech

I've been taken with the concept of organizational shadow recently after reading a 1991 article by Bowles. From the abstract...

Organization Shadow is understood as facts which organizations wish to deny about themselves, due to the threat posed to self-image and self-understanding and, more generally, the need to be viewed in a favorable light by others. The Shadow is repressed, and, as unconscious content, is projected onto others, often those who are incapable of resisting it.

Interesting to watch the dynamics of this playing out. A 2008 book by Collins Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology recently received a controversial review by Jenna McWilliams.

I think she pegged it right when she pointed out the "damning by faint praise" offered in the book to the notion of self-directed education supported by new web-based affordances. The old guard of the existing educational establishment is not going to give up power and control that easily. They have too much to loose. They have convinced themselves that they are a last bastion and that the education system for all of its, presumably known and lovable, it preferable to the crazy chaos of self-directed learning.

I listened to a recent interview with McWilliams on CBC Sparks where Norah Young interviewed Jenna by Skype and then posted the interview as a podcast. For me it was the media being the message and predisposed me to suspect that she had put her finger on a nasty sore spot on Collins. Collins responded to the review:

Bowles, M. (1991). Organizational shadow. Organization Studies, 12(3), 387-404. doi: 10.1177/017084069101200303

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America. The TEC Series. New York: Teachers College Press.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The New Panopticon

Haven't spent much time here for a while as I prepared for the final oral review of my dissertation. That is done, now to tweak the dissertation and send it off to the publisher.

One of the dimensions of my dissertation research was to generate a theory of basic patterns of social behavior. The patterns that I observed led me to formulate a theory which I called "Keeping Your Distance".

Here is the abstract.
This analysis began with inquiries into the substantive area of distance education using the classic grounded theory method. Analysis revealed a pattern of problem solving behavior, from which the theory “Keeping Your Distance” emerged.

The theory is an integrated set of concepts referring to the conscious and unconscious strategies that people use to regulate distance, physical and representative, in their everyday lives. Strategies are used to control physical, emotional, and psychological realities and to conserve personal energy in interactions with individuals and/or institutions.

Keeping Your Distance is presented in terms of a conditions/consequences/covariance theoretical model adapted from Glaser (1978), Theoretical Sensitivity. Conditions evoke a system of strategic response patterns which result in consequences. Responses and their consequences change conditions and result in additional adjustments, made on an ongoing basis. For all social interactions, people use a personalized algorithm of engagement that mitigates conditions and consequences and preserves optimal distance.

Keeping Your Distance provides a theoretical starting point for considerations of the changing notions of distance. In part, these changes have been brought about by developments in the fields of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and online social networking.

This emerging, multivariate, conceptual theory may be of interest to scholar-practitioners examining distance education, psycho-social processes and critical pedagogy. Elements of this theory may be of use to higher education policy makers charged with instructional design, institutional advancement and marketing.

My dissertation research grew out of an interest in various aspects of distance or distributed education. One of the reservations that people have about distance education is that is perceived as distant, as in alienating and devoid of human contact. This may have been the case in the early days of technology, however as ICT technology has advanced the opportunity for people to manage their distance from institutions is seen as a good thing. As it turns out, it looks like people may prefer to keep their distance.

I read an article this morning about The Digital Evolution of Surveillance

Ash, K. (2009, June 17). The digital evolution of video surveillance. Education Week: Digital Directions-Trends and Advice for K-12 Technology Leaders. Retrieved June 18, 2009, from

This article and many others discuss the great effort and money that place-based education institutions expend on the illusion of security and safety. However, the more I read about the draconian measures that many institutions adopt, the more I am reminded of Foucault's discussion of Panopticon.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.

Foucault discussed education specifically and observed the relationships between power, control, conformity and education. Sad to think that this is the direction that institutional education is moving; toward environments of more oppressive control.
The theory of Keeping Your Distance suggests that people will avoid institutions that try to restrict autonomy in this fashion. If institutions want to support learning, as opposed to education then they will consider ways that people can acquire learning with out exposing themselves to the risks and oppression associated with institutions that put such a premium on surveillance and control.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

It all depends on how you ask the questions

Just reading a report of a research study done by the EKOS group for the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. The whole thing seems to be framed from industrial education perspective and doesn't even consider some very viable alternatives for PSE.

EKOS. (2009). An examination of barriers to pursuing PSE and potential solutions. Final Report, Council of Ministers of Education, Canada. Retrieved May 20, 2009, from

Long involved study, interviewing high school students and their parents about their future plans for education. The study was framed in the context or identifying barriers to participation in PSE and purported to look for solutions that would reduce barriers.

Looks like a wonderful study but it is loaded with preconceptions. These are apparent in the use of language through-out the research and report.
Two phrases stand out for me. "pursuing" and "go to...."
This study explores who is not pursuing PSE and the reasons why. Key issues explored in the
discussions include: the obstacles that are faced by students and how these obstacles interact with
one another; what roles are played by key players in helping students make these decisions; the
factors influencing post high school plans; barriers to PSE; the perceived importance of these
barriers and the interaction among barriers; and the impact of finances, academics, information
and motivation on plans for after high school. The importance of: the level of information about
PSE (e.g., its costs and benefits); availability of financial aid; information on financing PSE; selfidentifying
as being or not being a potential PSE student; career plans; specific post high school
plans (both in short versus long-term plans.

All this implies that you can only participate in PSE by leaving your present location and going to another spot for education. No mention of the possibility of having PSE come to you.

The researchers asked, in their written questionnaire and their focus group questions.

Did you think in grade 8 that you would be going to PSE? In grade 9 or 10? Did you ever think
about it at all? What were you thinking that you’d be going to? What kind of school (university,
college, trade school, etc)? (p.40)

Did you think that your son or daughter would go to PSE? (p. 48)

The discussion of alternatives to PSE seemed to be limited to "not going". No discussion of PSE coming to your choice of learning location.

Oh, and the other thing that came out fairly strongly is the general disgust that high school students have for the current process of education.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can't get H1N1 from your computer

Not saying I want to live in a purely virtual world. I just want to have a choice about it. If there are exchanges where real world interactions add no value ( bank teller) or the value of the interaction is not over weighed by the risks involved, (club on the wrong side of town). I will use the ABM and watch the music video.

It is a toss up whether most physical interactions for education or work really add any value to the transaction or out weigh the risks. A pandemic flu out break may make that calculation in favor of virtual interactions.

Couldn't happen you say? AIG couldn't go broke, GM will never go bankrupt, US will never elect a black man president.
Too many black swans and to much at risk not being prepared.

Ed institutions need to do all they can to take their operations virtual to ensure that the service that they provide to society is not lost. While that happens, many of the problem aspects of industrial education may be sufficiently disrupted to bring about meaningful change.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Sacred, Secret and Cover Stories

Came across this interesting concept as a result of a the Twitter stream during the #tlt2009 conference that I watched via Ustream today at

I tracked down some of the resources for the concepts relating to the notion of different teacher narratives.

Clandinin, J., & Connelly, M. (1996). Teachers' professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories-stories of teachers-school stories-stories of schools. Educational Researcher, 25(3), 24-30. doi: 10.3102/0013189X025003024.

Classrooms are, for the most part, safe places, generally free from scrutiny, where teachers are free to live stories of practice. These lived stories are essentially secret ones. Furthermore,when these secret lived stories are told, they are, for the most part, told to other teachers in other secret places. When teachers move out of their classrooms into the out-of-classroom place on the landscape, they often live and tell cover stories, stories in which they portray themselves as experts, certain characters whose teacher stories fit within the acceptable range of the story of school being lived in the school. Cover stories enable teachers whose teacher stories are marginalized by whatever the current
story of school is to continue to practice and to sustain their teacher stories. We do not wish to imply that either secret stories or cover stories are necessarily good or bad.

Campbell, E., Campbell, A., & Groundwater-Smith, S. (2007). An ethical approach to practitioner research (p. 198).

Develops the idea is that teacher narratives are based on three different versions of events,
The Sacred story is theory driven views of practice shared by practitioners, policy makers and theoreticians. This is the story of events that would be provided in curriculum materials and constitutes the canon or the officially approved version of knowledge.

The secret story is the lived experience of classroom practice told to other teachers.

Cover stories=stories in which practitioners agree or collude with a version of events and portray themselves as 'experts', sometimes to protect their professional behavior or the participants in the story.

All this struck me a necessary background for understanding some important issues for critical pedagogy. Leads to the rhetorical question; Why is it necessary to construct different stories?

Of course the answer is obvious because no one has the true version of events although institutions try to claim it, reinforce it and enforce compliance with it. Teachers (or many other people in similar situations) may see the truth differently and may attempt to transmit their version.This could get them in deep trouble so they have to be very careful and on occasion construct a cover story that shows how their secret story and the sacred story are the same.

This may explain part of the reluctance that teachers have for having their classroom activities recorded in podcasts, vlogs etc. They are open to scrutiny by administration, parents, society at large. When it is just the students in the classroom there is a large degree of deniability but when others may be observing there is a large degree of distrust and discomfort.

Reminded me of the precepts of Action Science and the notions of espoused theory and theory in use. Also Glaser's notion of the different kinds of data that can be collected from interviews; baseline,properline,interpreted,and vague.

Don Tapscott in Wikinomics, developed the idea of information asymmetry where the 'experts' wield power because they have some sort of information advantage that they carefully control and maintain by manipulating the facts and limiting access to information resources. The Internet has made the construction of multiple versions of the truth problematic, because it is very simple for individuals to get different perspectives on events and to question the different versions of the truth being presented. This is great for consumers of information but puts greater demands on the constructors of knowledge. If there is too much variation between the sacred, secret and cover versions credibility is lost.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Why newspapers are failing

Watched this presentation by Linda McQauig.

Starts with Mark Twain quote about those who don't read newspapers are uninformed, people who read newspapers are misinformed.

Some excellent points that should be repeated. Newspapers are complaining that they are failing because nobody reads the news anymore. But as McQuaig points out they aren't really reporting news, just broadcasting the narrative of the corporate elite. Corporations are blind to their own blindness. If they really want to sell newspapers they would report on newsworthy items. Like:

-Eqos study of Canadian opinion and the gap between what ordinary people want and what the corporate elite want. Elite want small government, less regulation and deeper economic and military integration with the US but 48% of Canadians want exactly the opposite. That's news but it hasn't been reported in corporate media.

-capitalism is collapsing but corporate elite still wants to blame workers for the collapse eg. the auto industry.

-half of all Canadians support an early withdrawal from Afghanistan. That is news that doesn't get reported. Doesn't fit a corporate agenda.

-the story of the Nato bombing mission that mistakenly killed a bunch of people at an Afghani wedding that killed 36 people and injuring the bride. Now that is a big news story with a large human interest element. Given the Canadian involvement with NATO there should be lots of interest. But the G and M buried it deep on page 21. If the newspaper agenda is to sell papers as they claim, that should have been splashed over front pages for days.

-Canadian Civil Assistance plan. Allows US troops to cross into Canada. Interesting to Canadians but it was never announced to Canadians. They would be under the ultimate control of the US Commander in Chief. Didn't hit the front pages because the corporate elites think that deeper economic and military integration with the US whereas most Canadians want the opposite.

So the idea that newspapers have a grievance because people don't want to read newspapers is disingenuous. They don't really want to sell papers by reporting actual news, but their version of the news that furthers the corporate political agenda.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

University as Marriage Market

Found myself quoted in a Christian Science Monitor article about David Wiley at Brigham Young University.

The premise is that most traditional face to face institutions of higher learning are becoming increasingly irrelevant and are facing extinction in their present form. Wiley suggests in another article that

Every college and university needs to adapt, he says, or they won't survive. But BYU, he notes, might be a special case. Students will likely still flock there for the two extra benefits the school offers: a religious education and the chance to meet and marry an LDS Church member.

This led me to speculate on a feature of industrial education that you don't see directly referenced in the university marketing literature but nonetheless seems to be a very important factor in choosing to attend an elite, face-to-face university. That is that you will have an opportunity to participate in a marriage market with people of your own (or higher)socio-economic status, your class, religion. A common pronouncement of the defenders of face-to-face education is that it allows you to build lifelong networks and this maybe true but it is becoming more likely that your networks will need to be beyond a limited geographic sphere.

Similarly, you might want to try another way to meet your mate. One of my favorite writers ( and no-holds-barred critical thinker) these days, Joe Bageant talks about the great American hologram the "feast of bullshit and spectacle: the great American media mind warp",a collective illusion carefully manufactured and maintained.

One aspect of this is the Disney illusion of "one true love' someday my prince will come, your destined mate. But it really doesn't happen that way.
More likely parents want their offspring to go to university to meet a nice girl or boy with good genes, finances and prospects. That may well be a major benefit, however it has nothing to do with education. Given that many institutions of higher learning operated with public funds it appears these funds are being directed towards activities that don't have much to do with higher learning.

It might not even be the best way to select a mate if divorce statistics are considered. It might even be better to use an online dating service for mate selection although theses services may be to new to be able to make any judgments about the relative longevity of marriages that began as online relationships.

So far from the spontaneous process of finding your one true love and "just knowing that he/she was the ONE" is an illusion. People are much more calculating in their choice although they don't admit it to themselves or others.

Checking out this article.

Chiappori, P., Iyigun, M., & Weiss, Y. (2006, November). Investment in schooling and the marriage market. Discussion paper, . Retrieved April 22, 2009, from

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Tuition commission report

Just read this report

Levin, B. (2009). Commission on tuition fees and accessibility to post-secondary education in Manitoba. Government, Manitoba: Manitoba Advanced Education and Literacy. Retrieved April 5, 2009, from

Looking for any mentions of online learning or distributed education policy. Conspicuously absent!

The entire report seems to be predicated on the unchallenged assumption that higher education can only be accomplished face to face in a major urban center. This assumption is being very successfully challenged in many jurisdictions world-wide and online learning is steadily improving to the point where it may be superior to bricks and mortar education for many purposes.

There is talk of increasing access by providing better, housing, daycare, better access to student loans, minimum wage increases etc but nothing about online eduction.

The forced relocation of Manitoba people to major urban centers for higher education has disproportionate costs for those in rural communities that aren't factored into this report. Rural communities are deprived of social and economic contributors. Hard to coach a the local hockey team or serve on the local board if you no longer live in the community. Similarly, people who move to a major urban center are deprived of their family and community social supports.

Increasing access to online higher education will take some improvement to the online education infrastructure including improvements to rural broad band access. But this is being done for other public initiatives such as Telehealth where an increasing number of medical support services are being delivered by various online mechanisms.

Increased rural broadband would improve not only access to higher education but would also support rural economic activity generally. As the world moves into the much touted information economy age more people are earning their living online. Potentially, this is just as possible from your desk in rural Manitoba as it is from anywhere.

Not even mentioning online learning in this report indicates a very specific agenda has been chosen, one that supports the status quo industrial education system that exists in Manitoba.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Online learning prevents on-campus assaults

Everyday you hear about some horror being perpetuated on a university or college campus. Rape, murder, assaults of all types, people intimidated and scared spit-less to make that long trip across the quad to the your next night class. It is a natural pressure point for every psychotic kook with a weapon. Herding that many of societies finest into one place makes a fantastic hunting ground for human predators.

These guys get off on the extra weird sense of power they have over people, institutions and society. They get a big kick out of tweaking the absurd theatre that that passes for security. They also may realize that a crime committed in the specialized jurisdiction of a university campus is more likely to get swept under the carpet and finally ignored, often with the victims being blamed in a hundred disingenuous ways.

Campus administrators have gone to extraordinary lengths to deal with this issue. They have created policies, and then policies on their policies. They have supported research into violence against women and minorities on campus and generally blame society itself for poor socialization techniques. They studied the campus sports teams, hazing practices and implicit messages that get transmitted through fraternities and the myriad of anti-social institutions that are taken for granted on campus.They spend oodles of time and effort to promote the control of guns in society. They talk and talk and talk about sensitizing men to gender issues. One other tactic that some administrators have used to reduce the impression that campuses are risky places is to lie about the incidents of sexual assault.

All the while they carefully ignore the one technique that might actually work. Computer and Internet mediated online learning is proving to be a viable alternative to the old institutional model of higher ed. Internet applications have become cheaper, more sophisticated and better than the old way. You don't have to trudge across town, find a parking spot, find the lecture theatre, look for a chair furthest away from the person coughing with her mouth wide open spewing every imaginable germ. All this for 50 minutes of some guy reading his powerpoint and passing out mountains of useless handouts. 60 minutes to get there, 50 minutes of lecture, 60 minutes home. The supposed collegiality of face to face learning is a carefully tended illusion. Some times you get to campus and the lecture theatre is full and you get to sit in overflow parking watching the lecture on CCTV. Could have had a V-8. At home.

Nope, to study online, you boot up your computer in the quiet of your home office after the kids have gone to bed. Look at the course outline and all the course materials on the wiki, watch the recorded video lectures of podcasts, pause it rewind it, fast-forward it, chat in an online IM system where your questions are considered and answered by faculty, TA and fellow students. That two hours you spend in transit for an on-campus course is spent much more comfortably in the company of spouse and family or even working on course assignments. When YOU feel you are done for the night you shut down the computer and carry on.

I've been looking for evidence that people have put this together. Online learning is hugely safer than on-campus learning. Why don't the local University Women's Centers promote online learning for this purpose and demand that more programs and courses be offered this way. There is enough baseline data that suggests that on-campus assault is a significant problem and that the large expenditures dedicated to the current methods for ameliorating the problem are money in the wind.

Maybe it's because everybody is still stuck in the factory model of learning.

I know that my research methodology for this post was pretty basic. Mostly a google search and the perusal of a number of University and College web sites.

The only two treatments of anything remotely related to this issue discussed Online learning for the empowerment of women and the use of online learning for Islamic women who observe purdah.

Moore, M. G., & Anderson, W. G. (2003). Handbook of Distance Education (1st ed.). Lawrence Erlbaum.

Olakulein, F., & Olugbenga, D. (2006). Distance education as a women empowerment strategy in Africa. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, 7(1). Retrieved March 27, 2009, from

I think one of the main reasons is that higher education is a huge industry in its present form. It has nothing to do with pedagogy, it has everything to do with the economics of status quo. It has become a bit of a sheltered workshop for faculty, administration and support staff. It is a huge economic engine for communities with everybody from the lawyer on the senate to the landlord renting suites taking a slice. It is a grand finishing school/marriage market/party venue for all the immature children of an entitled class. A good part of all this on the public dime.

Politicians, policy makers, administration are all carefully tuned to the hum of the of the industrial education machine. They refuse to fast track online learning because the main concern is bums in seats, FTEs, good union jobs and grateful voters. Looks like Women's Centers buy into the same taken-for-grantedness that real learning only happens in a face-to-face setting. They haven't figured out that an online student is still your student even though they don't regularly get the pleasure of smelling the sneakers in a huge impersonal lecture hall.

Feeling a horrible flu coming on. Going to bed satisfied that my computer friends and online classmates can't catch it from me.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Teachers have trouble learning

Article from the Chronicle of Higher Education

Bass, R., & Eynon, B. (2009). A plan to develop and spread better college teaching practices. The Wired Campus. Retrieved March 20, 2009,

Always baffles me to hear that we need to rely on the pedagogical skills of professional educators to steer us through the rapidly emerging world of web based resources for learning organized around communities of practice.

Then we are told that the same educators need more time, support, R and D, resources to learn how to teach using new modalities.

no tradition of connecting the edge to the center, no established practices that enable us to turn the individual breakthrough into something more than idiosyncratic

It is going to be tough if the community of professional educators has this much difficulty acquiring basic technological literacies.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Anyone...? Anyone...? Institutional Malpractice

Came across this video on Silvia Straka's excellent post on her blog.

All too realistic and the the only thing missing was an image of the yellowed notes the lecturer wrote the first semester he taught the class 10 years ago.

Oh… and maybe a few smudged up overhead sheets and the stack of unread hand-outs left behind on the lecture hall floor.

I know that there are lots of passionate, engaging lecturers and speakers of all sorts but they maybe in the minority. Any value in terms of content from this type of presentation could be easily delivered in a half a dozen different ways, video, podcast. At least that way students could review the material when they were ready to learn, or at least awake. They could pause for reflection, rewind to review, and use a social network to engage with the subject matter. And they wouldn't have to put up with the smell of the guy who came to class hung-over.

Everyday, thousands of people spend millions of dollars to drag themselves to a campus to participate in this sort of ritualized behavior. Just think of the carbon footprint.

To insist that students drag them selves into a lecture hall to sit for 50 minutes of this sort of mind numbing presentation is abusive and constitutes institutional malpractice.

Still in a lot of institutions this passes as the ideal of teaching and learning, predicated on the hegemonic assumption that the institution owns knowledge and can inject it into the minds of students. After a while there will be test or a quiz to test the student acquisition of knowledge, a dip-stick pushed into the mind of students to check the level. And then the assignment of a grade that permits the student to advance to the next stage of injection.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Gift Economies

Gift Economies have been around for a while.

Most often the gift is not monetary but reputation/karma enhancing. I read Cory Doctorow's Book Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom when it was syndicated on his website. You can download it for free at this link. A highly recommended read.

He described a society that used Whuffies to recognize a persons reputational status in a post-scarcity economy to encourage the production of useful and creative stuff.

Came across a great instance of a gift economy on Twitter today. Its called Twollar

So you want to recognize someone for the value that they have freely offered to your Twitter community you send them Twollars by creating an entry like "Give 10 Twollars to @ggatin for telling me about gift economies" Twollars picks up the code and registers exchanges in their system.

The idea is that corporations will provide sponsorship so that Twollars will be translated in to charitable giving for worthy projects like drilling water wells in 3rd world countries.

I love it. Anything to break out of the corporate mindset, that everything of worth can only be measured black ink in by the bottom right hand corner of a spreadsheet.

So here is the deal. I will send a Twollar to any Tweeter who comments on this post. Heck of a deal. I have no idea how much this will cost me, I guess I should figure out how to the check the stats on this blog. Entirely likely that I will get off pretty cheap. Still trying to figure out the rate of exchange between Twollars and Whuffies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Self-Styled Edublogger

Another great blog entry and good discussion from Terry Anderson.

A couple of references in the article and comments to "self-styled edubloggers" got me thinkin' harder than Queeks Draw .

From the article:
self styled EduBloggers or even that subset who consider themselves to be EduPunk

And Scott Leslie's comment:

what I find constantly amazing is when I come across another self-styled edublogger with whom I share absolutely NO points of connection.

I'm not sure if the term is being used in a pejorative sense and I don't want to poke anybody in the eye here but is there any kind of edublogger other than self-styled? Is there a certificate or license or graduate degree that would designate someone as being other than "self-styled"... Official edublogger or something like that? As the article goes on to point out the qualification to be an edublogger is pretty loose and informal.

There are people like Downes and Anderson who really do get me cogitating on a regular basis but even as I read them I try to remember my catechism of critical thinking.

I recognize that I also have a tendency to look for people who's views and attitudes are similar to mine but I also recognize that that tendency can be very self-limiting. If my network of practice just confirms what I already think I know for sure it's not much use to me.

There is an other issue for me about that Clarence Fisher alluded to in a recent entry on his blog Remote Access He was taking issue with the notion of "ed tech" and points out that the prefix "ed" or "edu" may be loosing its usefulness. Others took up the notion in the comments.

I write in a blog and often I write about topics of education and critical pedagogy as I try to learn more about those topics. The blog is more for my personal learning than a broadcast medium.

So I'm promising myself to start looking for and read material from people who have views and outlooks that may be dissimilar from mine. Started already!

Sharon Elin contributed a comment on Andersons blog post supporting the use of Twitter and microblogging.
I agree with her that it is a great new format and getting better all the time. I posted my first twitter post in Apr of 2006 but didn't really get into it until Jan 2008. Watching it evolve over the last year has been very interesting.

I'm still trying to work out my personal Twitter following policy but I find I look for a few things in a Twitter buddy.
When I look at a persons Twitter account first page I look for the frequency of posts and the recency. Somebody who hasn't posted for a month might not be appealing similarly someone who posts 100 times a day can be a pain. I look at the display page, I think it shows your last 20 Twits. I look for value, pictures, links, interesting comments.
I then look at profile. Is there a link to a blog that gives me some personal information? I find my preference is for those who are straight up, use their real name and are using a blog for personal development.

I block spammers, web entrepreneurs, new media gurus, porno sites, hookers, real estate agents and personal injury lawyers or anybody telling me how to make my fortune from Twitter.
Note to future self: look at this post in a while and see if this has changed.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Don't just say no

Just reading

Johnson, L., Levine, A., & Smith, R. (n.d.). The 2009 Horizon Report. Austin Texas: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved February 27, 2009, from

The latest Horizon Report. In the critical challenges section they mention:

There is a growing need for formal instruction in key new skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and technological literacy. The skills involved in writing and research have changed from those required even a few years ago. Students need to be technologically adept, to be able to collaborate with peers all over the world, to understand basic content and media design, and to understand the relationship be- tween apparent function and underlying code in the applications they use daily.

Just as important for faculty and admin to be technologically adept. Using Word docs and email attachments doesn’t quite do it.

Also in-house, institutional IT needs to get up to speed on many of the new ways of using web based tech for learning. New slogan: “Don’t just say no!”

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Edupunk and Colonization of Web 2.0

Great debate/discussion going on between Jim Groom and Gardner Campbell in a series of videos posted on YouTube called EDUPUNK Battle Royal. Jerry Bayne on behalf of Educause is the referee/moderator.

One of the issues is the corporatization of education by major learning management companies who have been very aggressive (piratical?) about claiming many Web 2.0 features that have been developed by innovators and DIY ers.

The punk movement may not be the best metaphor for the counter-culture ethos arising in the face of the coporatizing of education. However, it works for the time being. As was pointed out in the video, the punk movement actually turned out to be the biggest corporate sponsored scam of all. Still the idea of resistance is there and to those that object to the punk meme, I think a true punker would say f**k em if they can't take a metaphor.

A couple of great images raised in this video. The notion of the big LMS companies corporate agenda to take over education is colonization. Certainly fits. They are like the Company of Adventurers moving in to Canada at "the pleasure of their majesties" and squeezing the last bit of juice out of a whole continent and leaving a devastated indigenous population and a servant class of colonialists.

Also love Grooms image of a LMS being a "florescent lighted space for learning". Really captures the dismal blandly uniform experience that passes for online education in many instances.

My ICT for Teachers course was constructed and conducted entirely using Web 2.0 tools. The object of the course was to increase teacher literacy with web based tools so what better way to do it. I think the course may be regarded with great suspicion by the institution. They use Moodle which means at least that they don't get involved with the type of hostage taking that Blackboard or WEBCT imposes on institutions. Still the institution is more interested in saving money and control than empowering learners with the possibilities of web based learning tools.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Personal Learning Networks, aka Skunk works

Picked up this great notion from a new Twitter connection Jim NacLennan. He described the steps necessary to make a skunkworks project a success. A wiki project being like a skunk works project. Old reference to a Lockheed Martin work strategy for secret projects undertaken with ad hoc resources.

Thought that went together well with the idea of personal learning networks. People put things together using whatever is at hand, whatever works.

It also brings together the notion of bricolage.

"Levi-Strauss used the idea of bricolage to contrast the analytic methodology of Western science with what he called a "science of the concrete" in primitive societies.11 The bricoleur scientist does not move abstractly and hierarchically from axiom to theorem to corollary. Bricoleurs construct theories by arranging and rearranging, by negotiating and renegotiating with a set of well-known materials." (Turkle and Papert, 1992)

I consider myself a bricoleur, putting things together out of bits and pieces using unconventional means. This certainly fits as part of the pedagogy of propinquity and also reflects a useful mindset for making sense out of the vast amount of resources on the Internet.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gotta be true, I read it in the paper the other day

Responded to a post on elearnspace

It would be nice to believe that we could be better informed if I has some guidance from the experts in the news media. The people who are trained to be skeptical about the facts, present an objective view and have a system of editorial oversight to ensure that we "just get the facts, ma'am."

However it is more and more apparent that the corporatist news media has made a science out of deceiving their viewer.

This recent article brings the argument together quite well. Although there is no shortage of evidence to suggest that academics and the editors of peer-reviewed journals might be just as likely to manipulate "findings" to support an agenda.

Stocking, S. H., & Holstein, L. (2009). Manufacturing doubt: Journalists' roles and the construction of ignorance in a scientific controversy. Public Understanding of Science, 18(1), 23-42. doi: 10.1177/0963662507079373.

Quote from the article"

Most research in mass communication has instead found journalism to be profoundly conservative in support of existing power structures and the status quo (Shah, 1994; Hallin, 1986; Gitlin, 1980; Gans, 1980).

In the article (p.23) there is also a nice concept map of Smithson's Taxonomy of Ignorance.
Michael Smithson,1989,Ignorance and uncertainty:Emerging paradigms., New York: Springer-Verlag.

Cf. earlier blog post on Agnotology and a companion mindmap.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

An article that may be a victim of its own conclusions

This article stimulated a little discussion today. Is Technology Producing A Decline In Critical Thinking And Analysis?

Clay Burell took the time to address most of the issues in the article, debunk most of it.

I had to chuckle a bit at the authority they were breathlessly quoting, Patricia
Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor psychology... and the assertion that ".... Greenfield has been using films in her class since the 70's." You can almost see the 16 mm projector, the yellowed notes and the cracked overhead transparencies.

I was reminded of the excellent book by Steven Johnson, "Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter".

This is an excerpt from this interesting and popular book about the changes our culture is experiencing as a result of the emergence of ICT. This story challenges the assumption that reading text is the best way to learn. The premise is that video games were popularized before books and now books are being introduced to support learning. This is how the teachers, parents and cultural authorities might react.

"Reading books chronically under-stimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of game-playing- which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sounds-capes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements-books are simply a barren string of words on the page. Only a small portion of the brain devoted to processing written language is activated during reading, while games engage the full range of the sensory and motor cortices.

Books are also tragically isolating. While games for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. These new "libraries" that have arisen in recent years to facilitate reading activities are a frightening sight: dozens of young children, normally so vivacious and socially interactive, sitting alone in cubicles reading silently, oblivious to their peers.

Many children enjoy reading books, of course, and no doubt some of the flights of fancy conveyed by reading have their escapist merits. But for a sizable percentage of the population, books are downright discriminatory. The reading craze of recent years cruelly taunts the 10 million Americans who suffer from dyslexia-a condition that didn't even exist until printed text came along to stigmatize its sufferers.

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can't control the narratives in any fashion- you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. For those raised on interactive narratives, this property may seem astonishing. Why would anyone want to embark on an adventure utterly choreographed by another person? But today's generation embarks on such adventures millions of times a day. This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they are powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active participatory process; it's a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to "follow the plot" instead of learning to lead."
Johnson, S. (2006). Everything Bad is Good for You: How Today's Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter. The Berkley Publishing Group., pp19-20

Some very interesting points that may provoke us to review the overwhelming dependence of the education system on printed text.

I suspect once again the book publishing and print media dinosaurs are feeling the heat and have a fear mongering campaign going to freak out all the moms and pops who don't understand the new era of technology enhanced living that their kids live and breathe.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Alternative Scholarly Publication models

Stephen Downes posted link to this major study.

Houghton, J., Rasmunssen, B., Sheehan, P., Oppenheim, C., Morris, A., Creaser, C., et al. (2009). Economic implications of alternative scholarly publication models: Exploring the costs and benefits (p. 286). JISC Report, Victoria, AU and : Victoria University and Loughborough University. Retrieved January 27, 2009, from

I've been reading with interest. The three models they discuss are traditional print, proprietary electronic formats, and open access self archiving repositories.

The conclusions of the authors is that there would be significant efficiencies using the open access self-archiving repositories. On the order of 1/2 - 1/3 of the cost. These savings could be directed towards greater research and discovery as opposed to sustaining and enriching a publishing industry that is more interested in making a buck that advancing knowledge. They speculate that the savings would be immediate and would be more than adequate to cover transitions costs even if the publishing industry was resistant and there were costs to figure out a work around in the short and medium term. The publishing industry will no doubt engage in more rent seeking behavior to maintain hegemony over academic publishing. One of the appeals will more than likely be to a claim to greater quality of traditional peer-review process. This argument is not justified give the evidence that it is just as easy to fiddle the peer-review process.

What I am looking for in the report is evidence that the analysts considered the enormous potential of the semantic web in their calculation of the benefits of open access, self archiving publications. If open access self archiving academic publications can incorporate semantic features even greater efficiencies will be realized. One of the major costs of traditional academic publication is the cost of finding researching and accessing source materials. As one who has spent hours navigating the complexities of various proprietary online data bases, setting up specialized document readers and generally jumping through arbitrary hoops to get access to documents and journal article, open access is a relief. The time that a researcher spends on research is much more productively spent reading reflecting rather than cursing the locked paygate or arcane registration process.

Also very persuasive are the arguments of the author who suggest that establish and emerging scholars, especially those from poor countries and third world economies. If big pharma won't develop the drugs necessary to combat third world diseases because they don't have a big enough payday, the world should make it possible for other scientists and researchers to use resources to solve some of their own problems. Never know when some resistant strain of a third world disease finds its way into our cornflakes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What part of education can be reclaimed from institutions

Excellent article in Educause Review by David Staley on the development of new forms of education that take on the task that Universities have traditionally performed in an industrial education setting.

"Why do universities exist? What function do they fulfill that cannot be fulfilled by some other organization or mechanism? Asking this question allows us to explore the larger implications raised by wikinomics: Will a new form of organization emerge that will perform the same or similar tasks as the university? Will a new form of organization emerge that will fulfill certain functions not currently being performed by universities? Will a new form of organization emerge that will be better and more efficient at providing the services traditionally offered by the university?"

Better question might be, What parts of the natural social function of teaching, learning and knowledge production have universities performed because we didn't have a better way to do it at the time? Now that we have mechanisms that make communication and dissemination of knowledge simple, easy and cheap, what functions can society reclaim from universities? How much of what universities stake claim to is necessary or rent-seeking?

Interesting analogy put forward in the article about MMRPG's.

“There is the theme-park approach and the sandbox approach. . . . Most games are like Disneyland . . . which is a carefully constructed experience where you stand in line to be entertained. We focus on the sandbox approach where people can decide what they want to do in that particular sandbox, and we very much emphasize and support that kind of emergent behavior.”

Article asks the question are universities, theme parks or sandboxes. I agree with the tone of the argument that they should be more like sandboxes. Second Life is a MMRPG that allows for user-generated content from the get go. You learn how to use the tools then you use them to create content. When the tools don't do what you want you learn how to make new tools. It has to be the same for higher ed.

Love this description of a wikiversity.

The wiki-ized university

* is a “platform,”
* is permeable (no formal admissions process),
* consists of voluntary and self-organizing associations of teachers and students,
* consists of a self-organizing and intellectually fluid curriculum,
* does not offer tenure to professors (professors’ longevity is determined by the community),
* is governed by protocols based on community values and mores rather than on administrative rules and fiats,
* does not grant diplomas or certificates, (reputation not certificate)
* encourages play (and even failure),
* is governed by “intellectual barter” and makes all knowledge created therein free to anyone,
* is managed by administrators who “bubble up” from among the members of the community,
* is managed by administrators who maintain the platform as “choice architects” and lead via cultivation and care, not command and control, and
* has a fluid temporal structure: there are no “semesters”; teaching and learning are ongoing activities.

How people will be rewarded for activity in this environment. They figure it might happen for love but this type of enterprise would take a lot of involvement and people gotta eat. Don't want to leave it to the dilettante elites who are basically in charge of the current systems and are labouring hard to protect their status quo through rent-seeking behavior.

It will be interesting to see how this rolls.
Staley, D. (2009). Managing the platform: Higher education and the logic of wikinomics. Educause Review, 44(1), 36-47. Retrieved January 16, 2009, from

Monday, January 12, 2009

Rent Seeking Behavior

Been reading a few things relating to this concept. Rent here is understood not as referring earnings from a lease arrangement but as in the Adam Smith economic theory where economic activity yielded income in the form of profit, wages or rents. Rents were profits that accrued as a result of economic or political manipulations that resulted in monopoly advantage but do not add productivity. Rent seeking behavior So lobbyists who use political clout to have a wildlife refuge opened up for oil exploration might be seen as engaging in rent seeking behavior.

A little bit of this is okay but if it is pervasive enough society looses out. A recent book (Boldrin and Levine, 2008) has a different take on issues of copyright and intellectual property and debunks the notion that society needs IP rights because otherwise innovation and creativity are stifled. They describe the historical scenario from the introduction of the steam engine where James Watt had the patent on the essential component. He didn't develop the technology at a very quick pace and spent more time fighting legal battles against those who had taken the steam engine idea and were trying to refine and develop it. The consequence was that it wasn't until his patents ran out that steam technology became a universal social good.

Rent seeking behavior persists in higher ed. A recent NYTimes article described new practices at MIT where the traditional lecture format of the industrial ed model is being replaced with interactive web-based practices. They report increased attendance and reduced failure rate. The new system tracks and assigns grades based on attendance so it if there is any value in the f2f educational encounter you would expect there to be a relationship between attendance and outcomes. It still is predicated on bums in seats mentality. Interesting comment in the article "Younger professors tend to be more enthusiastic about TEAL than veterans who have been perfecting their lectures for decades." I can visualize the yellowed notes and disintegrating, masking-tape-patched, overhead transparencies.

Educational institutions or teacher associations that resist more efficient and economical practices in education by lobbying for legislation or regulation of elearning are rent seeking. I think technological foot-dragging may constitute rent-seeking behavior.

I live in part of the world where education is highly subsidized from the public purse but most higher ed only occurs in the major urban centers. Part of the reason/excuse offered is that f2f is superior so there is justification in forcing everyone to migrate away from rural areas. It is becoming apparent that f2f may not be that superior after all and that, in fact, technology mediated education has significant advantages. If this is the case it means that institutional practices that follow the industrial education model are educational malpractice.

It certainly constitutes a form of rent-seeking behavior. There have been initiatives to provide access to to rural and remote areas in this province but these have been severely limited in scope and functionality.

Private education can do it. The Hutterian Broadband Network distributes education through their own videoconferencing network. You can get a degree from Athabasca University studying in a technology mediated learning environment (long way to avoid saying "online"). The University of Phoenix is being accredited for many professional programs in Canada.

Essentially the publicly funded urban institutions subtly sabotage any effort that would result in fewer bums in seats. So rural centers loose their best and brightest and the urban centers get more congested. Classic hegemonic scenario and certainly a worthy topic for a little applied critical pedagogy.

Boldrin, M., & Levine, D. (2008). Against Intellectual Monopoly. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved January 12, 2009, from

Rimer, S. (2009, January 12). At M.I.T., Large Lectures Are Going the Way of the Blackboard . New York Times. Retrieved January 13, 2009, from

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Entrenching the Google=Stupid meme

Picked this up from a reTweet by Stony River. StonyRiver RT @mwesch "Is Stupid Making us Google?" James Bowman explores cultural (not just tech) trends impacting higher ed

Lots of people getting mileage out of the Google=stupid meme. Here is another but with some interesting applications of critical theory.

Bowman, J. (2008). Is Stupid Making Us Google? The New Atlantis, 21(Summer), 75-80. Retrieved January 4, 2009, from

This article is a review and discussion of Mark Bauerlein's his new book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future.

Talking about the changes to intelligence as a consequence of technology. The Flynn effect that suggests that scores on intelligence tests have been increasing and that the notion of reading has changed. Also that the nature of intelligence has changed. Well Duh! The measures of intelligence that are being used have long been suspect for their support of cultural dominance and hegemony.

There is a challenge to the idea of "great literature" although it looks like the author of this article sees critical analysis as an abdication of the "guardians of Culture" ie professors and academics.

Snip from the article ".....Most of his fellow professors have no interest in the “great” works of the Western tradition—indeed, they reject the very idea of “greatness”—except to “deconstruct” it, along with the works to which it has been attributed, showing how their unexamined political assumptions have tended to reinforce the patriarchal, imperialist, racist, and homophobic foundation on which traditional societies have been built. Only now, in the work of our most advanced theorists, have these assumptions finally been brought to light and exposed for what they are."

The article also criticizes the over-emphasis of the socialization function over learning (through developed reading skills) of the industrial education model.

Bowman references Johnson, S. (2006). Everything Bad is Good for You. New York : T. and supports the sentiment expressed in this quote.

....No one has ever taught them that books can be read for pleasure or enlightenment—or for any other purpose than to be exposed as the coded rationalization for the illegitimate powers of the ruling classes that they really are. Why would you willingly read a single line of literature if that is all you supposed it to consist of?

Over all this article is furthering the Google=Stupid meme and may be trying to prop up some hegemonic values of old media and the control structures of knowledge production and dissemination.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Household chores in the Noosphere

Dishes and laundry must be done, toilets cleaned, garbage taken out. It is what it takes to make a contribution in a household. Same thing in communities, somebody has to let their name stand for president of the committee, has to do the fund raising and the phone out.

The world of information is the same. There are mundane chores to do.

Web 2.0 is a two way deal. It is not enough for me to go to the web for info but I have to be willing to think, reflect and respond in kind so that the energy keeps moving.

Doesn't have to be much, a social bookmark in Delicious, a Tweet on Twitter, an email note to a friend who may be interested, or a blog entry. Make a contribution how ever small and pass it on.

I think it is also pretty important that this work not be left to the academics and public intellectuals although their contribution is valuable. Regular folks have a voice and ideally ideas will be judged on merit rather than an arbitrary authority or a credential. It is likely that academics will be skilled at critical thinking, analysis and reflective argument but this should not be a limitation for non-academics. We all need to pull our weight in the noosphere to the best of our ability.