Sunday, November 15, 2009
I was asked the other day about what kind of support I thought we need at a community college for "distance learning." I had just been browsing some journals and business magazines, as well as reading over the previous few weeks about "emerging technologies," and my initial response to the question was a "let's think outside the LMS-box" suggestion. In our general college system, "Distance Learning" tends to be framed in the box of "Vista" and its various connections to Banner, Luminous, Respondus and so forth. And while these are important tools, those of us who need to be aware of and responsive to the change that is so much a part of learning-technologies (and technologies in general) today need to pay attention to what is outside the LMS-box.
First let me back up and offer an insight from sociology about "institutionalization" of innovations. As the long-time understanding goes (I believe it can be found best in the work of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman, The Social Construction of Reality), society itself tends to be conservative in that it tends to "reproduce itself" from one generation to another. We are, as infants, social-ized into the worldviews, understandings, values, beliefs etc. of our given social group. For much of humanity this has been a process that has corresponded with stages of an individual's life, so that in the course of a lifetime a person grew within a value system, worldview etc., then passed it on to the next generation. Change, in the process, has been slow, as society tends to frame things in terms of what already exists--the meaning systems, beliefs, words, ideas, and habits we already have in place.
Change is often, if not generally, felt as disruptive; when it is accepted--however much it might be resisted at first, it then becomes a part of the landscape almost as if it had always been there. It becomes "institutionalized," and then it is passed on to the next generation as "reality." But today through so many factors, we no longer pass through life carrying just one set of values, beliefs, ideals, goals etc. "Change of careers" might be one of the easiest of such things to point to as a commonly recognized area of regular upheaval in our lives--few of us today will have the comfort or security experienced in just the past generation, of going through life with one career to take us through our lifecourse.
And then there is technology! The rapid change of technology is now a given in our landscape, and as such it is a force that has such profound effects throughout the rest of our social experience. Few of us in fact might be able to state clearly what such effects entail, but we know at least anecdotally that our jobs, our careers, our learning processes, our political power, our very consciousness, are all affected in many ways.
One problem in this is that we are, as humans, "creatures of habit." We want stability and predictability. We can be easily disoriented and upset by things that represent change in our daily lives. In the social groups to which we belong, we still tend to act "conservatively." That is, we still tend to protect and promote what is; change still takes place slowly. We have layers of laws, principles, bylaws, organizational institutions, buildings, schedules, calendars, cycles of seasons, clubs, walls, boundaries, languages and so much more that tend to keep things safely as they are. In general, there is what sociology refers to as a "cultural lag" in the process, between the time that technological changes occur and the time they are accepted into the frameworks of mainstream society--before they are "institutionalized."
The perpetual challenge is that even as changes become institutionalized parts of mainstream society, technologies continue to change, and become further challenges to the "status quo." Just when society has begun to settle in to what once was "cutting edge," the edge has moved still further.
Don Tapscott in his work on what he calls the "N- Generation," puts this in terms of a comparison of generational approaches to new technologies. Members of this "generation" approach technology as part of their landscape and regularly learn to "assimilate" it into their social and personal worlds; adults tend to "accommodate" to it. The N-geners among us absorb the technology, play with it, piece it together with other technologies, share it, use it up; "adults" tend to use it in reference to what they already know. For the former, change is part of the "game" (literally and figuratively); for the latter, change is absorbed gingerly as we try to understand the new and unfamiliar in terms of the established and the already-institutionalized.
The implications of this contrast, and the change with which we are dealing, are profound. These are implications for those in our adult worlds who hold formal, institutional roles of "leadership." This is something that people in business have been acknowledging for a number of recent years now, since it is at the heart of their very survival. Change in the world around us is happening too quickly today for us to be able to rely on the standard processes of conserving and passing on our existing institutions as they currently exist. Even more recently institutionalized changes run the very same risk of handicapping us in our very abilities to continue to face the changing needs of our communities. The "innovations" we start to settle into become the comfort zones against which we then ward off the ravages of further change.
One "blogger" has referenced this recently in a series of quotes from Tapscott, Peter Senge, and others:
- · "Success in the old paradigm becomes inertia in the new one" - a great quote when considering why current leadership practices may not be preparing us for the future!
- · "Vested interests fight against change" - quotes the example of the music industry facing the issue of music downloads through social networks. Tapscott challenges them to think of music as a service rather than a product.
- · Quote from Peter Senge - The person at the top can't learn for the organisation anymore" - a characteristic of Wikinomics will be the "Learning Organisation" proposed by Senge some years ago now
- · "Leaders of old paradigms have great difficulty coping with the new" - noting that the old fashioned "iconic" models that typify the "broadcast" approach to leadership are being replaced by those who are truly networked and participatory.
The implications in all of this for "leadership" in our colleges, to support and encourage us in what we do, are profound. While we support and invest in key tools (like WebCT Vista) we need vision and leadership that goes well beyond this if we are to continue to prepare ourselves and our students to face the changing social world of work and politics of the current era. We can't afford to be "leaders" who lead in the lag. It is a pace that may have served even just the past few decades, but even then it was beginning to show itself (in the business world, if not elsewhere) as a pace of leadership that was holding back institutions that needed to be "flexible" and responsive to those they serve.
What a pace this calls for! Even as we work through the processes and channels of our current institutions-- the infrastructures of our physical communications networks, the legislative and institutional processes of budgeting and appropriations, the approval processes of programs and offerings, the building and implementation of training and support for professional development, and more, we need to be able to embrace change in a timely ("just in time") way, to be effective in leading, in whatever roles we play in our institutions.
It calls for leadership that has new characteristics. The nagging suggestion is that it is leadership that itself may look different, and may call for skills that are quite different from what we have seen before. One implication is that we can't fully measure the leadership we now need from the standards of leadership that have "worked" in the past. An unnerving suggestion?
I would suggest instead that it is an exciting place to be. In his work on "change," the National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones, frames this in terms of "learning to see possibilities." We can face change with anxiety, fear or frustration, or we can see it in terms of emerging new possibilities. When we cultivate the habits of "Celebrating What is Right With the World," and looking at emerging possibilities, we certainly risk having to move from our comfort zones, but imagine where it will take us! (We NEED to imagine where it will take us... and step in that direction...)
"Support for distance learning at our colleges?" It is so much more than support for a single "learning management system"... or one familiar network... or one familiar_____________. Imagine the possibilities!
Further Interesting References:
Saturday, November 14, 2009
At QVCC we have been cultivating learning-assessment as an institutionally supported, faculty defined practice that
1)defines the outcomes and standards of learning
2)makes explicit where these are meant to appear throughout the curriculum
3)uses these to assess actual student learning as it is demonstrated and achieved
4)gathers the resulting assessed evidence
5)uses that evidence to improve teaching, learning at all levels of practice.
In the process, we are clearly engaged in a multi-faceted, multi-leveled process of culture change that is no easy, quick matter of adopting a new technique or a new research approach.
Friday, October 23, 2009
P. 471 John C. Smart and William G. Tierney, Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. See source in context
Saturday, October 17, 2009
- and practices
By now in 2009 it is pretty much cliché to mention the dramatic changes within which higher education faces its 21st century challenges and opportunities. As presented in the frequently viewed YouTube video Did You Know?, the challenges of global and technological 'shift' are solidly with us and have us questioning what we do, right to the core of our colleges and universities. (Shift Happens)
Another shift that has likewise made its way into our institutions was spoken about over a decade ago by educators Robert Barr and John Tagg in their often cited article, From Teaching to Learning, a New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education. This dramatic change has been driven, among other things, by waves of new insight about how people learn, and how they learn in quite diverse ways; this in turn has caused teachers to reexamine their understanding of effective environments and processes in which our students can pursue their own learning goals.
We struggle in the process to break from potentially constraining models of "traditional" teaching--but we are aware that much has been institutionalized even into the very physical structures of our colleges and classrooms that continues both to support as well as to constrain our practices and imaginations. As we try to implement new practices of collaborative, experiential and "whole-brain" learning, we struggle to do so within the chalkboard-oriented, ordered-chair environments of our brick and mortar classrooms; the teaching and learning practices we are drawn to seem to call us out from such constraining structures, as the Herman Millers offer us visions of readily shift-able, collaborative meeting spaces. The introduction of "virtual learning spaces" adds to our growing sense that teaching and learning needs to become more fluid and flexible, both inside and out of any standard classroom environment. (See John Tagg's 2008 article: Changing Minds in Higher Education: Students Change, Why Can't We?) See pdf version here.
Whether fully online or technically on-ground, our college environments of teaching and learning rely increasingly on the information technology infrastructure--the hardware and software environments--we have come to build with our brick and mortar-shaped imaginations. Like the early adopters of cinematic film whose first productions were like traditionally lit and performed stage plays in front of a camera, we struggle to break out of the previously shaped habits, to adopt new technologies of teaching and learning in fundamentally new ways.
New technologies are not just new ways to deliver old materials, or new opportunities to clone past practices into a virtual environment. Instead they are both drivers and opportunities to reshape education toward what are increasingly recognized as "21st Century Skills." We realize in the process that as we stress these skills to our students, we ourselves are challenged, personally and institutionally, to embody the change we are talking about (to "be the change we wish to see").
This shifting world of the 21st century, which Thomas Friedman suggests is flattening and Kurtzweil suggests is facing accelerating technological change, is demanding of us the ability as institutions of education to learn what struggling business institutions have grappled with for more than two decades: if we do not find fundamentally new ways to imagine and support what we do, we will find ourselves increasingly obsolete in our basic mission. Business management experience that precedes us--through now countless case studies of successes, relative successes, and failures--should help to inform us so that we do not simply repeat their history of experiments as if we were pioneering something new.
From teaching to learning (from "content delivery" to multiple environments and experiences in which faculty facilitate learning)
Technology is rapidly changing
Students (and communities) have a variety of abilities and needs when they come to us; some are out ahead of us, some are where we are at, and some are behind
Faculty and staff have a variety of abilities and needs;
(Proposal of) Principles in the Connecticut Community College System Shaping IT Governance and Management:
- Our core mission is learner centered (with each tool, each decision, each policy, we should have to ask ourselves, how do our decisions affect learners?)
- We are teaching and learning centered-- both philosophically, and practically
- Both in what we provide academically in our courses and programs
- And in our community role of outreach and business development
- We are a twelve-college confederation of learning organizations
- We are each a learning institution
- We are learners in our institutions
- We operate on a principle of subsidiarity (responsibility is defined at the lowest level of the organization/system most closely affected by decisions)
- Providing 'enterprise' tools and resources where practical and mission-focused
- We understand technology as a matter of changing tools:
- tools that serve us,
- rather than us serving them
- We need to foster and encourage practices that enable us to keep up with change
- supporting innovation and experimentation
- while supporting ongoing use of shared resources
- Students (and communities) have a variety of abilities and needs when they come to us; some are out ahead of us, some are where we are at, and some are behind
- we cannot afford as professionals and/or as institutions to lag, or to just "keep up"
- Faculty and staff have a variety of abilities and needs; we need to support innovation as well as basic professional development in the same 21st century skills we expect in our students
- we cannot afford as professionals (as learners ourselves) to lag, or to just "keep up"
- To exercise and develop the imaginations we need to engage the change around us, we need to realize that individual tools--business management systems, course management systems, portals, etc.--are important resources, but should each be understood as tools in service to our mission not definers of our practices and services
- LMS's are potentially useful learning environments, but they are one set of tools among many that can serve our mission of online and distance learning
- Student information management systems serve us well when they serve us well. When we begin to hear "you can't do that in ________" we should be open to the question "why not?
Resources: See this Twitter Widget, which displays results from a search on #actechgov Managing Institutional Change
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Changing the Way we Think, With Data
One of the current developments in Web 2.0 is the use of some behind the scenes applications (kind of like dynamic Legos®) that can link together other applications and make them even more useful together. (These behind the scenes modules are called API's) Maybe to oversimplify this a bit, this is the whole idea behind "mashups" -where for example one application, like Google Maps, is linked to another application, like a database somewhere of crime statistics. The result is a Google map showing those statistics in a dynamic way, changing as the statistics change.
The exciting thing about this kind of development is that the map application and the database don't have to be from the same source (not from the same server, organization etc.) The final result draws from very different places across the expanse of the internet, and the API's (those dynamic linking applications behind the scenes) do all the fun work without the end-user even noticing it!
|## So why the title of "data visualization"?|
+++ I first started to write this as an email to share the following link that has to do with an interesting website; the site shows job statistics across the US, in a dynamic and visual way. It might be useful to help think about such statistics in new ways, and/or for people who are more "visually oriented" with such things. It is just one of many new examples where such creative and interesting resources are being developed to present the vast stores of data now available across the internet.
If you are on the web at all, you probably use such mashups all the time without even realizing it! Amazon, Google, Google maps, Wikipedia and more now rely on mashups and their behind the scenes Application Programming Interfaces. They are part of the ongoing development of what makes the internet both more "user friendly" (at times!) and more dynamic.
1) An amazing talk on data visualization of global poverty and development.
2) Wikipedia entry on Mashupshttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashup_(web_application_hybrid)
3) A project on "news on your block" from the guy who first mashed Chicago crime data with neighborhood maps
4) A visualization of timeline information around the assassination of JFK. This example illustrates a project that provides the actual code that someone can use for similar presentations of timeline data.http://www.simile-widgets.org/timeline/
5) A page that supports and demonstrates other such "mashups" that can be customized by any user---it is all "open source"
I hope you find this note useful in some way. If you do, let me know!
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I recall a conversation at that time between two of my professors-- one with a deep English (writing and literature) background, and one with an incredible background in the study of religious scriptures (Jewish and Christian, in Greek and Hebrew). Both were sympathetic to the political struggles about which they spoke, but the former was disturbed that such people were not taking full advantage of the power of written communication. He insisted for a time that they needed "literacy" (heavy emphasis on the written word). In his very self-effacing way, the latter scholar--author of many books himself--suggested that in fact such people in their struggles were actually leapfrogging (my term not his) over textual communication, and were becoming quite literate in their own way through visual and audio communication. It was a fascinating dialogue between these two wonderful scholars--and quite formative for the young (politically conscious) grad students who surrounded them.
Fast-forward to this year (with many rich examples skipped in between!) We have seen Twitter become a political tool in the US elections (along with Facebook, blogs, MySpace and more); it has also been used as a way to communicate from behind otherwise restrictive boundaries in more than one country facing political unrest. Numerous instances of YouTube videos have surfaced that have turned things like police-brutality into situations of justice for the aggrieved. Refugees have been armed with inexpensive video cameras to document and communicate the nature of their treatment by the powerful who surround them.
Meanwhile, I can't walk into a library any more, pull out a file drawer, and hunt for book titles on index cards carefully indexed by skilled librarians. I was a bit mournful the day I saw the last hard-copies of key reference sources disappear from the library shelves, to be replaced by online databases (that only go back to the early 1980s). Yet, I can turn on an appliance the size of a deck of cards, and access more information in an instant than most people in the world ever had available to them in their entire lifetimes!
In all of this, I guess my main realization is that this depth and range of technologies (and learning how to use it creatively) is as much for the "people who will take out the trash" (a phrase used by a colleague) as it is for anyone else. The student who simply wants one to give them the answers so they can study is as much an opportunity for us to examine deeply what has been done to them--and what more can be done to ignite their own abilities to really learn--as they are maybe a disappointment at times. Above all, though, they challenge us to be better at our profession of teaching.
There is a video by Dewitt Jones called "Celebrate What's Right With the World" in which he uses his lifetime experience as a photographer to talk about the importance of being in tune with the moments of possibility--being open to "challenges" as times of opportunity. It continues his other theme of "everyday creativity," which further explores the value of learning to see the extraordinary in the "ordinary" of everyday life (including in the "ordinary" people around us).
Ultimately. as Les Lewchuk and Ruth Stiehl like to say in their series on teaching and learning: "It's not about the technology, but about the conversations." (2005) The technology is just a set of tools, but these won't "do" anything for us automatically, apart from the relationships we build as teachers and learners. Certainly, we can't fetishize the technology (any more than we should fetishize, say, currency) but we still have the challenge (opportunity) to use it--and use it effectively.
In the work of Paulo Freire, in fact, we are reminded how another ubiquitous technology--the written word--could be used either for oppression or liberation, depending on how it is learned in relationships. Those without the basics of literacy all together are at the most disadvantage, as objects in society rather than as subjects. Freire spent his life developing a spirit and an approach to teaching and learning based on a liberating approach to literacy; in the process he offered the surprising perspective that not all 'literacy' is necessarily liberating! His own approach then was to cultivate "inter-subjectivity,"rather than the delivery of knowledge.
We're in an exciting time of global possibilities. It seems pretty certain too that even the most "educated" among us are challenged by the rapid change of the world around us---both at the local and the global level. It use to be that when it was mostly about delivery of information ("coverage" of a discipline) we were the expert deliverers in our classrooms as teachers. But now so much of learning is about ... well... learning (learning to learn, constantly)--and so much of learning is mediated through changing technologies that are at least as new to us as they are to our students. As a result, our disciplinary expertise is not so prominently on center stage anymore, as we attempt to continue to develop and support institutions in which students (and we) will learn to learn.
And such learning, demanding of our creativity and passion, is even for those in our society who may not have goals to climb up the ladder of power and prestige. It is, as Jones invites us to consider, the challenge to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, the challenge in these terms, of everyday creativity.
Brief highlights about Freire's work: http://www.newfoundations.com/GALLERY/Freire.html
Video sample from Dewitt Jones (Celebrate What's Right With the World)
Video sample from Dewitt Jones (Everyday Creativity)
Lewchuk, Les and Ruth Stiehl
2005 The Mapping Primer: Tools for Reconstructing the College Curriculum. Corvallis, Oregon: The Learning Organization.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Video is set to play at 5 min, 28 seconds where he notes an
important point about adults, children and learning:
Saturday, September 19, 2009
Meanwhile I do enjoy the classes I teach each semester-- I am tempted to say "my classes" out of habit, but I am very aware that with each class, we work together. I try my best to encourage environments where people own their own processes of learning, and we participate together.
But more than that, given the nature of what I bring to such classes-- disciplines about people, society, social issues, social change-- I am also aware of the challenge I face not to step in as "the expert" with "the truth" to impose on people for better or worse. In fact, when it comes to what I bring to the classroom, my students don't need to know my opinions about the issues and concerns that are the stuff of the anthropology and sociology I teach. In fact, knowing this sort of thing too soon in a class can short circuit the fundamental aims of just about any class, where instead my aim is to encourage and invite people to think critically and carefully for themselves.
This doesn't mean that I just want everyone in a class to become comfortable with their own opinions. As I often note in the course of a semester--the social sciences I teach are not just about opinionating; they are instead about learning to find and use the tools and resources that help to understand our world more clearly (if not more objectively). Some might call this the learning ability of "critical thinking."
I will not pretend to have no opinions about things, and in the right contexts I will be more than happy to share them. Not every context with colleagues or students calls for this suspension of sharing what I think. Certainly most exchanges call for openness to full dialogue (listening and sharing, with an openness to offering one's own and hearing others' beliefs, ideas and opinions). But the classroom--for the most part--is the place where it is most important and most apt to say, from a teaching perspective, "...no,no...it isn't important what I think. What do YOU think about this... and how do you come to this understanding...and have you considered X, Y, and Z... and have you read...." These are not prompts in order to prove that a participant is wrongheaded or misguided, but to bring the tools of the wider, deeper disciplines of understanding we as teachers have trained in, to students who may not have ever used them before.
Classrooms are not opportunities to subject impressionable and/or captive audiences to efforts of ideological indoctrination. Even when it comes to things that for many teachers seem like solid "truths"--the theory of evolution comes to mind from my own background--my role is not to convince people that these are somehow 'true,' but instead to help people understand what they mean in their own contexts---what evolution for example means in the context of scientific principles and understanding. Whether a person then believes such things or not is a whole other matter.
My role in teaching is more like the librarian than the political campaigner or the sports fan. I know a bunch of wonderful librarians, and I even know many of their political (and even sports) views; but when I am in the library, they challenge me to use the library--the whole library--critically and carefully, not just the sections that deal with the Red Sox, or a single political party, or a particular political stance. This is what I aim to do, as well, in the context of any classroom I enter.
Colleagues outside the classroom, with whom I eventually share my own personal views may not understand this divide and my commitment to it. Especially if our views differ dramatically (or even when they seem similar), they may believe that I carry my own personal agenda into the classroom. But most teachers I know share a common commitment to this approach to teaching; most work carefully to maintain a respect for their students' opinions and values even as we invite them to investigate and explore the thinking and learning tools we bring to the classroom from our respective professional disciplines.
In my own case, the disciplines I teach challenge me nearly every day to maintain such consideration; the "hot button issues" of the day inevitably surface in sociology; in Contemporary Social Issues we in fact have to deal with all those topics we've otherwise learned are not the stuff of polite family/dinner conversation; in anthropology the core topic of evolution provides the context for much of the discipline, and a recurring discussion about its implications for those who come from particular religious traditions. And I certainly have my own opinions about many of these things. But my opinions are not what I want students to focus on or explore. More precisely, I don't want students to simply focus on any opinions, except maybe to ask the more basic questions about where these come from, what are they based on, and what are the tools, practices and resources we can find that will help us to understand thing more critically, carefully and in their complexity.
Just as I need to develop such respect in my approach to teaching and learning in the classroom, I also need to demonstrate the same respect on another level, in my approach to colleagues in relation to students in classrooms where they teach. When I begin to see colleagues in light of things outside the classroom--outside of their direct professional role as teacher-- it is not my place to shape (or misshape) impressions with their students. "I wouldn't go in that library if I were you. Those librarians believe the world was created in seven days!" is just as out of place, professionally, as things like "Be careful with that instructor--he supported Ron Paul in the last election." "...she voted for George Bush..." "...he is against the war in Iraq..." "...she is for the war in Afghanistan..."
In our own respectful, collegial dialogues with those we have the privilege to know personally and professionally, part of this relationship is the challenge also to consider and respect the careful and important boundaries we may need to maintain at the same time. These are important professional boundaries with participants in the classes where we teach, with those we counsel as advisors, with those we serve as administrators, and with those we interact as the greeting faces of the institution. Just as the individual instructor (advisor, clerk, administrator etc.) is challenged to be careful not to impose her/his personal views on those she/he serves it is an equal challenge not to deliver these second or third hand to someone else's students (advisees, colleagues).
Over the years it has been apparent that teaching and learning have become cross-functional in many institutions and many have replaced so-called silos with relationships and responsibilities that cut across departments (academic and otherwise) disciplines. In this it is important to be open to the new possibilities of flatter organizational structures and shifting boundaries. At the same time, we need still to pay attention to aspects of professional boundaries that may continue to enable us to challenge each other in respectful dialogue while serving as teachers and counselors with those who come to us to learn.
Effective classrooms will be spaces where people feel safe to expose what they do or don't know and risk the challenge of exploring new ideas and understandings. They should be safe places where people feel free to engage their differing views, beliefs and abilities, and where what goes on in the class does not become the source of ridicule or judgment outside the classroom. This valuable safety of the learning environment needs to be respected both from within, in our teaching approaches, and from without in how we respect one another's boundaries in our collegial relationships.
It is a whole other branch of this discussion, but it is the quality and integrity of this kind of learning environment we aim for, that is likewise protected by such fundamental values as academic freedom and the privacy of anyone's routine access to information. These are not merely etiquette, or somehow prvileges that are given to us by some higher power, but instead are at the very heart of what we are about as intitutions of learning.
We learn in dialogue. We make ourselves vulnerable to one another as we share our differences, and we create environments together where this (ideally) becomes a source of growth. As I have often said in many a class, if we can't do this here in an institution of learning, where else in our world will this be allowed to take place?