Friday, October 23, 2009

“All colleges and universities must respond to the demands of the larger world in which we live, while at the same time, contend with a changing internal environment constrained by resource scarcity. The key is in understanding how best to respond, while maintaining the institutional diversity that characterizes today’s colleges and universities.”
P. 471 John C. Smart and William G. Tierney, Higher Education: Handbook of Theory and Research. See source in context

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Institutional Governance: Technology for Teaching and Learning

Institutional information technology needs clear
  • principles,
  • leadership,
  • management,
  • and practices
that reflect the changing needs and opportunities of the 21st century. A careful examination of the current environment in educational institutions can not adequately address any one of these needs without doing so in relation to the others. Unexamined assumptions, habits and practices in any one of these areas will only lead us to strain (maybe fruitlessly) to address the key shifts in the wider world that should in fact be informing what we do as institutions of higher education.

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?
These principles depend on effective leadership at all levels of the Community College System. Further they depend on practices of management and implementation that do not too easily sacrifice them in place of the challenging deliberations they often call for. Innovation, and addressing the challenge of "shift" that face our colleges, will not be served simply by doing things the way we have always done them; nor will they (or our students) be served by simply tweaking what is already in place. Like the chalkboard-oriented, ordered-chair environments of our brick and mortar classrooms, the familiar environments of our current IT management are more radically ("to the root") challenged than this by the dramatically shifting needs and possibilities of the communities in which we exist.

Resources: See this Twitter Widget, which displays results from a search on #actechgov
Managing Institutional Change

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Data Visualization: Changing the Way we Think, With Data

Data Visualization:

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.

Google crime map example

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!

Here's another place to explore Google map mashups

## 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 Mashups

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.

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

Learning, for Whom?

Back in the late 1970's, the technology of video cameras was making its way into "third world" countries--but not simply as a typical consumer product: people in otherwise isolated areas were using video as a way to begin communicating across distances, as they struggled to find their broader political footing against military death squads and oppressive regimes.

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:

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

Sir Ken Robinson: TED Talk on Education and Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson's TED Talk on Education and Creativity

Video is set to play at 5 min, 28 seconds where he notes an

important point about adults, children and learning: