Monday, March 15, 2010

From Crowds to Crowdsourcing

A number of relatively small experiences and originally unconnected questions lately have started to come together in ways that don't necessarily surprise me, but that energize me once again with the promise of new and potentially clarifying development. Randomly listed, these experiences and questions include:
  • observations about emerging expectations and dynamics among online students
  • the rise of enthusiasm in higher education for 'e-portfolios'
  • institutional discussions about how to establish and maintain effective data integration/management systems
  • conversation with educational professionals about effective assessment of student learning
  • a lingering emphasis on "collaborative learning"
  • turning static pictures of a whiteboard full of notes into a hot-spot filled tableau of hyperlinks out to the world
  • an ongoing discussion with some colleagues about the need to have more creative ways to represent "data"
There are even more of these points when I think about it, but the "dots" seem to be connecting more readily now with even just this small selection.
First to address the individual items very briefly, I would suggest the following:
  • More frequent conversations with teaching colleagues seem to indicate a growing experience, that more students--both online and on-ground--are settling in to educational technologies with expectations of their relatively narrow range of use, and low-demand of effort with high return on results. The challenge and innovation of technology is giving way to its mundane, supposedly routine implementation.
  • ePortfolios are becoming all the rage among educators who are looking for ways to stave off the dehumanizing effects of rigid, imposed "learning outcomes assessment." It appears though that this embrace is based on a faulty dichotomy, between good and evil: teaching/learning=good; assessment=evil. Teaching/learning is personal; assessment is institutional. Teaching/learning is authentic; assessment is alienating. Teaching/learning is qualitatively rich; assessment is quantitatively reductive. As it embraces this faulty dualism, the eportfolio 'movement' gets on the dingy but misses the boat.
  • Data centers tend, like most social institutions, to conserve what they have, for stability and continuity. While this worked, maybe, for the 20th century, the pace of change in today's information-driven world calls for the management and integration of data support that can respond quickly to change, in a largely decentralized manner. It is easy to say to students "shift happens... you've got to be ready to change quickly because of the flat world," "yesterday's solutions will be tomorrow's barriers,"; it is not so easy to say such things to institutions and their component structures such as data centers...and this is not a personal criticism of any specific center, but instead a reflection on how institutions operate.
  • On the question of change, it is also a challenge to talk with teaching colleagues about effective assessment of student learning. I have been in communication for over a decade with professionals across the US on this question, and it is apparent that there remains a strong bias among those who teach in higher education; this bias tends to perceive "assessment" as "counting" and "measuring," both of which are then seen as detrimental to "true teaching." This understanding is a kind of hangover (I use the term deliberately) from the late 20th century; if educators can recover from the hangover they might discover a much more fulfilling understanding of the whole concept waiting for them to catch up, in the 21st century.
From Crowd, to Crowdsource
I remember the experience in my early days of undergrad studies, learning about the sociological understanding of "the crowd" and all its negative meaning for individuals in society. It was a word that was meant to highlight something of the dehumanizing nature of modern society, and to challenge individuals to embrace insight, enlightenment and critical awareness of the world. Book titles like "Man Against Mass Society," "The Lonely Crowd," and even Lebon's "The Crowd," were staples in the discussions of modern social problems and political challenges.
Today, without too much attention to this earlier negative connotation, "crowdsourcing" has been emerging not as a judgment--or even a point of analysis--of society, but as a name for the generative potential of dispersed groups of people connected through diverse communication technologies. Such groups seem suddenly to become possible, on a global scale, representing quite exciting possibilities for collaborative potential in everything from information creation and sharing (Yelp, Wikipedia), to businesses (Crowdspring, Mechanical Turk, Nine Sigma), to politics, to disaster relief, and more. At the heart of this is a key model, of dispersed individuals with common interests and/or tasks, using various resources of hardware and software to contribute to those tasks. Countless reviews of restaurants are sent by cell phone and/or computer into Yelp, to create a massive database for potential customers. Survivors and/or relief workers in a disaster can text-message details of local problems and needs across a wide area, providing up to the minute, aggregate data for planners and responders and outside support. Voters can report, instantly, their issues and/or success in voting, to contribute to analysis of dispersed patterns of regional processes and/or irregularities.

Now thinking about the implications of this kind of model-- of what I have already been calling in other contexts, "distributed, real-time data gathering at point of occurrence"-- in relation to learning assessment. Thinking of the rich "data" (evidence, both qualitative and quantitative) that could emerge, as well as its rich, instantaneous graphical representation, in the assessment of student learning.
More to follow.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Interesting tools for teaching/learning

This semester I have been bringing a simple digital camera into class, where I have a long whiteboard that I use heavily. During our class discussions I regularly jot down student responses to questions, their questions, outlines of concepts etc. on the whiteboard. I try not to erase too much so that by the end of the class I have just about everything we registered. Just before I leave class I take pictures along the length of the board. Then using a neat program called Microsoft ICE (a free piece of software) I put the string of pictures together (in less than a minute) to have a full panoramic shot of the board. I then post these in Blackboard in our class, for our future reference.

Today I also finally found a nice online image mapping software. So now I can create an image map from the panoramic shot, and each note on the board becomes a hot-spot link to a web resource that fleshes out the idea noted on the board! I can't wait to see how this might be useful as we go along! I will post the link to a sample map as soon as I get it uploaded!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Google Squared Mini Challenge!

Google Squared “Mini Challenge” (Nov. 2009)

The original challenge back in Nov., 2009 was to find creative uses for Google Squared in teaching anthropology. A further stipulation was for each suggestion to cover a different question from one of the five fields of anthropology not already covered by previous contributions. The results were:

Tad McIlwraith: "kinship." (You can see the terms used in the URL.)

Pam: Reciprocity Here is one for reciprocity:

Pam: Archaeology: Domestication

Katrina Worley: "Human evolution", with examples "Homo" and "Australopithecus"

Well…. We haven’t covered all five fields! But the results were interesting!

Thanks for playing! Brian