Monday, June 28, 2010

Let's all be careful out there

We're all very worried about what our children are getting up to on the net. At least that's the angle that sells newspapers and magazines and turns up repeatedly on TV. There are indeed many things to be worried about on the net, as there are in society in general. The dangers our children face on the net are part of the real world we live in and as long as society works as it does those crimes will take place on or off the net.

However it's strange how we worry so much about what the kids are doing without examining our own behaviour on line. Adults are often less security conscious than their children - look at how many fall foul of get-rich-quick e-mails or other net scams (see article in New York Times). Many parents are worried simply because they don't know much about internet themselves and believe the scare stories they read. As a result we get calls for bans on net access in schools and other draconian measure instead of learning to use the net in a responsible manner.

This is covered in an excellent presentation by David Truss who advocates a more balanced and enlightened attitude to our children's net habits. They're actually doing just what we did when we were young but in a different environment. We watched too much TV, listened to too much pop music, were out too late without saying where we were etc etc. In some ways children were left more to their own devices in the past than today where the concept of the over-protective "curling parents" has become so common.

We all need to learn to work and play more responsibly on the net and that starts both at home and in school. Banning, blocking and dismissing modern communication is not the way forward.

Friday, June 25, 2010

OER interview 5, Chahira Nouira

Another interview in my series on international perspectives on open educational resources and this time I've had a chat with Chahira Nouira who works with e-learning at the United Nations University, Vice Rectorate in Europe in Bonn, Germany. We've had contact via Twitter for about a year so it was a pleasure to have a real discussion with her. We actually wanted to interview each other so it ended up being a dialogue rather than an interview like the others in the series.

Interestingly all but one of the interviews I've recorded in this series have been with people I have got to know through Twitter so there's yet another testimony to the tool's usefulness at work.

In the interview Chahira talks about the UN University's work in spreading open learning, in particular in Africa and we discuss the hurdles faced by the movement in trying to get educational leaders to commit to openness.

Watch the interview (opens in a new window)
See previous interviews: Steve Wheeler (Univ of Plymouth), Nadhir Douma (e-Taalim), Stian Håklev (Peer2Peer Univ), Marit Synnevåg (Oslo - interview in Norwegian)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What do you expect for free?

I had a nice discussion today about the ever popular subject of free content and people's willingness (or not) to pay for net services. I find it hard to understand why some people go to such lengths to avoid paying for music or films over the net but are quite happy to fork out real cash for, say, extra magic powers in World of Warcraft, virtual clothes in Second Life or special ring tones for a mobile. At auctions people are willing to pay astronomical sums of money for any item associated with Elvis or Michael Jackson but don't want to pay for their music.

Money! by Tracy O, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Tracy O 

The key to price is clearly exclusivity. There is a finite number of shoes worn by Elvis and the market price i high whereas his actual music, being digital, can be copied infinitely and is therefore of little value. Exclusive digital material is rarer and generally belongs to commercially locked environments such as virtual worlds. Magic powers in WoW take a long time and considerable skill to earn and that creates a demand for short-cuts and market forces come into force.

In a world of branding and exclusivity where we are happy to pay enormous mark-up prices for the right brand, I wonder if we can really appreciate free content? If open educational resources becomes mainstream, as I hope, will we still be prepared to pay for some resources and if so what kinds of services could be so exclusive? Or will all digital content become free since it is so easily copied whereas hard copy and artifacts have a price tag?

Loose thoughts and no clear answers.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

How social is Twitter?

I've been active on Twitter for about a year now and it has become one of the most important tools I have at work to keep track of news and opinions. I get tired hearing criticism of Twitter as mere trivia and pointless updates on where you are or what you're doing. Twitter is what you make it, like most applications on the net. Even if you do only use it to tell friends your everyday routines and activities isn't that really what the vast amount of human interaction is all about anyway?

I have built up a good list of people who I follow all of whom provide useful information. I decided early on that I wanted to use Twitter as a channel for gathering news and so I have deliberately avoided following people who only tweet about their private lives and where they are just now. I don't really mind who follows me as long as they're not spammers and I must admit that there is probably less than a 50% match between those I follow and those who follow me.

This mismatch is highlighted in a post on EduDemic, 72 Slides Prove why Twitter is not very social, which wonders how much interaction really takes place when so few follow each other. Is Twitter in fact more of a broadcast medium? A group of Korean researchers have produced the following presentation which, although highly detailed, shows that a mere 22% of all relationships on Twitter are reciprocal and calls into question the notion that it is indeed a social network.

Twitter is a great way of building a network and establishing contacts but once established I find it best to use other tools to start a discussion. Conversations in Twitter are rather clumsy and are best conducted as direct messages rather than as public exchanges. Direct messages are only possible between users who follow each other so some dialogues are broadcast to all which can be irritating to all innocent bystanders. So my conclusion is that Twitter is a great network builder but not particularly social.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

21st century education is more than just a smartboard

Following up on my last post I saw an article in the Washington Post, Some educators question if whiteboards, other high-tech tools raise achievements, that further confirmed the idea that simply investing in technology has little effect if you don't change the fundamental model of teaching. Smartboards in particular come in for criticism. Although they are marketed as interactive many people see them as simply reinforcing the traditional teacher role and that they fail to really engage students. Furthermore there is little evidence that these innovations will make any difference to students' grades.

"There is hardly any research that will show clearly that any of these machines will improve academic achievement," said Larry Cuban, education professor emeritus at Stanford University. "But the value of novelty, that's highly prized in American society, period. And one way schools can say they are 'innovative' is to pick up the latest device." 

As long as we simply use new technology to reinforce traditional methods we won't see any significant effect on students' learning. It's time we started seeing new technology as opportunities for change instead of forcing them into traditional pigeon holes like "virtual classrooms", "virtual desktops" or "smartboards". Smartboards can certainly be effective for presenting information and integrating the web into the classroom but if we're really going to teach 21st century skills we need to look beyond the traditional paradigm.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Technology doesn't change anything but people do

Over the years we've seen plenty of technologies that promise to change the way we learn/teach/think but have often failed to deliver, especially in education. The problem is that technology doesn't change anything unless those who use it really want to change. It's all about us genuinely wanting to change the way we work and seeing that some technologies can help us do new things in new ways. If you are perfectly content to work the way you've always worked you may see new technology as a threat and resist. When technology doesn't bring about the promised revolution there's often a backlash claiming that it was overrated though in reality we sinply didn't want it to rock the boat.

I think this is the main problem facing everyone involved in net-based education. We often enthusiastically lead people to believe that a new technology (web 2.0, social media, augmented reality etc) is going to change so much but the reality is that it won't unless people actually see the opportunities and make them happen.Teachers who are dissatisfied with the traditional view of education can make changes to their teaching by wisely using new technology. The desire for change must be there before the technology is bought in, otherwise it will probably flop.

This is taken up in an interesting new article in Campus Technology by Trent Batson called Innovation in Higher Education: It's Not the Technology. At the end of the article there's a nice summary:

"Clearly, the myth that the technology does something itself to bring about significant human change in teaching/learning/assessment practices has been “busted.” Campuses are instead accepting the obvious truth that some human change must come first, that time and human commitment to a sustainable support system must precede technology adoption, and that educators themselves must lead technology initiatives."

Friday, June 4, 2010

OER interview with Steve Wheeler

The third in my series of interviews on open educational resources is with Steve Wheeler, Associate Professor of Learning Technology at the University of Plymouth. As a strong advocate of OER in the UK  I think his work is familiar to most people working in this field so I'll let the interview speak for itself. We discuss why openness is crucial to the development of higher education, the need for better tagging of resources to aid searchability and the need for a balance between top-down and bottom-up approaches to OER:

Watch the video interview

A couple of useful links for further reading are Steve's blog, Learning with e's, and his collection of presentations, articles and conference papers on SlideShare.

These interviews are part of a national project I'm involved in to encourage the use of OER in Swedish higher education. The project is being run by the Swedish Network for IT in Higher Education (site in Swedish) in cooperation with the National Library of Sweden.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

e-Taalim, web magazine for e-learning in Africa and Middle East

The second in my series of interviews with international experts in the field of open educational resources is with Nadhir Douma, founder of the e-magazine e-Taalim (click on the picture to start the film). E-Taalim is the first website that aims at giving an overview of e-learning in Africa and the Middle East.

The site was launched in November last year and they have worked hard at establishing it as a news channel for e-learning. E-Taalim is available in three languages, Arabic, French and English, and is also active on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They recognize that the different language groups have different interests and so around half of the material is common to all languages and the rest is more customised.

Net-based education is certainly established in Africa but the number of institutions offering courses is of course small compared with what's on offer in Europe and North America. Some noteable examples are the Virtual University of Tunis, the African Virtual University and the Arab Virtual University. One of the difficulties in the spread of OER is that only 1% of all content on the web is in Arabic so there is a massive need for development in this area. One interesting initiative is the Arab Grid for Learning that is building a portal and community for the development of open learning resources in the region.

The objectives of e-Taalim are as follows:
  • Participate in bridging the digital divide and closing the content gap between the African/Arab  countries and the developed countries
  • Participate in raising awareness about the use of ICT and Media for education within the African and Arab countries’ corporations and organizations including NGOs and CSOs
  • Offer the latest information about corporate e-learning and blended learning for executives and professionals
  • Establish an African/Arab e-learning community that will share and diffuse knowledge
See the video interview with Nadhir Douma.