Sunday, September 26, 2010

On Informal Learning, Joi Ito, Teenage Boys and Nostalgia

"The focus on education and accreditation instead of learning is something we need to change."
Joi Ito--entreprenuer, dropout, thought leader--has at least one reason to care about the fate of the university:  his sister Mimi is a distinguished cultural anthropologist at USC, a theorist of how teens use new media in the US and Japan.  In the video interview I link to above, Joi lays out a powerful case for the rise of the informal learner.

Joi doesn't feel the love for Tufts, the Univ. of Chicago (both of which he left without degree) or other institutions of formal learning that presume the university remains the best way to gather thinkers and distribute research.  Joi is not so much an advocate for informal learning as a bright exponent of it.  He did it twenty years ago.  Today, it's easier for informal learners to operate entirely project-based, acquiring the skills, community and knowledge particular to their goals.  The most interesting undergraduate classes I'm following on the Web, for example, are the ones that appropriate DIY skill and zeal.  Ironic, eh?  That the most "cutting edge" courses at the university emulate the informal learners' MO, urgency and skills?

What does the rise of the informal learner mean for the university beyond "fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night"?

Learners are going to be impatient of requirements they don't see as directly contributive to their knowledge goals, especially when those requirements cost a lot of time and money.  Their parents may or may not be similarly impatient.  It depends on how vested they are in the university that opened its iron gates to their own knowledge and careers.

What sort of people will continue to value the university's judgments, its intricate system of sorting and filtering the quality of student performance?  Will employers always insist on university credentials if informal learners like Jio Ito short circuit the process:  the 4-yrs-long process that is an eternity in communities of practice? 

I still believe in the university, perhaps out of nostalgia and loyalty to the enormously transformative effect it had on my life.

The university put its stamp on me:  BA, MA, Ph.D. Lecturer, Sr. Lecturer, Assoc. Prof: so many degrees like a line of Chinese chops marking ownership and provenance. On me.

Today, as I prepare some bookmarks on Diigo and edit video to collaborate on a service learning project with four teenage boys--all of whom know more about filmmaking than I do, though I am the "teacher"--I doubt these guys will need the university as I did.  They might look to the university for a kind of education it is ill-equipped, as yet, to provide.

I hope this is not the case.   That the university rises to meet them.  Lets them learn at the pace they expect.  Listens to what they know.  Forgives me my fragments, for I have sinned.  Changes quickly before the 4 boys are gone, gone, gone.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Brother Tracking Little Sibs 30% More Than Adults

Following up on how DP's course design plays out IRL. 

This just in from the "Regain Control" team: their Tracking Our Children entry analyzes data reported in the WSJ that kids' sites dropped 30% more cookies on kids' sites than in the fifty most popular adult sites.

Tabatha reasons: 
[W]e have to ask why companies on the net would use their resources any differently than television advertisers. If an advertiser twenty years ago utilized morning cartoons to sell sugary breakfast cereal, why would  an advertiser refrain from using the  internet gaming phenomenon to sell products today? Of course, some of the tools installed by the tested sites logged information that did not reveal privacy concerns, like where a user paused in a game. However, other tools tracked the outside sites visited by users, logging trends in their usage.
 Tabatha's analysis does more than posts generated by peers on other blogs in emac4325 because she knows she must explain the relevance of the data to us.  Her decision to historicize it by looking at Sat AM cartoons as precedent is insightful.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Group Work How-To: David Parry's emac4325

I've been thinking lately how to give my students group work experience that, were I a student, wouldn't make me break out in a nervous sweat.
Dave Parry has come up with some rules of engagement that cede to students almost all of the decision-making power, including, unusually, the right to fire team members who aren't pulling their weight.

Parry is Asst. Prof of Emerging Media and Communications in the Arts and Humanities division of UT/Dallas.  His blog, Academhack, is a must-read for anyone wishing to think through our path(s) toward a post-print society.

The class is Digital Writing:  Privacy, Control and Surveillance on the Internet.  It's for undergraduates.

The most original elements of Parry's group-work design are:
  1. Students pick team members based on complementary skills, not popularity or other criteria.  Rather than just working with one's friends, or grouping together because of a shared thematic interest, students in DP's class  review anonymous mini-resumes written on index cards and choose team members based on complementary skill sets.  This sets a serious tone:  this is a proto-professional setting;  the design of information flow is at least as important as the content itself.  (My own primitive blog aside:  it's like writing with crayolas.  Wordpress on my list of TtoD.)
  2. Each student group crafts its own rules of conduct and expectations.  They come to a contractual understanding of how each will contribute throughout the semester.  Rules are transparent and decided collectively during the first week of the semester.
  3. Students who fail to contribute can be fired by the rest of the team members.  Such individuals will then be responsible for creating a privacy-themed blog all by themselves--a tremendous amount of work.  Students who fall behind will either drop the course or suck it up and catch up.
  4. Everyone in group gets same grade.  Yeouch!  The perennial thorn in the buttocks of every student working group since cavepeople scrawled on walls and one guy sat outside smoking.  In professional settings, if your team messes up, it doesn't matter how hard individual members worked. This rule compels students to work out amongst themselves labor allocation and accountability.  Social/emotional learning  often falls beyond the purview of professors and pretty much NEVER shows up on official assessment rubrics in end-of-semester evaluations.  But it still counts, baby.  How nice DP is  giving students a real-world context in which to hone these skills.  And fret, and freak out, and send injudicious FB messages in wee hours, and work around the clock and not shower for three days, then pull through, have an awesome object online for all to see, and feel like maybe you could do this again.  Just like in real life.
Judge for yourself how well this design plays out.  Links to the students' blogs below.  The winner thus far:  Regain Control.  Nice UI.  Course title: 
Digital Writing: Privacy, Control, and Surveillance on the Internet

Regain Control 
Demet (datamining)
Under Surveillance
Fiction (nonopticon)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The "Serious Magic" of Your Face

TED posted a few days ago Chris Anderson's July 2010 talk "How web video powers global innovation"

I was interested in the portion of Anderson's talk, @11:35, in which he discusses the "serious magic" of non-verbal communication:
There are hundreds of subconscious clues that go to how well you understand, and whether you are inspired. . . . All of this can be conveyed, incredibly, on a few inches on a screen. Reading and writing are relatively recent inventions. F2f communication has been fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution. That's what's made it into the powerful thing it is. Someone speaks; there's resonance in all these receiving brains, and the whole group acts together. This is the connective tissue in the human super-organism in action. It's driven our culture for millenia.
I myself am addicted to the "serious magic" of f2f. In long conversations today with my two best gfs in LA, I certainly craved to see their faces. (Frankly, to hug them: TMI?) In the classroom, I have always relished the ripple of energy around the seminar table, the embodied quality of f2f learning. The stuff we never talk about in academia b/c it's just too embarrassing. The stew of smells in a little brick room as we cluster around a seminar table, the shy glances pinging between students around the room, the huge variations in body posture and openness. 

I wonder if f2f burns learning into the brain in ways we aren't conscious of?

Why else would conferences and events remain so popular?  Even the most technically agile new media academics expect that f2f "is important for the online network part" of our working lives.  Check out Howard Rheingold and Sheryl Grant discussing the pleasures of f2f collaboration and hanging out at the upcoming "Designing for Learning" conference in March 2011.

Business execs feel the same way.  A Forbes Insight study, "The Case for Face-to-Face" (2009), notes that although videoconferencing is up by 77%, f2f conferencing remains the strong preference for 85% of the 760 respondents.  Why?  F2f allows them to "build stronger business relationships" and "read body language" more accurately.

Despite the penetration of new media in higher education, f2f still drives most of what happens in classrooms across the world in thousands of residential universities.

For how much longer? Anderson cites Sysco data that in 2014, 90% of the content on the Internet will be vid. We will all be crowdsourcing anything even remotely visual.

Universities are facing a choice: either embrace video & crowd sourcing, like right now. Or go the way of the RIAA, silo their content, and hope that students and their parents find brick and ivy reeeeaaaaaallly charming. Charming enough to go into debt for when u can crowdsource it--or parts of it--for free. Anderson cites JOVE, a vid sharing system for peer-reviewed science.

I know that many universities are giving away some of their curricula. But the embrace of NM can't be cordoned off into other spaces--the Open University, iTunes U, etc. It ought to refigure the university experience per se.

It would be wise to study what f2f offers learners rather than 1) hew to it because it's what we've always done; or 2) fuhgeddaboutit b/c pretty soon we'll all just skype and crowdsource our learning anyway.

Have you read/written/seen studies about the value (or lack thereof) of f2f?

Drop me a comment and lemme know!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Universal Authorship: can writing programs deal w/loss of control?

John Jones over at Digital Media and Learning wonders when educators and the institutions that employ them will grok the informal writing that our students do out-of-classroom. Fanfic, FB status updates, Twitter, chats, sms: we've never written more, especially those of us under 18. So why aren't institutions jumping to board down the mountain in this flurry of writing?

Some people find snow storms scary. It's a white out, can't see anything.

Like a blank page.

Like starting over.

Jones notes that routinely we warn students against the indiscretions that social media can make a permanent record of: don't post photos of you in the maid costume chugging everclear, don't break up in status updates, don't announce where you are. Come to think of it, just don't.

Should we who teach the young suggest right there in front of the whole class what is already pretty flipping obvious: that social media is fun? Can open up entirely new ways of finding and engaging like minds? Is a great way to find tasty vittles in the wee hours of the AM? Can make you smarter?

In a cogent comment on John's article, Daria Ng observes:
Educators need to complicate the dichotomy of formal and informal writing, and instead, build up students' writer identities. If students are able to identify themselves as legitimate writers/authors from the beginning and carry these identities with them across multiple styles and modes, then perhaps the idea of expressing themselves through writing will not be something they feel necessary to hide. In order to do this, students will have to engage deeply in the writing process as well as reflective learning, so that they are constantly evaluating themselves as writers and can see all the different mediums through which their voices emerge.

Nice, eh?

I'm especially struck by the portability of identity Ng extols: the idea that learning can travel into the classroom, grow and become something else, and travel out again into the world. Like several times a day. And at the semester's end, too.

Isn't this such a better idea than locking that growth, those new and evolving writer identities, behind CMS like Blackboard where it will moulder away, untouched by another mind that could actually use the ideas contained therein?

Informal learning = lifeblood to writers.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Iraq War Entries in Wikipedia

Hello Friends,

Two things caught my eye this evening. The first, from the Institute for the Future of the Book, is James Bridle's graphical representation of how many edits to Wikipedia's Iraq War entry have been made in five years: a "total of 12,000 changes and 9,000 pages" from Dec. 04-Nov. 09.

This deft image allows the viewer to gauge instantly the sheer heft of edits, but it also lends itself to deeper analysis, which Bridle does here.

He notes:
"It’s not only a resource for collating all human knowledge, but a framework for understanding how that knowledge came to be and to be understood; what was allowed to stand and what was not; what we agree on, and what we cannot. As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on."