Author Archive

March 14, 2014

Considering the effects of emerging ecosystems on the “Connected Mind.”

“Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned. Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society…”

Marshall McLuhan
Excerpt from Understanding Media, The Extensions of Man, Part I.

Originally published in 1964

 

Putting multivalent minds to the task of building the sort of “productive future” alluded to by Howard Gardner should be easy given that we live in an era where our technology radically connects (many of) us to one-another in ways that transcend our traditional constraints of space-time and gives rise to new paradigms of language and discourse that re-define our notions of class, culture and the self, to name but a few.

The inter-web of all things, as Marshall McLuhan presaged in the opening quotation almost half a century ago, has endowed us with one might consider as a shared intelligence that is transforming our paradigms of knowledge and value in ways that may not be entirely obvious to us at this point and, despite our best intentions and designs, these media will shape human discourse according to their own innate potentials and in ways that will bare unintended consequences both good and bad.

The inter-web is a highly complex ecosystem of technologies and protocols that form what we now call the “cloud”—an adjective that adequately expresses the conceptual fog that envelops most of us as we contemplate how we might negotiate its complexity and harness its power in meaningful, ethical and effective ways—ways that eschew sentimentality and longing for more certain and halcyon days in favour of addressing the very real and messy challenges that lie ahead of us.

We are exhorted by Gardener and his adherents to cultivate multi-faceted states of consciousness and to synthesize the data gleaned, gathered, weighed—the insights sparked and given wings and purpose—all against a technological backdrop that is characteristic of an ecosystem in Darwinian overdrive. This backdrop imparts a duality to the economy of transformation that can variously enhance and accelerate it or simply confound it.

The question that is front of mind for me is: “Is it possible to move from merely coping with the challenges that face us to thriving in the turbulence that abounds in their wake? Thriving will depend on whether we can wrestle this seemingly intractable and chimeric landscape and re-shape it on a human scale with human values, language and metaphors at its core. In this way we will be able to comprehend and share in the abundance of opportunities that abound in the hyper-connected globe. Let us then explore some of these challenges by sharing candid reflections on how the connected minds of ourselves and our students are being facilitated or obfuscated in this emerging landscape.

Questions to Consider:

1.         If we assume that, for the foresee-able future, technology will play an increasingly important role in education, what do potential (Good and Bad) do you envision for transforming the current learning ecosystem?

 

2.         What spaces, organizational structures or opportunities exist for the “connected mind” to synthesize and share insights and information from the other domains of the mind?

How are technologies enhancing or inhibiting this synthesis and sharing?

 

3.         How important are student faculty narratives to the process of synthesizing and sharing of information and insights gained from the various domains? Are you actively exploring modes of digital storytelling with the student as an active producer of content knowledge? If so, what form does your storytelling take?

 

4.         Are you exploring Digital Citizenship, Connecting, Collaborating and Building Personal Brand value through active participation in communities of practice? How are you accomplishing this?

 

5.         Are you directly engaging your students with complex, global social ecosystems as part of their learning experience? If so, what is it comprised of and what protocols/ use case scenarios do you find most effective?

 

6.         How do you curate the artefacts (numeric, textual, audio, video, image, reflections, impressions) of exploration from the different domains and how do you articulate/visualize the constituent parts and how they inter-relate with one another?

 

7.         Given students are potentially a Go0gle String from an answer, how do you see and convey the value proposition that you, the educator, represents? How do you position yourself as a conduit of know-how against a multitude of 24/7 ON DEMAND channels of know-how that feature Fast Forward and Rewind?

 

Recommended Texts:

Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

By Marshall McLuhan

 

Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity And the New Science of Ideas

By Richard Ogle

 

The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art

By J. David Lewis-Williams

4:12 PM Permalink
February 10, 2014

Reaching Critical MASS: Promoting and Leveraging a Diverse Learning Ecosystem in Foundation Art and Design

INTRODUCTION:

As part of our Foundation Art and Design program review—initiated in the Fall of 2013—we have been considering the status of each of our course offerings and ensuring compliance with provinical ministry program guidelines and addressing gaps identified in the programming through student feedback questionnaires (SFQs). We are also undergoing a process of rationalization to the provincial government in order to help them identify areas of excellence and/or duplication. It is important that our program stand over and above the other foundation programs offered in and around the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in order to ensure our place in the mix of offerings.

As part of that process of defining just how our foundation programming is different, I have been striving to create a student experience that sets itself apart from offerings at other schools. The vision looks at promoting and developing a set of essential qualities in the teaching and learning experience and the systems that we engage our faculty and students with.

I can’t understate the importance of drawing on timeless and essential soft skills to ensure a positive student experience. There is no technology solution that can even approximate the worth of an enthusiastic, caring and engaged faculty member. One aspect of what we will be promoting in the teaching and learning experience will be engagement with new digital tools and environments that will prepare both faculty and students for the emerging workplace of the 21st Century. In no way do I wish to suggest that the integration of technologies into the teaching and learning mix will supplant the soft skills that were alluded to earlier, rather, they should augment and enhance that experience in some meaningful and substantial way.

The recommendations that are being proposed here are the product of testing and consultation with third year design students in our Knowledge Design-I elective course. These students engaged with a variety of emerging technologies and were asked to envision and weigh in on their potential for enhancing the teaching and learning experience.

In addition to the specific skills developed within each course and the Essential Employability Skills (EES) stated in the course outlines, we are striving to transform this experience in ways that recognize the shifting and emerging competency requirements for the 21st Century workplace.

Collaborative_relations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above: The turbulence caused by rapid advances and declines in technologies are not only posing significant challenges for large institutions like schools, they are rapidly imposing new relationships on us. Being agile enough to bend and sway with these changes will be a significant predicate for success. On much reflection, I am convinced that the only way to effectively deal with this turbulence is to develop much deeper relationships with innovation drivers like software and hardware development companies. We should seek to  deepen relationships with these companies such that the culture and processes that define these agile development communities are inculcated in an institution’s own culture and workflows. This, of course, will require a radical re-configuration of that institution’s conception of its own organizational structure and culture.
Collaborative organizational, methodological and economic models that define the innovation economy are antithetical to the traditional, linear, hierarchal and authoritative models that define most institutions today. Deeper, strategic alignment with innovation companies will help to strengthen an institution’s understanding of the structural and procedural transformations required to inhabit the innovation space. In this way, institutions can move from being relatively slow and unresponsive “reactors” to change to becoming proactive “drivers” of change. Much like a software or hardware company, an educational institution becomes a “lifeware” or “peopleware” commited to providing meaningful, relevant and powerful “upgrade” paths for their client base.

For more on my background views on innovation in the applied learning space you can access my related posts by CLICKING on the blue links below:
Perpetual Beta: 21st Centrury Course Structure Rationale
RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Model of Teaching
Worth vs. Work: Transforming People and Organizations for the Knowledge Economy
On Demand Amnesia at the Self-serve Window of Education
Deck the Halls with Boughs of Knowledge: Exploring the use of Augmented Reality in Education
Goin’ Down the Road: My Teaching Philosophy

I am confident that an emphasis on engaging our students with a blend of solid, traditional pedagogy with a new ecosystem of technologies and their related protocols will help to nurture the following qualities:

Our Learners will be:
Reflexive, collaborative, agile, knowledge producers and knowledge sharers. They will be effective and responsible digital citizens with the skills and knowledge to build and promote a strong personal, digital brand in a global context.

Our faculty will be:
Creative, caring, sharing, professionals who are current, collaborative, reflexive, agile, and committed to life-long learning and  the success of all our students and fellow faculty members.

Our School/Program will:
Offer flexible delivery of information and learning (Blackboard, ON, HARVEST for supporting student online experience)
Offer content that is universally accessible. Provide an opportunity  to experience a variety of digital environments and tools and to develop an agility and facility in their use. Teach the skills necessary for successful student collaboration with their peers.

The “thing” that will set us apart from other similar program hinges on developing AGILITY, ADAPTABILITY, COLLABORATIVE CAPACITY, SHARING, STORYTELLING, PERSONAL DIGITAL BRANDING and DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP in both our students and our faculty.

I am in the process of developing a plan called Critical MASS that is aimed at ensuring that all of our students will have had the benefit of coaching on team-building and collaboration strategies (not only an Essential Employ-ability Skill but also a requirement of being effective in virtual work environments too).
Once students know how to function as a team, this team will serve as an ongoing peer-resource not only explicitly for group projects but as a support and mentoring mechanism aimed at Mutually Assured Student Success (hence, Critical MASS). This will serve to promote a stronger sense of community while ensuring higher levels of engagement and retention. Forming students into effective groups is determined in accordance with a skills and infrastructure readiness survey that I have developed in order to identify  the distribution of competency and access to technology for our students. Data is used to build balanced teams. Other data, from Diana McIntyre at Student Success, shows that the nature of student commuting, hours of work and other life commitments are such that it is exceedingly difficult for student groups to physically meet before or after classes. To that end, with our Dean’s encouragement, We have built prototype infrastructure to support virtual/remote teaching, learning and collaboration capacity here at the school. The infrastructure forms an ecosystem with many overlapping parts some of which have particular strengths and limitations. There are plenty of options available to faculty and students from using a mixed bag of technologies to using a one-top-shopping approach. Each of which offers particular advantages.

Much has been made over the confusion of having so many systems and, on the face of it, I feel that this is a valid consideration; however I also strongly feel that it is necessary to acknowledge the fact that the technology ecosystem outside of our doors is infinitely more complex and confusing. It is ever-changing and expanding at an exponential rate: software titles become more complex and feature rich, more titles are published, we are now into tablet computing and mobile data, the app universe is nearing 1 Million apps and growing, browsers are becoming increasingly modular, programmable and complex, and the list goes on. We are all affected by the consequences of this turbulence and I am sure we have entertained the fantasy of being free of technology altogether but I don’t think that it is going to happen in our lifetime. The point being that we cannot avoid it and we ignore it at our own peril.
It behooves us, then, to help both ourselves AND our students negotiate this chaos in some meaningful and effective manner.

Yes. It is chaotic and complex but I feel that the technology infrastructure that we currently have in place is considerably pared down by comparison. The idea is to get all of the stakeholders to develop a degree of comfort and agility—an understanding  for why and how to inhabit and move through these environments and to do so in a more purposeful fashion. In my estimation, the benefits outweigh the risks, and, if we can make this ecosystem an integral part of of how we do business here at the School of Design, this will provide a value added experience for our graduates that goes beyond the pale of a standard design curriculum. THIS is what will set us apart.

The biggest challenge, of course, will be developing an understanding, fluency and ease of use for faculty. It has been my experience, that my students use these environments very effectively for the most part—so much so that, where faculty have not been using virtual environments, they simply create their own Facebook pages. The issue with this, of course, is that if there is a systemic issue with the students, you remain blissfully unaware until it shows up in your SFQ several weeks after your class is finished! Being able to monitor the pulse of your class at a glance is a very powerful way of ensuring quality and consistency in the student experience and provides invaluable data for informing iterative designs of your course.

Of course it is never quite as simple as throwing a switch. Using this ecosystem, combined with the power of the internet, requires new protocols and new forms of pedagogy that allow us to leverage its full potential. For example, having access to thousands of authoritative resources on a subject via an instant internet search shifts the balance of authoritative power away from the traditional professor in the traditional classroom setting—the roles in the classroom change dramatically. At worst, the instructor’s authority is undermined as students seek alternative sources for their information. At best, professors are valued, knowledgeable guides who can help the student leverage the maximum potential of the resources that they have at their fingertips.

Currently, we are in a situation where it is reasonable to expect students to research and present on a topic that, traditionally, might have been covered by their professor—that they should access knowledge outside of class and come to class for an experience other than information dissemination. The natural outcome of the fact that students have 24/7 instantaneous access to knowledge that we have traditionally dispensed has created a gradual drift towards “flipped” models of teaching where the students are actively encouraged to be researchers, presenters and content creators instead of content consumers. In this scenario, they need to develop a crucial set of ancillary skills in research, writing, documentation, presentation, visualization, storytelling, etc.

Digital storytelling of one’s know-how on a global stage forms the new basis on which students and professionals are starting to build their value. For example, trillions of images are searchable and available on the internet for free. Few people are willing to pay for them—even designers! So, the value proposition does not lie in the production of yet another image, rather, the value inheres in building a following in a social media platform by sharing know-how. It is no longer good enough to simply show one’s work, it is critical that they be able to tell cogent stories about how said work came to fruition—sharing insights into creative processes as well as technical how-to-s. THIS is the new currency that will help to build a person’s brand. This brand building and story-telling is an important dimension of how faculty add worth to the teaching and learning experience and build and promote their own personal brand by sharing their own know-how, not only with their immediate students but with the world at large. Both students and teachers are increasingly becoming active participants in this expanding circle. Some examples of how these stories can be curated and shared are shown below (This very BLOG is one such mechanism whereby a student or faculty member can share their insights):

FACULTY

Faculty Reflections
History of Game Design Student Research Project Summary
Faculty Curated Student Work (by Program—Course—Project, respectively)
Foundation Art and Design Homepage (Generic, program landing page)
ART1029: Digital Art and Design Homepage (Course Specific Landing Page)
Digital Art and Design Gallery (Project Specific Landing Page)

STUDENTS

Student Profile:
Public Profile Page
Student Reflections:
Student Learning Narrative: BLOG
Student Portfolios:
BEHANCE Portfolio

Of course, none of this would be possible without a very powerful, interoperable infrastructure. Some of this infrastructure is a college resource and others lie outside of the college domain. Some of the elements are large enterprise level systems and others are small, niche apps. My personal preference is to cobble together an aggregation of technologies in a way that allows for greater independence, flexibility and agility. The fact that many commercial level tools offer freebie versions makes it very enticing. Also, the use of social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. as output conduits allows most, if not all of these resources to be interoperable on some level. This allows for an unprecedented level of freedom of choice in configuring a network of enabling technologies.

Let me introduce you some of the tools and spaces that comprise our ecosystem and explain what their core strengths/use case scenarios are (Keep in mind that there is a significant amount of overlap and that not all of these tools are used all of the time but they have all been introduced at one point or another over the past several years in an attempt to gauge their roles and impact for later integration).

ECOSYSTEM:

BLACKBOARD:

http://bb-gbc.blackboard.com

Above: This is the college standard default for online/blended online learning delivery. You can fully expect a greater push to utilize this resource. It is feature dense and the user interface is far from being comprehensible and user-friendly. It is like the COSCO of online. It has everything and you can wear yourself out trying to find it! It is a bit like taking someone up in a Jumbo Jet to teach them how to fly a plane.

STRENGTHS:
Fully supported by Blackboard under contract; We have a small team of experts over in ELTI, Rubrics allow for quick, automated marking; Tests are automated and marked, Grades are calculated automatically; Grades instantly available to students if you want. Mobile compatible.

WEAKNESSES:
We have a small team of experts; Tries to do too much. Non-intuitive—Not a very friendly User Interface. Low adoption rate by faculty. Low function use by faculty if they are using it. Difficult to learn for both faculty and students and requires dedication of scarce time and resources to train for use.
I am fully committed to mentoring each and every one of you through this process of getting to know and acclimatizing to these environments and will gladly make time to assist you with the transition. Perceived as “extra work.” Limited mobile functionality. Online collaborative environments (collaborate) are difficult to use and prone to gltiching (Fall of 2013). Very costly.

HARVEST.GEORGEBROWN.CA

WIKIS (Click BLUE LINK to view page)

http://harvest.georgebrown.ca

Above: This is a WIKI/BLOG/VIDEO server that we have here at the SOD. This VERY simple and stable platform can be used for making course materials available online. Each course is identified with unique branding and icons that are part of a cohesive branding program. Permission levels can allow for private, semi-private or public levels of access.

You can explore some of this infrastructure by clcking on the BLUE LINKS to view additional content such as the Digital Art and Design course. It also allows students to create profiles and to BLOG on their weekly learning. It is also great for curating work and for telling the stories of what you did with your class in any given semester (this reflexive practice is very prevalent in US schools and US educators are establishing clear leadership roles and setting the agenda for online education. Some examples of how we are using the environment are accessible below:
Student BLOG
Art of Wine and Cheese
Hawaiian Shirt Project
Director’s Design Competition (Daniel’s Spectrum, SPRING 2013)

STRENGTHS:
Extremely simple and easy to learn (takes about 10 minutes and works pretty much like a simplified word processor); Faculty can create/post content there; Secure (Only registered faculty and students can author in it). Students and faculty can create profiles and post blogs about what they are learning; Unlike Blackboard, the material posted there is persistent and is always accessible (don’t have to worry about content importing every semester as in an LMS); Great resource for holding and presenting video; No ads or ownership issues as with Facebook and YouTube.

WEAKNESSES:
Limited layout potential (uses basic templates). Does not allow simultaneous co-authoring of pages. People outside of the college system can be allowed to SEE the material but they cannot author with it. Perceived as “extra work.”

ON.GEORGEBROWN.CA

on.georgebrown.ca

Above: This is an Open Source version of Facebook. It has all of the same functionality: Create Special Interest, Group or Course pages and set membership privileges for them. You can create and promote events. You can Poll users, send public or private messages, post video, audio, create threaded discussions, blogs and more.

STRENGTHS:
Leverages student familiarity with Facebook so no training is required. It is a popular social media platform with most students. Very secure environment hosted behind the college firewall. There is no data collection as there is in Facebook and other Social Media Tools. Can monitor and track user engagement data and feature student leaders within the community in order to promote greater participation and development of knowledge sharing, storytelling skills in the service of building a strong personal brand and good digital citizenship. Has potential for introducing “badging” to recognize student accomplishments.

WEAKNESSES:
Lower level of uptake than anticipated. There is a need to promote the benefits of the environment to key faculty and students. Perceived as “extra work.”  The environment is “by invitation only” and requires professors to have students input their email to generate an invite. There are some bugs but they don’t impare usability they are just minor annoyances. We are upgrading this by the end of January, 2014 to address this issue.

ACROBAT.COM/CREATIVE CLOUD

acrobat.com
Adobe provides a wide range of collaborative tools for virtual collaboration that includes application and screen sharing and video conferencing (Connect) as well as document co-authoring, document signing and security and file sharing (acrobat.com, work spaces) that integrate with their universal PDF workflow. This is an important workflow for the 21st century skillset. The creative cloud brings together creative tools and collaborative spaces that duplicates some of the functionality such as file sharing and collaboration that is found in Acrobat.com.

Above: The workspaces interface allows for the creation of teams and the sharing of files with its members.  

Above: The Creative Cloud interface allows for file storage and sharing as well as a mobile workflow and social media capacity. This is an important environment for anyone using 21st Century digital authoring tools and, particularly, for creative industry workers and teaching professionals.

BEHANCE: Professional Creative Community and Portfolio Site

behance.net

Above: This is an online community of professional creatives that allows for portfolio curating, sharing, commenting, collecting, collaborating as well as a job market board. It is useful to follow influential creative types for the industry or field that you may be interested in becoming a part of in the future. 

STRENGTHS:
Industry leading. Global community. Connected to industry professionals and leaders. Costs the college nothing. Powerful curating tools. Can socialize and promote work or follow community professionals. Can create feedback groups. Easy to organize and catalog student work. Helps promote the notion of building a global professional brand and participating in a community of practice. Owned by industry leader Adobe Systems.WEAKNESSES:
Currently follows the two-tiered membership model of most social spaces. Free membership for a limited array of functionality and a pro-level (could revert to entirely subscription based in future). Perceived as “extra work.”

EVERNOTE

www.evernote.com
This cloud-based note-taking software allows for the creation of custom notebooks (for each course, project, etc.) and can record text, images, web pages, audio and video. Notebooks or individual notes can be socialized or shared with individuals via email or via a public URL.
Go to EVERNOTE by CLICKING on the BLUE link and download Evernote, Skitch and Web Clipper.  (Feel free to try others) these are great tools for capturing, representing and organizing information.

Above: In order are icons for Evernote (note-taking), Skitch (annotating web pages or screen captures) and Web Clipper (Capturing web pages). If you are a visual thinker CLICKING on the BLUE MohioMap link to download this visual notes organizer for Evernote.

STRENGTHS:
Promotes a group-based, collective strategy to capturing information. Two students per class are assigned to take notes on an iPad or laptop or workstation (one at the first half and another after the break). The link to the notebook is shared in common so all students can draw on it. It eliminates duplication of effort and spreads the workload out across the entire class. It costs the college nothing (no note-takers required). It is available on any browser on any platform including mobile. Accessible from anywhere with an internet connection. Notes can be downloaded and printed if desired.

WEAKNESSES:
Not all students are adept at this and the focus, style and veracity may vary considerably. Perceived as “extra work.”

TWITTER

I have my students follow my Twitter handle @prof2go. Not all students use Twitter and even fewer faculty do. This form of instantaneous communication platform is variously used and abused and, for many, it represents the most invasive form of communications tools—commanding a great deal of moment-to-moment attention. It demands brevity and clarity in messaging and allows for deep socialization.

STRENGTHS:
Excellent research tool. Students can “follow” seminal thinkers and industry leaders to gain insight into the things that they are driven by and can, on occasion, establish dialogue and ongoing relationships with those who share their passions. It keeps messages short and to the point. Potentially, you have a global audience. You can create and follow trends using metadata #hashtags. Feeds can be aggregated from multiple sources using tools such as Paper.Li, HootSuite, etc. Fast method for generating alerts or sharing links.
WEAKNESSES:
Limited message length. Not good for detail-oriented communications. Aggressive and demanding media that is constantly “on.” Can be distracting and, some claim, addictive. Large volumes of noise (useless, whimsical data). Perceived as “extra work.”

VISUAL UNDERSTANDING ENVIRONMENTS
(Tufts VUE, SimpleMind MapWebspiration, Inspiration, ):

These tools are for visualizing complex concepts such as processes, workflows, ideas, etc. and making connections between them. Webspiration and Inspiration are cloud-based and desktop mapping software, respectively and come from the same company. These tools were sponsored by the distributor. They aid in making complexity less intractable by visualizing and simplifying. Elements in these maps can be connected to rich media assets such as video, audio, PDF and text documents as well as URLs and other maps. The tool from TUFTS University is a research-based tool that is capable of powerful data modelling and semantic analysis.

STRENGTHS:
Helps to organize thoughts. Simplifies complex scenarios. Great for visual thinkers and different learning styles. Can link to various media. Webspiration and SimpleMind Map have a cloud function that allows for sharing and collaboration. SimpleMind Map offers limited free version and TUFTS VUE is free. SimpleMind and Webspiration have tablet enabled Apps.
WEAKNESSES:
Often proprietary formats with poor translation into HTML5 or PDF structures. Webspiration co-authoring is buggy. Webspiration is subscription based. Perceived as “extra work.”

BIT.LY

This is a handy little tool for shortening incredibly long and difficult to recall URLs. There is no downside to this. You can curate collections of your URLs too.

ZOTERO

This plug-in gives your browsers the ability to access the Zotero collaborative Research cloud to form research teams, collect, catalogue, cite and share every sort of media source imaginable.

STRENGTHS:
Provides a structured approach to research. Allows sharing and socializing. Provides collaborative research infrastructure. Works inside the browser. Accessible on both your computer and in the cloud. Well documented.

WEAKNESSES:
Could use a live social function. Not entirely self-evident use. Potential for browser upgrade issues. Too much horsepower for what a Foundaton program would need. Focused more on academic research at the university. Perceived as “extra work.”

PAPER.LI

paper.li

Above: One of a few publications that Professor Jim Kinney compiles on Augmented Reality.

STRENGTHS:
Socialization capacity. Global reach. Great research tool. Great for personal brand building.

WEAKNESSES:
Everyone can do it It will be difficult to stand out as a truly original piece. Little original content connected to the syndication publisher. Perceived as “extra work.”

HOOTSUITE

www.hootsuite.com

This lets you manage your social media for information blitzes, campaigns and promotions and tracks the recognition of your personal brand in social media circles. You can monitor trending and use analytics to  understand traffic patterns and trends.

STRENGTHS:
Robust and deep functionality. Allows you to aggressively promote your message and monitor its effectiveness. A pretty good free trial version. Great tool for faculty who are active members making contributions to professional discussions and events.WEAKNESSES:
Limited user base for free. More horsepower than is necessary for student needs unless they are focused on advertizing and social media design. Perceived as “extra work.”

DOODLE

doodle.com

This is a very simple, free polling tool that is useful for determining meeting schedules.

STRENGTHS:
Simplicity. Free. Aids group collaboration efforts.

WEAKNESSES:
No additional project management functions. Perceived as “extra work.”

SURVEY MONKEY

www.surveymonkey.com

This survey tool has a free version that allows students and faculty to gather data from a broad range of sources on a broad range of topics.

STRENGTHS:
Simplicity, unlimited global reach potential. Great research tool for gathering user experience data. Great for getting timely student feedback on issues.

WEAKNESSES:
Need to pay to expand sample size and analytics. User should be knowledgeable in asking the right sorts of questions to avoid inherent biases and leading questions. Perceived as “extra work.”

AURASMA/LAYAR

www.aurasma.com
www.layar.com

These environments were explored in the winter term of 2013 for their ability to augment the teaching and learning environment by delivering access to on-demand knowledge in situ. My students and I built a permanent installation in our new game design school on the history of game design. Students can now access short documentaries and interviews by designers that relate to seminal digital video games simply by pointing a smart phone or tablet at trigger images throughout the school. Later experiments were done with select faculty on using AR to deliver tutorials, room greetings and schedule and web site access from one’s smart device. For more on this follow the blue links below:
The Virtual Academy Emerges
Research Synopsis
Faculty Knowledge Transfer

PROTOCOLS:

Here we look at how classroom culture and rolls can be transformed in order to promote a more profound use of the ecosystem and how to prepare the learners of tomorrow with 21st century skill sets.

CRITICAL MASS:
Working collaboratively is an essential skill. Organizing students into groups and arming them with the tools and techniques to work effectively in groups will be the key to ensuring their success not only in project work but throughout their tenure at the school. We will develop a shared sense of responsibility for the success of one another that will build a more cohesive and caring learning community. Peer groups will act like a family support mechanism throughout the year.

INVESTING STUDENTS WITH A DIRECT RESPONSIBILITY FOR LEARNING:
We will promote the notion of the student as a capable researcher, scribe, presenter/storyteller, teacher and allow them to directly participate in unearthing and presenting subject knowledge. They will construct and share knowledge with their groups, their class, the school and the broader global community through participation in professional online communities of practice.

FLIPPING:
We are moving, in some instances, towards a flipped model of learning where students participate in knowledge creation and sharing as above. Faculty, will make content available prior to class and predicate class activity on prior engagement with any posted materials in order to reserve face time for deeper levels of interaction that transcend mere information dispensing.
I recall a time in my undergraduate years at the University of Waterloo where I sat in the Engineering Lecture Hall at 8am alongside 200 other very groggy students only to watch our professor put acetate copies of the textbook on an overhead and read from it verbatim. It was by far the worst experience that I ever had as a student and it stuck with me. In light of unprecedented access to information on the internet, standing in front of a class and dispensing facts is somewhat akin to the professor reading from a textbook. It is incumbent upon us to create more engaging experiences with important content and having the students researching and presenting is one such way that provides the added benefit of learning how to work as a group and present.

NOTE-TAKING
I have been introducing Evenote to classes and rotating the responsibility through the student body. This is just another example of working smarter in a collective and collaborative manner. Each day two students take responsibility for recording audio, video and text and for sharing public URLs that connect everyone to the notes. Each student is responsible for taking notes for only one half of a class all semester (provided there is a class of at least 30 students). This also has the potential of saving the college considerable expense for note-taking.

COMMUNITY/COMMUNICATION
Students are expected to participate directly in the life of their learning community and can do so by reading, liking, commenting, posting in the Open Network community on a regular and ongoing basis. Highly active students who are showing leadership can be promoted and potentially rewarded (praise and recognition from their professors, recommendations for student awards, being featured in the blogs/social platforms, etc.
Faculty, too, will be encouraged to leverage these community forums to ensure direct participation in the development of programming. Like our students, our faculty have diverse interests that make face-to-face contact difficult most of the time and this reduces opportunities for part-time and sessional faculty to add their voices and ideas to the conversation. This underscores the need for leveraging these environments to allow everyone to participate.

REFLEXIVE LEARNING
Students (and faculty too) are encouraged to reflect on their learning in the Harvest network personal blogs (blogs are also available in the Open Network too) This promotes meta-cognition and promotes awareness of what one is learning by incorporating weekly reviews of learning.

HEALTH CHECK
At the midterm break and at the end of the semester indiividuals and the groups to which they belong will be evaluated on the level and quality of their participation. This will be directly reflected by a grade that measures aspects of this participation. They will be evaluated by the professor as well as by their group members.

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP
Faculty and students will work to build their online presence through direct participation in key online communities of practice. Through sharing their work, know-how, creative insights, commentary and critiques both faculty and students will build personal brand recognition in key online communities like BEHANCE.NET Building a strong brand of leadership will be the cornerstone of what sets us and our students apart from our competitors.

MENTORING
Through the Critical MASS initiative and participation in online communities we will continue to promote mentoring between students and faculty alike and will develop opportunities for sharing best practices with one another through online training, discussion forums and face-to-face meetings where possible.

CONCLUSION

There is a considerable amount  of information put forward here and it may be difficult to understand all or parts of it and how it impacts both the faculty and your students. I have created discussion groups within the Open Network, Foundation Faculty Page where faculty can contribute ideas, voice opinions, etc. Discussion boards are created for each course and are used to share best practices and ideas for course changes with the faculty members who share courses. There are also pages dedicated to the technologies introduced above that allow technology-specific Q and As.
Participants accept their invitations to join the Open Network and create a profile (including head shot) . All future communication regarding our programming will happen inside of that community resource. Ultimately, the success of this venture will hinge on faculty participation and, already, I am starting to see a real community of learning and practice emerge and stakeholders, that were initially overwhelmed, navigate the ecosystem like ducks in water.

9:22 PM Permalink
October 2, 2013

Are Clouds Gathering? Paying attention to customer responses to the Creative Cloud launch.

There has been far too much written on Adobe’s move to the cloud from both Adobe and its customer base. Some of these tomes are wildly enthusiastic, others more skeptical in their views and some peppered with outrage. Sifting fan boy fiction from the griping of grumpy old men in order to eek out a kernel of truth is a difficult but necessary task when you are expected to weigh in on a technology adoption like the Creative Cloud. My superiors are looking for  nuggets of wisdom that will allow them to make costly, critical decisions and marketing tomes really don’t cut the mustard where they are concerned. They are (some might contend) being forced into an arranged marriage of sorts-being brought into a new sort of relationship where they really don’t understand the terms of reference, yet, they are expected to provide a substantial dowry to validate the marriage contract. I am using hyperbole, of course, to illustrate a point and give insight into how some institutional decision-makers are feeling.

While marketing departments can control the messaging leaving a company they have little or no control as to how their intended target audience will respond to those messages. Response is predicated on a many of factors that marketing gurus, often lacking in the perspicacity necessary to provide an all-encompassing view, can ignore at their peril. Decision-making and messaging can often be based solely on pecuniary motives or on a host of mistaken assumptions and this can wreak havoc on the successful uptake of a product or service. That is why companies spend so much on focus groups in order to take the pulse of their customers. Now. Cloud computing seems an inevitability. While it has some drawbacks, the ease of use and convenience of “seamless” upgrade paths has one clamoring for a pen to ink the contract. But, could this initial positive reaction have been misguided? I don’t mean to imply any duplicity. In fact, I would venture to assert that both Adobe and its customers enjoyed the ecstasy of a honeymoon period as they sat down to chart out life together in the clouds. What was problematic, in my estimation, was that we were both using old terms of reference and hadn’t fully considered what this migration would entail. We were all still looking at Adobe as the company who made us great tools–things—products when, in fact, that was all about to change in a very substantial way.
Marshall McLuhan said “The medium is the message” When the medium was product it had a clearly defined profile: It had a box with great graphics, CDs, a Manual to read at leisure in the bathtub (Don’t try THAT with an iPad!). As Adobe’s product ecosystem migrates into the Cloud it is undergoing a media shift and media shifts, as we have learned cause VERY unexpected consequences–often in direct opposition to the benefits that were earlier percieved. Take the car–often touted in the 50′s and 60′s as a means of escape and empowerment bolstered with images of happy families standing beside a woody wagon in the great outdoors. Good Clean Fun! Fast forward to today and we are now imprisoned in urban gridlock for 4 hours a day sucking in a deadly cocktail of noxious fumes. Remember the cell phone with its promise of personal freedom and mobility? Why are my students emailing me at 11:30pm?!!! The projected benefits often experience “reversals.” The best thing to do is to probe for potential reversals before you create something so that you can anticipate the negatives and prepare for them before they happen.

Clearly, the Creative Cloud is evolving Adobe away from being a product-oriented company to one predicated on a service subscription model and there is much to be learned about unintended, negative consequences–like customer dissatisfaction–from the mavens of subscription services—the cell phone providers. We all know the anger and frustration of how the user experience almost never lives up to the expectations of a cell company’s savvy marketing and this results in an erosion of customer loyalty and the hunt for alternatives–often cheaper.

Adobe should consider the wisdom of the cell phone customer experience as it negotiates this new and very difficult terrain. To assume that product loyalty will automatically translate into subscription loyalty might be a dangerous and very wrong assumption. Moving to the cloud signals the beginning of a radically different relationship. The process is akin to a marriage of many years where one of the partners announces that the terms and conditions of the relationship are going to change. This necessarily invites the other party to re-consider the substance and merits of the relationship and will end up with one of several responses: A full embrace of the new terms, a grudging toleration of the new deal or an outright rejection of its terms and a divorce. The party that was put on notice, understandably would consider alternatives before making a decision.

As many will attest, divorces are often bitter and acrimonious with significant co-lateral damage to the reputations and lives of the parties involved.

Anecdotal evidence gleaned from water-cooler conversations has told me that there is a significant resentment to changing the status quo and that the buzz is pointing to a lavalife for new technology solutions. My own institution is actively considering, lower cost alternatives where ALL of our monolithic systems are concerned and an educational institutional binder (formerly an ELA) on Creative Cloud would certainly fit this rubric. While ELAs in the old product-focused Adobe actually created significant value for our students and our organization, we are now going to experience a sharp rise in our student pricing from $130 per capita to over $700 per capita for a three year diploma student. This is a difficult expense increase to justify and this has resulted in leading suggestions from administrators pointing to “competitors” to Adobe:

http://www.webdesignerdepot.com/2013/06/15-alternatives-to-adobe-creative-cloud/

Adobe is a world class company who, in my estimation, “gets” education more than any other company but the latest move to Creative Cloud has me wondering about what some feel has been a “Strong Arm” approach to licensing the CC suite.

I know that it was a deeply consultative process in the lead up to the Creative Cloud release and I know that substantive models of change are difficult to manage at the best of times but perhaps the biggest take-away of all is that Adobe is now a relationship company from bow to stern. The “product” is merely the hook into establishing that relationship. Knowing that simple fact Adobe should now be doing a full-court press on managing those established relationships in a way that leads to a better marriage rather than a divorce.

3:51 PM Permalink
June 4, 2013

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Knowledge: Exploring the use of Augmented Reality in Education

I have a lab dubbed “The Knowledge Garden” where I jump, feet first, into the unknown with my students. Change comes so fast in the Technology landscape that waiting until I have a demonstrable grasp of the subject matter—enough to tailor assets tied to predictable learning outcomes—seems completely at odds with the lay of the land. Instead, the classroom is flattened and my role shifts from being an authority on a technology to being a co-explorer with a few more notches on my belt than my students. Typically, we wade into Beta environments where documentation is scarce to non-existent. There are few signposts and worn paths in these environments and even fewer materials. This allows my students and I to experience a just in time or JIT learning paradigm. What we explore, we map, document, demonstrate, illustrate and publish. It is a form of informal, applied research. My students and I then curate the collective knowledge gleaned from these explorations into a learning repository that is hosted on a course WIKI and made searchable and usable by future groups that may wish to repeat what we did or expand the horizon of discovery in some area that we did not previously investigate and, so, in this fashion, we put our collective shoulders to the task of moving the ball further up the hill.

Last year my students explored mobile publishing on a beta deployment of Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite and, for the very first time, my students and I had produced learning assets that pre-dated the public release of that software by one month! This meant that we had moved from JIT to BIT learning (BEFORE ITS TIME)! This was a very exciting proof of concept that demonstrated how student-based research could be an extremely valuable mechanism for pushing the exploration of new technologies in education.

Testing triggers for Augmented Reality

Testing triggers for Augmented Reality

After my students finished their explorations, we then teamed up with interested faculty members to mentor them on using these technologies in their own teaching practice. This resulted in the production of our school’s very first App on the Apple App store and stood as a use case for integrating the power of the Adobe DPS system as an internal communications vehicle. This has spawned several knowledge transfer workshops to other stakeholders in the school that included using the platform for Academic Publishing at our Institute Without Boundaries (http://worldhouse.ca). Students from the Knowledge Garden are providing leadership in the transformation of how we do things by actively promoting and mentoring the use of the technologies that they have explored.

This sort of knowledge transfer represents a complete inversion of the original educational hierarchy. This winter we worked on using two Augmented Reality products called Aurasma and Layar to support an interactive exhibition on The History of Game Design. Students used Adobe After Effects to produce short, 2 minute documentaries on seminal games in the evolution of game design. These videos were then “bound” to “Trigger” images that were vinyl cut and displayed around the halls in our new School of Game Design. This content was then geo-located on a GoogleMaps API within an Aurasma channel titled “The History of Game Design” and then socialized for discovery. Interested users can “Follow” our channel or perform location-based browsing that indicates that there is content nearby. Once they have subscribed to our feed they are given thumbnails of all the visual triggers or “auras” so that they can look for them on location. Exhibit goers used smart phones and tablets to access this video content by pointing their devices at the triggers  or Auras (Aurasma). We also produced a printed catalogue for the exhibit that a person could read in the conventional manner, yet when they scanned its pages, their devices pushed the video content to their  devices (LAYAR).

 

It was amazing to see throngs of people actively engaging in learning that had exploded beyond the traditional confines of the boxed classroom. One student lamented “I wish we could learn like this.” To which I added. “That is the point of this exercise. This is paving the way for new models of delivery.” It allows us to rethink the locus of learning as well as our conventional notions of time and place. The learning is always there, waiting for the intrepid explorer to find it and uncover its bounty. The notion of geocaching learning invites comparisons to a treasure hunt. Exploring the hallways of our school with a smart device is a little bit like having those X-Ray specs that they used to advertise on the back of popular comic books years ago. Our space is bristling with information you just have to know how to look!

Below is a sequence showing short introductory sequences that we shot against a green screen then rotoscoped in After Effects. We created pixelated avatars of each team member as our trigger images and matched up the video so that when the user pointed at the screen (see image above) the video image of the person would dissolve in over the avatar and tell the viewer what that video game that person first played and what they were currently playing. CLICK below to learn about MY gaming habits!

jim_kinney_avatar

Below is a short student sequence documenting their interaction and impressions of the medium.

student ar interaction with AR

Below is a sample of one of the documentaries produced by one of my students Evan Gerber.

Mini Doc on Halflife game

If you are ever in the Toronto area, please drop by the George Brown, School of Game Design at 241 King Street East, 5th floor and discover the learning that silently and invisibly clings to our walls!

I am currently working with a small group of Design and Fashion faculty to share what we learned on our journey into AR. I am assisting them with creating short demonstration videos and tying this trigger images that they will be able to post up in their labs.

I would like to hear from anyone else who is using this technology in a teaching and learning context.

Regards,

Jim

4:23 PM Permalink
June 4, 2012

Goin’ Down the Road: My Teaching Philosophy

My title alludes to Don Shebib’s iconic Canadian movie version of the Iliad—the classic account of the collective journey brought back from beyond the margins of the known—from the creature comfort of the status-quo or the cozy confines of the Hobbits’ shire, in the case of J.R. Tolkein’s novel, The Hobbit.

Teaching, for me, is a story of adventure, of audacity and derring-do. The complimentary aspect of teaching is, of course, learning and the two are mutually interdependent aspects of the same thing—a journey of transformation that, necessarily, brings tectonic shifts in our collective worldview that in turn changes the way we see ourselves and the way in which we engage the world. It is a process of invigoration whereby our lives are given deeper meaning and purpose.

I suppose I chose the awkward, Canadian version of this iconic journey for its allusion to the film whose lack of polish gives it a certain honesty and rawness that lacks the gloss of something that has been overly refined. Refinement and process for me are anathema to the sort of real and visceral learning that typically happens when we wade into uncharted territory—all else is sophistry and formulaic to my mind and this can be the source of some philosophical inconsistencies teaching in a Community College with its traditional emphasis on what the Sophists referred to as “techne.”

I am greatly influenced by the Greek philosophers and, although I derive inspiration from pioneers in holistic education like Rudolph Steiner, I am a Platonist at heart.

I see my role as a catalyst in the ongoing process of the personal transformation of those with whom I am privileged to share time along the path of an incredible adventure that leads us ever forward toward the unknown horizons of a shared dream. Along the way, we listen and help to draw out one another’s hopes, fears and dreams in order to facilitate the process of mapping the route that we have travelled and to reflect on that journey in order to provide a contextual narrative that will help to ground our decisions for setting course for new, uncharted shores. I embrace the wisdom of Poet Robert Frost in his classic “The Road Not Taken.”

I encourage my fellow travelers to be explorers as opposed to tourists—to eschew the proven, vicarious and rote in favour of the novel and risk-laden experiences that enrich the threads of one’s personal narrative and make life and learning interesting and engaging. I encourage trust—trust in oneself, in others and in the possibilities of meeting the unknown. Trust in oneself breeds confidence in one’s abilities to face the unscripted challenges of life. School can too often be nothing more than a “canned experience” that mitigates risk and seeks to contain and restrain by delivering standardized, routinized and predictable outcomes that are at odds with the unpredictable and intractable nature of everyday existence. Trust in others is an essential ingredient of our collective identity. It is the glue that binds us and enables us to do things collectively in a way that transcends the limitations of the individual and allows opportunities for our collective energies to be given sublime, concrete expression. It engenders a form of free and responsible citizenship whose greatest goods come from active participation in the co-creation and co-stewardship of the common good.

A long history in improvisational theatre has taught me the value of collaboration and the importance of both giving and receiving of offers of talent and ideas and how, when we collectively surrender our egos and allow for a space where co-creation can occur, the results can often be sublime. I have learned to accept that failure is an inevitable and important consequence of this sort of experimental and experiential approach to collective creation. I am not interested in what one knows, rather, I am more interested in learning about what we don’t know today—tomorrow and sharing in the process of how we achieved these insights—the narrative of the road. To that end, collaboration is an important dimension of the learning activities in my environment.

Teaching and learning for me constitute an environment that is complex and highly interdependent. It is a whole that transcends its mere constituent parts. It brings many entities into highly complex relationships that, when cultivated, help us to find who we are in these relationships and to experiment with different aspects of ourselves in relation. It is an ecology of deep personal—even spiritual growth and revelation that intertwines relationships forged in a communal search for meaning.

The ecosystem of learning is not limited to clichés of Teacher, Student, Class, School, etc.. I believe that it is an integral part of the broader social, political, psychological and spiritual ecosystem that serves as a space where all dimensions of our collective lives from the rote and banal activities of the everyday meld with our boldest experimentation, where failure and triumph, grieving and celebration meet one another with the sole purpose of allowing us to collectively dream of a brighter tomorrow and to set about investing in this belief through audacious creative endeavours that will bring our dreams to fruition.

The learning ecosystem is an economy of transformation that values the sharing of ideas and earnest effort as its currency. It is an engine of change that facilitates our collective migration from the status quo towards a more sublime ideal. It is a story that has been in the making since the dawning of humanity and one that we continue to write. It is a collective narrative that takes form in informal discussions with faculty and students, formal strategy and planning meetings within the institution, negotiations between management teams and union heads, assignment creation and execution, marking, revision, daily communications with all stakeholders, writing job and grant recommendations, counseling, performing and participating in surveys, posing and answering questions, listening, speaking up, advocating, admonishing, facilitating, meeting, joining, refreshing, participating, excelling, failing, observing, reporting, measuring, analyzing, phoning, emailing, SMSing, Facebooking, Ryppleing, Reaching out, liaising, apologizing, owning, etc..

The reductionist, hierarchal and categorical view of this economy of transformation that sees only teacher, learner, class, school, etc. is an anachronism of the industrial era—a mechanistic view of reality and is out of touch with the hyper-connected 24/7 internet age. The age of instant, ubiquitous and searchable knowledge challenges us to see ourselves in new ways, governed by new relationships in this new techno-cultural milieu. We have been radically interconnected to a degree where paradigms of time, place, authority and knowing take on a radically new dimension that I have heard referred to as a “digital pentacost” in reference to the Christian tradition where people are born into a new time wherein all nations share in the discovery of life changing spiritual vision that cannot be predicted or contained—allowing them to break from status quo ways of being and moving to a new ethic that embraced an open mind to the possibilities of the future. This was a time when traditional paradigms of knowing and communicating were superceeded by new (spiritual) abilities that could transcend barriers of time, space and even language.

We live in this time where embracing the comfort of the known ways of being and doing will certainly result in a continuation of our unsustainable destruction of our ecosystem and our very humanity. There is a pressing need for us to be brave enough and audacious enough to wander down a new path together and the teaching and learning environment can create the sort of climate that is appropriate for seeding such a transformation.

I don’t think that this is something that we can teach in the classic sense of filling the empty cup, rather it is a decision that we must invest in together on all levels by all stakeholders and that we must have courage to move quickly and decisively to walk the walk together and take “the Road not taken!”

To this end I have spent the last 9 years struggling with the challenges that our new ecosystem presents for teaching and learning. During that time I have worked on developing a teaching methodology dubbed RISK-based learning (Rapid Integration of Skills and Knowledge) that uses collective, crowd-sourced approaches to dealing with rapid technological change and its corollary of obsolescence. I have given over 12 presentations to University and College educators from Montreal to San Jose on this topic and was recognized with the McGraw-Hill Award for Innovation in Teaching & Learning in 2007. I have enjoyed the privilege of being an active member of both the Adobe Education Leaders and the Apple Distinguished Educators groups where we work to advocate best practices in the integration and use of technology in teaching and learning.

6:06 PM Permalink
March 20, 2012

ON-DEMAND AMNESIA AT THE SELF-SERVE WINDOW OF EDUCATION

Plato, the smartest man I know, is often credited with having said something to the effects that “if I know anything, it’s that I know nothing at all.
Was he alluding to his own philosophy of ideal form and the fact that he considered himself a perpetual student of life-unformed, unperfected and still in the processs of attaining to perfection-perhaps. Could it be that he was genuinely suffering from some sort of senile dementia that had robbed him of his intrinsic capacity for memorization?
I think that it was a little of both. To understand this we need to re-visit history- both Plato’s history and the phenomenon of history itself.
The historical narrative as we know it in the west today underwent tectonic changes in the period leading up to and beyond the time of Plato.
Traditionally, a people’s history, it’s myths, customs and secrets to survival were encoded and transmitted through a rich mix of media forms that included image, song, dance, story and elaborate eulogies and rituals. This mix of media was used as a mnemonic device to facilitate burning the shared narrative into the collective conscious.
Attending to this legacy of collective wisdom required a collective response and all members of early societies were compelled to bear the burden of the cognitive load of their history by committing some or all of it to memory. This titanic feat of memorization was facilitated through their participation in rituals designed to replicate the DNA of their narrative. This form of the shared burden of memory was highly codified and participatory in nature and constituted a significant drain on the resources of early people’s and may well have been the impetus behind the shift from hunter gatherer societies to sedentary agrarian modes.
The birth of the sign, be it a hand on a cave wall, a hieroglyph or cuneiform impression in clay, “marks” a major shift in media that allowed history, narrative and collective memory to be externalized. According to seminal theorists like Harold Innis, Erik Havelock, Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong, the shift to writing revolutionized the manner in which we were able to organize ourselves and, in the end, our systems of thought. With the embrace of writing, ideas could be disembodied and travel through time and space to reshape the power constructs that shaped our social contract and its associated value systems.
The move to embrace the technology of writing, for all it’s promise, was hotly contested by the Greeks of Plato’s time (It has been contended that Homer and the Iliad was a collection of oral stories that were shaped into a collectively celebrated and performed oral chorus that were eventually canonized into an official text under the aegis of a single author) An early Egyptian account of Pharaoh’s rebuff of the god Toth’s gift of writing also speaks to this issue. Pharaoh contended that writing one’s history would invite sloth and forgetfulness in his subjects. Aristotle pushed writing as a means to establishing standards, verifiable facts and officially sanctioned versions of events-a singular perspective over a mosaic-the very things that make empires and institutions possible. Historical narrative and identity went from being a living, shared legacy to a lifeless, static disembodied archive that had to be retrieved and reconstituted, often without the crucial keys of context. The complex data set of living history was no longer participated in by those who had lived it. If one’s experience was deemed to be valid, it would then be recorded, re-framed and redacted by a singular author. This created a world view that had shifted from composite view to a one point perspective.
The advent of the internet and social media has once again invited a composite and participatory narrative where we can upload testimonials to the banal and the sublime dimensions of our existence. What is interesting to note is that while we are immersed in this participatory narrative, the repository of our experience no longer exists embodied within us in the same way as it did in pre-literate societies. In our state of what Walter Ong refers to as “secondary orality” we have dispensed with the burden of memory. The fact that we use the cloud as a mass-repository of our collective data set allows us to forget. With a simple Google search (Scholars portals for the more academically rigorous) we can conjure up that entire data set on a whim. In short, technology—like spellcheck—has rendered memorization culturally obsolete!
I have observed this phenomenon first-hand in the classroom. Often, when I give a lecture or demonstration, it is painfully obvious to me that few students are paying attention to what I am saying or doing. Performance aside, the fact is that they have access to multiple channels of information through the internet, cell phones, neighbours, etc. and despite prefacing my musings with “THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT IGNORE AT YOUR PERIL!” They continue to push and pull information on demand from these sources. Clearly, I am in direct competition with a staggering array of alternative channels of information. It is not that my students are neglecting to pay attention, they are opting to attend to other priorities at that particular time. It is not that they don’t value what I have to offer either. Invariably, after providing my demos a student will ask a question that I had directly addressed in my presentation. On repeating the demonstration the process frustratingly repeats itself until each student in their own time and on their own terms has what they need from me. At times it feels like I am working the drive-thru window at a burger joint!

What has become obvious to me is,  given that I podcast many of my lectures and that so many similar podcasts abound in places like Youtube, a student can gain access to information if an when THEY need it, NOT when I think they need it. It is truly an ON-DEMAND phenomenon that challenges our assumptions about what constitutes effective teaching and learning. So, despite my frustration at their seeming inattentiveness or inability to memorize I have to remind myself of the environments that they inhabit and the rules of engagement that those environments tend to promote or curtail.
Like it or not we have entered an age of a technologically-induced culture of amnesia and instant gratification. To argue whether or not this is culture has validity vis-a-vis our old teaching and learning ecosystems and their associated methods is not a profitable one, rather, we should be exploring how can we reshape the arena and methods of discourse to facilitate deep and meaningful activity for those who have assumed these new technological milieus as the ground conditions of how they access and use information.

I am still working on the answer to that question!

9:18 PM Permalink
March 6, 2012

Worth vs. Work Transforming People and Organizations for The Knowledge Economy

Labour, as its name would suggest, has shouldered its own burden through the ages. Elevating its noblesse or reducing its worth has pitted politicians, social engineers, economists, Marxist theoreticians and capitalists in a titanic ideological struggle that has resulted in labour being commoditised and reduced to the lowest common denominator. Clearly—the dominant western view enjoys a pan global embrace—putting labour, as we once knew and loved it, squarely at the bottom of the Darwinian food chain.

It stands to reason that value or worth inheres in something other than the proverbial “sweat” of our brows. Value now accretes around our ability to build and leverage connectivity and the accumulated  social capital that is measured not in dollars and cents, rather in clicks and likes. Social platforms provide us the ability to form a vast and persistent wake or  train of links to a constituency of people who maintain an ongoing interest in us and provide us with a basis of worth in the emerging economy. The prudent investor seeking to increase his or her “worth”  in this environment, then, would be wise to invest in being highly social and joining the conversation around the water cooler.

There are many, and I would include myself in the many, who stubbornly cling to a sentimental notion of “work” and who view the “Social Thing” as a waste of both time and money (two very familiar friends from the old paradigm of work). This group sees internet use as a form of play at its best and distraction at its worst. We fail to see “traditional” value in it and many of us in law, finance, markets, advertizing, education struggle to wrestle this round peg into the very square hole we created for ourselves over the years.

Walter Ong asserted that the wired generation would enter into what he termed “Secondary Orality” Where being interconnected to the degree that we are forces us to be highly participatory and involved rather than isolated and detached. If you consider traditional organizational schemas pertaining to work, it was mechanistic and hierarchically and linearly structured with each cog doing a very specific job (valued in years of experience and levels of education) performed in relative isolation. It was the age of specialization.

We must then ask, what are the competencies for thriving in this new economy? Learning the Art of Conversation seems to be a crucial one. Connecting and conversing through Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and WIKIs and the like are a good start. Knowledge in this arena seems less proprietary and more of a multi-valent narrative much like going around a campfire circle improvising the lyrics as we move from one camper to the next. For this to work well you need to develop expert listening skills so that you can take what is offered to you, add to it, and pass it on—classic IMPROV theatre techniques that can be gleaned from the works of Sages such as Viola Spolin or Keith Johnstone. A good conversationalist needs to be a generalist so that you can engage with people on their own turf and terms. A good generalist should, naturally, be willing to assume a variety of roles. This ability to switch roles not only confers an adaptive advantage on the individual and the entities that they provide worth to it also helps to build a deep sense of empathy for others in similar situations—especially when you assume new and unfamiliar responsibilities—you understand firsthand what it is like to walk a mile in the novice’s shoes and gain an experience at a grassroots level that older, structured organizational forms cannot  accommodate.

While most organizations recognize the sea changes that are washing over and around us, few have a clear vision of what they need to do in order to engineer a successful transformation that can effectively leverage the emerging paradigms of value. Part of the problem is the inability to wean the organization from traditional rubrics of valuation and organization. Most consider integration as being a scheme aimed at embedding a new technology into an existing structure with the least amount of disruption. The irony is that it is the disruptive aspect of these technologies that should be leveraged NOT mitigated! Often in these circumstances the irritation caused by the “integration” is grudgingly tolerated by decree. The points of contact in the organization are not in alignment with the natural tendencies of the technologies adopted and they often fail or fail to live up to unrealistic expectations.

Few storied organizations are flexible enough in their thinking to consider that a radical restructuring of the org chart is necessary in order to allow these technologies to revolutionize the way they do things. The real innovation, interestingly enough, is in the capacity to consider the sweeping cultural, organizational and economic changes that might be required—the technology simply acts as an accelerant.

I have been working for approximately 8 years on driving cultural change vis-a-vis technology in an applied education context and have encountered the tensions between maintaining the status quo and driving innovation. I can assure you that simply acquiring the latest greatest technology simply does not work without exporing new forms of organization that reflect the inherent tendencies of these technologies and the environments that they help to shape.

I have attached a dossier of illustrated PDFs that detail some aspects of the knowledge and media ecosystem, the competencies and relations between people working in these environments as well as a series of snapshots detailing moves that I have been making away from linear, factory models of organizational efficiency toward models that are more organic, self organizing, agile  and adaptive in order to facilitate RISK-based learning (Rapid Integration of Skills and Knowledge) and effective engagement with emerging technologies and environments.

knowledge_economy_package

3:14 AM Permalink
October 28, 2011

RISK eBusiness: Moving to a Just In Time Method of Teaching

Trapped in a Tar Pit

Metaphorically speaking, a dinosaur is any entity lacking the capacity to adapt to environmental changes in a timely fashion. While a dinosaur may well possess the ability to adapt it may be an unfortunate accident of biology or culture that predisposes it to an internal rate of transformative change that is relatively static compared to the rate of change in the environmental factors that, normally, support and optimize conditions for its survival. This inability to match the pace of change places the dinosaur at a competitive disadvantage that eventually pushes it to the margins of relevance and results in its eventual extinction—both literal and metaphorical.

No creature would invite change for its own sake and—humans being like most other creatures—expend enormous amounts of energy attempting to stabilize our situation and achieve a form of stasis that allows us not only to survive but to thrive in relative safety and comfort. We tend towards mitigating the effects of the unknown and the unpredictable and this requires apprehending and utilizing knowledge of the environment in order that we might exploit it to advantage.

Our ability to utilize binding symbolic language and symbolic artefacts and to fashion tools that—according to Marshall McLuhan—extend, enhance and accelerate our effective selves, creates a buffer between us and a natural order that challenges us with the timeless struggle for survival.

The fact that we will soon be uneasily celebrating the turnover of our biological counter to the 7 billion mark is a testimony to how successful we have been at disconnecting from or minimizing the risks that the natural order presents. One could argue that this disconnection could be better characterized as a complete domination and subjugation of the environment that carries with it a dire corollary for our long-term survival and that the technocomplex that we created constitutes its own environment with its own evolutionary pressures.

The Silicone  Pit

Iterative improvement and automation have resulted in the sort of hyperbolic innovations that engineer Gordon Moore predicted in the mid 1960′s. The rate of change is dizzying and poses significant challenges to our capacity for adapting to the changes they usher in. The explosion of new technologies, whose cycles of innovation and obsolescence relegate one to the status of instant expert or instant dinosaur in the blink of an eye, constitutes our greatest environmental challenge.

Having knowledge of one’s object of inquiry has traditionally meant being able to give a name to it—to plot its co-ordinates and assay and record its characteristics. This sort of knowledge has traditionally conferred on the inquirer a degree of power and control over their object of inquiry—it is a form of experiential mapping, if you will. However, this is not so easy with respect to characterizing much less predicting the evolutionary trajectory of our modern technological landscape. Mapping the contours of our ever-changing, ever-expanding information and techno-complex is intractable as mapping sand dunes or clouds—the particulars are so infinitely complex and changing that it defies linear, rational and concrete approaches to knowing. It is a phenomenon that has rapidly emerged into a quantum state where power comes from making sense of the relational dimensions between the elements of this complex rather than knowing the particular qualities or quantities associated with the constituent elements themselves. Understanding, then, assumes a holistic character where inductive logic gives way to deductive and intuitive processes that may benefit more from a metaphor or narrative thread with which to frame or anchor one’s understanding of the infinitely complex. This form of knowing differs from the traditional detached objective methods of scientific knowing. Instead, this form of knowing is experiential, immersive and, simultaneously, transforms both subject and object.

Consider that, in using a technology, you have changed the manner in which you interact with the world around you and this results in the emergence of new patterns of behavior, new modes of interaction, shifts in language, value systems and culture and we are irrevocably changed and the system within which this technology has been used is changed too. This implies that the relationship between subject and object have also shifted. In short we see the world in a different way for the simple reason that our internal value systems have dramatically shifted and the world that we inhabit has also dramatically changed. While we highly value information that is accessible and searchable many with the means to do so would pay millions of dollars for a highly inaccessible “original” painting by, say, Rembrandt, while few of us would be willing to pay for a digital version of it. An objects potential for ubiquity works in tension with its unique instantiation. An object that can readily be reproduced and reducing its value to near zero in a commodity-based economy where value is predicated on scarcity. The web-enhanced age in which we live is one of infinite abundance and, hence, traditional economic value cannot be derived from the objects produced in this ecosystem but, rather, from the relationships that it facilitates. While scarcity and  authenticity are still significant arbiters of value today we see from the runaway success of social resources like Face Book

The Renaissance Through the Looking Glass

The age of now has oft been described as one of digital tribalism where the age of empire, standardization, control and concentration of power and influence have given way to chaotic and barbaric forces that truculently refuse to be defined and controlled by the old paradigms. We are advancing toward the past—almost medieval, semi-literate forms of informal, quasi-embodied social interaction where the emphasis is on the relationship—on being there (digitally) and participating in the conversation. It is Walter Ong’s Post-literate society or age of “secondary orality.” We are leaving the time where meaning was defined in terms of rational scientific constructs and entering a new epoch where our old science creates more questions than it is capable of answering—adding to an already infinite data set. We are entering a new mythopoetic age where it is pointless to look at the massive complexity of our modern technological and information ecosystem and hope to induce meaning and significance through observing it. What is significant is that we are not detached from it (as the old science would have it) we are caught up in its turbulence trying to keep our heads above water, as it were. The more sane approach would be to recognize that this leviathan chimera unleashes enormous pressures on us and to not ask what this means but, rather, to demand “what do we wish this this to mean for us now and in the future” and to hold it to account for this vision. We must not embrace technology simply for its own sake, rather, it should be subsumed in the service of our collective vision for the future and, in that sense, we are called upon to dream and to do so boldly. To envision a world where technology and information serves to nurture humanity requires that we come to understand who we are at our root and to what purpose must our hearts and our minds be put. These questions resonate with aspects of spirituality that seem antithetical to the project of science. However both science and technology have no life or no meaning without being grounded in the context of life—of attending and attaining to being fully human in a world that is rich,  diverse and healthy and to this end all human projects should bend their respective backs to the task of enriching life on this planet and, thus, must be held fully accountable to this demand. Human health is linked to a complex web of inter-relationships that extends out beyond the human sphere to include the entire created order. Our evolving technological landscape has the potential to allow us to discover who we are both individually and collectively in relation to the broader world and to deepen the veracity of relationships that putative modern western science, and the tsunami of uncritical progress it unleashed, has unwittingly compromised.

Why Are We Here and What Are We Doing?

The philosophical perspectives/worldview that I outlined in the preceding paragraphs were not derived from gleaning through the tomes of savvy and erudite pop culture gurus (although I owe a great debt to Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Marshall McLuhan, and Walter Ong and have enjoyed sharing insights articulated by the likes of Richard Ogle, Don Tapscott and Malcolm Gladwell), rather they came from a direct experience of some fundamental changes that I was experiencing in relation to my subject area and my relationship with my students.

 

2:44 PM Permalink

Content and the Malcontent: A Reflection On the State of Educational Publishing in Canada

A colleague of mine raised the issue of Cartels in relation to discussions we were having on the state of Educational Publishing in Canada and it caused me to reflect deeper on the issue. I would like to share my thoughts on the subject.

Cartel culture runs deep in corporate Canada. Publishers, Media Consortia, Telcoms and, abominably, Beer Producers being the most culpable. Unfortunately, this has stifled innovation because the bottom line for any Cartel is predicated on maintaining the status quo. Recent announcements on a collaboration between Pearson Publishing and Google may signal a change in the wind, however, I remain cautiously skeptical and I cannot help but feel that it might be nothing more than a savvy co-branding exercise.

Canadian publishers have had an entitlement to the wallets of our students and they have been soundly rebuffed by them over the last 10 years in their flight from the bookstores. From the announcement alluded to earlier, it would seem that publishers would like to enjoy the same level of control over the emerging landscape. Why else would one approach the emperor of the internet (Google)? It is a truism to say that the net ecosystem by its nature is infinitely complex, decentralized and  democratic and it will be curious to see how a Cartel mixed with a virtual monopoly can provide a product or service that resonates with the vox pop of the wired generation.

While educatonal publishers still have an important role to play in the media ecosystem they need to eat  humble pie in my estimation. Something inside me tells me that this meeting between Google and Pearson is like lavalife for publishers. Google is the Yenta who is powerful enough to force an arranged marriage that we scholars and our students didn’t necessarily ask for or want.  Using Google in this manner avoids the messy business of having to engage with the very audience who has rejected your offer of marriage in the first place! The scene reminds me of a titled aristocrat desperately seeking a hasty marriage to a well endowed bride in order to shore up his sagging fortunes.

For the less cynical, perhaps, the threat of extinction has caused them to consider what is at stake and they have listened to a constituency that they have largely ignored in the past. The publishers in Canada need to understand the new ecosystem into which they have been unwittingly mired in—an ecosystem where the “consumer” has a significantly different set of attributes and a demonstrably greater degree of power to shape and even create the very content they consume—it is an exquisite act of self-cannibalism. One might say that we are at the dawn of a renaissance in vanity publishing—my blogging activity, for example. And this is where publishers might actually be able to add value in ensuring that vainglory does not trump quality of content. Other factors in the media ecology are also worthy of consideration and may present opportunities for the hungry publisher. They should avoid the lure of trying to create a leviathan content technopoly (I suspect this is why Google is involved) and work on building value for their audiences. I get the sense that they wish to use these technologies to simply lock down and secure a distribution channel for their content and continue with the status quo. The challenges are much greater and it hinges on technology.

Technology is a thread that is ubiquitous in all disciplines and continues to be an invasive (gaining access into areas traditionally not enabled with technology) and disruptive species that causes social and economic turbulence or “disruption”. There is no “settling” of these turbid waters—no period of calm where we can establish the lay of the land and start utilizing it in some meaningful way. By the time we think we comprehend it, it has morphed into something else. This means that we must come to terms with the fact that there are no “set pieces” in education and that this means a significantly lower ROI on assets generated and a much shorter window in which to capitalize on any generated content and it is at “content” and its authorship/ownership where I think the publishers are, unfortunately, nostalgic.

We no longer live in an age where an artefact or content is the thing valued, rather, value inheres in the ability to connect, stay connected and maintain and explore the dynamics of a relationship (ie. Facebook). Content is a by-product of these relationships but the value to the participants lies not so much in what is produced but in the relationships themselves. At the root of internet content generation on social networks is a fundamental human need to instantiate our being in vis-a-vis the “other”. Nowhere in history is it more true than the internet age. Only pre-literate cultures enjoyed such a degree of radical interconnectedness.

If publishers could grasp the fact that their future lies not in securing and indenturing content rather, as brokers of deep and transformative relationships, they may actually be able to bring significant value to the current ecosystem, otherwise they are doomed to be horse traders in the age of the automobile. As content producers they have failed to deliver in terms of price, usability and timeliness. If every domain of human activity is technologically enabled in some way it stands to reason that the diffusion cycles of these technologies will be fairly aggressive and cause knowledge to obsolesce in 12-28 month cycles. Teaching and Learning and Educational Publishing, like it or not, are inextricably linked to the innovation cycle and demand agility in our adaptation to the new ecological niches they create. This is an incredibly demanding task and I don’t believe that traditional publishing workflows and value chains can support this. We need to explore adaptation strategies that engender collective co-authorship and collaboration even highly fragmented forms of  micro-monetization (App Store comes to mind) that allows everyone to participate in a YouTube style economy. The traditional “customer” has a significant role to play in the generation and shaping of content in this new economy with a larger share in both the benefits and the responsibilities. Facilitating this process, with a view to encouraging and promoting excellence is, to my mind,  the new publishing paradigm.

Facebook has categorically proven the value of relation over content and that the sense of authorship has morphed into a domain of co-creation and collaboration. Our students should actually be participating in building learning domain architecture, experiences and content. Not being considered as the bottom of a vertical food chain!

I have been working for the past 8 years on building a “Knowledge Garden” This project at GBC School of Design (an experimental lab in developing crowd-sourced approaches to educational content creation, curation and distribution) has and will continue to support  experimentation in new paradigms of engagement and I would be very keen to develop a partnership with an interested publisher to share in the co-creation of new learning methods from the ground up. We could certainly benefit from their expertise in content management and distribution and we could show them how this can be transformed into something new and meaningful for the wired generation.

2:42 PM Permalink
September 12, 2011

Atomization of the Product Ecosystem

With the advent of mobile, pad devices and the app store phenomenon there has been a trend that has effectively atomized product offerings that range from the sublime to the ridiculous (the latter seem to be doing a brisk business). This move away from “fat boy” apps that do everything under the sun to a widget with a streamlined and focused set of functions results in a daunting universe of choice akin to walking in to a candy store whose shelves are brimming to overflowing.
With so much up for grabs it begs the question: “Where do I begin?”
Adobe’s Periodic Table of Applications is no exception. While the products on the Adobe shelves are substantial they ,too, are by necessity, ever-expanding. Even for a seasoned user, the choice of which products will get the job done, is a difficult question that requires considerable research.

I am attempting to lead a transformation of our design department that will deeply integrate digital workflows—particularly those in the mobile space—and have been stymied by the task of trying to make sense of which workflows and toolsets make the most sense for particular contexts. The fact that many of the product offerings have significant overlaps in function make this task all the more intractable.
I made this known to some of the Adobe team while attending the San Jose educational summit this summer. I had bemoaned the fact that there was a palpable need for a killer infographic that detailed all of the production pathways and tools that one should use for particular tasks.

It suspect that  I came off as being rather naive to some of my technologically erudite colleagues. They informed me that there was no “right” way of doing things and that the nuances of each project required the aplomb of a Pebble Beach caddy in order to select the “right club” for the task at hand. While this may make sense for the seasoned professional, the fact remains that the sort of deep and latent process knowledge that many experts take for granted is inaccessible to the neophyte. I mused: “If only there were some sort of pre-application interface that could, through prompts, could ascertain the “WHAT” of your project and then present you with a number of scenarios for the “HOW” that would include workflows and tools.”

Imagine then, from a User Experience perspective, if all of our various expertise were to be explicitly rendered in a database that linked to a rich graphical front end, say, the very colourful Adobe Table of Elements. Imagine after answering a few prompts that branched down didactic rabbit holes of possibilities, the table of contents “LIT UP” like the letter board on Jeopardy! Imagine the pathways to production glowing in front of you, lighting your way from beginning to end!

I hope that Michael Gough, Adobe’s UX design head, has the opportunity to ruminate on this possibility!

3:46 PM Permalink