Archive for the ‘Connectivism and Connected Learning’ Category

Memetics and Connectivism

September 20, 2009

Hello Connectivism & Connected Learning 2009,

I took the course last year. I just finished reading an article by Andrew Sullivan on memetics and how it applies to strategic communications to counter terrorism ideologies (his article). I immediately thought of how to relate this to Connectivism. The Sullivan talks about how the broadcast medium and the internet are the focus of counter-terrorism message sending, however, among the Islamic community, people do not listen to the message because the counter ideology to Islamic ideology is a head-on attack to the teaching of the Koran. Thus, no one listens to Voice of America etc for their counter-terrorism ideological message. Sullivan argues, that to be effective, strategic communications needs to occur at the grass roots levels.

In many cultures, our values, beliefs, and ideology is formed through those we have close contact with. Therefore, to be successful in Iraq and Afghanistan, NATO must take its message directly to the people. And counter terrorism message cannot be a direct assault on Islam. Instead it must be what he calls “oblique” or what the English Interwar period military strategist, JFC Fuller calls, the indirect approach to defeat your enemy.

So what does this talk of strategic communications and counterterrorism mean to connectivism? Well connectivism is partly about how the social web allows many disparate people from all over the word connect with those of similar interests. Sullivan argues that technology will have little impact, instead you have to get the “oblique ideas” into peoples heads through verbal and personal discussions. (I guess that is why the Provincial Reconstruction Teams are so important.) So, Connectivsm and connected learning do not appear to be valid in this case. Read Little Boxes, Glocalization and Networked Individualism for another viewpoint that may support Sullivan’s thesis.

However, in support of connectivism and connected learning, I would argue that the broadcast and internet communications have to be more subtle. Rather than be a “bulldozer” you have to be a “gardener” to cultivate change in ideas. This is a principle of Facebook and Twitter. Companies that try to force their message out there, do not do well. It is better to have a conversation. So NATO and the US would be well advised to take advantage of the social aspects of the web to counter terrorist ideology.

In Afghanistan, the context of communication is the personal dialog. Therefore, the message must be carried by real people. In Afghanistan, maybe Connected Learning is the personal. So the trick is to get the message out to as many areas as possible and that it be consistent, but local. Perhaps NATO’s use of information technology allows the messengers (the PRT team) to be rapidly responsive to changes and to disseminate that information to all the military forces, to the Afghan government and ultimately onto the Afghan people.


POE206 Update: Mock Parliment

February 27, 2009

I wanted to give a brief update about my “connected” POE 206 class now the day 1 of 3 in the Mock Parliament has happened. We spent the last 3 weeks having students give presentations on political subjects of their choice such as education reform, First Nation land claims, Sikh right to not wear helmets while driving a motorcycles and so on. When the last presentation was given this week on education reform, we had a big discussion on the 3 functions of industrialized education:

  • create productive workers,
  • create a national unity,
  • create a civic minded population.

When the presentation was over, I had the students split into the government and opposition for the mock trial based on their responses to a political orientation survey I gave. As soon as the class split into its Liberal, NDP, and Conservative party groups, one lady commented that now she understood why certain people had certain views on political issues. Once it became clear what their party affiliation was, their commentary made sense. Last night I had 11 conservatives, 4 Liberals and 1 NDP. I had noticed that the class had a pro-conservative bias from the very first night. This was different that the military I knew in the 1980-1990s which was much more evenly split between Liberals and Conservatives.

I then wondered how perhaps the Afghanistan mission may have changed military members political orientation and posed the question:

Who of each party had voted for another party in 2004 other than the one they were in last night.

It turns out 4 of 11 Conservatives had voted Liberal in 2004. And 2 of 4 liberals had voted conservative. My NDP had voted NDP in 2004. Looking a the numbers then, I had 7 Liberals/NDP in 2004 and 9 Conservatives, a much more even split. I then stated to the class  that even though the Conservatives were in power, the Liberals had committed the Armed Forces to Afghanistan. The Armed Forces take great pride in their mission in Afghanistan and view it as a cathartic event because for the first time since the Koren War, the military has a clear purpose. The Canadian Armed Forces is reaching within and re-discovering its reason d’etre: “To win the nations wars.”

Soon after going to Afghanistan, a national election gave the Conservative a minority government. Since then, they have had to spend significant sums of money on new equipment for the mission or to support the Canadian Forces in general: C-17 strategic air lifter, CH-47 medium lift helicopter, Cormorant Anti-submarine helicopter, Leopard 2 tanks, mine detection/clearing equipment, mine resistant vehicles, , unarmed aerial vehicles for reconnaissance, new artillery rounds, a satellite surveillance system to monitor the Arctic, with a new C-130 replace soon to come. With all this new equipment, why wouldn’t a CF member support the current government . The Conservative government is making up for years of equipment declines. This is no different than any employee in a large organization pledging their support to a division or department that is currently undergoing expansion or growth.
So that is a political theory I am advancing on why the CF is currenlty very supportive of the conservative government.

CCK08: Course Critique for Connectivism and Connected Learning

February 21, 2009

I must admire George Siemens ad Stephen Downes for attempting the CCKo8 Connectivism and Connected Learning course in the Fall of 2008. The certainly bit off quite a bit trying to run an on-line course using many free software platforms and with 2200 users registered (although only about 30 paying students including yours truly). I have since created a online course, not the extent of CCK08, but I have seen my instructor hours go up by about 50% as I prepare presentations, deliver monitor discussion groups and mark more lessor valued assignments. (See my description of my POE 206 course for a comparison). My critique is largely based on the technical and administration. I actually found the content to be appropriate, stimulating, and thought provoking. I also went out and found extra things to read and since I subscribed to Stephen Downes OL Daily, I found myself reading other pertinent material not mentioned as required or optional reading in the Course Wiki. I do hope my comments below are taken in light of the fact that as a Canadian Military Historian by training and a former Army officer, I have a tendency to focus on the 5% that went wrong and not the 95% that went well :). I have an annoying tendency to strive for perfection.

George and Stephen set up a course that used Moodle for self contained discussions and posing of questions, a Wiki for the outline, A course daily newsletter, several blog platforms for students blogging, Elluminate and Ustream for live discussion, and tied the various tools together using Google alerts to notify of blog posts. I personally found the proliferation of platforms to be a nuisance from a technical and attention span perspective. However, it did prove the point of the how various networks operate and how different people communicate. Each platform addresses a particular user group and their preferences. I have been somewhat spoiled by being able to use  Enterprise grade Learning Management Systems (Desire2Leanrn) and Intranet platforms (SharePoint 2007). Also, George did warn us we would not be able to follow all activities (I skipped Second Life).

On the technical side, I could not access the Wiki until my company permitted the University of Manitoba port for the site through as the U of Manitoba used an non-standard. I was never able to get the chat feature in UStream to work, thus I missed out on a lot of back channel discussion during the Friday meetings. UStream also failed 3 times and we had to revert to Elluminate. There was no easy way notify the students of this. I would suggest in the future that students are told to monitor Twitter an hour before the class and if the session is cancelled (it happened once or there are problems with a platform, that the students could switch to the alternate platform.) George told me that some students could not use Elluminate and I was the only one that could not use Ustream properly so there was a trade off. Unfortunately, my teaching philosophy is that there has to be 100% access on the part of the students otherwise you cannot use that technology (I run into this problem all the time with the military DWAN network not allowing the use of Active X components or the download of Microsoft Office products. Thus, I cannot link to You tube, CBC videos, and I must post all my files as PDFs.) Since George is now aware of these technical issues, perhaps they can be investigated, solutions found, and int he future students can be advised of what system requirements, settings, and network security permissions they may need. I also found the need to go in a subscribe to the weekly Moodle forums to be a nuisance. I think Moodle needs an option to allow a person to automatically subscribe to all forums as they are created. In my own LMS, all weekly forums are present before the first students ever comes in so this is not an issue. Perhaps George could create each weeks forum in advances. This would also cause the students to post their comments in the appropriate week pertain to the subject of their comment as opposed  posting early.

As for attention span, the multitude of platforms made it difficult to track what was going on, especially blogs. As such, I found myself monitoring mostly e Moodle Discussion forum and using Google Alerts and Stephen and Georges noteworthy blog mentions to monitor blogs. I never did track any one else blog other than Lisa Lane because I find monitoring RSS feeds cumbersome (I am a power Email user). I am sure George and Stephen will have some obvious advice for me on that 🙂 I did notice the George did have difficulty tracking when people had submitted assignments because they could appear in your personal blog, Moodle or on other platforms. George had to rely on tracking the paying students blogs, Google Alerts and watching for tell tale subject lines t tan assignment was posted. I think what needs to happen for assignments that are to be graded is that there needs to be a clear subject line like”CCK08 Assignment 1 Submission: then your catchy title”. This would make it clear to all. Another hint would be to require students to send an email to George or require them to make a posting in a Moodle Assignment Submission Forum and provide the link to the site. I myself have found this to be a problem in POE 206  so I developed clear file name conventions, and subject line headings so general postings did not cause me to lose sight of the gradable assignments.

The last item is the delay in being notified of my final grade. Unfortunately, U of Manitoba has to have all students grades in before they can release it to individuals. I paid for the course out of my pocket and my company is reimbursing me upon receipt of a passing grade. I was starting to miss the $395 and my company wanted to finalize its 2008 financials. When I questioned George about this in the first week of February, he said he was still waiting for some final assignments. So, U of Manitoba should change its policy on releasing grades upon individual completion instead of class completion. For example, RMC uses an LMS that allows me to enter grades as the course progresses. As soon as the final grade for a person comes in, I enter it, and then “release” the grade the student can see their final grade immediately. I do have students that arrange to submit late, but there is a formal administrative notification and tracking system for late submitters and one or 2 people do not hold up the rest of the class.

I have 2 other suggestions:

1. Dave Cormier did an interesting experiment with UStream one week in which he ran 3 videos segments at the same time (himself, George, and Stephen).I thin this should be explored some more as I would have found it interesting to see all 24-50 students streaming at the same time (Although my network administrator would have freaked out at the bandwidth consumed.) Is there a live web streaming aggregator platform that could do this for only modest bandwidth usage. Just think how useful that could be, kind of like watching CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC, CBS, CBC, BBC etc all at once. This obviously has commercial applications for remote workers or even the extended family int he general public.

2. The Wiki Course Outline, although open for all to contribute to, was largely left untouched. Perhaps greater use could be made of this or perhaps a second wiki page to allow interesting student contributions to each subject in the course outline.

I would also suggest someone do a network study on this course as mentioned by several students in the Moodle. George admitted it would be hard to get permission from the university. I discovered some marketing monitoring software developed by Radian6 in Fredericton NB has the ability to go back 6 months and look at the internet historically to see who is talking about CCK08 and what they are linking to.

Despite 3 long paragraphs of what are largely “technical issues” and no philosophical or pedagogical issues, I think version 2.0 of the course will likely run a lot smoother technically, and require less time on the part of the facilitators. I enjoyed the course experience and hope to take more courses leading up to the new Certificate program at U of Manitoba in Certificate in Interdisciplinary Studies: Emerging Technologies for Learning (ETL)

Signing off of CKK08 (although I will  keep my Google Alerts active.)

POE 206 Canadian Political System Concept Map

February 18, 2009

My students did up concept maps of the Canadian Political system for the Canadian Forces professional development course as an assignment. Some had difficulty created “network connections” between ideas so I did one up to guide them further as they refine theirs as the course moves into the second half. Here is mine (by the way, the colouration of the political parties in the map is the colours the parties use when election campaigning):


POE206 Networked Learning Course Design

January 21, 2009

After completing the Connectivism and Connected Leanring course with Stephen Downes and George Siemens, I knew I could no longer run courses for the Royal Military College in the traditional manner. I teach online courses and on site courses (At CFB Gagetown, NB). The online courses I cannot play around with the course design as my section is one of about 10 concurrent sessions and they all have to be the “same” due to modularization of components of the course.  However, I have a lot more freedom with my synchronous, live, on site course. Perhaps this blog will act as a “recording” and encourage RMC to modify its course design.

This term I am teaching POE 206, The Canadian Forces and Modern Society. This is a introduction political science course. The online course design has the course into 2 modules, with:

Pretty traditional, huh? The students are all officers and soldiers and the course is part of their professional development (for university credit).

When trying to design a “networked” course design, I am hampered by the military’s, Learning Management System is DNDLearn (Desire2Learn product). DNDLearn is hosted on the www, however, many students do their assignments form their work stations on the DWAN (Defence Wide Area Network) with incredibly tight security rules (no Microsoft, Flash, or Active X uploads or downloads). Also, most social websites are blocked. (Even Canadian Broadcasting Corporation TV program segments. The CBC is a Government of Canada Crown Corporation!). Am also hampered by student knowledge of social web tools and the necessary conservatism of CF members to “restrain” their comments about politics. Hence, my class has to be treated as a “closed door” privileged platform.

Rather than create a course using most of the tools in the Connectivism Course, I chose to work with the constraints of DNDLearn. I am converting my  outline into a Wiki space. DNDLearn has a 10MB upload limit, so I have advised students that if they have multimedia files larger than that, that they can post elsewhere an make a posting in DNDLearn with the link. In this class, 28 of 30 students have access to computers not on the restrictive DWAN, however, I do have to think of the other 2.

The course interaction involves:

  • presentations by me each week,
  • the watching of multimedia videos,
  • an in class discussion of readings,
  • at home readings,
  • weekly blogs,
  • an open forum area for general discussions,
  • student presentations,
  • a concept map of the course content (using CMAP), and
  • a mock parliament.

Here is my new POE206 Course Outline.

The mock parliament looks like it will be the most fun. I borrowed the desing from the British Columbia Legislature. I had the students take a political spectrum survey on SurveyMonkey to place them in the Conservative, Liberal or NDP parties. It is now week 3 and the “election” is almost complete. I will announce the results in next weeks blog. The students will then:

  • elect a leader of their party,
  • put forward a bill,
  • select a bill for introduction in the House,
  • prepare a throne speech,
  • deliver it,
  • have the opposition respond,
  • vote on it,
  • then introduce a bill and go through the 3 readings.

I chose to have a robust online portion because typical a student may miss up to 3 classes due to operational training on the base. (I once had 3 students miss the last 3 weeks of the course becasue of being suddently sent to Haiti on a peacekeeping mission, but the LMS allowed them to keep up.) The online portion allows the students to keep up and keep informed. I post my lecture notes on the course home page News section by Monday (class is Wed). I have not recorded and upload to DNDLearn a podcast because I have to use an in-class military computer which will not allow open source downloads/installs. I have to teach to a pre-approved basic script as a minimum and I include this in my slide notes. Since I am not actually testing (quizzes or a final), the students don’t really need to listen to me talk. Absent students will miss the general discussions though. For all students generated work (report outlines, concept maps, presentations, bills, etc, must be submitted in the Discussion area for all other students to see and comment on.

I grade each blog and provide feedback. Keeping up with the weekly blogs and replies is about an hour a day (6 days a week). Preparing my presentations is about a 3 hours job. It took about 20 hours to come up with the course design. (I was quite nervous after presenting this course design on the students the first night and almost had an anxiety attack the next more until I read a students blog that this was his 6th professional development course through RMC and the first to have so much interaction adnt he first to break free form the standard quiz, exam, essay format.)

Here is the course Homepage showing the News where I post my presentations and administrative announcements (class cancellation). The Discussion navigation int he top link takes you to the Discussion area, Blogging area, and posting of assignment area.

DNDLearn POE206 Course Homepage

DNDLearn POE206 Course Homepage

There is multimedia files, the course electronic textbook etc under “Content” in the top left navigation.

Here is the Discussion area. Note there is an Administration area, Work spaces, including the Political Party specific forums (only members of the party can see there forum, so it works like caucus), a Lesson forum where I can pose a question or the students can for interaction, A Blog area with a forum for each student, and lastly, a CyberSocial area for anything else.

DNDLearn POE206 Discussion Area

DNDLearn POE206 Discussion Area

So far, the Lesson forums have been underutilized, but Blogging and other studnet replies have been going well. I ensure that students have clear subject lines in their blogs if it relating to “assignemnt” aspects of the course ie posting their Introductory biography, selecting their Presentaiton Topic, that the blog is their weekly contribution as opposed to a quick thought. Some studnets are not used to posting links to outside sources and rather copy and paste the news item into their post> I am getting them to provide links especially when they make braod brush statements like “most people”.

CCK08: Final Assignment – CMAP Recording Presentation

December 5, 2008

I thought I would do something different for my presentation other than a PowerPoint. I noted earlier in the course that CMAP had a recording feature to show the creation of a CMAP. I though I could use this to show how I answered the Final assignment # 4 questions in a concept map. Instead of a boring paragraph narrative structure or PowerPoint bullets. I thought I would use the sentence structure of a concept map to portray my ideas. I have struggled at work to show my co-workers my more complex ontologies so that they can understand them better. The recording feature can do this.

The CMAP allowed me to show an ontology of the Final Assignment, the relative strengths of some network connections I developed in the course and I could even incorporate thumbnails into each concept box (Thanks Lisa Lane). The is on Blip TV located here. (Note, Blip TV took my 183 MB AVI file and automatically converted it after uploading.) Lastly, here is a “still” shot of the completed presentation.


CCK08: Concept Map Assignment

November 24, 2008

Here is my concept map for the course. Note the differences between ideas influencing Connectivism, and the impact of Connectivism (thanks Lisa Lane for that concept categorization, see her concept map here.)


Nothing fancy, I borrowed a lot from another Concept Map I had on the go to document the knowledge  connections and act as my course notes. What is interesting when looking at this concept map/ontology is the concentration of connections on the George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Reading nodes. Now I admit that because I did not document all 2200 participants, nor every Moodle Forum, or reply post, or every Blog post, Elluminate Session, Ustream session etc that the connections may actually be concentrated or not concentrated somewhere else. Catherine Fitzpatrick commented in the Moodle Discussion Forum that normally networks act like groups because a few people tend to be more participatory/outspoken. I know the UStream Sessions did not exceed 58 followers and the Elluminate sessions normally hovered around 30 (due 2to 2 sessions). It would be very interesting to do a study on the course from the perspective of network connections to validate Catherine’s hypothesis. The study would have to take into account time as different people tended to appear at different times over the course. I sense a MA thesis in the offing! I like ontology’s as they tend to document things in more detail and I am a details kind of guy. My current work is taking ontology’s and exporting them into content management systems so that every concept box in the ontology becomes a topic to be authored (unless the ontology concept item is a piece of the metadata portion of the ontology) So anyways, here is my larger Ontology of the course cck08_mind_map_bradley_shoebottom-mind-map-of-course-information-week-11.

CCK08: Assignment 3: Opportunities and Resistance to Web 2.0 Teaching and Learning

November 17, 2008

A new theory of teaching and learning arose called Connectivism has recently become popular. (Siemens, 2005) Based on constructivism, it takes that theory to a new level by tapping into the power of greater connectedness brought about by internet-based communications. However, it has not come without its detractors. Some focus on how its network theory basis has problems when applied to human behaviour. (Catherine Fitzpatrick, 2008) Some focus on the ideas that information technology should find its way into most parts of curriculum based learning. The fundamental problem is what is the “best” way to teach or learn a subject. Therein lays the rub. There are multiple ways to learn about something. For example, Gardener outlines seven. (Wikipedia, Theory of Multiple Intelligences, 2008) The opportunities and resistance in society towards new approaches to teaching and learning varies depending on the level of education. There are different opportunities and resistance in the ages 5-18 year environment (Kindergarten to grade 12), post secondary (college/university), and the corporate world. In this short discussion I will argue that there are more opportunities to make fundamental change.

To start this discussion off at Meta level, one of the key problems is that much of today’s’ society operates in a competition model. Nations compete with each other for status, resources, or followers. Companies compete with each other for market share. Individuals compete with others for jobs, promotions, or mates. In effect, people operate in a selfish mode as described by Hobbes. (Wikipedia, Jonathon Hobbes, 2008) In the effort to achieve higher status, people often operate in opposition to collaboration. Thus, it is difficult to create agreement on many ideas. In Western society, other than politics and healthcare, a subject guaranteed to have many opinions is how an education system ought to be run. So, despite the fact the internet is connecting more and more people from a larger geographical area and transcending class boundaries, the largest part of the population was born in the pre-internet era. This pre-internet group views knowledge as a precious commodity that is need in effect for self preservation. Not so, think our post Generation Y internet savvy citizens. They view that knowledge should be shared and many in fact share lots about their personal life for anyone on the web to see. (Wikipedia Generation Y, 2008) So how does this play out in our educational institutions. The next section will look at the K to12 public education system, then the post-secondary institutions, and finally the corporate training world to see where lays the resistance and opportunities for change.

K to 12

The K to 12 education environment will be the biggest hurdle to teaching and learning theory change. There is a huge inertia to change due to:

  • The nature of limits to public funding. There is rarely extra money to experiment with alternative systems. (Instead, new systems are crated like Montessori.)
  • Practically everyone in the western world goes through the K to 12 education system. So for most people, it is the only system they know.
  • The administrators and teachers in many cases come from the previous generation with the associated “generation gap” issues of technology uptake, and attention to contemporary culture.
  • Since most adults have children, almost all adults will have an opinion on any suggestion to education reform.

Despite the resistance, there are some opportunities:

  • The cost of education demands new approaches because of scarcer tax dollars and competing programs such as healthcare due to the post-war baby boomer reaching retirement age.
  • Most of research in education theory takes place in the context of K to 12 so the path ahead may be clearer for this group than the next two described below.
  • There is more opportunity for grass roots initiatives among parents, individual teachers, and schools.

The inhibiters seem to outweigh the opportunities, but the three opportunities outlined above can be powerful persuaders to policy-makers.

Post Secondary

The post-secondary environment faces different challenges than the K to 12. Resistance in this group includes:

  • The Intellectual property aspect of professor’s knowledge. Professors guard their knowledge closely as a means of job protection and stature enhancement.
  • There is 30+ years of legacy professors who are not actually taught education theory. Many still practice the oral/blackboard mode of information transmission.
  • Post-secondary institutions regal in their “uniqueness” despite their sameness. (Michael A Peters, 2007)

On the opportunities side, many post-secondary institutions, whether publically or private funded face the same issues and thus opportunities:

  • These institutions need to increase their student population base in a declining enrolment era to keep or increase funding/profit. Turning to technology communication tools to “poach” on other geographic draw areas and to tap into pool of student snot normally able to afford university due to travel, accommodations, or full-time work status.
  • By turning to technology tools, the universities open themselves to much more socially interactive modes of learning
  • Post-secondary students can be more experimental, thus a fertile ground for causing changes.

Post-secondary intuitions may be the best positioned from an institutional perspective to adopt different approaches.

Corporate World

The corporate world is often not thought of in an institutional framework; This is in spite the fact all companies have a distinct corporate culture. This distinctiveness continues into the teaching and learning realm. Some companies do not place a high value on self-improvement, and instead focus on extracting as much productivity as possible. Others place a high value on gaining new knowledge so that the company can adapt to changing market and technological conditions.

Companies may have the greatest resistance to different approaches to teaching and learning because:

  • Most are not attuned to education theory or practice. Instructors are often specialists with no place in the organization for general educators.
  • Companies continue their current path unless profits shrink to a point where savings or alternative methods are needed to ensure the survival of the company.
  • Most corporations rely on accreditation status of outside organizations or product/service providers to pre-screen employees. The employer does not care what educational theory is used so long as employees have minimum capabilities and there are enough potential recruits available.
  • Many companies only have a check box attitude towards teaching and learning in professional development to ensure they are covered legally that employee has received training, so the quality of training experience is not much of a factor

Opportunities that lie in the corporate world revolve around globalization.

  • Globalization means increased competition so corporations look to reduce training costs and improve performance outcomes.
  • Companies understand the need to grow networks of people or create alliances and partnerships for information purposes. This a key aspect of connectivism.
  • Companies are actually more serious about new education theories and practice because of the need measure training outcomes against performance.
  • The most agile company will be the one that continues to thrive. Agility is linked to keeping up on the latest practice, even in education theory and practice.

What’s in it for society?

If society desires fundamental and systemic change, the advantages of different teaching and learning approaches include:

  • True performance based outcomes. A person can actually do math, dissect, read, write, or operate equipment. The school letter grade does not matter, it is performance based on discrete measurements.
  • Institutions can teach and learners can learn in lesser amount of time. So money is saved, more knowledge covered, or there is a greater depth of understanding.
  • Educators can now focus on the ideal learning environment/path for the learner.
  • There is now a desire for continuous learning. Self-motivation is much more powerful that institutional based motivation.
  • Create the personal and societal mechanisms for a collaborationist world.

Why listen to the inertia?

Despite the long list of points relating to the resistance to adopting new approaches to teaching and learning, there is some value to their concerns. Rather than rush into change, there is the need for facts/outcomes based research. Qualitative research is not enough. The results have to be convincing to the strongest nay-sayer.

Also, society will not change overnight. Change is a decades-long process. For example, even though some significant companies may change learning directions within a year or two, in general, it can take 10-15 years before all of industry changes. Lastly, many people that resistant change may do it at a personal level. Thus, change needs to focus on the person, and not the needs of the group. If you focus on the person, then you enable groups to succeed.

Will change happen or is this an exercise in wishfullness?

The opportunities we have outlined above offer a new direction for teaching and learning. However, is society up to the challenge? Will our group-like behaviours of weak ties and the fact the internet allows easy connections give individuals the depth of learning needed for the future with its complex challenges of globalization and climate change?

One of today’s problems is that we are a just in time society. Even our “close” family can be short shifted because of work commitments. We establish connections to get the info we need, then more often than not, bail on the connection. So, if we are that bad now at being connected, how can a theory like connectivism succeed? Why don’t we keep the connections?

Time: New problems in our lives present themselves differently than past ones so new connections to new people and information are needed. We drop the old ties for new ones.

Tools: We have not yet seen the best technology tools to keep us connected. RSS is still relatively new, email still pervasive, and there is poor integration of technology tools (task assignment tools, calendars, project management tools). The need to do manual updating of home and work-based toolsets because web platforms compatible in both places do not exist or are sometimes blocked.

I would answer that we can move beyond the weak ties and JIT connections. This course has already made me more attuned to emerging educational theory, more software tools to enhance the learning experience, to more people who can help me find the right tools, and to more case studies for their implementation.

As an example of adopting different approaches to teaching and learning, just the other day, while reading the Week 11 readings for CCK08 during my children’s swimming lesson, a peripheral acquaintance of about 5 years asked what I was reading. I told him it was for this course and how it was helping me teach better. It turns out he teaches political science part-time like me. He was getting tired of teaching the same content using the rather static lecture/seminar format and he wanted to make a change but did not now how. He started picking my brain on how to improve his course. Despite our busy lives (both of use have children the same age, and both of us have fulltime jobs in addition to teaching, and both of us are going to school part-time) we agreed to get together later in November so I could demonstrate the CCK08 course environment and my Royal Military College LMS so that he can implement a new course design in January. Because we have chosen to collaborate, we may have stronger ties than ever.

And I the CCK08 student, may become the teacher much faster than I thought.

Works Cited

Catherine Fitzpatrick, “Refuting Stephen Downes’ Theory of Networks Re: Blogs vs. Forums,” Connectivism and Connected Learning Course (CCK08), University of Manitoba, Forum: Week 3: Networks, 26 September 2008.

Michael A Peters. Higher Education, Globalization, and the Knowledge Economy, 2007.

George Siemens. “Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age,” International Journal of Instructional Technology & Distance Learning, II, 1, (January 2005).

Wikipedia, “Theory of multiple intelligences,” Accessed 16 November 2008, last updated 16 November 2008.

Wikipedia, “Jonathon Hobbes,” Accessed 16 November 2008, last updated 16 November 2008.

Wikipedia, “Generation Y,” Accessed 16 November 2008, last updated 16 November 2008.

CCK08: My Week 10 Ontology and how to use Ontologies for organizing your authoring and publishing

November 15, 2008

George Appel asked me to put my CMAP course ontology in a CMAP public place, but I couldn’t figure out how to do that. Isn’t new technology and networking mechanisms fun. Since it is late on a Friday, I though I would upload my latest PDF of my ontology. Note it is only 5 MB. The PNG format was 17 MB. IF you are wondering why it is so big, I use the ontology as my course notes and it goes into some detail, thus it covers a huge amount of 2 dimensional space.

I am a practicioner of detailed ontologies as they can be used to map out a whole body of knowledge. Each subordinate sub concept becomes its own “topic” which canthen generate a topic “shell” for me or others to author and the ontolgy itself can become a DITA MAP or a book table of contents.

Those of you that are educators that may want to use an ontology to organize your thoughts and then to author in XML so you can publish simultaneously to PDF, html files, or PowerPoint layout style, using the DITA open Toolkit might want to consider using an ontology. You can even use parts of the ontology to create a series or volumes in a body of knowledge. This is great for reuse. You do not need a content management system to manage the ontology, DITA MAP, or topics as it can be done on your local drive. DITA XML gives you the ability impose an information model (which also is designed using the ontology) including versioning (changes/amendments) so you can repusblish earlier or later versions of your work (also known as mulitstreaming).

CCK08: How to Profit off of Open Source, Or at least pay the Bills

November 14, 2008

I have been struggling with Stephen Downes views of Open Source and how it should be the wave of the future to ensure the most effective learning environment possible. My part time job teaching for RMC would have not problems with this model since what I teach is not designed around cost recovery.

However, my day job with Innovatia as an Information architect left me wondering how I could maximize the user and learner experience using open source (and not locked behind a LMS or username/password) while still enabling my company to earn a living producing telecommunications user documentation, and offering telecommunications training with our own LMS hosting service. I was wondering how I could take what I had learned form this course (which my employer was paying for) and implement it in the corporate training world. There appeared to be limited use of this “open source” model for “profit” organizations.

I had just read Disrupting Class by Christensen (Review here) which largely advocated a similar open source concept (very disruptive!) which I thought would work in the public K-12 government funded environment, but might not work as well in post-secondary or corporate training world.

Then serendipitously, Stephen provided the course with “Models for Sustainable Open Educational Resources” as an optional reading for Week 10. Then the light bulb came on for me 🙂 I could now discuss open source publication with my Innovatia sponsors when I brief them about the course and provide business model options.

To summarize Stephens’s views on funding for Open source authoring, he discusses:

  1. Endowments model
  2. Membership Model
  3. Donations Model
  4. Conversion Model
  5. Contributor -Pay Model
  6. Author-side Payments
  7. Sponsorship Model
  8. Institutional Model
  9. Government Model
  10. Partnerships and Exchanges

Now I will move into some specific exampels aroud authoring in the telecommunciations world.

In the telecommunications world, typically user manuals are published under the institutional model where the manufacture absorbs the cost of developing the manuals into the products list price. So there is always pressure to reduce authoring and distribution costs. This has led to XML authoring tools to allow maximum reuse of the content into multiple formats (PDF, web html, on product html help, CD-ROM, and Print). Some manufactures provide limited copies or access and then charge for extra access or copies at an attempt at cost recovery.

Training is a different story. Typically, training is based on a cost recovery basis. Instructional designers figure out how the content needs to be broken up and for what target audiences need addressing, and then build courses around that. It is not unusual in telecommunications to see 5 day classroom courses costing in the $3-5,000 range plus the cost of travel and accommodations to the manufactures training facility. There is a real move afoot to make training online either by eLearning or virtual classrooms with virtual labs (connectivity to working telecommunications equipment). Going online reduces the course delivery cost, reduces the customers travel cost to almost 0, and allows the frequency of the course offering to increase to customer demand levels since there is no physical classroom limitations (in other words, moving to the MOOC model of almost unlimited registrations).

In an effort to further reduce training costs, organizations are looking to DITA-XML and the OASIS eLearning specialization so that the technical publications content can be reused for eLearning content development. This works fine if you are a big player like IBM, Sun, Cisco, or Xerox. But, what if you are a small player and can’t afford these expensive authoring tools and complicated information models?

A solution gaining increasing popularity is where the manufactures “Sell” the rights to the training to a specialized training provider, who then uses these XML authoring tools to a large scale to produce the content, and the manufacturer receives a royalty. Sometimes there is partnership where the manufacture pays a portion of the training provider for the content conversion. The benefits for the manufacturer include reduced training costs for the customer, increased training availability, and usually better training outcomes, thus reducing the need for customer support staff. Oh yeah, the customer is so happy, they buy more training, and come back and buy more product instead of going to the competitor. The specialized training provider gets the benefit of an increased library, and access to customer list of potential learners.

Now how do you make this open source and still pay the bills. One way would be to make the training content truly open like MIT. To recover costs, the manufacture or the training provider could charge for certification exam, access to mentors, discussion groups, and access the training equipment. So if certification credentials are import to the customer, then this model works.

Now Stephen Downes suggests why people even need to pay for training. If the user manual is well written, people blog and do customer evaluations about products, then it becomes easier for John Q Public to never have to pay for training. However, some products are complicated like in telecommunications. I do not know if most people have seen the inside of a telephone company Central Office, but it can be a little bit complicated (See picture). Handing a technician a user manual does not cut it. There is a movement afoot to make technical documentation simpler. A manufacturer has a profile for each customer and the equipment it operates. Using an information model identifying what software features the customer is initially using and DITA XML topic based authoring, each customer can dynamically build their own user manuals based on a query to the manuafacturer’s information repository.

This sounds a bit nebulous so I will give an example: If the manufacturer has 8 ways of implement a feature, and the customer has chosen just one way, then the customer gets the instructions for the their chosen way, and does not receive the extra non-essential material.

This technique can also work for training. Customers identify themselves, what level of training they need, and what job function, and a course can be built dynamically. LMS have been oeprating in this fashion for almost a decade to the point of ven pre-testing to allow the learner to opt out of trianing they already know (wouldn’t it be nicer if the LMS already knew your trianing profile though? But that is an enterpise systems integration dilemma suitable for another blog post).

This works for the initial implementation, but can you imagine the manufacture maintenance of the back end customer information. What if the customer changes features without telling the manufacture. In this case, a simple questionnaire can gather and update the customer’s features list before generating the unique manual or training course. The cost of paying for this method would still be born by the manufacture or training provider, although in the case of the training provider, there would be cost recovery. Some models have proposed a charge for these spontaneously built user manuals that would be cheaper than having to pay for the whole, unneeded suite of manuals (that just gather dust if print, clog up hard drives and become out dated in both cases).

To make the system truly user-friendly, there is some thought about having the manufacture making the initial information available to the customers, and then have the customers customize the information repository to their specific needs. For example, I have already explained how the customer can build dynamic content around their features, but a customer could also using Wiki-like features, go in and upload their system schematics, photos, maps, or IP addresses and then have the content repository publish a unique document for the requestor. The automotive industry is already moving in this direction creating unique user manuals for each customer based on the features selected at the time of purchase. The arguments is why publish 3-400 page car manual that no one will read because there are too many radio options listed so people never learn how to operate their radio (or car jack, or lighting system etc).

A final thought is using Wiki-like editing features would be to allow users to spontaneously generate examples for procedures etc that the manufacture may not have time to develop while trying into get the product to market. The Wiki type editing would also allow users to point out errors exactly at the point of confusion instead of having to use elaborate change request feedback mechanisms. Current updating of publications is a long and expensive process sometimes taking months to a year before the documentation is updated. This means customers become turned off and may switch to other manufacturers who are willing to invest in having up-to-date and correct information. Some manufacturers are reluctant to go to this user community extreme for fear of lawsuits. In this case, the manufacture will have to invest some time in getting staff to validate and then approve this form of feedback. However, the benefit is a happy customer that keeps returning.

If you have made it this far, thanks for reading the online ramblings as I try to sort out the user/learner centric philosophy, telecommunications training and manuals, and reconcile it with a technique of making it pay for itself.

Thanks Stephen!