Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

CCK08: Book Review of “Disrupting Class” by Clayton Christensen

November 11, 2008

Nowadays, it’s easy to find critics of the K-12 system and its many problems. It doesn’t matter if you are in the UK, US or Canada; each system has problems of literacy, math, and science achievement levels. It’s also easy to find many solutions to the problem. Some say more computers are needed, some say a focus on the fundamentals are needed. Finding a common solution is hard.

So I was happy to discover Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M Christensen, Michael B Horn and Curtis W Johnson. Christensen is a Harvard Business professor known for his studies on Innovation and the corporate world. In this book, he analyzes the K-12 Education world, what is wrong with it, how technology has been misapplied, and recommends a way out of the morass.

Chapter 1 focussed on learning styles and Christensen notes there are 8 styles. The problem he points out with schools is that they tend to teach to one dominated style (often the logic approach). Early ELearning had this similar problem. Christensen notes that schools need to go to a student-centric approach. This is similar to the user-centric approach I use in my information architecture consultancy.

Chapter 2 notes that it is getting tougher to evaluate the school system because we as a society are constantly changing our school system so the measurement mechanism are always changing. He notes that the measures are getting more precise. HE also notes how the education system ahs been able to adapt, despite its institutional nature.

Chapter 3 is where he tackles the role of the teacher. He advocates that in a student-centric learning environment, that uses IT extensively, that the role of the teacher will be more of a tutor as each student will have an individualized learning path (ILP) and environment. He points out that even though the education system has spent $60 billion on IT in the last 20 years that the IT has always been crammed into the existing structure instead of redefining what the education structure should be around IT. I teach distance learning for a Canadian military school (The Royal Military College) and I feared the conversion of paper based distance learning to online learning in 2003-4. However, rather than decrease my teaching, I found there was an even greater demand for my services as a instructor for grading and mentoring because now the course was available to a larger body of students.

In chapter 4, he starts to move into the practical advices. He advocates that computer based learning should happen where there is currently no intuitionally offered course. So if you are a rural or inner city school with limited course offerings due to budget or teacher depth, you can use computer based learning to complement the core program you have. Since there is no “competition” these course will be successful and build a user base for the conversion of more traditional subjects. This methodology will not only work in the K-12 world, but corporate world. Christensen notes that we are actually in 2008 at the end of the early adopter phase of the eLearning innovation and about to move into the mass application of eLearning. He notes that using the S curve of innovation adoption, that in 2013, 25% of K-12 teaching will be computer based, and that by 2020, it will be 50%. So the issue is not about to go away, but rather, being even more pervasive.

Chapter 5 notes that current computer based learning follows what Christensen calls CBT 1.0, that is mainly and electronic version of a page-turning textbook. He notes Computer based learning needs to adopt more Web 2.0 technology to be more responsive to a greater variety of learning styles.

Chapter 6 argues that computer based learning should not be limited to the 10-18 year age croup. He advocates it should start at age 5 and notes that most language learning happens by age 3-3.5 so early exposure to computer-like technology is crucial.

Chapter 7 focuses on why research hasn’t provided good answers for the K-12 program. He notes how most research tends to be descriptive i.e., this is what we have observed. He argues that research needs to be more prescriptive based on the observations made. He argues that prescriptive research tends to find the anomalies that then show the different conditions for why the observations are different. He firmly believes researchers need to note the environment in which the education occurs to understand what prescriptive measure are needed. This is also similar to my information architecture practice. You need to see how what conditions (people, space, noise, politics, geography, etc) that a user-learner is operating in to understand what technology can or cannot be used. For example, the impact of IT on literacy may not be high because the students only have 1 computer to every 5 students and they are located across campus in a centralized IT lab.

Chapter 8 focuses on how education administrators can manage greater adoption of IT into the curriculum. Here he describes how to go about building a consensus of change by using leadership tools, culture tools, power tools (no not carpentry, hierarchical-type tools), and management tools.

The last chapter notes that a team-based approach is critical. No one person can make the adoption of IT into the classroom on their own. Parents, teachers, administrators, and technology experts all have to work together. And don’t forget the kids! He notes that some circumstance may need “heavy-hitting teams” to transcend institutional barriers.

I found his analysis and conclusions to be very enlightening to me personally. What he discusses for American Schools, is equally applicable to Canadian schools. Some Canadian school jurisdictions have the additional complication of English-French instruction, but this is not much different than the US English-Spanish situation.

This is a worthwhile read for those that teach or design learning for the post-secondary and corporate training world. Many of the same institutional problems exist. Many of the same different learning styles exist.

Christensen noted how the 8 learning styles impact on how content is taught or experienced. This means the same lesson plan may have to have 8 different variations. Clearly this is difficult for one teacher to implement ion the classroom and this calls for a centralized approach to designing the 8 versions of a lesson plan. And this is where computer based learning can shine. The new DITA-XML mark-up language has developed an eLearning specialization to the mark-up language that allows you to rapidly develop training content. Since XML is output-format neutral, it makes it easy to modify the content and add other learning style elements into the topic or lesson. You then publish the content in the desired form (course, web help page, mobile content, PDF), and you also specific which learning style needs to be published.

My only criticism of the book is the 4 points raised in the first paragraph of the introduction, where the author accepts the traditional view of education that it has to:

  1. Maximize human potential
  2. Facilitate a vibrate, participatory democracy
  3. Develop the skills, capabilities and attitudes needed for a prosperous economy
  4. Nurture understanding and those differences should be valued

With the exception of the last point, the first three have a very “heavy” and prescriptive role for K-12 education. I found myself asking, why can’t people learn because it is fun to learn? Why does learning need to have a purpose? Luckily, the rest of the book does not dwell on this underlying premise.

I highly recommend that every K-12 teacher read this book, and that the post K-12 education world can learn from this as well. Buy link. (By the way, I was not paid to write this review and I actually bought my copy.)


CCK08: Assignment 2: “The only constant in life is change – The changing roles of educators”

November 5, 2008

Assignment Description: The shifting basis of certainty has been a critical focus during week 5-8. Through readings and discussions, we have focused on complexity, chaos theory, instructional design, power and control, and the changing roles for educators. For your second paper, select your point of emphasis as that of the instructional designer or educator. Explore changing roles for your selected field. Do you agree their roles are changing? If so, what are appropriate responses? What are impediments to change? If not, how can current trends be best utilized to serve in the traditional role of educator or designer? In your paper, focus on creative conceptualizations of different roles (or different approaches to serve new needs in existing roles) played by educators. Consider metaphors that capture your views. Times of change permit reformulations of existing viewpoints. Take this opportunity to enjoy a creative stroll in rethinking “what could be”.

The role of the instructional designer or educator is changing. But the issue is more than these two roles. This assignment put me in the dilemma – even though I am an educator for the Royal Military College for my part-time job, and I spent 3 years an computer based training (CBT) instructional designer (LearnStream, 2000-2003), I actually view the issue form the lens of information management and access. This essay argues that the changing role of the instructional designer or educator is actually a greater “sea change” in the field of information and knowledge management that can be addressed through an examination of information architecture. I will discuss the changing roles of instructional designers and educators, how these two roles have responded to change responded, impediments to change, and current trends. I end the paper with my metaphor of wayfinding as a method of understanding the points I make in this paper.

The changing roles of instructional designers and educators

My current role is an information architect for Innovatia, Inc. I design information spaces around user/learner needs. Thus educators and instructional designers are both affected by this higher level issue. Both draw from a greater body of information for a particular information domain. This in a sense has not really changed things from 10 or 20 years ago. Information domains existed back then just as know. The term information architecture has been around since 1975. (Barker, 2005) However, there is a greater understanding that rather than relay on instructional designers or educators to try to make sense of the “chaos” in the information domain through teaching what they think students need to know about a subject, that an information architect can help lay out the true information domain. The rise in the internet has made the problem of information domains more acute as internet novices try to navigate the huge amount of variety and unstructured internet. (Wikipedia, Information Architecture) A properly constructed information domain geared towards the end-user/leaner might end up indicating there is no need for educators or instructional designers. Some would say this is sacrilegious! I guess this means things have changed. However, I have discovered that by providing a better information architecture around a given subject domain with easily findable and usable documents, that the need for designing instruction or educational materials declines for basic concepts, task or procedures.  Instead, instructional designers and educators can focus their attention on the more difficult subjects around such things as research, planning, designing, and integrating ideas. Educators and instructional designers and their products and services are not cheap. Does it not make sense to use their talents on the truly difficult-to-understand ideas? For example, a good information architecture that creates a easy-to-use help file system for Microsoft Word means a company does not need to spend time on how to teach administrative assistants how to create a macro, rather, they can teach them how to use the companies macros – a much more useful role for the company trainers and the employees professional development time.

Instructional Designers and Educators Response to the Computer Based Learning Environment

Early computer based training (CBT) focussed solely on converting print to electronic text and while the accessibility of the information was exciting in the 1999-2003 timeframe, more recent literature suggests CBT version 2.0 is what is needed. CBT 2.0 takes you to higher levels of learning through animations, serious games, and other social interaction. (Christiansen, Horn, and Johnson, 2008, p 91-2) Early CBT taught to one dominate learning style for ease of conversion of the content. CBT 2.0 is learner centric and addresses multiple learning styles. The challenge to the instructional designer and educator is recognizing how address each of the 8 learning styles. (Gardner, 2006, p 6) Gardner discusses eight intelligences:

  • Linguistic
  • Logical-mathematical
  • Spatial
  • Bodily-kinaesthetic
  • Musical
  • Interpersonal
  • Interpersonal
  • Naturalist

Designing education curriculums and lesson plans that address all eight pose a daunting challenge for an “ordinary” teacher. Unless, (smile here), you use the internet to access resources in each intelligence to build your content. Thus, you teach a chemistry formula like PV=nRT and you can use web based animations to show balloons exploding as you increase the temperature (T).

Note that some educators eschew the whole CBT problem by continuing to teach using overhead projectors, transparencies, and using one of two textbooks. These educators are heavily wedded to the traditional model of knowledge transfer in which the teacher or professor is supported in the institution for having specialized knowledge and almost a proprietary ownership of that knowledge. Thus, it is very difficult to find replacement educators at the university level and many universities face a succession planning problem in some subject areas when the educator retires.

Resistance to change

The impediments to change are the very points I raise above. The complexity of learning theory and the complexity of many subjects makes it difficult for instructional designers to wrap their heads around the problem. Just which learning theory/pedagogy should be used? Should it be behaviouralism (preferred by industry to date, constructivism (preferred by K-12), cognitivism, or some other theory?

Furthermore, the explosion in technology platforms, with a lack of coherent applied research and best practices literature, make it difficult for the instructional designer and educator to decide on which technology to use. Should the content be open source as preferred by Stephen Downes, or in a LMS? Should there be Wikis, discussion forums, blogs, etc and where should these be hosted. How can Facebook and other social applications be utilized? Is Second life worth the time to learn how to use it? Which combination of tools should I use for history, math, chemistry, French, English, physics, geography, art, physical education etc and which tools for which level (elementary, middle, high, post secondary)? What works well in urban areas, versus rural? Is there cultural difference between Canada, the US, England, Finland, Germany etc that need to be considered (let along the unique tools in each region/nation of the world.)

A third impediment is the question of authority. Will the educator or instructional designer lose their authority over the content being transferred to the learners, if there is easily accessible information out on the web? Should an educator even let students in class surf the web while the educator is talking? The question comes down to how much of a control freak is the educator and how much merit do we give to the notion that the passive intake of knowledge from the educator or instructional designer to the learner actually results in the knowledge being acquired by the learner. Perhaps a student will have the “aha” moment with respect to a puzzling idea, if they are allowed to search the web in class as the teacher talks.

Utilizing Current Trends

This information domain architecture is not just about the knowledge; it is also about how the users interact with that information. That is to say, the technology platforms used for interaction. Currently, most instructional designers and educators do not realize they are actually fulfilling an information architectural role. In the process of doing their job, they determine who their target audience is without actually talking to the end users i.e. the learners. Thus decisions get made about what content to present and what communications platforms to use (LMS, Wiki, Protected web library, discussion forums, etc) without ever really knowing how people need to interact with the information. The greatest challenge instructional designers and teacher thus face, revolve around knowing as much as they can about:

  • The environment of the user
  • The culture of the user
  • The technical ability of the user
  • The typical and atypical information the user needs to use and generate
  • The technology tools available for creating content, deploying content, and interacting with content
  • The pedagogical value of the various technical tools

I would suggest that this is almost too big of a problem for an instructional designer or educator. How many instructional designers or educators do you know that would have a clear understanding of each of these aspects? Thus, a team or hive approach is needed. (Walker, 2008)The instructional designer or educator is just one job function in the team that carries out the investigation, design, development, delivery, and evaluation cycle. The need for specialisation has seen a growth in the fields of:

  • Information Design
  • Interaction Design
  • Visual Design
  • Web Design
  • Experience Design
  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Evaluation & Analysis
  • User Centered Design
  • Interface Design
  • User Testing

There are whole companies focussed in just one aspect of the above list such as Adaptive Path for product experience or Step 2 Designs for information architecture/intranet design.

The current trend is of increased online activity by K-12 and even many adults exploring the web to suit the fancy of the moment, or for a specific learning or work purpose, is indicative that people are become more networked. Therefore, instructional designers and educators should make greater use of networking tools so that their learners are exposed to more varied ideas and opinions or obtain greater exposure to alternative learning style explanations. Instead of blocking Facebook and other social websites (as done by the Government of New Brunswick), schools and industry should channel their energies into writing codes of conducts and outlining performance expectations. IF a leaner “abuses” the use of these tools/sites, then the students can then receive “remedial” education in the proper utilization of the tools to support the internet-based research methodologies needed in this networked world.

A switch to CBT can capture core educator information and allow the knowledge to continue living. Some professors fear that CBT will do away with their job. I faced that fear in 2005 when the courses I distance teach converted to CBT. I thought I was out of job. However, RMC realized mentorship was crucial to converting the content of the course and that some assignment just had to be essays and those required graders and not multiple choice tests. Because CBT is more accessible, RMC has actually seen its student population grow and as a result, there is a greater demand for instructors. (I went from teaching 2 live courses a year to 2 live courses and 4 online). Christensen describes this role change using technology as that of moving from an educator to a tutor. (Christiansen, Horn, and Johnson, 2008, p. 137-8)

A Metaphor for “my world”

The closet metaphor I could discover to relate to this information architecture frame of reference is that of wayfinding. Wayfinding was original used to describe how people find their way around in the physical world. Some people use landmarks (churches, traffic lights). Others use patterns (rectangular city block layouts). Wayfinding is a useful term for the information domain, because ultimately, educators and instructional designers seek to help a learner navigate the confusing number of competing ideas out in the world around any particular subject. Can we teach wayfinding? Or is wayfinding incredibly personal?

I think it is both and I offer up my experience as an example. I spent most of my teenage life around aircraft and navigation and grew up in Southern Ontario with its grid-like road networks. I spent my 20s reading 1:50,000 topographic maps as an Armoured Officer. Hence, I have a heightened sense for survey patterns, terrain features, population distribution, and city layouts. I am much better at using conceptual ideas of North, South, East and West. My wife, grew up in a rugged and hilly New Brunswick county (Albert) bounded by the Peticodiac River with almost all habitation along the river. The roads wind in almost all directions of the compass (settlement was in the 1760s). Thus, here point of reference is “up river” and “down river” instead of North and South, and on the river (East) or inland (West). (On a historical wayfinding point, her family called me the “Upper Canadian” for about the first 5 years they knew me. I remind them that Upper Canada has not existed since 1840, (it became Canada West that year, and Ontario in 1867), but old New Brunswick family perceptions die hard.)

I think we can teach at least the elements of wayfinding. It is very similar to research methods. Already there are many tools to assist learners in wayfinding: Your Favourites, Delicious, and even your Desktop, are wayfinding mechanisms. Teaching relevant Google search terms is a bit harder, and it is harder to teach others how to evaluate internet resources in comparison to printed materials.

At this point I am going to use another story-telling metaphor. In the pre internet era (1981-2 to be precise), my home room teacher for Grade 9 and 10 was Mr Donald Smith at St Clair Secondary School in Sarnia, Ontario. He was also my geography teacher. Mr Smith was well renowned for his technique of teaching geoprgaphy, not through reading a textbook, but showing films. Many students tended to fall asleep, so Mr Smith had a quick quiz at the end of every film to make us pay attention. I loved the film medium because at the time I was also a big fan of 1950s-70s war films, which were much livelier than dry text books. I scored a 99 and 98 in grade 9 and 10 (the school computer would not record 100 because it could not accept a 3 digit grade). When you think about it, Shouldn’t geography be taught through the motion picture medium if you actually can’t visit each place?) Video allows you to see what things are really like and even conceptual ideas like the inside of a volcano or how a rift valley forms, can be much more effectively taught through animation. This technique worked for Grade 9 and 10 were a base knowledge was needed. Grade 11-13 Geography began to focus more on analysis. Some might criticize Mr Smith for not providing essay writing or other mediums of learning, but I still think Mr Smith was about 85% correct. Or at least he “Connected” with me.


This essay has argued that the role of instructional designers and educators is changing. If we believe the trends explained by Christensen, by the year 2012, 25% of K-12 courses will be internet/CBT based learning and by 2020, it will be 50%. (Christiansen, Horn, and Johnson, 2008, p. 99) This implies a much larger demand for internet savvy instructional designers and educators using the best of Web 2.0 Social media tools and Semantic Web (Web 3.0) capabilities. There is a potential for a drastic “disruption” and re-ordering of the way information is transferred form one person to the next whether it is elementary, middle school, high school, post-secondary, or in the working world. When we think about it, there is not much time left to figure out the best practices so that the would be educators and instructional designers entering university now are exposed to these tools and updated education theory. I argue that information architecture is a method to figure out what end-users need, how they need to access the information, and how it should be organized whether as formal educational materials or “general” knowledge.

Works Cited

Barker, Iain. What is Information architecture? (Step Two Designs, April 2005)

Christiansen, Clayton M. Michael B. Horn, and Curtis W Johnson. Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. (New York, McGraw Hill, 2008)

Gardner, Howard, Multiple Intelligences. (New York, Basic Books, 2006)

Walker. Cairo. The Internet Hive, (Step Two Designs, February 2008)

CCK08: Review of the “The Numerati”

October 14, 2008

Back in Week 2 of CCK08, George Siemens told me of a new book entitled “The Numerati” by Stephen Baker. Reading the Amazon publisher’s comments gave me the feeling Baker was another conspiracy theorist. I held off buying the book for 2 weeks due to course readings but found it at my local Chapters (much to my surprise!). I still had a feeling he was anti-something, but by the end of chapter 1, he had me hooked.

Baker describes how math is being used to understand social networking in a variety of subjects. This is not unlike the CBS TV “Numbers” where some local mathematics professors help the FBI crack some hard cases by applying math to behaviours of criminals.

What got me hooked was his description of how IBM is trying to create mathematical models of its workforce so it can better optimize the selection of workers to fit the right projects (PP 33-40). Baker describes how IBM started with a skills database, integrated with calendars and basic demographic information about the employee, looks at past projects worked on, but wisely stays away form annual performance evaluations. Like IBM, the company I work for realized that in today’s competitive world, workforce optimization was critical to continuing success. So Baker hit close to home with his book.

Baker then goes on to describe in various chapters how mathematical models are in use in consumer shopping behaviour analysis, voting (US), blogging, terrorism, patient care, and even matching-making. Match-making was the funniest by far as he tests the mathematical models of one website site by trying to “match-up” with his wife whom he co-opted into the experiment. I won’t give away what happened!

His chapter on voting and the breaking down of the electorate actually stuck home here in Canada in our own Federal election of Oct 14, 2008. I actually say a Conservative Party of Canada TV commercial that made the same “family values” appeal that was described as one category of swing voters in the US. It would appear someone in the CPC has read this book too or is using applied mathematics in the same manner.

This book is of very good value in understanding networks and trying to get to “understand” them. While it lacks some academic rigour documentation, it makes up for it in its excellent discussions of examples. Understanding what a network and a group are has been tough to understand in CKK08, so I welcomed these examples.

There were several places where a chart would have helped in understanding the content especially in the terrorist networking diagrams. There has been some excellent papers writing on social networks, but Baker does not refer to anything in his bibliography other than published books. His citation technique was one of the weirdest I have ever seen. He did not use any indication some text had a notation. Rather, you had to read the Notations section at the back of the book to realize that he was discussing something in further detail. Ideally, the book should have been published as a series of articles/blogs, but I understand it took him a year to write this, so he needed some sort of remuneration at the “end of the rainbow”. Baker does have a Blog site which discusses various aspects of the subject in more detail.

Just how “forward” is New Brunswick, Canada’s education system?

October 10, 2008

In a recent comment to a post by Stephen Downes on the 7 Habits of Highly Connective People, I comment about Stephen’s point 3 Connections Come First. I criticize the tone of this point in which Stephen seems to portray that going online to write emails, blogs, forums should come before other things like reading a book or magazine. I wrote that critique 5 hours ago at work, and here I am blogging to partially retract it.

I am partially retracting it because I just sat through a supper out for a friend’s birthday party. Opposite to me was a teacher in the Fredericton NB Canada School system teaching 15 year olds.  She is teaching in a middle school where there is a trial program for all students to have laptops and use them in class for projects, notes etc. The school is one “hotspot”. When I told her I was taking CKK08 Connectivism and Connected Learning, she seemed somewhat interested until I described how the course actually was about being online a lot and using computers to learn. She commented that she was glad that this year the Department of Education was blocking Facebook because now the kids would pay attention in class (to her)

I couldn’t believe my ears. She explained that kids would spend too much time doing non-education surfing and that New Brunswick system encouraged non-failing of students and the kids knew it. By blocking popular Social Web 2.0 sites, the kids would focus on more educational surfing. When I described what CKK08 advocated, she did not want to hear that. And this was from a lady no older than 35, which is to say, a relatively recent grad of the university Education program. I described how curriculums needed to be built around connective/network learning and how students could learn more. I did agree there was a basic knowledge level that needed to be achieved and that perhaps 5 and 6 year olds might not be ideal candidates for online connective learning. I dropped the subject because it was turning ugly at the table.

When I got home, I asked our 15 year old grade 10 babysitter if they had wireless in the high school. The high School consistently does well in achievement standings. She said yes. I asked if anyone brought in laptops to take notes, surf the web to look for materials while the teacher was talking and she said they were only allowed to use laptops at lunchtime (if they had laptops. I asked if anyone used electronic pens so they could digitize their notes. She said no. I described how in the business world, you can’t afford to be offline, that even in meetings, you are expected to come up with answers right away.

It would appear that one school still lives in the 1980s as for note-taking and interacting with content, the other restricts what techniques of networking and interacting can happen. I do not know if they are representative of the whole province, but as a concerned educator and a son in an elementary school who will eventually go to a similar middle school and that high school, I think its time to go investigate and maybe start a grass roots revolution!

School District 18 in Fredericton likes to pride itself as a leader in the province, so I think its time to see how forward thinking it can be.

CCK08: An Onotology of my Belief system

September 22, 2008
Bradley Shoebottom Belief System Mind Map

Bradley Shoebottom Belief System Mind Map

In a discussion about non-hierachial ontologies, I was challenged how to come up with one. It was suggested I do my belief system. Here it is, and darn it, after the first 4 major concepts, it went hierachic. Maybe I have too much darn logic in my noodle (brain).

Here it is:

CCK08: PISA testing of K-12

September 19, 2008

Stephen Downes wrote a critique of the PISA testing given to 15 year olds world wide and the faulty data collection and statistical analysis.

Here is my reply in which I agree with him and my own thoughts on the misuse of one disciplines (economics) methodologies in another (education).