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!

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: Critique of Course Technology tools

November 8, 2008

I read Lisa’s critique of the course’s technology tools where she discussed the environment of learning. Right on Lisa. This fits in with my experience as an information architect. The environment has a huge impact on individual and workplace mood, processes, and options for technology tool adoption (including resistance). I wanted to add some comments form my user environment.

While I have learned lots from this course which will have direct application on both my jobs, I really wanted to experience Second Life as a “formal” part of the course. This would have addressed Lisa critique of the lack of “Visual” stimulation. (CMAP does allow you to drag and drop visuals into the CMAP I learned form Mauri Ahlberg). I am intrigued with Second Life and want to explore it for the possibilities of incorporating into my teaching and company operating environment. But, like many busy people, I usually need a “course” to kick-start me in that direction as there are many other competing priorities. Perhaps Second Life is too “early adopter” for mainstream use in a course like this?

I have found the Friday UStream sessions particularly bothersome because I can’t get the chat room to appear after logging in so I have no idea what the others are saying. Stephen also said we could Skype in once we he ran it alone, but that experiment has not been repeated again. In any event, my computer at Work, (a dual core HP 6235 circa 2007) and my computer at home (Dell Inspiron 600m circa 2004) both have difficulty running Skype as it is a resource hog that starts shutting down other apps even when you do not have Skype running. I am to the point I recommended to George and Stephen on Nov 7 in a email that they may want to consider dropping Ustream in favour of Elluminate because Elluminate is more particpatory and has been more stable (Ustream has not worked 2 or 3 times to date.)

I have a love/hate relationship with the chat room and Elluminate. Sometimes the verbal discussion/presentation wanes so the Chat invigorates me, other times if find the chat causes me to miss the verbal point.

I think the Wiki should be editable by the students. There should be a section for each week that allows students to submit their own suggestions for readings instead of having to rely on the Daily or Google Alerts or people blogs. I view the wiki as a potential resources “portal” of at least a minimum literature on the subject. If the George and Stephen want to restrict editing on the outline Page to prevent their outline from being accidentally edited, why not add a resources link to an editable resources wiki page?

While the decentralized knowledge and network building is an interesting and valuable concept, I think there is a valuable opportunity here to build the course into a “portal” into the subject. It would be a place I come back to see what is new (using RSS feeds of course!) in the future.

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)