CSEDU, Day 3, Final Keynote, “Digital Age Learning – The Changing Face of Online Education”, (#csedu14 #AdelED @timbuckteeth)

Now, I should warn you all that I’ve been spending time with Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) and we agree on many things, so I’m either going to be in furious agreement with him or I will be in shock because he suddenly reveals himself to be a stern traditionalist who thinks blended learning is putting a textbook in the Magimix. Only time will tell, dear reader, so let’s crack on, shall we? Steve is from the Plymouth Institute of Education, conveniently located in Plymouth University, and is a ferocious blogger and tweeter (see his handle above).

Erik introduced Steve by saying that Steve didn’t need much introduction and noted that Steve was probably one of the reasons that we had so many people here on the last day! (This is probably true, the afternoon on the last day of a European conference is normally notable due to the almost negative number of participants.)

When you’re a distance educator, the back of the classroom can be thousands of miles away” (Steve Wheeler)

Steve started with the idea that on-line learning is changing and that his presentation was going to be based on the idea that the future will be richly social and intensely personal. Paradoxical? Possibly but let’s find out. Oh, look, an Einstein quote – we should have had Einstein bingo cards. It’s a good one and it came with an anecdote (which was a little Upstairs Downstairs) so I shall reproduce it here.

I never teach my students. I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.” Albert Einstein

There are two types of learning: shallow (rote) learning that we see when cramming, where understanding is negligible or shallow if there at all, and then there is the fluid intelligence, the deeper kind of learning that draws on your previous learning and your knowledge structures. But what about strategic learning where we switch quickly between the two. Poor pedagogy can suppress these transitions and lock people into one spot.

There are three approaches here: knowledge (knowing that, which is declarative), wisdom (knowing how, which is procedural) and transformation (knowing why, which is critical). I’ve written whole papers about the missing critical layer so I’m very happy to see Steve saying that the critical layer is the one that we often do the worst with. This ties back into blooms where knowledge is cognitive, wisdom is application and transformation is analysis and evaluation. Learning can be messy but it’s transformative and it can be intrinsically hard to define. Learning is many things – sorry, Steve, not going to summarise that whole sentence.

We want to move through to the transformational stage of learning.

What is the first attempt at distance learning? St Paul’s name was tossed out, as was Moses. But St Paul was noted as the first correspondence course offered. (What was the assessment model, I wonder, for Epistola.) More seriously, it was highly didactic and one-way, and it was Pitman who established a two-way correspondence course that was both laborious and asynchronous but it worked. Then we had television and in 1968, the Stanford Instructions TV Network popped up. In 1970, Steve saw an example of video conferencing that had been previously confined to Star Trek. I was around in the early 70s and we were all agog about the potential of the future – where is my moon base, by the way? But the tools were big and bulk – old video cameras were incredibly big and ridiculously short lived in their battery life… but it worked! Then people saw uses for the relationship between this new technology and pedagogy. Reel-to-reel, copiers, projectors, videos: all of these technologies were effective for their teaching uses at the time.

Of course, we moved on to computer technology including the BBC Model B (hooray!) and the reliable but hellishly noisy dot matrix printer. The learning from these systems was very instructional, using text and very simplistic in multiple choice question approach. Highly behaviouristic but this is how things were done and the teaching approach matched the technology. Now, of course, we’ve gone tablet-based, on-line gaming environments that have non-touch technologies such as Kinect, but the principle remains the same: over the years we’ve adapted technology to pedagogy.

But it’s only now that, after Sir Tim Berners-Lee, we have the World Wide Web that on-line learning is now available to everybody, where before it was sort-of available but not anywhere near as multiplicable. Now, for our sins, we have Learning Management Systems, the most mixed of blessings, and we still have to ask what are we using them for, how are we using them? Is our pedagogy changing? Is out connection with our students changing? Illich (1972) criticised educational funnels that had a one-directional approach and intend motivated educational webs that allow the transformation of each moment of living into one of learning, sharing and caring.

What about the Personal Learning Environment (PLE)? This is the interaction of tools such as blogs, twitters and e-Portfolios, then add in the people we interact with, and then the other tools that we use – and this would be strongly personal to an individual. If you’ve ever tried to use your partner’s iPad, you know how quickly personalisation changes your perception of a tool! Wheeler and Malik (2010) discuses the PLE that comprises the personal learning network and personal web tools, with an eye on more than the classroom, but as a part of life-long learning. Steve notes (as Stephen Heppel did) that you may as well get students to use their PLEs in the open because they’ll be using them covertly otherwise: the dreaded phone under the table becomes a learning tool when it’s on top of the table. Steve discussed the embedded MOOC that Hugh discussed yesterday to see how the interaction between on-line and f2f students can benefit from each other.

In the late ’80s, the future was “multi-media” and everything had every other medium jammed into it (and they don’t like it up ’em) and then the future was going to converge on the web. Internet take up is increasing: social, political and economic systems change incrementally, but technology changes exponentially. Steve thinks the future is smart mobile and pervasive, due to miniaturisation and capability of new devices. If you have WiFi then you have the world.

Change is not linear, it’s exponential.” Kurzweil

Looking at the data, there are no more people in the world with mobile phones than people without, although some people have more than one. (Someone in the audience had four, perhaps he was a Telco?) Of course, some reasons for this are because mobile phones replace infrastructure: there are entire African banks that run over mobile networks, as an example. Given that we always have a computer in our pocket, how can we promote learning everywhere? We are using these all the time, everywhere, and this changes what we can do because we can mix leisure and learning without having to move to fixed spaces.

Steve then displayed the Intel info graphic “What Happens In an Internet Minute“, but it’s scary to see how much paper is lagging these days. What will the future look like? What will future learning look like? If we think exponentially then things are changing fast. There is so much content being generated, there must be something that we can use (DOGE photos and Justin Bieber vides excepted) for our teaching and learning. But, given that 70% of what we learn is if informal and outside of the institution, this is great! But we need to be able to capture this and this means that we should produce a personal learning network, because trying to drink down all that content by yourself is exceeding our ability! By building a network, we build a collection of filters and aggregators that are going to help us to bring sense out of the chaos. Given that nobody can learn everything, we can store our knowledge in other people and know where to go when we need that knowledge. A plank of connectivist theory and leading into paragogy, where we learn from each other. This also leads us to distributed cognition, where we think across the group (a hive mind, if you will) but, more simply, you learn from one person, then another, and it becomes highly social.

Steve showed us a video on “How have you used your own technology to enhance your learning“, which you can watch on YouTube. Lucky old 21st Century you! This is a recording of some of Steve’s students answering the question and sharing their personal learning networks with us. There’s an interesting range of ideas and technologies in use so it’s well worth a look. Steve runs a Twitter wall in his classroom and advertises the hashtag for a given session so questions, challenges and comments go out on to that board and that allows Steve to see it but also retweet it to his followers, to allow the exponential explosion that we would want in a personal learning network. Students accessed when they harness the tools they need to solve their problems.

Steve showed us a picture of about 10,000 Germans taking pictures of the then-Presidential Elect Barack Obama because he was speaking in Berlin and it was a historical moment that people wanted to share with other people. This is an example of the ubiquitous connection that we now enjoy and, in many ways, take for granted. It is a new way of thinking and it causes a lot of concern for people who want to stick to previous methods. (There will come a time when a paper exam for memorised definitions will make no sense because people have computers connected to their eyes – so let’s look at asking questions in ways that always require people to actually use their brains, shall we.) Steve then showed us a picture of students “taking notes” by taking pictures of the whiteboard: something that we are all very accustomed to now. Yes, some teachers are bothered by this but why? What is wrong with instantaneous capture versus turning a student into a slow organic photocopying machine? Let’s go to a Papert quote!

I am convinced that heh best learning takes place when the learner takes charge,” Seymour Papert

We learn by doing“, Piaget, 1960

We learn by making“, Papert, 1960.

Steve alluded to constructionist theory and pointed out how much we have to learn about learning by making. He, like many of us, doesn’t subscribe to generational or digital native/immigrant theory. It’s an easy way of thinking but it really gets in the way, especially when it makes teachers fearful of weighing in because they feel that their students know more than they do. Yes, they might, but there is no grand generational guarantee. It’s not about your age, it’s about your context. It’s about how we use the technology, it’s not about who we are and some immutable characteristics that define us as in or out. (WTF does not, for the record, mean “Welcome to Facebook”. Sorry, people.) There will be cultural differences but we are, very much, all in this together.

Steve showed us a second video, on the Future of Publishing, which you can watch again! Some of you will find it confronting that Gaga beats Gandhi but cultures change and evolve  and you need to watch to the end of the video because it’s really rather clever. Don’t stop halfway through! As Steve notes, it’s about perception and, as I’ve noted before, I’m pretty sure that people put people into the categories that they were already thinking about – it’s one of the reasons I have such a strong interest in grounded theory. If you have a “Young bad” idea in your head then everything you see will tend to confirm this. Perception and preconception can heavily interfere with each other but using perception, and being open to change, is almost always a better idea.

Steve talked about Csíkszentmihályi’s Flow, the zone you’re in when the level of challenge roughly matches your level of skill and you balance anxiety and boredom. Then, for maximum Nick points, he got onto Vygotsky’s  Zone of Proximal Development, where we build knowledge better and make leaps when we do it with other people, using the knowledgable other to scaffold the learning. Steve also talked about mashing them up, and I draw the reader back to something I wrote on this a whole ago on Repenning’s work.

We can do a lot of things with computers but we don’t have to do all the things that we used to do and slavishly translate them across to the new platform. Waters (2011) talks about new learners: learners who are more self-directed and able to make more and hence learn more.

There are many digital literacies: social networking, privacy management, identity management, creating content, organising content, reusing and repurposing, filtering and selection, self presentation, transliteracy (using any platform to get your ideas across). We build skills, that become competencies, that become literacies and, finally, potentially become masteries.

Steve finished with in discussing the transportability of skills using driving in the UK and the US as an example. The skill is pretty much the same but safe driving requires a new literacy when you make a large contextual change. Digital environments can be alien environments so you need to be able to take the skills that you have now and be able to put them into the new contexts. How do you know that THIS IS SHOUTING?  It’s a digital literacy.

Steve presented a quote from Socrates, no, Socrates, no, Plato:

Knowledge that is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind.

and used the rather delightful neologism “Darwikianism” to illustrate evolving improvement on on-line materials over time. (And illustrated it with humour and pictures.) Great talk with a lot of content! Now I have to go and work on my personal learning network!


This is not actually Socrates. Sorry!

CSEDU Day 1, Session 1, “Information Technologies Supporting Learning”, Paper 1. (#csedu14 #AdelED)

The first talk “Overcoming Cultural Distance in Social OER Environments”, presented by Henri Pirkkalainen, who liked the panel apparently but is a big fan of open stuff. He started with a “Finland in 30 Seconds” slide but it had cars and ice hockey rather than Sauna, with a tilt of the hat to PISA educational rankings, metal music, Marimekko. Oh, and Sauna. More seriously, the social environment of FInland comes with an expectation of how social resources will be used. While most people think of Finland as snow, this year it’s very rainy due to … well, you know. Today’s topic is Open Educational Resources and the complications and opportunities of open and on-line environments. Henri is going to look at the barriers that teacher face in adopting these resources. We don’t just share resources, we share practices and these are as important as plain assets. (We see this problem in technological development of classroom, where we confuse putting assets into a room with actually delivering a technology.) There are a large number of open resources, including those with social and collaborative aspects. The work presented today is based on social OER environments such as the Open Discovery Space (ODS). Consider the basic user and usage experience, which is often very teacher-centric and may allow some student customisation. What can teachers do with this? Explore new ideas and practices, look at and share resources, including lessons plans, but there are many different contexts for this. The example given for context was the difference between the Finnish and German instructions for “How to Sauna”. (I note that the Finnish instructions are very authentic: take branch and beer, sauna.) The point is that didacticism varies by culture and examples may not be relevant when transferred from one culture to another, including manipulations of the pedagogy involved that can lead, unexpectedly, to success or failure.

For the objectives and methodology, the investigation take place over 92 workshops and 19 countries, with 2300 participants. The team used a questionnaire with open questions on overcoming challenges in organisational, quality, social and culturally-related OER-barriers. What enablers and interventions could be used to deal with these barriers? In the end, there were 1175 individuals (49% response rate) and this was analysed using factor analysis to construct a summated scale for the cultural distance barrier (for followup work in three years), with a generalised linear model to predict the cultural distance barrier.

The results? Some barriers group together, combining problems with culturally distant believes, lack of trust towards other authors, lack of information on context for digital resources and a desire to contribute primarily to discussions in your native language.

Using this knowledge that cultural differences exist, can we perceive the cultural distance in Social OER environments? Use material created by contextual others, collaborating in foreign languages and dealing with foreign methods and issues. What did the GLM predict? The age and nationality of the participant can predict this barrier – the cultural distance barrier does NOT depend upon the role of the teacher or the learner. (Unsurprisingly, younger people perceive less of a barrier.) So teachers are no more likely to perceive a cultural barrier than the student is. Even where the barriers exist, they aren’t incredibly significant but Buglaria, Croatia and Latvia have more of a problem than most – no idea why. Something that triggered my Spidey sense was that Finland was one of the lowest which (always) makes me wonder about the bias in the questionnaire. (The other low pegger was the Netherlands.)

How can we address this? Let’s use technology to support multi-linguality properly – including the metadata! Let’s make function support sharing and collaborating with the people that you actually want to meet. Localise your interface! Make your metadata rich, versatile and full! Have some good quality mechanisms in place.

There are issues that technology can’t solve – broadening resources to fit context which requires knowledge of the community among other things. There are two more years of these workshops where they can work on finding the reasons behind all of this.


CSEDU Day 1, Opening Panel, “Shaping the Future Learning Environment – Smart, Digital and Open?”

Only 32 papers out of 250 were accepted for the conference as full papers (12.8% acceptance, highly respectable) and were identified as being of “outstanding quality” – good work, PhD Student T and the CSER team! After the opening address, we went to the first panel, chaired by James Uhomobihi and Markus Helfert. The four keynote speakers are also on the panel but I’ll add more on them during their sessions.However, in summary, we had an academic, a maths instruction evangelist, a psychologist and a representative of engineering society bureaucracy (not as bad as it sounds). Everyone was saying how happy they were to be in Barcelona! (And who can blame them? This is one of my favourite cities and should be on everyone’s bucket list.)

Larissa Fradkin: “Mathematics Teaching: Is the future syncretic?”.

From Wikipedia: Syncretism /ˈsɪŋkrətɪzəm/ is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought.

Everyone was asked to give a position statement, which is a different take on panels for me, very interesting. Larissa had slides and she identified the old problem of the difficulty of teaching mathematics, alluding to the US mathematics wars. Are MOOCs the solution? We were promised a great deal yet much of it has not yet appeared. Well, Coursera materials appear to be useful, or useful in principle, but they don’t work in some classroom so they have to be localised. What is the role of the faculty member in this space? It’s a difficult question and the answer depends on time, teacher interest and student sophistication. We inherit the students that our preceding teachers have produced so text books and curricula have a big impact on the students that get turned out, if educational resources are presented in an unquestioned way. Trudging through exercises and content is one way to get through but what does it do? Does it teach? Does it prepare students for tests? Texts and resources are often, despite what publishers and authors claim, unaligned with the curriculum.

Schmidt’s last study (ref?) shows that quality teachers and quality materials are the top two considerations for inhaling student learning. We can produce well-crafted eBooks and MOOCs with editable and updatable content to give a flexible product – but the “rush to market” product doesn’t meet this requirement. The cognitive tutor was mentioned as AI-enriched educational software, under John Anderson’s model, but they are incredibly difficult to develop. There are tools out there that combine cognitive psychology and AI, CIRCLE and AutoTutor. However, most tool development is driven by psychologists and cognitive scientists rather than discipline experts and this can be a problem.

The speaker finished with a discussion on a semi-traditionalist semi-constructivist approach to rigorous instruction that required much less memorisation, focusing on conceptual understanding and developing more master than a straight constructivist approach. (Not quite sure of the details here but this will be extended in a later talk.)

Erik de Graffe gave his first slide from tomorrow on Team Learning in Engineering Education, starting with the statement “people are not born to work in a team”, which is an interesting statement given the entirety of human society. Students do like working together but the first meeting of the group can be challenging and they don’t know how to start. (Is this a cultural artefact based on the isolation and protection inherent in privilege? Time to get our Hofstader’s cultural dimensions hats on because this sounds a lot like a communal/separate categorical separation.) Erik noted that “team” is a word for animals harnessed together to apply more force in one direction – which is not what we want in a human team. (Although this is perhaps another cultural insight). Erik’s second statement is that communication is highly inaccurate: cog scientists estimate that the amount of information we process from the potential information around us is less than 1%. Most of the information that reaches our sense are ignored and yet we still make decisions. (Given I’m listening to the speaker while summarising another discussion and some slides, I’m wondering if this is the best way to express this while not identifying the difference in task focus and activities that are relevant to the task at hand.) Erik believes that on-line will make this worse. (I really need to go to his talk to see the evidence and caveats in all of this.) Erik then projected his own behaviour in on-line meetings and low attention to the general case – if Erik is in a meeting with you, get him to leave his camera on or he will be off making coffee. 🙂 Erik then moved on to virtual identities that allow people to do things in the alternative reality that they wouldn’t do in real life. Urm. I need to see the talk but this all seems a little dated to me but, hey, what do I know until I’ve seen the talk?

The next speaker, Steve, asked us if we shut the door while teaching (I don’t usually unless the noise get stop bad because it improves air flow, rather than for pedagogical or privacy reasons) but segued into a discussion on openness. Steve then referred to the strange issue of us providing free content to journal publishers that we then pay for. (I wrote a little something on this years ago for SIGCSE.) Steve then referred to the different time in closed and open access journals – the open access journal was “in print” in four weeks, versus the 18 months for the closed access, and the citation counts were more than an order of magnitude different. You can also measure the readers in an open access format. Open access materials are also crucial to scholars – Steve licenses all of his materials under Creative Commons so you can use his work and all you have to do is to acknowledge the source. When you open your content, you become an educator for the world. If people need education, then who are we to not provide the materials that they need? When you become an open scholar, you must prepare for criticism because many people will read things. You be also be ready for dialogue and discourse. It’s not always easy but it is very valuable. (I agree with this wholeheartedly.)

The next speaker, José Carlos Quadrado, President of IFEES, tries to infect people with good ideas about Engineering Education as part of his role. Is the future learning environment smart, digital and open? Talking about smart, an example is the new smart watch, a watch that is also a phone or linked to a device – what do we mean? When you have a smart phone, you have approximately 1.4 tons of technology from the 1980, which makes us wonder if smart means leaner? When we are going digital is this replacing paper with silicon? How do we handle factual authority when we have so much openly available where the traditional peer review and publishing oversight mechanisms are eroding and changing rapidly. (Another slightly creaky perspective although with a great deal of self-awareness.)

Teaching and learning tools have changed a great deal over the same time but have our pedagogical approaches also changed or been truly enhanced by this? There were some pretty broad generational (X vs Z) comparisons that I question the validity of. The notion that students of today couldn’t sit throughout this session is not something I agree with. Again, the message from the panel, with a couple of exceptions, is pretty dated and I have a bit of an urge to get off a lawn. Oh, and we finished with an Einstein quote after a name drop to a famous scientist. Look, I accept a lot of the things that are being said on the stage but we have to stop acting as if natural selection works in 18 months and that the increasing sophistication of later generations is anything more than an ability to make better choices because more and better choices are available. Oh, another Einstein quote.

I realise that I have started editorialising here, which I try not to do, but I am being bombarded with position statements that are leaden in their adherence to received wisdom on young people and those smart young. These issues are just clouding the real focus of the systems that we could use, the approaches we could take and the fact that for every highly-advanced Z Westerner in a low power-distance, highly self-centred approach, we have 100-1000 Pre-X non-Westerners in a high power-distance and communal environment.

We’re in question time. Erik asked about the ship analogy – when ships were made of wood, men were made of iron, and by moving to iron ships, we weakened people. Erik then went on to the question “Do smart phones make stupid people?” which basically nails down the coffin lid on all of the problems I’ve had with this opening. Steve, in response to another question, raised the connectivist argument for networking and distributed knowledge storage, which smart phones of course facilitate. Sadly, this foray into common sense was derailed by some sophistry on young people trying to be smart before they are clever.

There was a good point made that Universities will continue to be involved in quality education but they are no longer the bastions of information – that particular ship has sailed. Oh, there we go, we’ve dipped down again. Apparently we have now changed the way we buy things because we are now all concerned with perception. People are buying smart phones, not because they are smart, but because they want instant gratification. Generation Z are apparently going to be the generation that will reject everything and walk away. Eh, maybe.

Perhaps I shall come back to this later.