Saturday, February 27, 2010

Connectivism, Social Knowledge, and Participatory Learning

Years back, to be literate meant that a person had the ability to read and write. Since then, especially with the advent of the Internet, the definition has grown to include additional skills. To be literate now goes beyond reading and writing to being able to effectively communicate and identify, understand, interpret, computer, create, and use materials of various types including print, written, web, etc. The Internet has created a new set of tools to aid students; however, students are required to improve their learning to be able to keep up with the challenge of modern day literacy.

Participatory learning is the dynamic use of social media to aid in sharing information and collaborating with others. It includes, although it isn’t limited to, blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networking and videoblogs. All of this requires the modern student to be able to multi-task effectively, because the new online and multimedia learning environments require them to be using participatory media and other web-based tools. These new learning processes has given rise to such terms as connectivism and networked learning. What does this mean? Current teachers and future teachers must keep up with technologies inside and outside of the classroom. Many critics of contemporary education feel the traditional classroom-based teaching model is now obsolete and that teachers are no longer required to teach but to instead guide and advise their students since there are so many resources available.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Google -- Harnessing or Harming?

With a catchy title, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” immediately caught my interest from this week’s list of readings. Unfortunately, the title is all that kept my interest. Hmm, perhaps due to the author’s notion that Google may be making us stupider? (I’ll get to this point in a few minutes). One interesting tidbit was from a published study of online research habits that examined computer logs documenting the behavior of visitors to two popular research sites. The finding: “people using the sites exhibited ‘a form of skimming activity,’ hopping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they’d already visited. They typically read no more than one or two pages of an article or book before they ‘bounce’ out to another site”. Interesting research, I’d agree. Forget reading long novels, I’d prefer reading short 2-3 paragraph blogs. We’ve been spoiled with Google’s efficiency feeding us (most of the time) relevant and useful information in the first few results of natural search. So is Google Making Us Stupid? I wouldn’t go that far; it’s a different way of thinking. When Gutenburg’s printing press came on the scene in the 15th century, critics worried that the availability of books would lead to intellectual laziness. To avoid losing anyone’s interest, what’s to come? The availability of books has shown great advancement in developing knowledge and intellect, what will Google bring?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Open Educational Resources (OER) and OpenCourseWare (OCW)

There is little doubt today that the internet and its associated digital technologies have transformed the way in which education and learning is presented. Academic resources are far widely available than ever before which means everyone, from teachers to students, now has the ability to globally exchange knowledge.

The inception of the Creative Commons License has allowed the necessary infrastructure, both legally and technically, to provide this knowledge exchange via materials known as Open Educational Resources (OER) and OpenCourseWare (OCW). Both of these have become invaluable to providers of educational resources in that it allows greater accessibility, adaptability and in allowing users to inter-operate. In essence creative commons licenses have allowed tutors and academics the ability to increase the availability of their educational resources and to utilize those of others to suit their own needs and those of their students. It has also allowed for faster searching and finding of relevant OER and OCW resources.

Continuing the success of OER and OCW will depend upon the collaboration of educational providers to continue providing resources, both legally and technically, through Creative Commons Licenses. This in itself will require all institutions, tutors, educational providers and policymakers to continue using and recommending the use of Commercial Commons for the purpose of educational resources.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Neo Millennial and Web 2.0 Learners

It may sound like training jargon but you may have to get used to terms such as ‘neo-millennial learning’ and ‘distributed learning communities’ because they are being touted across the training industry as a shift away from traditional educational and training methods to a new way of learning.

The internet has revolutionized the way in which we access information. Collaborative learning techniques, blended learning, ubiquitous learning and full online courses have all changed the way in which training and educational courses are delivered and in turn have fostered new learning styles which have enabled interactive and social media to come to the fore.

Chris Dede of Harvard University has identified three new developments which will ultimately shape the way in which we learn and our use of technology. Initiatives such as Web 2.0 can provide participants with access to experts and information across the world by allowing collaborations, interactions and virtual communities to be built. MUVE’s allow users to create digital characters of themselves or avatars which can interact in a virtual environment. This provides the means for collaborative learning techniques and the ability for trainers to set challenges and activities within the course delivery. Ubiquitous computing through the use of mobile and wireless technology can aid participants in accessing materials, information and resources at anytime and in any location.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Movement toward Free and Open Source Software

It would seem we are amidst a revolution when it comes to developing new websites. While free to download software has been around for years, Open Source programs and software are changing the way we think about web design and the applications we use. Software such as Wordpress, Magento and Drupal have become household names, partly because they are free to download, partly because they are feature rich and partly because they are very powerful.

Open Source works because it relies on a global community of developers, programmers and designers to enhance, add and enrich the software for the benefit of users. Many of my clients now have websites powered by Open Source programs and because these programs continue to develop and grow, I can continue to offer unique websites tailored to my client’s requirements and within a budget they can afford.

But what about using Open Source in other industries such as education? Because of its flexibility, Open Source programs can offer educational establishments a cost effective way of teaching and developing student’s skills in areas such as programming, web development and web design. Setting up a school blog site is a simple enough task, whilst more advanced users may want to set up social sites for students to incorporate not only their own faculty or institution but to be able to partner with others across the world.

With Open Source it would seem that the sky is definitely no limit to the opportunities it presents both in business and personal website development. Its flexibility combined with affordability means it is rapidly becoming the weapon of choice for users and developers alike, whatever industry they may be in.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Blended Learning Boom

Blended learning is not necessarily a new thing. Since the advent of the internet, its use as an educational resource has been well documented and online learning has existed for some years now. Blended leaning itself aims to combine the benefits of various teaching solutions including traditional face-to-face classroom sessions and online e-learning. But it is perfecting the recipe between the classrooms and the technologies that has seen it continue to expand and grow in popularity amongst students and teachers alike.

Universities have been quicker to latch onto the benefits of e-learning. Whilst blended learning combines three distinct forms – classroom, distance learning and online or e-learning; there is also a growing trend towards full online learning courses and the creation of virtual universities. The introduction of open universities and blended learning techniques offered students a way to study at their own pace through the use of traditional teaching methods and mixed media such as video and audio content. This concept worked perfectly for those students who found full-time study difficult perhaps because of personal circumstances or work commitments. Universities found it to be a cost effective way of providing higher education to all students regardless of their geographic constraints.

As the World Wide Web began to grow, distance learning went with it and full online learning and virtual universities were created to provide a method of delivery for a wide variety of courses. Following on from the blended learning techniques adopted in distance learning, students were able to study at their own pace, in their own time and wherever they wanted. But it was not without its problems. Courses were often not engaging enough or students lacked the motivation to see the courses through. I can certainly attest to that. Many felt that the loss of the social aspects of traditional learning was to blame, a deficiency which took some time to address.

Today, the rise in social networking websites has allowed the inception of virtual classrooms where students can engage with each other without loosing the freedom e-learning provides. The continued expansion of blended and online learning allows students the ability to interact in a way which was never before possible in the virtual world. Students now have the ability to start discussion groups, file share, have real time meetings and classes and to just simply chat.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Sudden Explosion of E-Books and E-Book Readers

E-books have been around for a while; however, only recently, E-book readers have found a place for themselves in the market. But while E-books themselves are relatively inexpensive, the readers require a far greater investment. (Be careful too, only a select few are worth it). While I’m not too familiar with E-books I’ve heard discussions about the lack of compatibility between readers. Despite some reputable big names introducing E-book readers to the market, there are also many smaller companies looking to get in on the act and pricing their readers much lower.

Amazon’s Kindle is regarded as the best E-book reader on the market with Barnes & Noble’s Nook not far behind. However, the problem with both of these is that they will only support one E-book format making it difficult to port E-books from one device to another and their reliance on the slow e-ink based technology which produces a display in black and white.

At present the E-ink technology is regarded as a stopgap measure until such time as full color video tablets or ‘slates’ become available. However, rushing these to the market could see an influx of cheaper but lesser quality devices, leaving consumers confused about the technology and unable to tell the bad from the good (remember what happened when the iPod first hit the shelves?).

My advice: go for a Kindle or Nook; wait for full color video tablets to hit the market or take the old fashioned route and buy a paper and ink book instead!