explorations in the ed tech world

same sounds-different meanings

Tag: ed tech

Run, Computer, Run: The Mythology of Educational Innovation


When I was prepping my keynote for CNIE, I encountered some interesting quotes taken from a 1969 collection of essays playfully entitled Run, Computer, Run: The Mythology of Educational Innovation written by Anthony Oettinger.  There are literally no copies on the interwebs that I could find, but I was able to interlibrary loan a copy, ran out of time, digitized a copy, and in the interest of important history I’m sharing it here:   run computer run 1969.  I haven’t had to photocopy an entire book since about 1998, so the 25 minutes at the copier flipping pages and pressing the Start button 150 times may have been a bit tedious, and may have resulted in a few skipped pages.

I’m still going through this publication, but here are a few things I’ve noted:

I’m still going through this publication, but here are a few things I’ve noted:

  1. The Forward, written by Emmanuel Mesthene, Director of the Harvard University Program on Technology and Society, comes in at four pages and is a marvellous time capsule of ed tech in 1969.
  2. Chapter 4 is a surprisingly current and relevant description of the properties of educational devices,  which Oettinger positions as “devices in a broad sense, encompassing the poeple and the organizations serving as agents of change. Novelty  and glamor are not the only properties of educational tools worthy of note or sufficient to make them valuable for teaching.”  Oettinger goes on to outline some of these properties which include flexibility and adapatability, amount of resource required, reliability and maintenance, complexity, and so on.

The publication is a bundling of chapters and case descriptions coupled with observation and a bit of research.  Its thesis is somewhat clear, but there is lots of room for critique.  Fortunately, the book was considered important enough to result in at least eight reviews (of which six that I could actually access) that ranged from balanced and favourable (4) to mixed or scathing (2).


Norman Kurland Review

Peter Rossi review

Oettinger is still alive according to his wikipedia page, and I think it would be pretty fascinating to hear an interview on his thoughts on how far, or how little we’ve traveled since 1969.


Innovation in Higher Education…and other blasts from the past

I had the pleasure to be a keynote at CNIE 2017 in Banff last week, 14 years after first attending the very first iteration of this conference in the exact same location. This year’s theme was Exploring our past, present and future, which could not have been a more perfect theme to talk about a topic I’ve become quite interested in over the past year.  Last year I began looking into the past of concepts like open pedagogy/pédagogie ouverte  and delving into this past has really helped me gain some perspective on how we are currently talking about open.  Preparing for the CNIE keynote gave me a great opportunity to delve  more deeply into the past of other concepts such as innovation, ed tech, and open in particular.

The point of this presentation was to take a journey to the past, the 1960s and 70s for the most part, and talk about current day open, ed tech, and  innovation in relation to the past.

We started with the Then or Now game. I put up 4 slides of different quotes from 1960-present and you had to guess whether the quote was from the past or present.  As expected, this wasn’t an easy one to guess, the point being that a lot of the past rhetoric on open, ed tech, or innovation sounds very familiar to those of us who’ve been in the field for a while.  You can see the quotes in the slide deck, but the references for those slides follow:

  1.  The Erosion of Innovation in Higher Education, 1970. ( A dissertation written by the future president of Buffalo State College, or was it really written by Gail, his wife?). note: you need access to pro quest to access this one, full citation here:JOHNSTONE, DONALD BRUCEUniversity of Minnesota, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing, 1969. 7001794.

2.  The automated university: bots and drones amid the dreaming spires, 2017

3.  Technology and Education: who controls?, 1970


And my personal favourite:

4.  Radical Innovation in a Conventional Framework: Problems and Prospects, 1977

The point of the Then or Now game is that there are many recognizable tropes in those quotes, and what I learned in looking at 1960-1980 is that for every gushing Chronicle or Ed Surge article you can find a 1960s or 70s equivalent.  Of course, there is both great comfort and room for critique in that observation.

“The crisis facing higher education in our nation has been mentioned so often that I fear we may tend to consider it an old story. It is not.“

In 1963, where this quote is from, it turns out there actually was a crisis in higher education in the 60s and 70s. What we learn from reading about this time period is that the drivers for the crisis, perceived or real, are not dissimilar to today.

For example, there is a pressure of numbers- in an OECD report in 1968 Change and innovation in higher education pointed to the pressure of numbers (changing demographics) as a result of growth in population and demand for greater equality – for example, I was surprised to learn that in UK between 1961 and 1968 24 new universities were created.

Also noted is the driver of scientific and tech progress: “new disciplines must be introduced; boundaries between the old ones become artificial; the rapid obsolescence of existing technologies has to be taken into account”.  Those same drivers appear in this Huffington post article from 2015.

I then continue with more echoes from the past including:

  1.  Disruption 1960s style: “ there is a chorus of exhortations – articles beginning ‘Higher Education should’ or ‘must’”. From 1967 – Innovation: Processes, Practice and Research p.38.
  2. No shortage of buzzwords and technology solutionism: “technological revolution” is a term “used with great abandon and little definition”. From 1968 Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities.
  3. And no shortage of skepticism – the newest trend becomes embraced or critiqued:  “in spite of or because of its obscure meaning, individualized instruction is held up as a panacea for the ills of education”– 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities
  4. And of course, the obligatory tech as distraction reference: “Kids who are used to having blaring transistor radios around hem every waking moment have trained themselves to ignore anything coming into their ears, and therefore hear very little of what comes out the the earphones they we are in the language lab” : 1968: Educational Technology: New Myths and Old Realities

One of the greatest higher education innovations was the Open University. I find it curious that during the MOOC mania, there was little discussion about how open universities were a real solution to a demographic/accessibility/education massification problem, AND they actually provided students with real credits in a meaningful education “currency”. The OU UK was established in 1968, and many other open universities followed. Here in Canada, as a result of the Quiet Revolution, there was the establishment of a new higher ed system called CEGEPs in Quebec in 1968, resulting in 46 new 2-3 year colleges that were accessible and largely free.  The scale of higher ed expansion at this point in time is mind-boggling.  In a period of 10 years, 28 other open universities were established around the world.

In 1979 John Daniel writes somewhat retrospectively on this phenomenon in Opening Open Universities:  “They are designed to serve working adults, usually without any academic prerequisites for entry, and they involve the delivery of instruction at a distance. Best known of these new institutions is the Open University of the UK, which has identified some 29 other universities around the world which implementthe open university concept in various ways. For most of these universities, adult off campus students constitute the sole or primary clientele”.

Here in Canada, in 1972 a task force on the Télé-Université reported that the establishment of TELUQ should address these challenges.

— Lifelong learning

— Real accessibility for all.

— Social development.

— Needs of working population.

— Greater mobility of knowledge.

— Wide use of new media and techniques.

— Rethinking the learning situation.

— Taking account of people’s prior life experiences.

— Reduction of unit costs

What is striking is how incredibly ambitious this list is.

In comparing our current day solutions to changing demographics, population, tech change, accessibility, to those of the 60s and 70s, where there drivers were very similar, it is notable that in the 60s and 70s the open universities had very ambitious agendas.  Today, it appears, we lean on MOOCs and OERs to address our higher ed problems, and we are certainly asked to buy into a rhetoric of disruption.

What is interesting, however, is that in the 60s, disruption meant actual student protests and disruption on college and university campuses around the world.  Today, it means the creation of new tech products, that will somehow solve higher education problems.  This is the innovation conversation of today that many of us in the ed tech field are familiar with. As this graphic from 2015 shows, the sample of the ‘ed tech players’ are for the most part LMS or MOOC platforms. 

And we are breathlessly reminded that this is a growth industry.

Keep in mind there has always been an education market.  In 1966-67 it was estimated to be worth 48 billion dollars in the US, second only to defense. Today the ed market, however defined, is second only to heath care in the US.

The question is, how much of what we are doing is recreating the past.  To this, we can look at Open Pedagogy as a possible example.

When I began looking into the origins of open pedagogy, I didn’t find many references in the English literature, but found a body of work in the French literature that dates from the early 70s, associated with Claude Paquette, a professor at UQAM.

Open pedagogy in its current day form has been argued to be the pedagogy that results when open education resources (as defined by the 5R permissions) are used. Along with this definition are the 5Rs as articulated by David Wiley.

Retain – the right to make, own, and control copies of the content

Reuse – the right to use the content in a wide range of ways

Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself

Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other material to create something new

Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

As a result, this is a content focussed definition, and  Wiley has since reframed his definition of open pedagogy as OER enabled pedagogy.

What becomes interesting is when we contrast the current day open pedagogy, centred on the permissions surrounding content, with open pedagogy of the 1960s where learner emancipation, not the use of OERs, was the goal of open pedagogy. Claude Paquette outlines 3 sets of foundational values of open pedagogy, namely:  autonomy and interdependence; freedom and responsibility; democracy and participation. For me, this is a much more ambitious definition of open pedagogy, focussed less on the how and more on the actual goal.

So what happened?  We can perhaps look to the 80s for some clues, although I spend less time in this era of the literature and there is more work to be done here.

The first hint I found is from Patricia Cross, speaking about community colleges in 1981:  “the message seems to say that the old ideals of the 1960s that used to excite and inspire, albeit midst frequent controversy, are gone, and new ones have not yet emerged”. She describes the emergence of a plateau “between 2 periods of high energy and a sense of mission in the community colleges” and notes that the early ideals have receded. In this article, she compares ‘should be’ goals at a 10 year interval and notes particularly the decline in the should be goal of accessibility, a significant decline in esprit de corps…mutual trust and respect among faculty students and administrators.

We also can see the emergence of corporate-speak applied to higher education as exemplified in this quote from 1982:“institutions of higher education lag behind most other sectors of the economy in their capacity to improve productivity”.  This article, which was published in Journal of Higher Education – is entitled The Impact of Organizational and Innovator Variables on Instructional innovation in Higher Education .

There are some interesting examples from the graveyard of dreams that also demand us to pause and ask how we came so close to getting it right.

Consider, for example, the case of the Earth Sciences department at St. Lawrence University. In 1977 Bill Romey (same author of the blobs of jello quote) writes: “An opportunity arose to implement a new program in a conventional academic department of geology and geography at St. Lawrence University. Would it be possible to bring about extensive change from within a conventional department in an old-line, conventionally oriented liberal-arts school? ”

The change Romey describes includes 10 or so characteristics of the new program that would have considerable appeal by current day standards.  These include:

  • Independent project work at all levels, for all students and faculty, would replace all standard courses.
  • Students would evaluate their own work.
  • Students would keep portfolios of their own work as an alternative means of showing what they had accomplished. There would be no more examinations of conventional types.
  • Students and faculty would participate fully and equally in the governance of the department.
  • The department was to run as an open organism with free access for everyone in the university, whether or not they were formally enrolled for credit.
  • Each person would function both as a teacher and as a learner.
  • The faculty accepted responsibility, in cooperation with the students, to create and maintain a rich and stimulating learning environment for the benefit of all.

Romey describes the evolution over a few years, and notes that conventional thinking is starting to creep back in but for the most part the department is operating as described above.

If you go to the department page today you will see there appears to be no essence of this spirit left and the now Geology department adopts a structure not unlike many other universities.  In fact, the only hint of this former time can be found on the academics page, where some amount of program customization is referenced, but this comes across more as academic strategy-speak than real.

It’s important to underline that there were lots of these types of idealistic experiments happening on campuses across North America (see the chapter on Recent Developments, p.10, for a good description of this) –St. Lawrence not the only one and it would take some work for somebody to dig in and explore how they look today.  Also notable is that there were several threads of open across concepts such as individualized learning, open enrolment, and open classrooms, to name a few.

Fortunately, there are also some examples of things that have only gotten better with time – in 1970, MacManaway writes what can only be described as flipped learning 1970s style – provide students with the lectures scripts for private reading and use the classroom time for small group discussion and assignments.

What the past and present version of ourselves shared was a common desire for teaching, learning, and student success. And this is where I think current day higher education can innovate with openness.  Of course, openness is often associated with Creative Commons licensing.  But increasingly I’m less interested in potential of CC licensing and more in the question of Open as a means to what? I feel like our 60s and 70s counterparts were much more clear and explicit about this question.

In this section of the presentation I describe some examples where I think we can clearly answer the question, Open as a means to what?  These include:

  1. BCcampus as providing the higher education sector in BC as a means to collaborate.
  2. The BC Open Ed Tech Collaborative
  3. The beginnings of a WordPress Cooperative as a new model for doing things together
  4. Some JIBC examples of open for the public good:  eg. Fentanyl Safety , which was recently written up in the Atlantic
  5. An international collaboration between JIBC and University of Guadalajara where early discussions and contract language included a CC BY NC license.
  6. JIBC’s work in developing an open textbook Zed Cred/Zee Degree in Law Enforcement Studies
  7. Virtually Connecting

If I can note anything about this journey to the past, it’s that the 60s and 70s literature is not dull reading…many of the articles linked above are written with incredible candour and passion, and there are plenty of LOL moments.




The gem of a conference that was ICICTE 2016

Gorg ICICTE.jpg

Image by Gorg Malia, cartoonist, instructional technologist, and one of the incredibly interesting ICICTE organizers and attendees.

A couple of weeks ago I had the great privilege of being the keynote speaker at #ICICTE 2016 in Rhodes, Greece.  I’ve got a couple of posts planned about the keynote and what I learned from the great presenters there, but first want to share some thoughts on what I thought made this conference a really fantastic 4 days.

I’ll admit to having had a fair bit of conference fatigue for the past few years.  In the past 15 years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend a lot of ed tech-related conferences and the topics, the format, the discussions are starting to make me feel like somebody who has lived long enough to see fashion cycles come around the second time.  Being at ICICTE allowed me to reflect on the good, bad and ugly of conferences and their relevance to our professional development as educators.

Good conferences are about the people: I tweeted that ICICTE was a lot like an international ETUG…friendly, small, and full of interesting people.  ICICTE is a small conference where people keep coming back year after year and as a first timer I felt like it did a great job of a couple of important things. First, it was very good at embracing new people and making them feel part of the community.  This is easier to do at small conferences, but it is also easier to do when there is a community ethos where egos and self-promotion (yes, edtech, we are guilty of that) are buried and every participant is treated as a really interesting contributor.  Second, ICICTE recognized that socializing together is as important as the actual conference presentations, and both activities seemed to be attended by almost everybody. This is especially extraordinary given that the conference was held at a beautiful resort on a beautiful Greek island where there were no shortage of interesting distractions.  There were almost as many socializing together opportunities as typical conference opportunities, and since they were so well attended it allowed new people to feel like they weren’t being left out of any of the alt-conf-socializing that is inevitable at larger conferences.

Good conferences create space for families: Location helps, and obviously Greece was a nice location for a family holiday.  But as somebody who has dragged one of my young children to a conference on at least 2 occasions (and considered it for at least 3 others), I can tell you that there is a difference between a conference that assumes that families will be there and conferences where that isn’t considered.  The conference organizer – the fabulous @npyrini, – has brought her 9 year old daughter to every single ICICTE and she is a familiar and well loved part  of the conference to the people who attend every year and have watched her grow up with the event.  It was suggested to me that I should bring my entire family of 5 to next year’s conference, which is the first time an event organizer has done that.  And of course there were families with kids there, attending the Greek night banquet in old Rhodes City, and milling about the pool and the breakfast buffets at the hotel.

Good conferences have long lunches and good food:  ICICTE provided two hour lunch breaks where we were able to sit together and learn from each other over lunch.  It meant less presentations could be crammed into the day but provided a different kind of space for creating community and connections. I also think it made us listen more – instead of focussing on tweeting every sound bite and showing up but not really paying attention, the non presentation time spaces were really about extending the conversation over lunch or drinks.

Good conferences don’t necessarily have busy Twitter streams: Related to the above point, I really appreciate a good conference hashtag when I’m NOT at the conference.  But I’ve really started to dislike the attention given to tweeting and sharing at the expense of conversing or listening.  ICICTE was one of the only conferences I’ve been at where there was consistently more questions than time after every presentation.  I interpreted this as a  good level of engagement and interest in everybody as a presenter.

ICICTE certainly stood out among other memorable conferences I’ve attended, including the recent  SKIP conference , many ETUG conferences, a few OpenEds and a very memorable CALICO conference.



About those innovation jobs…7 Rules About Innovation

Today was the latest job posting with innovation in the title, and this one is at a VP level.  This seems to be an emerging trend in higher education, suggesting both a desire of institutions to show their commitment to innovation first by including it in their strategic plans, and in addition to that, making sure at least one person in the institution has innovation in their job title.

This isn’t a cranky, cynical post about this trend, but it does seem timely to share some observations about what some of institutional barriers to ed tech innovation are, and what can work in overcoming them.  For credibility sake, I should mention that ed tech innovation has been one of my key areas of responsibility since I was hired 5 years ago. I’ve also worked at 2 other higher ed institutions and paid careful attention to where innovation emerges and where it is stifled.  Because really, that’s what its all about. In the spirit of so many “expert” listicles, here are Tannis’s 7 Rules About Innovation.

 1. Even if the term has become trite, innovation is important in higher ed. I believe this, and obviously institutions do too, seeing has how it is part of so many institutional strategic plans (and now job postings).  I don’t think that institutions need more disrupting  (or MOOCs) for that matter, but I do think that there is a lot of room for some ed tech innovation.

2.  One innovative initiative does not make an innovative institution.    I see flagship initiatives a lot ( think MOOCs, OERs, a tablet program, videoconferencing, active learning) and not only is it an eggs in one basket approach, but it’s difficult to gain momentum if there is only one innovative initiative, since you’re essentially banking on the majority of the institution being a) interested in it and seeing value in it and; b) it succeeding.  This leads to the next point…

3.  Innovation requires an institutional tolerance for a certain amount of failure.  This is why a flagship innovation approach is a bad idea…if you put all your eggs in one basket and it’s not as successful as your marketing and communications department has pumped it up to be, you have few wins to celebrate (and difficulty maintaining momentum)…

4.  Innovation requires momentum.    When innovation is truly happening, it engages everybody and inspires spin offs.  I think of innovation is a snowball that becomes big and then spins off other snowballs.

5.  Innovation is not a project, a policy, or a committee.  Innovation is first and foremost an institutional attitude that needs to be embraced and supported.  Innovation is messy and sometimes isn’t successful.  This makes administrators uncomfortable, from which emerge project plans, policies and steering committees to control what is perceived as risky, chaotic activity.  These efforts lead to what could be called in academic terms “inhibiting boundary objects” or gatekeeping devices that will essentially void any strategic plan or job title change efforts.  But it also doesn’t mean that innovation is a rogue free-for-all that costs institutions buckets of money either. More on that below.

6.  Innovation is not retroactive catch up or large tech projects.  Sometimes institutions mistake their latest enterprise software implementation as innovation, when it’s usually status quo with a new twist.  Just because your latest implementation is costing buckets of money and resources, it doesn’t mean it qualifies as innovation.  In fact, if your efforts are sucking money away from your innovation initiatives, your institution should take a critical view of why that is happening, and for what benefit.  (Sometimes expensive implementations are about taking the path of least resistance, and this is where I think institutions should be looking at whether a more innovative approach could have saved money–think LMS’s, AV vendors, other enterprise software).

7.  Innovation doesn’t have to be expensive.    In fact, if you are fighting the bean counters on the value of innovation when you’ve said that it sometimes fails, and failure is Ok, you will want to minimize the financial risk.  So showing the institution how much you can do with a small pocket of change is a great way to get momentum and buy in.

Next post:  removing those inhibiting boundary objects and creating momentum…or 5 Rules of Creating an Culture of Innovation at your institution. Or whatever.

#ETUG and the 1994 flashback

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 11.44.18 AMI spent that last couple of days at the ETUG Spring workshop, which was a bit of a special one for the ETUG crowd given that it was the 20th anniversary edition.  The Langara location was itself a bit of a flashback for me, given that my first real post secondary job was at Langara only 13 short years ago.  For added fun, ETUG  invited us to think about the state of educational  technology 20 years ago in relation to our lives at that time.

The backstory

I found myself thinking about that a a fair bit during the 2 days, since there were so many subtle reminders of where we were and how we’ve evolved in higher education ed tech spaces.  In 1994 I was a first year grad student at Université Laval in Québec City in the department of Didactique des langues secondes (Bilingual Education).  My program, which had been mapped out by my thesis supervisor, was going to focus on self-directed language learning and ed tech.  But I had zero interest in ed tech.  I had selected my supervisor based on my interest in geo-political linguistics  and language ecology and William F. Mackey was an international heavyweight in that area (eg. in 1994 he was publishing in an edited volume called La Ecología de las Sociedades Plurlingües/The Ecology of Multilingual Societies–good stuff, even today). But according to Mackey, there were no jobs in this area, and he was refusing to take on students in that topic, directing them instead to the fantastic future of educational technology and applied linguistics.

The problem was that in 1994 educational technology was largely inaccessible, expensive, dull, and visually unappealing.  There was no internet at ULaval in 1994.  Instead, we were treated to discs on slow computers that allowed students to practice vocabulary (affordance: Immediate feedback!!), or highlight text on the screen while reading (affordance:  cognitive strategy!!).  The limousine of educational technology came in the form of the video disc , and MIT’s À la Rencontre de Philippe , a branching interactive fiction released on video disc, was admittedly a shining star in the sea of dull.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 10.55.19 AM








My job was to create a computerized version of  English Through Pictures, which I never did, because I got bored, started taking weaving and textile arts classes at the CÉGEP de Limoilou in their fantastic Métiers d’Art program , and eventually dropped out completely of my Masters.  It took 5 years of doing other things and the appearance of the internet for me to pick it back up at UBC.

The ETUG connection

ETUG opened with a great keynote by @jenterysayers on maker culture, which had me reflecting on the tensions between maker and academic rigour, craft and art, applied education and “academic” education. But I also found it curious how so many ed tech/IT people are attracted to the idea of making or craft. In my case, craft has certainly been a necessary antidote to time spent in front of a screen.

There was also a strong thread of “open” at ETUG via numerous presentations, and this was also a good opportunity to reflect on both the 1994 state of journals, and ed tech software.  I spent a lot of time in the library photocopying journal articles from the approximately three journals on ed tech and language learning that existed at the time (CALICO, System, CALL).  If the open internet had been around in 1994, I likely would have been able to finish my masters project back then without  a lot of cost or effort.  Being an ed tech grad student in 1994 was pretty lonely, and I could have connected more widely with a great community of people like ETUG for support and advice, which highlighted for me how important that community has become.

On the flip side, I attended a great session by Esther Thiessen on the LMS, which really showed how little the LMS has changed in the past decade and a half and provoked us to think about why there are some things in ed tech that have not really changed at all.  This is where I think there is room to do more making at our institutions–the LMS hasn’t changed because we don’t feel like we have the means or authority to change it, and it’s become a sort of ball and chain that we drag around. I hope that in 20 years we can look back on this problem and reflect on how far we’ve come thanks to openness and good community.


Looking backward to look forward

I hadn’t really intended on a post that summarized the past 365 days or made predictions for the future, since others have done it so well already.  These posts have caused me to nonetheless reflect a bit on my own ed-tech moments of 2009  and the inevitable ups and downs that come with the field.

In 2009 I felt like I became a bit of a student of Distance Education and Ed-tech history, since many of the current conversations seemed to me to be echoes of the past. These are few that stood out for me.

Open Educational Resources–ideology, movement, or simple sharing?

As excited as I am about everything related to Open Educational Resources, and how much I’d like to see my own institution think about them strategically, I was disappointed by how much of the OER conversation (in North America, at least) seemed to forget that Open Universities from their inception had a goal of increasing access to education to disadvantaged groups, a radical (dare I say edupunk) idea at the time, and shared many of the ideological concerns of current OER proponents. OpenLearn is a logical extension of this vision, facilitated by the distribution and sharing opportunities of the internet.  Yet the jazzy tools and technologies that enable OER content sharing to those that have access to the internet seemed to me to dominate the discussions that I heard at the Open Education conference in Vancouver, and in the blogosphere in general.  And while I’m convinced of the value of WordPress, RSS, Twitter, and social networking and their value to the OER movement and a particular interpretation of “openness”, apart from some interesting presentations at the ICDE 2009 conference in Maastricht (notably the COL’s Asha Kanwar COL talking about the VUSCC)  and some journal articles, I would have liked to have learned more about broader contexts of OER use and interpretation, linguistic challenges and developments, OER sharing practices (Siyavula), and cost-benefits.

Yet, I’m increasingly aware that I have a responsibility to step outside of the ed-tech echo chamber that I participate  in, and spend more time looking for a different type of conversation.  This requires looking backward and beyond. By looking backward, I continue to find relevance in some of Mackey’s geolinguistic observations of the 80s and 90s; commonalities between the self-directed learning movements of the 70s and later and the desire for substantial change in teaching and learning in higher education. By looking beyond, I intend to read beyond my English language comfort zone and read more in French and Spanish. I also intend to explore other echo chambers in the twittersphere and blogosphere–this includes an interesting group of ed-tech enthusiasts in Quebec (Mario Asselin, Patrick Giroux)–and many more yet to be discovered.

Connectivism or Activity Theory?

This year I continued to be bewildered by the contribution of Connectivism to understanding learning in a networked environment.  I haven’t adequately articulated this anywhere on this blog, but I can’t get past looking for differences between Connectivism and Engestrom’s notion of “knotworking” in third-generation activity theory.  I’ve made this point in the past (posted on George’s blog back in 2006 under ‘tanbob’) but as noted by Bill Kerr’s critique back in ’07the point was never really addressed. I’m obviously not alone here but clearly have some homework to do in fairly and adequately discussing my view of the intersections of these two prominent ideas. The Networked Learning Conference, featuring not only Engestrom and Siemens, but Wenger as well, would have been a nice opportunity to gain some clarity, since current discussions of activity theory (in 2 recent books, one of them nicely reviewed here by Spinuzzi), in particular Engestrom’s notion of a ‘runaway object’ seem to bring connectivism and activity theory even closer.

21st Century Skills–a (sort-of) flashback to multiliteracies?

Another topic that I have yet to adequately articulate here, but I found myself going back to the work of the New London Group and looking for reasons why 21st Century skills felt like a more diluted version of Multiliteracies. How did we go from a broad, socioculturally-driven notion of literacies (framed in 1996, no less), to a more limited behavior-cognitive focussed notion of skills? I worry that 21st century skills will the be the buzzword of 2010 that will take us down the wrong path.

Digital Natives-an ed tech myth that will hopefully become history

On the topic of buzzwords Net Gen Skeptic has done a good job of demonstrating how an ed tech buzzword can become accepted and subsequently adopted as a rationale for systemic change without a whole lot of critical thought or demand for evidence. Being involved in a Skeptic project has made me aware of my own role in supporting myths-in-the-making, eg. what am I retweeting and why; who am I reading and who am I not reading. I suspect that myths find their legs in echo chambers, and I resolve to step outside of the spheres of my discipline and into those that are relevant but not totally familiar.