Friday, April 21, 2006

web 2.0 and personal learning experience

An interesting blog posting from Scott Wilson on web 2.0 and personal learning experience.

However, I think that it is too focused on the technology, and it assumes that everyone will behave like the techno-adventurers who have adopted web 2.0 technology (blogs, wikis, shared bookmarking etc.). As the powerpoint was given as part of a presentation which I did not attend I am missing some of the context.

First, a couple of general points. I think that much of what he has to say is about more mature, motivated and well resourced students. I think that little of what he says is relevant to, for instance, infants, or disaffected learners or to those who are re-entering learning (that is a large swathe of further education students, who may lack many of the basic skills - including both literacy and information literacy). However, I presume that it is intended to apply from somewhere in primary or early secondary through higher education and on into work-based learning, CPD etc.

Of particular interest are his predictions for 2010, which are worth looking at in some detail, so here goes - in the spirit of friendly discussion, I hope.

Prediction 1: By 2010 at the latest, all learners accessing education will already possess a portable network device with substantial storage capacity, wireless/mobile internet access, processing capacity, and context adaptability. They will expect ubiquitous wireless/mobile access.

If we ignore the groups above that I have suggested that the whole talk does not apply to, then I think that this is largely true. However, it masks a huge range in both the nature of the equipment from a smartphone with only a telephone keypad through PDAs / smartphones with touch screens and or keyboards to laptops and tablet PCs. As well as the range of equipment that is implied by this there will also be a range in what people want to use their devices for, from primarily as a mobile phone through to meeting the majority of their computing needs. It also masks a huge range in sophistication of use of these devices from those who are comfortable and happy using computers for a wide range of activities and make use of Web 2.0 type technologies to those who are unsure of computers and would never post on a blog. This range will still be there in 2010, and the nature of education in schools (at least in the UK) does little to help with this, given the concentration on individual examined work and the inability to share course work at all for fear of being done for cheating.

Prediction 2: Learners will expect education services and resources to be capable of being timeshifted to suit their schedules, rather than the other way around. They will expect the ability to mix, re-arrange, and otherwise adapt educational offerings to suit their needs.

This is already true for much of the learning in universities and colleges, where lectures, tutorials, and laboratory work make up a minority of the learning, with discussions in the coffee room, working in the library, writing essays or reports at home etc. etc. occupying much of the study time and mostly done at times to suit the student. I am not sure that there will be an enormous shift here, as much of the time that is constrained by the university is either social working (tutorials) or constrained by access to resources (laboratories). If the former is to be dynamic (synchronous) then it has to be timetabled and thus it may not be able to suit the convenience of all the members of the group. Similarly, laboratories have limited resources and experiments have to be set up and timetabled. The main activity which it may be possible to timeshift is lectures - a notoriously poor form of teaching, but let that go. Even then, it is not clear that a podcast is as good as a lecture, and many people use them to go over rather than replace a lecture. Similarly, if we are to have cohorts (and most pedagogists argue that learning from other members of the group is amongst the most powerful forms of learning) then there needs to be some form of timetable to help keep people working approximately in step with each other. Therefore, there are strong pedagogic arguments for keeping both an overall timetable for the group and for some activities.

Prediction 3: Learners will be increasingly media-aware, and will be immersed in participatory culture through TV, radio, and the internet. They will be more experienced communicators in a range of media, and will expect a high degree of participation. They will already have their own publishing channels.

I think that this is a generalisation from the behaviour of the current enthusiasts. I am yet to be convinced that most people are naturally participatory. Of the huge many blogs that have been registered how many have ever had more than three postings? I suspect only a small percentage (including at least two I remember registering and then forgetting about). Similarly, most people will continue to be essentially passive consumers of media, restricting their active participation to voting for big brother and similar shows. We live and work in a milieu where these things are taken as the norm.

My suspicion is that a large number of people will use things like socially, but will not use similar things for learning. I can remember a few years ago there was a suggestion that as students were all using mobile phones and txt we should use txt wrt in teaching. However, I argued then, that people are moded - and know that what is suitable for personal or leisure use is not necessarily appropriate or useful for learning. The same may be true here.

I think that this will be helped by "walled gardens" where students can share only with people they want to (their peers), and don’t have to worry about looking a fool to the whole world. I also suspect that the situation is very different in the USA because of the different culture - where "show and tell" encourages students to be more open with their ideas.

Prediction 4a: Learners won’t expect to pay for technology, if anything they’ll expect to be paid for using it.

I am not sure what is meant by this one, while at the moment we are getting our mobile phones included in the contract, and many online services are free I think that we will continue to pay for, and expect to pay for, much of our technology. Open source will not have won by 2010, Microsoft will still be the dominant desktop operating system and office suite, and probably also on PDAs and smartphones.

Perhaps, people will begin to understand that there is no such thing as a free lunch, and that the costs are simply diverted elsewhere - whether into the mobile phone contract or the price paid for goods and services that are paying for these services through advertising. Though, somehow I suspect that most people will not have wised-up by then.

Prediction 4b: Educational services will be expected to integrate with leisure and work services, just like everything else does.

Again, I am not sure what this means - having not been at the talk, but either this relates to prediction 2 about timeshifting, or as that has already been discussed this is about a deeper level of integration. A lot of this is happening already with work based learning, accreditation of prior experience etc. I would be interested to see models of how this will be taken further in the next four years, and I suspect that one of the things that will do most to hold it back is the extraordinarily conservative nature of assessment in this country (with "A" levels seen as a "gold standard" and many banging on about back to basics, drop in standards, not like it was when I was a child / student etc.).

Prediction 4c: Learners will already be part of several online communities when they enter education, and will continue to operate in these networks, and rely upon them for peer recommendations and reputation.

Yes, undoubtedly, but they will also want to build new ones around their study and the shared interest there. Both will be both online and face-to-face as well.


Scott said...

Thanks for a very thoughtful response to my presentation - check out the mp3 if you'd like to get more of a sense of where I was taking this, maybe it will help fill some of the gaps!

I think I've been pretty conservative prediction-wise, based on the teens and pre-teens I know, but then in the UK have it would seem we have a very technologically-capable generation currently in the 10-15 age group (although there is by no means at all a widespread level of capability).

I think we have to be careful about where and how we introduce technology - for example, while txting isn't very useful in most learning activity, however in an educational context there are alerts (class starting, homework due, come see me now! etc) for which they are very useful, and one secondary school I'm familiar with has skipped email entirely in favour of SMS alerting.

I deliberately left aside the motivational aspects, and in particular the impact of lack of engagement, literacy, and resources in compulsory education.

(As Jill pointed out, as a technologist I concentrate on the technology, as thats my main specialism).

As a former disengaged learners myself (I dropped out of school at 15 before my exams, and only entered formal education again in my mid-twenties) I think technology offers some possibilities for alternatives to the dominant design of pre-18 education which could try to address some of the recurrent issues in this sector such as motivation and commitment, but only where there is a will to innovate; a will which is difficult to generate given the assumptions made by parents, teachers, and politicians about what school is, and should be. (E.g. this addication to individual testing, standardised curricula, and the panics about plagiarism, that are driving the development of the school system.)

Just an example to think about: remember that the design of schools and their core organisational technologies has its roots in the military academies, prisons, factories and workhouses of the 19th century (Foucault has a good analysis of this, as does Illich, though from a more radical perspective).

Timetables and the sounding of bells at the beginning of shifts was an effective technology for these industrial systems. However, we have created many, many more sophisticated systems for handling the orchestration of human activity and the planning of resource allocation.

So, why can't we apply this in schools? I seem to remember a Dutch colleague mentioning they had already implemented a flexible ERP-based study management system in at least one location, eliminating the fixed timetable entirely.

(There was also a UK example whose name I can't remember, but who also adopted a resource-oriented learning strategy with no timetable but instead pupils had a target number of hours per subject to fill each week in whatever combinations they wanted to do them - presumably this was pre-NC!)

So, hopefully some of these Web 2.0 technologies (or whatever) can stimulate some ideas about what we might propose if we want to do some real innovation in education.

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