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Archive for August, 2008

National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies

August 27th, 2008 jonmott Comments

I was intrigued to see that the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act passed by Congress in July and signed into law by Pres. Bush in August includes the establishment of a “National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.” According to the legislation, the Center’s purpose is to:

“[S]upport a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the global economy.”

To this end, the Center will award contracts and grants for the following purposes:

(A) to support research to improve education, teaching, and learning that is in the public interest, but that is determined unlikely to be undertaken entirely with private funds;

(B) to support–

(i) precompetitive research, development, and demonstrations;

(ii) assessments of prototypes of innovative digital learning and information technologies, as well as the components and tools needed to create such technologies; and

(iii) pilot testing and evaluation of prototype systems described in clause (ii); and

(C) to encourage the widespread adoption and use of effective, innovative digital approaches to improving education, teaching, and learning.

While the Center has been authorized, but not yet funded via the appropriations process, it appears to have broad political support. Here’s to its future and the research it will foment . . .

The Wikinomics of Education

August 8th, 2008 jonmott Comments

I started reading Wikinomics this week. In the book, the authors observe that “deep changes in technology, demographics, business, the economy and the world” have ushered in a “new age where people participate” like never before (2008, p. 10). Moreover, they contend that we have already reached a “tipping point where new forms of mass collaboration are changing how goods and services are invented, produced, marketed, and distributed on a global basis.” In The Wisdom of Crowds, Surowiecki explains that large groups of people can be “smart” when they are diverse, individuals in the group are independent from each other, and thought processes are decentralized (2004, p. 42). Another view of so-called “crowdsourcing” suggests that humanity is now capable of “using the kind of collective intelligence once reserved for ants and bees—but now with human IQ driving the mix” (Libert, 2007, p. 1). The result? A “quantum increase in the world’s ability to conceive, create, compute, and connect. We are only beginning to comprehend the consequences.”

The troubling thing to me about all of this is how little mention there is of education in these books. For example, Tapscott and Williams specifically mention education only four times in their 340 page volume on “Wikinomics” (see Index p. 343). The references themselves are also enlightening. The first is a mention of the MIT Open Courseware initiative (p. 22-23). The second references TakingITGlobal’s efforts to reform education by providing a “set of tools and curricular activities that will get students collaborating with other students in other countries” (p. 51). The third refers to the California Department of Education’s Open Source Textbook Project (p. 69). The fourth is merely an additional mention of the California textbook project (p. 301). Note that only one of these references relates to the way students actually learn—the others are about content creation and distribution.

This is additional evidence that technology’s real impact on education is yet to be realized. In a 2007 IRRODL article, David Annand observed: “Much like the Industrial Revolution before it, rapid technological change in the Information Age has to date created significant, fundamental change in virtually all sectors of society except education” (2007, emphasis added).

What are the factors that will bring about a fundamental paradigm shift in learning? For starters, I believe we need to press onward in our efforts to make teaching and learning technology (both tools and content) more modular and interoperable. We also need to do a better job of leveraging the network effect, connecting more learners to more content and more fellow-learners. Finally, none of this will be of any significance if we don’t doggedly stay focused on learning (instead of on making administrative and teaching tasks more efficient).

This is all the subject of an article I’m working on with my BYU colleague Mike Bush. I’ll post a link to it when it’s published.

Learning Technology Customers

August 1st, 2008 jonmott Comments

In my response to Michael Chasen’s response to my post about Blackboard and the innovator’s dilemma, I made the observation that Blackboard’s (and every other CMS vendor’s) problem is that their customers are institutions, not learners.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this notion the past few days. If CMSs are developed and sold (or at least promoted) to institutions, it follows that their functionality and features will be skewed in the direction of meeting institutional needs, including faculty / instructor needs (e.g. easy course content publication, efficient quiz administration, secure grade posting).

Many of the efficiencies that yield benefits to institutions and instructors also provide value to students. But these benefits are mostly serendipitous. Setting aside economic considerations, I’ve been wondering what a CMS (or some other kind of learning software) would look like if it were developed as if the learner was the customer instead of the institution.

Here are some features I think software would include:

  1. Learners would “own” their own learning space. They would not be dependent on their institution or some other entity to grant (and continue granting) them access to their learning content. Learner content collections would be managed and maintained by learners according to their changing learning needs. 
  2. Access to content and relationships with other learners would persist over time. Access would not be tied to artificial institutional teaching calendars.
  3. There would be much more robust tools around note taking, organizing content for study, research and collaboration.
  4.  Non-course, non-credit learning tools that support informal learning (e.g. acquiring new technical skills, foreign language acquisition / retention, hobby related learning, etc.).

What do you think? What other features might more learner-centered software applications have? Is it possible to provide these same features via a traditional CMS? Why or why not?