One response to anything new is to attempt to assimilate it – to fit it into existing models. While it could be argued that Education has attention blindness to technology I think the problem with education and technology goes deeper – a combination of the Shirky Principlecausing education to become stuck into attempting to assimilate technology to reinforce existing models. – the end result being a system that is robust to change yet ever more expensive and irrelevant. One meaning for the E in E-learning is “Expensive”.
However, when context change is so radical attempts to assimilate it leave one disconnected from reality (psychotic) and sustained by rituals and delusions.
Technology can flip our reality:
That which was once scarce becomes abundant
That which was once difficult becomes easy
That which was once once expensive becomes cheap (or free)
That which was once large becomes small
That which was once institutional becomes personal
The technology context within which education operates has changed so radically over the last decade that education must find ways of altering its existing models to accommodate a changing reality – educated learning needs to find a way to accommodate its flip side – uneducated learning or risk increasing irrelevance.
Lets have a look at just two of these flipping changes.
Flipping Space – Time
Educational space and time is a scheduled batch process in specified locations – the meeting – otherwise know as timetabled classes.
Classrooms and timetables were a necessary batch process to distribute scarce resources and time to abundant learners – move the learners to resources to meet at specified times in specified places.
Nowadays learning resources can be accessed almost anytime and anyplace – learners no longer need to wait to be batch processed in a timetabled classroom – learning can happen anyplace, anytime in real-time on demand – Indeed, better learning happens this way.
Technology resources were once expensive and scarce and education quite rightly provided these for learning – computers, email, storage space and applications.
Nowadays many learners have their own personal technology resources and they are usually much easier and better than those provided by education yet education often chooses to ignore or even ban learners personal technology. Education must accommodate to the reality that learning can take place using learners own resources – Indeed, better learning happens this way.
How to accommodate – strip down
Education has used technology to build a suite of armour – a lumbering and reinforced steampunk monstrosity of defence – sucking in increasing resources to reinforce, maintain and move. Within its suite of armour education is blind to the world around it and unable to move fast enough it will become isolated and left behind in a world of its own.
Education needs to strip down – throw off its suite of armour – become part of the world in which it exists and use the resources of its environment.
Education needs to flip from institutional to personal – the conditions to do this are emerging from cheaper, pervasive, abundant, personal and connected mobile computing.
How to look good Naked
Here are some Rules Of Thumb – ROT to do
* Go Web
Use the web – avoid platform and paper dependencies.
* Go Mobile
Resources have to be useable on a smartphone anyplace and anytime
* Go Free
Use free open web based resources – the sort that any learner and teacher can use anywhere with no support overheads.
* Go Wild
Think of teaching and learning as wilderness survival – a lifelong skill in how to find and use the natural resources of the web. Think of the smartphone as a survival multi-tool.
* Go Open
Use and produce public open resources
* Go Connected
“The network is our computer” – Invest in your networks – especially wireless, guest and Internet connections.
“Value is in the network not the nodes”
MASH and connect your own and others content.
Develop Personal Learning Networks (PLNs)
* Go Outside
- Think and Design systems outside the classroom and outside the school or college – think Web, Mobile and Global.
* Go Personal
Encourage and use people’s own personal resources and identity.
* Go Equal
Invest and focus on digital equality
Information technology wants to be personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected – “resistance is futile”.
The balance of technology in education is weighted to the institution – we depend upon institutionally provisioned hardware and software from data centres and servers to “end user” computers – this is an expensive, resource intensive, centralised and locked down model struggling to meet the demands of what people want from technology.
Continuing on the current trajectory every room will be eventually be an IT suite or every student will have a college computer – how could I provision, support, maintain and secure up to 20,000 computers – we need a new approach. Educational technology must seek a lighter, simpler less resource intensive approach to technology – it must learn to let go of technology, step away from the diminishing returns on the technology treadmill. Instead, education should provide a platform for technology use – a feasible and sustainable model for the next era – the “fifth wave of computing” – personal, abundant, cheap, easy, convenient, open, small, mobile and connected.
The traditional response is for education to provide resources but better choices can usually be readily selected by people from the web. Education needs to de-institutionalise and reduce its own technology – allow the balance to shift to personal technology by exploring DIY and self service approaches.
All our learners have on-line presence and identities – why provide institutional versions – allow learners to use their own resources and on-line identity. Allow learners to select their own email and their own applications – some will use Google apps, some will use Microsoft Live apps while others might prefer Zoho, Facebook office or local apps such as Openoffice or even Microsoft office. If learners don’t have on-line resources then this is an area for education, for education should be about learning for life.
Shift investment from computers and servers to the network. Shake off the ghost of internal client-server thinking – think global – think open – think web only. Create pervasive wireless guest access and increase both internal and Internet bandwidth. Encourage learners and staff to use their own IT on your guest network – let the network be our computer – let the network be the technology platform for learning
Education teaching and Education IT could both share a common new approach – facilitation. Facilitate the use of resources rather than the resources themselves. In the same way that teaching is considering facilitation, coaching, guidance styles so too could education IT.
Technologists often have an almost obsessive addiction about “the next big thing” and a technology fetishism and determination about the power of technology to transform education.
Education is stressed by the need to balance a great many competing factors including finance, legal regulations, government requirements, market competition as well as learning needs – a stress that often results in organisational anxiety a conservative approach to new technology.
The conflux of educational anxiety and technology addiction has in many cases created an addicted, anxiety ridden institutionalised educational technology monster.
The monster mash is depressive, agoraphobic, addictive, obsessive compulsive ritual dance.
Dead and decaying technology is toxic and harmful but the monster is addicted and craves increasing doses to sustain itself in an all consuming self destructive habit.
Technology pushers fool the monster to try ever toxic technologies to keep it and its “users” dependent.
Education has become dependent on technology and has to purchase, power, support and maintain more and more equipment, computers, servers, storage and software each year to satisfy an expanding desire for technology in education.
Education has to deploy ever more complex and expensive technology in order to cope – increasingly needing expensive external specialists.
Education’s dependency on technology is almost 24/7/365 – how long could a typical institution last without a technology fix.
The monster seeks comfort from the familiar, private and closed places – it fears and avoids large, open, public and/or unfamiliar places where there are few places to hide.
Education perpetuates familiar first phase technologies and applications such as locally installed, local area network client and server products.
The monster comforts itself with repetitive self-reinforcing ritualistic behaviours.
Education seeks comfort in conforming to self-constructed norms of technology use – learner:computer ratios; e-boards installations, VLE/MLE and the use of technology in lessons. Ritualised technology becomes repetitive, rigid, self-reinforcing and difficult to change. Education becomes focused on preserving the rituals f technology rather than the function.
Despite all its hard work the monster cannot find love.
For technologists education doesn’t go far enough and for eduction the technology is too wild and risky.
The Monster Mash
The monster mash is a complex, expensive, rigid, and slow moving dance – increasingly ridiculous yet scary and increasingly damaging to education and learning.
New technologies allow Education to provide increasing amounts of IT provisioned faster and more flexibly while also exerting traditional practices for availability, security, control and standardisation. However, there is a price – these new technologies are far more complex than before. Consider the complexity of load balanced server clustering, Storage area networking or a typical institutional email system.
The complexity of our systems is expensive – not only in terms of capital but also in terms of time, skills and increasingly in terms of external support and maintenance.
The scale of educational IT is expensive – the rise in quantity outweighs the fall in unit costs – while the cost of computer hardware has fallen we use many more and while the cost of software has fallen over the years we use more.
The scale of educational IT is expensive to support and maintain – we need increasing numbers of technical people to keep all this ticking over.
There is also a cost in terms of preparing and delivering education doing the monster mash – consider the amount of time spent preparing attractive powerpoint presentations or populating a VLE for classroom use. This is the old e-board and VLE debate where for me the “E” stands for expensive – consider the opportunity costs of these technologies alone.
To deploy, support and maintain on scale institutional IT is pretty standardised – new technologies such as virtualised clients may allow some variety around a standard theme but they are all generally predefined menu selections.
To protect and secure on scale institutional IT is pretty locked down – people often can’t install programs of their choice on educational computers.
Consider the effect of this standardised lock down on learning. A learner may not be familiar with tools you provide so must first learn your tools before they can apply them to their learning – the tools become a stumbling block and get in the way of learning.
Traditional institutional IT is designed for providing a fixed standardised and controlled provision on scale – it is not well suited to providing a personalised flexible provision on scope. New features appear in free public consumer IT regularly and often yet consider the process of upgrading an institutional application or email system for all your people.
Free the Monster
However comforting the monster mash may be it now has an existential problem and risks harming everyone around it. The Monster mash is a big turn off for many people these days.
While slow moving, rigid, complex and expensive its addictive, depressed, agoraphobic obsessive compulsive nature make the monster parasitic and difficult to escape
Shock tactics and cold turkey could be fatal for both the monster and the host – we must treat the underlying problems of addiction and anxiety appropriately with exposure and response prevention. With support the monster must confront its fears and discontinue its escape and avoidance responses. The Monster must learn that it can be safe in open, public spaces and that it can reduce and maybe one day eliminate its dependence on tradition and ritual. Over time educational technology may once again lead a less complex, expensive, rigid and slow moving life – one day the monster may lead a happy and fulfilling life.
I hope to explore some technology and education for the monster in future blogs.
Initially, computers were rare and education provided a handful of computer terminals in specialist suites for relatively specialist access to mainframes. Over time, Mainframe terminals were replaced with desktop “personal” computers and the same model expanded and applied mainstream such that a typical school or college may have thousands of “terminals” and a great many IT suites. Such desktop models are supported and maintained on an institutional model – they are generally standardised and locked down – they really are more like mainframe terminals than personal computers.
Initially, education assimilated computers were a rare resource and teachers could book time in the IT suite for specialist sessions. Over time large machines (desktop computer “terminals”) have been placed on the desks in front of learners. Classrooms have attempted to accommodate these machines by providing benching and computer chairs and often arranging conveniently along and facing walls – in many cases, learners all have their backs to the teacher.
Education’s very long and expansive initial assimilation of IT while already problematic is now under real pressure from radical technology and cultural changes. Where computers were once big, rare, expensive and institutional they are now small, common, relatively cheap and personal. Where information was once relatively rare, expensive and institutional it is now abundant, free and personal. Learners are increasingly carrying around in their pockets or bags real personal computers with access to as much information as they need – the typical educational technology provision is an anachronistic steampunk concoction of IT rarity in an age of IT abundance.
The future of technology in education will be mobile and personal but is less about technology and more about education – Education must learn to accommodate new technology and culture with new practice – I hope to explore some of these issues in future blogs.
There is something strange going on in education – It’s getting both better and worse at the same time.
Exam grades have been improving year on year and this summer students achieved the best exam grades so far in A levels and GCSEs while International studies place our students in the global top 10. However, when students answer questions from past decades they do worse than their historic counterparts.
It seems no one is happy – there is the usual argument about exam “quality” – Richard Pike for example complains that science exams standards have been eroded and that first year chemistry students require remedial education, employers complain that graduates lack soft skills and students enjoyment of science and maths has dropped remarkably.
All these things are true because education is changing.
Information, knowledge and education are embedded within culture and society – the nature of our culture and society changes and have changed radically over the last 20 years. Information is the stuff of education but our relationship to information is very different from that of 20 years ago and even 10 years ago. Back in 1988 information was a relatively slow and scarce resource – “locked up” in papers and books. Today both students and teachers have “at your fingertips” Internet access to overwhelming amounts of information – today information is a fast and overloaded resource.
Methods of dealing with a resource that is slow and scarce are different to those needed to deal with a resource that is fast and overloaded. With slower moving scarce information education focused on the subject with deeper operations on the available information. With faster moving overloaded information education is focused on information with broader operations on the available information – the ability to find, filter, assess, use and communicate information
Michael Shayer found students today were better at tasks requiring quick, descriptive responses whereas students from the 1970′s were better at deeper more “complex” thinking. Shayer goes on to relate these changes to the changes in society and culture – “everything in the past 30 years has speeded up. It’s about reacting quickly but at a shallow level”. Information management and “soft” skills are often referred to as “dumbing down” but I would argue that they are just different and that they are as valuable and complex as the deeper subject skills many value more.
The one experiment that can’t be done is to observe how students from the 1970′s and 1980′s might cope with the information rich world of today. Our students, teachers and education system have adapted to the changes in society and technology. Today we use information technology as a tool for mechanical (e.g. simple arithmetic) and memory tasks to free time for information handling tasks such as research and the application of information to problems. Subject operation is different – instead of “deep” within subject questions we seek to operate more broadly and ask questions that relate subject knowledge to the world we live in.
The curriculum is seeking to adapt to changes in technology, culture and society. The Rose report for primary education suggests that six broad “areas of learning” could replace individual subjects. Looking ahead to the year 2020 The Gilbert report for secondary schools calls for increasing curriculum breadth and more active, collaborative and creative learning. Looking at the global economy the Leitch report calls for Developing a culture of learning (integrating learning with life and work) and the development of communications, collaboration, research and problem solving skills.
The various sectors of society want different things from education and as a result no one is entirely happy. Universities want deeper “hard” subject knowledge and competence. Employers want subject competence but also want adaptable people with “soft” skills. Institutions want to be able to test and measure performance. The government wants entrepreneurs and innovators. On the one hand society wants “hard”, measureable, “traditional” education yet on the other hand it wants “soft” and innovative education.
Somehow education must reconcile the need for measurable deep subject skills with the need for innovation which develops best on a broad base. The only answer is for the education system to be increasingly flexible and adaptive and to offer choices. One approach is through the personalisation of education suggested by Rammel together with a choice of learning/teaching/course/qualification styles.
The questions about education I am most interested in are:
What do students think?
What do students want?
This blog discusses cloud computing in relation to organisational culture and the forms of cloud computing that may be adopted as a result.
The issues with cloud computing are the same issues that have existed on the Internet since it was created issues of identity as constructed through relationships to control and ownership. This shouldn’t be surprising as the term “cloud computing” is after all based upon the network symbol for the Internet.
Relationships to control and ownership are formed through specific requirements such as legal obligations and through psychology.
Approaching Cloud – First Impressions describes some of the system types available for cloud computing – they can be regarded as if on a continuum from the more traditional “product on-site” approach (not really cloud) through to a fully MASHED DIY approach.
Those who wish or need to assert identity through strong control and ownership of information are unlikely to feel comfortable with the concepts of cloud computing and would be most comfortable with traditional “product on-site” adoptions. Such individuals or organisation may also find hosted products with appropriate Service Level Agreements acceptable.
Those who are or can be more relaxed about control and ownership may feel comfortable with approaches from mid range cloud services approaches from Microsoft live@edu or Google apps for education through to the more extreme Mashup Corporation, Mesh Collaboration or ideas of Clay Shirky in “Here Comes Everybody” which web 2 and cloud computing make possible.
One of the most frequently discussed issues when talking about the use of Cloud computing in teaching is that of ownership of teaching materials whether these belong to the organisation or to the teacher or some form of shared ownership in between. If the organisation exerts control and ownership over materials then an IT system which allows this control must be implemented – most likely product on-site installs, hosted systems or possibly an organisational controlled cloud system such as Microsoft live@edu or Google apps for education . Where the individual control and ownership is agreed then teachers’ personal resources can be used and MASHED in. Where DIY MASHUP is used then the organisation has to consider what happens if/when the individual leaves, changes or withdraws material and what that individual publishes in public space – these are as you might appreciate issues of identity as expressed through ownership and control. It is easier to exert an identity if you control and own the medium and the collection of messages available on the medium. Organisations which allow a MASH of personal DIY lose the ability to control the messages – they have to trust their people and truly become the sum of the parts.
The advantage of exerting control is that you can exert a clear identity – a particular “mission statement” in a particular style. This suites a “command and control” style of management and is effective where there are clear objectives and outcomes – it is particularly suited to sectors where known repetitive and fixed operations are required. The disadvantage is that the organisation is less flexible than it could be – everything is pointed in the same direction and may not see the changes coming up behind – good for when you know where you are going but not suited for activities where you need to adapt to the unexpected – where you don’t know where you are let alone where you are going – by this I am referring to areas where invention, innovation and creativity are required.
Relaxing control and ownership offers the advantages of a dynamic flexible organisation defined by its members. This suites a flat, networked, “self organising” style of management - such an organisation may be difficult to point in one direction but able to see in many directions, to generate multiple ideas and be flexible – such an organisation is best suited to invention, innovation and research. The disadvantage of course is that identity is expressed dynamically through the activity of members which can lead to fragmentation and anarchy.
All organisations are different and will accommodate and assimilate technologies and opportunities according to their unique culture. In my opinion education is about recognising individual differences and developing individual potentials and as such I argue that educational organisations should be relatively relaxed with control and identity – that they should be considering their unique approaches to personal DIY systems for the near future. The technology exists and continues to develop but is the psychology there?
Increasing amounts of our lives are mediated by IT and developments in educational, social and technical culture require organisations to develop systems to deliver expectations.
Back in June 2008 I wrote “MLE to PLE a framework for considering systems” which attempted categories approach and offer criteria to help evaluate systems.
This blog looks at the systems for learning being considered at EHWLC to meet expectations and my first impressions.
This is the traditional approach – purchase software and hardware and install in your systems centre. The system we have been having a look at is Microsoft Sharepoint.
In many ways Sharepoint presents the issues of any traditional product on-site system. I have found Sharepoint to be time consuming and overly complex. Due to the logistics involved (product “manufacture” and provision to customer sites) I have found Sharepoint to be out if date at the time of delivery. It offers a traditional perspective on web 2.0, focused on Office documents when what I am looking for is web page “in-situ” creation and editing where you only need a browser. We are trying to move away from the sharing and circulation of word documents and Excel spreadsheets yet Sharepoint encourages this – not surprising really. One advantage to Sharepoint is it’s tight integration with your internal organisational systems (if you are using Active Directory). However, with the increasing number of non-organisational users you may wish to include (e.g. franchise partners etc) this approach presents problems.
Instead of installing a product in your system centre this approach is to use the system centre of a 3rd party to run (host) your system and access it via interfaces across the Internet. The 3rd party can offer business continuity and security. This approach offloads the work of running the data centre systems but presents the limitations of the product. The system we are considering is the ULCC hosted/serviced e-learning.
We have only just started looking at the ULCC hosted service. I am hoping that it errs more towards a service rather than hosting a product. One of the problems of a product on-site is that we are all so busy that finding the enormous amount of time required to get a system on the scale we are considering started up is very difficult. With the ULCC e-learning services we hope to be able to contract technical implementation time to the service providers so that actually provisioning a service becomes a possibility. One of the major areas I will be looking at are the Interfaces we can use to interface with our other systems
Service – Cloud (Organisational)
With this model you use the system centre of a 3rd party to run (host) your system but are not concerned about the technology behind the service – your focus is on the service itself. We have been experimenting with two cloud services for many months Microsoft live@edu and Google apps for education
Neither of these systems is fully ready yet and neither offer all I want or in a format I want but the potential is fantastic. For both these systems we have batch provisioned user accounts from files that can be generated by our MIS systems and both systems are very easy to administer. Both systems provide services which Microsoft and Google offer on their cloud sites (blogs, email, collaborative workspaces etc).
If you are lucky enough to have your own programmers this approach is to use your own specialists to program and design your own system. This could be on-site, hosted or in the cloud. We are working with Centime with this approach. We have identified a great deal we would like to work on such as RSS feeds, interfaces, web page “in-situ” creating and editing etc. A major problem is the time and resources required to engineer these features.
Personal DIY – pure MASH
With this approach we use and integrate whatever people (learners and staff etc) choose to use. W e have been developing awareness and skillsets in many cloud systems for storage, blogging, feed aggregation, website creation etc.
I have found this approach fast moving, dynamic and exciting. The main problem has been with the “paradigm” – most users are unfamiliar and seem uncomfortable with freedoms and self responsibility of a personal DIY approach to their IT. Another problem has been with integrating the diverse systems into something coherent.
My first impressions are that none of the systems offers a complete solution of what I would like to see.
- A system that is inclusive of all our potential users – current staff, students and partners but also potential users and those who have left us (alumni).
- A system that is extremely easy to use and administer
- A system that provides data interfaces for college systems to use (something to identify the user to the system plus associated data)
- A system that is dynamic – easily and quickly able to change (agile)
The full Personal DIY MASHUP approach is I feel the direction we need to point ourselves in and to use those systems that help us to move in that direction.
Microsoft Sharepoint is too complex, slow to change and backward looking but is likely to have a place in a limited traditional organisational deployment perhaps as a development of our staff Intranet and replacement of the Pool drive.
Microsoft live@edu and Google apps for education - I have a “philosophical” problem with these – why provision college associated Microsoft live or Google accounts when people can do this themselves. Does a student really want to use a college associated email (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org ) for the rest of their lives. More likely is that these services can be used for a traditional secure project in the cloud and this is where our early experiments with these systems have taken place e.g. departmental collaborative space and calendars.
As a test of these and one of the first projects I would like to look at is the replacement of college provisioned student email with students own email.
The blog offers an outline of the main approaches to provision systems and offers some categories to help you when considering and selecting systems.
It is possible to build much of a PLE with any of the systems approaches below but bear in mind that real world systems will be a combination of some or even all of them.
Product – on-site
Using a supplier’s product and installing, developing and maintaining it on-site.
Product – hosted
Using a supplier’s product but having a 3rd party host the system for you – you manage and access it across the net.
Service – “cloud”
Using a suppliers service – you are not aware of the underlying technology or system but the service you get e.g. access to email, blogs and shared workspaces.
Using your own specialists to program and design your own system.
This could be on-site, hosted or in the cloud.
An example of this approach is Centime which is originated at EHWLC and is developed in partnership with a small number of other educational organisations.
Using and integrating whatever the users (learners and staff etc) choose to use.
Examples are the use of people’s own on-line identity (e.g. openId), email, blogs and social networks integrated with organisational data.
Evaluation Criteria – Outline
The headings below can be used as an outline for more detailed work when it comes to considering what system is right for you.
What ownership options does the system offer regarding the use and fate of material in held in the system and do they meet your requirements for ownership.
- What happens when the author leaves the organisation.
- Who can say how the resource is published (private to organisation, public to specific users or fully public)
- “Copyright” – who decides if it can be copied and by whom
- What happens when there is a disagreement about a resource – liability, conflict resolution etc
These questions can be considered for both staff and learner authored resources.
What service levels does the system offer for availability, security and performance and how do they meet your requirements for service.
What management options does the system offer and do they meet your requirements for management.
For example in provisioning and controlling user access and resources how easy is it to create accounts; change accounts; change access to resources; remove accounts and provision group resources, spaces and permissions.
What data integration options does the system offer and how do they meet your requirements for data.
For example – how easy is it use the system in combination with data systems used by the organisation.
How does the system meet your requirements to adapt and change – does the system allow you to deliver what you want and how easy is it for the system to develop what you want.
Teaching and Learning
What teaching and learning options does the system offer and how does the system meet your requirements for teaching and learning.
What user experiences does the system offer and how does the system meet your requirements for teaching and learning. How easy is the system to use – is it suitable for your users.
How good a fit is the system with your organisational culture.
For example -do your people like a clearly defined framework to work within, are they comfortable with experimentation and change.
Future potential and issues
What future potential does the system offer and does this meet your requirements for future developments.
What skillsets does the system require and do you have these or are you able to develop them, buy them in or contract them out.
What are the costs and the cost types (e.g. capital vs operational) of the system and can you afford them. Consider all the associated costs – cost of equipment installation, maintenance and operation; software licences, staffing costs (training, development etc) and costs to meet the criteria above e.g in supplying the skillsets, data integration, service level etc.