Education: PIE and MASH-Beyond Space and Time
Consumerisation and personalisation are the underlying trends in recent education thinking, technology developments and our culture generally.
This blog attempts to combine recent educational proposals with recent IT developments, describe some of the challenges and make some suggestions for meeting these challenges.
Recent educational papers promote ACTIVE LEARNING through consumerisation and personalisation. They promote demand led learning, competitive learning markets, learner accounts, greater learner choice and soft skills such as research, problem solving, collaboration, communication and information management. We will also be expected to deliver learning across boundaries – in the workplace, in other institutions and at home. The educational papers suggest the mindset required.
Recent IT developments promote ACTIVE IT through consumerisation and personalisation developments in mobile technology and use (smartphones, UMPCs, WADs, mobile broadband) and through continued development in the capabilities of on-line social networking and Web 2 applications and spaces. The IT developments suggest the tools required.
My opinion is that developing NET technologies such as PIE (Personal Information Environments) and MASH (the ability to combine different information sources) will provide some of the tools to operate and learn beyond the traditional boundaries of Space (locations) and Time and allow us to deliver the Active and Personalised learning the educational papers promote. The crucial thing is that these tools are useless without the mindset to operate them and that the tools and mindset have to apply to institutions and not just to learners.
Recent educational thinking promotes active learning and soft skills such as research, problem solving, collaboration, communication and information management yet our systems (exams, quality, IT and buildings) offer an environment developed from 20th century learning approaches and don’t offer a natural environment to develop active learning.
Everyday life will be increasingly mediated by the net (information, leisure, work, learning, shopping, socialising, etc) and being “on net” is increasingly vital. This will be the context in which we will be expected to operate in the near future. We should expect to see more people seeking web access and carrying around Web Access Devices (smartphones, UMPC, laptops etc). We should expect to see more people using personal web spaces – interacting through social networks, using web 2 applications or using customised Personal Information Environments (PIE) created by MASHING applications, feeds and links.
In education there is a tension and a challenge. Young people, teachers and institutions are operating at different speeds within different contexts – young people (major educational consumers) are relatively comfortable with “NET LIFE”. Teachers have some experience of “NET LIFE” but generally don’t have the time or support to explore and develop it and its use in education. Institutions change even slower – they have few incentives to engage in the risk that change brings – to do so risks upsetting hard worked quality development. Thus we have a problem – educational thinking, technology, culture and our students are all moving on at a faster pace yet how are institutions expected to deliver in the real world the reforms described in educational papers.
The challenge is to be able to provide active learning opportunities in increasingly flexible ways – for learner “consumers” to access learning where, when and how they wish. Rammel (2006) for example illustrates one aspect of our challenge – “The development of Specialised Diplomas as a modular qualification with young people taking different modules or qualifications in different institutions will present challenges.”
Suggestions for meeting the challenge
1. Re-engineer our networks
With more people (staff and students) using personal web access devices and personal information spaces we need to build our networks to allow these to operate in our institutions.
1a Re-engineer our networks provide our bandwidth to guest devices to access the net.
I’m already seeing many iPhones for example on our system. The objective is to provide a secure internal /institutional network but with some form of guest access to the Internet. One solution on wireless is to guest SSID’s to which guest devices associate and then tunnel them out onto the Internet through web access filters without “touching” our secure networks. Ultimately however the spread of wireless WAN (3G, Wimax) will reduce the need to accommodate guest devices on our own networks.
1b Re-engineer to increase bandwidth and reliability especially for our Internet connections.
Network and Internet access is everything and Internet connectivity will increasingly be seen as the priority. This means that our networks will busier and that we should be increasing bandwidth and reliability to accommodate. Increasingly the “ network is the computer” and investments in our networks should be prioritised.
2 Re-engineer our Systems
With more people (staff and students) using personal web access devices and personal information spaces and access needed from staff and students in workplaces and other institutions we need to build our systems to allow Internet access and to provide data interfaces for users. We should plan to make it possible for a learner to use their own personal information environment (PIE) to access our systems.
2a Re-engineer systems for Internet access as a priority.
All relevant learning systems should be designed and built Internet first.
2b Re-engineer systems to provide Internet data feeds and interfaces.
All data should have web access and we need to think about interfaces for users and enabling RSS.
3 Re-engineer our physical environment
Recent educational thinking promotes development active learning and soft skills such as research, problem solving, collaboration, communication and information management. The traditional classroom is not a natural environment for this type of activity – we need to develop new learning spaces that are more natural to active styles of learning.
We need to create and support experimental learning spaces in which to develop new teaching ideas. One key ingredient is that learners can change the environment to accommodate new learning – groups work / project work / net access. The other key ingredient is that there is adequate support on hand – technical and educational.
4 Re-engineer our curriculum
Current curricula remind me of trying to fit round pegs (learners) into square holes (colleges) and the problems this causes when increasingly we want round pegs. Current curricula and operation are derived from the 20th century industrial age – they have fixed time and space slots (lessons) – they have industrial style advantages in terms of quality control and management but present real problems for the active, flexible learning educational reforms being promoted. Curricula change is probably going to be the most difficult problem. How can we manage and deliver a curriculum where the resources, time and space for various activities change from week to week and where students might pick and choose what to learn.
Re-engineer curricula to be modular
This seems to be necessary to be flexible. For example it would be advantageous to be able to study business modules along with science and arts for example.
Re-engineer more of the curricula to be on-line
This seems to be necessary to be flexible. Timetable clashes might prevent certain combinations but if studied on-line then the restrictions of space and time disappear – we can study wherever and whenever we want and how much or how little we want.
Leitch (2006) views the natural resource of the 21st to be our people and that education is key to developing this resource. Institutions are made of people and ultimately none of the education reforms can happen unless our people (teachers, support, admin, managers and executives) engage with the new paradigm – we need to develop both the mindset and the tools. The mindset is Active, Flexible, Collaborative and Experimental. The tools are those of the NET, including web 2 and social networking. We need to begin using and experimenting with RSS, Tags, blogs, and groups for example to enable us to work across traditional boundaries and the boundaries of space and time.
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