Archive for the ‘ ramblings ’ Category

ideas are for chumps

innovation isn’t about ideas, it’s about agile teams that can execute, learn and iterate.

Yesterday a colleague of mine tweeted this from a conference  he was attending. I got to tell you, the statement struck me when I saw it and it’s been sticking with me since. I think I need to write about it in order to let it go.

To start with, I think this assertion is fundamentally flawed at best if not totally inaccurate. Innovation could not exist without ideas. How so? Innovation is spurred by looking at things that exist and coming up with way to improve upon them or apply them to a new area. In other words, innovation occurs when ideas are successfully applied. Innovation is an idea in practice. Innovation is different from invention, generally defined as an idea that brings something into the world that did not exist before. Now I’m willing to be that more times than not when the innovation comes to fruition it may bear little resemblance to the original idea however, I’d also bet that without having that original idea the chances of that innovation actually happening dramatically drop.

To be fair, I did not hear the talk from which this tweet spawned so I’m not familiar with the context. So I’m willing to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt that this statement was part of some larger point he or she was making that did not transfer over to twitter. I’m hoping the point was somewhere along the line of an idea not acted upon brings not benefit but, again I do not know and do not wish to put words into the speaker’s mouth. I wish someone would share the full context with me. Anyone attending the Enterprise 2.0 conference care to help me out?

As to the second part of the statement, if there wasn’t an idea about a potential opportunity what point does it serve to work in team, or individually for that matter? What can you execute? What is there to iterate? What is there to learn?

I’m not sure if and when ideas went out of fashion. Did they?


what can the academy do with technology?

Why do we always ask, “What can technology do for the academy?” Shouldn’t we be asking, “What, if anything, can the academy do with technology?” The difference in perspective is profound. In the first question, which is the one most commonly asked, we are the object being acted upon. We are on the defense. Our only recourse is to react (or not).  In the second we are the subject. We have a hand in shaping events. In the former pedagogy is dictated by IT and gadget geeks. We are presented things and told to do something with them.  In the latter pedagogy is driven by learning theory and learning geeks. We present what we need to enhance the learning experience and go out and find (or create) them.

Which side of the verb are you on?

a funny thing happened

Yesterday I gave a presentation at the PSU Web Conference. The topic was “Using Social Media for Collaboration” and the particular lens explored was how an organization or department could leverage the affordances of social media to foster collaboration and communication both internally and externally. Presenting along with me was a colleague well versed in all things social media, Robin Smail. Our presentation was really a talk. You see, we tried to capture the spirit of online collaboration in an in-person environment. We went into the talk cold with barely an outline of where we wanted things to to go.  We also did not use any slides. This was to be an interactive chat session with some scribblings on a whiteboard…musings that emerged from the conversation. We wanted it to be awkward. We wanted, and we wanted our audience to feel anxious, uncomfortable, and maybe for even a few bored or disinterested. We wanted people to feel what it is like to interact in this environment.

About ten minutes in I needed to come up with an example of how our department uses social media and all I could come up with was probably the most volatile of things both Robin & I are part of at the moment, the annual Learning Design Summer Camp.  I  could not believe the words coming out of my mouth. I heard the dread in my voice as I said them.  I saw the dread in Robin from across the room in her bowed head and deep breaths. Ostensibly, camp is supposed to be about teaching & learning from the perspective of those of us who help to create these events & experiences. While our annual symposium focuses on the instructors, the focus of camp is on instructional designers, librarians, technologists, and multi-media folks who help make scholarship happen. We advertise it on our wiki page as “an informal space for people involved with education technology and course design to get together to show, tell, share, and create.” Robin and I approach the event from very different perspectives. She has been there from the beginning. Due to conference travel, I’ve been there once. Now I am the chair. I have ideas about how I’d like to shape the event. Robin has ideas about how she’s like the event to stay the way it is. We disagree on the most basic of points, such as the definition of what is fun. Most of the old guard agrees with Robin. The folks new to the event like my direction. This isn’t happening behind closed doors. This is happening out in the open, on the wiki page, on Twitter, in discussions. In other words, it made it the perfect illustration for our talk.

You see, that is collaboration done in the open. It requires risk. It takes frank communication. You have to be willing, as an individual and as an entity, to be out there, warts and all. You will end up with some egg on your face. You will need a thick skin. You will struggle both with yourself and with others. It requires us to be a lot of things we are not comfortable being, like being wrong on some things and right on others. Like having to disagree with someone and being able to articulate it. Like being direct while maintaining empathy.  Like focusing on doing what’s best for the whole all the while knowing what is best isn’t always what’s popular.

I think the audience felt the tension between us. But it wasn’t negative tension; it was creative tension. Suddenly Robin and I found ourselves simultaneously presenting to an audience and working through our own issues. A lot of folks in the room played along and a lot of folks opted not to get involved.  Some liked the session and I’m sure others hated it because it did not meet their expectations. Some waled away from the session changed, even in the smallest way. Others have already forgotten it and moved on to the next thing.

getting my socrates on

“Until you know what a thing is, you can’t answer any other questions about it.”


Do we need need to know what a thing is to understand it? Socrates thought so. I think so. However, I get the impression that many of colleagues in educational research & instructional design do not share this view. Note the comments in a recent piece in The Chronicle, “What’s in a Name? Researchers Struggle With Terms for New Learning Methods.” In the article, written by Ben Wieder, researchers at the University of Missouri at Columbia found no consensus among academics about the definitions of “e-learning,” “online learning,” and “distance learning.” The research team asserts, and I agree, that our inability to name a thing makes it difficulty to know what it is. As researchers this also makes it difficult to assess its potential strengths & weaknesses for teaching & learning.

It’s been my experience that this is not an isolated sentiment in our field. Whether we’re talking newer entries into the educational ecosystem such as cloud based applications, social applications, and devices that are portable as well as mobile or some long standing things such as learning management systems & electronic portfolios we can’t seem to agree on what a thing is. What I find disturbing is that we’re not having a healthy dialogue as to what a given thing is. It’s not about agreeing on a definition of a given term (ePortfolio, LMS, eLearning) but coming to an understand as to the things essence. What is the essence of an ePortfolio? What is the nature of an LMS? Social media? Digital scholarship? eLearning?

What troubles me is this. As educators aren’t these the very questions with which we should be concerning ourselves? If we do not understand the nature of a thing how can we then apply it to any given situation, such as a course? How do we know whether what we’re doing is good, bad, or indifferent in it’s impact?

I’m not arguing for an absolute understanding going in however, isn’t it incumbent upon us to to know something well enough to have a game plan going in? If not, how do we understand the outcomes & make sense of it all? Do we not have an obligation  How can we know if an ePortfolio is an effective teaching & learning tool if we can’t agree on what it is?

Maybe that’s why we so often get insignificant results. Perhaps that’s why we don’t know if we’re truly making a difference


a new reality

In its original incarnation the World Wide Web was much like television: primarily a one-way mechanism for broadcasting content. A site owner posted content to a static web page in the hope that others would visit. Social websites were discussion forums centering around a single topic or theme. To participate in the conversation individuals were required to join the site, acquiring a unique user-name and password. For example, I am a runner. I like to run marathons. When I joined a community of marathon runners I was known as runnerjeff243. Sites such as these were similar to the segregated communities in which we participate in everyday life. They were virtual versions of clubs and social groups serving as places we could go and share only a single facet of our total identity. Yes we did talk about other things as we got to know each other but, what we knew about each was primarily filtered through a single lens–we were runners. That is how we knew each other. Our identity was as Goffman described it, “context specific” (1959). Web sites were destinations; places we could go and highlight a single aspect of our self. Then around 2003 things changed. The web shifted from being destination-centric medium to individual-centric one.

Several factors combined to cause this shift in perspective. First, the Web replaced the computer as the platform where software applications resided. No longer was a computer, in the traditional sense, needed to access the Web. All that was required was a device capable of getting you there. This meant we were no longer required to be in a specific place, such as the office or home bedroom, to participate. We could be anywhere in the world where there was WiFi or cell phone coverage and access the Web on our smart phones, tablets, any device that possessed the capability to access the Web.

The advent of new coding languages, such as Asynchronous Java Script and XML (AJAX) among others, made it possible for data to be uploaded and downloaded faster because a full page reload was no longer required. New coding languages (PHP, Ruby, ColdFusion, Perl, Python, JSP, and ASP) meant data could be formatted in a manner (XML, RSS, JSON) that allowed applications and websites to freely share information with each other. Developers began exposing their code making it possible for others to offer enhancements to the existing application or develop complimentary applications of their own. Which is what happened.

Software developers took advantage of these new coding languages to create applications that were conceptually open in nature, referred to as social networking technologies. Gunawardena et al. (2008) define social networking technology as “tools that facilitate collective intelligence through social negotiation when participants are engaged in a common goal or a shared practice” (p.5).

Social networking technology led to the creation of social networking websites, defined as “web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system” (boyd & Ellison, 2008, pg 211). Social networking sites are places where individuals could not only consume information but also create it, and exercise some control over how that information was displayed and accessed. The sites were blank slates where the site owner provided the framework and relied on individuals to supply the content. By design these spaces were not topic centric but instead revolved around the individual fundamentally changing how we represented ourselves, shared information, and formed communities.

In contrast to the first generation Web (1991-2003) which was primarily a content consumption vehicle, the social web is characterized by its open and participatory nature where people share their perspectives, opinions, thoughts and experiences. “Early public online communities such as Usenet and public discussion forums were structured by topics or according to topical hierarchies, but social network sites are structured as personal (or egocentric) networks, with the individual at the center of their own community.” (boyd & Ellison, 2008, pg 219) Instead of separate communities of practice, such as my marathon community, we now had places such as Friendster (2002), LinkedIn and MySpace (2003), Flickr (2004), YouTube (2005), Facebook and Twitter (2006). The age of social networking had begun.

Gunawardena et al. (2008) define the act of social networking as “the practice of expanding knowledge by making connections with individuals of similar interests.” (p. 4) With the advent of social networking, the web moved from being an alternative to reality to becoming an extension of reality. Social applications, defined as systems that enable users to interact and share information, transcend conventional notions of time and place. This has enabled people to self-organize around common interests regardless of geographical constraints into what  Wellman B., Boase J., Chen W. (2010) describe as networked individualism where “boundaries are more permeable, interactions are with diverse others, linkages switch between multiple networks, and hierarchies are flatter and more recursive” (p. 160). The social web not only blurs online-offline boundaries but also blurs the lines between communities as well. The luxury of a segregated audience has evaporated. No longer can we be comfortable knowing that what we say and how we act will only be seen and heard by those we intend to see and hear it. But If we are no longer bound in large part by geographical location how do we define ourselves? What do we draw upon to form our sense of identity in relationship to the world in general, and our community in particular? How do we navigate, gather and share information when our unintended audience is always greater than our intended one?

what’s real?

I can still hear you saying those words that never were true,
Spoken to help nobody but you,
Words with lies inside,
But, small enough to hide till your playing was through..

sung by The Monkees. Lyrics by Tommy Boyce & Bobby Hart

Tomorrow’s EdTech podcast topic concern’s authenticity in learning. It’s an interesting topic for several reasons. At the base level, it gets to the heart of the teaching & learning process. Is teaching about something the same as teaching something? For example, does my learning about accounting make me an accountant? What about engineer? doctor? teacher? In other words, how much of learning should focus on being in lieu of learning about? Is that the approach we take? Does it matter?

What about how we use the mediums we use when we teach? Do media such as Second Life offer real experience or real-like experience? What about Rock Band? It’s used as a teaching tool but, what is it teaching? I’m not being cynical asking a rhetorical question here. I am genuinely interested in what is gained from the experience. We’re learning something, but what?

I wonder if I’m asking the wrong question. Looking backward instead of forward. A common counter-argument I hear for the use of media such as Rock Band in music class is that we’re not really teaching music, how to play an instrument, notes, etc. But what if we’re missing the point? What if these are the new instruments?

Finally, is it just a matter of perspective? We’re going to open tomorrow’s podcast with a discussion on the 60’s music phenomenon The Monkees. Were they a real band or not? By waht definition? Also, does it matter? Is the experience of the kids who enjoyed their music any less real because it was The Monkees and not The Beatles? Who’s to say?

informal learning and the social web

(This is another excerpt from my dissertation. Fits in with our EdTech podcast theme)

Lave and Wenger (1991) define communities of practice as “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passionate about a topic, and who deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis.” These communities were places we could go where one aspect of our self was highlighted because our audience was bounded by others sharing a similar interest in the context. It was a place where it was safe to fully display a specific aspect of our person. An aspect of our self that was flawed, inquisitive, changing, and growing. We could take this risk because of the bounded nature of community as we knew it.  However, now we live in a world of networked individualism where “boundaries are more permeable, interactions are with diverse others, linkages switch between multiple networks, and hierarchies are flatter and more recursive” (Wellman, et al., 2010, p. 160). The social web not only blurs online-offline boundaries but also blurs the lines between communities as well.

John Dewey (cited in Bruce & Bishop, 2008) stated that communities developed “through reciprocal processes of individual and community inquiry” (p. 710). That the individual and the whole reacted off one another with each being molded and doing the molding along the way. In this manner and by working on real-world problems that were important to them each individual in the community learns and grows while simultaneously adding to the collective body of knowledge within the community. In other words, learning takes place in the context of the culture of the community. A context that is now compromised.

Learning is also influenced by culture. (Vygotsky, 1978; Bruner, 1974) “Learning takes places  in a context that is specific to the environment and content information” (Young, 2008, p. 328). “Learning is context sensitive (Bruner, 1974,  p. 6) It follows that learning takes place in a context situated from the learner’s cultural perspective or a cultural context” (Young, 2008, p. 328).

But how are these communities transformed now that they are exposed and overlapping? Can an individual still freely share if the community is open to everyone in their network? Can they still remain passionate about the context if there is risk of consequences from the unintended audience?