Still Predicting

change

So where are the flying cars, the silver jumpsuits and video phones which were going to be part of everyday life in the 21st Century?

Making predictions about the future of technology is easy. However accurately predicting the future is not easy and to put it bluntly everyone gets it wrong. Either they try and push an existing process and technology and extrapolate and “miss” out on any future potential inventions that make the existing processes redundant. The other mistake that people make is assume that the process of adoption of new technologies will happen faster than it actually does. So whilst fashion is still quite conservative and cars clog the roads and don’t fly, we through technologies such as Skype and Facetime are able to not just video phone, but we can instant message, present and share our computer desktops at the same time, using the same tool!

The one constant in life is change, we have social change, technological change, political change. This makes predicting change and the impact of change a real challenge.

Predicting how life will change for the university student of the future is fraught with difficulties and challenges and no doubt it is easy to get it wrong… However it’s an interesting thought experiment to try, which is why I think that people do it.

There are many people out there predicting the end of formal education and the radical change to university life for students. This, here I go predicting the future, however in my opinion, is a nice idea, but isn’t going to happen. The culture within education and academics is so embedded and rigid that changes in technology are only flexing and tweaking education, not breaking it or resulting in a radical metamorphosis.

The university students who will start their studies in September 2016 would have been born in 1998 On September 4th 1998 was the day that Google was founded.

1998 Google Logo

A year later in 1999, the term Web 2.0 was first used in an article. These students do not know a world without the internet, within their primary and secondary schools they probably had ICT suites and depending on which FE College they went to they have used tablets, netbooks, mobile devices and wifi enabled laptops to support their learning. These students have mobile phones that in the main are more likely to be used for things other than phone calls. The students of 2016 are very different to the students of 2006 and 1996, or are they?

How different are the educational institutions of 2016 to those ten or twenty years ago? Yes of course they are different, libraries have changed, classroom technologies have changed, but has education changed that much? If not why? There are many factors to take into account the inertia that you find in education. The main one appears to be is culture and a preference for what has been done before. The introduction of technology either falls into the depths of the pilot pit or is used sparingly at the edges of what has been done before and always.

So with all this technology savviness and awareness, you will hear phrases such as the Google Generation and Digital Natives been banded about in the media and in education. The assumption is that as these learners have grown up in a world with technology immersed into their world, grown up with the internet, Web 2.0, social media, tablets, smartphones and other new technologies; that these learners are able to skilfully use these technologies to support, enhance and enrich their learning. A pretty poor assumption in many respects, as learners have also grown up with books and magazines, but often lack study skills to utilise academic books and journals to enhance and enrich their learning. Learners may be using technology and the internet on a regular basis, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the study skills to use these same technologies for learning. Study and information skills need to take into account the changes in technology and access to information that the internet allows.

The dependence on written assessment in education is a result of the high cost and time required for oral assessment. As a result there was a shift from oral to written testing and the end result is no longer do we have a questioning and probing assessment, no we have the challenge of writing four essays in three hours. So assessment has changed in the past, but can it make such a radical change in the future? Students can now carry thousands of books in a single device, can access journals when and wherever they have an internet connection, communicate with the world. This quick and easy access to content in likelihood probably changes how learners learn. However when it comes to much assessment, we turn off this access, restrict what learners can use, apart from that, which can be remembered. Often other forms of assessment are seen as having less value. If we are to take advantage of the access that new technologies bring to learners, we need to rethink the ways and medium of assessment.

Part of the problem for planning for the future using the same processes and protocols we have used for change in the past, is that the pace of technological change can be faster than the pace of change. For example just as we get round to the idea of students using their laptops in lectures and thinking we should therefore equip lecture theatres with power sockets and overcome the challenges put in place by over zealous health and safety officers with learners using their own devices within an institution. We find that the devices our learners are now using and will be using have batteries that allow the device to be used all day without needing to be charged up. The new power sockets are now redundant before they have been used.

The same can be said with connectivity, a single wireless router was probably more than ample where there were a small number of devices using small amounts of bandwidth. Now with students having multiple devices and accessing a range of high bandwidth content, wireless networks need to be robust, scalable and capable of handling large numbers of devices and provide sufficient bandwidth. Look in your own pockets and bags, how many wireless devices do you have?

The question that we do need to ask is are we using technology to extend and improve an existing process, or can we use technology to radically change processes? Expectations are that we can use technology to lever radical change in education. This has never happened before, it would be surprising if it happened now. A simple example, when the internet had limited bandwidth, it wasn’t possible to use video or even audio across the web, so people resorted to textual communication. Bulletin boards, usenet and discussions forums allowed asynchronous conversations. The depth of discussion and learning that can take place with such tools certainly outweighed the disadvantages of textual conversations. However these were challenging tools for learning as it required a change in thinking and culture. Many academics and learners found them difficult to use and challenging to change the way in which they delivered learning. As bandwidth improved and new synchronous tools arrived, we have seen how virtual classroom and webinar tools allow for live teaching. These tools have proved popular with academics and learners alike. We have to question why is this, part of the reason has to be that webinar tools are digitising a traditional lesson or lecture format. Academics and learners are comfortable with this format, so a virtual version is easy to grasp and understand. This affinity with traditional approaches, means when given a choice, they will choose a virtual version of something they understand rather than try a different possibly better process. It is this aversion to the new and preference for the comfortable means that radical change is highly unlikely.

Cynicism and resistance to technological change in education has been part of education as long as people have tried to introduce new technologies. Paper was seen as wasteful and extravagant when it replaced slates. Pen and ink was an expensive luxury and shouldn’t be used by education. Likewise there was widespread resistance to the introduction of calculators. Some of today’s academics are cynical and resistant to the use of the web and mobile devices, just as their predecessors were to the new technologies of their time. Some academics are not, just as some of their predecessors, they embrace and see the opportunities that new technologies bring to learning.

Changing technologies is only one factor that impacts and affects education, a look at the newspapers and news websites, as well as glancing at Twitter will show how changes in policy and funding can have a much greater impact than a change in technology.

Change is happening, and the one constant in life is change, but it is happening very slowly. One thing is certain though, things change and academics and institutions that see change as an opportunity and a challenge will probably thrive better than those that ignore or encounter resistance to change.

Scared of the Screens

brokentech

This is an interesting article on the response to recent media reports on the negative impact of screens on young people and how the art of conversation is been lost.

Reading the article I was reminded of this cartoon from XKCD about the pace of modern life.

There are lots of gems in the “cartoon” including this one from 1890

Conversation is said to be a lost art … Good talk presupposes leisure, both for preparation and enjoyment. The age of leisure is dead, and the art of conversation is dying.

Frank Leslie’s popular Monthly, Volume 29 1890

and this comment from 1905

The art of conversation is almost a lost one. People talk as they ride bicycles–at a rush–without pausing to consider their surroundings … what has been generally understood as cultured society is rapidly deteriorating into baseness and voluntary ignorance. The profession of letters is so little understood, and so far from being seriously appreciated, that … Newspapers are full, not of thoughtful honestly expressed public opinion on the affairs of the nation, but of vapid personalities interesting to none save gossips and busy bodies.

Marie Corelli, Free opinions, freely expressed 1905

People love to blame the so called problems of society on something, easier to pick the new shiny things, or the new way of doing things, rather than wondering if this is all normal and that we are all different.

When I read articles about how technology or change is negative I am reminded that change is constant and negative comments about change never change.

Should we be fearful of screens? Depends if we want to be scared.

Social Media in FE and Skills – #jisc50social

Are you flying high in social media for UK further education and skills?

So are you using social media effectively to enhance, enrich teaching and learning and assessment in FE and Skills?

Maybe you are using Twitter to enhance learning through the use of Twitterchats or keeping lessons topical using a Hashtag.

This isn’t just about the Twitter, it’s about how you are using social media.

Are you enabling learners to debate and discuss using the communities feature of Google+ and using Google Docs for collaboration and assessment.

Do you have a Facebook page or group to engage with learners?

Is Periscope a tool that your learners are finding useful for live streaming from a workshop or the

Are your learners reflecting on their practice using tools such as Blogger, WordPress or Medium?

Why not help Jisc celebrate and share best practice by nominating yourself or nominating someone who is in FE and using social media effectively to support learners and learning.

Nominate them here.

Mapping the learning and teaching

map

During the recent Jisc Digital Leadership Programme, we looked at mapping our use of social networking tools using the concept of Visitors and Residents. We were lucky to have the influential Donna Lanclos and Dave White supporting us.

I like how the mapping exercise makes you consider how you are using various tools and what needs to happen to change that map, how do you become more resident when using a tool such as Twitter for example. Or how do you start using a tool which is currently not on your map, such as a professional blog?

The key thing I like to remind people about when using the mapping that this is a continuum and not a distinction between two groups. Your personal VandR map is not, and should not be a static thing. The mapping changes as new tools are introduced, old ones retire and your role and behaviours change.

In my own professional life, Google+ was a major part of my map in 2014, I would have placed it covering both personal, institutional down the resident’s end of the continuum. Now in 2016 it has shrunk right down and I would say it has moved over to the visitor side of the continuum. In this case the shrinking and movement is out of my control, but what could I have done to mitigate that change? Thinking about how you use tools over time can result in using the right tools in the right contexts. We should also remember that this is not about good and bad, visitor and residents are not about good and bad behaviours, it’s about understanding where you are when online.

The mapping exercise in the main covers digital communication, collaboration and participation. I then started to think about how we could use a similar concept to map teaching practice and curriculum design. This lead onto thinking about mapping the “learning” of our learners. Where are they learning, is that learning scheduled and formalised? Is that learning ad-hoc? Is it individual, group, collaborative? So the next stage was to map this in a similar manner to the Visitor and Residents, but what axes could we use when mapping learning?

On the horizontal axis we have a spectrum from broadcast to engagement. Broadcast could be considered one way, and could be one to one, or one to many. So a formal lecture would be considered broadcast, one way to many students. If lectures have opportunities for discussion and questions, then you can see how that would move down the continuum into engagement. Likewise reading a library book in the library, is also one way, author to reader, but this is more likely to be informal with little potential for engagement.

On the vertical axis we have, well this started me to think. In some respects you could have online and offline. The problem with this feels like the focus is on the tools we use and it’s the tools as well as spaces that I want to place on the map. Also online is really a space in itself. So for me a better choice would be to consider a spectrum of formal and informal. In this instance I see formal as being planned and scheduled, whereas informal is more about flexible, responsive and a matter of personal choice. So what we get is a two axes onto which we can map different activities and behaviours.

Mapping your teaching practice

What I did next was to map a “traditional” course to the map, the type of thing I use to deliver when I was a Business Studies lecturer in the 1990s and what I experienced at University in the 1980s.

Mapping your teaching practice

The use of the library, for example, is a space which is used in the main for informal learning and relatively little engagement. Learners choose when to visit the library and makes choices about what they do there. Most of the activity is consuming content (books and journals). Now in more modern libraries we see spaces for group and collaborative working, so as a result I have extended the library into the engagement side of the continuum.

A seminar has an abundance of engagement, but is more formal. This could be a scheduled session, but this is active learning, no passive listening here.

Study groups could be both formal and informal, those organised by the teacher and those self-organised by the students. I also put in the idea that recreational areas (such as a coffee shop) could also be used for learning.

Discussion

The next map takes that same map as before but adds digital to the learning.

Mapping your teaching practice

This kind of map is the way in which many institutions digital is added to the curriculum and delivery. The lecturer starts posting links from a Twitter account. They post resources and content to the VLE for learners to use. The VLE used in the main as a repository could be seen as broadcast and informal, learners choosing when to visit the VLE and accessing resources they want or need. They may run the odd webinar or two, mainly using it to deliver an online lecture. The learners may use Facebook to discuss aspects of the course in addition the usual activity of posting pictures of cats and photographs of friends that their friends would rather they didn’t.

One issue that does arise from this kind of approach to embedding digital into teaching and learning is that the previous activities haven’t changed, it’s more of an additionality, a bolt-on to existing practices. You can start to understand why some staff don’t want to engage with digital as they see it as something extra, more work to do.

Now if we draw another map, this time almost starting afresh and rethinking (or redesigning) the entire curriculum.

Mapping your teaching practice

Someone may be using the VLE extensively for content, discussion, chat, assessment and as a result this will look very different to someone who uses the VLE merely as a place for lecture notes and presentations. When the functionality of the VLE is used more effectively, using discussion forums and chat facilities, you can see how this will be more about engagement and possibly planned (so more formal). You can see how this will change the shape of the VLE on the mapping activity and is broken down into two shapes on the map.

The library and use of the library is both expanded and in some cases formalised, putting the library at the heart of the students’ learning.

Twitter can still be used as a informal broadcast tool, but using a Facebook Group with appropriate guidance and advice, suddenly becomes more effective in supporting learners.

Webinars become online seminars, with discussion and engagement.

Notice how there are still lectures and seminars, smaller than in the previous maps, but still an useful medium for teaching and learning.

The mapping provides an insight into how the curriculum is designed and how learners interact and engage with the different spaces, tools and delivery mechanisms.

The next stage following mapping you may want to then consider how you could push or pull certain behaviours, as well as inflating or shrinking them.

What needs to happen to inflate and expand the VLE on the map? How do you push (or expand) the use of the VLE into the engagement side of the continuum? What training or guidance needs to be in place to make that happen?

How do you increase usage of the library and use it for both informal and informal learning?

What does the library need to do, to increase engagement? Is there changes they can make to how the space is used, or do they need to engage with curriculum staff to enable learners to make more effective use of the resources and staff within the library?

What does the institution need to do to informal spaces to increase learning activities taking place there? A coffee shop may have groups of learners engaging in various activities related to their course, but it may not be the best kind of environment for this to happen, there’s no wifi or power sockets for example. How could learning be encouraged in informal spaces?

byod

As well as mapping your own teaching practice, you could use the concepts to map the curriculum design for the whole course.

You could even think about the teacher mapping their practice and then the learners in a separate exercise mapping their experience. Then compare the two maps!

Mapping is an useful exercise to think about practice and though any such map may not be accurate or complete, it does allow you to consider and think about actions and training required to change behaviours or how spaces and tools are used.

Thank you Lawrie Phipps for your valued input and comments on this blog post.

Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15

There wasn’t a FOTE conference in 2015, which was a pity as it was one of my favourite annual events. I spoke at many of the conferences, most recently in 2014 when I spoke about the conflict between the light and the dark and used a Star Wars theme.

I remember reflecting on the conference on the way home that it would be a lot of fun to do a Back the Future themed talk for 2015.

Back to the Future

Alas it was never to be…

However I thought it might be a little fun to explore what might have been…

Continue reading Great Scott! – Back to the Future at FOTE15

news and views on e-learning, ILT and tech stuff in general…