Reviewing my (digital) 2015

My digital 2015?

This post is inspired by Alexandra Samuel’s HBR article „Your Digital Year in Review„. She suggests reflecting on digital habits throughout the year by considering the four foci productivity, inspiration, socialisation and learning opportunities. Technology plays an important role in my daily routines and too seldom do I reflect on if I truly benefit from it the way I should. As Samuel puts it, when she is describing insightful online moments:

But those aha! moments probably won’t come from watching cat videos or taking Buzzfeed quizzes.

I catch myself watching and playing these, too. But honestly said, they did not make it to my reflection list. But if not the cat videos and quizzes – what are my online aha! – moments? Online and offline has become much more interwoven in my life. And the four foci symbolise this to a certain extend. Even if I have online aha! moments, they are worth nothing without applying them to my offline, analog me. No truly inspiring moment can happen purely on- or offline.

Productivity

Getting things done in a meaningful way. This is my definition of productivity. It’s not simply doing things. It is about finding the right way of getting things done and prioritise in a suitable manner. My personal blog is by far the most long-term productive tool I have ever started. Even though there were times I did not post frequently or did not know what to write about / how to formulate my thoughts, it was the progress that contributed to my productivity.

Personal Blog

A blog (a truncation of the expression weblog)[1] is a discussion or informational site published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries („posts“) typically displayed in reverse chronological order (the most recent post appears first). [Wikipedia]

Becoming confident

Most and foremost, I remember the frustration when I hesitated to press the publish button when I started blogging. What would others think and how would they react? Now that my post is out there, I cannot take it back, can I? Insecurity was followed by bitter frustration and irritation after publishing a post. No one reads this anyway, so why should I keep writing? In the end I realised that this blog is what I called it. A personal blog. And that a personal blog is not about clicks and comments. But about my own learning process and my own experience. It gave me a lot of confidence to write, actually publish and share my thoughts and research. In addition, I reflected on my arguments, line of reasoning and wording.

Expressing quality

Blogging is not about frequency. Frequency is no indicator for quality. I catch myself judging a blog’s quality by the date of the last post published. This is definitely not fair. The aim of frequent post-publishing is only relevant if there is something resonable to write about. Blogging over a longer period enables me to remember and reflect on what I have done. It illustrates a process. In times where I questioned if I had done anything productive at all during the last days, weeks and month; my blog reminds me of all the great thoughts I had.

Reflecting, moving on and connecting blogging and productivity

My initial idea in 2015 was not to generates clicks and likes. It was a year of pushing things out and getting confident. I still have a hard time focussing on a theme and framing a reasonable amount of information. This is ongoing work for me. I still learn to balance between reworking a draft and deciding on when it is time to publish it. Writing about my thoughts feels meaningful and this is why I produce these artefacts I can refer to and reflect upon. In 2016 I want to work further on linking, tagging and spreading my posts to the right people. An important requirement for this is to generate ideas of topics I am interested in so I feel motivated to invest my time in.

Inspiration

For me inspiration comes in four steps. Find great sources which inspire me, get input from these sources, apply it to my own situation and get feedback on how that worked out. In retro perspective I decide if the identified resources are still inspirational. Great digital tools support me during all of these four steps. LinkedIn has done so in different ways. I used groups and following function to get the input I thought was most inspiring as well as my own profile content to keep reworking my biography.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn /ˌliŋkt.ˈɪn/ is a business-oriented social networking service. [Wikipedia]

Creating self-awareness

The overwhelming power of a professional network is the combination of a personal profile and the evolving network around it. LinkedIn is not your CV. I heard this during a talk on professional storytelling and couldn’t agree more. It became a continuous progress to change my profile and frame the person I am. My profile is (and probably will be) always in the making. It motivates me to ask questions like: who am I, where do I come from, where am I now, where do I want to go and how do others perceive me? Even though I might not have definite answers to all of these questions, there is this satisfactory feeling of being more certain with every saved edit.

Identifying the inspirers in my network

Inspiration, as I pointed out earlier, is a never ending process. It is about finding sources of inspiration, keeping them or moving on. This can be a very long and demanding development. In 2015 I realised what having a network and being part of a network means. I started identifying central actors of my network and how they contribute to this network. What does this person share, post or like – and do I consider this as inspirational? In 2016 I want to focus on how I can see more of those inspirational people and even on how I myself can become inspirational for others.

Socialisation

When moving to a new place it requires initiative to reach out to people. I realised that just going out and meeting up is completely different from connecting and networking with people. It feels like I was wasting my time browsing the web, instead of just getting out into the real world.

Lunchback

This is the reason that we started Lunchback, an app that can be used to find yourself a mentor in your local area. [Lunchback on The Local]

Being clear in what you want (and what not)

Until finding Lunchback, I really had become fed up with all the effort I put into networking. It always resulted in numerous, but loose connections. With Lunchback I realised that as important as socialization is – it’s even more important to be aware of what you want to get out of it and choose your events accordingly. I began to work on being concrete with my feedback requests. Why do I want to speak to this person? What do I want to have feedback on? How do I formulate my request concisely and precisely? Until today I have not received a „no“ but rather long-term intense contacts who support me in my personal development.

Daring to try something new

When it comes to socialisation, I tend to stick to my old habits. After all, they have worked out in different contexts and with different people. When time becomes a scarce resource however, I start wondering about with whom I really want to spend my time and why. This might be a good time to dare trying something new. I admit that it felt a bit scary to use the app at first. In the end, you are meeting a person for real, over lunch, spontaneously. But it’s worth it to go out there and try it. The matching process is thought through and all the people I met where and are supportive in so many ways.

Learning Opportunites

Learning is understanding a concept, connecting it with what your already now and share it with others. I have taken many MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) in 2015. Not all of them where meaningful. But most of them did make a difference. I would say that they represent a new understanding of learning. The idea of life-long learning and individualised (micro) learning opportunities anytime anywhere.

MOOCS

A massive open online course (MOOC /mk/) is an online course aimed at unlimited participation and open access via the web. [Wikipedia]

Learning how to learn

I have always been fascinated by those people that strive for learning something new every day. When I first heard about MOOCs I was browsing the web on online learning. It is impressive how many resources are out in the WWW if you want to learn about something. However, I sometimes miss structure and quality of content. Even though, not all MOOCs I took provided these, they equipped me with guidance and a learning path. In the end, I learned a lot about how I learned best. By interacting with others, answering questions and producing my own learning artefacts.

Sharing is caring

Learning online was a new experience and I needed my time to adapt to a new environemnt. But during this process I learned what the buzz-phrase „sharing is caring“ means. By creating my own learning artifact and sharing it with my learning cohort, I could actually recieve meaningful feedback not only by the facilitator but by my peers. Especially in adult education this concept is valuable, because everybody comes with a backpack of prior knowledge and experience which contribute to the learning experience. Also, sharing knowledge means you are trying to verbalize what is in your head. This is a very demanding process and I truly believe by continuing doing so in 2016 I can contribute to others‘ learning experience as well.

My digital 2016!

Here is my digital bucket list which summarizes my want-to-do’s and will-do’s of 2016.

  • Join a network that inspires me on- and offline. Contribute to this network.
  • Desing, create and improve my social media appearance.
  • Work on my contact follow-up and reach out to inspiring people more proactively.
  • Organize my apps in a way I want them to use – not in a way I use them.
  • Reflect daily. And talk about it to someone I trust. Dare to talk about my dreams.

I encourage you to write your list, too. I would love to hear about it! If you don’t feel ready to share it, write it down for yourself. And who knows, you might share it in your digital review 2017?

 

Back on track

It has been a while since I published my last blog post. Many things have happened and new opportunities opened up. It was hard resisting the creation of a new post barely for the sake of writing something. What this period has taught me is that at times it is best to step back and wait patiently until it feels right to move on.

I spend my summer in South Korea, participating in Korea University’s International Summer Campus. It was an inspiring time, where I put my efforts into an Introduction to Computer Science and Brain Science, as well as a beginner’s course in Korean language. Besides the academic achievements it was a personal challenge for me, diving into a culture so different from what I am used to back in Gothenburg. I made new friends, got the opportunity to travel the country with old friends and am grateful to say that this experience helped me in focusing again on future challenges.

After a calm and quiet first week back in Sweden, things are moving a bit quicker now.

First of all, I decided to go „back to the roots“ by attending an entrepreneurship course at Handels in the autumn term. The optional 30 credits in our Master’s programme allow me to transfer these course credits as well as potentially the credits from an ICT policies course at Chalmers in the second half of the term.

Secondly, I am confident to have found an opportunity for my Master thesis supervision. The research question will be both – challenging and interesting – and I am looking forward to dig into the topic and clarify administrative details.

Thirdly, and very relieving for me, I decided to (and managed to – so far 😉 ) speak Swedish only from now on. I can rely on great support from my family and friends and I am happy that I managed to break my language-blockage, which put a lot of pressure on me without me consciously noticing it.

All in all, it feels good to be back – and I am looking forward to a new academic year!

A critical perspective on competence-based assessment approaches in relation to HR policies: The potential of social network analysis to reveal authentic learning experience

This text was originally handed in as my final assignment of course TIA130 V15 Applied Research Methods and Design for Information Technologies and Learning within the International Master’s programme Information Technology & Learning at Gothenburg University on March 25st 2015. 

Introduction

Human Resource (HR) policies are powerful instruments to define continuous professional learning strategies in workplace environments. They constitute definitions of central concepts such as knowledge, learning and competence for a specific organization and thus contribute to distinguish between these terms instead of using them synonymously (Säljö, 2012). Consistency in underlying theories can strengthen the organisation’s capability by combining “human capital (people skills and knowledge), social capital (relationships between people) and organisational capital (the organisation’s processes), and aligning them such that each supports the others” (Harris & Short, 2014, p. 5). In a society where knowledge becomes the most valuable good; including consistent epistemological, pedagogical and assessment related theoretical concepts in HR policies to reveal and evaluate this knowledge becomes increasingly important. Additionally, rising complexity and uncertainty in the world around us demands a focus shift from training to learning, from instructors to learners and from training departments to workplaces as a whole (Harris & Short, 2014). By saying so, future policies must not only embrace management theories but theories of knowledge management and learning to fulfill this increasing demands.

Competence-based assessment enables, besides others, the acknowledgement of pre-defined competences in a systematic way. However, coining the term competence is a challenging undertaking. Most definitions can be attributed to a middle space between competence as collective/universal attribute and competence as individual capacity (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005). The same authors propose a “multi-dimensional holistic competence approach”, which they see as an “opportunity of better aligning educational and work-based provision as well as exploiting the synergy between formal education and experiential learning to develop professional competence” (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005, p. 40). In this approach, competence is illustrated as a tetrahedron, consisting of cognitive competence (knowledge and understanding), functional competence (skills, social competence) and social competence (behavioural and attitudinal competencies) with a meta-competence being the facilitator for acquiring the other competences. The difficulty lies in the demand for describing competence in a multi-dimensional way. Additionally, such approach affects assessment practise, which has to reflect underlying competence assumptions. Another challenge is the ambiguity of the cognitive competence being the only component covering knowledge, while at the same time being inseparable from the other components. This competence approach merely touches upon socio-cultural lenses of knowledge, where this can be created, stored and retrieved through the embedded context the individual finds him-/herself in. Hence, it only implicitly considers workplace networks conceptualizations, such as the workplace exchange network proposed by Cole, Schaninger and Harris (2002). However, making these networks explicit is necessary to reveal not only social networks per se, but another layer of an authentic professional learning experience.

If workplace environments are seen as best represented by socio-cultural learning theories, the future bottleneck will be competence-based assessment practices. This is because firstly, power will shift from employers to employees due to demographic developments and secondly, acknowledgement of competence will continue to be the driving force within labour markets. Constantly re-defining required competences for this assessment practices is a bottomless pit in the light of the demand for more flexible position descriptions and rising expectations of employees. However, expanding the competence approach by measures of social network analysis (SNA) to describe the positions of individual actors and groups as well as their relations (ties) to one another within a certain network can contribute to extenuate the bottleneck effects. In the course of this thesis it will be necessary to give an overview of components which SNA can reveal in relation to learning assessment practises and how they can be interpreted in a meaningful way considering the organizational context. Another perspective SNA offers is the intent to represent actual networks independently of pre-defined competences. As a result, categories such as formal/informal learning could be partially merged by evaluating employees’ networks as a whole. Generating explicit competences can promote misleading dichotomies, such as for example body/mind (is there a strict distinction between cognitive, social and functional competence?) and formal/informal (how does this approach embrace and promote spontaneous learning activities outside of formal schedules for learning activities?). If knowledge and learning is said to be embodied in the contextual environment of the actors in a network, using competence-based assessment approaches might be partly inconsistent.

In my research proposal, I suggest a shift in assessment approaches by exploring SNA as a method of the emerging field of learning analytics. As for the exact measures, I still have to decide on a network principle I would like explore. For this, I will need some more extended literature review on previous research efforts. As for now, I stick to the measure of centrality, being the most important tool for analysing the importance of social network actors (Carrington, Scott, & Wasserman, 2005). All in all, I claim that SNA provides potential to reveal, measure and evaluate employees’ learning networks and their learning experience based on diverse data sources readily available. In a competitive economic environment, advantages will lie within making use of data and having power over developing suitable algorithms for the good of the organization. Social networks represent knowledge to a certain extend and thus should be considered as assessment approach for employee suitability and the value of knowledge in organizational HR strategies.

The research question for my proposal is formulated by

Can centrality measures of social network analysis (SNA) complement competence-based assessment approaches in workplace environments to support the implementation of HR policies based on socio-cultural/embodied learning theories?

Measures of centrality in SNA have been discussed widely but can be narrowed down to the three most important concepts degree, betweenness and closeness (Freeman, 1978). Competency based assessment approaches refer to defining sets of competence as a basis for assessing concepts such as employee performance and potential. HR policies are seen as representations of the strategic perspective on all human resource related topics within a certain organization. Socio- cultural/embodied learning theories represent the branch of learning theories within which learning and knowledge is seen as inseparable from its context and the social networks in which it occurs.

As for prior research it becomes clear that the focus lies on formal school settings and includes mostly students, indicating a gap of researching learning in organizations in general. In addition, most research has been conducted in online environments, leaving aside the potential to use centrality measures for offline social networks as well. In relation to organizational educational settings, it has been proposed to focus more on uncovering the holistic (authentic) professional learning experience than the evaluation of specific learning programmes (Webster-Wright, 2009).

Dawson (2008) used social network analysis to determine the relation between a student’s position in the social network and their reported sense of community. She concluded, that the centrality measures closeness and degrees are positively correlated to the reported sense of community, while betweenness show the opposite correlation. In addition, pre-existing external social networks influence the sense of community experienced to a certain extend. Kovanović, Joksimović, Gašević, and Hatala (2014) investigated the concept of social presence and it’s positive correlation to network centrality measures by taking data from student discussion boards. The relationship between digital learning and network learning has been detected by the study of Ünlüsoy, De Haan, Leander, and Volker (2013). Levels of activism and their correlation to occupational ties for movement participants have been investigated by Tindall, Cormier, and Diani (2012). All of these studies can be valuable starting points for my research proposal to identify more explicit concepts.

The objectives of this study are to evaluate two perspectives on learning in current HR research, namely workforce development and continuous professional learning. Furthermore, it intends to identify the importance of terms such as competence, knowledge, learning and assessment in HR policies and demonstrate the limitations of competence-based assessment approaches from a socio-cultural stance on learning. By illustrating the potential of SNA, it depicts a contributor to an assessment approach which can reveal authentic learning experience in the workplace. To illustrate the potential of SNA, this research investigates the correlation between network position focusing on centrality measures and learning experience by analysing and comparing learner’s position in social networks within a formal online training course and in the internal social media platform in general.

The intended audience for this study are learning policy and strategy makers in workplace environments, particularly focusing on assessment practices and the notion of knowledge in organizational environments. The proposed study is particular useful as it takes a critical stance on competence management, assessment practices and their significance for future continuous professional learning strategies. Furthermore by intending to be even more specific in chosen terminology and methodology, it aims at closing the identified gaps in the literature. One important aspect that is still left open is the identification of specific concepts, which shall be researched. The way this proposal is formulated now is still too broad and bold in assumptions and to less focussed on actual underlying theories. Assessment is one concept which needs clarification, especially to support its importance in this proposal as a whole. The same applies for the importance of knowledge and the particular link to underlying theories such as knowledge management and management theories.

Literature review

Within HR policies wording and terminology are important factors. Rephrasing professional development by continuous professional learning could contribute to exploring the holistic learning experience of professionals. In addition to this shift in terminology to address authentic professional learning, Webster-Wright (2009) identifies a lack of research when it comes to exploring the latter holistic learning experience. Assessment is said to be a critical factor within the epistemology – pedagogy – assessment triangle and reflects assumptions about knowledge and learning. Methods of learning analytics shall be used only when these intersections are clearly understood and considered (Knight, Buckingham, & Littleton, 2014). By revealing social networks of employees, this approach could contribute to respond to future research suggestions investigating coherent models of learning within workplace environments which include formal and informal learning aspects (Kyndt & Baert, 2013).

The gap exists when it comes to relating measures of SNA to the value of an individual’s position within his/her social networks in an organizational context. This is because most studies using measures of SNA are mostly performed in educational settings and relate these measures to competency based assessment results.

Hence, there is a missing link between measures of SNA and their potential for economic network value estimation. Some research might guide directions, such as research into social networks and sense of community (Dawson, 2008) or social capital (Kovanović, Joksimović, Gašević, & Hatala, 2014). However, these studies are again connected to academic performance in formal education settings. Current research additionally attempts to create approaches where data is used to extract competencies and match them with the organizational recruiting requirements. But these approaches are based on defined competencies, an approach I am aiming to complement (or even substitute) by using measures of SNA and borrowing suitable terminology for this purpose. For the development of my proposal, it is necessary to identify those research papers using SNA to describe social networks for the sake of being networks and using appropriate complementary concepts to value them.

[…]

References

Carrington, P. J., Scott, J., Wasserman, S. (2005). Models and methods in social network analysis: Elektronisk resurs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cole, M. S., Schaninger, W. S., & Harris, S. G. (2002). The workplace social exchange network: A multilevel, conceptual examination. Group & Organization Management, 27(1), 142-167. doi:10.1177/1059601102027001008.

Dawson, S. (2008). A study of the relationship between student social networks and sense of community. Educational Technology & Society, 11(3), 224–238.

Freeman, L. C. (1978). Centrality in social networks conceptual clarification. Social Networks, 1(3), 215-239. doi:10.1016/0378-8733(78)90021-7.

Gonczi, A. (2004). The New Professional and Vocational Education. In Foley (Ed.) The Dimensions of Adult Education (pp. 19-34). Open University Press.

Harris, R., Short, T. (2014). Workforce development: Perspectives and issues. Singapore: Springer Singapore.

Haythornthwaite, C. (1996). Social network analysis: An approach and technique for the study of information exchange. Library and Information Science Research, 18(4), 323-342. doi:10.1016/S0740-8188(96)90003-1.

Hogan, B., Carrasco, J. A., & Wellman, B. (2007). Visualizing personal networks: Working with participant-aided sociograms. Field Methods, 19(2), 116-144. doi:10.1177/1525822X06298589.

Kovanović, V., Joksimović, S., Gašević, D., Hatala, M. (2014), “What is the source of social capital? The association between social network position and social presence in communities of inquiry,” In Proceedings of 7th International Conference on Educational Data Mining – Workshops, London, UK.

Knight, S., Buckingham Shum, S. & Littleton, K. (2014). Epistemology, assessment, pedagogy: where learning meets analytics in the middle space. Journal of Learning Analytics, 1(2) pp. 23–47.

Kyndt, E., & Baert, H. (2013). Antecedents of employees’ involvement in work-related learning: A systematic review. Review of Educational Research, 83(2), 273-313.

Le Deist, F. D., & Winterton, J. (2005). What is competence? Human Resource Development International, 8(1), 27-46. doi:10.1080/1367886042000338227.

Tan, E. (2014). Human capital theory: A holistic criticism. Review of Educational Research, 84(3), 411-445. doi:10.3102/0034654314532696.

Säljö, R. (2012). Literacy, digital literacy and epistemic practices: The co-evolution of hybrid minds and external memory systems. Nordic Journal of Digital Literacy, 7(1), 5-20.

Tindall, D. B., Cormier, J., & Diani, M. (2012). Network social capital as an outcome of social movement mobilization: Using the position generator as an indicator of social network diversity. Social Networks, 34(4), 387-395. doi:10.1016/j.socnet.2011.12.007.

Tubaro, P., Casilli, A. A., & Mounier, L. (2014). Eliciting personal network data in web surveys through participant-generated sociograms. Field Methods, 26(2), 107-125.

Ünlüsoy, A., De Haan, M., Leander, K., & Volker, B. (2013). Learning potential in youth’s online networks: A multilevel approach. Computers & Education, 68, 522.

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of Educational Research, 79(2), 702-739. doi:10.3102/0034654308330970.

Remixing and -using of resources: Actor-Network Theory

Last week’s lecture on actor-network theory reminded me on my final paper written for my first course on „Technology, knowledge and learning: An introduction“. The resources and discussions in this course turned out to be a solid base for understanding the Actor-Network Theory (ANT). In fact, my final conclusion partly aimed at this theory, by saying that technology is neither fully determined nor neutral. However, this is only a scratch on the surface and this blog post is intended to support my personal reflection in the ANT and the collection of some useful material.

Actor-Network Theory in brief

ANT can be described as

[…] a vocabulary that does take the distinction between subjects and objects, the subjective and the objective, into consideration. […] an „actant“, for example, is more than a human actor. Both humans and nonhumans may be actants.

The important fact here is not that humans and nonhumans are treated symmetrically (a given in social semiotics and ecosocial dynamics) but that they are defined relationally as arguments or functors in the network, and not otherwise. This leads to a relational epistemology which rejects the naive positivist view of objects or actors as existing in themselves prior to any participation in ecosocial and semiotic networks of interactions (including the interactions by which they are observed, named, etc.).

This framework (network) is comprised of components (actors) not all of which are usually (if ever) considered by the academically oriented sociologists. The network consists not only of people and social groups, but also artifacts, devices, and entities. Engineers who elaborate a new technology as well as all those who participate at one time or anotherin it’s design, development, and diffusion constantly construct hypotheses and forms of argument that pull these participants into the field of sociological analysis. Whether they want to or not, they are transformed into sociologists, or what Callon calls engineer-sociologists. (Resource)

Given the fact, that I am fairly new to this theory, I found it very helpful to think about the following question: „Can technology force us to learn in a specific way?“ (adapted from a question our professor asked us during the lecture). I said, that without the motivation to learn there is no possibility for technology to force anyone. However, reflecting on my statement now, this assumed that technology would (be) develop(ed) in a „social vacuum“, where motivation is not considered but instead would possibly change the intended purpose of a technology. What is missing here, that it can be the other way around: technology could trigger motivation as well. By saying so, it could be an actant in the network.

I still find this hard to grasps and will surely develop further on this. As a foundation, I attach my final assignment for reviewing purposes (not changes made, this is how it was handed in) and I hope some of you might find it useful.

The final assignment

The final paper was supposed to be an answer to a fictive friend, asking for advice regarding a planned university course. This covered the learning outcomes of the course, in particular (in the field of IT and learning) „identify epistemological differences and theoretical contributions, identify and critically examine current popular theories and applications in relation to major historical research traditions, demonstrate and problematize the relations between theories of learning, knowledge and technological change and contextualize technology use within different designs of learning and knowledge domains.“

I’ve heard you’re attending an International Master’s programme in IT and Learning – congratulations! I’m contacting to ask for some advice. I am a planning a similar introduction course you are attending at the moment (ours is part-time and offered in Swedish however). My problem is that my colleagues have different opinions on how we should design and plan for the course. Many think that the most important thing is that students have flexibility in time and possibility to take net-based self-study course modules. However, others think we should have more of live-streamed lectures and on-campus group work. Could you give me some pros and cons on whether to choose one or the other? Or rather, are there other aspects we should consider instead in our pedagogical approach or design of the course? We know our students are geographically spread and are working or studying part time, but we are also required to offer the students some on-campus meetings during the course.
You know I’m a novice here, but very curious about the insights into the field of IT and Learning – what are the big differences in ways of approaching designs for learning? And if you can, please update me on important movements, ideas, or technologies etc, relating to our dilemma, so that we might read about them in my work team.


Hej Peter,

thanks for your letter ­ I hope you find my explanations useful. Your requests consists of three main themes, asking for

(1) guidance in terms of your course design that is
(2) related to contrasting design approaches for learning within the field of IT & Learning in general
(3) and to input on important (current) developments concerning your situation.

Your course is designed for Swedish­speaking part­time students, which are geographically spread ­ however, on­campus meetings are required. The two views on the course design can be described as flexible (net­based self­study) and less flexible (live­stream lectures and on­campus group work). Each of these designs has its assets and drawbacks. You should be aware of common mistakes when designing a distance education programme (including false expectations, missing technical support, vague requirements, etc.) and of implications of terminology when it comes to distance and online education [Garrison, R. (2009)]. Let me emphasize the learners’ needs as the primary source for course design implications. By examining these constantly the course can be tailored to individual needs, improving both ­ the learner’s performance and the course quality. The emerging field of learning analytics facilitates this immediate feedback process and research on related phenomena such as predicting course drop­outs [Baker, R., & Siemens, G. (2014)]. In your letter you are missing this point ­ you are describing the participants in a broad manner. What are their expectations? Why do they choose your programme? How can you ensure that the expectations are met and that your course idea is communicated properly to the learner ­ before and throughout the course?

Comparing your proposed designs, the flexible programme offers more individual freedom with the possible shortcoming of a slower socialising process due to missing face­to­face meetings. In contrast, the less flexible programme limits individual freedom but attendance classes can support socialising and the group­work process. Due to the requiredattendance classes at least a mixture of net­based and on­campus meetings is useful. There are more pros and cons to be named when evaluating design approaches. I want to focus on the aspect of socialisation. The field of IT & Learning has changed over time recently specifically targeting the learner and his/her social learning environment. It has become important to evaluate interdependencies of technology and learning understanding their (historical) development plays a crucial role in it. In the science of learning we have come a long way from more or less radical behaviorists (e.g. Watson, Skinner, Thorndike) that believed in observable behavior as the true scientific approach to research on learning, over the serious study of mental functioning triggered by the new field of cognitive science in the late 1950s (e.g. Simon, Turkle) to the importance of the social and cultural contexts of learning. In addition we may not forget the focus on the processes of knowing in the new science of learning (e.g. Piaget, Vygotsky) [Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning, 2000]. Including the work of Suchmann we reach the level of defining human­machine­interaction and aliveness. The development from behaviorism over cognitivism to situative/pragmatistic­ sociohistoric views can be seen in educational technology as well. Some of the above mentioned authors state the potential of technology in the learning process. Learning theories can be related to paradigm shifts in instructional technology. Whereas CAI (computer assisted instruction) can be classified as behavioristic (how well can software support the learner to achieve specific knowledge), ITS (Intelligent Tutoring Systems) belong to the cognitivistic theory (how well does software mimic a real teacher). Logo­as­Latin can be arranged within the constructivistic tradition (how well can software support students in transferring knowledge) whereas CSCL (computer supported collaborative learning) is connected to situated learning (how well does the software support learners in engaging in knowledge communities) [Greeno, J. G., Collins, A. M. & Resnick, Lauren B. (1996); Koschmann, T. D. (1996)]. The major outcome of this development is that knowledge, learning and transfer are seen dissimilarly in learning theories and thus the role of technology is shifting, too. Likewise, the generations of distance education exemplify the changing roles of cognitive, social and teaching presence [Anderson, T. & Dron, J.; 2011].

Current developments in IT & Learning emphasize learner­centered learning environments and scaffolding. Learner­centeredness describes the focus on the learner’s psychological learning process or her/his participation in a sociocultural learning process [Hoadley, C. & Van Haneghan, J. (2012)]. Although the notion of scaffolding has changed over time one of it’s main implication is individual cognitive growth through a more competent tutor adapting to evolving knowledge and skills of a less competent tutee [Puntambekar, S., & Hübscher, R. (2005)]. These current developments point towards the individual learner and his/her learning needs. I am referring back to the beginning of my letter, where I emphasized these needs as well. Learning technologies become tailor­made and can adapt flexibly to different users. Some examples of emerging trends in education are gaming, MOOCS and EduPunk. [Open University (2013), Liyanagunawardena, T.R., Adams, A. A. & Williams, S A. (2013), Innovation Unit (no date), Kamenetz, A. (2010)]. This broad range speaks for itself and is reflected and linked to the aspect of the crossdisciplinarity of the field [Kalz, M. and Specht, M. (2014)]. As many fields of research, IT & Learning does not withstand critique on e.g. it’s methodical capacity [Bulfin, S., Henderson, Johnson, N F, Selwyn, N. (2014)] or technological determinism [Oliver, M. (2011)]. Selwyn, N. & Fracer, K. (2013) cover the critical use of digital technology in education from a broader perspective, by analysing the stakeholders in educational technology, the use of technology in education and how it should be used for which educational causes. Gaming as a panacea has been criticized [Linderoth, J. (2012) as well as the underestimated use of procedural rhetoric [Bogost, I. (2007)].

After understanding where the learning sciences and the implications for educational design come from, we need to emphasize the evaluation of interdependencies between learning and technology. There is an ongoing discussion on the question if technology influences education or if education influences technology. In my opinion, the most critical item is avoiding technological neutralism and determinism at the same time. Technology is not just a tool that can be added to educational approaches nor does it have an undefined impact we can’t grasps. What is it then? I think as educators we are in the position to evaluate technology more critical ­ not to give one definite answer.

Related to your letter, I can understand your request for practical and applied guidance towards solving your course design question. Yet, you are mostly taking into account the design itself and how to implement it with the help of technology. As a researcher in the field of IT & Learning let me tell you that a good course design depends on more factors than being flexible . Do new approaches in IT & Learning change the way of learning or do they try to change the learner? How do we ensure keeping the focus on the learners’ needs and on implementing the social aspect of learning with the support of technology? How do we define digital literacy and how to we implement a critical and evaluating view on educational technology?

Best regards
Hannelore

References

Anderson, T. & Dron, J. (2011). Three generations of distance education pedagogy. International review of Research on Distance and Open Learning, 12(3), 80­97.

Baker, R., & Siemens, G. (2014). Educational data mining and learning analytics. Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.

Bogost, I. (2007). The rhetoric of video games. In Salen, K. (Ed.), The Ecology of Games: Connecting Youth, Games, and Learning (pp. 117­140). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bulfin, S., Henderson, Johnson, N F, Selwyn, N. (2014). Methodological capacity within the field of “educational technology” research: an initial investigation. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(3), 403­414.

Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School.

Garrison, R. (2009). Implications of Online Learning for the Conceptual Development and Practice of Distance Education. Journal of Distance Education, 23(2), 93­104.

Greeno, J. G., Collins, A. M. & Resnick, Lauren B. (1996). Cognition and learning. In D. Berliner & R. Calfee (Eds.), Handbook of Educational Psychology (pp. 15–46). New York: Macmillan.

Hoadley, C. & Van Haneghan, J. (2012). The Learning Sciences: Where they came from and what it means for instructional designers. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey (Eds.),
Trends and Issues in Instructional Design and Technology (3rd ed., pp. 53­63). New York: Pearson.

Innovation Unit (no date). Ten ideas for 21st century education.Kalz, M. and Specht, M. (2014). Assessing the crossdisciplinarity of technology­enhanced learning with science overlay maps and diversity measures. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(3), 415­427.

Kamenetz, A. (2010). DIY U: Edupunks, edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education

Koschmann, T. D. (1996). Paradigm shifts and instructional technology: An introduction. In T. D. Koschmann (Ed.), CSCL: Theory and practice of an emerging paradigm (pp. 1–23). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Linderoth, J. (2012). Why gamers don t learn more. An ecological approach to games as learning environments. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, 4(1), 45­61.

Liyanagunawardena, T.R., Adams, A. A. & Williams, S A. (2013). MOOCs: A Systematic Study of the Published Literature 2008­2012. International Review of Research on Distance and Open Learning, 14(3), 202­227.

Oliver, M. (2011). Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 373–384.

Open University (2013). Innovating pedagogy 2013 OU.

Puntambekar, S., & Hübscher, R. (2005). Tools for Scaffolding Students in a Complex Learning Environment: What Have We Gained and What Have We Missed?.Educational
Psychologist, 40(1), 1­12. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4001_1

Selwyn, N. & Fracer, K. (2013). Introduction. The need for a Politics of Education and Technology. In. N. Selwyn, & K. Facer: (Eds.). The Politics of Education and Technology: Conflicts, Controversies, and Connections. New York, London: Palgrave MacMillan.

UTArlingtonX: LINK5.10x Data, Analytics, and Learning or #DALMOOC (Week 7) – Part I

If I was a Text Mining Expert …

I would work on a model that could predict not only spelling and grammar mistakes but that could help investigating why these mistakes were made. And I would ban the words „mistake“ & „error“ from this model because defining something as such has drastic consequences: the assumption that there is only (a predefined) right or wrong. (Whereas I have to admit that I am still looking for an adequate substitute). Questioning why is made so much harder – because obviously simply choosing the right answer by a right click in the spelling check software saves a lot of time.

While this might appear to be an unsolvable quest at first sight, I think there are numerous patterns that could help to develop such a model. This text is written in English. But I am not a native speaker. I do speak 3.5 languages. Starting a new one is always a special challenge. Because the more languages you learn, the more context exists to frame the new language. This can be good. You know, which words you have to learn first for daily conversations, which grammar structures are particularly useful. You know where to start.

But one thing always stays the same: I am trying to find out WHY I make certain mistakes. This goes beyond simply knowing THAT I made a mistake. It is to find out WHERE I got the structure or word from I am not applying adequatly. It is to understand that the mistake could possibly be correct in another language, make the connection to the current language and store this connection.

(This is how it works for me. And I think that others can benefit from this as well. I am not a professional linguist so this is not grounded on any well-established theory or such. I guess there might be several research undermining or supporting this idea.)

Bist du das? ≠ = Are you it?

Literal interpretation is one example. While the English native would understand at least what „Are you it?“ is supposed to mean („Is it you?“) – does this mean that the translation is wrong? Yes – says the English teacher. No – I say.  I speak both languages and thus can make sense out of it and know what the other person wanted to ask. Isn’t that weird? At first it seemed so plain that the question „Are you it?“ is wrong – but why would some people then understand it? Because of the similar background/ context (of language) they have. Because they understand WHY someone translated the question this way.

We have so much data sources to choose from for translations. Why can’t we make the spelling check process more individual? One could implement settings to choose native language and other languages learned so far. When a mistake is detected, a model could be applied to detect if this is a simple typo or a systematic error that can / can not be connected to another language. Imagine the potential of evaluating writing patterns (e.g. as already available for messaging in Android systems: the system is guessing your next word): You could get a summary of frequently occurring mistakes and working on these in future.

Until my breakthrough with my „why-you-made-this-mistake-model“

Could I ask you for a favor? If you know someone in your social environment who is learning a new language and he/she is asking for a word: Please don’t just translate the word into a language that is easier for him/her! Try to explain the word in the language he/she is learning and give as much context as possible. It helps a lot. I know, it’s not always easier. Because the faster way is a simple translation (like the right-click in your spell-check). But on the long-run, putting language in context is worth the additional expenditure of time.

EdTech now and then: Combining course contents

The below text has been handed in by me for the MITx course 11.132x „Design and Development of Educational Technology“. After some good results in the peer feedback and a very lifely discussion on the text with a friend I decided to publish it here as well, as I used some thoughts/input from my Master programme (especially for the conclusion).


Abstract

In this assignment I will first describe the blog as a current learning technology and the LÜK (Lernen-Üben-Kontrollieren, german abbreviation for Learning-Practising- Controlling) as an earlier learning technology before I secondly conduct a comparative analysis of both technologies. My descriptions are enriched with personal learning experiences with theses technologies. I conclude with emphasizing that both technologies represent only one of several examples for the shift in learning theories over time and their impacts on educational technology. Additionally a major outcome is the claim for the critical evaluation of Ed Tech and the interdependencies between education and technology.

 

PART 1: CURRENT TECHNOLOGY – Blog

Blog Post (http://pixabay.com/static/uploads/photo/2014/02/13/07/28/wordpress-265132_640.jpg)

A current educational technology is the Blog (or Weblog, as a contraction of the words “web” and “log”), which can be described as a page on the web that operates as an individual accessible journal. Whereas in the earlier days of blogging knowledge about setting-up a homepage was required, Blog platform provider (such as wordpress.com or tublr.com) nowadays enable each individual to create a Blog without previous knowledge [Blood, Rebecca. „Weblogs: A History and Perspective“, Rebecca’s Pocket. 07 September 2000. 18 September 2013.]. When using this technology, the user’s main goal is to produce a text about a topic of interest and make it available for feedback.

Based upon this definition are the assets and drawbacks of this technology. On the one hand a blog can be used as a personalized learning technology adapted to specific needs to keep track of the learning process. Thus the technology’s goal is to offer a platform for keeping a learning journal for feedback purposes and continuous improvement. In addition, it operates as a sharing platform that is open to individual adaptation. However, in this openness lie the drawbacks as well. The technology does not  lead to a specific goal (producing a text is a broad goal) but rather is intended to be open-ended. By doing so, it requires a deep reflection on what the blog should be used for and how it can be used efficiently. Moreover, basic knowledge in producing text, expressing ideas, looking for appropriate resources and constructive feedback is required.

I want to illustrate these insights with the help of describing my first blog (franzidoesblog.wordpress.com) to support my individual learning process. It was set-up when I started my Master’s studies in Information Technology & Learning at the University of Gothenburg in August 2014. Whereas producing a text helps me to express my thoughts and reflect on them, once starting a blog can also generate pressure concerning how often to create a post and what to write about. The blog is useful for me to keep track on my progress and as it is open for adaptation I can implement it the way it suits my purpose. It helps me to improve my writing and reflecting competencies. Nevertheless, without the appropriate target group and range, getting feedback can be a hard task.

PART 2: EARLIER TECHNOLOGY – LÜK

LÜK Kasten (http://www.lernundsprachtherapie.de/files/spiele6.jpg)

The LÜK (or LÜK-Kasten, www.luek.de) is a self-checking device for different developmental stages and ranges of subjects and topics (e.g. learning to read or mathematical calculations) [jayseducation.com]. It consists of up to 24 rectangle chips that can be placed in a flat box. Each chip is printed on both sides: one side with numbers, the other with coloured geometrical shapes. The inner life of the box is also printed with numbers (please refer to the above picture). Lately, it has been released as an App as well which follows the same operating principles (App release notice on luek.de [German only]). The intended primary audience are children from 2 to 13 years. It claims to be a learning system, that follows the latest research on learning. Even though I was working with an early version of LÜK, it is still following the same principles today.

The operating mode is divided into three steps. First, there are guiding books for a variety of contents and levels of expertise that accompany the LÜK. In it, one can find the tasks to work through. Say one is working through task 1 that reads “Add 2 and 2!”. The result “4” has to be calculated mentally and then looked for within the chips. Once the chip with number 4 has been found, it has to be placed on the space in the box printed with 1 (representing exercise 1). If task 2 reads “Add 5 and 2!” “7” has to be found and the chip has to be placed on the corresponding space in the box for exercise 2. One important fact is that the numbers face upwards so that the geometrical figures can not be seen after the chips have been placed. Second, the box is been flipped over when all tasks have been solved. Third, once the box has been flipped, the geometrical figures face upwards and reveal the geometrical figure that has to be checked against the solution printed in the guiding book.

The LÜK resembles a sort of teaching machine. The tasks are divided into several progressing steps and once all are solved an immediate feedback is available. Furthermore, each student works on his/her own pace and is thus guided by an “individual teaching assistant”. The assets of this technology lie in the individual learning pace and the transparent instructions. However, this can be seen as a drawback as well. The learning process is clearly structured and by this can’t be changed. Though the pace might be individual the process structure (the sequence of tasks) stays the same. In addition, the LÜK does offer a variety of topics but the principle stays the same, making it predictable and prone to monotony.

I used the LÜK-Kasten throughout primary school in the late 90s primarily for learning mathematical calculations. As far as I remember, most of the time I enjoyed it. We had to solve both – homework and in-class activities. However, sometimes we tended to switch to the geometrical figures directly and did a jigsaw puzzle instead of calculations by recreating the picture from the guiding book. The impact on learning was present, however seeing it from today’s perspective I doubt the effectiveness. Mostly because it was teaching to calculate without reflecting the task and you got used to the principle very quickly.

PART 3 – COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS

Comparing a Blog and the LÜK-Kasten is like comparing fire and water. Both are elements of the earth but besides this they do not really have anything in common. A blog and LÜK can be used to learn something but whereas the blog is giving a lot of freedom (blog-post as the only limiting factor), LÜK is providing the complete “learning process” (in quotation marks because I would not always call it learning process) including the content. Both approaches are thus very divergent.

To contrast the technologies, I want to try to make them more comparable by exploring instructions for the same developmental stage (I was using them at different levels of age) – let’s say at the age of 10 to learn a new language. Whereas following the instructions in a language class using blogs would lead to producing individual texts including research on it, LÜK would lead to following instructions to answer questions and producing a new geometrical figure. One recognises that LÜK itself is a very isolated and limited system compared to a blog. Each new content has to fit to the instructional idea of a guiding book and answering a set of up to 24 questions. These questions are limited in characters and context, there has to be one correct answer. Furthermore the content might change due to different guiding books but the geometrical shapes (the box itself) does not change. The blog does not give this strict guidance and thus needs the support by a teacher, that helps exploring and managing the technology for learning. But after this the blog offers a wider range of approaching a problem by creating an individual text that can be formated, enriched with pictures, videos and hyperlinks. Each post will be an individual artifact, that can be commented on by others and developed further. With each post the blog as an artifact itself is growing. This introduces a social aspect as well. Whereas LÜK is a rather isolated learning process, a blog lives from feedback and improvement.

When it comes to engagement and motivation it appears as if the blog per se would work better. However, I am critical towards this attitude as especially a younger target group can be scared of writing independently about a topic, publishing a text online and making it available for feedback. But I see the teacher in a powerful role to overcome these obstacles. It might also be a familiarization with traditional behavioristic approaches that result in a certain assumption about learning. By saying so, I mean that children (especially in math) learn from the beginning, that there is always a certain process leading to one correct answer. Finally, this leads to a sceptical attitude towards new approaches such as a blog because they can be so different from what children were used to before. It might be that with the development of more cognitivistic and situative/pragmatistic-sociohistoric approaches in learning practise [terms taken from Greeno, J. G., Collins, A. M. & Resnick, Lauren B., 1996, Cognition and learning.] this might change.

To conclude, a blog can be more thought-provoking, memorable and playful whereas the LÜK can be more structured and more motivating as it leads to direct feedback on the answers. Of course this is my personal view, it is highly likely that others would engage differently with these technologies. For example, one could enjoy the openness of a blog and using it for creative results. Another one could see LÜK as being forced into a learning process that does not suit his/her preferences. All in all, both technologies derive from different learning traditions and mirror the ideas of their time.

PART 4 – CONCLUSION

Can we enrich learning environments with both technologies? If so, how? And even more important, how do we evaluate these technologies?

What becomes more and more important to me than answering these questions is the ability to critically evaluate technologies we (want to) use. Because technology is more than (just) a tool – it is not neutral. Neither does it have a sedulous impact. If it does have impacts we have to be more specific in describing them to not fall into the category of technological determinism [Oliver, M. (2011), Technological determinism in educational technology research: some alternative ways of thinking about the relationship between learning and technology].

In my school days it was important to critically evaluate historical sources and judge their context, purpose and credibility. However, when we talk about technology we tend to be more superficial. But technology – as historical sources – always has been invented and programmed by someone to fulfil a specific need. They do not appear from nowhere.

My above described examples are only one of several examples for the shift in learning theories over time and their impact on educational technology. By arguing, that it has always to be education that is driving technology we are missing the important point I scratched upon above: even if education is giving the primary direction for the development of technologies, it is education that has to be evaluated critically. Because both fields are fields of active and ongoing research – so many technologies which have been hyped are now at the edge to nowhere, and still we are launching into new technologies without taking a deeper look on where they come from, how they work and which needs they are supposed to fulfil.

„Midterm“ review: What does work, what not.

After not having written a blog post for 14 days, I am becoming a little nervous: do I need to „produce“ a certain number of posts per week, does the blog not work for me or do I not work as much as I was doing before? It might help to reflect on what I was working on during the last 14 days. I remember my lecturer saying, that writing down what you are working on actually can be a good way of visualizing it.

In terms of class activities the last few days were stuffed with preparations. Just now I realise how hard we were working on finalizing our seminar on B.F. Skinner’s „The Technology of Teaching“ and a written assignment on an evaluation plan for an actual research project. We were working in the same group for both tasks, which was not always easy but in the end we managed to get great results with merging all our interesting input. What I really liked about both projects was a good time management and how we split up the tasks. Room for improvement on my side is a better reflection on requirements and individual workload as well as an even deeper analysis of literature.

Besides my own group work, the last days included two classic seminars from other groups on Simon’s „The Sciences of the Artificial“ and Papert’s „Mindstorms“ and several workshops and lectures. Especially the seminars were interesting as we worked on one selected topic as a whole group. Meaning that these days were prepared by a smaller group and they were to make the whole class work on it. A lot of discussions, a lot of resources, a lot of input – a lot to digest.

During the Wednesday group of academic writing we were working on a preliminary draft of our Master Thesis topic. That was not always easy, as you have to decide against so many options by deciding for another. In the end my draft includes three possible areas to look at:

  • How Data-Analytics can improve both: workplace training performance and workplace training quality/effectiveness
  • The definition of digital literacy and its implication for recruiting and personnel’s performance
  • Training methods lacking “new” input concerning new media use, training & education in a new context

I got some valuable feedback on my thesis statements that I prepared for each area and will work with this to specify my intentions.

Besides the class input I am working with several online platforms to complement the Master courses and/or get a different perspective on what I am learning. These platforms are Coursera, Edx and futurelearn.

I was using Coursera to get a refresher on research methods for the project assignment (course details) and tried to develop my own digital story about Behaviorism (which has to be finalized but following the link you can have a look at my storyboard, course details), whereas currently I am exploring the future for education and take a deeper look at questionnaire design for Social Surveys. (Scheduled for this year are still E-Learning and Digital Cultures, e-learning Ecologies and Performance Assessment in the Virtual Classroom).

On the Edx platform I am starting with MITx: 11.132X Design and Development of Educational Technology (a course focusing on constructivism and cognitivism, it’s development within Edtech and implications for future educational technology), MITx: 11.126X Introduction to Game Design and UTArlingtonX LINK5.10X Data, Analytics, and Learning („An introduction to the logic and methods of analysis of data to improve teaching and learning.“).

Recently I discovered the platform futurelearn which I want to try out by subscribing for the course Data to Insight: An Introduction to Data Analysis (University of Auckland).

I also took care of my application for the spring semester 2015. The deadline is October 15th and I found some courses that sound really interesting. My intention is to register for two courses in parallel to cover some credits for semester 3 already. This semester consists of 30 credits of choice and instead of taking them all in one semester I try to spread them over the preceding semester, so semester 3 would be available for some studies abroad.

What does work?

  • Class activities: Online collaboration and storage of data, blogging about learning experiences, take some inputs and apply them to online courses and viseversa.
  • Online Courses: After struggling beginnings it becomes easier for me to select appropriate courses and work through these parts that are important for my purpose.

What does not work?

  • Readings: I want to read more resources in addition to the course resources related to my interests/Master thesis.
  • The broader picture: A overall (technological) solution to display all resources, learning outcomes, etc. is not (yet) on-hand, rather I am trying to cover this by final assignments and/or transferring knowledge from one project to another.
  • More content: I feel that I am lacking the coverage of actual content at this blog, mostly I am writing about vague own opinions than well-grounded essays. This is also what I want to improve in.

All in all my midterm review is quite positive. I think that there always comes a time where you have to push yourself a bit to continue the good work. I am confident, that what I am learning is what I am interested in. Just this morning I was reading the next book for Wednesday’s classics seminar about Turkle’s „The Second Self“ – and I am devouring it.

Of high aspirations, grading systems & group behaviour

What is it that keeps us going? Is it our self-motivation or is it peer pressure? Is it both? Is it something completely different?

High aspirations can push you forward or hold you back. They can make you do better than ever and enjoy the things you do. They can make you feel deeply desperate about a world that does not share your ambitions and work-pace. Both perceptions notably occur when working in groups is involved.

How do you know, that you are doing well? Take an individual grading based on grading scales from 1-6 or 0%-100%. The basis is provided for continuous competition. Whether this grade says anything about how much you know or how well you are doing – it is a measure and it is recorded. For group work one could implement the possibility to opt for individual and group grading (meaning that individual contribution was made visible within the group project).

Switching to a Fail-Pass-Pass-with-Distinction system has been thought-provoking for me lately. Not about grading systems but about what and who defines others as doing well and how this influences individual/group behavior. Giving the pass-fail approach – I had an interesting discussion with two of my peers. How can we distinguish transparently between those that do good and those that do better? Is it simply enough to know that ourselves (how transparent is this then)? Or is it enough that the lecturer knows it and will keep that in mind for possible future PhD applications (if so, what is the benefit if someone does not want to stay in the research environment)? This might work if everything goes the way we expected it to be. But what if there is doubt and for a pass-fail decision there is no objective comparison between „competing“ students at hand? Reflecting these questions it seems to me, that – independently of the grading system – we are focusing so much on the output of a learning process and forget the process itself.

In the business environment there seems to be a common agreement: you can only judge what you can measure. In the end you are responsible to proof what you did. And what you did not do. I tried to imagine a project evaluation by letting the project pass or fail. What would that change? Imagine there are clear expectations set but you can only pass or fail. There would be a hard separator between 49 and 51% (taking into account that these numbers would not be mentioned in the evaluation). So how would you consider one project over the other? By knowing it for oneself or believing in the project steering to keep in mind which project did better? By comparing the project records in detail? Again: this may work out well if we assume that people are (always)

  1. good and they want you to do well,
  2. objective and fair,
  3. able to memorize the way work was done and can compare different projects unbiasedly.

But to be honest, this is not how real life always treats you – and as mentioned before – we are again outcome oriented. What really happens when it comes to group work is more complex than it could be measured by comparing final results. Take the social loafing phenomena (described as the loss of motivation when working in groups compared to individual work where work results are not merged): „hiding“ in a group and not participating (because „the rest“ will to the work) could be best prevented by setting an attractive common goal, increasing group identification and making each individual visible by avoiding incognito states (as we loaf because we expect others to do the same and try to preserve equity, because we feel anonym and not to be identified and because there is a lack of performance standard). I am not talking about output; I am talking about the group working process. On the other hand, there is this phenomenon of social compensation. This basically is the opposite of social loafing. People engage even more in group work because they know/assume/fear that co-workers/peers won’t/can’t work hard enough to reach the set goals. [Hogg, Michael A.; 2011] Once more, the route roote cause is the process of work, not the result. In addition, a very simplified second conclusion is that it is the individual recognition that counts towards connecting aspirations and our motivation to stay focused and on track.

To support the individual learner and the group outcome one solution would be to detect issues in the working processes before the result is presented. Definitely, we could rely on the group members to be objective and report such issues or on the lecturer/department leader to identify and sense tensions. But is this realistic taking into account the vast amount of technology used and communication around the project that is transferred to the digital environment? You cannot just trust your eyes and ears anymore, but you must be able to analyze patterns group members follow while using technological support.

In addition I am not talking about storing (intermediate) results (as I do it in this blog here for example). I am talking about the factual analysis of user data to identify patterns, workloads and routines. In anticipation on the critiques: yes, one could argue, that this is the control/observation/tracing of people by using information technology and data analyzing features. I want to argue that because people use information technology we need data analysis to acknowledge their work in the digital space.

Which leads back to the high aspirations mentioned earlier: just because I try to be as objective and unbiased about others and their work – may I assume that others try that is well? Should I set a good example and trust in others to evaluate the work done as a whole? If I do answer yes to all of these questions, does that mean I should not try to evaluate work more objectively? And when work becomes more complex, especially the progress until we reach a certain outcome, should I not use information technology (for the good cause) to improve my objectiveness?

Hackschooling

Sort of an abstract

I first came across the term „hackschooling“ when watching the TedxTalk „Hackschooling makes me happy“ by Logan LaPlante at TEDxUniversityofNevada from February 2013 (which has 6.1 Million views by now).

[Original source: http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Hackschooling-Makes-Me-Happy-Lo%5D

While doing some research on the term „hackschooling“, it struck me that there is apparently no (official) academic article published focusing on it. Is this because hackschooling fits perfectly within the unschooling/homeschooling classification or because it has not been recognized so far?

If it does fit – how does it fit? How is it related to these terms and where does it differ? How is hackschooling defined?

Due to a lack of academic resources, my attempt to answer these questions is based on grey literature such as blogs, videos and websites.

The method used: Initial Search / Browsing for resources

Since my university’s library search resulted in one source only [19], and google scholar made it to eight in total, from which I could use one [20], I turned to Wikipedia and Google.

Wikipedia does not list hackschooling. When entering this term in the search engine, it simply refers to „Homeschooling“.

Search result from wikipedia.org on 17th of September 2014 20:42
Search result from wikipedia.org on 17th of September 2014 20:42

However, entering „hackschooling“ on Google showed approximately 157.000 results. [Approx. 5.480 for „hack schooling“]

Search result from Google on 17th of September 2014 20:46
Search result from Google on 17th of September 2014 20:46

Would there be any resource available, which could offer a definition or try to put hackschooling into a broader perspective?

My prerequisites for browsing appropriate grey resources:

  • Term „hack schooling“ or „hackschooling“ in direct relation to Logan LaPlante’s Tedx Talk and
  • Hackschooling either defined and/or compared to other types of alternative education (e.g. homeschooling, unschooling etc.) [exceptions: 5+18+19; definition only]

A Definition of hackschooling

Watching the video of LaPlante already offers some starting points that have to be considered for a proper definition

  • Hackschooling is seen as the center of the four elements „Happy & Healthy / 8 TLCS*“, „Creativity/ Hacker mindset“, „Experimental classes & camps“ and „Technology & Online Resources“.
    *8 TLCs: Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes by Dr. Roger Walsh (Exercise, Diet & Nutrition, Time in Nature, Contribution & Service, Relationships, Recreation, Relaxation & Stress Management, Religious & Spiritual)
The Hackschooling Mindset, taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY (min. 6:00)
The Hackschooling Mindset, taken from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h11u3vtcpaY (min. 6:00)
  • Hacking is described as innovative and as to challenge an existing system.
  • Hackschooling as mindset, not a system that can be used by anyone, even schools.
  • No particular curriculum nor approach, instead a network of people, a „re-mix or mash-up of learning„, focus on experiencing what one is learning and on hacks or shortcuts to get faster/better results

After the initial browsing, I selected 20 web sources based on the above criteria. Surprisingly, most of them only explain the term „hackschooling“ very vaguely (if at all: by citing the video) and seldom relate it to other alternative education ideas (e.g. unschooling, homeschooling) by giving detailed information on why they mention this relation. The vast majority reports on the Ted Talk, only two are giving opinions and critical approaches to think about it.

Main findings

Out of 20 resources, a connection to unschooling could be found in two sources [1, 16], a connection to homeschooling in 10 [2, 3, 4, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13, 15] a definition only in seven [5, 6, 12, 14, 18, 19, 20] and two sources did put hackschooling in a broader context [16, 17].

As for the definition, there were some sources reaching for more than already given by LaPlante’s talk:

  • Unschooling and hackschooling as different variations of homeschooling [3], but hackschooling is not restricted to homeschooling [2]
  • A concept in which education is open to being hacked or improved (by working within the current system and outside educational establishments) [4]
  • A way of creatively challenging traditional assumptions (more from a leadership perspective) and a benevolent form of hacking which includes hacking schooling [7]
  • A fresh take on homeschooling [9]
  • A home-school with a de-emphasis on „home“ [15]
  • Hackschooling dedicated to unschooling [16]
  • “Hacking school” means something more than “adopting education technology“ [18]
  • Hack schooling focuses on small diverse teams and meaningful learning and thus enhances social learning [19]
  • Hacker are challenging and changing the system so that it works in a better way, a mindset criticizing the actual education systems, mindset as a foundation to build a civic intelligence [20]

Open questions and what’s next?

First of all it would be pretentious to say, that the resources used represent the unitary point of view on hackschooling. Rather do they represent a point of departure for future investigations. But still – these first results mentioned above are leading towards some open questions.

Just because LaPlante comes from a homeschooling family, does this mean, hackschooling fits with homeschooling definitions? The most important next step will be an analysis of the definition of homeschooling and unschooling. How do these three terms „hackschooling, unschooling and homeschooling“ relate to each other? For this more sound research on the terminology is needed. The following step will be the link to the broader perspective, which was already offered by some sources (incl. raised questions), e.g.:

  • Hugely lacking in supporting evidence, effectiveness? does the existing education system not already include/encourage creativity? arguing for something that already exists? [16]
  • Leaving open a lot of questions [17]

In conclusion, I am very surprised that no author tried to be more specific in what hackschooling is and where it can be placed within the educational environment. It might be, that this definition and classification is so obvious, that it is not worth mentioning it. It might as well be, that by leaving out lines of argument these resources miss an important point: defining hackschooling is harder than simply reporting on it as „just another form of homeschooling“.

Maybe this research was a waste of time – but this topic made me think and try to investigate something by using academic approaches. This blog post is thus more than just a post for me. It is also a way to work with the input given in the last few days of my Master’s program. I don’t know yet if this could become the foundation of my term paper. But I would appreciate feedback on my idea. 🙂


Resources

  1. [Leo, Unschoolery, 19.11.2013]
  2. [Deepa Ranganathan, Voniz, 11.09.2014]
  3. [Katie Lepie, edudemic, 02.12.2013] 
  4. [Bucky Fuller, hackschooling.net, no date]
  5. [Brenda Nicholson, Answers, AFF Pages, no date]
  6. [Goli Mohammadi, make:, 05.03.2013]
  7. [Victor Lipman, forbes, 03.7.2013]
  8. [Penelope Trunk, Penelope Trunk, 08.03.2013]
  9. [Carol Greenhouse, The Intelligent Optimist, 19.12.2013]
  10. [n.n., social consciousness, 14.03.2013]
  11. [Diane Ravitch, Diane Ravitch’s blog, 25.01.2014]
  12. [Meena Kadri, open ideo, 17.09.2013]
  13. [Joe Martino, collective evolution, 07.01.2014]
  14. [Amy Rozel Martin, Amy Rozel Martin, 08.04.2013] 
  15. [Shannan, flower patch farmgirl, 14.01.2014]
  16. [Brent Silby, The Journal of Education, 26.11.2013]
  17. [Audrey Watters, hackeducation.com, 03.03.2013] 
  18. [Audrey Watters, hackschooling] 
  19. [Martin Kesselman , (2014) „On the horizon: The 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Part II“,Library Hi Tech News, Vol. 31 Iss: 4, pp.1 – 6]  review of the TransformingEDU workshop
  20. [Sara Sanz Rodríguez, Universidad de Cantabria, Citizenship education, option or necessity?, July 2014] Spanish version only

How I was educated, how I learn and how I would teach tomorrow

Summing up the first week of my Master’s programme, it was all about how we have come to the current idea of digital education and what underlying theories of learning and instructional technology paradigms relate to this development.

Taking a step back resulted in some reflections on my personal schooling history, it’s relevance for the person I am today and my concept I hold on education & learning.

 

The hardliners of behaviorism

 

Throughout school I was lucky to meet the hardliners of behaviorism (if one can say that) focusing on memorizing and recalling this memory (responding) in a particular occasion (to a stimuli). That resulted in me being able to …

  • recall all German federal states and their capitals without knowing where they actually are located,
  • being able to recite the multiplication table but struggling when working on complex math problems,
  • being able to cite Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum but not being able to translate one single Latin phrase properly.

I don’t want to say that this is solely an outcome of the way I was taught. But it becomes clear dto me how much influence schools do have on families (as they assume, that teachers know how to teach, and might copy their teaching style at home to support their children) and on the individual idea/concept of knowledge (if there has always been the one correct answer, I am likely to struggle in reality where there are mostly not one but several ways to answer).

Talking to a friend of mine about this he said „Well, but these are some facts, you could always get a good impression with.“ Or as my old Latin teacher would put it: „Reciting Caesar’s Bellum Gallicum makes you the superstart of your regular’s table.“

 

Aversive contingencies = punishment?

Browsing good old Skinner and „The Technology of Teaching“ for my Classics seminar next week, I can find the keyword of “ aversive contingencies“ or „aversive control“ (describing an „unpleasant stimulant to change undesirable behavior“ or in simpler words punishments such as extra work or detention [very happy that I missed the times of corporal punishment]) . Source

That keyword somehow describes my relation to school, as I was pretty often scared being in class. Especially when I knew that the teacher randomly assigned tasks to be solved at the blackboard (in front of the class) or presenting homework (as an impromptu speech). Whereas for other students that was a reward – for me it was hell.

What brings me to the importance of seeing students as individuals and recognizing their learning needs not only regarding content and pace, but regarding learning type and motivational aspects.

What for one student might be the most engaging activity ever, might be the scariest for another. 

 

Tracing the influences of the past

So this is how I have been taught mainly (although I have to admit, that especially during my A-Levels and my studies this schema of education vanished – and especially five years of working full-time have taught me that it is not important to know all facts, but to know where to can find them).

I can still find back some traces of this influence in my actual learning style and my assumptions of learning theories. I tend to …

  • think that there is alway this one correct answer,
  • have something done and then avoid developing it further (especially with feedback that comes too late)
  • think that I have to know it all by heart – which sometimes makes me lose track on my focus and get stuck with too many details.

 

Making the best of it for tomorrow

Knowing this enables me to develop further. But what about education and technology in general? Reading about emerging technologies and how they can support the teaching process, there was one quote that I came across often:

„It’s nothing new what we are doing only because we use technology“.

For me it is, or to put it in better words, it should be and we should emphasize this. Please do something new with technology and please do not simply transfer your classroom lessons to digital environments. This is not what we need technology for.

To close with a quote from the Innovation Unit’s „10 ideas for 21 Century Education“ report: 

„Education systems have been resistant to change because education is so important – too important, some would argue, to experiment with. There is another way to look at this: in a rapidly changing world, education is too important to be left behind.“ Source