Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Convergence culture & the rise of visual intelligence

Finally finished this post! Over the mid-year break, I caught up with a couple of interesting books. I travelled across the ditch, first to Perth to catch up with family and then to Alice Springs for the annual NCVER conference on vocational education research.

Serendipitously, both the books I took along had a common thread. This being that technology is changing our society in the way people, organisations, governments etc. behave, relate to each other, go about with their lives etc.

The first book was Convergence culture :- where old and new media collide by Henry Jenkins. A good read too. The first chapter is quite hilarious in places. It covers how hard core fans of the TV programme Survivor, go to extreme lengths to try to find out who is left as the final survivor in each series. The fans, known as ‘spoilers’ post their detective work (which is often very sophisticated) on a web site / discussion forum. This forms the collective knowledge that all the fans registered on the website are able to access and build on. The goal of the intelligence gathering is to be able to work out who the last survivor is, before the end of the series. What caught me was the engagement the fans had with this process. If only we are able to replicate this with online learning!

Chapter five on media literacy and the Harry Potter Wars was also another chapter full of insightful findings for the educationalist. This chapter centres on a homeschooled13 year old who started up a web based ‘school newsletter’ for the fictional Hogwarts called the Daily Prophet. This publication has a staff of 102 children from all over the world! The website became an ‘affinity space’ whereby children could immerse themselves wholeheartedly into the Harry Potter universe.

The other book, is In a Mind’s Eye: Visual thinkers, gifted people with dyslexia and other difficulties, computer images and the ironies of creativity by Thomas G. West. A bit heavier reading, but worth the effort. The book looks at why gifted people like Einstein, Rodin, Lewis Carroll, Edison, Patton etc. had learning difficulties. The author argues that even though these people have made major contributions to science, art etc. they usually struggled at school and yet they blossomed in their careers, going on to become leaders in their field. For instance, Einstein struggled with arithmetic but excelled at the higher levels of maths.

The book then goes on to explore the ‘new’ literacy, that of ‘visual literacy’ that the information age has brought about. This ‘visual literacy’ advantages the lateral thinkers who do not fit into the factory schooling model. This is especially important now that we are on the cusp of the ‘knowledge revolution’, we need people who are able to find out, intuit about and learn things that were never known before.

From a tertiary teaching point of view, we need to provide advantages for all potential students into our programmes. When re-documenting our one year full time programme, we were asked to look at raising our entry requirements. I resisted this because from experience, school results bore little correlation to future success in baking. What mattered most was aptitude for the trade and an interest in learning about baking. I have learnt from many experiences, NEVER to write off a student at the start of the programme (or at the end of it!). Making a change during the programme is something I continually work at but sometimes, that change in an individual comes later in life. We therefore need to continue sowing the seeds so that when the time is right those seeds will germinate.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Renaissance elearning

Have been dipping in & out of the book by Samantha Chapnick & Jimm Meloy called Renaissance eLearning for a couple of weeks. Then put a weekend into reading it more intensively as it contained many interesting ideas that would make eLearning more energised, personalised and effective.

This book has a good overview of Csikzentmihalyi’s psychology of creativity from his book Flow and the Psychology of Discovery & Invention and then goes on to provide examples of how eLearning can be used to encourage more creativity in learners.

In particular, the use of ‘emotional eLearning’ via the use of narratives and drama in eLearning is a new concept for me. I am especially taken by Freytag’s triangle which plots the classical dramatic structure of rising action, climax and crisis and then falling action and unwinding. They then form the basis of plot and story to the structure of a whole course or part of a course which involves the setting up of the genre, setting and characters to the overall storyline. I suppose similar to how we set up a learning session with the introduction, learning in increments using scaffolding teachniques that leads on to reflection and application, but all done with much more soul and feeling.

The other thing that is promoted, the concept of heutagogy which is self-directed learning in it’s purest sense. Learners are owners of their own learning process and learn by “organic or informal” learning.

I enjoyed reading the book as it had arrived at a juncture in my learning about eLearning. I had been looking for some way to add more pizzazz into my eLearning courses as I was working through converting them from being hosted on Blackboard across to Moodle. I suppose the title ‘renaissance’ stuck out as I browsed the book shelves in the library.

At the moment, I am percolating all the new ideas in my head to try to find a good fit between the ideas of using story telling within the context of my content area plus make it engaging to the learner profile I have. I have always been interested in the use of games to encourage learning but finding the correct scenario / game type and the development dollars required to built a good interface have always been the challenge. I will use the structure of a ‘solving a bakery problem type scenario’ in some of the courses but will have to think through scenarios that will be engaging enough. Not sure if the students themselves will be able to find their own ‘problem’ to solve but might also give that a go. Will have to do more thinking on this!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Top Ten Tools

Jane Knight maintains a very good resource that brings together, on one site, resources that are useful to users of technology in education. I look forward to all of her daily postings on my bloglines.

Over the last few weeks, Jane canvassed various technology uses to name their top ten resources. Now, there is a comprehensive list of the top 100 resources voted by 100 educational technology users, with the majority of the resources being FREE. It’s a good one stop shop introduction for new comers to using technology in teaching.

I have not had the time to browse through all the individual top ten choices yet but will do so in due course. I plan to use the recommendations at a workshop that I have been invited to present at the ASTE conference in early October. ASTE is the union that represents tutors teaching at polytechnics, universities, wananga and private providers.

I expect a wide spectrum of tutors to attend the workshop, so will need to provide a broad range of tools that can be useful in helping tutors use technology not only in teaching but in administration, research and their own personal development. I am also keen to evangelise the use of technology with face to face classes. Blended learning, done in a studied manner often reaps many benefits for both students and tutors.