One Mind Opines about 20 Million Minds

20 million minds foundationOn Jan 8, 2013, an organization called Twenty Million Minds Foundation held a one-day conference/ symposium/ discussion/ thingy called “re:boot California Higher Education.” Check out Audrey Watters’ Storify about the whole day.

There were several things that struck me about the conversation throughout the day. I’ll pick five of the things that were said during the day and give my own point or counterpoint.

#1: Has online learning growth been faculty-driven?

Bob Samuels is the President of the University Council (California-based) of the American Federation of Teachers. You can also read his reflections on the day’s events. I have no bone to pick with Dr. Samuels, and I agree with him that the idea that the growth to online learning has NOT been faculty-driven. He says “this is all about reducing costs and making money.” Let me clarify that I partially agree with him but that I disagree with him in total. I agree with him that at the research universities – this move to online has NOT been faculty-driven. The research universities have, for the most part, been brought into the online arms race kicking and screaming. Let’s face it. The online learning growth over the past 15 tears has mainly been fueled by community colleges that want to increase access to education while growing their enrollments and by the for-profit providers who want to increase their profits by growing enrollments. Neither of those two things are especially important on the campuses of our major research universities.

Where I disagree with Dr. Samuels is when it comes to community colleges. In my experience in Minnesota, and in many other places where I’ve travelled to connect and share with people involved with e-learning; a great deal of the growth in online learning has been faculty-driven. I know a large number of faculty members who have embraced the advantages of online learning while putting up with the disadvantages of such, without any coercion from the dreaded college administrators. The point of this is something that was brought up several times during the day; namely that we cannot paint with such a broad brush to think that there is one problem here and that there will be one solution. Higher education is NOT a single industry. Community Colleges and R1 universities are as different as night and day.

I think the following tweet sums it up nicely:

Regarding Dr. Samuel’s other point that online ed is “all about reducing costs,” I would have to agree that it seems to be coming down to that during the past year or so. For 15 years of online learning growth, I was never involved in serious conversations about how this would dramatically reduce the cost of providing higher education opportunities. The main focus was increased access to education and flexibility to meet modern lifestyles and schedules.  But now, just lately, cost reduction seems to be the major focus. I suppose we can blame the governors who seem to think that a bachelor’s degree should cost no more than $10,000, or maybe we should blame some of the for-profits who (for a while) were making huge profits (and therefore had low costs relative to revenues generated) before they started getting slapped around by Senator Harkin and the like. Whatever the many causes of this shift in the conversation, this is not a good shift. If we focus on online education as being the way to reduce costs, we will certainly lose our way as a global leader in the education market.

#2: Will the best MOOC win?

I believe the question was asked by Lillian Taiz, President of the California Faculty Association (apologies if it was someone else). Her question related to the MOOC craze, and whether the logical extension (my words, not hers) of all of this would be a single course by a single provider for each needed course title. Thus, will there eventually only be one (presumably the best) Intro to Psychology course, taught by the best instructor in the world, and all the students in the world will learn from the feet of this 21st century reincarnation of Socrates.

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, ever since the MOOC craze kicked in. As you can see in the embedded tweet, I remember this same question being asked about 15 years ago. I was a faculty member in Minnesota and attended a state-wide Community College faculty meeting at Normandale CC in Bloomington, MN. There were many big fears about this unknown thing called online learning, and one of the biggest fears was that it would put everyone out of a job. “Why would they take my accounting course when they can take that course from Harvard or Yale or whoever has the best course and instructor?” Some of us thought that those concerns were overblown, but there definitely seemed to be more people who believed it would happen to them than those who didn’t believe it.

During the ensuing 15 years, there was nary a glimpse of anything close to that happening, and for lots of reasons that I won’t go into at this time. Suffice it to say that anyone who wanted to teach online was able to do so and have full or nearly full classes to teach – at least in my experience. And now all of the sudden, the MOOC thing seems to be turning that on its head. If I taught a course on Artificial Intelligence and saw that Thrun and Norvig attracted 160,000 students to their MOOC of the same flavor when first offered at Stanford, I might be just a little bit nervous about my job security.  My advice is to not progress beyond the stage of being a “little bit nervous.”

In the end, will the best MOOC win and everyone else die? NO – not even close.

#3: Is Bigger Always Better?

This one gets a lot of play. Just remember that there’s always more than one side to consider. Sure, Ng would need 250 years to “reach” as many as he did in the MOOC. The difference between “reaching” and teaching is something that definitely needs to be part of this discussion. The educational opportunity provided to the 100,000 students in the MOOC is very different from the 400 students on campus. The quote above that talks about 250 years is based on some media reports of the AI MOOC enrolling 100,000 students. Other reports say it was as much as 160,000 students – which would take 400 years of the small (400 is NOT small) classes to match.

But he also would need about 3,000 years to see as many of his students fail (not succeed or complete) his course as he did in the MOOC. BTW, 3,000 years is just a wild guess – but I feel pretty confident about it.

Okay, I’m running out of time here. Three is less than five. I’ll get around to a second post in the near future with a few more items from re:boot.

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Student Loan Debt Triples Overnight

TRIPLED!! Or so you’d be led to believe if you were in the room at #WCET11 when Josh Jarrett of the Gates Foundation was speaking about High Quality Online Institutions that Scale. Apparently he said something that led to this tweet.

Which was then re-tweeted. Then I saw it and tried to set the record straight (falling on deaf ears, no doubt), as follows:

I learn a great deal from my Twitter network every day. But I also see a great deal of misinformation – mostly from the twitter feed at conferences.

For the record, student loan debt hasn’t yet topped the 1 trillion dollar mark – although it is expected to do so before the end of the year. The current (10/28/11) amount is $952+ billion, according the the Student Loan Debt Clock.

“Alarming stats” indeed! Alarming because they’re just not even close to the truth.

 

Faster Adoption? Yes. Better? Not Yet.

Here’s a chart that compares the speed of adoption of the new big 3: Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus (G+).

There are things to like about G+, but it’s way too early to predict is will be a Twitter-killer, or a Facebook-killer. For me, it’s currently getting populated by the same people who are in my Twitter and Facebook networks, with a few new additions in the mix. The last thing I need is for a third network to splinter the professional conversations that are already splintered between Twitter and Facebook. I might have a different opinion a month or two from now if it truly does become easier to filter messages to and from different groups of people (via G+ Circles), and still communicate with all the right people. Right now it feels like there are 9.9 million experimenters with G+, and .1 million true adopters. (Chart from Gadgetsteria)

People are so Uneducated about Education

Want to make yourself crazy (crazier)? Read some comments that are posted online about any news story or blog post about changing (fixing) education. Although I could rant about this for a very long time, let me take up just one particular angle in this post.

That angle has to do with the apparent viewpoint that education needs to be all or nothing. It needs to be one-size-fits-all, unless of course that is what the story/post is advocating and then the comments will tell you the exact opposite. Most of this folderol tends to surface in posts about the intersection of technology and education – or maybe that’s just where I spend the bulk of my reading time and therefore it’s mostly what I see.

Whatever the topic is – online learning, using social media in education, laptop programs, etc, etc, – the naysayers are always on the side of “that sucks out loud – it has no place in education.” They tend to assume that whatever the “new” thing is, that it will completely replace the “old” thing and our whole society will go down the drain because of it. The idea of having multiple methods, multiple opportunities, multiple resources, or multiple anything appears to be a bad thing because that is different than the way it’s always been.

Today’s Example: May 13, 2011. The New York Times posts a piece titled Speaking Up in Class, Silently, Using Social Media. The gist of the article is that a few (very, very few) educators are trying something in their classrooms that doesn’t jibe with the age-old way of conducting class time. They are using Twitter or similar services to have a backchannel for students to post thoughts while class is going on. Based on some (most) of the comments, you would think that these educators had actually implanted Tweeting chips into the students’ brains. For example:

  1. Comment #1: students are on the losing end of the deal in both spoken development and thought formation.
  2. Comment #2:  Spending a discussion based class staring at a computer screen eliminates the possibility for truly productive learning, and really highlights the decline of the educational system in the United States.
  3. Comment #6: Part of our jobs as educators is to teach effective communication in multiple forms – listening, speaking, and writing. If technology allows a substitution for verbal communication, it is a failure.
  4. Comment #8: No. Just…no. Simply because something is easier doesn’t mean it is preferable. This is especially true in academia. It is the teacher’s responsibility to teach these children how to communicate in an adult fashion.
  5. Comment #9: Educators should stop with the gimmicks and superficial, and step back and work on the fundamental principles we have that do not required technology. And yes technology ‘is going away’ if you ban it from he classroom, period.
  6. Comment #15: I’m speechless. How many ways can this be wrong? It needs to be explained to teacher Erin Olson that teachers should be encouraging students to extricate themselves from all the electronic gadgetry and to pay attention.
  7. Comment #25: Currently, many students are unable to articluate (sic) their opinions aloud. Educators should be concentrating on this lack of ability or else we will be witnessing a silent generation with enlarged thumbs.
  8. Comment #27: Do these teachers think that these kids going to be able to Twitter their way through college, or a job interview? I think not.  I hope they seriously rethink this path.
  9. Comment #42: Books, paper, pencils and pens, a strong school administration, and a society that places education over all else: these are the only necessities for producing and maintaining an educated society.

Luckily, there were a few people who chimed in with something other than the knee-jerk negative reaction, including educators Derek Bruff, Murray Turoff, Ira Socol, Nicholas Provenzano. But they were effectively drowned out of the conversation by the naysayers – in fact, their comments appeared to be ignored by the other commenters who followed.

The vast majority of the comments were very clearly on the “NO” side of this question, but here’s what really bugged me about the comments on this piece.  Nowhere in the article did it say that the students used this backchannel technique every day  for class, or that it was the only way that most students could communicate in class, or that it had replaced their opportunity (or requirements) to speak out loud during class. In fact, there didn’t seem to be any reason to jump to that conclusion at all, but they most certainly seemed to do so. All the chatter about “students will never learn how to speak out loud” is the biggest bunch of hooey I’ve ever heard.

So, to cut to the chase, here’s a set of questions and answers for educators:

  • Should you lecture all day, every day? No, but use it when it makes sense and will be effective.
  • Should you have small group discussions every day? No, but use it when it makes sense (NBUIWIMS).
  • Should you make students give an oral presentation every day?  NBUIWIMS
  • Should students have to write something in class every day? NBUIWIMS
  • Should you use a backchannel as part of every class discussion? NBUIWIMS
  • Should you teach only with case studies, or field trips, or active learning, or ?? NBUIWIMS
  • Should every class that students take use exactly the same methods?  No
  • Should every class include research papers? No
  • Should every class include digital story projects? No
  • Should every class and every teacher do everything the same way? Well gee, yes, that sounds great. (NOT!)

But of course, most educators already know this. So the list really isn’t for educators, it’s for all those other people (and commenters) out there who think they know how education should work.

EDTECH HULK needs some love

As I write this, the EDTECH HULK only has 40 followers. Come on people, where’s the love for the big green tweeter wearing the purple pants? Several of us at #ITC11 were speculating about who was the David Banner behind the HULK, and although we came up with a list of 6 or 8 possibilities, chances are good that we don’t know who it is. We may never know, which makes it all the more fun.

And it is fun. EDTECH HULK certainly smacks us right on the funny bone. Here are a couple of gems – but you really need to just start following him (her?) and go along for the ride.

(HULK USING IRONY! IN CASE THAT NOT CLEAR! IRONY HARD PULL OFF WHEN SHOUTING EVERYTHING! PEOPLE SEE BIG GREEN HULK! MISS SUBTLETIES! #ITC11)

THAT @COGDOG CLEARLY NOT GET POWERPOINT! SLIDES SUPPOSED TO MAKE SPEAKER REDUNDANT! THAT WHAT PROFS ROUND HERE DO! #ITC11

“HULK” ONE OF MOST TWEETED WORDS AT #ELI2011! WHAT SECRET TO HULK’S SUCCESS?! TWEET LOTS! AND SPEAK IN THIRD PERSON!

STUDENTS USE BOOKFACE! SO WE SHOULD USE BOOKFACE TO TEACH! HUH?! STUDENTS USE DORM ROOMS TOO! HULK NOT GOING THERE TO HAVE CLASS!

Tweet This!

Looking forward to the eLearning 2011 conference hosted by the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) on Feb. 19-22, 2011. This is always one of the best eLearning conference of the year. There’s a great lineup of keynote speakers again this year. The ITC board has done a great job over the past several years of getting some of the best speakers in the fields of educational technology and eLearning.

Full Title: Tweet This! social Networking in Higher Education

Pre-conference workshop, Feb. 19 from 12:15 to 3:00 at St. Petersburg College.

Presenters: Audrey Williams, Director of Educational Technology Services, Pellissippi State Community College and Barry Dahl, Excellence in e-Education.

Description: Do you believe in the premise that “none of us are as smart as all of us?” If so, what are you doing to take advantage of that? Are you connecting with your peers in meaningful and useful ways? Are you learning from others and are they learning from you? These are some of the questions we will explore in this session as we see how social networking is changing the way the world works, and especially how education works. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are some of the tools we will examine in this hands-on workshop. We will help you build your own network of educators and show you how to benefit from it. We will place particular emphasis on who is effectively using these tools in higher education and how. We will discuss uses both inside and outside of the classroom.

My Top 10 Tools for 2010

I have contributed to Jane Hart’s Lists of Top Tools for Learning for several years now. Her 2010 list was finalizedJane Hart on October 17 with contributions from me and 544 other people.  Listed below is my newest Top 10 list of tools, with short descriptions of why they made the list.

  1. Twitter. Simply the most valuable online tool I’ve ever used. But it’s not about the tool, it’s about the network of educators that I was able to build with the tool. Connect that same network into a different tool, then that tool will be #1 on my list.
  2. Flickr. I get so much value out of storing and sharing my photos here. 4,131, items as of Oct. 2010. This is one of the few tools that I pay for the pro version ($25 a year) because it is so valuable to me.
  3. WordPress. I use WordPress.com for my main blog at http://barrydahl.com and we also run the open source WPMU at my campus for all students and employees to use.
  4. YouTube. Not only do I post more and more of my own videos here, but I continue to find an amazingly rich resource for all kinds of content, including educational videos.  I also use a few other video tools, but YouTube stays on the list.
  5. Zoho Notebook. There still is no rival for this tool when it comes to easily mashing together all kinds of multimedia content into a website of pages, all custom designed by you.
  6. DimDim. After using the free version for a couple of years, we licensed the Enterprise version for use at the college. It works very well and allows for starting webcasts on the fly without downloads or installs.
  7. Toondoo. I make comic strips fairly often and encourage educators to include more of them in their teaching and learning. Jaws usually drop when people see the creation interface for the first time, and Toonbooks are very cool.
  8. Facebook. My main value here is reconnecting with old friends and college buddies. Find the events tools and similar apps to be very useful. Right now it’s less of a tool for learning than the others, but it still has potential to become more of a learning tool if I was to decide to use it in that manner.
  9. Picnik. I keep coming back to this super easy-to-use photo editor that integrates so nicely with my Flickr account. Another one of the few tools that I pay to get the premium service.
  10. Android OS & Apps. This could have been higher on my list. I love my Droid, but mainly for all the things that Android and the plethora of useful (& mostly free) apps can do for me. First time I’ve felt like I have a computer in my pocket.

    Without giving the descriptions, here’s the rest of the top 25:
  11. TweetDeck
  12. SlideShare
  13. Mindomo
  14. Delicious
  15. Google Reader
  16. Zoho Creator
  17. Skype
  18. Poll Everywhere
  19. Meebo instant messenger
  20. Google Voice
  21. Zoho Writer
  22. Netvibes
  23. PBworks
  24. Prezi
  25. Livestream

Check out my PLE page for more of the tools that I have used often enough to at least have formed an opinion about them. To finish this off for another year, below is Jane’s SlideShare embed of the Top 100 tools.

In analyzing how the Top 100 has changed over the past four years, Jane came up with this summary of four key trends:

  1. The increasing consumerization of IT
  2. Learning, working and personal tools are merging
  3. Social tools predominate
  4. Personal (informal) learning is under the control of the learner

She describes these trends in a recent post. Read that post here.