Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An Interview - sort of

Here's my initial foray into Xtranormal - A staged interview to spout my praise for a course with no professor and no grades.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We're doing SOMETHING right

While Reading Fiedler & Väljataga's paper, "Modeling the personal adult learner", I thought, these five layers (systems) of organization ring true to my own experience. I’m not sure I could have understood this at age 21 though. Besides some well-developed foresight, it requires a degree of hindsight not readily available to college freshmen. I think this model can also provide insight, or at least context, to the questions raised about MOOC engagement drop-off in the discussion forum.

When I got to page eight in the paper I got excited. "Here finally," I realized, "is an area where Adult Literacy and Basic Education (ALBE) is ahead of most HE."

Fiedler & Väljataga say:
"Many educators and educational researchers seem to maintain the view that it is quite appropriate to limit their efforts …(to)… learning activities on system one
We hold an alternative view.
…we first need to make an attempt to re-configure learning activities … in a way that allows the individual personal adult learner to actualize and execute control and responsibility … by modeling and actively shaping her own learning activity and its specific environment."

ALBE maintains that its responsibility is as much preparing learners for life as teaching academics. Essential skills to participate in today's world and attitudes for success are at the forefront of shaping the educational offering. This is because the majority of learners in ALBE classes have a history that has led them to regard themselves as failures. It's beyond the scope of this post to examine the legacy of Aboriginal residential schools, but it still informs a certain fearful expectancy that many adults bring to an educational setting. Their need for healing, and complicated life occurrences are some of the major issues that prevent academics alone, no matter how skilfully delivered, from meeting their needs. It’s still necessary to keep things interesting in class to motivate a learner, but it's essential to recognize that most of the drop-out occurs because "life happens", not boredom or difficulty in comprehending. That these students will put formal learning on the back burner, what Fiedler & Väljataga call System 2 and System 3 educational management decisions, is inevitable. That they should be penalized for it by denying them further access to education is unconscionable.

To address this situation we have, at the community level, made innovations that may not be possible at a central campus setting. Continuous intake, individual learning paths, and especially non-punitive attendance policies, all remove barriers to re-engaging with learning after a life event (e.g. childbirth, temporary employment, or judicial intervention) has interrupted schooling. Digital technology makes multiple individual learning paths much easier to manage than in the past, but buy-in on the part of the Institution and the individual instructor is key to allowing ALBE students to shape their learning activities to fit their complicated environment.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Educational Games

I believe it was Maria Anderson who said that many educational computer games are done badly. I've been wondering if any educational game could ever be done well enough to hold students' attention the way wildly popular role-playing games do. Perhaps we've been looking in the wrong direction. What if we could find ways to leverage the huge appeal of well executed games for educational purposes?

Kay Novak's PLENK introduction mentions a Second Life Unsymposium, which lead me to Rockliffe University's "World of Teachcraft". Using World of Warcraft (WOW) as a focus for collaboration, a half dozen teachers are meeting in Second Life to plan and support each other in learning how to use the world's most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). Within WOW they will collaborate as a team to complete quests and build up the level of their characters. Asynchronous discussion takes place in the course Moodle.

WOW is much more than just combat. Defeat is not final. Players learn through repeated attempts to complete complex tasks which then allow them to advance to higher levels. Characters have different abilities (such as healing, superior strength, damage at a distance, and magic) that complement each other in battle, making cooperation the key to advancement. A wide array of virtual goods that give an advantage to one character or another are bought and sold on open markets, making economics an important part of the game as well. Within the game, players communicate with each other by text and voice to coordinate attacks, tutor newcomers, barter for assistance, and share information about hidden dangers. There is an active community on the web that further supports players with information for solving difficult quests through forums and FAQs as well as facebook groups and twitter. There is even an in-game twitter client called "Tweetcraft"

This combination of multiple channels for learning to play a game, that itself includes multiple levels of learning, with the need for cooperation and collaboration makes this project one of the more intriguing ones I have seen. It's not quite enough to get me playing WOW, but it's mellowed my condescending attitude toward gaming. In the Unsymposium, several of the professors told how they used WOW in their real life classes on economics and other subjects that meshed with the themes of the game. Now they are taking it a step farther, bringing in teachers new to WOW to see if they can discover other ways this highly engaging MMORPG can complement educational goals in and out of the classroom.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In Defense of Big

There’s been some dissing of the “big names” in computing and networking. I’d like to say a word in favour of using a ubiquitous provider. Stephen Downes offers to show us how we can do everything Microsoft does for free. I like free, but I also like the convenience of the integrated suite. I have on my netbook, but don’t use it at work. I’m not quite arrogant enough to think my work is more important than innovation, but my employer expects me to be productive. Sure there are hacks and patches that will make Ubuntu faster at almost everything than Windows, but I went months without seeing my granddaughters because my son couldn’t find Linux drivers for his webcam. People worry that if Facebook or Twitter fail they will lose their network of connections. I can’t quite see the value of moving to more obscure services where there are far fewer subscribers. Where’s the “enhanced serendipity” in that? I like the polished feel of Second Life. Open Sims may be attractive to education because of lower prices, but I’ll stick to SL if I want to invite someone new. Our recent safari to ReactionGrid was definitely a learning experience. Malcolm Knowles would love the determination, patience, and dedication exhibited by the group. But most of my colleagues would be never try a virtual world again if it was that difficult. Skype is another “big” connector that gets dissed. It was fun talking to Tony on tinychat this morning, but I would never have found him without our “PLENK in SL” Skype group to give me the link. I can ask most contacts, “Can I call you on Skype?”, and seven times out of ten they have an account. If they don’t, they’ve at least heard of it and are more than willing to give it a try. If I’m testing an unknown service, I have to spend a lot of time reassuring them that it won’t harm their computer.

Ease of use, universality, ubiquity, integration: these are the features that make the “big names” attractive. I admire the frontierspersons who boldly go. I’ll delight in the new territory they show me. For now though, boring as it may sound, I also need a proven, predictable environment that frees me to concentrate on getting work done.