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2nd Anniversary

Many bloggers reflected on what they had learned on the arrival of the new year. I’m doing it now because 1) I have some time as I sit in a Montreal hotel hoping that the freezing rain won’t cancel my flight home and 2) the second anniversary of this blog is on Sunday, the 19th, but I’d rather not turn on my computer this weekend, after two weeks away from home.

On reflection, I can confirm how powerful informal learning is becoming, in a ubiquitously connected & pervasively proximate, world. Many people are using their expanded networks to learn and collaborate. On the other side, there is still a large segment of the population trapped in hierarchial organisations where information, knowledge and decisions trickle through layers of filtration. I’ve also realised that the digital divide, or digital immigrants vs digital natives, is not generational, it is attitudinal. As a baby boomer, I thought that my generation was way behind younger generations. However, I have met many university-educated people, 20 years younger than me who don’t have a clue about the basic operations of computers and the Internet. Even school-age children don’t have basic information search capabilities, and many do not understand how to evaluate a source of information. We have a long way to go in becoming a society of autonomous knowledge workers.

On a positive note, I’m excited about being part of Education Bridges and I’ve seen some real progress in extending our research and education network at the Atlantic Wildlife Institute, where I volunteer as the Director of Education. These grassroots projects are stimulating, even though they don’t pay the bills.

I’m also finding that this year I have not had to go out and market my services. All of my projects to date have been referrals and I believe that this is partly due to my blog. I continue to promote blogging for free-agents, and those considering going out on their own, as the most effective marketing tool there is.

So I guess it’s one more year of interesting conversations for me …

A Weblog on the 21st Century

Nine Shift is a great blog, based on the book of the same name. It’s one of my essential reads in my feedreader, so here are some of the sample posts:

This article on Jeremy:

Jeremy can’t focus. He’s a guy. We can focus on basketballs, footballs, deer, enemies, breasts, money, new ideas, etc. But not on tedious domestic tasks like checking out a movie without some daydreaming, dallying and who-knows-what-other intermediary thoughts that might eventually some day produce a great invention for humankind.

On the death of cursive writing:

Which led me to daydream that since chopping wood (a favorite pastime) enhances eye-hand coordination, maybe they should teach that in schools. And while they are at it, it is absolutely positively true that people who can their own vegetables and jam have an enhanced work ethic, so they ought to teach that in school as well. I’m sure shoeing horses enhances something….

And another post on boys and education

1. Limbic system shuts down.   When boys are under stress, the limbic system "shuts down" and  another part of the brain devoted to self-preservation and fight aggression kicks in.  The limbic system is where emotional stability is, where that affective comfort level resides.  Boys need that emotional comfort level to be able to learn.
2. Safe environment.  Schools have to create a safe environment in order for students to learn. When students feel as though they will be criticized, chastised, accused, and so on  when they walk into the school, that safe environment dissipates.

I noticed that there aren’t many Bloglines subscribers to Nine Shift, so I thought I’d pass the word :-)

Why AdSense makes NoSense (for me)

I’ve toyed with the idea of advertising on this site, as it might pay my hosting costs, but Guy Kawasaki’s Total BS (Blog Statistics) post has set me straight. For instance, Guy’s blog is ranked #289 on Technorati while mine is #43,064. His site has about 100 times more visitors than I do (well-deserved I might add).

So what is the main lesson for me? It’s that Guy earns an average of $9.85 a day with Google’s AdSense. Were I to use AdSense, I could possibly make a few pennies a day. This is definitely not worth the effort and potential scorn of the few readers that I have. Needs Support

James Farmer has been offering one of the few educational blogging services that is free, non-commercial and just about perfect for those looking for an alternative to Blogger. is a non-profit adventure into providing free blogs and hosting for teachers, students, researchers, librarians, writers and other education professionals.

I know that there is a demand for this service because many people pass through here while searching for "free educational blogs" or similar search terms. What James needs to keep edublogs going is some financial support.

But I’m fundamentally against putting any advertising on blogs. Down the line I’d like to leave that option up to you (i.e. advertise if you want to & for yourself) but I certainly don’t want to slap ads on any edublogs.

So, it’s going to have to be sponsorship & partnership. Here’s the deal…

  • Plain old simple advertising as a ’supporter’ on
  • Inclusion (and write up) in the newsletter
  • Inclusion in the ‘backend’ of each blog (this can be done in a number of ways)
  • Partnership in offering users tools and services

The issue is copyright reform

This blog is not about politics so I didn’t discuss the past election, other than a post last week about the role of the Internet. I did follow Michael Geist and CopyrightWatch on the Toronto riding where copyright became an election issue, especially the question on the Liberal incumbant receiving monetary support from the media industry. For me, copyright is a critical issue in the economic and cultural development of our country, and it seems that more Canadians agree.

From Michael Geist:

But they are not the most important part of the story.  More important than the story about blogs, is the substantive lessons to be learned from the past three weeks.  Building on a copyrightwatch post that mines the same theme, I offer three:

First, the recent events send a clear message that Canadians want copyright policy (and indeed all policy making) to be both fair and to be seen to be fair.  That means accounting for all stakeholders and removing the lobbyist influence from the equation.  My article on the role of the lobby groups in the copyright process attracted considerable interest as many people expressed surprise at just how badly the system is broken.  It was this message that resonated with many people in the riding who may know little about copyright policy, but can identify a perceived conflict of interest when they see one.  Going forward, all parties must work to clean up copyright.

Second, among the most important voices in the debate came from artists such as Matthew Good, Steven Page, and Neil Leyton.  As groups such as CRIA were rightly identified as lobbyists who represent predominantly foreign interests, Canadian artists and Canadian interests began to speak up.  If (or more likely when) a new copyright bill comes to committee, it will be incumbent on Canada’s politicians to hear not only from the lobby groups, but also from the creators and users, many of whom are singing a much different tune from the lobbyists.

Third, this could have been about any issue, but it wasn’t.  It was about copyright.  Copyright is often described as a fringe issue, yet to millions of Canadians it has an enormous impact on their daily lives, affecting education, culture, creativity, the use of personal property, privacy, and security.  Labeling those concerned with these issues as pro-user zealots or claiming that this is merely about music downloading is to miss a much bigger story and to fail to connect with a segment of the population.

Curverider – open source learning company

David Tosh, Ben Werdmuller & Misja Hoebe have launched Curverider today. This is a services company built around the Elgg Learning Landscape open source learning platform. I have been a proponent of this business model for a couple of years and it’s good to see that others view it as viable. What’s great about Curverider is that the developers are supporting their own code but have also involved a growing community so that it’s more than just three guys in a garage (not that they work in a garage). For instance, look at how Mancomm, a private company,  paid for the development of a calendar function that is now in the latest version of Elgg.

For the end-user, this business model is a dream. You can get the developers to support you, but if your needs change or you want to work with someone else you are free to leave with your source code.

Customers are not handcuffed to their technology providers. I believe that this industry model will encourage more innovation and that companies like Curverider will prosper based on the value of their services.

Dave and his team have also created a resource site for Elgg learning landscape that shows what’s happening in terms of development.

Learners as contributors – the end of the industrial model

I’ve just read one of the best posts that shows how the Internet changes everything in education; many just don’t realise it yet. Christian Long at Think: Lab has a long post on the connection between blogging and formal education. Christian starts by describing a new billboard from AT&T that has only one word on it – Blogging – and then talks about a major difference in life for a 15 year old today and ten years ago. This is the ability to connect with anybody in the world on any subject, no matter how narrowly defined:

We’ve discussed a basic definition of blogging (web-based journaling).  We’ve accepted that anyone can immediately create a website now called a blog.  And if you think about being a 15 year old and wanting to share your ideas about music or sports or whatever comes to mind in a creative and individual way, a social and collaborative way, you can see why someone would create one.  Even see the potential for a teacher and a class full of students to create ‘class blogs’ for a project or portfolio.  But is there more?

Yes, and it all comes down to something so fundamental to the very existence of schools and even education itself that it’s actually pretty easy to overlook:  information and who owns/creates it. 

This final point, the question about information and who owns/creates it – is shaking our concept of education to the core. The ability to be the co-creators of worldwide knowledge now lies within the means of a large percentage of the world. For example, anyone can contribute their individual area of expertise to the wikipedia knowledge repository.

The discussion at Education Bridges echoes a similar vein. In the creation of wikibooks as online textbooks for the world, should only the experts build and distribute the accepted official curriculum or should learners be involved in the co-creation of knowledge? Personally, I feel that this is no longer a valid question because of the nature of digital networks. If you don’t allow for the co-creation of information (construct, deconstruct, reconstruct) then your information will gather electronic dust in its uselessness.

Albert Ip states it another way with this picture, which asks how anyone could limit peer interaction to "just" the classroom.

Teachers and educational organisations can longer hide behind the classroom firewall. As Christian says, just imagine:

Now, go back to that original 15 year old. Imagine you as a 15 year old with a blog of your own.

Imagine that student able to create a blog in seconds and within days or weeks or months have an audience spread out around the world that is genuinely interested in the ideas and stories and links and images that are on the blog, beginning to be taken seriously as a writer or an expert or a legitimate voice, and beginning to use the blog as a way to further explore ideas and develop a far-reaching network of thinkers and beginning to be seen on a level playing field as any adult.  And now imagine that student going back to school the next day and being asked to sit still, read books or notes that expect no interaction, being forever being seen as inexperienced and incapable, and not being able to contribute any ideas or questions to the larger body of research or ideas.

Both of my boys are in middle school and have their own blogs. One of them writes a lot, including the creation of a fantasy religion, while the other builds animations and shares them online. The eldest is learning Java on his own, via tutorials he finds online. At school they can use Google as an online library (find, access, use) during their limited time available during "computer lab". The physical library does not have any information for a report on the Avian Flu, and there is only one computer available. Access to Blogger is forbidden.

Teachers cannot teach the students how to get involved in the co-creation of knowledge because they don’t have a clue. The kids live in a completely different world than school. School is fast becoming irrelevant.

Next year, our eldest son will be 15. What will he think of school then? [I think I know the answer]

Tag Cloud

This tagcloud shows what subjects are most frequently discussed on this site.

Controlling Chaos?

Scott Leslie comments on the recent release of the CETIS Vocabulary Project, which includes two reports and a series of recommendations [my emphasis added]:

But the 121 pages that comprise the first two survey reports, the Pedagogical Vocabularies Review and the Vocabulary Management Technologies Review, seem hardly to justify the tepid 7 page ‘Recommendations’ document that follows. Study study study, disseminate, more study, pilot a bit, repeat. Sorry guys, I wish I could be more enthusiastic about this; I want to take succour in the belief we can control the growing chaos, find sense through old patterns and methods, but you know what, I can’t do it anymore, I have seen the light, and this is not it.

I’m not an expert on ontologies, the semantic web, metadata or controlled vocabularies, but I’ve had enough conversations with enough experts to know that more control will not address our information management needs. Recent conversations with people smarter than me have me concluding that Smart Search is (will be) an excellent tool and that the RDF standard seems to be quite useful with its minimalist approach. From the CETIS Report (MS Word Doc, page 23):

What really sets RDF apart from XML and other things is that RDF is designed to represent knowledge in a distributed world. This means RDF is particularly concerned with meaning. Everything at all mentioned in RDF means something, whether a reference to something concrete in the world, an abstract concept, or a fact. Standards built on RDF describe logical inferences between facts and how to search for facts in a large database of RDF knowledge.”

I recently asked if metadata was dead and received some good advice:

  • From Anol: "Problems with folders and metadata – that’s a closed system, somebody else define the taxonomy. Theory of entropy proves itself when the closed system of folders and metadata goes into a complete chaotic mode."
  • and from Keith, "Maybe metadata structures are dying, but there’s a distinct difference between metadata and metadata structures. If you’re going to ask, "Is metadata dead?" why not also ask, "Is tagging [with METADATA!] dead?"

After perusing the 121 pages of the two CETIS reports [I didn't read every item], I came away with the feeling that trying to control chaos is a losing game. Instead of asking how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, it’s time for the learning industry as a whole to shift its effort to more pragmatic solutions, because the answers from CETIS et al are not very clear. Having watched the enormous efforts ($$$) that the military, academia and corporations have put into metadata and controlled learning structures, without any measurable improvements in learning or performance outcomes, I have to ask if this is worth the time and money. My suggestions:

  • like Lego, use the simplest of basic structures (RDF?)
  • build better search into online learning applications
  • only build taxonomies, ontologies & controlled vocabularies based on a specific user need, not "just-in-case"
  • give learners and facilitators more tools to manage their information (tags, tagclouds, smart search, etc)
  • focus on tools to surf the chaos, not control it

Individual and Company Blogs

I recently received an invite from Ankush Gupta, who has the Learned Man! blog, to look at the company blog of Tata Interactive Systems. I’ve read Ankush’s blog on and off for a while and found that he provides some solid commentary on elearning, so I checked out the Tata Blog. It’s a multi-user effort with posts so far from the CEO and various instructional design consultants. The review of Allison Rossett’s First Things Fast is worth a read, as this is an excellent handbook for performance improvement.

It will be interesting to see how this corporate, multi-user blog evolves over time. One successful multi-user blog, though not from a single company, is the Learning Circuits Blog. Whether a company blog can have the same depth of conversation remains to be seen. So far, I like the initial posts on the Tata Systems blog, especially on their work for learning disabilities and participation in the Mumbai marathon.

A different approach to company blogging is SilverOrange, a web-systems company on Prince Edward Island. There are no direct links from the company website, but the individual bloggers proudly link back to their company. SilverOrange bloggers include Dan James, Daniel Burka and Steven Garrity.

Here are two approaches to blogging and work. In one the blogger is part of a corporate blog while in another the blogger is an individual who happens to work (or own) a company. The use of blogs is evolving over time and there may be a day when a company blog is identified (by the majority) as a separate entity from an individual blog. Does it matter? I think that the level of comments and interaction, especially when controversial subjects arise, will show if there is a difference. Dan James has even stated that "Companies don’t blog, people do".

My interest in all of this is how this medium is being used and what its effects will be. Will blogs become the equivalent of the e-mail scourge of the next decade? Will employees be forced to blog on the company site? These are the early days of blogging for the mainstream and it’s still fun to watch the field change and read new blogs.