Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ Interface 2005

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

Jun 09, 2005

These are summary notes from the ADETA 2005 Conference, Interface 2005.

Mark Milliron

Ten emerging insights in education. Comes from a process at Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks. We learned about things that were going on in education. You can find data in JALM and there is a whitepaper at No PowerPoint for this presentation.

We learn a lot about each other in the process of working together.

First. People are getting sick of the either-or dialogues in our institutions; sick of the "what's better, online or face to face." There are lots of ways to tach fols. In industry they're really wrestling with this. Industry: customer relationship management. They are connecting all their infrastructure together to connect with consumers. And they are finding people are mixing and matching ways of connecting. For example, most people use corporate websites to get the corporate phone number. Or air tickets: I expect the same service online, by phone or in person. What they were doing in the consumer world was looking for the one best way to reach people; what they found is that there are many ways. The fastest growing segment of the University of Phoenix: FlexNet, a blended learning environment. The fastest groing parts of WebCT and Blackboard, in-class support.

Second: remembering the human touch. Ed Halliwell is probably the best person out there writing about this. He writes that we have more communication and connection capacity than ever before, but the number one reason people go to psychologists is lack of communication, isolation. Bowling Alone: how increaisngly isolated we are. Have you noticed, I travel in airports, someone walks into the washroom on a cell phone. Is this OK? I was at Logan airport, and I saw this large man, and he was talking in a loud voice, talking on his cellphone. A big booming voice. Everyone's pretending not to listen, and he's having a fight with his wife. We wanted to coach him as he went through it. Finally a woman intervened, "Welcome to Harry's Strip Bar." More and more, people are asking us to balance the human touch. Rio Salado community college: one of the best retention strategy for e-learning is if the instructor gives them a phone call in the first week. Think about how you weave in the phone, face-to-face, and online. We know, by the way, how much the human touch can be expanded by online environments, people who would never open up otherwise. The point is that learning is a human enterprise. And we have moved from the broadcast model to the interactive model.

Third: championing digital democracy. It is more important than ever to weave decision making and critical thinking into the disciplines. Part of learning is to help people live well, but another part is about helping them to live free. Southern poverty law center - - was tracking the rise of hate groups. A lot of people don't realize that this is happening under the radar. But when you dive in to how they are leveraging the internet - eg., - if you're not that well educated, and if something is in writing, on the internet, they think it is truer than in print. They have downloadable texts. Women's groups. Hate groups for kids. It's not only, 'how do you spot plagiarism and spot sources', but also about how to read and evaluate this. Or there is where you can look at who your neighbour supported politically. The question is whether we can help people learn about this. Thomas Jefferson. A nation cannot live ignorant and free. Democracy without education doesn't work.

Four: learning for a lifetime. It has been fascinating to watch the educators actually begin to fight with the gaming people about whether the gaming world is as worthwhile as the web. Multi-user virtual environments. There will be a challenge keeping up to speed with this stuff. We are all novices every six months. Dan Simons exercise: basketball teams and gorilla (about half the room missed the gorilla). The research shows that only about 15 to 30 percent of the people see the gorilla. This has to do with the notion of perceptual blindness. We literally encode what we expect to see; we are literally blind to things we don't expect to see coming our way. It's kind of a survival mechanism, but when things come from the unexpected, it's hard for us to deal with that. When change comes, people literally don't see it. Book: Mind Sculpture - the notion of Hebbian learning. The brain is similar to a muscle; if you don't learn new things on a regular basis your brain shrinks. A notion of learning for a lifetime is absolutely real. Be a rookie for every year - do something new every year, to keep your neural pathways fresh. Steve Gilbert in JALN wrote a whole article about this. You don't have to learn everything, but open your mind on a regular basis.

Five: integrate your college. What has been fascinating to watch is the rise of segregated colleges, along technological lines. Many colleges have an e-learning part of the business and there's an on-ground part of the business. Article: Mainstreaming Distance Education. Just like the consumer sites: people expect the same environment, not two separate environments. People, for example, don't want to register in one place for traditional college and another for online. Sinclair Community College, Daytona, Ohio: analysis: they have tons of courses Monday to Thursday, but Friday was empty, so they created 'Magic Friday' for online students. Another college, weekend college combined with online to speed progress. A student of any kind is a student at your institution. E-learning - started as non-credit, or small initiatives: but now we have questions about workloads and such.

Six: welcome dynamic balance. Whenever you start talking about tech initiatives you get two groups: one group is the caustic cynics, who are very loud, who complain about every innovation. And they are challenged by the true believers, who over-promise and under-deliver. They cut down the credibility of your institution. We had that before -remember collaborative learning? How many of us have been in a useless small group exercise? The question is: what is the optimal use of collaborative learning, what is the best use? Watch out for extremes. Reach out to the reasoned center. Don't be dogmatic. I was a VP at a college in North Carolina, and there was this professor, Steve Liberty, who was loved by students and was a hippy-teacher and who hated technology. In the beginning he was a caustic cynic. I actually wrote an article, "Are yoiu dying to use technology" - like the stages of dying. Well, he was in "denial". He would rail against it. Then he got into "bargaining" - let them do what they want, as long as it doesn't effect me. Then he was in "depression" - he wasn't sure he wanted to teach any more. We didn't want this, he was the best teacher we had - but one of his students changed his mind. He had to use email to get a student assignment. At that moment came a tipping point. We have to welcome the balance.

Seven: embrace extended markets. Think about how we're reaching new students in different wats. A lot of people think there's a zero-sum market in learning. That e-learning will take away from existing students. But there's research that shows that any place where the University of Phoenix enters, there's a rise in all learning institutions. There's a pent-up demand. There is too much of a demand for highly qualified people. There is a learning demand. Especially for working people. The neat little models of curriculum pathways don't work for those people any more. The demographics are very different. Some people are very unprepared for learning. Book by Bob MacKay, "Yes We Can". As well, think about how you can reach out to returning adults, who are very different from high school leavers, the 'digital natives'. Part of our emerging markets are digital immigrants.

Eight: dog the details. We have to have some very detailed conversations. Like technical standards, for example. We have these virtual shanties all over the place - but the infrastructure is just killing us. Commercial, health care - same thing. They are required to bring down the number of vendors they deal with. Security. What if all your student data were made public on the internet? Conversations about security and about standards are very real.

Nine: putting learning first. This is coming out because of what we've lived through for the last ten years. Remember, 1983, a report called "A Nation at Risk". We had reform after reform after that. What we started doing is we started borrowing a lot of business metaphors. In 1997 or 98 most of those initiatives were overtaken by another dominant theory, the 'Techno Cro-Magnon Theory'. The whole theory was this: "Technology. Good." It was about how technology was going to change the world. Greenspan: "Irrational exhuberance." But corporations forgot about profit. Colleges forgot about learning. Look at CIOs. We've moved technology from the basement to the boardroom. Technology is mission critical now. In the course of the next ten years you'll see the rise of learning initiatives; they won't care what technology you're using, they'll want to know whether it is improving learning, and how do you know. Story: blowing up a whale in Oregon. It was a bad idea. "I'm spending millions of dollars on technology, and I have no idea whether they're improving learning, or whether I'm blowing up a whale." How do we know? How do we pull that stguff up. (From comments: - also, El Paso Learning Alliance, 90 percent of graduates need remedial math. education value added assessment)

Ten: vision ing exciting horizons. The internet is a disruptive innovation; and what took cars 50 years to do took the internet 4 years. But the horizon ahead is even more interesting. Internet 2 - holograpic technologies. "Let's talk about the human brain." And you see a giant human brain. Or engaging students with gaming technology - what students will do is just stunning. The kids playing Microsoft's Age of Mythology were shown to know more than people taking courses on the same subject. But you need a tough-minded approach. Don't revert to the Cro-Magnon theory.

Philip Cameron, Tricia Donovan, Erwin Warkentin
Best of the West

Campus Manitoba

The oldest of the group; been doing this since the early 1990s. Use technology to deliver courses to rural and northern students. Added the colleges to the program. All the institutions work together in a consortium. Students have a fairly seamless experience. We provide upgrades in English and in math, to bring them up to speed. And we prov ide them with a place they can go to, to create sort of a campus atmosphere. We also articulate our courses; courses don't show up as transfer credits, no matter where it originated. Registrations: 1800 - 2000. Funding from the provincial government as though we were any other institution (so don't have to be constantly filling out proposals).

Campus Saskatchewan

Partnership of all the PSEs in the province. Each institution is protective of own mandate, students, role. But they have agreed to find areas where it makes sense to collaborate. Membership is very varied - universities, SIAST (applied science and technology), aboriginal institutions, regional colleges (which don't offer courses; they play a brokering role) and Saskatchewan Learning (government department). Based on a MOU signed three years ago. Primary target group: northern and aboriginal communities, but expanding to on and off-campus learners. Just over 3000 students. Funding from a fund earmarked for technology enhanced learning (TEL).

Alberta North

Been around for a number of years, working primarily with people in the north. Makes learning accessible, and offers support to high-risk learners, and are therefore very engaged. Members: Athabasca University, NAIT, 6 colleges, two provinces and a terriroty. Funding renewed each year - currently, though, on three-year funding envelop. Also self-funded through member contributions. ("We have funding envy.") 12000 students since 1998.


15 publicly funded educational institutions in Alberta. Established November 2002. membership fees through original contribution; discussion on whether fees will continue. This was an idea born out of the council of presidents - they are autonomous institutions and sometimes competitive. 2000 registrants in the current fiscal year. online catalogue of courses, and through that students can register. 9 credentials currently on offer. Allows people to register in programs no matter where they are. Started as a vision of an online project but has evolved into a provincial change strategy. Eg., ways of accomodating people with disabilities. Trying to ensure we can have some consistency for learners. We continue to look for ways to access additional funding.


Across the western provinces we are working together to share resources and ideas. BCcampus has been an entity for two years, evolved from earlier entities, such as C2T2. Run common application system for the province, building learning communities, e-portfolio. Model of students as consumers. Receive $4.5 million a year, much of which goes back to the institutions. 10000 course registrations (up 400 percent from 2002-2003).

Operational Models and Learner Support

Looking at various methods to manifest success. These multi-instute collaborations are important; they are a challenge to implement, but are focused on providing services to online learners. They force institutes to define where they want to be in e-learning. Different models people are trying out. Some ministerial funded, some not. Challenge: introducing collaboration in an academic environment (course quality, textbooks, projects).

An important aspect is access - providing access to people who traditionally didn't have it. Important to provide easy navigation for students to go from one institute to another. To make it less scarey for students. The idea is to have people on the ground to try to help students do this. Also, to give students choice: not giving them a single product. Not a single institution takes the brunt of a particular program; reduced duplication. Service is very important - the people in the field are not simply university administrators enforcing rules, but are there to ensure the rules serve the student. Providing flexible access, to allow them to balance other committments. For example, many students are single women with children. And finally, to support mobility, not just geographically but also between the institutions. It starts to become about systemic changes; these small initiatives become like the tail wagging the dog. eg., transferability of credit.

Facilitating academic endeavours: trying to establish a mechanism to support (and rationalize) online program and course development. Has been a bit hit and miss. New approach: "here are the courses we need you to develop (to offer full programs)." A lot of money has gone into capacity building (eg. TEL project). Centres to serve faculty in support of online courses. Also faculty development: the institutions have generally agreed to collaborate here. Also, facilitating collaboration around issues like learner support. You can't force people to collaborate, but you can nurture what happens naturally. Resource hsaring - expertise to faculty development materials to courses. Cannot underestimate the diplomacy required in all these positions.

Making It Work

Distance education is still a risky and expensive business. Alberta Learning was always looking for a way to make it turn a profit. But over time it evolved into something like infrastructure support. Like BC campus, where they're building around e-portfolios and communities. Alberta North, some 56 community access points. You need relationships within the communities to learn what infrastructure needs to be build. Much work around application processes, registration, transfers, help desks. Programs now beginning to be established (though in Saskatchewan, the institutions don't want to go there - and you can't force it).

Within all the organizations, there is a tension between becoming an entity 9and a potential competitor) and being a facilitator. Usually the trend is toward being a facilitator - but even so, we begin to influunce policy. Right now, a system where learners can begin to cobble togther some programs.

There is a constant tension between what the Boards say they want us to do and them saying "Hey, that's not your job." Eg., harmonizing application procedures. They say, we didn't ask you toi do that. But they did ask them to facilitate access and flexibility. Staff complements tend to be small - from staffs of a couple people to others with 32 staff (hence the funding envy).

Challenges: defining the value proposition, sustaining funding, bridging different institutional cultures, educating audiences, managing collective agreements (eg., with regard to intellectual property).

Victor Garcia
HP: Inventing the Future

Talking today about emerging and disruptive technologies. The context is the context of change. Humans would rather lead their lives without much change. Very few people are comfortable in an environment that is constantly changing. But when it comes to technology, change is constant, in many cases affecting how people interact.

Two big shifts: one, transformation from physical and static to digital, mobile, personal and virtual. The implication is huge; we have systems to run our operations and schools and processes, but they do not work well in digital and mobile environments. Second, the demand for better and faster and more sophisticated technology, but they are also demanding simple, managable and adaptive technology. Rather than adjusting our life to fit technology, we expect technology to adapt to our lives. That's especially the case in teaching and learning.

Shift in schools, from 'the school computer' in 1985, to the computer room (1990), to the school network and internet (1995) to the community network (today). This latter: think of classes being studied at the corner Starbucks. And in the future: e-learning - wireless, portables, etc.

HP on education: education is the single most effective way to increase economic prosperity, to develop a skilled and diverse workforce, and to establish a prosperous economic base. Goals include transsforming through technology, to enhance access to underrepresented students, and enhancing access to math, science and engineering. The HP way, not about making money, but improving society. HP partners with customers and technology partners to deploy leading edle standards-based solutions to enable technology breakthroughs and agile innovations. It's not about innovating for the sake of innovation: it's focused toward disruptive and emerging technologies.

Mobility: People think that mobility is no longer emerging, because they see hundreds of thousands of Blackberries. But these are used primarily to send and receive unsecured email. But mobility impacts everything we do; it enables a real-time enterprise in a connected soiety, it enables knowledge workers to share information, a collaborative environment, more. We see a trend in learning to the adoption of mobile learning. Think calendar / PIM, contacts, telephony, email, internet, photography, GPS, mobile forms, mobile portals. One piece of equipment allows us to do multiple things. Mobile is allowing rapid application development for learning, requiring little back-end support. Major issue: security. Three levels: access, data and network - technology that allows us to kill the device if we've lost ii. Open roaming: switching networks, seamless movement through multiple networks. Description of an exam system that allows the network to 'capture' the device, allowing them to only do the test, nothing else.

Imaging and printing: creating the link between the physical world and the digital world. (I would say: think beyond paper). Taking the physical world, scan it, index it, and make it available. Digital pen forms automation (great idea) - as we write, capture data and upload. Personal scanner.

Radio frequency identification (RFID): it's the talk of the town. Today, is used to track skiers, to track children at Disney World, to track containers. Some people think of RFID as barcoding on steroids. But while they share some common characteristics, RFID can operate at a distance, doesn't require line of site, can handle multiple items, can read-write data, etc. Bar-coding is read-only technology - we have to go to an external data store to get the actual information. But RFID allows us to store data in the tag itself. Also, the use of the RFID can be conjoined with an external PKI security system to prevent conterfeiting. A sample application: product life-cycle management. Can track that part of an en gine, which was installed at such-and-such a time, by such-and-such and engineer. RFID in libraries - self-serve check-out; replaces barcode scanning. (Many examples involving books, which raises the question: why?)

Some notes on privacy - FAQs and guarantees needed. Eg., no personal information is stored on RFID tag. Indeed, no meaningful information is stored on the tag (eg., book title). Guidelines are being devloped by several provinces.

Interactive RFID-triggered experiences. Visitor experience triggered based on personal profile and personal preference. Eg, sports display - visitors asked to input name, language and favorite sport; this was reflected in displays. Digital doctor - same sort of thing. What's important is that the technology behind this is the same technology that is being used in facorties.

HP is developing a network of centers of excellence in RFID. These labs demonstrate RFID function, provide access to innovation and reserach information, explain business impact, and prove concepts.

Slide on RFID - SAP interfacing.

Also, slide on RFID-enabled baggage tracking.

Sentient Technologies

"Sentience is the state that results from the aggregation of and interaction with large numbers of data sensors." Humans cannot deal with vast amounts of data at a time. Think of this as an evolution from punch cards through humkan-based internet input to a real-time "internet of things". Beyond people. The idea here is to develop technology that can visualize massive amounts of data, make decisions automatically, and tell humans what they are doing. The way it works is to remove ambiguity of the notion or normalcy that makes humans essential. Examples; 3D rendering, security and intruder detection, etc.

Rich media

HALO immersive collaboration environment. Videoconferencing on steroids. HP-DreamWorks partnerships. "Better than being there."

Who gets there first, the teacher or the student? The student - sure. But (this is my comment) who really gets there first are the developers. Who may not be benign. Interesting, last slide: "Innovators break all the rules. Trust them" - The Economist, Feb. 10, 2003.

Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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