Archive for August, 2006

On Distance Education

August 31st, 2006

The time has come to reveal my perspective on Distance Education. As we get into the last half of our week on defining distance education, it’s important for us to come to grips with the arbitrariness of currently accepted definitions and consider the assumptions upon which they are based.

The phrase “distance education” is redundant. All education is done at a distance. The problem is that we’re so close to the issue — and so fluent in certain technologies — that we fail to recognize one existential truth. Education involves two people — the teacher and the learner. As soon as you’re dealing with more than one mind, you have a distance that needs to be bridged and the only bridge we have — barring the psychics among you — is technology. The distance is almost always due to physical displacement, but may also involve temporal shifts.
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Planning for Networks of Learners

August 30th, 2006

Clarence Fisher and I seem to be on the same wavelength today:

Remote Access: Planning for Networks of Learners

Soon after we have our blogs, Bloglines accounts, and have a day or two of wiki introduction next week when school returns, I plan on beginning to talk to the kids in my class about networks. What are networks? How can they help us? How are these spaces like a virtual classroom, a collection of minds that can learn together and push each other forward?

He’s using the phrase “virtual classroom” but he’s talking about a learner-centered space in much the same way I’m suggested that we organize ourselves as a function of participation in our own class. And note that he’s talking about a rural middle school — 7th and 8th graders. What does it mean to your practice if you grant that students have that kind of power over their own learning? What does it do to Education?

Take a few minutes and go read the whole post. You should have found it in your ‘gators this morning.

Learner Centered

August 30th, 2006

What are we doing with all these technologies? There are three distinct sets of technology that I asked you to take on last week — the blog-aggregator, TappedIn, and Instant Messenger. They each serve a unique purpose to the course and — I hope — to your ongoing learning.
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On the Classroom

August 29th, 2006

Several threads are spooling out side by side and it’s time they converged. The ideas are technology, distance, education, and the classroom.

Many of you found the flood of technology overwhelming at first — like the novice skier looking down the Bunny Slope for the first time. Over the week, most of you managed to work your way down to the bottom with some spills along the way. Now, looking back up the slope from the bottom, it doesn’t look so steep. I used some classic techniques in my Educational practice to get you to learn. You’ve read about them in the Kearsley book — learner control, exploration, discovery, problem based learning. It was effective because it was uncomfortable. You were pushed out of your comfort zones and faced with the task of coping.
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Week In Review

August 28th, 2006

I like to take one day a week and look back at where we’ve come.

This time last week, many of you were getting emails from me even before the course was underway, to urge you to start getting connected. I’ll confess it was with some trepidation that I laid out the list of communications tools that I wanted to use for the basic tool set for the course. Most of you have discovered that Blackboard holds almost no content — only that which we need to get going and to satisfy the university. Since last Sunday, almost all of you have created blogs and established a network of information with your aggregators, subscribed to the list, set up your accounts on TappedIn, and — for most of you — that was in the first couple of days. You guys have done great work and we’re going to use this nice foundation to build on.
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Innovate Online

August 26th, 2006

Sorry, I meant to release this sooner, because they were having one of their events this week and I left it too long.

Innovate Online is an online journal of distance education. It’s peer reviewed like any other journal and edited by James L. Morrison. I have some problems with the journal in that it’s not *really* what an online journal should be, but it does have some nice features. You can comment on the articles, and often the discussion is at least as interesting as the articles. They also have webcasts featuring many of the authors. I’ve posted a link on bB’s external links page along with a schedule. You’ll need to go thru the free registration process in order to participate.

See InnovateOnline at

Day of the Longtail

August 26th, 2006

Rob Wall, up in Saskatchewan, often has some insightful comments and yesterday he had this to say about Education and the Long Tail:

Day of the Longtail at StigmergicWeb
[W]hat happens when we start to see an educational long-tail effect? Can students used to infinite choice and variety, and expecting that they are able to communicate, interact and critique freely going to be satisfied by a course of studies that they have no voice in creating? Obviously I think not, but are schools ready for this kind of student? What happens when not just markets but curricula are conversations?

First, “The Long Tail” is explained in a post I made over on Cognitive Dissonance complete with pictures.

Second, I would submit that we need to consider that Education is already a “long tail” because a lot of people are participating in a few Educational efforts while a few people are participating in a lot of other Educational efforts.

We need to be clear that Education is only tangentially related to Learning. We are human, therefore we learn. We learn stuff everyday. Most of the time it’s trivial stuff — Who got voted off the island? What’s in the bunker? — but sometimes it’s kinda cool — a new shortcut to the office, another recipe for ramen. Oh, and last, there’s the things we learn as a result of somebody trying to teach us something. What we learn as an outcome of Education is a very small subset of everything we learn, and of that, what the teacher intended us to learn is an even smaller subset.

I would submit to Rob, that curricula are already conversations. It’s just that the teachers are the onees who are not in it. They persist in the misguided notion that what they lay out as the outcomes are the outcomes that students will take on. Teachers continue to believe that they control the students’ learning. And while it may be true that they teach students to dislike Chemistry, or to compensate for a lack of enthusiasm for Chaucer, I would argue that the degree to which they create knowledgeable, enthusiastic participants from their students rests less with the teachers’ efforts than with the learners’ interests. The role of the teacher, therefore, seems to be primarily to convince the student that what they’re sellin’ is worth the student’s time in buyin’.

And given that fundamental belief, what do you all think of the way I’ve made you take on technology tasks that you — if we’re honest with each other — had no interest in pursuing?

The Tightrope of Blogging

August 25th, 2006

Barbara Ganley is another one of those people you should be reading to understand the tension between technology and learning. She teaches writing at Middlebury and struggles with how to use the tools to enhance learning. If you don’t have bgblogging in your ‘gators, follow the link below and take a look at another stellar post on the topic of blogging.

bgblogging: The Tightrope of Blogging: A Weeks Adventure into the Public Nature of Social Software
it is still quite remarkable to me how many people I met in many venues really dont get the potential of blogging and blogs even when they say they know a lot about blogs. Even people who spend a heck of a lot of time on the Internet reading blogs.

And lest you should beharboring any misconceptions at this point, our class is not about turning you into Distance Educators. It’s about turning you into the learners you need to be so that you might become Distance Educators. My goal is to teach you how to learn about education using these tools of distance delivery so that when you’re called upon to teach others, you’ll have walked the path and can show them the sights along the way.

Now, go take a look at Ganley’s blog and feed it to your ‘gator.

Considering Education

August 25th, 2006

Having considered “distance” yesterday, I’d like to look at the other half — Education — today. If we’re going to come up with a definition of Distance Education we need to think about what we mean by each part first so we can then see what happens if we combine them. What, exactly, is this education thing? What are we trying to accomplish and how do we go about doing it?
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Learning Economics Through Snowboarding

August 24th, 2006

Will Richardson is one of the people you need to be reading everyday. I’ve asked you to put his feed in your ‘gators and if you had, you’d have found this post.

Weblogg-ed » Learning Economics Through Snowboarding
Pat Aroune who is a high school teacher in upstate New York and a new edblogger (after 16 years in the business) sent along a link to some student Weblogs from his summer class on economics and a couple of them, Greg’s Public Views and Economics According to Andi struck me because of some of the work there and their reflections about blogging. Pat’s idea was to have them use their blogs to study economics in the context of whatever their passions were, and the results are pretty telling.

What I want you to look at here is that what I’m asking you to do with your blogs — write about stuff that matters to you and how you feel about the various topics we’re studying — is not all that unusual.