Inspired by Jen Dalby’s reference to Captain Condom, create an unusual superhero. What are their powers? Write an origin story. If you’re more visual, design the costume for Sanitation Man, The Amazing Credit Default Swap, or whatever other unusual hero you can come up with.
I’ve been thinking for some time about how the framework developed for ds106 might be applicable to other subjects. Seeing Mike Caulfield go forth and attempt this helped me think that I might be able to.
All this led to several Twitter discussions, and today to a post from Alan “cogdog” Levine in which he points out that, “You don’t get ds106 in a box.” I’m pretty sure Mike’s tweet that Alan quotes was typed with tongue, or perhaps pinky, firmly planted in cheek. Nevertheless, it seems possible that I haven’t been clear about what I’m trying to do and what I need\want.
I’m sure I’m not the only educator who saw the sustained engagement in ds106 and thought, “I wish classes at my institution could be like that. What makes it work as well as it does?”
Alan addresses this when he writes:
The magic of ds106 is not the web site, it is the people who came when Jim asked, and people who came later. It is the stuff between the sites that is the elixer, the social connectivity. Why would people be investing precious time in August doing daily animated GIFs? It is how waves of people come in, like recent ds106 infected souls such as Rochelle Lockridge, Christina Hendricks. We even have a talking doll encouraging creative action. Then there is Mariana Funes who come to ds106 vis Martin Weller’s H817 open course.
He’s of course right about the social aspects, but let’s try to answer his question, “Why would people be investing precious time in August doing daily animated GIFs?” Here’s at least a partial list of possible answers:
- Jim Groom is a charismatic thought leader with a significant following. When Jim asked, he had a large enough network and a personal brand (does anyone remember EDUP__K?) that the message got out. So does Alan, although I don’t know if he’ll admit it.
- While it operates on different levels, the core of what someone does in ds106 is to “Make art, damnit” with all sorts of digital tools. The University of Mary Washington, which served as the nursery for ds106, had the vision to allow those creative activities to count towards general education requirements. UMW is also fairly selective
- The aggregation model encourages participants to take ownership of their own identity and work.
- The daily create keeps participants regularly engaged by giving them several small tasks each week.
- Finally, the assignment bank creates a framework which permits participants , within some broad constraints, to choose what work they do, creating a rare sense of learner agency.
How many of those key features are replicable at an urban community college in a course which has a strong knowledge mastery component? Without realizing it, I’ve listed them in what I perceive as less to more replicable order.
- I am nether bava nor cogdog. Perhaps, since I’m just starting out here, that’s not a big deal. I don’t particularly aspire to create a movement.
- Water policy or music appreciation may never be as cool as animated GIFs, but thinking about how to make a more traditional curriculum into a ds106 model has helped me consider how even content driven courses can be more about doing than they currently are.
- The core of the model, having students create in their own spaces, is a particular challenge. Beyond the need to explain how this whole model works (did I mention I’m doing this in an online course), there is the challenge that, for the many students at institutions like mine that rely on financial aid, having any required course costs (like a domain registration) that can’t be paid in the college bookstore using a financial aid voucher is a big impediment.
- The daily create, or its analogue, is something I believe to be possible. My biggest concern is coming up with enough prompts. Since the course is all about becoming a more thoughtful listener, that’s what the daily activities should center on. I’m still trying to figure out how not to have the daily listen decay into dull repetitiveness where the only thing that changes in the process is what you listen to. A conversation with Mike Caulfield last week has helped germinate some ideas as to how I might stay out of that rut.
- The first version of the assignment bank will be my creation. I’m not ready yet for participants to design their own. For it to align with institutional and course objectives and state requirements, I really want the ability to put multiple tags on each assignment ( something like the ds106 assignment category, an historical period tag, and an optional required tag fo the couple of tasks that are obligitory) Alan indicates that this is possible ,but I’m far from certain I have the WordPress or PHP chops to do it, hence my interest in the theme on which Alan is working.Lisa Lane has previously discussed the challenges of running an aggregated course hub without a critical mass of coding knowledge somewhere in the design team.
Since this a course redesign, I’m also wondering how many of these assignments equate to an end of unit 40 question objective test. It’s a shame that one has to do that kind of math, but as long as the Department of Education measures a credit hour in terms of student time on task, it’s inevitable.
So I join the handful of brave sources exploring this new model. Will it work? I’ll let you know in a few months.
About a month ago, Cathy Davidson wrote about threats to higher education. While she mentioned several items, from de-funding and a narrow focus on STEM to the persistence of disciplinary silos, she left off an important one — unbundling.
Unbundling, as you recall, is the process by which things that used to have to be purchased together can now be acquired separately. Unbundling is a major disruptor, as Clay Christensen would put it, and forces business models to change. The newspaper, which put news, sports scores, movie reviews, and lots of classified ads in one bundle, has been disrupted to the edge of the abyss as people now go to craigslist for ads, espn for scores, epicureous for recipes, and rottentomatoes for movie reviews , all on the web. The iTunes store disrupted the musical bundle of the album, allowing people to easily buy just the tracks they want.
Discussions of unbundling in higher education aren’t new, For several years, the edublogosphere has pondered what it will mean if/when teaching is unbundled from assessment, or learning is unbundled from football games and fitness centers. A kind of unbundling that gets less attention is the possibility of curricular unbundling, which might be the biggest threat of all to higher education as we currently know it.
At some point in their academic careers many journalism majors ask (at least to themselves), “Why do I have to take biology?” Many computer science majors ponder why they are required to take art history. After all, these things won’t help me on the job market, will they? Despite the ample evidence of the ways a broad education contributes to employability, particularly given the likelihood of several career changes over a working lifetime, many students, focused on getting that first job in their field, would take only the classes they believe to be economically relevant but for the fact that curriculum design requires coursework in other areas.
Distribution requirements are older than this notion of workplace flexibility. They date back to a time when the focus of a college degree wasn’t about finding a job, but instead about becoming a well and broadly educated person. At this early stage, most college students were well-enough off that their employment prospects weren’t dependent on their degree.
This mechanism has a beneficial side effect for the institution. It allows courses with lower instructional costs (several hundred people in a lecture hall learning macroeconomics) to cross subsidize courses with higher costs (sciences, allied health etc.) Christopher Newfield has written in more detail about how the cross subsidy works.
Since traditional higher education institutions are the source for most credentials, this works. There is, for most students, no alternative to the traditional degree with its distribution requirements if they want to make headway in the job market. What if that weren’t the case?
What happens when, because of the growth of things like digital badges (sorry, Dr. Davidson) a computer science major can create a “credential” that employers view as valid without having to bother with art history? Here’s my near worst case scenario:
- Students, freed to study only what they feel is economically viable, focus narrowly in a way that makes the silos of the traditional university department look positively interdisciplinary.Departments that have depended on their place in general ed requirements wither and die.
- Cross subsidy dries up and aspiring occupational therapists, etc. have to pay tuition rates tied more closely to the actual cost of instruction in their field. Degree fields that lead to “good jobs” become more expensive, and only those already well off can enter them. The decline of subsidy sharply limits the university’s traditional research and service missions,
After this weekend’s revelations about the NSA Prism program, I saw in my Twitter feed a mention of prism-break.org. Besides the pun, this sort of ”alternatives to major cloud providers” site is not uncommon. Since I run owncloud, have tried friendica, and already run email on my own domain, my eyes wandered down the list to IM.
For a while, I was a regular user of Google Talk, so, as I looked at Pidgin plugins and CryptoCat, I wondered if the client made a difference if you were still routing through a server whose owner might share data with goodness knows who. ”I have a site,” I said to myself. ”Maybe I can self host XMPP.” After having no luck with Installatron, I headed for search engines (DuckDuckGo, since it has less logging). It turns out that running an XMPP server (also sometimes referred to by its former name, Jabber) is resource intensive — too intensive for a shared host.
So it was off to see if I could find third party XMPP hosting that I could tie to my domain. I stumbled on hosted.im. Since IM is not a mission-critical app for me, I decided to give it a try. They offer up to 5 accounts free (big enough for my household) and are owned by a company headquartered in Paris, so presumably have to deal with EU privacy rules (a definite plus). Signup was straightforward, but actually configuring the hosted instance requires adding SRV records to the domain DNS entry. Hosted.im gives you the entries you need to add, but you can’t add SRV records through CPANEL.
Here’s where being a HippieHosting client was great. A tweet from Tim Owens, our friendly sysadmin, revealed that I couldn’t add the records, but he could if I sent him the entries. One email and 15 minutes later the instance was live, allowing my IM and email addresses to match. Now to update my .vcf file again.
This whole rambling train of though started with a Willliam Pannapacker tweet this morning:
Thinking we need to build projects outside of a university system that decreasingly can provide viable employment in arts and humanities.
— William Pannapacker (@pannapacker) April 12, 2013
His notion of building projects points out that , at the moment, there is little demand for those with graduate degrees in the arts and humanities outside the academy. So why would anyone build the kind of projects to which he refers? I suggested that, in order for those sorts of projects to be built, we need to re-brand the arts and humanities. Pannapacker quite sensibly then asked :
@jasongreen What should that brand look like?
— William Pannapacker (@pannapacker) April 12, 2013
At this point I must confess to being stuck for a good answer.The crux of the problem lies I think in perceived utility, or lack thereof. Natural sciences are accepted as valuable because natural science research sometime leads to useful techne. Research in the social sciences contributes to the improvement of societal systems to solve problems. I don’t see a similar utilitarian endpoint for the arts and humanities. Instead, we are left with secondary justifications like “exposure to the arts improves mathematical reasoning.” It is then pointed out that if you want to improve mathematical reasoning and have limited resources, shouldn’t you just focus on math.
The value of the arts and humanities is reliant ,to a great extent, on accepting the premise that knowledge and understanding have intrinsic value. Pannapacker pointed out that such an idea has long been held suspect here in the USA, reminding me of Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. I will confess to not having read the book, in part because I worry I’ll find it quite depressing. (Disclaimer: I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in music and French, so I take take pronouncements of the uselessness of the arts and humanities as an implicit questioning of how I spend more than a decade of my life)
I can’t escape the sense that re-branding the arts and humanities almost compels one to make them into a means to some end. If you do that is art still art, or is it instruction or something else in the form of art, akin to a Venus de Milo jello mold?
Lisa Lane referred to a Chronicle news item detailing a bill now being considered by the California State Assembly , which would create the “New University of California”, a state entity to award credit and degrees by exam. Lisa ascribes this to (summarizing very broadly) a plutocratic design to keep people uneducated. I fear she’s right but hope she’s wrong.
Instead, I think that the root of this problem is quite deep and that some of the blame lies with the educational system itself. Even though we aimed to bring more education to more people in order that we might prepare people for citizenship and membership in society, education was “sold” largely as an economic launch pad. We did such a good job spreading the message that education is a path to a better job, more pay, and a higher standard of living, that for too many people, including business leaders and legislators, that became all education was about.
If a degree is first and foremost an employment qualification, then it makes sense, from a human capital point of view, that the time and money required to gain that qualification should be minimized. Especially as the economic benefits of higher ed seem to diminish relative to its cost, employers, students, and government all embraced the notion that college should happen faster and cost less.
Had existing institutions embraced that notion and things like prior learning assessment and competency based degrees that go with it, they could have ensured that the qualifications at the end of these processes included traditional understandings of what constitutes a well educated person. Except for a few pioneers, most institutions approached the issue with the caution typical of the academy, and some now see the traditional college/university as part of the problem.
Here is the real danger. Credential paths separated from the traditions of faculty control over curriculum (the Chronicle headline describes the proposed NUC as “Faculty-Free”) may extend the current focus on employability and earning potential (note the College Scorecard‘s inclusion of graduate salaries, for example). Isn’t the logical next step to decide that (arts, foreign languages, natural sciences, history, etc.) are needless wastes of time and money? If the credential is only ,or even mostly, about employment, why not let employers decide what’s in it?
My sense is that the entire planet faces challenges that are only increasing in complexity, and that the more people we have who are equipped to think both broadly and deeply about them, the better off we are. I worry that that is not necessarily a goal of those who now direct higher education policy and priorities.
I came across Judith Boettcher’s ten core principles for designing effective learning environments this week. Number 3, “Faculty Mentors are the Directors of the Learning Experience,” has me pondering.
I’ll stipulate that there’s wide variance among any group of learners in the extent to which a given learner can function auto-didactically. That said, given society’s rate of change, there will be times that you will need to learn something for which the textbook/course syllabus has not yet been written. Constraints such as cost can also limit the availability of highly structured learning experiences when those do exist. Therefore, how much of the formal learning process should involve preparing/practicing for those kind of situations, what Dave Cormier calls “learning for uncertainty?” (I realize now I’m echoing my last post, I guess I have a theme this week.)
At the very least, adults need enough metacognitive awareness so they can accurately assess which things they can learn independently, and which things, for them, require a more structured approach (___________ for Dummies or perhaps even signing up for a class) I would go so far as to suggest that this knowledge of what learning methods, materials and approaches work best for you is the distinguishing characteristic of the archetypical ‘educated person’. If you learn that skill, you are well prepared to learn anything else you need to know. Stephen Downes puts it more eloquently here.
So, if faculty mentors are the directors, how do we make sure that students are also in “directing class” as they learn whatever it is, and how is directing one person’s learning experience — their own, different from the kind of collective direction we provide in a class? Does online learning blur that distinction?
Mike Caulfield reminds us this week that many concepts we associate with the latest and greatest trends in technology-supported learning have in fact been around for a long time. He linked to a B.F. Skinner film on teaching machines to support his point and asked the important question, “Why will this work this time around?”
Several interesting things have come up in the comment thread and I’ll put in my 2 cents (not Canadian, however) here.
Mike refers to the importance of learning structure and the comparative ineffectiveness of discovery learning. My concern is that discovery learning is in and of itself a real-world skill. There are times when you find yourself in a situation where there isn’t much structure and you must, with little guidance, figure stuff out. Is that a skill that can be taught in a highly structured way, or does it need to be practiced?
I liked Skinner’s analogy of programmer to textbook author/teacher (“It is the author of the program, not the machines, who teaches.”) Perhaps where we went wrong was in not making learning design and programming an essential part , or perhaps even the core, of education curricula.
Mike refers to the importance of presence. Hasn’t telepresence come a very long way in the last decade? The existence of tools like Google Hangouts has begun to break a constraint which restricted learning for thousands of years, the limitation that one had to be studying the same things as those physically near them. Ben Rimes has begun an interesting experiment in this direction with Book Club 106, a distributed book discussion group operating via Google Hangout.
Finally, Mike talks about the balance between individualization and shared experience. I think Ben’s experiment is a good example of how , with some help from networks, groups of people learning together can develop, if not spontaneously, at least with fairly low overhead. To be fair to Mike, this doesn’t address the role of common experience in building a society, that is to say, what common experiences and knowledge ought I share with my neighbors down the block?
As is usual , I’ve ask more questions than I’ve answered, but my one or two regular readers know that’s pretty typical.
Many discussions of education reform make reference to Baumol’s Cost Disease, an economic theory which seeks to explain why costs rise in industries, like health care and education, which are resistant to efficiency gains. Essentially it argues that costs will rise rapidly in sectors that are labor intensive because wages must rise to attract workers in a competitive labor market, but the labor intensive nature of the enterprise keeps productivity from keeping up with gains in other sectors that are more amenable to automation.
Baumol did his original research on the performing arts. pointing out in the 1960′s that it takes the same number of people the same number of person-hours to perform a string quartet as it did a century ago. While that’s true, the actual cost to hear music is much lower than it was. Why?…recordings.
While most people accept that listening to a recording is not the equal of the live concert experience, most people listen to more recorded music than live music. The combination of lower cost (buy MP3′s of a string quartet once for $4 and listen as many times as you want) and convenience (even in the largest of cities there isn’t a live performance of the piece you want to hear whenever you want to hear it.) mean that recorded music is, for most people, good enough. (See also Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction“)
Here is a parallel to education. Most would accept the premise that a small class with lots of interactions is better than a class of hundreds in which most assignments are graded by computer. The latter model, in particular, does not lend itself to higher level thinking skills without very careful design. The proponents of what Lisa Lane would call Network based MOOCs Would likely counter that network effects and opportunities for learner autonomy create an environment that is in some ways preferable to a traditionally structured class, even if that class is small and interactive. However, the network based MOOC is not driven by measurable outcomes, and it’s unclear how this might fit in to a credential. When early network based MOOCs were offered for credit, there was a cohort within the class. for that cohort, which was small, more traditional assessment methods were used (journals, projects, etc.)
Any kind of redesign of education which would significantly increase the productivity of teachers will likely involve significant automation of content delivery and, more importantly, assessment. The key question is, will learners accept a course where most assignment feedback is machine generated as good enough? I think this will most likely depend on whether a credential earned via low cost, massive, machine graded courses is perceived to have economic and employability benefits comparable to the traditional labor intensive approach.
Interestingly, Baumol apparently argues in a new book (I haven’t read it) that the “disease” is not , in fact, a big problem, because decreases in the cost of other things will offset the inevitable cost increases in education, health care, and other labor intensive sectors. I’m skeptical. I guess we will all see in a decade or so.
Here it is. Apologies for the less than stellar audio quality. I didn’t have a good mic handy.