Monday, November 28, 2011

Asking Why Instead of How (#Change11)

How to balance soft and hard technology?

Soft technologies are flexible, supporting creativity and change, because the gaps inside them have to be filled with processes constructed by people. They are needy and incomplete until people fill the holes, while hard technologies contain within them the processes and methods to achieve the ends for which they were designed [emphasis added], bring efficiency, scalability, replicability, freedom from error and speed.  Conclusion: "Most learning technology research concentrates on technology (including methods and pedagogies) not the talent and skill with which it is applied that is frequently more significant" (Dron, 2011).

I would approach the use of technology a bit differently, asking why instead of how.

I find it combersome drawing a distinction between soft and hard technologies.  Defining hard technologies as particular processes and methods that inherently achieve certain ends confines the user to act or think in a certain way.  This leads to linking technologies to individuals based on socio-cultural-historical assumptions.  If one concludes that it's not the technology but how one uses it, does it matter which contained processes and methods lead to arbitrary (decontextualized) ends?

When reflecting on the different (hard) technologies that I use, I have yet to find one that does everything.  I am constantly adding and pruning technologies as my teaching and learning context changes.  The hard technologies that I use (in aggregate) are as fluid, flexible, and incomplete as some soft technologies.  Individual web tools serve as nodes that make up part of my PLN; a change in one can influence a change in others, similar to how people interact.

Jumping on the ANT bandwagon, I find it helpful to view technology as designing an assemblage (i.e., PLN) which views the social as a "very peculiar movement of re-association and reassembling" (Latour, 2005).  I see a PLN as a movement that re-associates and reassembles reifying conceptualizations, people, and material. 

Reifying conceptualizations is the process of making some abstract idea, notion, or problem more concrete through open and ongoing interaction.  From a socio-technical perspective, people use artifacts to interact with each other around related conceptualizations.  Interactions that connect conceptualizations, people, and material are contextually rich and provide the basis for one's teaching and learning rationale.

Consequently, my approach to technology would be to ask why someone chooses to interact within a PLN in ways that foster open and ongoing professional learning.  Asking why, also requires asking what, how, when, and with whom (plus any other applicable question words), while embracing a perspectival sensitivity between subject (i.e., participants of the study) and object (i.e., researcher). In other words, it's about understanding how the individual's interpretation of becoming emerges from the recollection of the associations, assemblages, and dynamics of a PLN. It just so happens that my interest in such a topic has led me to a doctoral proposal.



Technologies I'm Thankful For

I know it's a bit late, but still wanted to get my list in for this year.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I'd like to submit my list of technologies that I'm thankful for.  I'm thankful because all five technologies - that I use virtually every day - are compatible with Linux, and most are open source; that is, people self-organize and develope software so that others can freely modify and use it as they wish.

The first technology on my list has to be the Ubuntu Linux OS (Macbuntu 11.04 to be exact).  I did away with Windows the first part of this year and have never looked back.  Macbuntu (Linux) is more stable, faster, doesn't get viruses for the most part, and there's no need to defrag the harddrive.  Ubuntu works right out of the box and is ideal for a non-tech person such as myself.

WordPress is next on my list.  This entire website is built on Wordpress, in fact.  With a load of plugins available, WordPress is ideal for adapting a website to one's needs.

Although Mendeley is not open source, it works great on Linux.  Since I am involved with doing research, Mendeley allows me to not only keep track of references, but I can sync all my references to my work and home computers as well as sync to my mobile device (Galaxy Tab) instantly.  I can also create groups and interact with others who are doing similar research.  There's a premium account available but the free account allows for a lot of free space to include both the reference information and any attached PDF files as well.  This is a must for researchers!

Since I do a lot of screencasting, Tibesti is another absolute must.  Even though you must install the software from the terminal, it's an easy process, just cut and paste.  The great thing about Tibesti is that you can record your voice through the mic and also record audio coming through your sound card simultaneously.  For example, I can record an online live session in Google+ Hangout and capture my voice and the participants' voices with no problems.  If you are a tech. person, you can do the same from the terminal but you need to know what you are doing.  I don't know what I'm doing, so two thumbs up for Tibesti!

Last but not least, I'm thankful for Ubuntu One!  Cloud computing seems to be the thing these days, but Ubuntu One is great because it's "baked" into Macbuntu, so getting started is as easy as signing in with a username and password.  They provide up to 5MB of free space (premium accounts are available) and it allows me to automatically sync my files with my work and home computers as well as my mobile device, all in an instance.

Well, there you have it, the software I depend on daily to get the job done.  What software are you thankful for?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Learning Preferences Emerge

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Do we need to adapt our teaching to suit the learning style of learners?

Instead, I would say that learning preferences emerge throughout the teaching and learning process, a process that is both iterative and reciprocal.

Designing an engaging and effective learning experience requires establishing desired results, various forms of assessment, and instruction, whether the educative experience is formal or informal. These three interrelated aspects of the learning experience evolve around a learner's interaction with conceptualizations, material, and people (i.e., PLN). In my view, the notion of a PLN is based less on one's socio-cultural background yet still depends highly on the choices an individual makes at any particular moment; it avoids isolating the individual from the material and concepts, isolating the material from the individual and concepts, and so on. The PLN is a context-rich ontological frame that connects the desired results of the individual, feedback loops (i.e., assessment and instruction via human interaction), conceptualizations, and material through open and ongoing negotiation.

Students experience a dynamic shift in learning preferences depending on the PLN and more specifically the learning experience at hand. Working with learning preferences by giving learners some level of choice leads to adapting the teaching and learning process at any given moment and not simply presuming that learners are visual, kinesthetic, etc. a priori (e.g., via curriculum, standard teaching methods, lesson plan, etc.).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm back...

Well, after about a week, I finally made it back...sort of.  This past week I had an unfortunate incident with my website host provider (WHP).  I found out the hard way that I was not getting a service I was paying for.  I realized that it was time to change WHPs and I decided to move to GoDaddy.

About two weeks ago, I began to make several structural changes to my website in preparation for a doctoral study that will begin in the coming months.  The past year I've been using WordPress, Moodle, and Dokuwiki for most of my online work.  Although my old WHP includes other applications as well, it wasn't until last week's incident that made me realize I could do most of what I need in WordPress alone.  Although GoDaddy is a little more than my past WHP, I realized that you do get what you pay for.  I decided it was worth scaling back the applications for better service and deliverability.

So, as I waited for my last domain to transfer to GoDaddy (which usually takes 5-7 days), I began to get impatience and decided that it was also time to get a new domain. Since info domains are much cheaper, I also decided to transfer my entire website from the old domain to the new.  Within a day or so, I had most of my website up and running.

Some of the changes to this new site will be the inclusion of open courseware.  Since I am no longer using Moodle for the most part, I've decided to put most of what I do in my face-to-face classes here. Even though most content will be open, some information will remain private, depending on the class I'm teaching.  I've also decided to automatically assign new subscribers to this site as collaborators which will allow everyone to upload posts and to edit and add wikis as they choose.  My goal is to make this site as open and transparent as possible.  For now, Google+ hangouts will be used to conduct periodic online meetings as well. 

If you are new or moving over from my old site, welcome!  Expect many upcoming changes to this site and feel free to comment and contribute as you wish!