Is It Really Possible to Re-do Ed Tech From Scratch?

Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris asked an interesting question at Hybrid Pedagogy a couple of days ago: “Imagine that no educational technologies had yet been invented — no chalkboards, no clickers, no textbooks, no Learning Management Systems, no Coursera MOOCs. If we could start from scratch, what would we build?”

I’m a bit perplexed as to where to start. Its a great question. But would it even be possible to surgically remove educational technology from the larger world around them? So much of our technology is connected to external contexts that it may be impossible to even consider. Can we really imagine a world without books? The line between textbook and book is so blurred… probably not.

My concern though is that our field focuses too much on “how technology is shaping us” and not enough on how much we shape our technology. All technology tools have underlying (and often times not so underlying) ontologies, epistemologies, and so on. We could start from scratch, but if we don’t get rid of the dominant mindset of “instructivism/behaviorism as the one-size-fits-all solutionism” that is so prevalent in Ed Tech – we will end up with the same tools all over again.

However, I wouldn’t start over from scratch with technology as much as I would with theory. I would put active learning as the dominant narrative over passive learning. I would pull ideas like connectivism and communal constructivism up to the same level as (or higher than) instructivism. I would dump one size-fits-all positivism and replace it with context-morphing metamodernism. I would make heutagogy/life-long learning the ending hand-off point of formal education, as opposed to having formal education with a pedagogical “end goal.” I would get rid of the standardization of solutions and replace this ideology with one of different contexts and different solutions for different learners. I would go back in time and make people see the learner as the learning management system instead of a system or program. I would switch from instructor-centered to student-centered at every juncture. And so on.

edugeek-journal-avatarIf we don’t get the right theories and ideas in place in the first place, we will just continue evangelizing people to the same tech problems we have always had, even if we are able to somehow start over from scratch. In other words, the problem is not in our technologies, but our beliefs and theories. Our Ed Tech follows our theory, not the other way around.

(image credit: Gustavo Fiori Galli, obtained from freeimages.com)

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Non-Linear Instructional Design

A great Twitter conversation recently got me thinking about non-linear instructional design. Now, of course, we often look at instructional design itself as a non-linear process, but that is not what I am referring to here. Most of the instruction we see in formal education is almost always designed as a linear road-map to be followed in exact order from beginning to end. And for some topics, this is great – I don’t want engineers skipping steps when designing solid bridges. But in many other topics, there aren’t really ultimate steps that have to be taught in a certain order as much as there is really just a preferred order that many in the field lean towards that becomes a default “sequence” for all learners. Which, unfortunately, leads to very little room for improvisation, flexibility, emergence, etc. A lot of this can be attributed to our formal education systems that often encourage behaviorism and pedagogy over connectivism and heutagogy. Too many times the education system looks at “planning” as a linear week by week script.

We often end up with two problems in this kind of system. One is that people come up with an outline that they stick with even if the course isn’t flowing that way. And when the course isn’t flowing well, instructors get bored or distracted and they put off planning specifics until the last minute. They tell learners that they are improvising, but learners can often tell the difference between lack of planning and planned improvisation.

The other problem is that instructors do plan well, but then think of something better at the last minute and change plans. Which usually ends up being a great lesson, but also means they wasted a lot of time on a plan that wasn’t used and might not ever get used.

However, designing a course in a non-linear manner can allow for courses to be well-planned as well as being emergent, flexible, and student-centered.

The first step is to actually make space in your course plan for flexibility, rabbit trails, new ideas, and extended time on more interesting ideas. What I mean by this is cut back on the number of weeks of content overall. If you have a 15 week course, only create 10 weeks of content. Just flat-out force space into the schedule and leave it there.

The second step is to stop looking at your topic in a linear fashion. Make a list of ten topics you want to cover, but don’t number the list. Intentionally shuffle that list. Think of it more as a jigsaw puzzle, with each piece being a topic / week. Once all of the pieces are together, then you have a full picture of the topic of your course.

The idea would be that you would sit down and talk with your class to socially negotiate an order to go through the topics. As a course, you could come up with the order that your learners want to go through. Or even more advanced – don’t even have a pre-defined list, but take time each week to figure out where to go next week.

Finally, you need to do the instructional design. I know that seems weird to say that right after I just said let the learner choose the topics, but you as the instructor still need to be prepared for what ever topic could be chosen next. You can still create something akin to an assignment bank that you choose from depending on what topic is being covered that week. In fact, you would probably need to design a large ranges of fairly open-ended activities that could fit in with a wide-range of topics within your field. Instead of a jigsaw puzzle, you are really looking at your class like a Lego project or play-dough sculpture that is being built by several people at once. You have several specific pieces (activities) that you add at certain moments when the learners choose to pull out certain other pieces (topic).

Another way to a look at this idea is like this. Most courses are already designed in pieces, but these pieces are part of a specific path that has one way in and one way out. They generally look like this:

Wooden-Train-Track-Amazon-Toy-Deals

One way in, one way out – linear in design. Which works well in many situations, but not in others. To accomplish non-linear instructional design, the pieces of the course have to take on different structures:

183381239

lego-feat1

edugeek-journal-avatarA play-dough design would be a more malleable design where the different pieces have the ability to shape into different directions and even blend with other pieces. The Lego design would be made of smaller more defined pieces that connect easily with other pieces to form changing designs and pathways as the learners define the path. There is really not a major distinction between the two – just different ways of looking at the design theory. If you look at the different assignments in the ds106 assignment bank, you can see hundreds of activities that are designed in either Lego or Play Dough fashion to connect with or plug in to any part of the ds106 course.

(header image credit: Dima V, obtained from freeimages.com)

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

In Memory of Bennie Tschoerner

One of the reasons I have been in a bad mood the past few days is that I found out a mentor of mine passed away from cancer over the weekend. Probably most of you reading this don’t know Bennie Tschoerner. He’s one of the unsung heroes of the Ed Tech world in my book. Without Benny, I probably wouldn’t have started this blog, or stuck with Ed Tech long enough to become part of the LINK Lab and therefore the dalmooc would have been very different. He was one of the first people to inspire me to go beyond the boundaries that academia imposes upon instructional designers and other non-faculty positions.

Probably most people reading this blog now come from dalmooc and may not understand what it is like being an instructional designer. You definitely do it for the enjoyment of the work and not the fame or recognition. Generally, you are relegated to being a glorified tech support position despite being trained in theory, academic writing, public speaking, team building, and many other skills. Faculty come to you 24/7 to fix every issue in their course, but rarely ask you for input on how to improve their course (and then usually ignore your advice when given). Then when you go back to them and ask for collaboration on papers or presentations, they ignore your emails, or worse yet agree and then stop replying. And of course, you lose count of how many awards are scattered across campus that were given to the instructor for the design of their class.

I still remember the day when I was quite depressed about yet another academic snub by someone when Bennie walked into my session at TxDLA. He told me he saw my presentation elsewhere and had made sure he would sign up as moderator for the rest of my sessions. Here was this guy from the Board of Directors that was taking an interest in my weird theoretical emerging technology sessions. Not only that, he was rallying people to attend them. I saw him telling people everywhere to come to my session (and many other people’s sessions, too). I went from crickets one year to standing room only the next. It was his interest in my stuff despite my lack of Ph.D. that made me think that maybe I could possibly reach others out there. So that very year I grabbed Darren and Katrina at the closing session and proposed the idea for this blog (which believe it or not, was a group blog at the beginning… and still is if the prodigal bloggers ever choose to return to open arms :).

Those of you that knew Benny also knew that he was always an a fun person to be around. And you never would have guessed by the way he acted that he was also an ASP.NET expert. I’ll miss never getting to have a faux debate over PHP vs. ASP.NET with him again. But he would never bat an eye at any new idea no matter how crazy. I’ll always remember him saying over and over again “let’s go for it – it’ll piss off the people that don’t want to change, but that probably means they need it.” If you can’t tell, he also wasn’t afraid to tell it like it was.

The biggest lesson I learned from Benny was to look past the big names and political rules in your field to see the people that are toiling away in obscurity. Out of all the people that were in line to take over from him as CIO of TxDLA, he pestered me into doing it. And I mean that – he was pretty relentless about it. But he didn’t care about who was the biggest name person in TxDLA to take over, or the person with the most political clout. He chose who he thought was best and then pushed to make it happen. And ultimately, he was wrong on that front :) My falling out with TxDLA was a direct result of following his advice… which I would still follow if I had a chance to do it again. Right advice, right person, wrong time is all. Many people don’t realize how ahead of his time he was.

One of the frustrating things about Ed Tech is how political it is. You are constantly told that its not about your abilities or intellect, but who you know, how many publications you have, how many millions or billions of dollars you get in grants, how prestigious of a university you work for, and other things like that. Things that are only options for a select group of people (mostly white males) that get the fewer and fewer opportunities to go down that path. In a lot of ways, Benny was the Ratatouille of Ed Tech, believing that a great idea could come from any sector. People like that are few and far between, and his can-do attitude will be sorely missed.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Digital Out of Body Experiences

Ever get crazy ideas about the future of technology? I was pondering some of the new technology that different groups/companies are working on, and had a crazy thought about the future of computer interfaces. It all started with thinking about computers in the 1990s. For those that remember the 1990s, there was something magical about the computers that were coming out then. It was like the displays suddenly leapt well beyond what we saw even in Science Fiction movies. I mean, you could get a decent desktop computer that looked fancier than anything on Star Wars or Star Trek, and they could play CDs, store files (remember having to save everything on a disc? How quaint), connect to other people, play rough videos, etc. You didn’t see a whole lot of that in the movies.

Today we have people working on amazing stuff. Sensors that follow your moves well enough to let you play video games. Using WiFi to see through walls. Immersive heads-up displays. We see some cool stuff in movies today, but I wonder if reality will actually move beyond our current Sci-Fi paradigms of future interfaces into something totally different.

As we increase the ability to quickly detect and map the immediate world around us through cameras, sensors, WiFi signals, sounds, etc – we will soon have the ability to create a photo-realistic digital 3-D recreation in real time. Which sounds cool in itself for, say, recording important events and then re-living them later. Throw those recordings into an immersive Occulus Rift-like helmet and its like you are back there again. But what if you had the helmet on while recording? Since your sensors probably extend a good 100 feet or more, you could realistically “pull away” and rotate the display from your body the same way you spread your fingers across a map on a smart phone to pull out. What this means is that we will probably see the ability to have realistic digital out of body experiences in our life time.

Sounds creepy, but also think of the safety implications. What if you drove this way, and since you can pull back and see around corners, you get in less accidents? You could even start driving your car like a video game with a video game joystick. Same could go for fighter pilots in battle – think of the advantage you could have to see the whole battlefield like a realistic game. Also, imagine public safety – the ability to look through a building for a bomb threat without stepping a foot inside, for instance.

Of course, there are huge privacy concerns with this idea. Would we have to invent a new paint and window films that can block these technologies in order to secure not only government buildings but our own houses? I am sure some solution will present itself.

Of course, we don’t always have to go big. Doctors could use this technology to guide miniature robots all over the human body, or even perform routine work on contagious patients from a safe distance.

Of course, I have been talking about co-located events here, but since we are talking about transferring digital information to a display, that display could technically be anywhere in the world and this “out of body” experience could be transferred over the Internet. Educationally, think of the ways we could change teaching if we could send learners anywhere we want with little physical danger. Historical sites could set up tours online – just create a protocol for streaming your sensors online and people could go all over the place in the middle of class. And not just international trips that are cost-prohibitive in real life – also think trips that are dangerous like inside a volcano or hurricane or to the bottom of the ocean.

Of course, all of this is kind of akin to floating around someplace like a digital ghost that no one can see – which is good in some situations, but not others. But what if we can combine these sensors with holographic projectors to project the virtual visitor as if they were actually there? Collaboration pretty much reaches the level of holodecks. What will that mean for classes when we have this ability? What could we learn about ourselves if we have the ability to re-watch ourselves later from an outsider’s perspective? For all of the fields that involve interaction, what would that mean to be able to replay a whole interaction? What would this mean for role play?

Its kind of creepy and interesting at the same time. But then again, back in the 90s, the idea of sharing personal pictures and personal random thoughts on Facebook was creepy and interesting also. We will see where all of this goes, but I hope people that are working on these technologies are dreaming big enough to work through the creepy and into the interesting.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

MakerSpace Instructional Design

I know MakerSpaces are kind of a rising buzzterm, but I like the idea behind them. Today we met with a few people from around campus to discuss a MakerSpace for the entire campus. I was there because I would totally rather do instructional design this way. Meet together with faculty and students (why do we always leave students out of course design?) to brainstorm crazy ideas for course design. Just have instructors throw out what they want students to do in class and then let the creativity and weirdness flow.

Also image if we had online MakerSpaces for technology tools? In many ways, that is what Jim Groom (one of coolest guys to drive around and chat with) did with his Reclaim Your Domain Demo session at the Sloan-C Emerging Technologies conference. What if that demo space could go online full time and then just blow open the doors for all kinds of other sites and experimentation? What ever the new site social media site of the day is, create a dummy account on it and let people create like crazy. Whatever the open source tool is, let them install it from Installatron and experiment like crazy.

So, yeah, in many ways this would just be open learning design, occupy instructional design, or Massive Open Online Ed Tech, or however else you want to mangle the buzzword metaphor… but basically we need more brainstorming for the design process. Not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination, but something that needs to get more attention.

Oh, and you know Harriet and I would totally create and 3-D print the word ADDIE with a knife in it….

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Evaluation of Sociocultural Heutagogical Learning in a Networked, Internet-Like Fashion

To continue with the theme of The Web of the Future, I want to think out loud about some fundamental changes to html itself that could assist with quoting, remixing, cross-site conversations, and even revolutionizing how instructors could evaluate student learning.  I’ll hit on the actual structural idea first and then touch on how it could change online assessment, so hang with me until I get to that. Or skip ahead and see if it is worth reading and then come back for the details. I won’t know either way :)

I love the idea of remixing web content, but to be honest it is a bit cumbersome and disjointed to do so now. You have to copy/paste, create hyperlinks, and give source credit manually. If you are just referencing a blog post in your remix, that’s usually not that hard. But what if you want to remix a particularly insightful comment on a blog post that has dozens of comments? Some platforms make that possible, others not so much. But then you could go through all the trouble to properly cite, link, etc in your remix, some sites may change structure and ruin your work.

I know that some say not to bother with linking and citing because its still too difficult to follow the trail of connections anyways, but I think those connections are important and I will explain why in a bit.

The biggest problem is that for all of the tags and code that goes into making modern web pages work, when you get to the actual content, there have been no major changes to that since html was invented (I know the exceptions, but you know what I mean). What if we could create a new set of tags that allows you to ID separate comments, ideas, and paragraphs in the code, and then utilize those tags to help you quote, remix, and follow conversations across various websites?

A New Tag For Pinpointing Content

So let’s take a look at a tag that could help here. Since I’m talking remix, let’s call this tag “remix”. When you create content, the <p> tags in the content itself might have a remix attribute id, such as <p remix_id=”1012″>. This could be an individual ID that is specific for that page.  Theoretically the author could designate certain ideas as one section or each paragraph separately. Content could start with “01–“, comments with “10–“, images with “20–“, metadata with “50–” or whatever it may be.  Each comment would get its own id, each paragraph it own, etc.

Now, that may seem kind of pointless until you combine it with a browser plugin that recognizes those tags. Then you can click on a paragraph or quote and choose to remix it by sending it to your blog editor, Twitter, etc. If Twitter, Facebook, and other sites would use this tag, you could also remix posts on social media sites, or images on Flickr, or videos on Vimeo, or whatever the case may be. So quoting and remixing could be made easy. But how to give credit and link backs?

Obviously, there are probably enough numbers in the universe to give every single paragraph, comment, tweet, you name it a unique number of its own. But going that route would not necessarily allow for connections to be made with individual author’s content across websites.  So we would probably need some more tags and a centralized tagging service.

For example, in the remix ID for a comment, if there was an author ID that connects to a central service to identify that author ID, the browser plugin could automatically identify the author or remixed bit of content. So the tag surrounding the comment could expand to <p remix_id=”1012″ remix_author=”3949930923″>. Just think about how much control you could have over your digital identity if you could track every comment, forum discussion, etc you have ever made?

On blogs and news sites that might have new pages every day, you’ll still run out of numbers (or they will get too large to manage) if you don’t have a remix page ID for each page. This could be pretty easy – in the page header just stick a tag like <remix page_ID=”201401011234″ />. Obviously, mot sites could just use the date and time stamp for this, but you could also ID static informational pages with numbers that start with “1”.

Once you have a specific ID for a page as well as each bit of information on that page, you would finally need a site ID. Right above the page_ID tag could be one for site ID: <remix site_ID=”03489432o3u5″ />.  That ID could be registered at the same site that manages user IDs. Why would you want to use this instead of just the URL? Because URLs can change as blogs change names, companies get re-branded, school change owners, etc. If you do any kind of database work, it is kind of akin to assigning a random number to user accounts for searching a table instead of just using the user ID – the public-facing user ID can change.

So, in theory, the comment that we have been talking about all along would have a random string of numbers attached to it: 03489432o3u5:201401011234:1012 [this works out to site ID:page ID:remix ID]. No matter how much the website changes, if the site owners keeps their site_ID updated in the remix database, a service that uses this number could easily find that content no matter where it moves. So a bit.ly kind of permalink service could be created that crunches those numbers based on the remix database in order to keep each permalink always correctly working.

In quote and remixing different bits of information, you wouldn’t even necessarily need to paste the original quote in the text – a system that is designed well enough could find and pull the content for you. Other attributes could be added to snip the beginning, end or middle off of a quote to just focus on the parts you want. A long quote could be cut down to a tag that just looks like this: <remix quote=”03489432o3u5:201401011234:1012″ snip_beg=”26″ snip_end=”57″ snip_mid=”78,90″ bold=”27,56″ />.  For one quote this much code might be a draw, but in true remixing where you are pulling in large numbers of quotes, this could become as easy coding short cut.

Controlling Your Online Content and Portfolio Storage

So what is the big point in doing all of this? So far I probably just sound like an anal-retentive organizer that needs therapy because I want to tag and organize the whole Internet. So let’s ponder a second want all of this could mean for individual students and educators.

If everything you are writing online is tagged with your ID (or IDs if you wish to have separation or privacy), you could theoretically also have a portfolio on your website that collects everything you create. It doesn’t necessarily have to publish it automatically, but you could easy create a dashboard that tracks all of your activity.  You could them be in control of what you publish to your portfolio, of course. But the general idea is that you can take ownership of all of your work.

In addition, it would be easy to track your conversations across several sites, as well as how people respond to your thoughts across the net . When a conversation starts as a tweet that gets a few responses, and then is turned into a couple of blog posts, all of which get comments and shares on Facebook, and those shares get comments that lead into more blog posts and so on…. well, you see how hard it is to fully follow conversations across the web. But a system that can follow the tags and connect these diverging conversations together, kind of like a tree of some kind, could be very useful. Visually, I am thinking of something like a resembles a Prezi presentation. I know some people hate those as presentation tools. But as a visualization of a branching conversation with several levels of depth? Could be fascinating. Add in the ability to add to the conversation on the appropriate platform at the appropriate level as you are digging through the branches – even more intriguing and powerful.

You could even theoretically see a row of symbols at the bottom of tweets, pics, posts, discussion forums, etc that somehow indicate what direction the conversation took after the part you are reading, and even where it came from. I know several services will show you how many times a blog post has been shared on Facebook or Twitter or other sites, but what if you could actually follow those conversation forks to those sites rather than just a useless number?

Evaluation of Sociocultural Heutagogical Learning in a Networked, Internet-Like Fashion

So how does all of this revolutionize how we evaluate student learning? Think of how we typically do so now. Students turn in one artifact – a paper, a group project, a discussion response, etc – and they are “graded” on how well they performed on this uni-dimensional task. They may get lucky, or they may really demonstrate that they learned something. But what if students could turn in a conversation that demonstrates progressive, non-linear, real-life application of knowledge? What if we left the knowledge acquisition up to the students, who would demonstrate understanding or mastery by turning in a tree of conversation across formal and informal website activities to demonstrate that acquisition?

Basically, instructors would stop being knowledge vending machines and would become the true “guide by the side” as some call it, evaluating student understanding based on real world applications. They would assign a particular skill or knowledge demonstration or whatever it may be, provide input and assistance along the way, maybe even participate in the conversation, but ultimately review the conversation itself that students turn in. They could respond by saying “you did well here and here, but I think you are still missing ____ and need to go to ____ site and ____ to really dig into this concept.”

Obviously, this is a different paradigm of assignment and assessment than most or used to, so it would take adjustment. And none of these ideas are necessarily new or original. But in many ways it could transform online learning and assessment into a new paradigm that more closely matches the networked interconnectedness of the Internet itself. This method would take advantage of true sociocultural learning and well as heutagogical principles to determine if students are learning or not. The entire Internet becomes a canvas to craft learning based on formal and informal social interactions with those of a shared culture (the topic being learning).

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

The Spirit of Blackboard Lives On

Well, I guess Blackboard is not dead… and not really even dying. Struggling a bit, yes – but still in pretty healthy shape.

But I seem to be seeing the “spirit” of Blackboard re-producing itself in many of the new start-ups that are trying to knock Blackboard down. Sure, they don’t have the money to be like the Borg and assimilate every company in their path, but that is not the “spirit” of Blackboard that seems to be living on.

Nor is this really the core problem that many have with Blackboard. Before the assimilations, there was another issue some didn’t like. Of course, there are actually several problems that I have heard people express with Blackboard. For one, there is the confusing announcements and lack of direction for the company (“Wait until you see version 9, aka Blackboard Next Generation.” “Oh wait, Next Generation will have to wait until after version 9.” “Next Generation? Never heard of it.” Or how about “get ready for the end of Angel.” “Oh wait, maybe not”). Another set of problems revolves around the patents and the lawsuits and the questionable path they walked down with those. There are many different issues I have heard, but these all seem to stem from one core issue I have heard the most about Blackboard.

They do what they feel is best with their products… something that often is not what educators really want. In fact, some have pointed out that many features look like they never even consulted an educator when programming it. Some feel like they are dealing with this old, lumbering dinosaur of a program that you either get on board with or get out of the way.

Despite what some people think, Blackboard is not made up of slow, ancient, ignorant monkeys pounding on a keyboard until something resembling a product magically appears. I have interacted with many people that work there, and they all seem to be enthusastic, bright people with a passion for making a good product.

And if you take Blackboard out of an educational environment/mindset, you can see that much of it is actually brilliant design… just not always for educational contexts (even the most adamant Blackboard haters have to admit that a few things do actually work well). You see, Blackboard has come to be known in some circles for having this attitude that they know what is best for us; that they can give us a good product because they have an “outside perspective.” They have been perceived by some to have a problem with listening because they “have a vision that they feel others need to also adopt.”

This is pretty much the exact same attitude that many educational start-up companies are adopting.

So if many of these new educational companies look and act just like Blackboard did in the late 1990s… where do you think they will end up in a few years?

What we really need are educators involved in these projects and companies… at the core of these companies… maybe even calling the shots at these companies.

That is not to say that we don’t need the brilliant outsiders, also. But they need to bring the ideas to the educators and see how it works for them, not tell them what vision they need to adopt. Educators, especially those that use technology, are usually more than ready to jump into new ideas… if they are convinced that they will work. If you have a vision that want to adopt, they will jump all over it. If a company is having an uphill battle getting educators to get on board with the vision… the problem is the vision, not the educators.

I had a conversation recently about an instructional design colleague that now works for a big gaming company. I can’t mention very much of the specifics because I don’t know how much of the conversation was insider info. But I was surprised that an instructional designer could have such a prominent role in developing games that you see all over Facebook. Apparently, the company behind this game was surprised about how much they didn’t know about their own customers and how much an educational perspective could improve their product.

I’m talking about a popular company that has grown larger than any educational upstart in a lot less time. The lesson? Listen to the educators and you will have success.

Okay, a bit of hyperbole there, but I at some point you need educators in the mix. What I think we are seeing is two different paths that currently dominate product development in the educational world:

  1. My Way or the Highway: start off with a slick product that dazzles people at first, but then quickly grows stale as you refuse to do what your customers want. Or start getting into Instructional Design too late in the game… once the ship is too large to turn.
  2. Collaborative Experimentation: come up with a product that is not perfect, but well-loved by those that use it because it incorporates feedback from those that use it most from the very beginning.

Basically, I have no problems with companies in general trying to create a product and selling it. Many great products have come about that way that I use every day. I just see too many new educational companies starting off with the “My way or the highway” attitude, and we already have more than we need of that mindset. Open source programs are collaborative by nature, but not everyone is up for the DIY route. I have heard good things about Desire2Learn being collaborative – I just wish more companies would take that route.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Evolution is Happening Online. Who Will Be Ready?

I have been using RockMelt as my main browser for a few months now. Not sure why I switched over from straight up Chrome – I guess I wanted to see how Rockmelt would change my usage of Facebook and/or Twitter. Not a whole lot, but I do like the integration of different websites into a seamless experience. Now I am wondering if the future LMS or PLE should really be a website or not. Maybe it should just be a set of browser plug-ins and mobile apps? I have pondered that before, but now I am becoming more convinced that this is a better route to go.

Breaking down the walled garden will still leave us contained in the garden if that is still where the “learning” is supposed to happen. Many LMS providers make it easier to import content from services like WordPress and YouTube – so in many ways the walls are gone or at least have more openings. Or maybe it is more accurate to call them one-way passages – you can bring more content in (or at least easier than it used to be). But you can’t as easily get that learning out into the wild for others (your PLN) to join with you in exploring and expanding it.

A recent article on ExtremeTech made a case for Firefox to create their own OS. Reading that article makes me realize how radically different the online world will be in just a few years. Will the LMS/PLE/VLE/etc be there in this strange new world, or will it be sitting along side MySpace as a nostalgic relic of a bygone era?

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Predicting the Future is Still Risky Business

By now, most educators have probably at least glanced at the New Media Consortium’s Horizon Report on the top 6 emerging technologies in K-12 education. An interesting list, full of technologies that I would love to see take hold in education.

But some things are still on the list from 2010 – like cloud computing. How many years will they let cloud computing be listed as emerging in one year or less? As others have noted, the word “cloud” is becoming an overused cliche (like “social” and “___2.0” before it) – so we may not even be able to tell if or when this one actually emerges. After all, some people still debate whether Web2.0 is old news or still around the corner.

In many ways, K-12 kind of serves as a litmus test for whether trends have substance or not. I used to be a junior high teacher, and I found that most teachers don’t get overly excited about new technology just for the heck of it. Those of us that do (like me) tend to go into different lines of work.  The rest just want to know “will this work?” If you can’t prove that it will help students learn better/faster/easier/etc, they won’t touch it. Sometimes this suspicion keeps grade schools lagging behind, and other times it saves them from wasting time on pointless hype.

But it also means that if anything catches on, it probably has some merit. K-12 teachers usually don’t have the time to experiment on their students like (some) college professors do.

So some of these predictions I see as wishful thinking. Yes, I too wish they would emerge – but I don’t see it happening in five years or less.  Mobile devices and educational games? I love them myself, but too many educators are still suspicious of them… and they still cost money (money that many states don’t have for the next few years at least).  Open content? Love the idea, but content still rakes in big money for some companies – so expect push back against that one. Learning analytics? Sounds too much like administrative-ese to many, so expect a hard road on that one. Cloud computing? I do a lot of it myself, but how many IT Directors do you know that love releasing that much control.? Anyone? Anyone? Yep.

The problem with most of these emerging technologies is that so many of them rely on administrative decisions – districts have to decide to allow cellphones, or to switch to cloud computing, or to fork over money for games, etc.  The main one that actual teachers have the most control over is the Personal Learning Environment – assuming they can choose tools that their school fire wall allows that is.  But even with restrictive firewalls, you can always use them after hours from home to extend student learning. If the idea catches on, then we will possibly see this one emerge.

Don’t get me wrong – I want to see all of these emerge as soon as possible (used properly, that is). But we need to be aware of the obstacles for their emergence as much as we are of their existence.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

LMS Sales Call

 

Darren Crone

Darren is a sarcastic, odd, bald man with a very dry sense of humor. He originally hails from Albany, N.Y., but claims Charleston, S.C. as his hometown.He joined the Air Force soon after graduating high school. This decision was made because a) working as a busboy wasn’t quite cutting it, and b) he had zero desire to ever attend college. While in the Air Force, he traveled the world as a Combat Cameraman, documenting both natural and man made disasters in places such as Thailand, Namibia, Armenia, Germany, Panama, Italy, Croatia, Japan, Singapore, and probably more than a few places that have changed names since you began reading this bio. There are many stories about his travels locked away in a vault somewhere and it is said that Samuel Adams holds the key.

While in the Air Force, he was given the opportunity to attend a year-long Video Journalism program at Syracuse University. Much to his amazement, he found that higher education didn’t suck at all. Having been bitten by the education bug, he completed his BS and MA in education and training from Southern Illinois University and Webster University respectively. He then completed his doctorate in instructional technology and distance education form Nova Southeastern University.

Darren currently works as an Instructional Designer at The University of Texas at Dallas and enjoys spending time with his wife, children, dogs and fish. His hobbies include weight training, watching the Texas Rangers (yes, really), and trying to appear smarter than he really is.