Wednesday, October 31, 2007

We Need A Meebo For Social Networks

A year or two ago if you had asked me what the most social tool that I was using, I would have said instant messaging (IM) software. I used ICQ, MSN (now Windows Live Messenger), and Google Talk to communicate with learners, colleagues, and friends. Thing was, I used all three separately, and had separate lists of contacts on each application.

But that changed with Meebo which allows me to have one single interface regardless of the IM client I was using - I broke down the IM silos (there is also Trillian, but it is an application that needs to be installed on individual computers - not quite as portable as Meebo). With Meebo I can be on a PC or Mac, and I can be in just any type of Web browser or device - universal chat - it has significantly expanded the IM horizon for me, extending the life and application of IM as a social tool that I can use.

But I am not using IM much these days (although with Meebo and now iChat in OS X Leopard I may be using it more...) my main social networking tools these days are social networking sites - the ones I use on a regular basis include Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, Orkut, EduSpaces (ELGG), Ning, and Google Groups (not to mention my blogs and wikis). that's seven different clients, all Web browser-based, but all with their own interface, own friends list, and own way of doing things. None of them can talk to each other - social networking silos.

We need a Meebo for social networking sites - a killer application that will allow me to communicate with all my fiends across all seven of the social networking sites that I now use - a completely transparent experience that will simply let me be social, not have to worry about what friend is on what service - that would be true social networking. As social networking continues to be a big part of people's online lives and becomes a bigger component of education, we need to be able to break down the silos of proprietary applications and interfaces and simply get people networking.

According to Wikipedia, there are currently 116 (and counting) different social networking Web sites - so if there is someone out there thinking that they would like to create the next great application, start thinking about a Meebo for social networking...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Engaging The Digital Learner

Last Saturday I had the privilege of participating in at workshop at the Burridge campus of NSCC in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. Through NSCC's Community College Education Diploma Programme (CCEDP) new faculty and professional support staff hires attend a one week Foundations In Adult Education course in August if each year. Then at the end of October after several weeks in the classroom they gather again for a weekend of reflection and networking. This year several colleagues and myself were invited to this weekend to deliver an "Engaging the Digital Learner" workshop.

I believe that the future of education lies in the use of social media and the development of learning and learner-centric customized learning environments controlled by the learner - in other words the personal learning environment or PLE.

The team was led by my friend and colleague Carolyn (Randommind), and consisted of her husband (and my colleague) Chris (Bitdepth), and my colleagues Chris (The Path Is Too Deep) and Lorraine. Oh and me too! We are all graduates of CCEDP and all currently work at NSCC. I am so fortunate to work with such an amazing group of people. I am truly blessed.

Here's a picture of the group in front of the campus:

The workshop was conducted in a round robin or "cracker barrel" format with small groups moving from station to station. we looked at blogs, wikis, podcasts, Facebook and Second Life as educational tools and technologies for engaging today's (and tomorrow's generation of digital learners.

The participants were engaged and enthusiastic, exploring the tools and technologies presented to them, asking lots of relevant questions and actively using the tools presented. I'd spend time describing the experience, but Carolyn, Chris and Chris (I love Chris;s term - "Peeriority Complex") did a much better job on their blogs. Suffice to say that for me the whole event was another one of those "AHA!" moments that force you to look at what it is you are doing. I found the whole experience to be very profound and I was so glad that I was able to be a part of it.

I think what I got most out of this experience was the confirmation that social media is the future of education - the suggestions and enthusiasm of our audience of mostly faculty confirmed that for me. they were engaged and thinking of ways to use the content we facilitated. A workshop wiki, websuperhero was created by the workshop members (check it out) and there is still material being added to it. Many of the audience were asking about how they could use tools and technologies to assist learners, to provide them with choices and as a way to deliver resources and to gather additional resources from learners - the creation of custom learning environments - can you say PLE?

Lastly I want to thank Claudine, George, Libby, Michelle, and Bobbi and all the folks at Organizational Learning for what they do day in and day out to help make all of us better at what we do and make NSCC such an exciting, vibrant place to work at. Thanks all!!

(Photo - "The Team" by Chris Campbell)

Check out Chris Campbell's pictures on Flickr - they are amazing...

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Reach Out To Nova Scotia...

I've talked a lot about AHA! moments and transformational learning, but today blew all of that away. Today was Reach Out To Nova Scotia for all learners and staff at the Nova Scotiia Community College (NSCC). I've worked at NSCC for almost five years now, and I love my job and my college - I get to interact on a daily basis with some of the most amazing, passionate, talented people, and the learning and transformations that occur daily are simply amazing. But today outdid them all.

Reach Out To Nova Scotia was a one day service learning opportunity for all staff and learners at NSCC. there were no classes today and over 1600 staff and 10,000 learners went out into their communities around the province and participated in over 300 projects, giving back to province as a way to say thank you for the support the province has given us (over $126 million in development money).

The scope and number of projects was diverse, but all had a common theme - service learning and giving to the community. There was lots of building, painting, scraping, bagging, raking, and picking up and sorting out. Here is one project - gleaning squash fields in the Annapolis valley, producing 5,000 pounds of squash for Feed Nova Scotia - what an amazing accomplishment!

To see more of the kind of projects that we undertook and to see the pride and passion of the people I am so fortunate to hang out with every day, check out the Reach Out To Nova Scotia Flickr site.

I find it hard right now to put in words how I feel about today - it's a mix of pride, well-being, and a feeling that something momentous has happened in my life that will take some time to sink in. I think that may be how many of my colleagues and friends are feeling tonight too - tired, but happy...

It was an amazing day - thank you Nova Scotia!!!

Monday, October 08, 2007

LMSs and PLEs - Friends Or Foes?

Most educators who have ever done any form of online, distance, or alternative delivery education are familiar with learning management systems (LMS). There are the well established commercial products such as WebCT and Blackboard and the more recent open source projects like Moodle and Sakai (the terms CMS, content management system and LCMS, learning content management system are also used, but I'm going to stick with LMS for the purposes of this post).

LMSs get used for all sorts of things - storing content, providing structure, learning outcomes, a common learning space for learners and faculty, scheduling, testing, learner progress, record keeping and more. LMSs have a place in education for delivering a common look and feel to learners, normally distance learners, and as a common location for all learners regardless of the delivery methodology to interact and learn together. LMSs are centrally administered and the course materials in them are traditionally created by faculty.

Then there is the personal learning environment or PLE. In a PLE learners take control of and manage their own learning including:
  • setting their own learning outcomes
  • managing their learning; managing both content and process
  • communicating with others in the process of learning

This can be done using a combination of tools and technologies - presentations, lectures, discussions, podcasts, blogs, wikis, video, audio, and any other tool, technique or resources that helps a learner meet their learning styles and golas. The key here is that a PLE is developed, created, and managed by the learner and faculty provide a supportive, facilitative role. With new technologies, Web 2.0, and devices like Apple's iPhone (coming to Canada one of these days), learners now have absolute control over their learning environments and when, where, why, and how they learn.

So at face value it appears that LMSs and PLEs are at opposite ends of the learning spectrum - LMSs are organized and managed centrally by the creators and deliverers of learning and they are content-centric. PLEs are learner-centred and learner-organized, no two looking the same as they are developed and customized by their creators and users (the learner).

I believe that PLEs are the learning tool of the future - they are learning-centred, customized and transportable - with the right tools and technologies learning can take place anywhere inside or outside of traditional learning spaces. But many learning institutions, mine included, have invested a lot of time, effort, and money into LMSs that to date have been successful in delivering effective learning environments. Is there a middle ground where learners can take advantage of PLEs and institutions can still get use from their LMSs?

I think that there may be. If a learning institution adopts the PLE approach with its learners, it doesn't have to abandon any of its existing learning methods or tools, including any LMSs in use. In fact I believe that there is a role for a LMS to play in supporting and enhancing PLEs. Existing LMSs would provide excellent repositories for learning objects, data, tools and technologies that learners could access as part of their PLE creation and development, particularly as they are beginning the PLE development process and need extra support and facilitations. Institutions could use their LMSs in place to support the creativity of learner-created PLEs. As learners become more comfortable with the responsibility of creating and managing their PLE, they could then branch out beyond the LMS to find those tools and resources that work for their learning, and deposit the resources that they discover for other learners to use in the creation of their PLEs .

This way institutions and learners can transition away from LMSs and towards the use of PLEs without abandoning the investment made in LMSs. PLEs will require institutional support that the framework of existing LMSs can provide.

So LMSs and PLEs - friend or foe? Hmmm...

OLPC - One Laptop Per Child - Give One Get One...

Many of you have heard of the OLPC - One Laptop Per Child project. Also known as the $100.00 laptop (which is actually now the $188.00 laptop, but the price is falling), the intent of this project is to bring affordable computing to those nations and children who cannot afford traditional computing and/or network infrastructures.

The mission of the OLPC project is:

"To provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment and express themselves. "

Or as the founder of the project, Nicholas Negroponte puts it - "It's an education project, not a laptop project.”

To date the organization that created the OLPC has only sold the laptop to national agencies and governments, but for a short period of time beginning November 12th, 2007, you have the chance to get your own OLPC through the "Give One Get One" programme. The way the programme work is that you pay $399.00 US and for that donation one laptop is sent to a child to learn in a developing nation, and one that will be sent to you for a child or school in your neighbourhood )or for your own use for that matter).

Why would you want to do this besides the obvious charitable reasons? Well the OLPC is actually a very capable computer and would make an excellent first computer for any child or novice to computing. It has some amazing features that we may see some day on mainstream, traditional laptop computers like the ability to create its own network of fellow OLPC laptops if no Internet connection is available, providing simple, and low cost classroom networks. It is aso very rugged, perfect for a child, and has some very neat power handling features. The battery, which is a $10 dollar part has a much longer life than batteries currently used in conventional laptops, significantly reducing the environmental footprint of used batteries.

You get a lot of computer for $100.00. The basic specifications can be found here, and include flash memory, a water resistant keyboard, wireless, tablet mode, and a Linux-based operating systems (mostly from
Red Hat's Fedora Core 6) which all result is a very capble computer.

Here is a review of the OLPC by Davis Pogue:

Here is another review of the OLPC from - Lessons To Learn From The OLPC - and there are many lessons that we could apply to the computers and networks that we are currently using for education, and for that matter even business applications.

I think that this is an amazing project with world-transforming potential. As an educator, I see the OLPC having terrific potential, not just in developing nations, but also here in Canada and other developing nations as an inexpensive way to give many of our under-privileged and developing children access to computing - skills that will be as necessary in the 21st century as reading, writing, and arithmetic. So on the 12th of November, I'll be Giving One and Getting One. Will you...?

(many thanks to my good friend Randommind for blogging about this - you always find the good stuff...)