Monday, December 31, 2007

Looking Back, Looking Forward...

Happy New Year everyone! Hard to believe that another year is past and a new one about to begin. Thought I would take some time to look back at 2007 and look forward to 2008 (everyone is doing it - so figured I might as well too!).

I posted over 150 times in 2007 - my God I'm wordy! Hopefully I had some things to say that actually made sense. Many of my posts happened at conferences I attended (STLHE 2007 and CIT 2007) - I found that blogging the conference experience "live" was a great way to fully experience what was happening - great way to reflect on the day's events and get ready for the next day.

I also spent a lot of time focussing on education and in particular what I see as the future of education - the Personal Learning Environment (PLE). PLEs, and the increased use of mobile devices will have a major impact on how we design and deliver learning over the next few years. Learners will want more specific and customized learning that will fit into their increasingly busy lives - more flexibility, more options. Institutions will leverage distance and blended learning to increase enrollments with limited investments in capital building projects (and online courses cost a lot less than having to build additional brick learning spaces).

So here is what I think will be the "big things" of 2008:
  1. Blended learning and blended learning opportunities will increase - in the end (maybe not the end of 2008 but soon after), more learners will be taking a blended approach to learning than a traditional classroom only model
  2. Second Life will continue to grow and will be bought by one of the big players in the Internet (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft...)
  3. Open Source will continue to take away from proprietary software - Google Docs and similar online collaborative "suites" will increase in use and popularity
  4. Web 2.0 apps will become mainstream as businesses and educational institutions start to use them regularly
  5. E-Mails use will decline in favour of IM, Twitter, Facebook and other more immediate forms of communication - EMail will be for "communicating with old folks"
  6. Facebook will still be big, but may decline as people become tired of all of the "applications" cluttering up the interface. Look to Orkut and other social networking sites to grow among those wanting to be social without all of the "other stuff". Ning will grow in the creation and use of personal and customized social networking sites
  7. I hope that someone creates the social networking equivalent of Meebo allowing me to use one interface for all of the social networking sites that I belong to - Facebook, LinkedIn, Bebo, Ning...
  8. Microsoft Windows Vista will continue to struggle, good news for Apple and Linux distros like Ubuntu. More and more educational institutions will look at multi-boot Apple computers as the solution to their IT infrastructure needs.
  9. The iPhone will come to Canada - PLEASE!!!! The iPhone is the future of learning...
  10. I'll continue to blog in 2008, focussing on education and other things that make me go hmmm... including my new mantra of ECMO - Engagement, Collaboration, Mobility, and Openness - it's where education has to go...
To provide some balance, here are some other views of the year past and the year to come:
So there you have it - a quick look back and a quick look forward. All I can say is that I'll continue to post here and hopefully some of it will even make sense.

Happy New Year everyone!

Gotta love iStockphoto - this same image is on the front page of today's Ottawa Citizen!

(Photo - Janus Coin by Marco Prins)

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Strengths Finder - So That's Who I Am!!...

At NSCC we are in the process of revamping our performance review processes. We are taking a positive spin on performance management and one way to do that is to identify strengths, not weaknesses. In order to do this this we are using Strengths Finder 2.0 from the Gallup organization.

Strengths Finder 2.0 is a set of 177 paired statements for which you have 20 seconds per pair to select on a Likert-like scale the one that most resembles who you think you are. After completing the questions, your answers are analyzed and the results are returned listing your top five strengths from a list of 34 themes.

The work behind the Strengths Finder approach was done by Dr. Donald O. Clifton. Here is a brief biography of Dr. Clifton from the Clifton Strengths Prize:

"Over a 50 year career, Dr. Donald O. Clifton established a movement in psychology that focuses on talents and strengths. This work earned Dr. Clifton recognition as the Father of Strengths-Based Psychology in an American Psychological Association Presidential Commendation. Dr. Clifton’s core philosophy was to have people focus on what was positive and right with themselves, and to build on their strengths to achieve their full potential."

I first took version 1.0 of the Strengths Finder (known as Strengths Quest) shortly after beginning my job as academic chair. Here are my top five strengths from that test:
  1. Learner
  2. Intellection
  3. Achiever
  4. Developer
  5. Arranger
The big surprise to me after taking this first version was how closely it was to whom I thought I was (each strength is described in details in supporting reports). Over the years I have done Myers-Briggs, DiSC, and others and always had some disagreement with the results. I did not have those same disagreements with Strength Quest.

I also asked several of my friends and colleagues what they thought of my results and almost unanimously they said that it was me - we had consensus :-).

As the College continues to roll out our new performance system, many of us will be taking workshop training in this new strengths-based approach. In preparation for this workshop, I took the StrengthsFinder 2.0 battery this past week, almost six months into my position as academic chair. Here are my top five strengths:
  1. Learner
  2. Intellection
  3. Input
  4. Achiever
  5. Responsibility
As you can see, three of five of my strengths have remained the same (Learner, Intellection, and Achiever), while two have changed - Input and Responsibility, which replaced Developer and Arranger. Input is about collecting and storing things, responsibility is about committing to what you do, achiever is about is about drive and arranger is about organizing and getting things done (these are all very brief paraphrased descriptions - to get the details buy the Strengths Finder 2.0 book). Now, all of these strengths describe me and I believe that I possess them all - they help me do the job that I do.

The question for me is why the changes from the first test? Were these my sixth and seventh strengths and I simply re-ordered them, or has six months as an academic chair given me a different "perspective" on my strengths and impacted their order. Hopefully this will become clearer as I go through the workshop and we adopt our new strengths-based positive attribute performance management system. What do you think? Hmmm...

It's So Simple!...

Just finished reading John Maeda's "The Laws of Simplicity". It should be required reading for all educators, in fact for all learners. A very small book (deliberately limited to 100 pages), it lays out 10 laws and three keys to simplicity (one of which is that simplicity cannot exist without complexity - how else would you be able to recognize simplicity?).

For me the key point of the book is Law 10 - The One - Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful - to me, as an educator, this describes learning in a nutshell. It also supports my position that the future of learning is in the hands of learners and their development of personalized learning environments - the PLEs that I keep going on about.

The Laws of Simplicity are very much an evolving concept and there is a lot of great material at the Web site. of particular interest to me are all of the resources John Maeda has added to the site along with his posts on some of the most fascinating designs out there today.

John Maeda has recently been named the next president of the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Here is probably the most unique presidential acceptance I have ever seen - but it so fits. I can only imagine what great hings are going to happen at RISD with John Maeda's leadership and vision.

I can't encourage you enough to read this book. Now if only I can bring some simplicity to my own life...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings

Happy Holidays and Season's Greetings to everyone. If you have read and or commented on my blog in the past year, thanks very much.

Here's wishing you a safe and wonderful Holiday season full of family, friends, and good cheer whatever holiday you celebrate.

All the best in 2008 and I'll continue to muse about those things that make me and hopefully you go hmmm...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Convergence Culture and Education...

I've just finished reading Henry Jenkins's book "Convergence Culture", and let me just say that if you have not yet read it that you should. His blog "Confessions of an Aca-Fan" should also be required reading for anyone interested in modern media, culture and their impact on what we do day to day. Essential reading for educators.

The book is full of useful information and insights, and I had several "AHA!" moments while reading it. The central theme of the book is that we are in a new media era where it is the consumer that is dictating the content, style and presentation of media and its content, not the traditional "old media" of large companies and defined media steams (radio, TV, newspapers, etc.) dictating when, where, what, and how we receive our content. Henry Jenkins presents a clear picture of the way our learners look at media as a tool that they can and should control, with them dictating the when, where, what, and how of content. Here are some of the highlights of the book for me (all attribution for excerpts from the book to Henry Jenkins):
  1. The distinction between mass culture and popular culture - mass culture is a category of production while popular culture is a category of consumption. Popular culture happens when the materials of mass culture get into the hands of consumers - Henry's example is a song becoming an "our song" for example. I like this definition and in my mind there is a definite shift towards popular culture as consumers take things on board for themselves and have much more creative freedom because of the Web and the tools now available to create and consume culture.
  2. How the smart media companies seized on convergence culture and became successful because of it and the best example is probably the "Star Wars" juggernaut. Part of the massive appeal of Star Wars and the mythology that has grown up around it has to do with how George Lucas has allowed consumers to craft their own visions of the legend and to expand upon the legend through the creation of their own movies and stories. the book also cites examples of old media organizations who didn't quite get it right by zealously "protecting" their brand and copyrights (we know who you are, don't we?)
  3. How convergence culture, and in particular blogging had an impact on the 2004 US presidential campaign. Blogging changed the dynamic of traditional news and public opinion (anyone could now be a political commentator), and changes to campaign funding rules shifted control of the campaigns from the candidates to independent action groups (remember "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth"?). The political scene in the US (and I suspect everywhere in the developed world at least) has been forever changed by the shift to consumer engagement in the use of the media.
  4. The biggest "AHA" moment for me was when Henry Jenkins stated that one of his book's central arguments is that the biggest change occurring with media is the shift from individualized and personalized media consumption towards consumption as a networked practice. Boy is this so true! Just listen to a group of learners discussing what they have watched or read, or how the are telling each other about what they found on the Web last night - it's one of the most powerful learning tools we have today - collaborative learning.
  5. One of the final thoughts n the book is about education - historically public education in the US (and the same can be said for the education system in Canada) was meant to distribute the skills and knowledge necessary to train informed citizens. This doesn't work anymore - we have a participation gap and citizens today need to be more than informed, they need to be monitorial - not just being able to read and write but being able to participate in the deliberation over what issues matter, what knowledge counts, and what ways of knowing command authority and respect. The ideal of the informed citizen is in trouble because there is simply too much to know. The ideal of monitorial citizenship depends on developing new collaboration skills and a new ethic of knowledge sharing that will allow people to deliberate together. (page 259). This describes for me exactly the issues I am seeing in the classroom with learners - they need these "new literacy" skills of collaboration and information sharing in order to manage the sheer volume of information available today.
  6. The problem is that people for the most part are learning these new skills outside of any formal educational institution - they are developing their skills through affinity sites, newsgroups, social networking sites and other new media opportunities - Henry Jenkins actually points out that many schools are openly hostile to these developing skills and go out of their way to stop their development (anyone blocked Facebook recently?). This HAS to stop - it does a disservice to learners - we need to foster and develop these collaborative skills - they are essential to the future of our learners and our educational process.
As you can see Convergence Culture has had an effect on me that I think will improve what I do as an educator - I cannot recommend too highly it or anything else that Henry Jenkins does - if you have an opportunity to read what he writes or listen to what he says, take it...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Incredible Shrinking Man - Me!!

I weighed in the other day at a svelte 333 pounds. Now that I have your attention (and mine!), this is my public announcement that I plan on doing what it takes to lose weight - and I will be periodically posting on my progress as a way to motivate myself (besides the obvious health benefits).

I don't really have a target weight, but I do want to feel better in my clothes and to feel fitter overall, so I will mostly be eating better and exercising more - there is no easy way to do this.

For me this adventure will bring some fundamental lifestyle changes which I hope I can stick to. We'll have to wait and see. Stay tuned...

P.S. This is my "before" picture:

Engagement, Collaboration, Mobility, and Openness - The Future of Adult Education

There is an awful lot of talk and research being done in adult education - how to get learners to come to post-secondary education, how to get them to stay, how to best deliver education to them, and what are the best ways to ensure that learners are receiving the education that they have signed on for and that we as adult educators want them to have. What will we have to do in the future to address these concerns?

After listening to and reading about all of this adult education material I have come to the conclusion that there are four issues that we need to address. They are:
  1. Engagement
  2. Collaboration
  3. Mobility
  4. Openness
Engagement is getting learners to come to your institution, select a programme, actively involve themselves in it, and actively contribute to their learning. This may be the hardest part to do - being engaged is a personal, internalized activity and as educators we cannot force engagement - we must foster it in our learners. So how do we do that? It starts with allowing learners to make informed decisions as part of the Admissions process, and then keeping them involved in their learning once they are in a programme. In the Admissions process learners must be given the opportunity to learn exactly what their programmes are about and what the standards and expectations of the institution and faculty are. Tests drives or visits to the programme are a big part of this, along with good information materials.

Once in a programme, it is my opinion that the best way to engage learners is to actively involve them in their own learning process - and I believe that the best way to do that is the personal learning environment or PLE - get learners involved in deciding for themselves what works best for their particular learning style. maximize the use of of recognition of prior learning (RPL), and develop outcomes-based learning, and competency-based assessment models that allow for maximum flexibility.

Collaboration ties nicely into engagement - in a collaborative learning space, engagement is key for success and collaboration fosters engagement as learners develop relationships with each other. Collaboration is now, and will continue to be in the future, key to learning. There is simply too much information, too many sources, and it's all coming too fast for learners (and educators) to learn on their own anymore. Collaboration, and the development of information literacy skills used collaboratively for the sharing and assimilation of information are essential for learning. Collaboration also occurs when using project-based learning, something I have done with great success (information technology education) prparing learners for industry. Almost without exceptions employers demand graduates who are capable of working collaboratively and who are capable of learning (engaged in their profession).

There are two aspects to Mobility. Mobility is the lifestyle of a lot of our learners - IM, chat, text messaging using mobile devices is how they communicate. E-Mail is something they use to talk to old folks. Secondly, mobility is how we will have to meet learners where they are and how we will continue to grow our institutions. We need to develop materials and resources that can be used on mobile devices and online and in blended deliveries. As faculty and staff we must become expert at delivering engaging, collaborative learning opportunities to learners wherever they are using whatever tools and devices they have for access. We need to know what those tools and devices are and how to use them and how to develop resources for them. There is a huge professional development component here.

Institutionally we must all do more in the distance or mobile space - we cannot afford to increase physical infrastructure to increase enrollments and I'm not all that sure that physical spaces best fit the lifestyles of community college learners anyway - they are mobile, they live at distance in many case, they work and have families and the traditional Monday to Friday daytime only learning model is not working for many of them. If we want to capture these learners we must become mobile and meet them where they are - think way out of the box.

Openness means several things to me - it means limiting or eliminating barriers to learning - we can do that through the development of PLEs and readily accessible learning opportunities. It means faculty sharing with each other and their learners, maximizing the user of Creative Commons licenses when intellectual property is an issue, using and contributing to sites like the OER Commons, and engaging learners in their learning process. It means limiting barriers caused by the use of proprietary software and hardware and maximizing the use of open source and shareware/freeware that is operating system independent, allowing learners access to learning regardless of the technology they are using (while remembering that technology is only a tool). It's engaging everyone, all stakeholders, in the curriculum development and learning development processes to ensure that we deliver learning that works. An open education environment will be an effective learning environment.

To me this all seems fairly obvious now, but it has taken me some time to get here. It will be interesting to see if any of this will actually be relevant as we move forward. I am firmly convinced that it will be, but time will tell...

(Photo - School Photo From Tungelsta by Steffe)

CIT 2007 - Some Final Thoughts

It's taken me a while to get to this point - my last post about CIT 2007. This has been partially due to returning to a busy job, and partially due to some obvious inertia on my part. But the single biggest reason why it has taken me this long to get there is that there was just so much to absorb and reflect upon.

CIT 2007 was an amazing experience on many levels. I met some very cool people who had some amazing things to share - and that was probably one of the coolest things about the conference - how willing people were to share and talk about what the were doing - there was a great collaborative spirit throughout.

I also learned a lot about myself , the community college "industry" in North America, and about my own institution as well. For myself I confirmed that I am well immersed in all things Web 2.0 and learner and learning-centred, more than I realized - several of the presentations were at the introductory level, discusing isues of implementation and engaging learners. This may explain why in some circles I may be considered "weird".I need to keep an eye on that one...

As for the state of the community college "industry" I found that most colleges have the same issues - retention, engagement and how to reach the current generation of learners. While there were no perfect answers at CIT 2007 for these problems, it was nice to know that we were not alone in going through them and that it appears to be a phenomenon right across North America. The other good thing is that many are trying to find solutions, and the solutions seem to hinge on the following - engagement, collaboration, mobility and openness (much more on these themes in later posts).

And the thrd piece is that here at NSCC we are doing some great things - portfolio learning, education without boundaries, access, service learning, project-based learning, and many other educational innovations. We need to be better and do more on the blended side of things - to move towards what Mark Milliron called "blurring blended" - a model where 15-20% or learners are entirely online, 15-20% are entirely in brick classrooms, and the remainder are blended learners taking a mixture of online and classroom courses. I truly believe that blended learning is the furure - it meets learners where they are - the engagement and mobility pieces, along with the openness. CIT 2007 also confirmed fo me that learning is now a collaborative function - there is simply too much information and too many sources for a learner to successfully navigate their education in anything but a collaborative environment.

So, all in all, CIT was a great opportunity and presented me with several confirmations and challenges. It confirmed that I am on the right track as an educator and challenged me to realize that the journey is just beginning that we as educators must continue to evolve and adapt to provide the learning environments and opportunities that will provide learners with the best possible chances for success. The next few years in adult education are going to be very exciting, and who knows - I may even become less weird,a s others catch on and catch up...

Monday, December 10, 2007

CIT 2007 - General Session - Dr. Randall Pinkett

My apologies for the delays in completing my posts from CIT 2007, but it's been a crazy few weeks here with end of semester wrap-up, meetings, and the general chaos of the fall semester at NSCC.

Now back to CIT 2007...

Dr. Randall Pinkett, Apprentice winner and founder of BCT Partners, a socially conscious consulting firm was the speaker. A very engaging and interesting figure, Dr. Pinkett spoke on the issues around connected colleges/connected communities - the role of community colleges in ensuring technological equality.

He spoke of guidelines for community technology:
  • Empower
  • Engage
  • Emphasize outcome, not access
And principles for community building:
  • Asset based
  • Internally focussed
  • Relationship driven
He described in detail a joint project with MIT at Camfield Estates in Camfield MA - the Creative Community Connections project. In this project housing project residents were provided with computers and training n their use. the results were that residents ended up with reinforced loyalties, heightened awareness, and much more social networking happened. a fantastic example of taking learning out into the community.

Overall the quality of life of the residents was enhanced, but to ensure success of these kinds of initiatives the community members must be engaged as active participants - and there are a lot of opportunities for these kinds of community engagements. The service learning opportunities would provide amazing learning for faculty, staff, and learners of any community college.

Dr. Pinkett is a very inspiring, driven person who has developed some great approaches to community development - BCT Partners are taking some innovative approaches to community development that as educators and community colleges we need to take a look at. For another perspective on Dr. Pinkett's presentation, check out this post from Randommind.

What an inspiring individual - Rhodes scholar, author, and dedicated to the improvement of communities - something we should all aspire too...