Archive for the 'Educational infrastructure' Category

Compressing Stephen Downes

downes_04_081Stephen Downes recently wrote a huuuuuge essay about the future of online learning. Ten years ago he predicted the ten years we just put behind us on the same subject. He writes that his visions then proved remarkably robust. Now he renews his predictions for the coming decade. The subject interests me a lot, since I try to put some visionary views into my work. Here, I will try to compress the essay in order to debate the subject.

Some of the predictions are quite simple to make, on the edge of being platitudes –  Teachers and students will have better access to technology, the pace of this change will accelerate. Bandwidth will continue to improve. A wireless mobile internet, with wireless broadband, will develop. Computer capacity is also rising. Portable, lightweight computers in all shapes and sizes will be readily available. More and more powerful tools come at low cost or at no cost at all. Interaction and online conferencing will become even cheaper and more effective. Storage will be cheaper. Processors will be more embedded in everyday devices. Digital tech is becoming part of our lives, embedded in everything. These predictions are obvious.

More interesting is the flexibility and freedom of choice implemented throughout the digital arena, leading to cultural change. This has already started to happen, but in the coming years this will accelerate. An individual will be freed from a certain computer, application or system. Students will also be freed from the classroom. True place independence will revolutionize education. Also, learning will be embedded in other activities.

Schools will be converted into meeting facilities, workrooms, laboratories and multimedia studios with specialized equipment. A diversity on schools will develop, with schools in every shape and form. Learning facilities will use internet to get access to traditional working environments like courtrooms, farms and town councils. We will see traditional forms of education receding gradually to a tide of self-directing and self-motivated learners. Education will be regarded more as a service. The student will be viewed more as a client than as an apprentice.

Personal access devices like mobile phones and lightweight laptops will change the behavior of people who use them, just as mobile phones have done over the last decade. Even more powerful media tools will be accessible through these devices. Learning will be more creative. Students engaged in learning will be seen throughout the community. In the future we should think of students ‘working at school’.

As students’ capacities increase and web resources gets available inside other sites, the place independence will increase also on the web. The student will not be locked to a certain online tool or LMS. These will be more adaptable to use in personal learning environments. Windows, Apple or Linux will not matter any more. The personal learning environment will be available on every machine connected to the web. Different resources on the web will be combined to form a learning environment of high quality learning resources. Multimedia presentations will become more modular and millions of combined resources will create complex and rich materials.

Learning resources should be regarded as words in a multimedia vocabulary used by students and teachers in an ongoing rich media conversation and not bound by copyright and reproduction. The use of learning resources becomes more dynamic. A resource of any kind will be part of multiple courses at once. Individual bits of content will be remixed and repurposed to form new objects. They will function autonomously, connected, interacting, but not joined. Technology of the future will consist almost exclusively of such autonomous objects.

Focus will become more on the individual learner. Networking will be more and more important with learning embedded in other activities. Communities are grown from networks of friends and interest groups. Learners will create their own communities and environments. These can not be constructed by educational institutions, but rather these will support community enabling, with tools and channels available. This is also simpler and more cost effective for the schools.

When online, the emphasis will not be on time, place or formal learning, but meeting individual needs. The Personal Learning Environment will be the central hub for the individual learner to immerse oneself in the flow of communications. Institutions will – reluctantly – develop methods to deliver information to other systems.

The debate over standards and testing will increase. The domains of ‘learning’ and ‘testing’ will separate. Independent testing agencies, as is the norm in some industries, will be a growing trend in learning. There will be greater demand for a formalized system of recognition to demonstrate ones competence without having to go through a formal program of study. What a degree stands for will change. As more and more of a person’s life becomes available online, grades will fade into the background as it becomes easy too see what the student can accomplish directly. Students will demand that there is a human element to evaluation, because they wont be measured accurately by a machine.

The expected diversity of educational providers requires governmental oversight. Economic pressures will prevail. Consequently, educators will focus on providing educational services into self-directed networks of learners. Lawsuits with publishers seeking greater control over the distribution will continue. Innovation will halt as a result of patents and lawsuits. Over time, non-encumbered initiatives will come to dominate. Free standards and not proprietary enclosing of systems will win the fight for the customers. That process will be interrupted, as commercial developers are capable of considerable innovation themselves. Free and open source products will have a bright future. Scientific research and educational content produced through government investments ought to be freely available. The free content movement will continue. Content producers are beginning to understand that it is better to allow their content to circulate freely, as it offers unequalled marketing and promotional opportunities.

While large commercial players will remain in the field of education, volunteer contributions and small enterprise will play an increasing role. Through content distribution networks, those who create work may be compensated – if they desire. The bulk of educational content online will be free to access and reuse, created by governments, foundations, companies and individuals. Two trends prevail: The one about more expensive specialized systems and the one about reuse. Simulations and advanced software will be expensive still and only justifiable by need. A model that puts much of the organization into the hand of students may prove to be much more cost-efficient. Teachers and instructors will be freed from time consuming tasks. Different educational professionals will fulfil different roles, like testing and evaluation specialists, coaches and advocates, content creators and presenters.

To obtain financial return, produced material cannot be digitally duplicated, for the effective value per unit approaches zero; and it cannot be something that the users could easily produce for themselves. Content providers will discover there are much larger markets to be had when they help people create their own content. This will be the basis for the educational marketplace of the future. In general, helping people provide for themselves will provide the best opportunities. Selling people cameras instead of pictures, for example. Course content creation kits instead of courses.

Online learning and conferencing will gain when fuel prices rise. The reason of relocating children to school computers from their own computers will be questioned. Buildings constructed for learning will serve the entire community and not just students. The enormous sums of money spent on books and wall maps will be reduced to a trickle. The need for physical libraries will be obliviated. Savings in staff costs will be realized when the traditional teacher-and-class model is abandoned. Content presentation will be done by computers, or by students for each other. Students will be able to begin working and earning early in their educational career, resulting in a longer period of productivity, and more wealth, opportunities and choices later in life.

As platforms depend more on external services, the question of management becomes more vague. The trend is toward licensing hardware in the same way as we have started licensing software. On the other hand, if the platform becomes an advertising vehicle or an instrument of censorship, it will be eschewed in favour of more useful technologies. Tracking and reporting will be major functions of educational systems. Text-based communication will merge into a single method that may be used either synchronously or asynchronously. The same will happen with video communication. Conferencing will increase in both size and flexibility with near-zero compression and latency. They will be used more like windows, always on, always connected, where you can see other people and chat with them on a casual basis.

Filtering technologies seem unable to block unwanted content as spam, viruses and phishing. So filtering of content by system administrators will remain, unfortunately blocking students access to the entire internet. Filtering may also be used to protect markets for vendors of content. Probably, the only way forward will be to enable people to select what they want, rather than to force them to block what they don’t want. Social networking is one example of this. People wanting safe community standards will use the community as a filter. As people become increasingly frustrated with unwanted content, the internet will resemble less a broadcast medium and more a person-to-person communications medium. Business models based on content distribution and especially advertising will have to take note.

This is my conception of the essay. Several interesting thoughts emerged, I will write a certain post about them soon. You can find the full text on Stephen Downes blog. Myself, I wrote a paper on the subject a few months ago, which is published on the National agency of education and of course here on the blog. Slowly I try to translate the six chapters to English.

Chapter 1 Technology for life or technology in change

Chapter 2 Competence, technology access and digital divide

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Knowledge for life or knowledge in change?

Here is a summary of the first chapter from the report “The future of learning” that I have co-written.

Today, learning is regarded as a fundamental condition for the development of our society.  Sometimes we forget that the humanity throughout history has been forced to aquire new knowledge to understand the world and work socially. Of course we need new and different capabilities than we needed just a few decades ago.

Lifelong learning has became a key comcept in discussions around learning. But what do we need to learn for the society of tomorrow? Both the youth- and adult educational programmes follow the pattern of traditional education in a traditional school environment. Despite large investments in ICT (information and communication technology) in school, the everyday of pedagogy is not very different from the situation 25 years ago. One reason that the educational world is lagging behind in the use of modern technology is the lack of the relevant technology.  There is an expectation that schools will develop the use of ICT without getting real means to do it. Technical development will continue regardless of the development in education. How will schools take part of this development?

In the digital society, the citizen is always connected. The technical gadgets and the web are used as tools, socializing with family and friends, but also as participation in society. It opens for learning, both individually and togeter with others in learning communities.

The learning theories that were created before ICT changed the conditions for learning is no longer enough, George Siemens claims regarding his own learning theory “Connectivism”.  Lifelong learning takes place in formal education, but in the future,  it will even more occur in experiences throughout our private life and work.  Borders between formal and informal education are dissolved and learning takes place in global networks, where knowledge are created and shared between individuals and organizations. Knowledge banks grows fast, but at the same time the knowledge gets obsolete faster.

With the access to collective knowledge, there is no longer any use to gain huge masses of knowledge beforehand, but rather to know where to find the knowledge that are needed to solve a problem or make a desicion.

For each individual it will be necessary to gain information competence, to be skilled in handling, valuing and work with information. An analytical skill and a well developed skill to estimate reasonableness and probability to gain the information that is needed for the moment. There will be expectations on the individual to cooperate and have a high presence on the web.  As a citizen of the future knowledge society one will use a collaborative way of working.  It brings possibilities to work and learn in social networks, where members can be spread over the world.

Teaching as a service trade

Two indications on this matter: A teacher/school can not just sit and wait for the students to come to them and be taught according to the teacher’s preferences. The students can very well be better than the teacher at some aspects of the learning experience: the media, the ways to find information and so on.

Also: In a series of articles in Swedens DN (roughly translated Daily News), the journalist Maciej Zaremba, unveils a culture where students have come to regard their education as customer service. They pay for a good education and expects to gain knowledge, good grades and treats the teacher as a clerk in a shop.

Does this degrade teachers and their trade?

Here is the article, but only in swedish: http://www.dn.se/DNet/jsp/polopoly.jsp?d=2502&a=751571

Competence and digital gap

Of course it is not easy to change the learning community. One of the main problems is that many teachers and many students do not have the competence right now, to take advantage of the tools that are available on the web.

For some reason, it is often presumed that the students, particularly the younger ones, automatically has huge knowledge of the web. But this is not the case. Some do, but mostly it is very shallow. If you can handle your Facebook account, does that mean you can use the web and web2 as a meaningful learning resource or your personal learning environment? I am not so sure.

And the teachers… I feel a bit sad for them, beacuse they always get the blame for the system errors. The whole education system is slow, conservative and of course, lack the recourses to be in the front line of the development. Continuation courses in digital media would be very clever to make teachers  more competent in these matters.

This slow system is confronted with students that are extremely fast to pick up new trends and new methods. So it leaves a large gap between the scool and the individual. Also it leaves a gap between the school world and the business world, which uses these tools more and more.

So I can identify four parts with gaps between them, when it comes to digital competence: the student, the teacher, the school world and the business world. Since three of these parts are in the same system, it is meaningful to aim recources toward these and make a real change.

Grassroots video

From the Horizon report, I take this definition of the video revolution that is ravaging through the Internet right now. It is as easy to publish video as to publish text on the web. It is easy and extremely cheap to record and edit video clips. You know the most popular sites already, and there is more to come: web based editing for instance, as jumpcut.com and fixmymovie.com

The problems as I have identified them, though are the following:
– Poor quality
– Small screens
– The internet restlessness
– Educational infrastructure

A plumberQuality problems and small screens are two sides of the same coin. Due to bandwidth limitations, the quality and size has to be restricted. In learning this may – especially in poor conditions – lead to unuseful material and frustrated students. I have worked in a project with apprentice plumbers, using mobile phones as a primary tool for their learning. But how do a student see the the small details of a sewege pipe in a tiny window with pixelated compression? There are issues to discuss here.

The restlessness that internet users have proven to suffer from, is an issue too. Video is more direct than a text, which may help. But why should a student watch just the videos recommended by the teacher, when there’s car crashes, erotica, Eddie Izzard, Gnarls Barkely and all the entertainment at the same place?

What do I mean with educational infrastructure? Well, this is really a subject of its own. The big problem in this matter is that many shools lack computers, and the existing computers (or technical policy to be more precise) do not allow Flash or other video players to be installed. This means that all ways of using, sharing, uploading and teaching via grassroots video – methodology is lost. Out in the field we try to discuss this matter with scool leaders, technical staff and teachers. But its a slow preocess. The students and the teachers are not trusted.

Anyway. I have started some experiments with grassroots video, to try to find good ways of using it. Soon there will be some results here.


About this blog

Starting from a project about foreseeing the future of learning, this blog is an output of thoughts, ideas, comments and research. I am trying to be practical too, providning examples of the different aspects of the subject. My name is Pelle Filipsson and I work as a web pedagog.