Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Brutal Pace?

Ken DeRosa writes,

If my recollection serves me correctly, Physics instruction was supposed to go something like this. The student was supposed to read one or more sections of the textbook every week and attend a lecture given by the professor elucidating the sections we were to have read. A few dozen problems from those sections were assigned to us to work out. Then we attended three hours of recitation classes given by graduate students who worked through some of the problems we had been assigned to make sure we understood what was going on.

This brutal pace kept up for fourteen weeks and we covered nearly the entire textbook.



This is a brutal pace? Wow - that explains so much.

It sounds like you had:
- 1 hour of lecture, and
- three hours of tutorial ("recitation")
per week.

Plus: reading of one or more sections, plus a few dozen problems.

Guess what?

That's *standard* for a course in the sciences. I took university courses in chemistry, physics, engineering, computer science, geography and mathematics. *All* of them involved a workload something like that.

Some of the courses - most of them, actually - also included a lab component. On top of the coursework already described.

You ask, "How could one possibly teach an inquiry-based (problem-based learning) Physics course and possibly hope to get through more than say a quarter of the syllabus of a lecture-based course?"

You couldn't. But if you were covering the same material with *just* lectures, far far more than 50 percent of the class would fail.

Because if you don't do the problems during the course, you can't hope to master them on the test. And if you can't master them on the test, then pretty clearly you haven't learned the subject.

There's no short cut. I can't emphasize this enough. Learning physics - or any scientific discipline - is hard. Because you have to do much more than just memorize a few facts, you have to learn to think like a physicist, to see the world in a certain way. Which takes actually doing the work.

Maybe they don't teach that in business school. That would explain, probably, why so many business and economics majors think they are experts in science and technology, making pronouncements on whether something is 'causal' or this and that - when so obviously they know the words but don't understand the practice.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Transit in Moncton

Editor, Times and Transcript,

Before criticizing the bus system (which as riders we all love to do) we should perhaps acknowledge that it is currently the best it has ever been.

I have not owned a car since 1995, but it was not until last year that I bought a Moncton bus pass, because until then the system was simply unusable. But with the start of the Express routes, the bus system began to make sense.

That said, while I agree of your editorial of July 28 that the bus system ought to be improved, I do not agree that we should adopt a hub and spoke route system. Such a system underserves the regions, and deprives the corridor routes of passengers.

A hub and spoke system would create delays transferring from one bus to another. This is the least efficient aspect of the bus system, and should be avoided where possible.

The bus system should operate as a mesh network, with long, direct, and frequent interlocking routes. This frequently offers rapid one-bus trips, and minimizes the number of connections between buses.

Similarly, with service to high-volume events, such as the Eagles concert. Unfortunately, the transit system will once again use a transfer point (unannounced, but almost certainly the NorthWest Centre - Codic Transit seems to have an unholy affinity for that mall) which will needlessly delay passengers to and from the show.

Direct routes to major points should be offered - to Champlain mall, to downtown, to Dieppe, to Riverview. It should be possible to ride just one bus to and from the show, without waiting a half-hour at the transfer point in a mad crush of people.

To be fair to the managers of the transit system, they have been attempting to offer a service in a city that is mostly built for cars. This is what accounts for much of the convolution of the route system.

In a typical transit system, passengers normally expect to walk a few blocks to catch the bus or train. This is common, even healthy. However, in Moncton, walking is often not possible, as sidewalks are frequently not in place (especially at the malls), and in winter, are poorly cleaned.

Buses, for example, should never be sent into mall parking lots. This is why buses get bogged down at Trinity (necessitating yet another transfer at NorthWest Centre, thus disrupting the Express service). They should stop at the edge of the parking lot, at a bus bay with shelters, where passengers are able to walk along the wide, and preferably covered, sidewalk to the mall entrance.

Moncton serves pedestrian traffic poorly, so bus routes are mangled in order to make up for this. We have them loop through parking lots, residential districts, industrial parks, and the rest, all because it is otherwise impossible to walk from the bus stop to your destination.

Buses are only one part of an overall transit plan in a city. Reducing our dependence on cars will save the city money in road construction and will save residents money in needless gas and car insurance costs. But this means doing things link building and maintaining sidewalks, bike paths, shelters and pedestrian bridges.

I have lived in Moncton since 2001 and have noticed an unusual opposition to such expenditures. It is this opposition, rather than some poor decisions about bus routes, that is the major cause of Moncton's poor transit system today.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Beyond Essays: Web 2.1 and the World of the Multimedia Collage

Summary of a talk given by Jason Ohler at the Desire2Learn Fusion 2008 conference.

Miss Phelps was my favorite teacher ever. She was one of those magical teachers who can hear students knocking on every door. You know, many teahcres say, you can't go through that door, we're all going through this door. But she understood, and found a way, for you to learn the way you want to learn. I remember, she got me to learn the names of the dinosaurs by telling stories about them. Or my grade ten music teacher. I was in a rock & roll band. I could hear music, but I couldn't read music. You had to be able to read music to be in the course. But he let me in.

Our kids these days are banging on the door. They have iPods and video and the rest. They want to show you what they know. But they can't show you unless you open that door. To me, teaching is being a door opener. The rest is well-intentioned paperwork.

Look at today. 25 years ago this was Star Trek. We create original music for our phones. No matter what the technology, we will create with it. It's not just a communication device. It's an easel. Using two devices at once! 'Screasels'. Not just screens, but easels. This is where they go to paint.

Literacy means producing and consuming the mdia forms of he day, whatever they are. Which just so happen to have been, basically, words on a screen. But that's just not the case any more. The media are today are so varied - you go to slideshare, you go to YouTibe. They're varied. And students need to be able to rad and write in these media. And they need to write. If they just produce, if they don't consume, they become victims of media. Kids need to be able to writ whatever it is they read.

Literacy has shifted. We had words when we were in college. This was up to just a few years ago, as recently as five years ago. That's when it becme very easy to produce media. The multimedia collage is the new baseline media. Images, text, movies, animation, music - and the abiliy to put all those together.

Why is literacy changing? The 'read-only' to 'write-possible' time is shrinking. For text, it took thousands of years. Moving pictures, about 100 years. Web, about 15 years. To the point where, as soon as something is created, we will be able not only to consume it, but to write with it at the same time. Not only that: the tools are cheap. And there are free stages everywhere, free art and story environments.

When kids go into the story environment, their sense of quality goes through the rood. That's because of the tEcosystem - the tech ecosystem. Remember when it was tapes and 8-track and vynal? Not it's computers and cameras and video.

Web 1.0 - 1990- 2005. You had very few people generating content, and the rest of us would read it. You needed to know HTML (and have no social life). Now everybody can play. Everybody becomes a client and a comoytrer at the same time. Then there's Web 2.1, which I call read-write-paint.

But the big change that's coming is the semantic web, web 3.0. It will be a while yet. What it does is that it takes web 2.1 and it puts it into the contextual model of a brain - everything is related to everything else. We 3.0 goes out, collapses Googles million search results, and relates it to everything you know, everything about you. It's the only way to deal with all this information.

6 Mantras

- Go from text-centrism to the new media collage

- art is the 4th or the next R - you need to use th pencil, and you need to be able to use photoshop. Multimedia collage is the next Esperanto - that's how we are able to navigate a Chinese web site. Creating art today is rel work for real pay. ISTE is on board - their new standards require 'innovation and creativity', first and foremost. And the easiest way around copyright is to have kids create their own stuff.

- the DAOW of literacy. Digital, Art, Oral, and Written.

- attitude is the new aptitude. Practice zen-tech, not zantech. Evaluate everything. Be critical. Everything changes. Don't ttry to hold on to things, to control things. Put the tools into the hands of the kids.

(number 5 was skipped)

- story is the resonant info-schema. A kid using a green screen to put erself into a story using her own artwork. Do kids love this? Oh my yes. I haven't found one person who realy doesn't want to tell their story. It is not about high-end gear and lots and lots of time. I can work with any technology - generally whatever I do with students is all free to them. Money is no longer a barrier. The rule of 80-20 -- they could produce 80 percent of the content in 20 percent of the time, and spent the rest of the time tweaking. And it's all about the story first, and the technology second (what happens when you give a bad guitar player a bigger amplifier?). If you have a weak story and commit it to multimedia, that only makes it worse.

Teachers are more important than ever. We need to be the guide on the side, and not the technician magician. When I go into a class, I ask who has a digital camera? Who has expertise in...? I made a catalogue of the resources I have to work with. Then I set up a scenario. This class is a senior seminar. It's a tavern. It's a hallway. It defines the sort of bhaviour that's allowable in the environment. (Great point! - SD) And then they create media (which they will do with or without us).

Assessment - we need to get away from the 'give an A to anything that moves' syndrome (that's where, you see the screen, if something moves, it's an A, because we're afraid of the tech, we don't know what's good or bad). We have to get past that. My book (Ohler's book) describes the things we can look for in order to assess this stuff. Everything that it took a kit to get up to the media is assessable - the writing, the planning, the research. Not just the stuff that's on the screen. You have a portfolio in front of you, a whole range of skills.

And you need to be clear: do you want the work to be clear like an essay, or challenging like a poem (it's a slider on a continuum). Documentaries need to be clear. But poems can be complex and challenging. My book: I decided to wriet a story instead of just another academic tome. Why is the story important? because a month later, you will be able to tell the stry. You will be able to remember it.

The core of stories: stories need a problem and a solution, and tension in the resolution of that. There has to be a transformation - a change, a growth. If you don't have a transformation, you have an average WWII movie (bad people, shoot them). Inquiry, discovery, learning. It's that simple. (Which is diametrically opposed to No Child Left Behind). It's the new you, who must change, and the old you, who doesn't want to change. Kieran Egan (SFU) - when students say "I don't get it" they;re really saying "where's the story?"

Kids come to school versed in the story form. But we tend to give them list-oriented information. There is no change, no tansformation. The opposit of a story is a vacation slide-show. Where is the transformation? (8 levels of stories - he blasted through this). There's the R word - I need to know, what does the character realize? Show me that they're a different person now. Bloom;s taxonomy is a great way to judge how effective a student's story is.

2 rules of media literacy:
- give people a question - you want people leaning forward, watching
- watch it three times, so you can see beind the story

(Demo of 4th graders' movies)
What made the video work: they culd have just shown how to roll the ball, but they didn't - they tried, and it didn't work, so they had to figure it out.

(Another movie)
Notice how the student didn't say "um" or "ah"? That is the norm. When they are immersed in their own story, they don't stutter at all.

(Another video)
Notice that in all cases we do not have tremendously high production values, and who cares? We are now at the point where if we are willing to live with some rough edges we are able to get the same kind of work, the same kind of prepapration and devlopment, in the same time, that we might with an essay.

The process I use is this: I don't use a story-board. All a story-board will do is ensure that your very boring story flows. So what I do is to use a story map that charts out the emotional flow (instead of the flow of motion) itself. Problem-Solution. Beginning, transformation, end. Then I have storytellers peer-pitch it. Just like hollywood. Because this catches the weaknesses, it changes things. The arc is a story map I use a lot. An arc of transformation, an arc of events. You need both.

The media development process. Planning, pre-production, production, post-production, delivery. Story creation process. Record it - an amazing and magical thing happens when people hear their own voice - when they hear themselves speak their own writing they themselves will go in and fix it.

The big picture: stories are dangerous. We know that we have witnessed a good story when we look up and say "I g=forgot I was there." What is the role of critical thinking when you are effectively hypnotized. That is the new frontier - wondering about how we do that. Because that is what we must do.

Don't rule by concerns. One person says "I ahve a concern" and everything stops. The problem is, thyere is nothing you you can do with it. Take a concern and turn it into a goal. Concerns are just negatively stated goals.

Forms, grammar - I can show you examples. I have them write in what I call 'visually differentiated text'. Vs. the essay form. I can't gt a visual toe-hold on the essay form. But they will read the nicely presented form.

Digital makeup. I don't like videoconferencing. I like audio conferencing. I put it on mute and lift weights. Anyhow, video - we will have video makeup filters.

Go tell your story.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Exploration of an Inegrated Media Tool

This was a great talk by Greyson Purcell outlining a simple but powerful video uploading and playback system integrated into D2L.

YouTube convinced our instructors that uploads should be easy, so...

[demo of UI video uploader site]

Why?

Process before the tool:
- faculty contacts us directly
- we train faculty to encode video
- we set up password rights in ActiveDirectory)
- we sent sample HTML instructions
- faculty encodes files, uploads files, enters HTML into ICON (the local D2L installation)

Problem: encoding
A standard encoding of a lecture is about 500 kbps, which means a 50 minute lecture is 180 mb. But faculty would encode at 5000 mbps, resulting in files that were far too large to manage

Problem: HTML
Complex HTML encoding "It was a complete failure"

Plus: we basically had no way to get student material to the web. We basically had students give it to faculty members.


What?

Simple video file conversion.

ffmpeg - is a simple server-based encoding tool. http://ffmpeg.mplayerhq.hu/
Sample command: ffmpeg -i video.avi -ar 22050 -ab 32 -f flv -s 320x240 video.flv

On the web there's tons of materials on how to use this software. Eg. at vexxblog (How to convert/encode files to FLV and how to install ffmpeg )

So we set this up, attached it to some D2L code that captured the student's name, course, role, etc. This created simple upload and display screens for students.

We also wanted to have a nice palyer for the videos. Flash player with features for things ike full screen, popup menu, etc. We also added a comment system (because it uses the D2L login, you can't spoof comments).

Also: we can convert videos to podcasts - ffmpeg supports a variety of formats. We can convert the web based player into a podcast manager too and distribute videos via iTunes.


Pedagogy

Now it's in the hands of faculty. We're going out into this beta period, and we'll see what happens.

We're gtting rid of a hurdle - us - and opening the floodgates. How many videos will people upload? What will the time frame be, will there be a massive rush? How many servers do we need? Do we make this on by default? What about copyright issues?

More Stuff

Also - direct recording from video camera... could be done with Flash media server.

Ability to hide the video, or any way to mix and match rights to edit, access, etc.

Files can be stored as files on a normal web server, or can be streamed using a Flash media server.

Comments could be tied to video time - so when you click on the comment, the video advances to the time.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Understanding the Surge - 'Winning' the War on Credit

Perhaps it's because I am in the U.S., but I am being flooded with quotations from John McCain declaring that if the U.S. had followed Obama's path (or withdrawing from Iraq) the U.S. would have 'lost' the war.

This is patently ridiculous. Any problems to American security were the result of the war, and not prevented by it. The U.S. would have 'won' (by any contemporary definition) by never having had invaded Iraq in the first place.

Moreover, insofar as the purported purpose of the war was to remove Saddam Hussein and to eliminate WMDs, then the war was 'won', by any definition, in the first few weeks of the conflict. Subsequent problems - such as the dangerous destabilization of the region, and the widening influence of Iran (which McCain) cites, were caused by the war, not prevented by the war.

But let's suppose none of that applies. Lets suppose that 'winning' the war means something like bringing order to Iraq, keeping the peace, and facilitating the transfer of power to Iraq. Then you could say that the surge is working, couldn't you?

Well - no.

What the surge is doing is obtaining military results on credit. It is extending U.S. military commitment beyond its ordinary capacity, requiring stop-loss and other extraordinary measures. The surge is something that cannot be sustained long-term. It creates short-term gains, and the illusion of winning. But people hostile to the U.S. - people like Muqtada al-Sadr, for example - simply bide their time and wait for the U.S. to exhaust itself.

Meanwhile, Iraq is still not safe, and - as Obama points out - the U.S. lack resources to deal with other significant issues - things like, say, the occupation of Afghanistan, or any domestic emergency on the scale of Hurricane Katrina.

There is no success here. To say that the war is currently being won is an out-and-out lie. The only way the U.S. can maintain even a semblance of control in Iraq - and maintain those oil supplies - is to maintain a larger troop commitment than it can sustain. It is living on borrowed time. The American people are being sold a sham victory on credit.

A better plan? Get out of Iraq, and spend the trillion dollars instead on energy independence and national infrastructure.

Intgrating iTunes U Access into Desire2Learn

Summary of a presentation from David Delgado, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, at the Desiore2Learn Fusion 2008 conference.

UW-Whitewater - has an established culture around D2L, which was adopted in 2003, with 1000 course sestions. A podcasting service was already established when iTunes U first became available.

What is iTune U? It's an Apple initiative to support educational institutions. It offers free storage space that campuses can use - you sign a service license, and Apple provides documentation and consulting service. The documentation in May, 2006, was lacking, but that has improved since then, and discussion forums are filling out.

People actually preferred our existing podcast service over iTines. They didn't know the iTines interface. And also, we were able to support our own service better, because we had more control over it.

Basically, Apple offers storage space. The podcasts can only be accessed using iTines software. iTunes U access is dependent on campus LDAP authentication. It is up to the campus to make that link independently, and Apple is only starting to offer consultation. Basically, you set up a web board that contacts your LDAP and then decides what to tell Apple's iTunes service.

We had to write the authentication script in order to provide access. We didn't have gthe course information it needs built into LDAP, but we took our existing podcasting service and used that to povide access. So now we have a screen that shows iTiunes and local podcasts. We use a PHP class to handle authentication. http://omega1.uww.edu/itunesu

Student Access: D2L information can be used. We use the course offering ID as a course identifier, and plug that into the script. Access is available inside a D2L course as a Javascriopt widget. There is also a publicly accessible area, http://itunes.uww.edu

Issues to consider:

- iTunes access in general access labs - iTunes was designed for personal access. We map each person's personal files to whatever machine they're logged into, so they get their own iTunes bookmarks.

- Moreover, it does not meet accessibility standards. There is a very hacked version of iTunes, provided by EASI, which is supposed to offer accessible use.

- Portable devices aren't as accessible to our students as we thought. We have a significant graducate population, and a significant distance population. Most of our students listen to podcasts on the computer. It really differs based on the generation.

- Student podcasts - are becoming an increasingly important practice. But our original configuration did not allow students access to the site; so we had to change that.

The Future:

It will continue to co-exist with the local service - some instructors prefer our service because it's more available to them. We are working on an API that allows us to upload direcly from our own podcast page.

Also, we want to modify the D2L widget using Flash to improve security. Because it uses JS, the credentials can be sleuthed. But we can use Flash to hide the authentication credentials.

And finally - we are looking at a Podcast Producer pilot. This is a hardware-software combination build off a Mac OS server that allows many connections from different machines, and it will capture the frames from the computer being used at the time, and processes it into video and uploads it to the iTunes U website. We are looking at having a camera attached to this, recording the speaker until they use the mouse.

The key to all of this is D2L and the database - we take the information from the database and send it over, and it works. It just works.

(Contact the speaker for scripts and widget code).

Virtualization and Desire2Learn

Summary of a talk by D2L's Brett Emmerton at the D2L Fusion 2008 conference. The talk was quite technical, and so is this summary, but the concept of virtualization is one that should be understood by those seeking to know where computer environments are going in the future.

Virtualization

Each virtual machine is a complete system encapsulated in a set of software files. The purpose is to take advantage of unused cycles in servers. So you can run multiple 'machines' on top of a single server. The virtual machines run on top of what is called an 'ESX Server' which in turn runs on one or more physical servers. It allows you to share CPU cycles, shae memory, share local disks (eg. SAN (Storage-Area Network) based systems).

Some terms:
VM Host - is the physical server that VM Ware is installed in
VMs - are the virtual machines

We virtualize all layers - not just individual machines, but storage and network layers as well, using DRS (Dynamic Resource Sharing). The servers get moved around to the physical host depending on resource usage and availability.

Uses

1. VCB - VMWare Consolidated Backup - we capture a snapshot of the virtual machine and store it - it is essentially a machine, ready to roll. This snapshot basically clones the existing machine. But in order to take that snapshot, you have to have another Core and RAM ready to take the snapshot - so you have to watch your resource allocation. Also - snapshots can be 'left open' and it continues to write - people sometimes forget to close off snapshots, which will use a lot of storage.

2. Virtualization as a resource multiplier: even with peak load spikes, we are using less than 10 percent of the capacity of our application servers. So, instead, use (say) a 4-way server and run 32 virtual machines on it. Or to share memory - or to 'decay' unused processes that are occupying memory.

3. Interoperability. We can apply the VM hypervisor across all the layers - so it doesn't care whether it's an HP box, a Dell box, or a Sun box. You can order the boxes with the VMWare pre-installed - just tell them what your license is, and you can run your machine. Or., eg. we were able to deploy eight new application servers on a network in just a few minutes.

4. Resource Pools - aggegate collections of disparate hardware resources into unified logical resource pools, creating addressable agregate resourcing. This means, eg., that a failed server doesn't mean a faled application.

5. Add hardware dynamically. Provisioning is 'fire and forget'. You can easily add more capacity. You can also allow the VMWare to manage the load - dynamically balancing the load across the servers.

6. Policy Enforcement (was mmtioned in passing, not as a separate slide).

7. HA - High Availability - is an automatic restart engine. One server may be down, and unable to access its disk image. Other servers can see the disk image, though, and can restart the server based on policies set within the organization.

Preferred VM Configuration

1. As many CPU cores as possible - license VMWare by socket, which enables larger vSMP configurations and allows you to plan for VMotion compatibility (get a bunch of alike servers to prepare for this).

2 Maximize memory. Be careful, high density memory is very expensive - it's often cheaper to buy more servers with more memory. And more servers are better for redundancy anyways.

3. Fast storage means a wickedly fast server VM. You have to have high-speed storage. What am I excited about? Solid state disck.

4. 24-Hour+ Burn-in, because most failures occur in the first 90 days. memory is the part that fails the most. So you esnt to do a memory burn-in.

5. No single point of falure. Local recovery/failure is always preferred. Have someone - even a non-techie person - review your configuration (tell them what it is) and ask questions.
- NICs - two teams of two - so you have separate controllers
- separate admin and management and VM data traffic physically
- redum=ndant switch, network and storage layers
- redundant fans, power supplies (often people overlook the basic pieces)

6. We prefer fault tolerance to load balancing

7. Network load-balancing

8. Storage load balancing

Overconfiguaration of VMs

This is where I see things going wrong.

1. Physical to Virtual configuration (P2V) is efficient, etc., but you can run into problems with co-scheduling, and load optimization takes time.


Storage Configuration

- typically we use 10-20 VMs per LUN
- allocate the fastest disk and storage connections to the LUNS hosting your Virtual Machine DK files

Naming Standards

Apply naming standards to distinguish:
- SAN vs Local
- test vs production
- RAID type
- LUN ID
Have a central list, know why you're using it, know who owns it.

Other

- Make sure your CD-ROM isn't connected on Power-On if you don't need it
- Do not leave open snapshots on production machines
etc

Connectives and Collectives: Learning Alone, Together

Summary of George Siemens's opening keynote at the D2L Fusion conference in Memphis. It represents, in my view, a substantial development in his thought.

box - Dabbawala - one who carries the box. This is a network of people who collect and distribute in excess of 200,000 meals a day in Mumbai.

encyclopedia - Wikipedia.

news site - Ohmynews.

marketplace - Seekers, solvers and a marketplace.

MIT Center for Collectove Intelligence: how can people be connected in order to work collectively?

Don't fight the internet. Don't fight human nature.

In most colective and collaborative activities, human nature is overlooked. For example, 'wearesmarter' tried to get people to collaborate to write a textbook. But people don't want to be submerged in a project like that.

The basis os any collective activity is the self.

- the brain is physical and confined; but the mind is flexible, the mind is external (you rely on external thoughts, external reminders). The mind is social.

- The individual mind *must* communicate - to connect, to form relations.

- our ability to speak is in essence a way to externalize the self. Language is a tool to demystify myth - we make it clear and understand.

- at its core, language is a social function (Wittgenstein's box of beetles).

- symbols - 'carriers of previous patterns of reasoning' - reflective of how we thought at one time. Symbols, then, are things we use to externalize ourselves.

Technology as language?

Our concets, then, are help at least partly externally. These are expressed socially, and as socially, are socially shaped. [Image of 'Formula of Concepts'] Example of how we understand the word 'right' in a context. As the context changed the collectively help viewpoint of language, our understanding changed.

Roy Pea: Intelligences are distributed across minds - but also across technologies. Rubber hands (we substitute touch sensation to the rubber hand we see) and bananas (when a monkey eats a banana, or watches another monkey eating a banana, the same area of neurons (mirror neurons) are firing).

Polysensory data: substituting video information with stimulations on teh tongue - we csn replace 'sight' with sensaion. Hence the phenomenon of 'blindsight'. (Paul Bach-y-Rita)

(SD: numerous examples showing the same sort of thing)

We can extend ourselves with tools, with technology, with language, with signals. The mind is enormously robust, enormously plastic.

BUT: our intgration and extension of self involves a preservation of self. (*key point*)

Our notion of self is not just physical, but still also the way we extend ourselves. It isn't created through socialization, but it is shaped, and manifests itself socially.

Connectives maintain an autonomy of self. A mosaic. It's the difference between creating a blog and creating a wiki.

Collectives, hoever, involve a subsumption of self. There is a coercion of a sort. These all involve a complexity of activity that requires the inclusion of many people. Creating an LMS, for example. The identity of many people has been subsumed. In many cases, that's fine, but we need to look at where it's not. Because, after all, innovation is deviation.

We used to assign names to inventions. Bt with contemporary corporatization, we have removed the name from the invention. The iPod should be the 'wePod'. In 75 years, we have gone from the individua to the company to the network as th innovator.

But - this raises issues of freedom and control. At the heart of collaboration and maships and the rest, you are playing with such issues.

Networks can result in complex tasks. Underlying all this is the idea of the network. And the network is based on the idea of the individual.

Look at the continuum of strength by connection: from individual (atoms) to groups (or what Geprge is calling collectives here). Individuals create new ideas, novelty, are diverse. Groups require some sort of normalization, some sort of subsumption of identity.

We need the diversity of opinion. Scott Page: diverse people working together and capitalizing on their indviduality outperform groups of like-minded people.

We say we like diversity, but diversity is a pain. It's the person who says "Wait a miunite, what about...?" who is the pain.

Pedagogical implications:

Three areas of choice:
- degree of agent autonomy
- degree of complexity
- degree of task specialization

When we design learning (and other systems) we have to decide which element to stress. Flying a plane, for example - should we grant the pilot complete autonomy?

These are the three key elements we need to look at when we consider what degree of individual freedom we want. (SD - this is a great point)

Robert Calliou - we need to solve the problem of combining our thinking as individuals to solve the enormous problems - global warming, food shortages, etc...

The impact, thn, starts to be seen in the design o technology. Neil Postman - techn ology has a 'give and take' element. Technology gives, but does it take? Plato: does writing impair our faculty of memory?

The technology we use is embedded with social and political artifacts. But does this hinder technology, or help? It creates a new medium for previously unconnected others to communicate. (haythornewaite)

Downes: to know' something is to be organized in a certain way, to learn is to acquire these particuar organizations.

So - is this learning?
- Core content? Our typical model.
- Core content that is co-created with external experts? That's better.
- Let's also bring in peripheral learners - list members, discussion group members, etc. Creates more diversity of input - we will likely have better quality content.
- Let's distribute the idea of 'faculty' among these diverse groups. Open , external experts, the rest. A very rich, very diverse learning experience.

We have a model where we say that:
- we recognize each learner has to have a unique stance, a unique identity
- we recognize that each learner needs to be connected to others

Vannevar Bush: notion of associative trails of content. They experience content not just how we as experts present it, but from numerous sources, where they jump from one source to another to another - they become critical thinkers.

And we want this, bcausde it isn't the content that makes an education, but rather, th ability to continue to learn more.

Freedom of fragmntation: we used to have our wor presented to us. A newspaper. A book. Today, we have a very fragmented world, where we get our information from many sources. That kind of fragmentation gives us new freedoms and opportunities.

For example: when learning from a tecaher, I wuld typically listen, read sources recommended by, be tested according to, the ideas of the individual who has created the course. A very consolidated whole. But today we have fragmented sources. That allows us to repurpose the ideas.

There is:
- a freedom to fragmentation - to get fragments
- a freedom of fragmentation - to be a fragment - to fragment our own thought in numerous places, sources

(SD: this needs to be clarified)

It's the end of the grand narrative, and the beginning of the personal narative. We create narratives not just persoanly, but in particular contexts.

The downside of fragmentation: overload. Too many sources, too many ideas. Too fragmented, too distributed. So the challenge is now in how to pull things together. Some interesting technologies:

- Twitter - and simple social tools. Gossip and trivial talks is typically viewed as a distraction, but (see Zufecki (Dunbar) 2008 - these are in essence the human version of social grooming in primates.

So, the challenge is: how do we preserve the unique values of connectives and collectives. Eg. how do we retain our ability to focus when, say, reading a book? (I have a rule - read one journal article before reading email).

We need to:
- design for varying levels of connectedness
- value the collective effort (the contribution to the whole) - but - what is the role of the individual in that process? What is the role of the agent?

The need for human sociability outstrips the design of our courses, the design of our institutions. It outstrips the flow of information that goes top to bottom. We need to take into account how the mind can integrate all kionds of sources, with great fluidity. Technology plays a similar role to that of language.

We can really improve the learning of our students if we use D2L effectively. If we encourage them to learn socially, they learn much more than they could from me as a faculty member.

We are now at a point where we ned to say, we now understand enough about the social nature of learning (Vytgotsky, Papert, Seely Brown, Wenger), and we also understand the idea of using technology to connect. We have that unique broth, and we just need to season it. Our institutions are barriers, the design of courses is a barrier.

a box - social and procedural nature of interaction
an encyclopedia - a storehouse
a news site - a flow
a marketplace - a forum of exchange

We need to recognize that 'collective intlligence' is not neutral in and of itself. All of them exist as a network in nature, as a node and a connection. But these all vary in strength and connectedness.

The nature of the connectedness we design into our courses is essentially a power relationship. It is a way of defining who will have what identity, and how. It's why you can't just slap down a wiki and say 'contribute'.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Review: Hotel Apartamentos Canaima

I originally wrote this review of Apartamentos Canaima for Expedia, but it exceeds their length restriction, so I am posting it here.


The major advantage of this hotel is that it is cheap - at 50 Euros a night, one of the best rates available on Gran Canaria.

And for this rate, you get quite a bit - separate living room and bedroom, kitchenette, bathroom, cooking utensils, toaster, kettle, and the like. The room is cleaned five days a week, though you should not expect the linen to be changed.

The hotel also includes a restaurant and pool, which I didn't use, though they appeared to be popular with other guests.

To be clear: while the hotel website does not misrepresent the hotel, many of the descriptions on various hotel websites do. So:

- there is no internet access. None. If you want internet access, my recommendation is to go to Puerto Plata, which is about 500 meters up the road toward the sea, or to use internet access points in the commercial centre, which is about 1000 meters away and down about 300 steps. - there is no telephone. There is a pay phone on the road outside the hotel.

- there are televisions, however, you have to pay for them there's a coin slot). It's roughly one Euro per hour. If the cable system is down (as it was for me) it's your tough luck (though I did ask for, and get, a refund). - there is no soap or shampoo. Bring your own. There is toilet paper. There are (small) towels.

- You will be charged 0.90 Euros a day for seat cushions for the outdoor lounge chairs. Which really takes 'chep' to a new level.

- You will be charged 1.50 Euros a day to use the room safe. Be sure not to lose your receipt or you won't get your 15 Euro deposit back, even if you still have the key.

- You will be charged 0.50 Euros to have hotel staff call you a taxi.

- there is no laundry. You can et your laundry done (4 Euros to wash, 4 Euros to dry, per load) in the Commercial Center - go straight down the stairs, and then to the basement (parkade) of the Commercial Center.

If you are ready for these extra charges, you will find the hotel a pleasant stay. It certainly was for me - it is high enough on the hill to get a pleasant breeze, and the rooms are large and clean. But the cheapness of charging for things like seat cushions is off-putting. If a hotel is going to charge extras, charge for luxuries - like laundry or internet - not basics.

Location

Despite references to 'Mogan' on the hotel website, it is located in the Puerto Rico tourist complex (which is about 18 winding kilometers from Puerto Mogan and something like 30 kilopmeers from Mogan).

Puerto Rico is at the very end of GC1, a 4-lane express highway, so is very accessible by car. As a result, it is crammed full of hotels, has a loud commercial center in the denter, and is second only to Playa del Inglis for the concentration of foreign tourists.

There is a frequent bus service, though service can be slow. The major bus lines are the 1, which is the local run to Las Palmas (but *not*) the airport, and the 91, which is the express to Las Palmas and the airport (note: the bus did not go into the airport, but dropped passengers - luggage and all - at the side of the 4-lane highway). Catch the bus near the main traffic circle at the center of town.

It's hard to find the hotel because the roads wind back and forth, and the map on the hotel website will not help you. Type the address into Google maps to pinpoint the location. Note that Google Maps misinterprets the staircases (which run perpendicular to the valley) as roads.

Your best bet is to rent a car. I rented from Top Car at the airport - 30 Euros a day, all inclusive, got be a Toyota Yaris (standard but really the car to drive on the Island's winding roads).

Resort

Puerto Rico is a collection of hotels and services, including restaurants, bars, etc. Basically anything you need can be found there, for a price. Watch out for the hard sell. Puerto Rico has a nice beach and a port. From the port you can take jet boat trips, parachite rides, fishing expeditions, glass-bottom boats, and tours.

I took a 60 Euro tour on the Aphrodite up the west coast of Gran Canaria. The 5 hour tour included drinks and a nice meal and was, in my mind, well worth the expense.

Island

Except for GC1, it is hard to get around the island because the roads are very narrow and winding. It takes a bit to get used to driving them. Plan on spending more time to get anywhere than you expected. That said - the island has some excellent destinations, including a beautiful part at Pico de Neives, walking paths in and around San Mateo, festivals at places like Teror and San Bartolome, and excellent fish restaurants just about everywhere.

To enjoy the islands, get out of the resorts (even if you're staying at one). The beaches on the west coast of the island (Puerto Mogan and north) are non-commercial; some of them are very isolated and very quiet The towns are fantastic, and the food in the center of the island is plentiful and authentic (exactly the opposite of the resorts). Try the Canarian potatos.

SELF: Building Knowledge in Freedom

Summary of a talk by Wouter Tebbins at the Free Knowledge, Free Technology conference.

There is an abundance of free software today. So why aren't people using it?
- lack of awareness
- perceived lack of (internal) tech support
- lack of qualified teachers - eg. not even 10 percent of NL teachers could give examples
- lack of education and training materials

The SELF project was an attempt to respond to this. It was intended to bring people together, to foster the collaborative development of educational materials, and do develop community and a critical stance. Seven institutions were founding partners, under the European Union's Sixth Framework.

SELF has produced:
- a selection of open standards for SELF
- a legal policy for SELF, including a definition of 'educational materials' (those materials in education that can be used without restriction, modified and distributed freely)
- a survey of existing educational materials on free software
- a qualifty assessment framework - guaranteeing qualify is impossible in a community platform, but you can have quality indicators (there is a session on this)
- a platform for resource distribution

The SELF platform - here it is - is a place to distribute the educational materials. It allows users to create, remix, translate and modify educational materials collaboratively. Unlike Wikipedia, which has a linear version history, SELF allows for the creation of 'plural views' on the same topic, as well as different levels of instruction on the same topic, or different pedagogical approached. There is no 'neutral point of view' as there is in Wikipedia.

What is a 'learning material'? We see it as a composite object, consisting of other objects, which may includes lessons, tests, bibliographies, ac tivities, etc. Those various components compose the learning material. The idea is that lessons produced in one place - on copyleft, say - can be reused in various learning materials. The format for learning materials used is SCORM.

SELF promotes the idea of exchanging learning materials with other platforms, so materials can be imported or exported. So if you had systems like Moodle and Sakai, you can export materials from self and import them into the LMS. Or the other way around.

(diagram on SELF workflow)

One of the main challenges of community driven content is quality assessment. We think the way forward is to have people perform activities in the SELF platform, and then from those activities, infer quality. For example, the number of times people put a material on a bookshelf, or use it in a course - that suggests the popularity of those materials. Over time, the people who produced those resources will build up a reputation.

SELF can be downloaded as free software: http://savannah.nongnu.org/projects/self-platform

Work to be done includes platform development, server maintenance, creation of learning materials, research into quality assessment, maintenance and application of legal policies (eg., what happens if people begin uploading restricted materials), and communication.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Individualism and Classism

Responding to an email from Nick Bowskill:


I think you have a good point and I'm always attentive to the risk of catering to the Ayn Rand set when I talk about centering learning on the self. My intent is absolutely not to foster some sort of egoism. The reason I focus on the self, rather than some wider definition of learning, is that each individual is different, and indeed, that such diversity is to be valued. This is especially evident in a field like education, where each learner has individual needs and interests.

I subscribe to Kant's dictum, that each human is an end in and of him or her self, and not a means to some other end. In is in this philosophy that I see the distinction between myself and the 'celebrity of the self' movement. For it follows that other people are not merely means to satisfy your own selfish ends, that they must be respected as having inherently the same value as yourself. Thus, though my philosophy is rooted in the self, is not a form of primacy of the self.

The other reason I focus on the advancement of personal learning, in such articles as 'What You Really Need to learn', is that there is no shortage of people who will attempt to use you, your insecurities, and your aspirations, as a means of advancing their own ends. History is in fact a succession of people being used for one purpose or another, often at the cost of the destruction of those used, and typically without any particular benefit or advancement to humanity.

So my advice is often of the form, "Protect yourself." And this has to come with the admonishment that each individual is valuable and has worth. Because at the heart of the 'celebrity of the self' movement is an appear to an individual's lack of self worth, to their inherent sense of self-doubt. People are all too often willing to sacrifice themselves for others, and while such sacrifice can be noble, it is too often cynically used by people simply to enrich themselves or to advance some parochial interest.

In truth, I don't see myself undertaking a balancing act at all, and I don't see myself as in any real risk of being confused for an egoist or individualist in my philosophy. My epistemology is based, not on atomism, but rather, on a sense of connectedness between interacting individuals, each of which prings its own uniqueness, its own perspective, to the mix. This allows me on the one had to argue against the all-encompassing darkness of classism, that is, any philosophy that subsumes the individual under some notion of class, race, nationality, religion, or whatever, while at the same time being very clear about the way in which individuals are mutually interdependent.