Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Innovation in learning

Working at a university is, for me, a dream. Don't get me wrong. The places I've worked before have been great but I'm a born learner and I love teaching when I get the chance. To be clear about it my degree and a levels centre around education, physical education but education all the same. So I spend my days now working for an institution where my hobbies are becoming my work. Yay.

Well... of course it's not all roses. I'm kind of impatient and I want to learn the way I learn. Not the way everyone else learns. I know there are similarities but I do get frustrated when the learning process feels more difficult than it should be.

My career has revolved around the web. creating applications to be used online. Web 2.0 technologies are becoming pervasive with many mainstream tools now incorporating them. the main advantage for me is that everything is becoming more personalised and fits around me more rather than the other way around.

That is, everything except those industries where market processes and the competition they generate don't play such a strong role. Education is a prime example. Everything I've seen that's developed by main stream educators for the mass market has simply been old technology delivered using new technology. Take text books. all we get now is digital books an about 2 million different formats. So online feels just about the same as offline. Just with a shiny screen and a battery life. Education does realise that it's essentially still dominated by rudimentary text based technology.

So how do we take this forward? What can we do to connect the potential of the technology with the potential of the material? That's what my real life goals are about. Knowledge is about freedom. Up til now gaining a vast wealth of knowledge has been confined to those with access. those without good reading skills, who have disabilities, without the means to get the necessary books. The list goes on of people who find it hard to enhance their knowledge and learn how to apply that knowledge to improve their circumstances.

My dream is also about personal achievement and ability. I've spent my life learning what I can do as a human being and applying it to achieve my goals. I've found it enriching and freeing. I now believe I can genuinely achieve anything I set my mind to simply because I'm human. The technology that comes with being human, the amazing senses, fantastic brain and all the rest are millenia ahead of the technology humans have made themselves.

I believe strongly that a greater knowledge of our minds, bodies and souls will make us better at both getting what we want and being happy when we get it. I feel this kind of knowledge of say knowing how to eat foods you love, maybe even indulge yourself, yet be healthier and fitter than you used to be, can add real balance to your life.

My basic plan is to find a course I love either on our institutional vle or on the open version at openlearn. Go through it and begin studying it. The difference being that I will look for areas that I think I could bring to life using technology. I'll come up with some rules about costs and sustainability and whatever but the point is rather than just saying what I don't like I want to reinterpret the content and show how technology could bring it to life.

I intend to do this in my own time at first and have already begun learning about Google Web Toolkit (GWT) in preparation. Longer term I'm looking at how to continue this in my work time. I've heard about the 20% time that Google employees get and also that 3M apparently has been doing something similar for years. How would be do that in a university given their funding structure? I'm not completely sure but I have ideas around pushing this idea as research and thus there may be funding available to research new ways to bring content to life. Particularly because I believe this is an emerging field and this area is at the forefront and most in need of investigation.

How would it fit with the current VLE?
We use Moodle. And we have a lot of people and courses already on it. So it's a pretty good system as it is. Problem is that getting Moodle to do anything other than what it's designed for isn't the easiest thing in town. My simple answer is to not make any changes to what we have. Rather find ways to make it simple and secure to connect Moodle to other applications and solutions. If that were the case I could just build something separate and then hook into Moodle in the way we all agree. This is the standard approach across the web and ensures that if my solution isn't ready or whatever then we can just hook into another one that is.

It also means we wouldn't be affecting the underlying stability of the current solution (Moodle). By being essentially separate we benefit from loose ties and can develop at our own pace with our own goals. We just get content from the Moodle solution and report back as necessary.

Will one person have enough time?
That's why I'm looking at GWT. Moodle and most development tools or frameworks involve too much heavy lifting. You have to be an expert in and write bunches of code for html, javascript, css and lots of other technologies. You then have to test on all the major browsers, screen sizes, input devices. The list just goes on and on and it's growing by the week.

GWT does so much of this work for you, or that's the theory, leaving you to focus on what it is that you were trying to do in the first place. So firstly I want to see if GWT is up to scratch. My plan is to learn the basics then bring a small part of my favourite course to life. Make it interactive, mobile and fun. Above all make it easier to learn and apply the underlying knowledge.

if GWT isn't up to scratch then I'll look for something else.

I'll just keep updating this document as I intend it to be the basis for my proposal.

Ultimately I just want to scratch my own itch through technology. if I create little solutions that make my life and learning easier. I'm certain I could make this available for others with ease. That's the plan anyway.

I've also just discovered the term 'Technological determinism'. Now I realise there's a term for the opposite to the way I work and think. Humans come first. Technology is just a product of human work that can help or hinder future work or pleasure. That's not a definition it's just my view. Everything I develop is written by a human for another human to use. So the technology should adapt to the human not the other way around.

To add to that I think it will be a long while before we genuinely begin to improve on the technology the average human is born with. We have visual capacities to create 3d, full colour, real time worlds within our minds yet our eyes (cameras) are not up to the standards of those in a cheap phone. Our in built software is so well developed we can differentation individual people and conversations from a massive of noise in a lecture theatre. We don't have human made technology that can do that, for free. We even have the ability to fix and fuel ourselves using simple items that lie around. Current technology always needs human intervention for this. 

What I see is that we need to develop the technology we create to a point where it matches the technology we are born with. Only then will we truly realise just how quickly and effectively we learn and only then will we start achieving our real potential. 

So, in essence,

Rejecting technological determinism should be a mantra in our professional conversations. - danah boyd



Play, taking a break and it's benefits
I couldn't think which place was best to put this thought. Here seemed good. I feel strongly that the brain works like a muscle and thus training methods used on muscles and the body must apply to the mind and vice versa.

I feel that training specifically for one sport makes you good at that sport but can make you weak or umbalanced for life and other challenges. A tennis player often develops more strength and coordination in one side of the body than the other. A sprinter is great at running forward but what about side to side, around corners. that's needed in other sports. What about your core fitness. Do the activities you undertake keep your back, your shoulders and other areas in the right shape to sort the garden out or fix your car?

If they don't, and worse, if they leave you prone to injuries then you've got problems. This is why I play touch rugby and football aswell as tennis. it doesn't give me complete all round fitness but it does give balance. I also just play for fun a lot of the time. Competing when I feel like it, not all the time.

I think the mind is the same. No matter how hard I try to concentrate sooner or later I'll need a break. the longer I've been doing so the more my mind is open to distractions. thing is I often get a lot of work done after these distractions. I also find that when I focus on one problem for a few days or longer I feel other skills get a little less honed. Just like with my body.

I wonder whether this implies that it's better to vary your work and habits to keep all your skills and faculties in shape. Otherwise you'll have an amazing ability to complete the task you've been occupied with but will be out of practice for other things like playing around, relaxing and dealing with other types of problem.

Just a thought
Post a Comment