What endures? What remains?

A couple of weeks ago, several colleagues and I arranged a retirement dinner for my former Dean, Dr. Michael Tymchak. Michael was the Dean when I was hired at the Faculty of Education back in 1999, and I’ve worked with him in various roles over more than a decade. Michael is one of the most inspiring people I have ever worked and has done powerful work in our province in the areas of teacher education, northern & aboriginal education, and in the development of inclusive, community schooling.

At his retirement, Michael told a story about a recent visit to his family’s homestead. He recalled how as a child he would play and explore in and throughout the many buildings found on the farm – a complete universe through the eyes of youth. Now, with his return, the buildings are completely gone, the land is bare, and the farm is owned by another family. Yet, on this visit Michael dug through the dirt with his hands where he remembered the old landmarks. He tells of finding a perfume bottle, still intact, with a fragrance that triggered still more memories. He also found something he described as a ‘heel protector’, a device much more common at the time. Little things perhaps, but things once important, and at the time of Michael’s visit, enough evidence to trigger important questions, “What endures? What remains?”

I have been thinking about these questions since Michael shared them. I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with you – this is sure to be more of a ramble than a coherent progression of ideas.

For instance, I saw a post recently on Reddit that was simply titled “Life in Three Pictures“. While I have no idea who these two men are, how they may have lived, or the strength of their relationship, the three photos express so well the commonality of our lived experiences, our changing relationships, and our inevitable fate. But I’ll save those topics for another post.

Today, I discovered a photo (source) that made me think about these key questions a bit differently, more in-line with my work in developing & sustaining network interactions/communities.

Here, I saw the metaphor for so many abandoned online communities. This is MySpace and Friendster. And some day, this will be Facebook & Twitter. Online communities face the same inevitabilities as any other form of community.

This isn’t much of an ‘aha’. I assume that anyone who has studied or participated in online communities would quickly come to the same conclusion. Communities are hard to sustain and develop, and all communities have a finite life-span. So why write about this at all?

First, I think that examining the question “What endures?” is incredibly important for educators – and not simply for its philosophical relevance. Educators are designers. We design (learning) experiences and (hopefully) foster the development of communities for our learners. In these roles, what should we hope endures for our students? What will remain of these experiences? And what do we know will not?

And second, for us – those especially invested in social networks – I hope these questions increase our awareness of the depth and quality of our own connections. While I’ve spent the last decade studying and promoting the importance of ‘weak ties‘ for collaboration/cooperation, I would be the first to admit that such ties can be more practical than meaningful, and by definition, tenuous.

Finally, on the practical level – think about your own use and embeddedness in social networks. Say, if Twitter or Facebook were gone (or dramatically different) tomorrow, would the human connections that matter to you be easily rediscovered/re-formed elsewhere? Are your relationships platform-dependent? Is it time to increase the depth and quality of your social network relationships? And if so, how will you do this?

As expressed near the beginning of the post, these are mostly just rambling thoughts. Help me make sense of this. Your thoughts?

Micro Lectures

Here is a format of teaching & learning that I will consider for my next online course (likely Fall 2009). Take a look at the micro-lecture format that is being used at San Juan College in New Mexico. It has been recently covered by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Open Education.

The designer of the format, David Penrose, insists that in online education “tiny bursts can teach just as well as traditional lectures when paired with assignments and discussions.” The microlecture format begins with a podcast that introduces a few key terms or a critical concept, then immediately turns the learning environment over to the students.

To be continued.

Social Learning & Sharing

The learning continues in EC&I 831, and since I haven’t had much time to blog, I though I’d offer a 2-for-1 post with links to the most recent presentations for the course.

On January 27, I offered a session on the Age of Social Learning. The full Elluminate session is found here, and my slide deck is available below.

And, last night, we were very lucky to have had Dean Shareski join us as he presented “How to Be Lazy and Still Get Paid” aka “The Value of Sharing”. The recorded Elluminate session for Dean’s presentation is available here, and his slides are available below.

I really want to thank Dean for his excellent presentation last night. The participants (registered students & everyone else) have expressed gratitude for Dean’s time and wisdom on the topic.

The above presentations work well together, as do the concepts of social learning and sharing. These are ideas, when implemented, that have enormous potential for changing the shape of (online) learning. And, I’m happy to say that these are ideas that continue to shape the courses I teach and that support my ongoing belief in the power of open education.

Interactive Video Object Manipulation

Dan Goldman recently posted a video on Interactive Video Manipulation, a new technology being developed. This has great possibilities, and the demo is very impressive.


Interactive Video Object Manipulation from Dan Goldman on Vimeo.

I can’t wait until I get to play with a consumer version.

This demo illustrates our research to bring interactivity to video editing: Our system analyzes videos using computer vision techniques, enabling interactive annotation, browsing, and even drag-and-drop composition of new still images using video footage. This is a joint research project of Adobe and the University of Washington.

Networked Student – The Video

With a style borrowed from the Common Craft videos, Wendy Drexler has put together an excellent video depicting what she calls the networked student. This is a terrific description of how networked learning may look for an individual student. Thanks Wendy for your obvious hard work on this concept and video!

More info:

The Networked Student was inspired by CCK08, a Connectivism course offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes during fall 2008. It depicts an actual project completed by Wendy Drexler’s high school students. The Networked Student concept map was inspired by Alec Couros’ Networked Teacher. I hope that teachers will use it to help their colleagues, parents, and students understand networked learning in the 21st century.

Draft of Article: Open, Connected, Social

I will be leaving to Greece shortly to attend ICICTE in Corfu. The following is an early draft of a paper I wrote for the conference that outlines some of the processes and early feedback I received regarding a graduate course I recently taught, EC&I 831.

Comments are welcome and encouraged. Keep in mind that this is an early draft and there are likely many errors. It was a paper written a while ago BEFORE I had much of the new data in (which I am working through right now). I have only shared it at this point as I enjoy making my writing processes as transparent as my teaching.

How To Improve Your Online Video

Izzy Hyman recently released Izzy Video #79, Improve Your Online Video under a Creative Commons license. I’m a fan of the Izzy Video Show and this would be a useful clip for teachers talking to students about the basics of good video production.

Also, I have recently added a WordPress plugin called Riffly to this blog. This will allow you to add video or audio comments in response to these posts. I would love to have someone try it out.

Dean Shareski On Educational Design

Dean Shareski, educational technology guru and fellow Saskatchewanite, recently prepared a digital keynote for the Flat Classroom Project.

In the keynote, Dean touts the importance of design in education, especially that related to the creation of multimedia. Key points covered include planning, imagery, simplicity, constraints and significance, and Dean borrows from Dan Pink’s “Whole New Mind”, one of my favorite new reads.

The content is great, but the most important piece here is how Dean pulled it off. He walks the talk. I see so many faculty members and teachers talking about one thing, but doing another (e.g., Direct teaching about how to create a constructivist classroom). Dean has developed a well designed, well-articulated, informative, humourous and personal presentation here. For my students in ECMP 355 or involved in the Digital Internship Project, be sure to pay attention.