Thursday, August 16, 2007

Service-learning in 2017

A visioning exercise for KIDS Conference
Learners (students, teachers, administrators, community members and others) work together as teams to identify problems and opportunities to engage in real activities that contribute to the growth and sustainability of themselves and their communities. Community organizations solicit help from student teams and provide context for engaging problems that are rich sources of learning. Students read inspiring descriptions from portfolios of past projects and lead and develop new projects.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Institutional commitment to learning via real problems

Nils, Theron, John Gardner and I have been discussing new directions for universities as global networks develop. Nils points to ThinkCycle as an exciting direction:
... it's worth looking at ThinkCycle which seems to be engaged in an Extension-like coupling of universities with creative capacity to people with real problems. They say: ...

What strikes me about this approach is the global literacies that ThinkCycle is promoting which I marked in bold in the quotation above. Not only are students gaining experience on problems, they are building evidence of their competencies in what might be called a portfolio within the system. Since the system is open for searching, one could imagine members of one team seeking out people in the system who have demonstrated expertise in a related area and enlisting their help.

What is important about this form of global university education is that it is authentic and open. Its not a closed couse in WebCT and the problems are not toys with right answers set by the instructor.

Nils emphasizes the role of the students and their motivations. These portfolios have an important institutional role, too. For example, samples of students' Operations Management projects in DecS 340 served to help faculty and CTLT staff to reconceive approaches to learning and guiding learning. Their impact with faculty motivated my support for CTLT's development of ePortfolios.

Note that ThinkCycle derives from projects at MIT. As an institution, MIT, has a long and well-developed culture of engaging many students in real problems that are also academically rigorous. I suspect that culture of engagement is one of the reasons they can give away their OpenCourseWare and not worry about protecting their intellectual property and institutional reputation. Benkler's Wealth of Networks and Tapscott and William's Wikinomics argue that the principles are broadly applicable. Let's find out how far we can extend them!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Collaborative Service-Learning Projects

"3 helping one another will achieve as much as 6 working SINGLY"
Theron linked to a mind map image that he said remixed a presentation that John Seeley Brown gave at MIT. He also linked to a news story about the presentation. His post reminded me that I had read the story a few months ago. But now I see it in a new light. Seeley Brown cogently explains the approach I think we should take to building the networks for the new high school phase of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI details):

Rather than treat pedagogy as the transfer of knowledge from teachers who are experts to students who are receptacles, educators should consider more hands-on and informal types of learning. These methods are closer to an apprenticeship, a farther-reaching, more multilayered approach than traditional formal education, he said.

In particular, he praised situations where students who are passionate about specific topics study in groups and participate in online communities.

"We are learning in and through our interactions with others while doing real things," Seely Brown said. "I'm not saying that knowledge is socially constructed, but our understanding of that knowledge is socially constructed."

In one example, architecture students work on group design projects in a public setting. A professor's critique of a project is instructive to others. Collaboration is valued and encouraged along with individual achievement. Perhaps most meaningful is the students' process in completing the project, he said.

"As you work shoulder to shoulder with other kids, all the work you do and work in progress is done in public. So others understand what you're thinking," Seely Brown said.

The evolution of the Internet can facilitate this approach, he said. Web 2.0 tools, such as wikis and blogs, make information sharing and content creation easier.

I have described the irony that students are using social networking tools and schools are blocking the sites. Let's build teams of teachers and students working together as we have started at OpenProject and aim for an even greater multiplier!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Begging and beginning more discussion

In a recent blog post, Theron wrote "A very simple image that begs more conversation". I found Theron's post through my rss reader so initially, I saw only the title. Consequently, I expected to see a simple image (a small jpeg, gif, or other image format). At first, I could not find the image because he was not sharing a simple image but a link to the resource. I did not see the link because I first thought it was the formatted title of the post. Once I clicked on the link, I saw that I had started to download a 9.8 Megabyte pdf version of Teemu Arina's image-laden presentation at a recent conference. Despite the hardwire connection to a cable modem, I had to wait for the download.

While I waited, I followed Theron's link to his source: Stephen Downes' post about the presentation who in turn pointed to Arina's post "Missing third places of learning" about his own presentation. Arina provides links to his presentation in various forms: pdf, slideshare, mp3 and other enhancements. Since the pdf that I requested at Theron's site had still not finished downloading, I looked at the Slideshare version. It loaded quickly and I started using it before the complete pdf version arrived.

Slideshare offers several advantages beyond faster access. It provides links to individual slides within the presentation that update automatically as the viewer advances through the presentation. For example, the link
takes the browser directly to Arina's representation (a complex image) of the factory model of education. This feature improves the granularity of citation for presentations similarly to the time-code links that I described in Testing time-selected links at Google Video.

Slideshare also provides the code snippets that allow me to embed Arina's complete presentation in this post. Finally, Slideshare provides comment support at the level of individual slides. Slideshare requires users to register and login to use the comment functions in order to control comment spam but it keeps the discussion closer to the context of the presentation.

While many presenters abuse audiences with presentation software, most put substantial amounts of time and effort into planning and developing their presentations. These features of Slideshare go a long way to help them become more valuable resources for reflection and discussion as Theron, Nils and I have discussed for video ala Jim Gibbons.

Note: While I wrote this post, Theron revised his post and improved it along the lines I suggested here. We collaborate despite the distance.