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A Fridge Full of Thanksgiving Leftovers

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

I have been writing for this blog since July and have looked at a wide array of subjects through my perspective as an instructional technologist, teacher, professor, administrator, and human being.  Some of these posts, such as those on Occupy Wall Street deserve an update, while others left things unsaid that I’d like to touch on. This doggie bag post revisits some of my previous writing for those reasons.

Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Colleges – It has been a tough couple of weeks for many occupy protestors and bad weather has been the least of it: being relocated, pepper sprayed, or barred from gathering is taking a toll. However, they seem to finally be getting organized and recently drafted a "vision statement" that has as its seventh point a free, democratic, and just society, "where we provide full and free education to everyone, not merely to get jobs but to grow and flourish as human beings." As I requested in my post, "Occupy Wall Street – Make Sure Education is on the Agenda!" – education has made a prominent appearance on the first firm statement of purpose for the Occupy Movement. Outstanding!

The Changing Nature of Knowledge – My original post about cognitive learning theories and what it means to "know" something under a social constructivist paradigm neglected the relatively new theory of "Connectivism." The idea behind connectivism is to account for the rapid acceleration of knowledge production, the increasing prevalence of informal learning, and the role of technology in our lives. It has the potential to affect teaching and learning at all levels by redefining what it means to know something in a connected world and should be addressed in more space than is available in this grab bag of topics. Keep your eyes open for a full length post in the near future. To learn more about Connectivism in the meantime, read this article by George Siemens.

Bridging the Digital Divide with Online Education – This post examined the potential of online education to bridge the Digital Divide. Sad to say, but things have not improved since the summer- income disparity continues to increase, new plans are being made to cut social services, and education budgets are being slashed even further (Seattle Times, Nov. 25, 2011). There is hope from the Occupy movement but the recent rash of scandal surrounding for-profit education has actually caused a partial ground shift in the belief that higher education is beneficial and necessary for everyone in our society.  The complaint here is that higher ed is unaffordable (perhaps even a scam) and that it does not benefit most people because of a lack of specific job skills. This is sad and frustrating because, if all education were affordable (or free), it would provide a significant benefit to our entire society.

Using Social Media in the Higher Education Classroom – A quick update on the status of social media in the classroom. The "ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2011 Report," which surveyed 3,000 students from 1,179 colleges and universities, revealed that 58% of students are comfortable using social media in their classes to connect with other students, collaborate on homework, and discuss quizzes and tests (Chronicle.com, Oct. 27, 2011).In addition to the traditional social sites, students also reported an increase of social studying sites and wanted their professors to incorporate them into their courses. It seems that social media is forcing its way into the college curriculum through a grass-roots movement by students.

Fair Use of Media in Online Teaching – In late October, the U.S. Copyright Office announced that it will be researching several new changes in copyright law designed to keep up with the rapidly changing world of online information. One piece to keep a watch on is potential legislation regarding Google Books library digitization project which could provide free access to several library’s collections online (bibliographic information and snippets from books currently under copyright). The case is under litigation.

Semantic Web Technology and the Future of Learning – When I initially wrote about the importance of semantic web technology for education, I was very optimistic, though that optimism was tempered by the lurking specter of Big Brother monitoring everything we read, watch, and learn. Since that writing, academic publishing giant Pearson and adaptive learning startup Knewton have signed a pact which will incorporate the Knewton technology into some Pearson courses. While that seems good on the surface, the agenda to catalogue every piece of information about every student who uses the technology has reawakened fears of the Ministry of Truth running education. I posit in “Knewton and Pearson – Is Big Brother teaching Your Children,” that this kind of partnership could lead to a new era of mass-production-type education behind a thin veil of customization.

U.S. News Rankings of Online Programs Could Hinder Future Innovation – I originally came out very strongly opposed to a ranking system for online education based on the notion that the arbitrary/qualitative nature of ranking systems could lead to a homogenization of online programs in an effort to meet narrowly defined criteria, rather than actually addressing the needs of diverse learners. Since that writing, several online institutions have opted out of the process (Inside Higher ED, Sept. 29, 2011) and several others have complained about the process. Specific complaints include that the survey focuses too heavily on incoming student demographics rather than the results of the programs. These roadblocks have not stopped the effort though, as the rankings are due out before the end of the year. More to come on this once they are available to scrutinize.

Zombie Education Apocalypse – I waited patiently for the zombie apocalypse to begin at 11:11:11 on 11/11/11, but nothing happened .  While this was moderately disappointing, there is still a zombie problem in the American education system that is showing no signs of abating any time soon. While new technologies and an understanding of the value of innovative thinking are gaining marginally, developments such as the Knewton/Pearson mating are potentially making the situation worse. In fact, a subtle disguise of the zombification process as customized learning could suck in the entire student population before we even realize what has happened.

All things considered, there is a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. Education is creeping forward out of the Industrial-Age, people are standing up for their rights and the rights of others, and the promise of new technology continues to increase our connection to others. Positive changes are coming and will arrive despite our societal and institutional resistance to it.

 

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net