Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Objective knowledge - real or imagined?

I have just been listening to the podcast of an EdTechTalk discussion between George Siemens and Stephen Downes http://edtechtalk.com/files/EdTechTalk34-2006-01-29.mp3

I find that I am glad I didn't catch the live webcast - I found it sufficiently heavy going to warrant several breaks in order to be able to stay focused. Mind you, this could be because these two individuals are way above my weight division.

I suppose it was always intended to be a philisophical discussion, but I found I got impatient with it. Listening to these two learning professional giants debating whether anything at all intrinsically "is" or we have made it all up got me down after a bit. I mean, they're knowledgeable, these guys, and their arguments were clever, but I don't care at the end of the day whether an apple really is red or we just think it is.

I did agree with Stephen's point, though, that learning isn't something that someone "does" to someone else. On the other hand, his view that people should be given the freedom to design their own learning goals is a bit far-fetched when it comes to children. Their life experience is insufficient to afford them the perspective needed for this task - just as they are not yet ready to see to all their own needs independently of their parents. Perhaps he didn't mean to include children in that statement, but he didn't give any indication to the contrary.

Passionate Users again

Two interesting posts on this site today. First Death by Risk Aversion which talks about moving out of the "safe" zone and living dangerously.

The second is called Naked Conversation on a Bus and looks at the impact of blogging on the corporate world and people's changing views towards blogs.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Doing what you love

My bloglines feed from Stephen Downes steered me towards this essay from Paul Graham yesterday. http://www.paulgraham.com/love.html I had never heard of him before, although I gather he is a rather prominent figure in his field. The essay engaged me both as a learning professional and as a parent facing the "what will they be when they grow up?" question. Of course, I differed with his point of view on some issues, but he provided food for thought, and I used a few of his assertions to stimulate discussion at a dinner last night, to good effect.

Out of interest, I did something I seldom do, and took a look at the comments. Top of the list of many was one that had me spluttering with indignation at some people's arrogance and superficiality. So much so, that it provoked me to respond. This is the second time in a week that I have fired off an indignant response - I must be becoming curmudgeonly in my middle age!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Simplistic but passionate

One of my all-time favourite blogs is called Creating Passionate Users. It inspires me. Whenever I visit, I'm in serious danger of spending an inexcusable amount of time re-reading old posts and occasionally laughing out loud. It's a triumph for conversational writing, and a bit of a soapbox, to boot. Some of the posts have me spluttering with indignation, while others I might have written myself (naturally these are its highlights :-)).

It doesn't make any pretensions of ascending the lofty heights of academia of Stephen Downes or George Siemens et al, but it has passion - as its name suggests. Being a bit of a gung-ho jolly hockeysticks bear-of-little-brain type, it sits comfortably with me. The graphics are excellent and the issues addressed are real, grassroots stuff.

This post is a typical example of the sort of fare it serves up. Learning theory explained in terms accessible to just about anybody. Okay, so it's simplistic, but it doesn't hurt to be reminded of the basics every now and again - we are often in danger of taking ourselves awfully seriously.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Stephen Downes on blogging in education

I don't know when, but I need to make the time to work through this material: http://www.downes.ca/dwiki/?id=Samples.

Not only does it impact me as a learning professional, but I have two sons in middle school, who appear to be learning precious little about using ICT at school. My elder son's ICT teacher is making an effort to get the kids blogging after a conversation I had with him before the Christmas break. I have fed him all sorts of links (and this is likely to be another that goes his way!), and we are beginning to see some progress. The problem is that the entire class has had their email accounts disabled because some of them were sending dodgy material. This frustrates me no end - no-one confiscates their pens and paper when they use them to send dodgy messages!

Two steps forward, one step back.

More from George

Most of what George has to say in this post is solid, common sense. http://www.connectivism.ca/blog/52
However, the post is written as if he's had an epiphany, when, to be honest, there's nothing new in here. In fact, I thought that this was the whole point of things like wikipedia. The emphasis nowadays is on learning how to access and organise knowledge. I thought this was one of the prompts that led George to develop his theory of connectivism in the first place.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Be the stupidest person in the room...

I have listened to several podcasts in the past months and (strangely enough) the one that I find most inspiring is Sally Hogshead's Radio Talent Zoo. This is aimed at the advertising world, where I understand that Sally is something of a household name (what would I know?). I wouldn't have expected to find much of relevance in that cut-throat world to a learning professional on the lee-side. However, these interviews with successful advertising people regularly reveal some generic wisdom.

One line that has come up more than once is: be the stupidest person in the room. This runs contrary to the commercial world, where everyone is under pressure to impress everyone else. If you are the smartest person in the room, you can learn little or nothing from everyone else present. If, however, you are the stupidest, or the least well informed person present...

Just in case there is any doubt, you can't actually make yourself stupider - what you have to do is start hanging out with really smart people.

And never stop learning. Never overlook an opportunity to learn something new in even the most unlikely situations. Be a student of your business. It makes sense that, as learning professionals, we should model this.

Another gem I heard recently (sadly, I can't remember which advertising guru said it) was this: remember what made your best work your best work. With the passage of time, your best work may begin to look dated, but why was it your best work? What made it so good at the time?

Friday, January 13, 2006


It seems Miguel Guhlin is experiencing a spot of malaise.


Perhaps now more than ever there is the danger of the forward thinkers being do far in advance of the status quo - the real deal - that they're off the scope of most teachers. I have friends who teach in high schools and still struggle to make basic use of computers. They avoid using technology in their lessons because they know perfectly well that there will be a technical hitch somewhere along the line and they will have no idea at all how to remedy the situation, thus derailing the whole lesson. I have heard all their reasons/excuses for not improving their own technical literacy and I have some sympathy. It all comes down to the T-word... T I M E. There is so much that has to be learnt and achieved that improved IT skills doesn't rate very high on the scale.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Bored already?

So it seems George has had enough of learning 2.0 in his new article called Enough with 2.0 on his blog. http://www.connectivism.ca/blog The opening paragraphs would gladden the heart of many of my bah humbug peers who have threatened me more than once with pseud's corner. However, he changes tack a few paragraphs in, and I suspect the bah humbugs will mutter and withdraw by the time they reach it.

I hear George on his view that the way in which people learn probably hasn't changed a great deal - that we've just wised up to what works. Or rather, that we are wising up on an ongoing basis. However, with the increasing volume of knowledge and information available (not to mention the rate at which it changes!), it has become less and less viable to store it all in one's brain. This has increased the necessity to learn how to access information on a JIT basis rather than to remember everything.

In my grandparents' day, it was considered impressive when a person could regurgitate great wadges of information on demand. That skill is no longer prized. In fact, these days, such a person would be called "sad" or an "anorak" (in the UK that is, perhaps different epithets would be applied elsewhere in the world). This must represent a change in the way we store information in our brains (perhaps the rewiring that George briefly alludes to).