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Part 1 - Our chairman is a very active person, who not only chairs the board of the Open University of The Netherlands, but is member of the socio-economic council of The Netherlands, politically active in our region, and member of a number of other boards. In his quest for political backup for Lifelong Learning in The Netherlands, he participates in symposia and conferences, often presenting his arguments in keynotes and contributions. On his Twitter account, he often mentions his schedule for the coming day, and gives short impressions of the new things he has learned during a working day.
Part 2 - One of the projects that I am currently working on is the foundation of a Dutch Library School, a project in which the Open University and the Association of Public Libraries are co-creating a school that intends to offer library professionals an intensive learning programme on the crossroads of Tradition, Innovation and Culture, with the aim of building the innovation capacity of the whole library sector. Last week, the first group of students and their coaches - including Rob Bruijnzeels, Marlies Bitter and myself - spent an intensive working/walking week in Italy, where we drafted the first design of the Library School. During this week, we discovered that the public library sector and the public educational sector are currently experiencing similar transformations in the knowledge society, and we acquired some new insights.
Part 3 - Yesterday, Theo twittered about attending a symposium in Maastricht about the future of the public libraries in The Netherlands. This triggered my attention, so I checked out the website of the symposium and found out that Theo would contribute with a presentation about the role of education in the future of the public libraries. After checking with my colleagues, we felt that it was necessary to update Theo on the latest insights from our working week in Italy, so we got in touch with his secretary, wrote a short information update for Theo, and had a very short briefing meeting.
Now, you may ask: Where is the knowledge management in this?
- Firstly, although Theo was aware of our Library School project at a management level and had included the project in his presentation, he was not - and could not have been - aware of the new insights that we had picked up in our recent activities. With the multitude of projects that are ongoing within an organisation, the chairperson can not - and should not - be updated on all the current issues and insights. - By the way, I think it is therefore that Theo stopped following me on Twitter: just too much information. You must know the phenomenon.
- Secondly, our organisation is not so large that it can afford a giant support staff that can do the knowledge work for the chairperson. The weekly board meetings are mainly about making decisions, and not so much about gathering updates on relevant projects.
- Thirdly, our Intranet is used actively at the Open University, but usually only mentions important milestones, such as new projects starting up, or the intermediary or final results of a project, but never the ongoing issues - again, that would be just too much information. From the information that we distribute, Theo's support staff could not have guessed that there were fresh insights that could have an impact on the Open University's message at this symposium.
By pure coincidence, I stumbled across the recording of Martin Bean's keynote speech at this year's Alt-C conference - which I definitely plan to attend next year. Martin is the new vice-chancellor of the UK Open University.
Apart from his being a very enthousiastic speaker, his message touched on some of the issues that our own university is trying to deal with. For me, the main focus of his speech was on trying to remove the barrier between formal and informal education, but also that universities need to guard their role of providers of affordable education in the knowledge economy.
I wish I had seen his speech before I did this afternoon's interview with the Flemish newspaper "De Morgen" about the use of new technologies in (higher) education, then I could have referred the journalist to his speech, where he says: First you have to get the people in place, then the processes and only at the last stage get the technology in. This is more or less the message I gave the journalist, but Martin Bean's way of putting it was so much more forceful.
In a sense, Martin Bean's speech also struck me as being very parallel to the discussion we're having with the Dutch public libraries, in our efforts to design, develop and implement a Library School which offers both formal, informal and non-formal education, trying to balance between Innovation, Tradition and Context. Public libraries face a similar challenge as educational institutions, since their role in a fast-changing knowledge society is changing drastically, and they have to establish their position in that society on the crossroads between Society, Culture and Technology. Quite an interesting theme, I think.
The online course on connectivism and connected knowledge (Edition 2009) started again this week. I participated last year, but mainly as a mega-lurker due to an overload of other projects. This year, I intend to participate more actively, hence this post.
Last year's short introduction gave me a bit of a feel for connectivism as a learning theory, and it got me thinking. How do learning theories relate to each other? Are they mutually exclusive or rather complementary? Last year, I developed a first thought about this, that goes along these lines (and extends the summary that George Siemens wrote for the course).
- Learning theories can be argued to be related to different stages in human life, and different learning theories are better suited for explaining learning at different stages / ages of learners. I prefer therefore to call them learning modes, rather than learning models or theories.
- Behaviorism can be applied to the way very young children learn, when neural connections in the brain are just being formed. Learning takes place in situations like: "When I cry long enough, Mommy feeds me", "When I smile at this nice man, he cuddles me". Stimulus-response based learning can be argued to apply mainly to more basic levels of skills and knowledge that can be subdivided into small chunks in a logical and structured way. As such, the behaviourist approach can be argued to lay the groundworks of knowledge and skills in humans.
- Cognitivism assumes that knowledge schemas already exist in a human mind, and then focuses on how new information and knowledge is added to the existing (neural) network of knowledge. Focus is on the individual learner, and his or her knowledge creation, storage and retrieval. It can be argued that this learning mode starts at primary school level, when children learn to connect 'loose items' of information into more complex schemas, and begin to see how things are connected. Cognitivism's focus on the individual coincides with the child's attention being focussed on itself and its immediate surroundings, its core family.
- When children start to become aware of context and social surroundings - often sometime around puberty- it can be argued that constructivism 'kicks in'. The unshakeable thruths that they learned in primary school tend to be no longer unshakeable. Their general knowledge is being remixed and rewritten into a personal and social version of that knowledge. Information is now co-constructed, and no longer taken at face value. The social surroundings play a major role in this phase of life.
- However, when students leave school / college / university, their existing social network gets distributed, and they need to enter a professional world, where they - more often than not - become (semi-) isolated experts in their field, who are required to put their acquired knowledge to good use, and monetise that knowledge. When they want to keep acquiring and growing their knowledge, they can enter their connectivist mode, and hook up with their extended online social network.
- The previous is not to say that one learning mode pertains to only one stage in life, but it indicates the dominant learning mode at that stage. There is also a sort of chrono-logical order in the learning modes. Each new learning mode somehow presupposes and builds on the previous mode.
- I think it's worth to further explore these learning modes and see if they apply to different types of information, skills, knowledge, or competencies. It might well be the case that learning simple and medium-complex skills is best tackled in behaviourist mode, whereas complex mathematical models are best learned in cognitivist mode.
Theo started using Twitter during his heroic opening of the OUNL's 25th academic year, where he completed a marathon across The Netherlands and Flanders and opened the academic year for 25 people in just 36 hours, but has continued using it since then. During the same marathon, Theo acted as an exemplary mobile citizen by uploading photos and writing blogposts in the car on the road. This feat in itself deserves international attention in my view. This is "Teach as you preach" in its purest form.Now what makes Theo's tweets interesting from my perspective as an employee of the OUNL?
- Firstly, it is interesting to see the different circles that he moves in, politically, economically and regionally. It provides a degree of insight into the workings of the contexts that surround a small - somewhat rebellious and nontraditional - university. It shows what it takes to keep the mission and goals of our university on the agendas of the decision makers at the different levels of gouvernment and funding in The Netherlands and Flanders. In other words, it augments my understanding of the university, its strategy and tactics and as such his tweets are an important professional asset for me, as I contribute to the digital environment of our organisation, and need to take a wide contextual perspective.
- Secondly, Theo's tweets also cover his more private interests and activities. Now, you may wonder why this should be important for me as an employee. In my view, these tweets add a degree of 'familiarity', which make Theo into a real person, and not just a hierarchical entity. This insight into his personal life helps build a level of trust that surpasses the brief chance face-to-face encounters in the hallways of the University. This does not, however, deduce from the distance that -in my view- needs to remain between an employer and an employee.
This brings me to what I see as the added value of microblogging in a professional knowledge-intensive environment, something I have labelled 'virtual familiarity'. Let me illustrate this with an example. I have been following a number of colleagues from the British Open University on Twitter, such as @mweller, @gconole, @sclater and others. I have briefly met Martin (Weller) and Niall (Sclater) on occasion, but I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Grainne (Conole) in person. Due to the fact that I follow her on Twitter, she has become more than just a colleague who writes good papers and does interesting research; she has become a person whom I have had online communications with (more similar to a real communication than through blogging and commenting), whom I have shared the occasional joke with, etc. When I now meet her at a future conference or workshop, it will be like meeting a close colleague whom I have worked with for years.
This happened to me in June at the ICDE World Conference in Maastricht, when I met Maarten @maasbrenn, a Norwegian colleague that I had been following for some time. It felt like bumping into an old acquaintance, even though we had not formally met before, and we were able to start sharing insights and opinions about the conference immediately. We started our own little backchannel at the conference, and met for coffees in between sessions, just as I did with my OUNL colleagues, and with a similar degree of familiarity.
Now, is it important to be 'virtually familiar' with the people in your professional knowledge network? From my personal perspective, it is extremely important, especially in a context characterised by increasing distance. A large group of students at the Open University have problems with the impersonal and distant aspect of distance learning (note that another group actually appreciates those aspects). In my view, microblogging can help make distance education and knowledge sharing/creation more personal and more social.
As we were about 6-7 twitterers at the conference (which had an attendance of about 600 people) we established an unofficial backchannel through the use of the #icde2009 hashtag. I found the use of the backchannel quite interesting, because it added an aspect of interactivity, which was often lacking during the sessions themselves, especially the plenary sessions.
I also made a Slideshare Event page for the conference, where I tried to gather all presentations that were available online. I think conference organisers should encourage participants to publish and share their presentations before or during their presentation (Great example set by Terry Anderson).
Just today @timbuckteeth (Steve Wheeler) pointed out this article on the use of Twitter as a backchannel. I try to embed the article in my blog, so enjoy.
More than just passing notes in class? The Twitter-enabled backchannel
Platform is a Drupal-based community site that brings together News, Blogs, Forums, Study-related Issues and some more informal stuff like games, competitions, etc. After the info, some comments - off the top of my head:
- Platform is open for anyone to join - you needn't be a student, staff member or alumnus to register. This is positive, because it allows others to get a bit of a feel for what's going on On-campus.
- The standard open blogging function in Drupal has been switched off for registered users, thus limiting the interaction possibilities. Users can, however, submit content to the site or participate in forum discussions, but both types of user-content are moderated by site supervisors. This has the effect that the site feels very much like a student bar, where the institution sets the rules and hands out the drinks, and users are only allowed to choose at which table they want to sit..
- The added value of registering on the site is that you can rate, tag and comment on stuff that appears on the site. These user actions are not pre-moderated (they appear immediately after posting them), but they are probably scanned by the site supervisors anyway. This adds a nice touch, but - to stay within the metaphor.
- Currently, the link with the institution's virtual learning environment is non-existing, nor is there a clear link to the institutional website. As such, the community site feels a bit like an 'in-between' place to be. And not really integrated to form a 'single user-experience'.
- In allowing rating, annotation and tagging - RAT, for short - Platform has achieved one of the goals of the OUNL's goals in setting up new user-centered services.We also want to offer rating, annotation and tagging of items. We are not entirely certain of which items we want to open up to user feedback. The OU-UK has chosen to allow feedback on 'safe' items on the platform, and not items on their institutional homepage or in the virtual learning environment.
- Our ideas of integrating the community aspects of the OUNL in an integrated personal workplace would bring together the formal and informal communication related to the student/stakeholder in one single place. We intend to minimise the barrier between the learning environment and the community environment, which will hopefully enhance the user experience of the OUNL as an integrated campus.
- Finally, our idea of the personal workplace for all stakeholders starts from the main assumption that the user is in charge, and not the institution. We will be offering different information and interaction services in an integrated environment, but the user will be in control.
Can you imagine that no politician was willing to participate in a radio debate this morning to answer some of Nic Balthazar's questions, while they spent hours debating the non-endorsement of three French-speaking mayors in Brussels? Setting priorities straight?
Why does this message appear in a blog about educational technology?
- The Obama campaign illustrated the power of viral campaigns on the Web to mobilise voters. I wonder whether education might benefit from this mobilising potential?
- Can the use of web technology support more environmentally-friendly education? Is distance education a sustainable alternative?
- CELSTEC - my department at the OUNL, formerly known as OTEC - is performing an experiment on distance working. For instance, can the use of technology prevent me from having to drive 130 km every day to work - and still allow me to get the same results in my work?
Thanks to Henry, I got (re-)acquainted with Flock, the social web browser. I installed it yesterday, and played around with it a bit. Here are some thoughts.
I linked the "Friend feeds" from my social networks to it (Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace), so now I get automatic updates of all my friends updates'. I am missing LinkedIn, but also the more local networks, such as Netlog or Hyves, and there does not seem to be a way to add people feeds from non-supported services (yet).
Next, I added the my Flickr, Picasa and YouTube accounts, and all the media feeds from these sources are centralised in a media bar at the top (or bottom) of the browser. This means any channels you subscribe to, or new additions from your friends. And you can view media either by opening the media bar, or as a widget on your startup screen.
Next, I exported all my Netvibes feeds to an OPML file, and imported it into Flock. Of course, this is an offline feedreader - as opposed to Netvibes - but it is nice to have all these functions combined in one tool. Moreover, it allows me to read all new feeds in one single page (a feature that Netvibes does not support yet).
A very neat feature is the platform-independent blog editor (which I am using while writing this post). Flock allows you to add your weblog accounts, and then provides a simple editor for writing a post. When you are finished writing a post, you can choose which blog to post it to. However, when I tried to actually publish the post, nothing happened.
A bonus is that it automatically uploads any illustrations or images to your online photo account (in my case on Flickr).
All in all, a very positive experience, if some of the minor flaws are fixed.