Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Media Literacy: Making Sense Of New Technologies And Media by George Siemens - Dec 13 08

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Virtual worlds offer exciting opportunities in online learning. A virtual world is a fully customizable 3D environment on the Internet where people can meet, talk, and interact with each other as if they were in the real world. The big deal is that you're not just a screen name or a still picture, but a three-dimensional individual that you can personalize as you want.

Photo credit: h-l-n

If you have ever attended an online seminar or a virtual university lesson you may already know how this works. You join a virtual room, the presenter / teacher shares his screen and his voice with attendees, and you can enjoy a presentation, a course, or a panel without leaving the comfort of your own place.

What is less fascinating about the whole learning-at-a-distance process, is that you usually end up being just a screen name or a still picture, and you can't really interact with other people in the room like in the real world. The opportunities for any interaction among participants are very limited because there's not your whole "persona" sharing its experience with other people.

That's exactly why virtual worlds, and their most popular platform Second Life, can be venues to effective virtual learning approaches. Since in a virtual world the opportunity to interact with other people becomes fully immersive, and it is not just limited to screen-sharing or videoconferencing, a virtual environment constitutes a potentially much better alternative for educators and learners.

In Second Life you have a fully-customizable projection of your "alive self", not just a screen name or a picture. You can perform many actions in a fashion that is very similar to what you normally do in your everyday life. Walking, talking to other people, visiting places, attending events, and more. And it's very easy to understand how the whole thing works.

George Siemens is an educational technologies and media expert who strongly supports the use of virtual worlds for educational purposes.

In this weekly media literacy digest, he strongly disagrees with those academic environments who find the use of Second Life too complex to be considered as a valid resource for online learning.

But, as every week here on MasterNewMedia, Dr. Siemens also provides you with other pointers, facts and resources that can help you and me to make greater sense of new emerging technologies and their impact on the way we learn, understand, and deal with the world in these fast-changing times.

Intro by Daniele Bazzano


eLearning Resources and News

learning, networks, knowledge, technology, trends

by George Siemens


MIT Students Build Mobile Applications in 13 Weeks


I personally don't see this project - MIT students build mobile applications in 13 weeks - as being extraordinary (as the post suggests).

Learning with mentorship and oversight from industry is hardly new.

The speaker / researcher is right in suggesting that integrated learning of this type will become more common. Too often, we still teach as if we don't have tools for distributed collaboration. Old habits die hard.

But, if an educator takes time to reflect on how she / he could teach differently by using freely available technology, numerous opportunities are quickly realized.

How about bringing external presenters, industry researchers, and peer learners from around the world? How about using the numerous high quality learning resources available through Ted Talks, iTunes U, conference proceedings, etc?

The challenge many educators face today in trying to improve learning is not one of technology or information access. The most significant need is to begin envisioning a future reflective of the affordances of technology now broadly available.


Networked Learning


In a post expressing ideas similar to Wendy Drexler's Networked Student video, ed4wb contrasts education as traditionally conceived and as it might develop in the future.

Several useful diagrams emphasize the type of control shift occurring in how learners access content and participate in conversations. I've been a bit bothered lately by how networked learning is increasingly being conceived - i.e. a function of external and social networks. This is the most obvious way to explain learning.

For example, I grow my knowledge as I connect to other people and information sources. This is, however, not a complete view of learning. If learning is only about external connections, then how can gradients of understanding be considered? Or how can expertise (yes, it still exists...) be described in relation to novices? If our focus is only on the external act of networking with others, have we moved much beyond behaviourism? We can still use a network metaphor to address this concern, however.

As suggested during CCK08 (slide 8-18), learning can be seen as networked in at least three distinct ways:

  • neural,
  • conceptual,
  • and external / social.

The underlying structure in each instance is a network, but what is being connected is obviously different in each instance. (via weblogg-ed)


If PLEs Are Incompatible With The System Then How Do We Change The System?


Education plays a diverse role in society, ranging from formal research universities to practically focused community colleges.

The method of education is generally structured - based on the assumption that if we have clear goals (i.e. learn this content), then we also need clear / structured approaches (objectives, instruction, evaluation.

Some pockets of innovation exist. For example, during my current trip to Singapore, I heard about Republic Polytechnic, an institution completely based on problem based learning. I don't know how well the approach is working, but at least they're experimenting.

But change in education is hard because change disrupts existing power relationships. In some cases that's necessary, especially when the system is not meeting the needs of the intended audience. As Graham Atwell notes:

It is not just a question that curricula cannot keep pace with the speed of technological and social innovation. It is an issue that the skills and knowledge required by today's technology cannot be delivered through a rigidly sytematised, market led educational system.

Furthermore, globalisation, the rapid turnover in employment and occupations and the implementation of new technologies have led to pressures for continuing learning - what is being called lifelong learning. Present education systems cannot deliver this.


What Shall We Do With Higher Education?


In addition to a delightful array of vehicles, General Motors has given us a great metaphor: a company that once ruled supreme, lost touch with the changing world around it, and, in spite of warnings over a period of three decades, still failed to align itself to the new reality. From royalty to peasantry in less than 30 years.

Can higher education learn lessons from GM? Do colleges and universities share a similar fate? According to a few articles I've recently encountered, yes:

  • Transformation 101:
    "This is a classic unsustainable trend. Higher education prices cannot grow faster than inflation and family income forever.

    If colleges use productivity gains from technology to restrain prices, they'll continue to thrive in a world that values their product more than ever. If they don't, they'll be hammered simultaneously by a frustrated public and new competitors eager to steal their customers."

  • The Next Bubble?:
    "Obviously higher education will (and should) survive. But there is no reason to think that higher ed will be immune to the shakeouts and reorganizations that have affected so many other institutions in this age of globalization, which has wrought a heightened level of what economist Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction.""


For Innovators, There Is Brainpower in Numbers


When I first read Wisdom of the Crowds, I came away with an appreciation of collaboration that starts with individuality. Let me explain. The examples of crowds used throughout the book emphasis personal contribution that adds to the whole, but is not subsumed by the whole.

Collaboration involves individuals contributing their unique perspectives, not a type of faceless mob with an identity all its own. The individual view of collaboration has always been an issue for me in using wikis. Wikis overwrite individual contributions (sure, you can look at the history and find who contributed what, but that's not very useful).

In For Innovators, There Is Brainpower in Numbers, NYTimes - one of those newspapers not yet filing for bankruptcy - looks at the difficulty in "thinking together":

"Traditionally, brainstorming revolves around the false premise that to get good ideas, a group must generate a large list from which to cherry-pick.

But researchers have shown repeatedly that individuals working alone generate more ideas than groups acting in concert... The best innovations occur when you have networks of people with diverse backgrounds gathering around a problem."


Second Life


University Affairs looks at Second Life in higher education (within Canada). Results are mixed. Overall, the article presents a negative view of virtual worlds.

I'm a bit baffled by the comment that Second Life takes too long to figure out:

"The learning curve that comes with Second Life is a drawback mentioned by all professors, online communications personnel and students, and this is one factor that makes some universities reluctant to use the program".

The technical skills required to communicate, fly around, and generally exist in Second Life are low. Learning how to navigate and communicate takes very little time. More advanced tasks such as customizing your avatar take more time. But it's like saying "using MS Word is too complicated".

Sure, using the full range of features, tagging, merging documents, etc. takes time to learn. But to type and save an article / paper takes almost no time. The article confuses "requirement to participate" with "becoming proficient".

Originally written by George Siemens for elearnspace and first published on December 13th 2008 in his newsletter eLearning Resources and News.

About the author

To learn more about George Siemens and to access extensive information and resources on elearning check out Explore also George Siemens connectivism site for resources on the changing nature of learning and check out his new book "Knowing Knowledge".

Photo credits:
MIT Students Build Mobile Applications in 13 Weeks - Personal Branding Blog
Networked Learning - ungorf
If PLEs Are Incompatible With The System Then How Do We Change The System? - Stephen Aaron Rees
What Shall We Do With Higher Education? - Cathy Yeulet
For Innovators, There Is Brainpower in Numbers - ktsdesign
Second Life - TechDigest

George Siemens -
Reference: eLearnSpace [ Read more ]
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posted by Daniele Bazzano on Saturday, December 13 2008, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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