Landing : Athabascau University

Demonstrating gadgets and feeds

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Welcome!

This is a pinboard that I have created to show how it is possible to integrate different sites and different information using Google Gadgets and RSS feeds. 

There are thousands of Google Gadgets available. Many are pretty awful, but there are some gems to be discovered at http://www.google.com/ig/directory?synd=open 

On the right of this, a clock and calendar, and some Google news. More examples are shown below.

The time and date

Athabasca University

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Twitter

The widgets either side of this one show gadgets displaying Twitter feeds. I used the Gadget available at http://www.gmodules.com/ig/creator?synd=open&url=http%3A%2F%2Fhosting.gmodules.com%2Fig%2Fgadgets%2Ffile%2F101874429875337446119%2Ftwit.xml&lang=en but there are several others available that do much the same thing. 

Jon Dron on Twitter

RSS feed from jondron.org

In the convocation prayer offered by Elder Maria Campbell each year for Athabasca University graduands, she asks for blessing that their journeys be "rich, gentle, and challenging". I can't think of a more perfect wish than this. Each word transforms and deepens the other two. It's truly beautiful. Every time I hear those words (or, technically, read them - they are actually spoken in Cree) they tumble together in my head for days. I am reminded of these lines (that are about music, but that seem perfectly apt here) from Robert Browning's Abt Vogler:

And I know not if, save in this, such gift be allowed to man

That out of three sounds he frame, not a fourth sound, but a star.

On this graduation day I wish all our departing students rich, gentle, and challenging lives, and (as Maria Campbell goes on to say, gently acknowledging troubles to come) that the roads they travel are not too bumpy.

And I wish the same to you, too.

June 17, 2022 - 4:21pm
icemi22 These are the slides from my invited talk at the 11th International Conference on Education and Management Innovation (ICEMI 2022), June 11th. The talk went down well – at least, I was invited to repeat the performance at a workshop (where I gave a very similar presentation today – if you’ve seen one, you probably know the content of the other!) and to give a keynote later in the year. It’s about how methods of teaching that solve problems for in-person teachers don’t apply online, and it provides a bit of advice on online-native approaches. I’ve talked quite a Read More
June 15, 2022 - 2:41pm

Having spent a while researching the literature on ways that visual landmarks and other text enhancements (and deliberate obfuscations) affect comprehension and recall, I am a little sceptical about the underlying theory for this patented product that is based on the assumption that we read better if the first chunks of each word are bolded, like this. The primary foundation appears to be a 1980 paper that uses gaze duration/eye fixation to predict readability of text. The Bionic Reading product creates artificial fixation points at the start of each word, so the theory seems to be that we can read faster, and recall more as our eyes are guided through the text. I don't see any mention of any other research on the Bionic Reading site that supports its claims apart from the 1980 paper, but (ironically) maybe it's because I missed it.

The assumptions may be a bit over-simplistic: we don't read everything the same way, there are differences in ways that different people read, subject matter matters, intent matters, and so do many other factors. I found that I could grasp the meaning of the sample plain text that they provide on the home page far quicker than I could the bionic text equivalent: it was a small enough chunk that I could absorb the gist of it in a second or so, whereas I had to read the bionic text word by word in order to understand it, which took several seconds. Familiarity matters, though: there are recognition mechanisms at work here, both in making unadorned text easier to grasp (for me), and in learning to read the bionic text. I suspect that, after a while, the (possible) benefits would diminish as we learn to recognize whole words more easily in their modified form. It makes me wonder whether the benefit is similar to that of making a font more difficult to read, for which there is some (contested) evidence that it can improve recall. When we have to try harder to read the text, for some but not all kinds and lengths of text, we tend to recall more. In fact, anything that makes it more likely for us to read something word by word - as long as the flow is not lost - can aid comprehension and recall, under some circumstances.

The product is interesting, though. It provides an API that can be called to convert any text to bionic text, for use (in principle) in any app. It might make an interesting variation on the ways that we are using to modify text in our Landmarks application (for which I claim prior art, having written about this in 2012). Landmarks is intended to make chunks of e-text more recognizable, especially when text reflows, so it isn't trying to compete in the same territory. However, the ways that the Bionic Reading app make passages of text more distinctive from one another might play a useful part in overcoming the big problem with most e-texts: that everything looks pretty much the same, and there are very few navigational cues, so it's harder to remember what you read and where you read it.

Address of the bookmark: https://bionic-reading.com/about/

May 19, 2022 - 10:44am
This is a preprint draft of a paper that has been translated by the exceptionally talented Junhong Xiao (he always gives the best and fastest feedback I’ve ever received on any of my work, and he does the translations) for publication in a forthcoming (likely August) edition of the open Journal of Distance Education in China. I’ll be touting it for publication in English so, if you’ve got an open journal that might want it or something like it, drop me a line: it’s a 10,000 word paper but I could shrink it to fit journal needs if that’s too Read More
May 17, 2022 - 10:23am

This is the second of two chapters by Terry Anderson and me (the other being on the topic of pedagogical paradigms, that I shared a week or two ago) from Springer's Handbook of Open, Distance, and Digital Education.

The 'paradigms' chapter more or less wrote itself - we've churned those ideas around for long enough now that we both know the topic rather well - but this one caused us a lot more trouble. Our difficulties were largely due to the fact that we started out with roughly as much idea about what the term 'informal learning' means as anyone else. In other words, we kind of recognized it when we saw it, but could come up with no plausible definition that was not either simply wrong, or vaguely defined as 'not formal' (sometimes adding the utterly circular cop-out notion of 'non-formal'). As we later figured, 'formal' is no better defined than 'informal', so that didn't help. Faced with the need to cover a fairly representative sample of work in the area, we therefore made a mess of it. Our initial draft consisted mainly of a set of examples culled mainly from Terry's encyclopaedic knowledge of the literature in the field, bound together in loosely connected themes. Because the literature we were citing was based on a large, vague, and often mutually contradictory variety of understandings of 'informal learning' the chapter reflected this too: the parts were fine, but the whole was quite incoherent. We needed a better framework.

So we started to brainstorm a few different ways of thinking about the problem, looking at as many ways the term was used as we could find, identifying common patterns and frequently associated concepts, trying to distinguish necessary from sufficient conditions, and consequently finding a much bigger mess than the one we had started with. The amount of fuzzy thinking and loose, almost arbitrary terminology found in the field of informal learning turns out to be quite staggering. It's not a field: it's a jungle.

Not for the first time, though, I found Michael Erault's work in the area to be an inspiration and source of clarity. Erault doesn't try to come up with a single defining characteristic, instead recognizing that there is a richly variegated continuum of informal-to-formal ways that people learn from and with one another (at least in the workplace settings he has studied). Although (as far as I know) he didn't  explicitly use the term, the sets of characteristics that Erault uses to identify relative degrees of informality seemed to me to imply that he was thinking in terms of what Wittgenstein described as Familienähnlichkeit (family resemblances). No single cluster of characteristics define learning as informal (or formal, for that matter) but, if enough are present, we can usually recognize it as one or the other, or somewhere in between.

This gave us a useful starting point, but it still left a lot of vagueness, and  Erault's focus on informal workplace learning did not fully address all of the meanings and instantiations of informal learning that are particularly significant when examining digital contexts - all the stuff that happens in exchanges through social media, for instance, from Quora to YouTube tutorials and back through email, Reddit, and Twitter. Also, it seemed to gloss over the formal stuff which (as we noted) is as poorly defined as 'informal', and that almost never occurs in anything resembling a 'pure' form: there is hardly ever any formal learning without informal learning lurking close by. It would be a lot easier if we just talked about formal teaching, because that does refer to a much clearer set of better-defined activities, but teaching is not at all the same thing as learning. Indeed, sometimes the relationship is very oblique indeed, notwithstanding Frere's claims that you cannot call it teaching unless learning occurs. And then there's the complex role of credentials of various kinds in both assessing and influencing learning. We wanted to find a way to capture the richness of that, but could find no existing work that worked well enough for us.

We went through a lot of different concepts and representations (yes, there were Venn diagrams!) before finally hitting on the notion that is is not so much a two-dimensional continuum between formal and informal, but a multi-dimensional spectrum defined in terms of relative degrees of dependence/independence and intentionality/non-intentionality.

 

We (tentatively) reckon that we can situate at least most existing work in the field within this framework, and that it provides a helpful way of thinking about whatever is happening in a particular moment of a learning trajectory (another concept from Erault that I've found very useful in the past, especially when talking about transactional control in my first book). An individual's learning trajectory will constantly wind around this space and, when other individuals are involved (not just formal teachers), their paths will affect one another in interesting ways. After we'd worked this out, the rest of the chapter fell more or less into place. You can read the result here.

Here's the chapter abstract:

Governments, business leaders, educators, students, and parents realize the need to inculcate a culture of lifelong learning – learning that spans geography, time, and lifespan. This learning has both formal and informal components. In this chapter, we examine the conceptual basis upon which informal learning is defined and some of the tools and techniques used to support informal learning. We overview the rapid development in information and communications technologies that not only creates opportunities for learners, teachers, and researchers but also challenges us to create equitable and culturally appropriate tools and contexts in which high-quality, continuous learning is available to all.

Reference

Dron J., Anderson T. (2022) Informal Learning in Digital Contexts. In: Zawacki-Richter O., Jung I. (eds) Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-0351-9_84-1

 

 

April 19, 2022 - 5:15pm

This is a chapter by me and Terry Anderson for Springer's new Handbook of Open, Distance, and Digital Education that updates and refines our popular (1658 citations, and still rising, for the original paper alone) but now long-in-the-tooth 'three generations' model of distance learning pedagogy. We have changed the labels for the pedagogical families this time round to ones that I think are more coherent, divided according to their epistemological underpinnings: the objectivist, the subjectivist, and the complexivist. and we have added some speculations about whether further paradigms might have started to emerge in the 11 years since our original paper was published. Our main conclusion, though, is that no single pedagogical paradigm will dominate in the foreseeable future: that we are in an era of great pedagogical diversity, and that this diversity will only increase as time goes by.

The three major paradigms

Objectivist: previously known as 'behaviourist/cognitivist', what characterizes objectivist pedagogies is that they are both defined by assumptions of an objective external reality, and driven by (usually teacher-defined) objectives. It's a paradigm of teaching, where teachers are typically sages on the stage using methods intended to achieve effective learning of defined facts and skills. Examples include behaviourism, learning styles theories, brain-based approaches, multiple intelligence models, media theories, and similar approaches where the focus is on efficient transmission and replication of received knowledge.

Subjectivist: formerly known as 'social constructivist', subjectivist pedagogies are concerned with - well - subjects: they are concerned with the personal and social co-construction of knowledge, recognizing its situated and always unique nature, saying little about methods but a lot about meaning-making. It's a paradigm of learning, where teachers are typically guides on the side, supporting individuals and groups to learn in complex, situated contexts. Examples include constructivist, social constructivist, constructionist, and similar families of theory where the emphasis is as much on the learners' growth and development in a human society as it is on what is being learned.

Complexivist: originally described as 'connectivist' (which was confusing and inaccurate), complexivist pedagogies acknowledge and exploit the complex nature of our massively distributed cognition, including its richly recursive self-organizing and emergent properties, its reification through shared tools and artefacts, and its many social layers. It's a paradigm of knowledge, where teachers are fellow learners, co-travellers and role models, and knowledge exists not just in individual minds but in our minds' extensions, in both other people and what we collectively create. Examples include connectivism, rhizomatic learning, distributed cognition, cognitive apprenticeship, networks of practice, and similar theories (including my own co-participation model, as it happens). We borrow the term 'complexivist' from Davis and Sumara, whose 2006 book on the subject is well worth reading, albeit grounded mainly in in-person learning.

No one paradigm dominates: all typically play a role at some point of a learning journey, all build upon and assemble ideas that are contained in the others (theories are technologies too), and all have been around as ways of learning for as long as humans have existed.

Emerging paradigms

Beyond these broad families, we speculate on whether any new pedagogical paradigms are emerging or have emerged within the 12 years since we first developed these ideas. We come up with the following possible candidates:

Theory-free: this is a digitally native paradigm that typically employs variations of AI technologies to extract patterns from large amounts of data on how people learn, and that provides support accordingly. This is the realm of adaptive hypermedia, learning analytics, and data mining. While the vast majority of such methods are very firmly in the objectivist tradition (the models are trained or designed by identifying what leads to 'successful' achievement of outcomes) a few look beyond defined learning products into social engagement or other measures of the learning process, or seek open-ended patterns in emergent collective behaviours. We see the former as a dystopic trend, but find promise in the latter, notwithstanding the risks of filter bubbles and systemic bias.

Hologogic: this is a nascent paradigm that treats learning as a process of enculturation. It's about how we come to find our places in our many overlapping cultures, where belonging to and adopting the values and norms of the sets to which we belong (be it our colleagues, our ancestors, our subject-matter peers, or whatever) is the primary focus. There are few theories that apply to this paradigm, as yet, but it is visible in many online and in-person communities, and is/has been of particular significance in collectivist cultures where the learning of one is meaningless unless it is also the learning of all (sometimes including the ancestors). We see this as a potentially healthy trend that takes us beyond the individualist assumptions underpinning much of the field, though there are risks of divisions and echo chambers that pit one culture against others. We borrow the term from Cumbie and Wolverton.

Bricolagogic: this is a free-for-all paradigm, a kind of meta-pedagogy in which any pedagogical method, model, or theory may be used, chosen for pragmatic or personal reasons, but in which the primary focus of learning is in choosing how (in any given context) we should learn. Concepts of charting and wayfinding play a strong role here. This resembles what we originally identified as an emerging 'holistic' model, but we now see it not as a simple mish-mash of pedagogical paradigms but rather as a pedagogic paradigm in its own right.

Another emerging paradigm?

I have recently been involved in a lengthy Twitter thread, started by Tim Fawns on the topic of his recent paper on entangled pedagogy, which presents a view very similar indeed to my own (e.g. here and here), albeit expressed rather differently (and more eloquently). There are others in the same thread who express similar views. I suggested in this thread that we might be witnessing the birth of a new 'entanglist' paradigm that draws very heavily on complexivism (and that could certainly be seen as part of the same family) but that views the problem from a rather different perspective. It is still very much about complexity, emergence, extended minds, recursion, and networks, and it negates none of that, but it draws its boundaries around the networked nodes at a higher level than theories like Connectivism, yet with more precision than those focused on human learning interactions such as networks of practice or rhizomatic learning. Notably, it leaves room for design (and designed objects), for meaning, and for passion as part of the deeply entangled complex system of learning in which we all participate, willingly or not. It's not specifically a pedagogical model - it's broader than that - though it does imply many things about how we should and should not teach, and about how we should understand pedagogies as part of a massively distributed system in which designated teachers account for only a fraction of the learning and teaching process. The title of my book on the subject (that has been under review for 16 months - grrr) sums this up quite well, I think: "How Education Works". The book has now (as of a few days ago) received a very positive response from reviewers and is due to be discussed by the editorial committee at the end of this month, so I'm hoping that it may be published in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space!

Here's the chapter abstract:

Building on earlier work that identified historical paradigm shifts in open and distance learning, this chapter is concerned with analyzing the three broad pedagogical paradigms – objectivist, subjectivist, and complexivist – that have characterized learning and teaching in the field over the past half century. It goes on to discuss new paradigms that are starting to emerge, most notably in “theory-free” models enabled by developments in artificial intelligence and analytics, hologogic methods that recognize the many cultures to which we belong, and a “bricolagogic,” theory-agnostic paradigm that reflects the field’s growing maturity and depth.

Reference

Dron J., Anderson T. (2022) Pedagogical Paradigms in Open and Distance Education. In: Zawacki-Richter O., Jung I. (eds) Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-0351-9_9-1

April 12, 2022 - 11:59am

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The list to the right comes from an RSS feed on my home page of bookmarks to papers I have written.