Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Emerging Technologies - A framework for thinking all right!

Sean FitzGerald (my news aggregator with a heart beat) recently made notice to the TALO egroup a rather important document by for the ACT DET - Emerging Technologies - A framework for thinking.

This is a hefty document that couldn't have come at a better time for me as I sweat it out over that critique I'm writing. It's pretty good actually with the exec summary stating:

Positioning the ACT DET to take advantage of emerging technologies will require acknowledgement of the need for cultural change and processes to support and manage it. Students today are ‘native speakers’ of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet. Many devices described in this report are banned by schools. A shift in culture is crucial to ensure that students’ uses of these devices are embraced as educational opportunities and that they become tools of the trade, rather than be considered contraband.

Many students are entering their school or college with multiple literacies that go beyond text, and this trend will strengthen over the coming years. Educators will need to acknowledge and recognise these new literacies, and build upon and extend them.

The success of such an approach will require that teachers/tutors have access to professional development opportunities to develop confidence in the use of educational technology, as well as informal support environments of peers.

... Use of emerging technologies, delivery devices and new methods of content distribution will require a flexible, simple and open digital rights management (DRM) regime that enables and supports sharing and exchange of content rather than blocking or limiting it. Cross-jurisdictional agreements on rights arrangements and trusted services agreements are precursors of content and data sharing across systems.
Jeez I could quote the whole summary really! It goes on to talk about open source software, web services, budget realities, repository based sharability (o-ho!), Wireless futures, and even a dot point list of "high level business requirements".

The 110 page document is very informative, but writen in a tone where action strategies could be left very much open to interpretation. It speaks the old language of content management, repositories and digital rights management, but refers to newer models of openness and network engaged... while i can understand why the document has this tone (it was written by mutliple authors in for the ACT DET after all) it is the room for interpretations by the broader readership I worry about. Will those who are well entrenched with closed, proprietry, top down, content centric models hear only the words that support their model, and ignore the newer words about open source, open networks, student and teacher empowerment, cultural change etc? I guess that's where us on the ground come in. This document gives our efforts more credibility I suppose. Opening just a few more doors to the ideas of change.

Section 5. The environmental context for emerging technologies, is the more interesting section for me:

The implementation and use of technology cannot be divorced from its environment, that is, the governance and security; political and legal; social and cultural; educational and technology environments that are already in place.

being someone who likes to think he keeps track of emerging technologies (enough to get by at least), its the educational, cultural and social context in which it comes into being that perplexes me to frustration. This document helps me to clarify my undersanding of it by looking at:

Security - stating that a balance needs to be found between rights and freedoms, and access control and security. The document makes an interesting point on security with regard to portable devices and wireless connectivity...

My thinking on security tends towards a model where all content and records that should be held and passed securely be done so at a security level different to content that is needed for educational reasons. When it comes to Internet access for educational purposes, I think it is simpler to provide open access free from liability than it is to try and filter usage to 'appropriate levels'. In cases of child protection, I think a teacher should have the power to turn on and off filtering services depending on the nature of the class they are working with.

Policy - The usual encouragement for the people to get involved!

Digital Rights and Intellectual property - the big nastey! I was very pleased to see that straight off the bat, the Creative Commons licenses get mentioned. The report describes CC in some length then goes on to mention that the complexity of the current system is causing frustration among teachers, implying that CC simplifies all that. That's great, and confirms my belief that the CC licenses are the most appropriate tools for managing public educational content and helping to simplify things for teachers. The big and unresolved issue of the use and misuse of licensed software gets a mention also.

Equity and Access - Acknowledging that ICTs could inflame social divides, the report recomends that:

The education system needs to recognise the learning skills that students have developed in their media-rich out-of-school environment, and learn to build upon the capability of the community. Schools have always done this with extra-curricular activities such as music and sport.

While I think its interesting to look at ICTs as an extra-curricular activity, I think its a little reckless to believe that people already have the opportunity to access ICTs out of school (be it at home or at a public venue of some sort). I don't think this does enough to take into account the various other things that prevent access such as distance, community cultural support and attitudes, not to mention the idea that library services aparently offer ICT services anywhere near what is required... maybe in Canberra they are, but not from where I'm sitting!

Cultural change (students)- While the intention may be there, the report makes the mistake of referencing Prensky's idea of digital imigrant and native. Prensky is a North American, and someone who I think is familiar with a particular class of North American. Australia and its class structures are a different matter, and I don't think Prensky's ideas work here. I'd sooner acknowledge Australian cultural stereotypes of laid back, sport loving, outdoor freaks as something that is preventing effective uptake of ICTs in Australia...

But I think the intentions of the report are sound - to argue for a need for cultural change within our educational organisations to embrace ICTs. Can't argue with that! And perhaps Prensky's ideas will be more the case here in 5 years anyway. Start our cultural change now, and we'll have a bloody good education system by then, ready for the Australian digital natives to come through...

Cultural change (educational community) - They get networked learning!:

Through the communications capabilities of emerging technologies, education communities extend beyond the institution’s grounds into parent communities, the general community, into industry, libraries, museums, and the global community.
Cultural change (teachers) - Calls for the need for more sustained professional development opportunities, but I think there is a cultural change needed within PD units! I think PD units would do well to stop focusing so much on sponsored proprietry based software training and start training teachers in more general digital and network skills such as file formats, file sizing manipulation, better searching, better resource management... in short balancing all the proprietry training already done with free and open software alternatives would help!

Cultural change (leaders) - Another one that is too brief. Leaders need to start using ICTs beyond email as well! Its one thing to reward teachers for experimenting with new practices with ICTs, but to leave it at that is a cop out. Unless managers and directors are actually using ICTs more effectively themselves how are they going to relate to the new practices and comprehend truly innovative work? Also, giving teachers the freedom to install software, would go a long way towards an innovative ICT environment.

moving right along..

Open source software - Its great to see open source software getting a plug, but only in the sense of the reduced license costs. The authors neglected to mention the potential increase in capacity the sector (especially in the ACT) might gain in being able to work with source code... they make a scary reference to open source for 'ePortfolios' - why I dunno, they could have found a better example. Sounds to me like the authors are not too experienced with desktop open source applications... I wonder if they've ever used Open Office, Linux, or GIMP? They need to make a distinction between desktop applications and server applications by the looks. Where's the reference to the Asia-Pacific Development Information Program e-Primer on free and open source in education?? I know you can't have them all, but not having this one is a big oversight in my view!

Emerging Technologies Section

Things are starting to look not so great for this report. There's a very odd depiction of the concept 'web services' with quite an alarming illustration of how the authors see the whole eLearning thing interweaving. Their view is that the Internet feeds into 'trusted' sources like EdNA, TLF, and VLORN? those trusted orgs then produce web services (my guess is that it is content filtered and sorted for delivery to the deliverer... the deliverer then coughs it up based on their cuuriculum - the learners interface with delivery devices with no connection to a broader network! Some sort of crazy top down reenactment of the classroom by the looks!

I now have a very bad taste in my mouth about this. This paper could be the wolfe in sheeps clothing that I worry about. Embracing the new ideas of open networked learning and making them fit into old models of content management and delivery. No mention of connectivism, real life learning, or engagement... please God let it come good again...

I skipped everything about standards as I could see it being related to sharable learning object concepts and repositories. For me its simple - if its digital, licensed creative commons, and has a URL that can be linked directly to, then I can reuse it... a real world, sharable learning object. As for sequencing the 'object' it'll always be up to the learner or the teacher in what ever context they are needing it in.

The section on technical infrastructure is great! Very informative towards wireless technologies and the things needing consideration. Even power line access gets in which shows the author is really onto it I reckon. It gives a big list of case studies of educational orgainsations around the world experimenting with wireless, making a firm point that wireless is the future. Sadly, free community wireless initiatives didn't get a mention.

The part about Web-based Administrative Tools and Applications Infrastructure freaks me out for reasons I've already expressed here and in the past (centralisation, control, monolithic etc).

For example the bit about LMSs starts out with a very strange sentence:
The delivery of quality e-learning programs from a technology perspective relies on effective Learning Management System (LMSs) software applications.
"from a technology perspective" - does that strike anyone else as odd?

Then there's this:
Many of our educational activities in future will take place within virtual classrooms, also known as virtual learning environments.
Hell, I've almost lost motivation to read on! There's stuff about ePortfolios - I don't get ePortfolios at all!

I'm going to stop picking out all the bad stuff and skip to the good stuff. I must keep positive... I must keep...

The stuff about Personalisation looks interesting. They reference personal start pages like MyYahoo, Sean FitzGerald has some ideas forming about personalisation of the interface between education and life...

I have to take a break, as I can see there's stuff still worth reading in here... need to go feed myself and get a fresh head and find the motivation to read on for the goods. What a big document! Too big perhaps? Take out all the old guff about LMSes and sharable learning objects and we'd have a readable document I reckon. Spose its good to be exposed to it though, within the concepts I object to are problems and ideas that could work well in other contexts...

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