Monday, July 20, 2009

Myths, lies and bullshit

Its time to start (re)exposing the myths, lies and mountains of bullshit around education - especially in relation to social media, openness and online learning. If we don't try and gain some perspective on all this, our efforts to develop appropriate educational practices will amount to changes of no significant difference, resulting from a whole lot of pissing in the wind, pushing shit uphill, and hitting our heads against brick walls. You've heard it all before - the same as it has been for most efforts that have come before.

Social media in education

In 2004 Robin Sloan, Matt Thompson and Aaron McLeran released the video EPIC2014 with the following stand out lines:
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. In the year 2014 people have access to a breadth and depth of information unimaginable in an earlier age... At its best, EPIC [Evolving Personalised Information Construct] is a summary of the world — deeper, broader and more nuanced than anything ever available before. But at its worst, and for too many, EPIC is merely a collection of trivia, much of it untrue, all of it narrow, shallow and sensational... Perhaps there was another way."
There is a role that education can play in the EPIC forecast to help ensure that for as many people as possible it is the best of times, but of course we know it will never be. Commenting in 2005 on the accuracy of the predictions in their video Matt Thompson said, "Robin and I know 2014 won't resemble the future EPIC describes. Because 2005 already does." And in 2009 most people still have no idea how they might use this new media scape to their educational benefit. Most aren't even aware that it exists!

In 2009, 5 years after Youtube became popular in the world, the NSW Department of Education and Training (Australia's largest state education body) unblocked Youtube - for teachers only. Twitter remains blocked for everyone in school, as do numerous other social media platforms that make up the mediascape described in the EPIC video. A situation of censorship, blockage or just poor performance that is common in most educational institutions that have made computing a central force in their practice.

More recently and more famously, anthropologist Michael Wesch released his video The Machine is Using Us that endeavors to explain how and why this new media is significant (his longer videos go into more depth). But over the past 5 years I am yet to met a teacher in Australia or New Zealand who can talk at any length about Wikipedia's role in education. I know only 2 or 3 who use Youtube beyond simple viewing, and only a handful who have 'opened' their practice up for wider participation and involvement. The vast majority of the teachers I work with still have no idea how to make a hyper link, how to use tabbed browsing, what it means to subscribe to RSS feeds, or even begin to imagine what use these things would be in their profession, let alone their students and the wider community. I've given up on the possibility that the education sector might help ensure the best of times for people in the epic future of now. That assurance will have to come from somewhere else.

Open education

And what of open education - currently hijacked by another concept known as open educational resources (OER)? It is the peak of digital and network awareness in the education sector, but what relevance does it have to teachers and students really? According to the two videos, we already have all the access we need, so if we were to answer that question from the perspective of resources alone, we could only conclude nothing! OER has nothing to offer teachers and students at all. A teacher doesn't need OER to make it ok doing the things they do anyway. A normal person doesn't care if the resource they are using is an illegitimate copy in a format that doesn't meet standards of obscure freedom - they just want access, and so far they have it.

OER promises more efficient production of content - based on collaboration; reusability of content - based on copyright; and sustainability of content - based on formats. These are the concerns of the publishing industry, libraries and educational policy makers. Copyright and format standards are nothing more than geeky nuisances to the average teacher I work with, who hours before class is printing off the staple bound A4 photo copy they have been piecing together for 4 years now, or burning illegitimate copies of CDROMs that the library bought for a packet 10 years ago, or slapping together a restricted access Moodle for the first and only time, relying heavily on over time, Google (anything-will-do) search, and technical assistance.

As it turns out, no-one is reusing OER anyway, and this is just evidence that the publishing industry is well and truly asleep at their wheel. Even if teachers had the prerequisite skills, awareness and political disposition for appreciating OER (assuming that person still works in education), we all know that educational content is inherently non-reusable anyway, making collaboration even more difficult and the rest redundant. Let's face it, the concept of open educational resources needs to be very broad in scope if it is to survive the hell ride of implementation, which is why open education is less about content than it is about practice - probably most of all in the process of assessment.

Certainly narrowing open education down to a MediaWiki, the Internet or even digital formats will ultimately cripple progress toward a free and egalitarian education system. Open education is about much more than content...

Online learning
At the beginning of 2008 almost 70% of NZ was not connected to a useful Internet, and apparently 80% of the world had no dial tone - online learning is the practice of a minority, and yet has been the primary focus of most educational development funding over the past 15 years. Why is this? How is it that policy makers and funding agents had the apparent foresight 15 years ago to start investing huge amounts of money into computer mediated online learning? This was long before there was any evidence to say it would benefit people learning? And long long before we had any evidence to say it would be useful to teaching and education - we're still waiting for that evidence.

In 2004, when the Internet was only starting to have signs of persistent impact on our way of life - it would seem that this investment money had all but dried up when it came to ideas about open education and engaging with social media. 15 years later, and billions of dollars down, how can we know it was money well spent? Well it wasn't. We have countless CDROMs sitting under dust on library shelves, we have learning object repositories complete with SCORM compliance and DRM, painfully stupid learning management systems that struggle to work with our even more painful student management systems! And most of all we have a deeply entrenched IT infrastructure that is totally geared towards restricting access rather than granting access to learning and opportunities for education. Today, if you spoke to most people living in the worst times of epic, you'd have to wonder about the wisdom and motivations of the of the education sector.

Age old questions
So my question is this: What is it REALLY that is causing the teacher disengagement from something so apparently important to the meaning of literacy, teaching and access to learning? Why does it seem that the world's greatest encyclopedia, the most phenomenal video library and the most in depth access to first hand experience is made up by everyone except those wrapped up in the education system? Perhaps there is wisdom in the crowd, and that disengagement is the only appropriate response to something that's worth to the education system remains to be seen? Is it really a simple question of policy, incentives and rewards? Or is it something deeper in the psyche of a teacher, a student, human sensibilities of power and the system of education? Could it really be true, that education has never been about the empowerment of people really, rather the survival of an institution? That would mean that me, you and all those good people we've met are all part of that inevitable goal. How undignified it is to know the set up is wrong headed, but there isn't anything you can do about it but help it stay that way.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (Attribution) license.


Rachel said...

Great post Leigh! Something rattled your cage or was it just the straw...
Don't you just feel like 'shooting the wounded' and moving on.
It's about reaching the Tipping Point i guess which is such a struggle to get people moving towards. Without your work & many like you there would never be any change in our world.

borborigmus said...

An oasis of sanity and commonsense - that's what your post is to me.

More power to those, like you, who question the flawed 'axioms' on which we base our work.

Once upon a time the pedagogies described what worked empirically, thus providing a foundation for further growth. Now it appears that unsubstantiated, untested and untried bullshit has replaced those foundations. To me is a reflection of the passing of intellectual rigour in the educational field. That is so sad.

mollybob said...

wow! all guns blazing... and I like it alot. I like that you are questioning the ways things are, and they why they are as they are. Your suggetions about education being for the survival of the institution ring alarm bells for me, and I find the picture you paint of our current system deflating. Maybe more posts and attitudes like this will help be the catalyst for such change

Jim Groom said...

Wow Leigh,

This post makes me want to catch a double feature of Mad Max and the Road Warrior. I can't help but agree with you in so many regards, and speaking as an instructional technologist---I am increasingly feeling like a Blade Runner, specifically programmed for an obsolescent labor that in many ways the completion of which is premised upon my demise.

Yet, I want to believe an institutional role in bringing this stuff forwards will make a difference, but I have been struggling with that as of late. I feel like educational institutions in particular bleed one dry based upon the very "ideal" we are working towards, a kind of hippie vision of the possibilities in Wesch's video without the harsh realities that their is a struggle for control that we are all still passively watching happen regardless of how much "content" we contribute to the web. I think you capture the dystopic energy of our moment that seems almost forcibly Utopian for fear of really thinking about what's going on all around us.

Bronwyn hegarty said...

ah the beast is pacing! I think you are confusing education with scholarship and learning. You can't really blame the teachers - they are institutionalized, through no fault of their own, to fit into a particular mould of accreditation standards and policies. Until we get rid of the educational model which is driven by the need to educate people for employment in particular certified industries you can forget about teachers offering the sort of learning you are talking about. I would certainly prefer to adopt the "Feed me and I will learn and become a scholar" model used by the medieval monks. Aka - Let the beasts and plebs toil in the fields while I sit and read and write.

Surely OER fits best with informal and non-regulated learning as in itself it is an unrestricted model and phenomenon. As you say where is the evidence that all this digital gobbledy goop is any good for helping people to learn? So why worry if a teacher can use a computer or add a hyperlink? Perhaps they should toss away the electronics and rely on some old fashioned and impassioned storytelling, and hands on action to get the learners interested and engaged?

Isn't OER a paradox anyway. Shouldn't all information be free and accessible to all? How can we change society so that all people see value in sharing and being open rather than in participating in an economic model of profit and greed?

Do we need a Jesus figure to dish out the "loaves and fishes" to the masses so we no longer have to worry about the next meal and money to pay the mortgage.

Bring on the mead and toss out the OER - now is the time for real learning and scholarship. But we may have to beam ourselves to another galaxy...

Chris Harvey said...

Nice trolling.

At least OER people don't devalue their work by calling it content.

I know many educators use and encourage the use of Wikipedia in school, I'm sure they have thought about and talked about it's role in education, one secondary school I worked at had a big Wikipedia poster in their library.

Part of this seems like your bragging about yourself, like you're a rebel thats all alone in this struggle.

And this:

"How undignified it is to know the set up is wrong headed, but there isn't anything you can do about it but help it stay that way."

Completely wrong, this is what we like to call a "cop out",an excuse. No one is forcing you to do that. Perhaps you suffer from Learned helplessness?
If you honestly believe that then you should quit.

I'm not an educator,teacher nor student in your eyes and that doesn't bother me at all.

gl with your institution.

Leigh Blackall said...

Fair comment I think Chris.. it could sound like I am big noting myself, and maybe I do suffer from learned helplessness.. I wonder about this actually.. some of my colleagues accuse me of it too.. in a round about kind of way. I might be burning out in this line of work hey. But even if I took myself out of this picture - became a fly on the wall.. what I write here is still observable.. you can't argue with the fact that NSW DET still blocks it.. as do many Polytechnics here in NZ (thankfully not Otago). Thanks for the slap around Chris. Keeping me on my toes.

What do you mean OER people don't devalue their work by calling it content? Wikieducator for example, it's bi line is "free elearning content".

Wara said...

Make haste slowly Leigh. Rome wasn't built in a day. You have a great vision that is taking time to build....we'll get there.

Millionaire Anthony Morrison said...

Good that you making us see the reality, people should do somethinf for the education. For improving it, the social media is a great resource, if used in a good way.

Seth said...

I was really disappointed in this blog post. Instead of trying to "gain some perspective on all this" you instead chose to go after anybody who doesn't see things your way.

You start off with "And what of open education - currently hijacked by another concept known as open educational resources (OER)?" It really depends on your perspective. For some, OER is all that people know of open education, and all that they really want out of it. If OpenEd'ers can't define the beginning and what open education does/does not cover, how can you say it's been hijacked? This is before we even get into the idea that maybe this alleged "hijacking" is more natural evolution than you'd like to admit.

"OER promises more efficient production of content - based on collaboration; reusability of content - based on copyright; and sustainability of content - based on formats. These are the concerns of the publishing industry, libraries and educational policy makers." All of whom are important to helping teachers do their jobs. If the real rub is reducing bureaucracy, then say so. But demonizing support staff in favor of a 'free the teachers' ideal is to ignore very real logistics behind (current) education delivery - logistics all the rhetoric in this blog post/rant fails to deal with. By the way, do you really want teachers operating their classrooms in this gray 'Well, it's not legal, but everyone does it, so...' copyright landscape? Really? Are you ok with corporations/bureaucracy/administration playing so fast and loose?

"As it turns out, no-one is reusing OER anyway, and this is just evidence that the publishing industry is well and truly asleep at their wheel." Since I know the author of the dissertation, I feel pretty comfortable stating that the purpose of the study was not meant to create a blanket statement about all OER, as you do, but to provide one data point in an ongoing research area. To treat the conclusion of one study is...well, look at the title of the blog post. OER by most measures is very young, can we really dismiss it so quickly?

Beyond that, I think some of the responses in this blog post get me. Bloggers who push the utopian visions about 'disruption!,' 'the Singularity!,' 'Edgeless University!,' 'Clay Shirky!' then occasionally write a post about how they're being let down by the Open Education/OER movement. It's like drug dealers being distainful of customers getting high, when they were responsible for the hype in the first place. That's the depressing part about reading blogs - I'm looking at either unbridled, unjustified ectasy, or caustic cynicism.

Leigh, you are a one-man army for change, but all this post did for me was add to your own myth to the pile.

Leigh Blackall said...

Hi Seth, thanks for the frank comment. But I get the feeling that you may be reading this post in isolation and out of context. That's fair enough, its my fault.. to me this post is part of a number of posts on these 3 or more topics, and I find it difficult to write something stand alone. This post is a kind of back flip on everything I've been doing these past 3 years. Reflecting on my efforts to establish OERs in a small institution in NZ, and to get some uptake on the use of popular and social media.

You say I'm going after anybody who doesn't see things my way.. not really, social media, open educational resources and online learning is the way I see things - so I'm really going after myself. Challenging everything I have believed in these past few years.

Perhaps you're right about my use of the word hijack though.. its too strong a word, and implies corruption or bad motives in the thinking behind OER - that's unfair of me.. people in the OER movement mean well, very few are profiteering on it. What would be another word that captures what I mean? I want to describe how essentially irrelevant copyrights and formats are to most teachers and students (I know you get that).. and that in a way, we (and I am definitely included in this) have used copyright law to angle in on educational practices. Its almost as bad as royalty hunters coming down on copyright infringements in schools - both use a crappy interpretation of the law to pressure teacher's practice. Instead, we should be standing up for Fair Use (Fair Dealings in my country) and making what teachers do on a daily basis ok. If that's just a question of bureaucracy, then ok.. that's what that is.

Another thing you help me see is that I am not making a clear enough distinction between the act of being a teacher or a student, and the act of producing media. I think I am beginning to realise that OER is more appropriately the domain of the publishing industry - or the educational support workers as you call it. What I meant by them being asleep at their wheel is that they have so far missed a big opportunity. Why aren't they getting into the free content and editing it and reformatting it for sale? They'd save a bunch of money on paying writers, and I'd love a nicely bound book and CD of Wikipedia articles, Archive videos, and Wikiversity activity sheets on say - ancient Greece! Selling me this book and CD released under CC By SA makes perfect sense. Why isn't the publishing industry in on all this?

I am guilty of confusing the purpose of OER.. I have come at things with a user generated bent, saying that if teachers just started using social media more, and applied free copyrights, then we'be all ok. I was interested in teachers editing wikis and loading their lesson plans up and creating their own videos.. I argued that it was (or would become) as easy as using the photocopier.. but it isn't.. or the raod to learning how to use social media is harder than the road to learning how to use a photocopier.. and most are not taking that road - their sticking with their photocopier and ignoring social media and copyrights. So my work in OER changes focus. Instead of pressuring teachers, I should find publishers to help create free content and to reformat it into formats that teachers use.

Thanks Seth, you were harsh but helpful.

Peter Rawsthorne said...

Until you quit your day job this flawed system you describe will be perpetuated! Most "Edupunks" are hypocrites.

Tongue firmly planted in cheek.

dean said...

Leigh. In all of this, consider that more students play online games socially than use social media. Teachers often begin with shallow classroom repotoires. Their ict skills are often limited, so combined with educations history of "spoon feeding" PD in sporadic chunks, there is no precident for coninuous development.

Kids however are learning, and in the case of games, the immediate skills and collaterial participation needed to play something like Warcraft, delivers -all be it in an informal and unlabled way. Teachers, despite decades of academic research by MIT et al, completely shun games and playful learning beyond early primary.

I wonder how those so wrap in web2.0 and telling others how amaing it is in the classroom - how the reconcile the fact they are not exploring playful leaning.

You are right abou open learning and sharing. There are a lot of people making a sound living of the shifts in education, and I appreciate the need to earn money. But access to these people, to bring much of anything to enterprise is limited by hierarchy and ideology of relative few, with access to funding. As you say DET is woeful in it's approach, And time and again tows the political line, excluding teachers and students from social media completely. The Board of Studies Tweets to teachers, and knows full well teacher can't see it. We live in times where there is benefit to many in orbiting the problem, and much less in solving it (taking responsibility) for that action.

So we see laptops and front of house efforts, that lack any method to bring their use into the 21st century. I like you write about the issues and not put off by the happy clappers.

jackmo said...

Yo Leigh,

some decent points but no mention of all these WOW addicts / teachers trying to pass off playing MMO's and feeding their gaming addictions at school as education?

ellen.hrebeniuk said...

I was just listening to a (recording of an online!)presentation where a researcher had surveyed some of the more IT-savvy TAFE teachers, and their No 1use of digital resources was to project it in class from their computer. No 2 was to print out everything. The major advantage of digital media is to overcome the tyranny of distance (or time), but as you say, with DET the way it is, we are a way off achieving it. Nonetheless, my part of TAFE is talking about increasing its workplace-based learning substantially by 2012. Must ask them how they expect to do this -- one teacher told me it would be done by statistics rather than by any actual change!

Seth said...

Now I feel bad. Can we hug in Vancouver? Maybe we can split a pastry...

I think, given your follow-up comment, we agree on more than we disagree. With my previous work with OER, I'm a little sensitive about how the movement itself is treated and perceived.

I agree that we should be leveraging Fair Use (or equivalent in the given country) as much as possible. I also find myself intrigued by the idea of focusing on publishers, rather than teachers. There's something interesting implications there, but I need to spend more time wrapping my head around the idea before I say more.

Thank you, Leigh, for taking time to respond to my comment.

Leigh Blackall said...

omg! in a conversation on another post, sent me looking for something else I'd written, only to accidentally stumble on this post were I basically gave this rant before.. I need to get out more!

BTW Pete.. all punks are hypocrites.. even Rotten took his pay checks

Leigh Blackall said...

See you in Van Rock Seth :) I think we should all get together and hammer this issue a bit.. Pete, are you going to be there? I really want to talk up the project you and I were talking about relating to assessment in open education.

Michael said...

Say a few words Leigh! :)

Steve said...

I can understand your frustration particularly when there is an abundance of papers, videos etc advocating use of participatory media....on grounds which actually do relate to common teaching approaches (or atleast those banked in participants undertaking education degrees). However the more I work in this area I am learning that 'teaching and learning' is often not the sole or defining priority for institutions when funding e-learning related departments and/or initiatives. Subsequently teachers are consumed by a myriad of tasks which similarly (while they would argue necessary) do not relate to their core practice of teaching and learning. When you ultimately need teachers to get enthused about teaching practice to consider the use of participatory technologies (eg. YouTube, Wikipedia etc) I would ask 'what do you think you could do to get teachers enthused about their practice...which then may create an environment where they will ask for solutions, guidance, advice etc. A slow process.....

Leigh Blackall said...

Dead right I reckon Steve. The "passionate users" I have met, are quite passionate about learning, and discovering new ways. When a technology comes along that is all about information and communication, and now participatory media - they see it as clear as the day. The others generally always say, I don't have time to learn this.

There are of course passionate and very effective teachers using pre Internet and pre participatory media methods, if only those natural born teachers would spare a bit of time for exploring new methods. Imagine what they could find and then teach us with less experience generally.

Steve said...

For those 'enthusiastic teachers' whom are not interested in collaborative online tools, I often find they are teachers whom have a real need to own and control their learning....which I totally respect and understand. Which you would say...'well participatory media enables this'...however, if they have been around for long enough to endure numerous attempts of top down ICT up-skilling programs (which can be seen as institutional surveillance...particularly in the case of LMSs) then they are likely to resist discourse with a third party. To loosely quote Freire... trust is a pre-requisite for discourse and without discourse there cannot be action. I would then ask 'how do you encourage discourse and the consequent critical thinking around use of ICT so that these teachers can discover these things without us having to bang our heads against the wall? I don't have the answers, although if the norm remains where ICT/e-learning etc is seen as something that can be isolated from the day to day practice of teaching by administrators, management and the teachers themselves then its a pretty tough gig trying to institute change....

Leigh Blackall said...

Excellent questions! And you're right - trust is ultimately what will enable changes, which is perhaps why change comes so slowly within the education sector!

To some degree, I have had success with highly popular media like skype and facebook, relying on the trusting discourse that was already seeded through friends and family outside work. Friends and family are starting to talk about Youtube, Wikipedia or Twitter.. no one in real life is talking about Moodle or Blackboard or course, that far to serious!

And so I might advertise on how to use Skype to bring in guest lectures, or how to use Wikipedia or Youtube.. etc.. but the thing that always works against that approach is the play vs serious teaching and learning subtleties. We all know that serious online teaching and learning happens on a Blackboard, not through email or Facebook (for starters) and certainly not on Skype or Second Life because IT can't let it work reliably etc.. it took long enough to get the word Moodle taken seriously - now its policy endorsed! and now because of Moodle's designed disposition towards "serious" teaching and learning, it works against efforts to leverage popular and reasonably ubiquitous media

simonfj said...

Leigh. You say "trust is ultimately what will enable changes, which is perhaps why change comes so slowly within the education sector!". Please mate, just for a sec try and consider yourself without an "education" hat. It's samo, samo for ALL institutional change. Education is a fashion like all social institutions, while trust and culture can't see sectors or organisations.

I really do hope you'll have a chat with KAREN now. She's a nice girl who's continually ignored by your Global peers, just as her sisters are. So it's no wonder you're back to December 2007, and Skyped.

This one is for you.

Leigh Blackall said...

quite right Simon. Trust is surely important to change everywhere.. it gets me thinking about types of trust too.. such as consistency.. where people don't have to respect or desire reasons for change, but simply experience a consistency of some sort designed to bring about changes..

The rest of my comments over at your post.

alexanderhayes said...

Hi Leigh,

You have the chest to pin it on.