Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Year 2 - day ?

It has been about a week since the last post. This is the second of two weeks here in Calgary--the second and final of my two week residencies. Today I spoke to the first year students. I was so honored to have been asked to speak. Of course, immediately after agreeing to speak I thought "aghaaa...what do I have to impart?" Last year the people who spoke to me had such life changing experiences occur (cancer, deaths in the family, etc.) that I felt inadequate to address the possibilities of the depth of their experience. As humble as I feel, I hope my 'tips and tricks' will help the first year students adapt to their new environment. A large part of what we are doing as graduate students involve the idea of being mentors and co-creators of knowledge so I hope the first year students this year embrace the idea of collaboration and sharing knowledge as well as supporting each other.

And now I am off to work on my individual papers.

On a completely 'un-academic' level...no, I won't go there now...but stay tuned.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Year 2 - Day 2...accessibility

Today we had a field trip to the Computer Science area. There are endless possibilities for content using the development structures discussed today. At the end of today I will focus on two ‘access’ issues in two very different geographic and economic contexts.

First, these kinds of virtual world/media rich projects are incredibly expensive to create. There is a valid argument to be made that in Canada at a publicly funded university or where grants come from the federal government via a funding agency all the materials produced should be openly available and shared. As a tax payer, yes, I want that access for students and professionals! What I wonder is what is in it for the producers in an academic context? Is it like MIT where you get bragging rights for developing the materials and build your resume that way as a student or faculty member?

Aside from the expense to create, what about the implicit expense passed on to students. Sure it is fair to say that this might replace expensive texts and that one of the key responsibilities of educators is to prepare students by ensuring they graduate able to interact with sophisticated technology they may be using in the workplace. My problem is when developers force students to buy a specific device. Surely we can start to get some convergence going with regards to interoperability. I don’t have a problem being told I need a laptop for my program (in fact I take that for granted). What I have a MAJOR problem with is being forced to purchase from a specific company regardless of the name of the company. How is it that publicly funded schools can mandate that you must have an iPad? Why would educators want to be Apple salespeople? (We could just as easily substitute Dell or whatever company here.)

Secondly, still on accessibility, as I have been telling many of you I had the absolute honour to have delivered a workshop in Zambia at the eLearning Africa Conference. Here were all these bright young people who just were thrilled that they could work uninterrupted on a computer for a couple of hours. The connectivity was unreliable, the computers ranging in age and loaded with open source products because the university could not afford licenses…The lab director made do with what he had and under the circumstances did an excellent job. Even if we shared all the educational resources we saw today freely with the world, where does the bandwidth heavy Second Life fit for educators in Africa? Where do the device-specific applications fit in a region where an iPhone goes on the black market for 1,800 dollars because there is no business case for Apple to invest in Africa and only the very rich can even contemplate owning such a status symbol?

I wish I had answers to the questions above! For now it is just a confused mix of endless wonderful possibilities punctuated by indignation and outrage.


The shallows

I have not yet read "The Shallows" but I definitely will! I have heard the premise is that the Internet has made us consumers of shallow but broad information. Jack of all trades, master of none?

I studied English literature as an undergraduate and part of the program was learning to appreciate how much the actual spoken and written language changed over time. Chaucerian English (spoken and written) is totally different to Shakespearean/Elizabethan to 18th Century, etc. What we have witnessed is that speech patterns became less complex, and reading and writing became more accessible to the ‘masses’. As such the transfer of information, theoretically, became more accessible. Is not the Internet just the continuation of that process? A new lexicon is developing (shorter, quicker) because we type it not speak it? The shallowness did not start with the Internet; it is just its latest iteration.

We live in a culture of multi-tasking and whether it is the internet, a report for work, a tv show, or a book, we just don’t have the time to focus on ANYTHING in great depth. So are we shallow because of the internet? Was the Internet just in time to address our need for shallow but broad knowledge? Or is it like the great vowel shift that took place somewhere between the 13 and 15th centuries in England…No one really knows but it is alive and embedded in our speech.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Year 2 - Day 1...Public vs Private

OK-So it is the first day of classes and even though I am a second year student I am feeling just as overwhelmed as I did at this time last year. On the positive side, it has been great to re-connect with many of the colleagues from last year and to meet the new cohort. One funny thing is how much everyone's area of interest is becoming more refined.

In class today we had an interesting discussion of the public versus private environments. I am conflicted to some degree between the benefits of an open and accessible environment and a closed, secure one. On the one hand, why am I paying such high fees if all the technology I am using in the program is open source and free to the university as well as, in many cases, open to the public. Yes, I realise I will get credit for participation while the general public who have interest in the area won't.

I also do not fear the loss of my 'intellectual property' but rather I wonder if people will be more likely to take chances and put ideas out there if they are operating in a secure, supportive environment. Maybe it is a confidence issue? Perhaps one becomes more of an authority and have a discipline-specific rubric/standard by which to evaluate our musings better we may be more likely to embrace a completely open environment.

I am not 100% sure of how the next two weeks will evolve but I am confident that all things will fall into place.