About Judy O'Connell

Educator, learner, blogger, librarian, technology girl, author and consultant. Transforming education and libraries. Innovation for life.

Critical connections: power for your mind online

Ideas are central to our need to connect and communicate – and technology has become a pivotal process or tool in that social and intellectual process of connectedness. Has it transformed learning in higher education? Not so much!

Let’s be clear – using technology and/or technology tools does not equate with empowerment of the learning/knowledge formation experience –  unless the technology connection allows for critical knowledge connections to form, or transform, the experience of learning.  This is a huge challenge, and while I understand that technology is around us (and that in my case I deliver all the learning experiences in my degree programs with technology) I am not convinced that I know yet what online learning is all about.

For example, Steve Wheeler re-iterated the often-stated importance of technology in schools in his recent post Talking Tech:

The personal, mobile device has started to transform learning in both formal and informal contexts. Learning in any place and at any time is going to gain traction in the coming years, and the emphasis will be on personal learning. Students can gain access to any amount of resources and connections that will help them to learn; they can use their mobile phones to connect with others; and also create and share their own content with potentially huge audiences outside and beyond the walls of the classroom. The value of this is immeasurable.

Trouble is, this does not convince me at all that we have made significant progress in understanding exactly what we are aiming for.  Tim Klapdor expressed this very clearly in reflecting on the current state of mobile learning:

The reality is that institutions (and the entire edtech industry) have under estimated the paradigm shift required to embrace mobile. It’s still treated as just a feature, or a nice to have rather than the future of computing.

Tim pins down the practicalities of mobile learning in higher education, and mirrors my experience (and huge challenges) of trying to shift a university environment past the bleeding obvious integration of mobile (there’s an BB App for that) (it’s clunky at best).

I prefer to treat mobile as the tool for daily, fast interaction within a  cohort of curious learners.  It would be arrogant of me to claim to know everything about the subject areas that I may be working in – and so I see learning as a peer education experience.  So mobile is vital for ease of connection, and engagement with the very essence of our critical connections – people, information, tools, communication, and more. How else can we genuinely power our minds?  How else do we move past the more traditional higher education experience of “I have the content, now you learn it please” model of engagement?

What we have is a an information interconnection between us which can be conceptualized as complexes of activities, tools and values, and for this the personal learning environments we create for students in the higher education experience must represent learning and inquiry that is responsive to these new information landscapes.

More easily said than done – as we are hamstrung by systems and practices that make it hard to liberate the potential of technology and mobile learning. Add to that the culture of openness that has had a significant impact on the educational sphere, as shown by the rise of open educational resources (OER) and open access (OA). While a complete transition to information openness has not yet been realised, educational practices that are entirely focused around traditional, closed and proprietary knowledge systems are in tension with these changing information landscapes.

So I find myself wrangling with BlackBoard, and horrified by the constraints that the Blackboard CSS places on the learning experience.  What a contrast to read GitHub for Academics: the open-source way to host, create and curate knowledge which was orinally published back in 2013 at Hybrid Pedagogy. I read it then, and read it again now, and (depressingly) realise that in the normal day-to-day work I am involved in, pure, focused and genuine innovation is well-nigh impossible. Unless of course you are head of an innovation unit, or in some other fancy role, and have time and money to throw at the project of transforming higher education.

I wish!  Academics like me don’t get that kind of opportunity.

All I can do is work with my students in my newest degree program, and hope that in some small way we can make critical connections, power our minds together, and move learning forward to the future!

Live long and prosper.

Image: Spock creative commons licensed ( BY-NC ) flickr photo shared by doctorlizardo

The Internet Scout Report

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Teachers often mention to me how difficult they believe it is to keep up-to-date with current quality research and information.  Of course, it isn’t – but only if you have developed a robust strategy for accessing and managing an information flow relevant to your own professional management and learning needs.

Even before all the amazing tools at our fingertips today, I was able to stay ‘in touch’ thanks to the amazing Scout Report. Back in the pre-RSS days, this report provided me with material I could easily share with school staff in my own edited weekly newsletter.   I still subscribe to the scout report, and occasionally snag a piece of information to share.

What is the Scout Report?

The Scout Report is the flagship publication of the Internet Scout Research Group. Published every Friday both on the Web and by email subscription, it provides a fast, convenient way to stay informed of valuable STEM and humanities resources on the Internet. Our team of librarians and subject matter experts selects, researches, and annotates each resource.

Published continuously since 1994, the Scout Report is one of the Internet’s oldest and most respected publications. Organizations are encouraged to link to the Scout Report from their own Web pages, or to receive the HTML version of the Report each week via email for local posting at their sites. Organizations or individuals may also use the sharing options after each annotated resource to email the resource or share it via social media.

The editors of the Scout Report take great pride in finding and sharing the best free Web-based resources we can find.

Each week, the Scout Report’s editors select and annotate approximately eight websites or online resources in each of two categories: Research & Education, and General Interest. Websites in Research & Education tend to focus more heavily on STEM subjects, while those in General Interest span a range of arts, humanities, and curiosities.

The Scout Report

Visit the Internet Scout at https://scout.wisc.edu/ and find out about all the projects and publications.

For the current issue of the Scout Report visit  https://scout.wisc.edu/report/current

The Scout Report Archives collects and catalogs each annotated resource featured in the weekly Scout Report and special issues. Users may find resources of particular interest to them using a keyword search, an advanced search, or by browsing by Library of Congress subject headings.

Past issues of the Scout Report are also available for users to browse at their leisure. These past issues are available chronologically by date.

This issue is located https://scout.wisc.edu/report/2014/1212The email version provides the linked summary followed by annotations.

You should consider signing up, if you haven’t already done so!

Predatory journals – watch the scams

Part of our information literacy expertise is to engage in reading of (and contributing to) quality research.  This requires that we understand exactly what ‘reputation’ is!

If you are not ‘up-to-date’ with the evil intentions of “predatory journals” you’ll get a kick out of reading this article from Science Alert and learn something along the way. From Science Alert: A study by Maggie Simpson and Edna Krabappel has been accepted by two scientific journals.

A fictional paper authored by Simpsons characters Edna Krabappel and Maggie Simpson, as well as someone called Kim Jong Fun (who we can only imagine is a slightly more approachable relative of North Korea’s leader) has just been accepted into two scientific journals.

Perhaps most troublingly, in Feburary 2014, a pair of science publishers (Springer and IEEE) retracted more than 120 papers, some of which were pure nonsense (created by the same program used for the Simpsons paper) but had made it into their published conference proceedings. Both these publishers are generally seen as reliable — showing how far the problem of substandard quality control goes.

Open Access has become a major theme of interest within the research community and those interested in dissemination of information and knowledge. In most cases, open-access publishing will occur through electronic institutional repositories – university websites where one can freely download researchers’ articles. Search engines such as Google Scholar will automatically index these articles and link them to related research. The resulting stream of freely available research will be a boon for our society and economy. But it’s not perfect, just a step in the right direction, as publishers also get ‘a say’ in what happens with published information.

Beall’s List of Predatory Publishers

The gold open-access model has given rise to a great many new online publishers. Many of these publishers are corrupt and exist only to make money off the author processing charges that are billed to authors upon acceptance of their scientific manuscripts.

Scholarly Open Access showcased the Beall List of Predatory Publishers 2014. The first includes questionable, scholarly open-access publishers. Each of these publishers has a portfolio that ranges from just a few to hundreds of individual journal titles. The second list includes individual journals that do not publish under the platform of any publisher — they are essentially independent, questionable journals.

In both cases, the recommendation is that researchers, scientists, and academics avoid doing business with these publishers and journals. Likewise, students should exercise some caution when reading and referencing these articles in their own academic learning.

Follow Scholarly Open Access for more insights into the contentious field of Open Access publishing.

Meeting future learning needs of education practitioners

Knowledge building, literacy and communication in action now take many forms. When Skype was first released in 2003, the global face-to-face contact began to transform communication and collaboration in ‘real time’. Now Apple’s Face-Time, Skype in the Classroom, and Google Hangouts (to name just a few tools) guarantee synchronous engagement, alongside collaborative text platforms such as Google docs. In other words, the mechanisms for engaging with information and processes of learning in the acquisition of new knowledge has become a deeper process of individual and collaborative learning activities, problem solving and artefact development, through an integration of face-to-face and online interactions within a community, involving absorption, integration and systemisation of the information received by the receiver in their own pre-existing cognitive structure, which are the result of personal experience, and earlier knowledge transactions (Trentin, 2011).

This digital information environment demands a new knowledge flow between content and digital connections. While the bibliographic paradigm created textbook learning, the digital information environment of today indicates the need for educators to understand information seeking and engagement within connected multi-media contexts. Computer and mobile device technology environments, social media, and ready forms of online communication drive our newly emerging knowledge ecosystems. Thomas and Brown (2011), who explored what they described as a new ‘culture of learning’, explained how much the Internet has changed the way we think about both technology and information. In this new culture of learning, information technology has become a participatory medium, giving rise to an environment that is constantly being changed and reshaped by the participation within information spaces. They argue that traditional approaches to learning are no longer capable of coping with this constantly changing world. The information environment is a technology environment, which demands adaptation. As information is also a networked resource, “information absorption is a cultural and social process of engaging with the constantly changing world around us” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p.47).

In other words, our digital information ecology is a remix of different forms of technology, devices, data repositories, information retrieval, information sharing, networks and communication. New technological tools are expanding and continually altering the ways school students, or educators can interact with the world. The implications for education that stem from new means for accessing information, communicating with others, and participating in a community needs a new brand of professional competences to thrive within the changing environment. Haste (2009) recognised the co-construction of knowledge through interpersonal discourse and the tension within pedagogy between a focus on knowledge-based instruction and outcomes, and on praxis-based instruction. “While most pedagogy, of course, recognises the interaction of both in good practice, there is nevertheless an underlying epistemological gap; knowledge-based models are implicitly more ‘top down’ and praxis-based more ‘bottom up’. ‘Knowledge’ implies that the route to understanding is in the structured transmission of information. ‘Praxis’ implies a necessary interaction with materials, actions or other persons as a route to understanding” (Haste, 2009 p.213).

Information ecology at the heart of knowledge

While technology is changing the information environment (including information places and spaces), the transactional nature of information interactions and knowledge flow underpins learning. Information can comprise both physical and virtual parts for operation and interaction. A major challenge for education is to enable and facilitate the generation of new knowledge via an appropriate information environment, to facilitate integration of new concepts within each person’s existing knowledge structure. This is described as an ‘information ecology’.

“Information ecology examines the contexts of information behaviour by analogy with ecological habitats and niches, identifying behaviours in biological terms such as ‘foraging’” (Bawden & Robinson, 2012. p.199). In this context of adaptive and responsive co-construction of knowledge, we can facilitate a viable praxis in digital environments, influenced by concepts of rhizomatic learning. “Seen as a model for the construction of knowledge, rhizomatic processes hint at the interconnectedness of ideas as well as boundless exploration across many fronts from many different starting points” (Sharples, et al. 2012 p.33). By creating curriculum and subject delivery which can be reshaped and reconstructed in a dynamic manner in response to changing environmental conditions or the personal professional needs of students, a digital information ecology provides the opportunity to work with information in the construction of knowledge in more dynamic ways, connecting learning experiences across the contexts of location, time, devices and platforms.

This information ecology also involves the creation of assessments and environments for knowledge building to enhance collaborative efforts to create and continually improve ideas. This approach to knowledge building “exploits the potential of collaborative knowledge work by situating ideas in a communal workspace where others can criticize or contribute to their improvement” (Scardamalia, Bransford, Kozma, & Quellmalz, 2012, p.238 ). In this information ecology we also understand that “the development of critical thinking is a key learning objective in education – particularly higher education – [and that] it entails the ability to make reasoned evaluative judgements when making sense of information sources that contain different (potentially conflicting) findings, perspectives and interpretations of a given topic of phenomenon” (Ford, 2008 p. 59). The use of critical thinking has become particularly important as relatively quick access to a wide range of information means that the user needs the ability to critically evaluate the validity and value of information accessed.

The evidence is that technologies and social media platforms are driving an unprecedented reorganisation of the learning environment in and beyond schools and tertiary environments. These disruptive shifts are already reshaping the workforce landscape and the skills required (Davies, Fidler & Gorbis, 2011), establishing lifelong and life-wide learning as the central paradigm for the future (Redecker et al, 2011).

Our work as educators has to centre on helping to meet future learning needs in courses/programs by fostering a culture of enquiry within a sustainable learning ecology that is shaped by the ubiquity of information, globally responsive pedagogical practices, and driven by collaboration and informal learning in multiple access points and through multiple mediums.

Bawden, D., & Robinson, L. (2012). Introduction to information science. London: Facet.
Charles Sturt University. (2012). Course Approval Document. Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation Articulated Set). CASIMS, Office of Academic Governance.
Davies, Al, Fidler, D., & Gorbis, M. (2011). Future work skills 2020. Institute for the Future for the University of Phoenix Research Institute: California.
Ford, N. (2008). Education. In Web-based learning through educational informatics: Information science meets educational computing. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
Haste, H. (2009). What is ‘competence’ and how should education incorporate new technology’s tools to generate ‘competent civic agents’. Curriculum Journal, 20(3), 207-223. doi:10.1080/09585170903195845
Redecker, C., Leis. M., Leendertse, M., Punie, Y., Gijsbers, G., Kirschner, P., Stoyanov, S., & Hoogerveld, B. (2011).  The future of learning: preparing for change, Institute for Prospective Technological Studies, JRC European Commission.
Scardamalia, M., Bransford, J., Kozma, B., & Quellmalz, E. (2012). New assessments and environments for knowledge building. In Assessment and teaching of 21st century skills (pp. 231-300). Springer Netherlands.
Sharples, M., McAndrew, P., Weller, M., Ferguson, R., FitzGerald, E., Hirst, T., … & Whitelock, D. (2012). Innovating Pedagogy 2012: Open University innovation report 1. Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (Vol. 219). Lexington, KY: CreateSpace.
Trentin, G., (2011). Technology and knowledge flows : the power of networks. Chandos Pub, Oxford.

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by katypang: http://flickr.com/photos/katypang/2628074710

Innovating Pedagogy Report

Once again the Open University has provided another Innovating Pedagogy report – the third report in it’s series. This series of reports explores new forms of teaching, learning and assessment for an interactive world, to guide teacher and policy makers in productive innovation.

Download the 2014 Innovating Pedagogy Report

Produced by the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, the report identifies ten educational terms, theories and practices that have the potential to provoke major shifts in educational practice in the near future.

Featured in 2014’s annual report:

  1. Massive open social learning
  2. Learning design informed by analytics
  3. Flipped classrooms
  4. Bring your own devices
  5. Learning to learn
  6. Dynamic assessment
  7. Event-based learning
  8. Learning through storytelling
  9. Threshold concepts
  10. Bricolage

While MOOCs and other theories covered in this year’s report are not necessarily new, the report aimed to examine how they can gather momentum and have a greater influence on education.

I find the greatest value of this report is to see the changes taking place – a litmus test – of what is considered relevant/important and/or of note. I would also juxtapose the findings against the series of NMC Horizon Reports, which cover a range of school, tertiary, and library sectors.

Look out for other annual reports in your country, sector, or region too!

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Intersection Consulting: http://flickr.com/photos/intersectionconsulting/7537238368

The academic challenge! Senior Lecturer!

One of the amazing things about working in academia is learning day by day just how different that is to working in schools. For one thing, the work is either wildly enjoyable or like a treadmill – depending on your capacity to cope with university administrative processes, and your own predilection to reading deeply, engaging in research, and pushing the boundaries in learning and teaching if you are a teaching professional.

It’s much more complex than working in a school – I know!  The hours are longer, the depth of knowledge engagement is wider, denser, and more exciting, and the pace is relentless, 52 weeks a year minus 4 weeks leave.  But I would never trade places with the golden opportunity to work with educators near and far.

I can’t help being deeply interested in knowing more, and working with the current and future leaders in our library and education sectors. I can’t help looking innovation straight in the eye.  I can’t help gasping in frustration at what I DON’T know, and being grateful for the wonderful professional colleagues with whom I work in the School of Information Studies at Charles Sturt University.

So it is with some amazement, and a tiny bit of pride, that I can say that I have been meeting the challenges thrown at me since coming to CSU in 2011.  What I’ve been able to do has been unexpected, and exciting.

So in all this I’ve been quite busy in 2014 (new degree, program reviews etc), and though I have been sharing information via Twitter and Facebook, the blogging has definitely taken back seat.

Never mind – in a tough academic procedural battle, I have been successful in getting promoted to Senior Lecturer.  Might seem easy – but it’s not. Things work very differently in academia compared to other organisations :-).  Takes reams of paperwork to back-track everything you have done, a panel discussion, and also requires external referee support.   Not every applicant is successful first time around. We were warned about this at a long seminar, and so I was not hopeful, being a CSU newbie (in academic terms).

Very special thanks to my external referees.  You know who you are – and your input was actually essential to my promotion bid.

Now – off I go to the next challenge…..intrepid explorer boots on!

Image: creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by Lisa Norwood: http://flickr.com/photos/lisanorwood/5968756701

For the love of ‘open’ maps

It’s been exactly ten years since the launch of OpenStreetMap, the largest crowd-sourced mapping project on the Internet. It took a few years for the idea of OpenStreetMap to catch on, but today, it’s among the most heavily used sources for mapping data and the project is still going strong, with new and improved data added to it every day by volunteers as well as businesses that see the value in an open project like this.

I’ve used Navfree: Free GPS Navigation on my iPhone, with free maps from over 30 countries, and it’s pretty cool.

I’ve also loved the an animation and music sources related to the first video showing edits to the open source resources that came from the original OpenStreetMap.org project during 2008.  OSM 2008: A Year of Edits on vimeo not only provides a fab background video for your own mixup, but also access to some great sound tracks to support this.

OpenStreetMap started in 2004 and the rate of contributions is accelerating with four times as many people contributing to the project in 2008 compared to 2007. During the year, edits were made by some 20,000 individuals and there were bulk imports of data for many places, including the USA, India, Italy and Belarus which are clearly visible in the animation. (wiki.openstreetmap.org/wiki/Potential_Datasources)

That original animation was produced by itoworld.com. It is licensed CC-BY-SA and can also be downloaded if you are logged-in. Various stills are available from flickr.com/groups/itomedia/pool/. The music is ‘Open Electro’ by Vincent Girès’ jamendo.com/en/artist/silence and can be downloaded from archive.org/details/silence-silence.

Here is the new animation and more information from TechCrunch For the Love of Open Mapping Data,   and OSM Tenth Year Anniversary.