Knowledge in the digital age


The future of learning is such a BIG topic that’s central to our work in higher education and K-12 education. The type of future thinking we need to engage in is NOT the hyperbole around  the demise  of the industrial age (it never was the right way to frame future planning!) but rather a deep analysis of who we are, what we want, and how we can best achieve knowledge developments as a result of engagement with ideas, actions and content.

Now I know that statement sounds prosaic in itself – but stay  with me a moment longer.  January 3 sees me well and truly launched into work preparing for a 2014 year of deep diving into ideas with students, colleagues and friends alike.Yes, back at work!

In a sense the deep dive began with a hilarious afternoon/evening watching University Challenge on the big screen internet enabled TV with my family. We got quite attached to some of the competition teams, and completely fell head-over-heals for the Corpus Christi Colleage Oxford team.

What struck us was the range of knowledge that these young competitors exhibited (we scored very poorly as we kept our own record).  As author Anthony Beevor, presenting the trophy to the winners of the 2011 challenge,  stated that if we believe that there has been a dumbing down of education in the last number of decades, listening to these students deal  promptly with the diverse quiz questions certainly proves the opposite.

The fact that knowledge is relevant and central to the ongoing advancement of the human endeavour is not in question in the digital age – but rather how information is utilised to grow knowledge is. What is happening in social media, popular culture, online, in your connected spaces?  As my colleague Tara Brabazon outlines in Time for Timbits: Fast Food, Slow Food, Class and Culinary Communication:

The internet … entered popular culture and became a powerful channel of ideas – rather than the hobby of a few – as the bandwidth increased, enabling a much more rapid movement of increasingly larger files. Therefore, the speed between diverse sites increased the range and the adaptability of media. Speed transforms minor media into popular culture. Speed is therefore a characteristic of modernity.

Knowing how to ‘think’ and ‘work’ in a digital age is more than just dealing with the information flow and ‘drinking from the firehose’ of global information. Speed is central to a new method of productivity, only when it is utilised in a manner to continue deep thinking and knowledge creation. I’m not a digital immigrant any more than my 16-year-old-niece is a digital native.  I’m a product of the education and professional opportunities that the social and cultural environments of my life allowed.

Knowing about technology does not make you knowledgeable – but knowing how to maximize working with information in and for knowledge development may help to make you more knowledgeable.

According to the recent MacArthur Foundation Report “The Future of the Curriculum: School Knowledge in the Digital Age” new learning in a digital age encompasses a move away from seeing curriculum as a core canon or central body of content to seeing curriculum as hyperlinked with networked digital media, popular cultures, and everyday interactions. The questions, then, are what knowledge is to be included in the curriculum of the future, what are its origins in the past and the cultural legacies it represents, what future does it envision, and what authorizes its inclusion?

The report clearly explains how the knowledge economy has become the dominant political style of thought in education reform worldwide. For my money, the extent we subscribe to the newest wave of reform (forget the hackneyed references to factory schooling) is not so much the issue. Rather it’s about recognising the influences and potential at play in changing the ways we can engage in the knowledge construction processes with our students.  Mind you, the MacArthur Report is a bit prone to hyperbole too:

we are witnessing the rise of a flat learning system as the science of learning and building brain-power is applied right across the full range of formal and informal situated contexts, both in the real and virtual worlds.

Having said that, 2014 and change are synonymous – but probably no less than they were in a 100 years ago in 1914 – it’s just that we are living an exciting transition and perhaps overly excited by it.

Like everyone I very much enjoyed reading my favourite SciFi Isaac Asimov’s predictions of what the world will look like in 2014 from way back in 1964. Try this for an example:

Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone. The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books. Synchronous satellites, hovering in space will make it possible for you to direct-dial any spot on earth, including the weather stations in Antarctica.

I was pleased to catch up with the The Downes Prize for 2013. Of course, Stephen Downes choice is insightful, as is his ongoing scanning of the horizon for the shifts and sometimes seismic changes in how we manage education and knowledge outputs. Check out his OLDaily E-Learning News, Opinion, Technology commentary.

I’m excited by the many challenges (and a few too many hurdles) that 2014 will offer me.  I hope for a good year, a productive year, and an opportunity to learn more interesting things with you.

Welcome to 2014 my friend.

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Trey Ratcliff

Being web savvy includes Twitter

These days the need for educators to be web savvy is a given.  What’s not so much understood is that being web savvy includes being social media literate!

The digital transformation has produced some extraordinary online tools for flexible education, which enhance students’ learning and promise innovative pedagogy for teachers. However, they can also be daunting and challenging for educators. It is clear that teachers cannot ignore these tools, which go far beyond just Facebook and Twitter. Educators are now dealing with Generation Z – students born after 1995 who have hardly known a world without social media and have always lived a life measured in bits and bytes.

Be web savvy to keep up with Generation Z became a case in point.  Recently I was asked to write this small piece for Times Educational Supplement @TES on this very topic. Nice!  I admit that what I submitted is not exactly as it turned up on screen (the print version looks grand), but that is the way of journalism racing to meet deadlines.

If it wasn’t for Twitter and the wonderful help of @TESAustralia I would still be cringing at the formatting errors – because traditional email was not resulting in a ‘fix’!! It’s true – I’m web savvy, but I had to be social media savvy to be connected with the right person to fix this tiny problem.

Being web savvy has many dimensions – and social media savvy is but one of them. My example is a silly little one of course, but it was important to me! Luckily there are many powerful examples of teachers who understand the full concepts and connections inherent in being web savvy, and I knew that when I included a few key friends and colleagues in my article. Thank you to @kathleen_morris, @BiancaH80, @dbatty1, for being my exemplary representative Australians, including Ivanhoe Grammar’s iCyberSafe.com.

Disclaimer:  I didn’t pick the title of the article!  You have to love a subbie’s take on what teachers might want ;-)

Image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Neal Fowler

Concepts and Practices for a Digital Age!



Great title don’t you think?  This very title is the name of a new subject – foundation subject no less – that is in the pipeline for 2014 for the new degree that I have been immersed in developing.  As mentioned in my post a while back, I have had my head down and tail up for the last six weeks working live a navvy on scoping this new and exciting degree for next year.

Still a big secret in terms of the whole course program and content of course, because the final approval isn’t through yet.  We still have the last hurdle to face, but fingers crossed, we’ll make the grade. As it happens, the framework, subjects, electives etc are pretty much sorted, as is the focus of each subject.

It’s been a mammoth undertaking in some ways, and not so much in others. Conceptually it’s easy to pinpoint what is needed to fill the gaps in postgraduate learning opportunities to meet our professional learning needs within our networked learning environments. While there are of course many opportunities for professional development in these areas, there is also a need for academic credentialed programs that leverage deep thinking and research, and provide teachers with evidence of their passion, commitment and reasons for choosing them for innovative and/or promotions positions!

The new Australian national curriculum demands a deep understanding of connected learning, particularly if we consider the digitally connected environments that our students are working in.

So the motivation was strong to develop a degree that captured the power of networked learning, knowledge and information environments, learning spaces design, gaming, e-literature and more, in a powerful combination drawing on the disciplines of education, information technology, and information science. We took it on board to examine the key features and influences of global connectedness, information organisation, communication and participatory cultures of learning, aiming to provide the opportunity to reflect on professional practice in just such a networked learning community, and engage in peer dialogue to develop an authentic understanding of concepts and practices for learning and teaching in a digital environments.

So overall, the intention is to allow questioning, review and reconstruction of understanding, with the new subjects framing the challenges of learning in digital environments and setting the context for innovation and change in professional practice.

Everything will be thought-provoking, and will build on the knowledge that teachers bring to the course, rather than being driven by fixed content. By pushing the boundaries, knowledge networking and digital innovation will be the inspiration for this post-graduate program.

So roll on 21 May…..and if all goes well,  I will share all the details of the new degree.  If we hit any hiccups – well, what can I say?  Back to the drawing boards!

Image: cc licensed ( BY NC ) flickr photo shared by jah~

Wisdom in networks

Funny - A Hoot
Last year I spoke to my mobile phone. I wasn’t ringing anyone, but I asked my phone a question.  Guess what? No answer.  Last week I spoke to my phone, and it gave me some answers right there on my screen.  Better.

Soon there will be no need to read a answer, and in another few decades there may not even be a question.  Futurists tell us that we will be our technology, and information will be who we are or what it made us.   As we watch the fast-paced changes taking place in technology, the web of data and the social connections between us, the value of information as knowledge is what the game-change is all about, and as such remains the core business of info-nerds.

What is so frantically important is to unravel where we need to go in all this.  No amount of Advanced Searching with Google is going to resolve the major issues confronting us. Just watch people wherever you go – cafes, trains, sidewalks, bars – mobile in hand, people connect, people ask, people investigate, people forage for news and information.   So it’s  more than information discovery,  information filtering or information curation strategies that we need to be thinking/learning about. The “Fourth Revolution,” proposed by Floridi (2012)  describes the current information age, an era in which our understanding of both self and world is significantly altered by sudden changes in the information climate due to the advent of computing machinery from Alan Turing (1912-1954) onwards.

So you’re a teacher?  or an information professional of some kind? Either way, you have a significant role to play in how the future shapes up. As curators of knowledge and cultural history the burning question in the fourth revolution undoubtedly lies in our ongoing ability to manipulate and manage information flow.

In my April foolishness, my mind is totally absorbed by all this.  As I watch MOOCs emerge around the globe, as I note the various professional opportunities that associations and organizations provide, I’m delighted by the range of offerings, and the quality of some of them. But they are niche offerings.   A bit of this, a bit of that.  A full quality credentialed degree program still has HUGE relevance, because of the depth, breadth, width and brain-expanding opportunities that are possible.

But enough of that for now…more later.

What we need  is a MINDshifted degree! One that helps you learn how digital connections should change the way we think, the way we teach, the way we craft the future.  We need cross-disciplinary understanding of knowledge networking and digital innovation as a degree at the intersection of knowledge, information science and education.  This way we can ensure our graduates have the capacity to manage and manipulate information in a networked way for learning and teaching.

In the next couple of weeks our new initiative (been slogging on this) is being put forward as  formal application to the Faculty of Education. The aim is to have  an amazing new degree ready for you in 2014.

Watch these pages for more updates on the Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation). Trust me – You’ll want to know more about it!

Floridi, L. (2012). The fourth revolution. The Philosophers’ Magazine, (57), 96-101.

Image: Funny – A Hoot

Is being out of office your job?

I experienced an ‘oh yeah’ moment while I was checking out apps to use to remain connected and manage my workflow better.  I mention this in the positive sense – it’s not that I am complaining about being connected or the range of things I need to do, but rather it’s because I want to  make my work more interesting AND engaging; I want to be connected;  I do NOT subscribe to the “I’m traveling and will have limited access to email” kind of message that I often come across.

Out of Office” – probably the most common auto reply in the world, so popular there are even tutorials on how to write one. But times are changing and the term is gradually losing its meaning. From telling people that you would not be working, Out of Office is becoming where more and more where work really happens. There are many professions where being out of the office is your job. And, although his quote was in response to some companies moving away from remote workforces we get the feeling that the world is moving towards more flexible work styles, not away from it.

Working as I do in online learning environments, I get very frustrated by examples of distance education that are locked into the “out of office” mentality. Consultation times for 1/2 an hour at designated times each week? Phone calls made and received only when you are at your office desk? Invitations to join social media groups left languishing for a week or two – oh because you didn’t log into the account?

As a member of the international Advisory Board, I’ve started my reading and research involvement with the next Horizon Report K-12 2013 edition. If anything, the regular releases of the Horizon Report have proven that the predictions are not fantasy – but a real litmus for where learning and teaching is going. If you haven’t already done so, read the NMC Horizon Report 2012 K-12 edition, and grab the app while you are at it.

Let’s face it – when students can talk with an astronaut currently circling the earth, or follow his twitter feed of photos and more,  the goal posts for connectedness can definitely be considered to have changed.Check out Okanagan students chat with Commander Hadfield. What a great series of questions. Jump to the video and experience history! What’s also cool is that this event was made possible by ham radio operators. Yep! Twelve minutes – an event of a lifetime.

HatfiledIf we are genuinely aiming to prepare teachers and information professionals to engage in the kind of environment that  represents the best practices of connected learning and communication, the old models of being ‘out of office’ just have no traction – except when you are on annual leave!

Then it’s fine to turn off your mobile device, and drop off the grid.

Image: Podio connections

The great unwashed ~ and information


In using the phrase ‘the great unwashed’  I’m not referring to the young Steve Jobs, infrequent bathing discussed in the New York Times, or even the rather disparaging term coined by the Victorian novelist and playwright Edward Bulwer-Lytton ~ who ultimately led to that phrase “it was a dark and stormy night’ being immortalized by none other than Charlie Brown’s dog Snoopy. (You should check out more about comic book legends and the back story to that doggy author)

But for me ‘the great unwashed’ and the proverbial ‘dark and stormy night’ may well be referring to the rubbish tip that is the internet. Wander in there too long, and you will indeed have a dirty mind and body :-)

Seriously though, this is exactly why teachers need to take such a considered approach as to how to integrate technology tools and digital resources into their learning and teaching environments. It’s also why such initiatives as Wikipedia  have served to teach us how to share and participate in the curation of information. Wikipedia has come of age just when we need it to.

That makes perfect sense. Through user-generated efforts, Wikipedia is comprehensive, current, and far and away the most trustworthy Web resource of its kind. It is not the bottom layer of authority, nor the top, but in fact the highest layer without formal vetting. In this unique role, it therefore serves as an ideal bridge between the validated and unvalidated Web.

Teachers have also been using tools like Diigo and Evernote to show students how to ‘annotate’ the web and share information. While this works well on the smaller scale, it does not match the venture that Wikipedia represents.

Shared on Twitter, Hypothes.is may well be the next phase in making sense of the great unwashed information environment that is the internet. Of course, like any venture it might fail – but I think Hypothes.is is one to watch for now. Imagine…

If wherever we encountered new information, sentence by sentence, frame by frame, we could easily know the best thinking on it.

If we had confidence that this represented the combined wisdom of the most informed people–not as anointed by editors, but as weighed over time by our peers, objectively, statistically and transparently.

If this created a powerful incentive for people to ensure that their works met a higher standard, and made it perceptibly harder to spread information that didn’t meet that standard.

Peanuts image: source Gary Ware
Texture image: cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by SnaPsi Сталкер

Learning to Learn – a new start for 2011

Thanks to Dean Shareski for this timely video, especially for educators in the southern hemisphere!  Next week our schools in Australia will begin the new academic year – many with staff meetings, and professional activities to motivate, and in many cases to talk about technology. What a perfect video to include.

Instead of going the way of the textbook I would go the way of technology. It’s almost like I have to unteach everything they’ve been taught. And then  I don’t even feel we’ve reach the spot where we’ve done that. You have to de-program and then start all over again. If we started teaching this earlier, this would be so natural to them, that there wouldn’t be all those barriers. They would know how to communicate. They would know how to talk to each other. They would know how to learn. They would know how to co-operate and give feedback. But I find that they do not even know how to do that.