Last month, a new book came out entitled Digital Badges in Education: Trends, Issues, and Cases. At over £30, it’s the most expensive book I’ve purchased for a while, but thought it would provide some useful insights. And no, there’s no chapter from me in it: I seem to remember a call for contributions going out last year but I don’t work for free / less than my minimum day rate.
Over my discours.es blog I’ve been making notes on each chapter as I read it. So far I’ve completed Part I: Trends and Issues. As you’d expect from an edited collection, it ranges from the average to the excellent. One curious omission is an introduction from the editors.
The links below reference the titles of each chapter in Part I of the book. However, when you click through, you’ll notice that I’ve given my blog posts a different name. These, of course, are my own notes, highlights, and (in some cases) criticisms of the authors’ work.
This is an ‘iterative’ e-book because people have been able to buy into it ever since v0.1. You can find more about this ‘OpenBeta’ model here. Fundamental to the process is getting feedback from readers. I’m glad to say that you haven’t let me down, and the book is better as a result. Thank you for that.
The aim is for the e-book to be practically useful while not being shy about theory. People have said that it’s proving useful for use with trainee teachers and other undergraduates, so I’m glad it’s already having the desired effect!
Release v0.99 of the e-book. This will be textually complete and form the basis of a crowdsourced copyediting process that will take a few weeks.
Release v1.0 of the e-book. This will have benefitted from more eyes than just mine in terms of coherence and copyediting. Should they agree, these people will be given special thanks in the foreword. It will definitely be available in PDF, and I’ll work with people to get it available in ePub and Kindle formats.
I’m not the only conduit for ideas in this space, so I’m planning to follow the lead of people like Yochai Benkler and create a wiki to accompany the book. This will be structured in a similar way to the wiki that is a companion to Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks.
A few points to finish off.
Now is be a great time to buy into the book. It’ll save you a couple of pounds compared to the price of v0.99 or v1.0 (you get the updates for free).
This was never about the money. Yes, I’ve been able to pay recurring digital subscriptions from my Paypal balance instead of my credit card, but that wasn’t the aim. The financial element here was to get people to buy into the process early. Once this happened, I could ask for feedback – which I’m delighted to have received on a fairly regular basis.
If you’d like to get involved with the launch, please do get in touch! Examples: the visual design of v1.0, translating the book into another language, or making Bitcoin payments a reality. I’m @dajbelshaw or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special thanks once again to those who have encouraged me and provided feedback over the last couple of years. You’re all very kind. We’re nearly there – just this last hurdle to clear!
More on this next week with the release of v0.99. 🙂
I’m reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance at the moment. It’s a bit of a classic, so I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to it.
Last night, I came across the following passage. It must be quite famous as I’ve stumbled across it before:
But to tear down a factory or to revolt against a government or to avoid repair of a motorcycle because it is a system is to attack effects rather than causes; and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is torn down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government. There’s so much talk about the system. And so little understanding.
This made me think about Purpos/ed. Andy and I are often asked when we’re going to produce a manifesto, or what the ‘next level’ is. Well, that’s the kind of thinking that got us here in the first place.
Pirsig reminds us that even things that seem purely physical (such as steel) are nevertheless human constructs. Despite seeming permanent and ‘natural’ steel is not a substance that exists in nature. It’s the product of human imagination.
Likewise, there is no ‘state of nature’ for education systems. No natural way that we should organise learning.
I’m excited to announce that I’ve decided to start writing another e-book. I want to communicate what I’ve learned during my doctoral studies in a way free from academic constraints. I want to empower educators.
What are ‘digital literacies’? Why are they important? How can I develop them both personally and in other people? These are some of the questions that ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies by Doug Belshaw seeks to address. Informed by his doctoral thesis and experience as an educator, ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ Doug is producing a timely resource for those who are interested in both the theory and the practice of digital literacies!
When are you going to finish this?
It depends on many things, but here’s my proposed timescale:
v0.2 – April 2012
v0.4 – June 2012
v0.6 – August 2012
v0.8 – October 2012
v1.0 – December 2012
I’m erring on the conservative side here. I’d rather under-promise and over-deliver!
In what formats will the book be available?
The OpenBeta version will be available in iPad-friendly (and reasonably Kindle-friendly) PDF format. The finished version will be available in the following forms:
In the long run, [the] flattening of the world can be advantageous for everyone. But to realize these benefits, people from all walks of life, including (and perhaps especially) educators, need to let go of doing business and usual and begin adapting to the changing world. Emerging nations have been quick to pick up the gauntlet – perhaps because they had little to lose and everything to gain. Developed nations have been more resistant to making the changes needed to thrive in this new global society – perhaps because they fear they have everything to lose. But not taking action is a recipe for failure for these nations. (p.1)
Need for more use in order to develop effective models
[W]e find ourselves in the equivalent of the frontier. Until we are able to openly explore effective uses of these technologies as tools for teaching and learning, we are not going to be able to cite good models. (p.3)
Effective education and technology
Effective education is the foundation of successful societies. But in recent years, at least in developed countries, the survival of the existing institution seems to have trumped the importance of providing relevant, timely instruction. This trend can be changed, but the time to take action is now. One way to move education forward is to embrace emerging technologies that make it possible to implement programs where students master core academic content, hone applied 21st-century skills, and learn how to find success in an increasingly digital world. (p.3)
The futility of banning mobile phones
How does [routine confiscation of mobile phones] waste time? Because many students are turning over either old, disconnected phones or replica phones, which they have purchased online for about two dollars. Students cheerfully relinquish and retrieve these devices each period while retaining possession of their real phones… It is far better to find positive ways cell phones can be used as tools for teaching and learning by identifying and enforcing realising parameters within which students may have cell phones in their possession than to fight what is ultimately a losing – and unnecessary – battle. (p.15)
Mobile phones and etiquette
Students misuse cell phones in exactly [the same ways as the rest of society]. But how are they to learn better behavior without appropriate adult models who take the time to teach digital etiquette? Granted, parents need to take responsibility for teaching good manners to their children, but so do teachers and other school personnel who often spend more waking hours with students than do their parents! (p.18-19)
1:1 requires pedagogical underpinning
Experts generally agree that purchasing and installing equipment to reach a 1:1 ratio of students to computing devices is not enough to make a difference in academic achievement. For this investment to pay off, teachers need to rethink their approach to instruction by trying out student-centred strategies that focus on collaboration, communication, and problem solving. In short, although online research and word processing have their place, these activities are starting – not ending – points. (p.41-2)
Objections should not be deal-breakers
Unfortunately… objections are often used as deal breakers. Although it’s important that these concerns be put on the table, the driving purpose should be to enable educators to have open discussions about potential unintended consequences. Once everyone’s concerns are out in the open, it’s possible to consider solutions or strategies for working around problems. (p.113)
Exciting times for educators
This is an exciting time to be an educator. The possibilities for reaching and engaging students are growing daily. As new tools for communication and collaboration continue to be developed and made readily available to people around the world, educators continually need to adapt their approach to instruction to ensure that classroom activities remain relevant. Fortunately, these changes are doable. All that’s required is the will to move forward. (p.121)
When it arrived last Monday, my wife – in that way that only I would notice – looked at me semi-accusingly. “Another book, eh?” she seemed to say, “I thought got your books via your Kindle now?” I swear that the reason old people don’t tend to say much is because they know what the other person’s thinking.
In ancient times, people cut to the chase. Take St. Paul’s letters, for example. He states who he is first and only then greets the elders at the church to which he is writing. It’s always puzzled me that people only indicate who the letter is from at the very end; at least with emails you know who it’s from straight away by virtue of their email address.
So, my conclusion? The Mobile Learning Edge (hereafter MLE) is worth reading by those interested in mobile learning in a formal educational context. Whilst it (presumably due to encouragement by McGraw-Hill, the publisher) tries to be all things to all men, it nevertheless has value to those working in and with educational institutions. Woodill expertly collates and synthesizes information, presenting it in an engaging and convincing way.
Every book has its weaknesses. There is, for example, at times an uneasy glossing and assumed-similarity between the needs of those in formal learning situations and those within businesses. In addition the way in which the book is written seems to purposely align the author with initiatives in which he played no part.
But to overly-criticize MLE would be churlish. It is a readable, reasonably-comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the current state of play in the mobile learning arena. If it were available for the Kindle for £10 (as it should be) I’d recommend it without reservation. As it is, it comes recommended.
I have to admit to chuckling a little when I read the opening pages of MLE. Only the day before I had commented about the paucity of metaphors that I come across in educational contexts. It was only after reading the whole of the introduction to MLE that I realised Woodill was setting up – quite cleverly, I thought – the rest of the book to call for a return to authentic learning. He indicates, and purports to show, that mobile learning is our natural way of learning: sitting in classrooms is something alien to us.
Figure 5.5 on page 184 of MLE features an engraving from eighteenth century Europe showing one of the most crowded, although admittedly neatest, classrooms you will ever see. Context is one of the strengths of the book: Woodill is a master at putting things in their historical place, charting the development of technologies and pointing out significances. Granted, in some cases such generalizations could be contested and rely on the tried-and-tested metaphors of hunter-gatherer communities and the industrial revolution, but they are, on the whole, sound.
Of the ten chapters that make up MLE, around seven will be of immediate interest and utility to educators not directly involved with the overall strategy of their organization. Those who do occupy such senior positions will find enlightening the chapter contributed by David Fell, interim CEO of a broadband corporation. In it, Fell discusses of the importance of ‘co-opetition’, a term that will become increasingly familiar to those in charge of schools, colleges and universities.
Easily the best part of Fell’s chapter, however, is his inclusion of and discussion around the following diagram from Ambient Insight:
Whilst usually skeptical of diagrams that look designed-for-Powerpoint this one nicely summarizes why now, in the current context, is a great time for institutions to be pursuing mobile learning initiatives.
The second contributed chapter comes from Sheryl Herle, a corporate learning consultant. This, unsurprisingly, deals with Return On Investment (ROI) and business-focused strategy. The chapter does, however, contain some gems that I’ve saved for future use, including the advice that you should be focusing on what you don’t want people to do rather than narrowly defining what you do want them to do; that IT Services/Support’s job is to deal with security threats and network stability – which is why they often oppose ‘innovation’; and that whilst it’s possible to come up with ROI figures for mobile learning initiatives they’re unlikely to be comprehensive or realistic.
Returning to the main author, Gary Woodill’s contribution to MLE, it is clear – and indeed he tells us – that he used to be a teacher. Not only that, but his doctorate (like mine) is an Ed.D. For all the discussion of ‘corporate learning’ and ’employees’, Woodill’s pedagogical background pervades MLE. Take, for example, the structure of the chapter ‘Learning by Communicating, Interacting, and Networking’:
High-level overview setting the scene
Problem (disruption of mobile)
Some truths (we are social beings)
Theory supporting examples
The above, fleshed out, could form a lesson plan. This structure and method of presentation makes MLE a satisfying read.
This, as the author would admit, is a book of its time. It’s relevance in a few years’ time will be less powerful but, for now, the appendices, featuring links to relevant blogs and academic articles are a goldmine. Woodill indicates on his companion site to the book, mobilelearningedge.com that there will be a second edition of MLE and that he will use the related site to keep the content fresh.
I often say “I’m delighted to announce…” but it’s rarely been more true than today.
Over the course of the last ten months I’ve been developing a new publishing model called OpenBeta. The idea behind it is to gain readers from the beginning of the process who can give feedback and watch the book as it progresses. I’m pleased to say that 49 people joined in with the first OpenBeta project: #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity.
It’s available as a paperback (via Lulu) or as a PDF over at a new site I’ve put together: dougbelshaw.com/ebooks. There’s also an affiliate scheme you can get involved with and instructions for converting from PDF to ePub/Kindle formats. Check it out! 😀
Want a free copy of #uppingyourgame? Tweet the following and if you’re number 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 or 42 to do so I’ll get in touch for your details!
Checking out @dajbelshaw’s new eBook – #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity – http://bit.ly/dougsebooks
A lot of people get stuck in the trap of trying to create something that is really innovative, something that doesn’t exist in the world today. But the truth is that an innovation that is really supercreative, that has resonance and power plus the ability to do extremely well in the marketplace, is already part of a clear set of products that already exists. In other words, they have a clear context, but there’s something novel about the way that an innovation is being thought about that really shifts the paradigm.
(DeVito, A. (2006) ‘Constantly Experiment’ in Winsor, J. (ed.) Spark: be more innovative through co-creation, p.162-3)
I’m reading the Spark at the moment, a book sent to me by Online MBA after ‘winning’ a competition (I commented on their blog). Spark is a great read with contributions from people who work at extremely innovative organisations such as Oakley, Nike and Herman Miller.
My belief that innovation thrives upon a bedrock of standardisation has been reinforced through the stories and experiences shared in the book. In other words, people have to have time freed up so they can kick ass. That comes through increased productivity, through streamlining – and to a great extent, automating – the mundane, the procedural and the administrative.
As a tangent, I’ve decided that the final version of #uppingyourgame is going to be subtitled ‘a personal guide to productivity’. Positive feedback from non-educators has convinced me that the ideas it contains are more widely applicable! 😀
[T]hinking is slow. Your visual system instantly takes in a complex scene… Your thinking system does not instantly calculate the answer to a problem the way your visual system immiediately takes in a visual scene… [I]f we can get away with it, we don’t think. Instead we rely on memory. Most of the problems we face are ones we’ve solved before, so we just do what we’ve done in the past. (p.5)
2. Curiosity is fragile (p.7-10)
Solving problems brings pleasure… There is a sense of satisfaction, of fulfillment, in successful thinking… It’s notable too that the pleasure is in the solving of the problem. Working on a problem with no sense that you’re making progress is not pleasurable. In fact, it’s frustrating… Mental work appeals to us because it offers the opportunity for that pleasant feeling when it succeeds.
[W]hen does curiosity have staying power? The answer may lie in the difficulty of the problem. If we get a little burst of pleasure from solving a problem, then there’s no point in working on a problem that is too easy – there’ll be no pleasure when it’s solved because it didn’t feel like much of a problem in the first place. Then too, when you size up a problem as very difficult, you are judging that you’re unlikely to solve it, and are therefore unlikely to get the satisfaction that comes with the solution.
[C]uriosity prompts people to explore new ideas and problems, but when we do, we quickly evaluate how much mental work it will take to solve the problem. If it’s too much or too little, we stop working on the problem if we can. (p.8-10)
3. Cognitive limits should be respected
When trying to develop effective mental challenges for your students, bear in mind [their] cognitive limitations… For example, suppose you began a history lesson with a question: “You’ve all heard of the Boston Tea Party; why do you suppose the colonists dressed as Indians and dumped tea into the Boston harbor?” Do your students have the necessary background knowledge in memory to consider this question? If students lack the background knowledge to engage with a problem, save it for another time when they have that knowledge. (p.15)
4. Background knowledge is necessary for cognitive skills
Not only does background knowledge make you a better reader, but it also is necessary to be a good thinker. The processes we most hope to engender in our students – thinking critically and logically – are not possible without background knowledge.
[P]eople draw on memory to solve problems more often than you might expect. For example, it appears that much of the difference among the world’s best chess players is not their ability to reason about the game or to plan the best move; rather, it is their memory for game positions.
Much of what experts tell us they do in the course of thinking about their field requires background knowledge, even if it’s not described that way… Unexpected outcomes indicate that their knowledge is incomplete and that this experiment contains hidden seeds of new knowledge. But for results to be unexpected, you must have an expectation! (p.28-32)
5. Memory is the residue of thought
Whatever you think about, that’s what you remember. Memory is the residue of thought. Once stated, this conclusion seems impossibly obvious… Your brain lays its bets this way: If you don’t think about something very much, then you probably won’t want to think about it again, so it need not be store. If you do think about something, then it’s likely that you’ll want to think about it in the same way in the future.
The obvious implication for teachers is that they must design lessons that will ensure that students are thinking about the meaning of the material.
Trying to make the material relevant to students’ interests doesn’t work… [A]ny material has different aspects of meaning. If the instructor used a math problem with cell phone minutes, isn’t there some chance that my daughter would think about cell phones rather than about the problem? And that thoughts about cell phones would lead to thoughts about the text message she received earlier, which would remind her to change her picture on her Facebook profile, which would make her think about the zit she has on her nose…? (p.47-50)
Willingham goes on to explain that we tend to focus on the ‘personality’ aspects of what makes a good teacher, which is only half the story. The other half is meaning. One of the best ways to convey meaning is to use story structures.
6. Understanding is remembering in disguise
[Students] understand new ideas (things they don’t know) by relating them to old ideas (things they do know).
[U]nderstanding new ideas is mostly a matter of getting the right old ideas into working memory and then rearranging them – making comparison we hadn’t made before, or thinking about a feature we had previously ignored.
Now you can see why I claim that understanding is remembering in disguise. No one can pour new ideas into a student’s head directly. Every new idea must build on ideas that the student already knows. (p.68-71)
7. Practising is better than drilling
Doing a lot of studying right before a test is commonly known as cramming… If you pack lots of studying into a short period, you’ll do okay on an immediate test, but you will forget the material quickly. If, on the other hand, you study in several sessions with delays between them, you may not do quite as well on the immediate test but, unlike the crammer, you’ll remember the material longer after the test.
[Y]ou can get away with less practice if you space it out than if you bunch it together. Spacing practice has another benefit. Practice… means continuing to work at something that you’ve already mastered. By definition, that sounds kind of boring, even though it brings cognitive benefits. It will be somewhat easier for a teacher to make such tasks interesting if they are spaced out in time. (p.90-91)
8. Experts have abstract knowledge of problem types
Experts don’t think in terms of surface features, as novices do; they think in terms of functions, or deep structure.
We can generalize by saying that experts think abstractly… Experts don’t have trouble understanding abstract idas, because they see the deep structure of problems.
[E]xperts save room in working memory through acquiring extensive, functional background knowledge, and by making mental procedures automatic. What do they do with that extra space in working memory? Well, one thing they do is talk to themselves.
What’s interesting about this self-talk is that the expert can draw implications from it… [E]xperts do not just narrate what they are doing. They also generate hypotheses, and so test their own understanding and think through the implications of possible solutions in progress. (p.101-104)
9. Learning styles theory is subject to ‘confirmation bias’
[T]he visual-auditory-kinesthetic theory seems right [because of] a psychological phenomenon called the confirmation bias. Once we believe something, we unconsciously interpret ambiguous situations as being consistent with what we already believe… The great novelist Tolstoy put it this way: “I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life.” (p.121)
10. Beliefs about intelligence are important
In a classic study on the effect of praise, the experimenters asked fifth graders to work on some problems in which they were to find patterns. The first set of problems was fairly easy to that the students would solve most of them. The students were then praised for their success. All were told, “Wow, you did very well on these problems. You got [number of problems] right. That’s a really high score.” Some were then told, “You must be smart at these problems.” In other words, the were praised for their ability. Others were told, “You must have worked hard at these problems,” thus receiving praise for their effort. Each student was then interviewed by a different experimenter to learn what the students thought about intelligence. The results showed that those who had been praised for their ability (“you’re smart”) were more likely to describe a fixed view of intelligence than those who were praised for their effort (“you worked hard”), who were more likely to describe a malleable view of intelligence. Similar effects have been shown in many studies, including studies of children as young as four years old.
The two main things I took away were:
Practice. Practice. Practice. Get and give feedback. Observe others. Ask questions. Be curious.
Be careful with the language you use with students – both in terms of representing concepts and in terms of praise.
I’d recommend Willingham’s book wholeheartedly. The nine principles he puts in a table towards the end of the book are worth the price of the book alone. They should be jazzed-up and given to all teachers, everywhere!