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Detour!

Revved up and ready to go for this week’s MOOC #change11 session with Rory McGreal on “OER for learning”. Recommended materials read (heck of a great deal this week!), key documents printed and marked up with notes and questions, and additional research done to better understand copyright issues.

I was looking forward to learning more about common copyright as it applies to Open Educational Resources (OERs). All set for the synchronous session today with McGreal when suddenly… DETOUR! Yes, McGreal did speak about OERs but I felt that OERs were circumnavigated and suddenly the discussion was on OER universities. Nevertheless, I found the discussion extremely interesting (including the side chats) and left the quick passing hour long session with a desire to dig deeper and research independently the concept of OER universities even further.

I thought I as well prepared for this week but now I am faced with a new- and welcomed- detour in my learning this week.

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Chalk vs Technology

I have spent the week thinking more about the question:

Should technology enhance or transform higher education?

When I was first encountered this question, my initial answer was “it depends”. In other words, on one hand I felt that it should enhance higher education (in environments where technology is already heavily relied on and being utilized properly) but on the other hand  it should also transform higher education (as in the case where technology is not being used). Obviously I had to give it much more thought…

The problem that I see is that irrespective of which way one sides in debating this question, the issue becomes that of money. Technology costs much more than chalk or white board markers. And it is not solely the costs associated to the procurement of technological devices but also the maintenance, the insurance, the support staff for troubleshooting and setup, and the training required for maximizing the technology. Both sides of the question debate will be faced with these issues so maybe another angle  needs to be explored.

What are learners (the “customers” of the academic institutions) actually demanding?

I remember being bored to tears by instructors who droned on through their lectures. The one class that still stands out to this day was the one whereby various technologies were employed to not only enhance learning but to more importantly transform our way of thinking  and help us to escape from the cubic mind frame of a rigid academic environment. Wow, being challenged and forced to think, critically analyse, and evaluate multiple possibilities! Looking back, this would not have been possible without the use of technology. There was no possible way that what we saw, heard, synthetized, and retained could have happened as freely as it did if all that the instructors used was a blackboard or chalkboard. Our “guinea pig” class contributed to the development and ultimate acceptance of a new degree program at that particular institution. In this instance, technology transformed higher education.

I go back to my previous blog posting where I left off pondering of the question was more contextual in nature. The One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) and its newer development of One Tablet Per Child attempts to bridge the gap in communities where technology would otherwise be inaccessible for young learners. And it is these young learners of today who will be demanding for technology based learning of tomorrow. I believe that technology should transform education but we have to start somewhere and maybe that somewhere begins with baby steps called “enhancement” before it can become truly “transformative”.

Sleepless Night

I had a hard time falling asleep because my mind was processing yesterday’s MOOC #change11 presentation by Tony Bates on “Managing technology to transform teaching”. The question that had me thinking was:

Should technology enhance or transform higher education?

I can’t speak from the perspective of an instructor at a college or university but I can speak from the perspective of the student. I need to spend more time thinking about this question this week although I am leaning towards transforming… but then again, maybe it’s more of a contextual issue.

It was interesting to be exposed yet again to another presenter in MOOC #change11 who has opened my mind and eyes to think outside of the box. This week it was a privilege to learn from David Wiley and to listen to him speak of open textbooks. I was particularly attracted to the discussions (you can hear them here) that we were privy to regarding FlatWorld Knowledge which is “world’s largest publisher of free and open college textbooks”.

A few years ago when I was moving, I came across a box of my undergraduate program textbooks that I had forgotten about. It was time to finally time to get rid of them. I felt just as bad about having to throw them out (no, not even used book stores wanted my calculus textbooks!) as I did about buying them (I spent HOW much on that one book?!!) only to discover as the year progressed that the professor insisted that we buy the book only to use two or three chapters out of it (he insisted that we buy 4 textbooks that year!). What made matters worse was that the following year, he selected all different textbooks so I effect, rendering our textbooks obsolete and unsellable as second hand books to the next calculus students. Even if those many moons ago there had been such an alternative
as FlatWorld Knowledge, I do not believe that my calculus professor would have been a supporter of open textbooks.

Though that calculus professor would be typically of those vehemently opposed to the concept of open textbooks, I see the full benefits of it! Maybe it is a direct result of my experiences in developing countries where textbooks are terribly expensive or even not available. I also remember the stories of my mother and how as she went through her graduate program in education where she had to share the few textbooks that the library had with the rest of her classmates. She would spend sleepless nights copying the course material by hand. Open textbooks would have definitely made her life easier and allowed her to learn as opposed to memorize. Of course this would bring in another dimension; making sure that learners are equipped with the proper devices to access the open textbooks. But this is another discussion for another topic…

In #change11 we are being challenged to examine collective learning with a focus on how we learn. As one who comes from the business sector and not that of the academic sector, I can’t help but synthesis how this applies within my given context.Many companies have turned to crowdsourcing in their research and development of products or services. I have seen numerous academics do likewise (although they have not called it “crowdsourcing”).

Crowdsourcing is defined by crowdsourcing.orgas: “Crowdsourcing is sometimes otherwise referred to as Mass Collaboration, Open Innovation, Community Production, Mass Solutions, Constituent Driven Innovation, Connected Intelligence, Collective Wisdom, Intelligent networks and Human Networks. Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open invite (call).”I can’t help but to question if we – as corporations- are truly listening to the voices of the public (be it those of the employees of the corporation or the public at large) or are we merely being complacent and use crowdsourcing as a means of pacification- of giving the public a “feeling” that their voices are being heard?

Are we using the suggestions of the public?

Are we using crowdsourcing as a “solution” for cutting back our expenditures and thus cut back on our staff (be it consultants or others) and the human values that employees bring to our corporation?

Are we trying to become everything to everyone and in the process lose sight of the foundations and the values upon which our corporations were built upon and their raison d’être?

Are we become data miners and stealers of innovations or are we truly becoming creative?

Is crowdsourcing yet another excuse for laziness (I don’t have to think/ be creative because someone else will think it/ design it for me)?

Sure, there are many great examples in the industry of cases where crowdsourcing is beneficial. But what seems to stand out in these positive attributions to crowdsourcing are:

  • Clearly defining who the “crowd” is.
  • Clearly defining and properly managing the derivatives of the crowdsourcing so they are incorporated, rejected, or used as a further springboard.
  • Recognizing the contributions.

My greatest personal concern is: what are the parameters of intellectual property when we participate in crowdsourcing? Do we as contributors (especially the public at large) give up our right or do the corporations automatically own it? Who gets the rights to the “next best-thing-next-to-sliced-bread”?

I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around this week’s MOOC #change11 topic of Digitial Scholarship as presented by Martin Wheller. It is not so much the concepts but rather where I stand in regards to this issue. Maybe my brick wall towards this topic is because I can’t really relate. Maybe it’s not because I can’t relate but rather that I try to make the relation back to my current environment which is the corporate world.

In Wheller’s The Digital Scholar: How Technology Is Transforming Scholarly Practice  he states:
“There are islands of innovation, but in general the attitude of the research community is one of caution and even occasional hostility.”

I can understand how digital scholarship may be met with resistance from academia. How we recognize and reward scholarly research needs to be re-examined in light of emerging technologies and globalization. Technological advances and international collaborative research efforts will not diminish; I believe they will only increase exponentially.

My picket fence sitting occurs when I look at the sector in which I work. I work with several manufactures of consumer products. I have muddled my way through too-many-to-count patent documents related to their products. I have also muddled my way through chemical formulations of certain consumer goods. I fail to see, in the context that I am currently in, how crowdsourcing or collaborative efforts with other competitive manufacturers could be beneficial when the goal- or the reward- is market penetration, brand recognition, and ultimately, a high return on investment (ROI). Even in preparing presentations to potential clients or even developing their social media marketing plan care must be taken to safeguard the “corporate secrets” of the products, ongoing research and development, and potential mergers and/or acquisitions.

So to the picket fence I return until I have more information to decide which side to take. Or maybe, sitting on the picket fence and have a bilateral view of both sides of the fence is better.

Wati Abas of Malaysia Open University presented on MOOC #change11 this week on mobile learning (m-learning). Although the presentation has a rough start because of numerous technical glitches (isn’t it typical that the cyber monsters were lurking?), her presentation of how m-learning is being used in the Open University Malaysia was insightful.

Having lived I Asia, I was captivated by the data that she presented about SMS usage (Malaysia ranks 6th in terms of mobile phone ownership- after China, Philippines, Japan, Indonesia, and India). Reviewing her presentation at a later time, I decided to check out the facts for myself. Here is what I have found:

Telecom in Asia 2005 vs 2010

Now if these numbers don’t have you jumping, get ready to be freaked out!

As published in the December 2010 ITU News publication by the International Telecommunications Union (http://bit.ly/rWrJ0s):

  • The world now boasts an estimated 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions, of which 3.8 billion are in the developing world. And Internet users have surpassed the 2-billion mark.
  • More than 90 per cent of the world’s population now has access to a mobile network, making mobile telephony truly ubiquitous. ITU data indicate that of the estimated 5.3 billion mobile subscriptions worldwide today, 940 million are subscriptions to third-generation (3G) mobile services (also known as IMT-2000).
  • The total number of SMS sent globally tripled between 2007 and 2010, from an estimated 1.8 trillion to a staggering 6.1 trillion. In other words, close to 200 000 text messages are sent every second.
  • China is the largest Internet market in the world, with more than 420 million Internet users. A number of countries, including Estonia, Finland and Spain, have declared access to the Internet as a legal right for their citizens.

All of these facts simply point to the growing opportunities and necessity for m-learning. The questions that I am left with are:

  • In some of the countries listed in the SMS usage statistics, there is a natural tendency for learners to learn in a collaborate manner- in onsultation with their peers. What does this mean in terms of m-learning where the focus and interaction is between the mobile device (cellular telephone, iPod, tablet, or laptop) and the leaner?
  • How do we make technology accessible to those that do not have the available resources?
  • What type of courses should or can be delivered solely on cellular telephones using SMS?

More food for thought as I begin to dig my heels into the MOOC topics.