Category Archives: learning

E-learning & Digital Cultures: How big is #edcmooc? Some Stats…

EDCMOOC statistics

These usage statistics were provided by faculty from Edinburgh University, who are running the E-Learning + Digital Cultures MOOC on Coursera:

  • Total Registered Participants: 42874
  • Active Participants Over the Last 7 Days (“Active” is define as any contact with the EDCMOOC Coursera course site): ~ 17%
  • EDC MOOC News (Blog Aggregator) Unique Visitors: ~10%
  • Visitors to the EDCMOOC News page come ~65% from the USA and ~ 8% from the UK.

Other stats about this MOOC:

  • For about 70% of the group, this is their first MOOC.  About half are currently enrolled on only one MOOC.
  • About 24% of respondents from the USA, ~ 9% from the UK, ~ 6% come from Spain, and ~ 3% from both India and Greece.
  • About 60% of respondents come either from “teaching and education” or report themselves to be “students”.  Just over 60% of the entire respondent group have postgraduate level qualifications, and a further ~35% have a university or college degree.

The Long Hello – Meditating on #edcmooc, Gardner Campbell, and eLearning

The MOOC I’m taking, E-Learning + Digital Cultures, continues to unfold in front of me, gradually showing me new perspectives and more detail. But it’s not for the impatient…

For me, being in a MOOC has felt like being seated inside  a vast, unlit stadium where you can hear other attendees whispering and you can see their messages on the walls, but otherwise, they remain invisible. Getting acclimatized – even feeling welcome – does not come right away.

A few weeks later, this is still more or less my experience, but my eyes seem to have adjusted to the darkness now – I feel like I can see better and interpret more than before.

Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote address hit me like a bolt to the brain… [It] made me feel inspired and energized to explore my own spaces between art, technology and learning.

In the Week 2 resources, under “Perspectives on Education”, the video of Gardner Campbell’s Open Ed 2012 keynote address hit me like a bolt to the brain: his passionate advocacy for truly open learning, his challenging definitions of what he felt it should be, and his support and appreciation for the interdisciplinary responses of his students – all of these factors made me feel inspired and energized to explore my own spaces between art, technology and learning. I think I may have found a new inspiration – someone to study more closely.

When I was in the Emily Carr College of Art + Design in the eighties, I learned about media theory (e.g. MacLuhan), multimedia and hypertext (e.g. Ted Nelson), and visual literacy and visual perception (e.g. Tom Hudson, Rudolph Arnheim, Johannes Itten). Some things I learned from reading books or watching videos, but a lot of information I got first-hand, from seminars, workshops and special research projects. The people I learned from in-person were all artist-educators who were actively exploring ideas through their own art practice or educational research, often using consumer tech on shoestring budgets.

Back in my days as a multidisciplinary art student and research assistant, my greatest personal challenge was to interpret and  synthesize all the raw information, and later, decide how to express my experiences. Many of my extracurricular readings covered topics in AI, cybernetics, user interaction, and theories of learning and education. I was all over the place conceptually, and loved it. Science educators like Seymour Papert and Alan Kay caught my interest for their explorations with interfaces and user (student) interaction. I read about the MIT Media lab, and all its explorations into media, technology, art and science. I read articles from the ISAST Journal “Leonardo”, and learned about PhD-level multidisciplinary art and science research projects. A good deal of the theories and terminology was just over my head, but I had found an interesting, fertile territory to consider, in the intersections of art, education and technology. Convergence was just starting to happen, and it was a fascinating thing.

My multimedia instructor, artist Gary Lee-Nova, helped me understand the relationships between modern analog and digital media, perception and society. Gary talked about author William Gibson and the idea of cyberpunk way before it was popular. Research, exploration and personal development were fun back then.

My mentor back in art college, Dr. Tom Hudson, opened my mind to modernist Bauhaus art education patterns, and under his guidance, we updated and reinterpreted them by using desktop computer graphics programs to research visual literacy and drawing systems.

After graduating from Emily Carr’s four year diploma program in 1989, I opted to pursue computer graphics, animation or commercial design as my career path, instead of art education. Tom had, at some level, hoped I would continue pursuing art education as a career. I did teach computer graphics in night school for a few years, tutored art privately, and was an Artist-in-Residence in the Vancouver School Board, but I never went into education in a more formalized way, like by pursuing a degree.

After 20 years working in the commercial sector, bringing visual design services to software/hardware developers and business people, the exciting theoretical, creative aspects of my thinking felt as is they had atrophied and needed some dusting off. My Modus Operandi had become one of speed and economy: skimming the surface of the pond of ideas to get from questions to answers, and from initial request to practical deliverable, as quickly as possible. Any education I took from my graphics career was of a short-term, tactical nature. I learned what I needed in order to fulfill a particular short-term goal. In that kind of mode, there wasn’t much time or interest in theory.

Now, I’m employed in Vancouver’s largest vocational college, helping teachers to adapt their experience and materials into online courses. In a higher education institution, my perceptions and reactions have had to adjust to a more deliberate, thoughtful form of delivery: integrity over speed, and quality over quantity.

Now, it feels like I’m rediscovering the joy of the interconnectedness of ideas – a multidisciplinary approach to things. I’m fascinated to see some of the topical connections between Seymour Papert, Alan Kay and Gardner Campbell.

I can, and should, now enjoy taking a deep dive into topics, instead of just skimming the surface.

It’s a long hello, but worth the wait…

#edcmooc

E-learning and Digital Cultures, Week 2: Perspectives on Education #edcmooc

I finally caught up on two of the education-centred readings for week 2 of the massive MOOC, “E-learning and Digital Cultures”.

Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy. shirky.com, 12 November 2012.
http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2012/11/napsterudacity-and-the-academy/

I admit to not always being the most successful critical thinker – I tend to want to believe the things I read, especially if they sound optimistic.

Having said that (and having read other articles that tout elearning and MOOCs as the next big thing to open up and democratize higher education), I admit that some of Mr. Shirky‘s opinions in this piece did cause me suspicion. I am wary of the for-profit world, and fairly cynical about why for-profit companies would offer any service for free. I believe that there’s a for-pay business model underneath a fairly thin veneer of “open access” and “free content”. Nothing is ever truly for free.

Continue reading E-learning and Digital Cultures, Week 2: Perspectives on Education #edcmooc

Week 2: E-learning and Digital Cultures #edcmooc

I’m currently attending this MOOC: E-learning and Digital Cultures, offered through Coursera.

Activity for Week 2

Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.

I watched these videos:

Video: “Day Made of Glass 2” (Corning)

The “Glass as lifestyle” approach is somewhat corporate wishful thinking, IMHO, and relies too much on groovy futuristic sci-fi touch interfaces to make the glass medium look exciting. Tinting windows? Sure. Use my bedroom window to help me decide what to pull out of my closet that is only a few feet away? Fat chance.

A massive sheet of glass in the middle of a demonstration forest would never be that clean and perfect.
I’m sure it would also be dangerous for the wildlife (dead birds having crashed into it all the time = scary discoveries for young girls).

In the classroom, students are just well-behaved passive recipients of the Teacher’s initial presentation, with nobody raising their hand to ask a question or ask to go to the bathroom. In classrooms today that use interactive whiteboards, students are often encouraged to come to the front and move images around as part of the lesson. Why do presentation and participation (at the beautiful touch-table) need to be presented as a group activity? In the Corning classroom, students are depicted and treated mainly as one group/collective. Is this a (subconscious) corporate wish for collective harmony? It’s okay for the kids to pick their clothes or to colour Dad’s dashboard full of hearts – that’s harmless kid stuff – but beyond that, personal expression or individuality seem muted in Corningland.

The glass-based solar array on the school roof was a nice image, but they could have done more to humanize their mission, and embrace corporate social responsibility. Like, why not show a kick-ass interactive graffiti wall donated by Corning to some local Community Centre?

Also, why are the young girls private school students? Is that a value judgement about an educational utopia? Does that mean that Corning’s utopian vision would only be available to the upper class and rich medical specialists like the Dad? That would leave something of a dystopian “plexiglass” reality for the lower classes, I guess… 😉 Definite technological determinism there, not to mention class-ism.

Video: “Productivity Future Vision” (Microsoft)

In Microsoft’s vision, paper seems to have disappeared, replaced by flexible touch-sensitive surfaces. Hard for me to accept that. Paper will still remain cheaper than plastic, for at least the next 10 years and more ecologically friendly, forever. I noticed that keyboards are still around in Microsoft’s future vision, at least in the office when one is preparing the annual report (or whatever that dude was doing).

Apparently, nobody at home or work is concerned about any repetitive stress issues from having to do all those large arm motions to swoosh images around on all those massive interactiuve surfaces. How many overweight CEOs are going to throw their back out trying to clear all the virtual files off their ginormous desk-walls?

This idea that all surfaces will be interactive and high-res is completely fantastic – a utopian vision and obvious excuse to demo Microsoft’s Surface technology. It is technologically skewed towards the vendor-manufacturer’s wet dream of an ideal consumer family.

#edcmooc

Week 1: E-learning and Digital Cultures #edcmooc

I’m currently attending this MOOC: E-learning and Digital Cultures, offered through Coursera.

Activity for Week 1

Themes explored this week included technological utopianism and dystopianism, and the idea of technological determinism.

I watched these videos:

This animation showed symbolically how cultures elevate and then scrap technologies, hoisting them to a high level of dominance, only to turf them in favour of the next big thing. The animation design style mimicked Javanese paper cutout shadow puppets, which was a very compelling choice, and lent a sense of tribal, primitiveness and other-worldliness to the characters.

This live-action comedy-drama uses the metaphor of magic paper bags and sticky notes to illustrate behaviours, interactions and expectations in social media (Facebook, primarily).

“Thursday” is a charming animation showing the tension and inter-relation between human modern electronic culture, and the natural world that continues around (and in spite of) it.

The design style of the animation evokes video games in its pixely appearance and representation of space (isometric projection and side-scroller” look and feel).

Thursday seems to be saying that we live in a vastly technological society, but the natural world is vaster still, and more persistent. The little mother blackbird adapts her song to the tunes she overhears in people’s cellphones and alarm clocks, steals a bit of wire to build her nest, and shelters her chicks in a satellite dish. Nature adapts.

Mankind borrows echoes from nature, putting little bird-like chirps into its mechanical tools – as an ancient comfort perhaps? Generally, it’s man who seems to be living with blinders on, surrounding himself with mechanical proxies for nature, and cloistering himself away from it in his dark, hive-like internal cubicle farms. Not until our human protagonist sees “the big picture” from space (and later when he contemplates the little crashed bird on his windowsill) does he seem to reconnect to his natural world.

Ultimately, the theme I saw here was freedom and survival of the natural world, alongside the structure and abstractions of the human digital culture. I think the true main protagonist of this little film are the birds.

#edcmooc

Sonic Soul and Electric Blues: Listening a little closer to Jimi Hendrix

Every few years, I go through a “music phase”, where I feel inspired to pick up my acoustic and learn a new chord or two, or try to learn a tune on our little Casio keyboard. It feels good to explore a different kind of expression, even as a periodic novice.

Inspiration can come from different sources. The biggest inspiration for me this time has been the great Jimi Hendrix. I guess I became most musically self-aware during the 70s and 80s, which was really a time dominated by heavy metal, progressive rock and new wave. The blues and blues-rock of the sixties were already being treated as passe, yet for my generation, the sixties were marketed as “the good old days” and could be heard every day at noon on “The Electric Lunch on CFOX.

I heard Hendrix on the radio a lot back then, and became fascinated by his crazy, spacey sounds, his incredibly powerful guitar riffs, and the honesty that came out in his singing voice.

I read James Henderson’s biography of Jimi, called “‘Scuze me While I Kiss the Sky”, and I realized that parts of his life story really resonated with me: he struggled with alcoholism in his family (me too), and he lost his mother when he was in his early teens (mine almost died from liver failure, and after brain damage and institutionalization, was unable to recognize her family most of the time).

In Hendrix’s voices (his own and through his guitars), I heard a quest for love, a sense of loss, and a fire to identify himself in the world. He had a lot of real poetry and passion in him, and all his music felt to me like very personal statements, whether it was funky, bluesy, folkish, or heavy electric..

Here’s a very good article on Jimi from The Guardian, written in 2010, on the 40th anniversary of his death: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2010/aug/08/jimi-hendrix-40th-anniversary-death

Gallery-2557: Personal Drawing and Collage

Here’s a link to a new gallery on this site – a collection of personal drawings or collages that I’ve done since 1998.

If I draw, it can be immediate, messy and expressive, like the manic scribbles of an angry child.
That feels good.

However, collage from found commercial images is my favourite method.
I like the idea of co-opting some art director’s vision, shredding it to bits, and putting the elements into a completely new context that suits my needs. I’ve learned that using “found images” evokes sub-conscious themes; archetypal symbols, dreams, or metaphors that are sitting underneath my skin, waiting to be re-used on paper. Some of the themes they evoke are inherent in the image, so really, at some level, I’m tapping into the collective unconscious that I share with that original art director or photographer. They just didn’t give me permission to so that, but so what…

I have (so far) resisted using digital tech for my personal images, sticking with scissors, tape, glue, pen, pencil, and crayon. I have a large plastic storage box full of odd magazine pages, and piles of ripped out, cut up elements: hands, arms, faces, spines, textures, dark silhouettes, and various angels and monsters. Fashion magazines often provide a rich storehouse of raw material for my surrealist visual “riffs”.

As I cut out bits of images and move them around on a page, a foreground/background theme, setting, or figure may begin to emerge. Rarely have I ever sat down with a particular idea in mind beforehand – it comes from the process of exploration, play and chance.

Creating a collage feels most personal when working by hand, directly applying paper to paper, tacking bits in place with tape, and then gluing them down into final locations. It feels like a little stage.

The weight of a Dragon; the position of a Rock.

Today, I enjoyed a visit and stimulating discussion with one of my earliest art school teachers, John Wertschek, currently an Associate Professor at the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in Vancouver.

I suppose that many of John’s former Foundation students would probably agree that he has, in one way or another, challenged them to imagine the previously unimaginable. Certainly this was the case for me in John’s “3D” course, back in 1985 at what was then called the Emily Carr College of Art + Design.

I remember “The Rock Game”, an “exercise” (for lack of a better word) situated in a low-lit room on a table that was surrounded by mostly high-school-aged young people. On the table was a collection of rocks of varying sizes, which each participant would take turns moving or re-orienting. That was the whole thing. The Rock Game could be called a “no rules” game, but it required reaction, space, material and personal decisions, so although “rule-less” it might have been,  it was not without structure or outcomes. Very zen, or whatever. 🙂

As an eager 19 year old who wanted to experience many new things, my take-away from that simple little game was “pay attention, feel, respond, and act for yourself”.

John liked to use words – their meanings, origins, sounds and similarities – to illustrate and challenge patterns of  thought. Sometimes the challenge was a visualization and/or a creative thought experiment, such as “build a device with which to weigh a dragon”.

I also took away one deceptively simple piece of practical advice from John: “The two most important books you’ll ever use in your life are the Yellow Pages and the Dictionary.” Something in that advice told me that the door was open for me to go through, the resources and information out there if I looked for them, and that I should give myself permission to act when I needed to. (What the hell was I waiting around for anyway?)

So today, my dictionary and my business directories are Wikipedia  and Google, and if I still have rocks to move around, they’re metaphysical or more often than not, composed of pixels. But the personal process contains a similar proposition: make a move, and do it with intention and integrity.

Today, John told me that back when I was doing my Foundation year, about 50-60% of the students were fresh out of high school, and that now, the number is more like 85%.

For a young generation of digital natives, acclimatized to immediate, packaged information and real-time access to a thousand opinions and personas, it makes me think  that the kind of face-first, open-ended explorations which can cause you to question, reflect and think for yourself are now more important than ever.

Related Links:

Learning, without end…

I get glimpses of learning happening all around me. Sometimes I’m part of the process, tutoring, advising or coaching someone through a new concept. Sometimes I’m just observing how others teach and learn, or taking an opportunity to observe the communities that educators create in order to make learning happen for others.

Tutoring Grownups

In my day job, I often work with instructors who are specialists in their own subject areas, but who must redevelop their courses as online learning experiences. They have a specific set of project goals in mind (and usually a tight schedule), and need one-to-one guidance and hands-on experience in ecourse authoring, web design or multimedia. Some teachers are good at organizing information for others, and guiding their own students through experiences that help them to learn, but these same folks can struggle when they themselves are in the student’s position, faced with trying to learn something new and unfamiliar. Each person I assist is unique in their personality and preferences, yet they each experience similar moments of uncertainty, curiosity, revelation and inspiration, as they progress through the same cycle from mystery to clarity.

My challenge as their facilitator is to understand their needs and perceptions, find common language so we can communicate, find common goals so we can work together, and encourage confidence and pleasure from the process. It’s a personal thing, and if I didn’t really care about the people and the quality of the process, I would suck at my job. I do not suck at my job. I love my job.

Learning Environments for At-risk Youth

A colleague at my day job works at a youth resource centre in my neighbourhood. This centre provides tutoring, social services and personal support to youths who have struggled in the public education system, or at at risk in some way.

Visiting the centre for a tour one day, I saw a classroom where students complete their secondary school education, a work area where art and media projects are done, a computer lab, a community kitchen, and facilities for taking care of the basics of daily life, like showering, sleeping or getting medical assistance from a nurse.

Some of the kids in this centre struggle with addiction (their own or in their family) or with physical, emotional or mental challenges that mainstream services have not been able to adequately address.

In this youth centre, the lessons taken are life lessons more than school lessons. The social challenges, family breakups, and toughness of life for some low-income youth can affect everything about them. Their sense of value and worth is the very foundation upon which everything else they will do or will become will be built. So, in this centre there’s a strong sense of community, almost to the level of an extended family. It reinforces the feeling that the youth has value, is loved, and is connected to themselves, to their peers, and to their neighbourhood and culture.

People who feel alone, like outcasts, face a much more difficult road in life, and are less likely to succeed. People who feel valued and included will use that as fuel to propel them to the next stage of their life.

Learning the Primary Lessons

Community, personal worth and constructive social values are the basis of primary education, as I’ve learned from my wife’s example. She’s been a primary teacher for many years. At the beginning of a new school year, I’ll help her to set up her classroom and will find myself reintroduced to the miniature-sized world of little children, little hands, tiny chairs, and primary colours.

In the primary world, the smallest child learns how to socialize and share with others, how to communicate and cooperate, and how to negotiate and absorb the world around them.

The primary school environment is infused with simple colours, music and meter (chants and sing-songs), storytelling, and essential morals and values. Nowhere in a primary school will you see messages of cynicism, negativity, or despair on the walls. The tone is hopeful, positive and cooperative – often loving. Elementary school becomes a safe harbour, where the ideals of compassion, ethics and morals are held as the standard for young children.

If only the rest of the community consistently held those same values. How many of these little kids face the kinds of social challenges at home that could one day send them to a youth resource centre when they hit their teens? How many of the little kids live in rich, privileged families that don’t sympathize or understand the challenges their classmates may face?

At some point, each of us is a student who needs support and guidance to help us reach our goals and feel valued.