This conference gets better and better. Given the quality and pace of thought coming from some of the speakers, I’ve been severely challenged (even at my reasonably rapid touch-typing speed) getting down some of the ideas to share here!
I attended three sessions today:
- Does What We Know Belong to All? The Intellectual Property Principles (John Willinsky)
- Mobile phones in learning (Various)
- Learning with Social and Mobile Media (Mimi Ito)
Does What We Know Belong to All? The Intellectual Property Principles
I hadn’t come across John Willinsky’s work before today, but having heard him speak I’m now a big fan. I think he and Mimi Ito are perhaps two of the best speakers I’ve ever heard – and I saw them both in the same day! John teaches at Stanford and is both engaging and persuasive.
His argument is a straightforward one: academic research should available to all. John began by highlighting something that’s a huge problem for professional people all over the world, something that he highlighted with a very graphic example. In the graduation ceremony for trainee teachers at his previous institution they used big scissors to cut up the (now ex-student’s) library card. What kind of message is this he asked? We need to give teachers access to the latest research, not tell them that they no longer need to engage in such activities.
I attempted in the Q&A session and the workshop that followed John’s talk to provoke him into saying that we don’t actually need academic journals. He was very careful, with a twinkle in his eye, to say that is not his aim. What he’s trying to do is make journal articles open access or, in other words, make sure that a Google Scholar search gives those outside the walls of the university access to full-text PDFs.
Delving into the philosophical and legal past, John showed how treating research differently from commercial interests has a long history. I won’t go into that here (it was mainly around Locke’s ‘On Property’) but suffice to say it’s difficult to argue against his contention that the wider our work circulates, the more it increases in value. Although I have slight reservations about trusting Google to serve up the world’s academic articles, I do use Google Scholar extensively and it’s a potential stepping-stone to a Wikipedia-like non-profit aggregation platform.
I’ve already demonstrated my commitment to open access publishing by not only sharing my thesis online as I wrote it but, now that it’s submitted, donating the text to the public domain under a CC0 license. Many other academics have released their work under other Creative Commons licenses. Ideas want to be free!
Mobile Phones in Learning
I ended up walking out early of the second session, unfortunately. The first of the three speakers, Bob Klein was excellent, clearly articulating his attempts to bring the book ‘up to date’ and make rich, multimedia publishing tools available to all. Bob is well known for his work on The Future of the Book and technologies such as CommentPress (now Digress.it) that allow readers to comment on individual sections of a work such as paragraphs.
Bob’s latest project is SocialBook, the private beta for which is due in November. I’ll certainly look out for that as I really liked the way in which Bob talked about how the book is a place’ where readers, and sometimes authors, gather in the margins. Changing the nature of the book, however, means rethinking the whole ecosystem. Just as with Amazon’s Kindle, you can highlight and comment on sections of the book, but SocialBook is entirely browser-based and based on the ePub3 specficiation. I think its got real potential in education.
Bob closed with a clip of Marshall McLuhan talking, over 40 years ago, about the ways in which we try and fit old ideas into new forms of expression. Instead of doing that, argued McLuhan, we should be thinking about the affordances of those new forms of expression. I think this applies partcularly to mobile learning.
Unfortunately, the second two speakers weren’t great. Giselle Beiguelman subjected us to about four minutes of video which was accompanied with a cell-phone generated ‘music’ soundtrack that eventually made me stick my fingers in my ears. Note to presenters: you only have to play clips of videos to make your point! I walked out shortly after Tomi T. Ahonen started. I couldn’t stand the self-promotion, generic presentation, lazy statistics and technological determinism. I wasnt the only one to leave.
Learning with Social and Mobile Media
Mimi Ito has two PhDs and is possibly the most eloquent speaker on the planet. She started with a conversation she had with her 13 year-old daughter in the car recently. “I wonder what it’s like to be a typical teenager” said her daughter, meaning those teens who are always on Facebook and texting. Mimi pointed out that conceiving of a ‘digital generation’ has a flattening effect with common-sense telling us that young people’s media use is as stratified as ours. It’s a technically determinist frame that ignores the diversity of young people’s experience of new media.
What’s more interesting than focusing on the outcomes of engagement, argued Mimi, is focusing on who gets to have those experiences. In other words, we need to close the equity gap. Mimi is well known for a book to which she heavily contributed, ‘Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media’. This shared the findings of MacArthur-funded fieldwork between 2005 and 2008, that found:
- There is a profound and resilient gap between young and older people’s attitudes toward online media.
- There are a variety of learning outcomes, such as baseline literacies/competencies, and technical skills, that result from immersion in new media.
- A minority of young people are doing truly extraordinary things with new media.
Mimi is particularly interested in this last group in the follow-up work she has started. Why, if anyone has the ability to broadcast to the world through YouTube, do more teenagers not have videos with 1 million+ hits? The answer, Mimi suggested, is the difference between friendship-driven and interest-driven participation. The former is the digital equivalent of hanging out and flirting, whereas the latter involves participation in ‘affinity spaces’. I should have taken a picture of Mimi’s venn diagram, which consisted of the following circles:
- Interests, Affinity
- Friendships, Community
- Reputation, Achievement
The centre of all this is ‘Connected Learning’, something that YouMedia, the Quest to Learn schools and Mozilla’s Open Badges are trying to help facilitate. Mimi’s work now is looking at what it takes to take the learning from online communities and make it consequential in the offline world. Her research found that, for most people, becoming a really good gamer or fan fiction writer has little impact in other areas of power. Mimi wants to find a way to make this experience “relevant, visible and connected.” We need to find opportunities for young people to exploit what it takes to advocate for their own interests and passions in adult life.
Interestingly, in the Q&A session, Mimi indicated that her hunch for what it is that helps bridge the gap from the ‘Interests, Affinity’ bubble to the ‘Reputation, Achievement’ bubble is a caring adult who helps mediate between the two worlds. We need to focus on the quality of the social relationships. I wonder if she’s seen Sugata Mitra’s ‘Granny Cloud’?
I was inspired by the passion and enthusiasm of John Willinsky, Bob Stein and Mimi Ito today. All three are doing fantastic work in making this world a better place through opening up research, making books more social, and finding how to build on young people’s interests and talents. It would be a tragedy if their ideas are ignored, neglected or overlooked because of convenient excuses such as the financial crisis. I look forward to following their work more closely in future!
Three random things I saw in New York today
- Someone (seemingly asleep) in a shopping trolley
- A taxi driver jump out of his car and punch someone for jaywalking
- A coat hook that someone had turned into an octopus (see below!)
Encouraging clearer thinking in education, technology and productivity, Doug Belshaw is an educator and activist. He lives in the north of England with his wife and two young children. Doug is currently Researcher/Analyst at JISC infoNet (hosted by Northumbria University) after spending seven years as a teacher and senior leader in various UK schools. He has just submitted his doctoral thesis on the subject of ‘digital literacies’.