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Friday, 4 September 2009

Thinking Differently in a Digital World

'The Digital World' from Dreamstime.comI had thought of a more slick title such as 'Get Real, man!' - but thought better of it. However, the principle still stands. Two different posts recently reminded me of the vast gulf which still remains fixed between those in their ivory palaces of academia and the real world of day-to-day learning and living. How we can best use the communication systems that we have and how we relate to one-another in the digital world still needs to be understood.

The first post, from Wayne Mackintosh in New Zealand, mentions an incident which is quite common, that of moving house, and even, in this case, from one country to another. He writes:

We have recently relocated back home to New Zealand after working a few years in Canada. My son is in Year 11, and due to curriculum differences between the two countries, in some subjects he had already covered aspects of the NZ curriculum in Canada. He had an assignment to write a book review and had already done one in Canada. So he simply copied the digital version of the book review for submission here in NZ. Educational issues aside -- he was able to reuse his efforts and investment in learning from a previous learning experience.

Similarly, in subjects areas which adopt a concentric curriculum design on increasing levels of difficulty a student may want to rework last year's assignment covering the same topic. Part of our responsibilities as educators is to prepare our students for a changing digital future .... This may place interesting challenges on traditional notions of property and ownership of learning outputs.


In a completely different scenario the writer, Julian Beckton, was extolling the virtues of a rendering of Mahara into which, credit where it's due, he has put a lot of work. However, it appeared to be a very introspective HE solution and lacked little reference to the wider world. I responded somewhat critically but, I hope, constructively:

If you can consider that an e-Portfolio is ‘for life’, or ‘from 5-95′ or as Dr Barrett says, ‘from sperm to worm’, you will appreciate that the one tool must be far more user-friendly than your somewhat technical solution suggests.

Secondly, the e-Portfolio is the centre for all sorts of learning external to ’school’ or ‘college’ and as such must have within it a number of e-safe tools which allow peer-review, collaboration, polls, surveys and questionnaires etc.

Thirdly, within the context of the percieved audiences, there must be simple tools to control who sees what and when.

Fourthly, and this is my chief complaint with Mahara, the e-Portfolio tool must be capable of using a number of templates, colour schemes and fonts which allow some degree of personal self-representation.

Fifthly, you mention nothing as far as I can see, about ‘transition’. Although there are ‘fixes’ for allowing some level of interoperability with Mahara, you do not warn people that the Mahara solution will probably not be of any use to learners once they move on from their present institution.

So, the bottom line is still the question that I often ask, 'How can we use e-Portfolios to enhance or even revolutionise Teaching and Learning in a Digital World?'

1 comment:

Wayne said...

A thought provoking post and thanks for your pointer and acknowledgement to the bit I posted on the New Zealand list.

While I've spent the majority of my career in ICTs for learning – I tread carefully in the area of ePortfolio technologies. You might say that I'm an amateur insofar as ePortfolios are concerned.

I think your title of “thinking differently in a digital world” provides well founded advice for educators. In a fast changing digital world, its very difficult to predict how learning practice will evolve, even less trying to design the optimal tool for a particular function or purpose. There was life before Google – similarly it's plausible that there will be life after Google.

I'm fascinated by the world of self-organising systems exemplified by the mass-collaborations of projects like Wikipedia. One way to think about ePortfolios might be to think of them as a personal digital history of experience across the Internet which can be reconfigured and packaged for different purposes. For example, I have over 15,000 edits in WikiEducator which cover a vast range of learning experiences, content artefacts etc. – I suppose the history of the “my contributions” link of my WikiEducator account could qualify as an ePortfolio for formal assessment purposes? – but I wonder whether any formal education institutions would recognise these digital contributions as an ePortfolio for assessment purposes?

That said – one of the advantages of having a terminal degree is that I don't really care about the value judgements of the academy pertaining to my digital life. However, I'm learning way more than I ever did during my formal education --- More importantly, I'm having considerably more fun learning and interacting with educators around the world than I ever did during my postgraduate studies.

The school as we know it is a construct and consequence of the industrial revolution. As we move forward in the digital world and knowledge economy – Will we see new social organisations emerging that will augment the formal school as we know it?

If I look at the vast majority of children in the developing world who will never have the opportunity of completing their secondary education in a formal school – I think this new social form of education is inevitable. I hope that we can make a difference through OER – resources educators are free to use, adapt and modify without restriction. I think the power is in our hands to make the changes we want to see in the world :-)