INF537: Is evangelising the digital future helpful?

When attempting to apply what I have learned throughout my degree in my work as a public servant, I have often hit roadblocks including available tools, willingness of colleagues to engage and time to implement best practice.

When I read journal articles such as Ross’s 2012 article on the future of reflective practices, I wonder whether we are providing a vision and narrative for people to follow that is achievable.*

I have had experience in higher education and know that, with a few exceptions, the reality of what is being implemented is so far from what is promoted by many education evangelists that I wonder how the gap between the two will be narrowed?

Often for institutions the reality is that we are limited by the tools that are provided to us such as our learning management system, our conferencing tool, content authoring systems. We are similarly limited by the users’ knowledge of how to use the systems effectively. Tags, categorising and even basic html formatting seem to be beyond the skill-level of a large number of people.

I often feel that too much time is spent advocating for the brave new world of technology enabled education when more value could be derived from a narrative that:

  • acknowledges that often you will be limited in your ability to implement best practice by corporate systems
  • discusses the pros and cons of using unsupported systems to achieve your goals
  • considers how to up-skill the users to allow them to complete the approach that is being advocated

In may articles there is an assumption that everyone is interested in implementing tools to improve education outcomes. My experience is that unless you provide considerable investment in training, monitoring and communicating; new approaches are normally doomed to failure. Therefore, by including reference to the practical realities being faced by educators we can sart to bridge the gap between vision and implementation.

* The big caveat on this post is that I do not work in an academic institution and therefore am not the primary audience for Ross’s work.

References

Ross, J. (2012). The spectacle and the placeholder: Digital futures for reflective practices in higher education. In Proceedings of the 8th International Conference on Networked Learning (pp. 227–244). Retrieved from http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/fss/organisations/netlc/past/nlc2012/abstracts/pdf/ross.pdf

Reflecting on Learning Artefacts

Having reviewed the learning artefacts of my fellow INF532 students I think it is amazing how technology has improved the ease and quality of digital interactions for networked learners.

Artefacts that were once the preserve of professional production companies are now being created by university students with the use of tools like:

Ease of use and professional templates make it possible for people to make good quality artefacts, reasonably quickly.

There are still some barriers for networked learners.

One barrier is hardware. Chris’s great podcast with Greg Miller has beautiful sound quality but as you can see from the photo, sound quality requires a good microphone:

I certainly noticed the sound quality in my own learning artefact wasn’t great. I think if I am going to commit to creating more multi-media content I will need to invest in good equipment.

Another barrier is the required investment in services. PowToon requires you to pay a subscription fee as do most of the more polished tools out there. These better tools are often easier to use than the free alternatives. Claire reflected on the difficulties of using QuickTime in her artefact. I have experienced the same difficulty and switched to Camtasia but the full product cost more money than I could justify spending and so I ended up spending a lot of extra hours getting other tools to do the same thing.

Keeping up to date with trends and services is a barrier that Claire identified with her presentation on Google+ communities. As soon as the design of the site changes, the currency of the ‘walk through’ artefact diminishes. I think a challenge for networked learners is not just ensuring they stay up to date with the services but also the type of content on those services. In a earlier post Claire describes this issue perfectly using the example of expectations of what a YouTube video should contain. Kelly’s use of student feedback to identify how the content in her video could be more engaging was an important lesson for me in ensuring that I talk to my audience to get feedback and to iterate on the content I create.

In conclusion, my takeaways from reviewing the learning artefacts and exrgesises (if that is the plural) of my fellow learners are:

  • Tools can be costly but once you find the ones that are right for you, it is worth investing in them as they will save a lot of time and increase quality.
  • Don’t over-commit your time to ‘walk throughs’ where small changes in layout might make your artefact obsolete.
  • Feedback from your audience can help ensure you are meeting their expectations from the medium.
  • Spend time finding out what tools and techniques others used to create their artefact (I learned lots of new tools by reading through the exergesises)

List of INF532 Learning Artefacts (sorry if I missed anyone):

  • Claire
  • Chris – I did not find the final artefact but know that this podcast formed part of it
  • Kelly
  • Emma

How many people does it take to make a community of practice?

Image comparing crowd size at Trump inaguration and Obama inaguration

What is the critical mass for a community of practice? That is the question that struck me when I read Not everything that connects is a network (Hearn and Mendizabal, 2001).

I try to foster a community of practice at work in an area that is important but not core business. The result is a lot of people being involved in the group but not many participating.

Hearn and Mendizabal argue that “networks are indigenous to any situation or environment; they exist before an initiative comes along and will exist after an initiative has closed down” and that:

networks are not panaceas and are not suitable in all situations. The suitability of a network strategy needs to be interrogated carefully before investments are made, particularly as a network could prove more expensive than an alternative strategy.

I find this an interesting perspective and I am possibly in more of a curation role than one of being in a community of practice. Having read Popova’s article on the role of curation, I know that this is an important role as well.

Over time I will attempt different strategies to try and gain critical mass in and reach a fully fledged community of practice.