Social Networks and Information Abundance

When I am in my normal work routine, I get into work, take care of my inbox, check for any new hardcopy correspondence. At that point, I turn to my social network to read and digest what has been happening in the world of psychology and education. I think about what has been written, comment on a few ideas, scoop some of the posts, use Diigo to annotate and save some of the thoughts that strike, and then, about once a week or so, write something on this blog about what has impressed me about where we are going with learning. I don’t think that this is terribly unusual (I hope). What I don’t do much of, any more, is meet with my colleagues to talk about teaching and learning. Don’t get me wrong, I have had a heavy administrative load for a number of years, here at the University. However, in very few of these meetings do we ever really talk about learning. Even in our teaching administration meetings, the focus is almost exclusively on rules, regulations, and one-off cases that need new rules and regulations made up to deal with them.

What this means, is that my discussions about teaching and learning that I used to have with interested colleagues face to face are now almost exclusively carried out on-line over social networks. That doesn’t mean that I never have learning discussions face to face. Occasionally someone from the University community comes by and we sit down and we have a  good chat. It is just that now, we have a situation where all of my new, younger colleagues (the old ones have all drifted off) find themselves too busy, and me too intimidating (I taught several of them as undergraduates), and so we don’t often chat about learning issues.

Clive Thompson wrote about Marissa Mayer’s edict that Yahoo employees  could no longer work at home, because the company needed the creativity that arises from face-to-face, informal contact (water-cooler chat). Clive presents evidence that Marissa is right in thinking that creativity is increased when these informal chats happen. He also presents evidence that when people work on their own (at home maybe), more gets done – productivity increases.

This made me wonder if active social networks count as face-to-face interactions. Does the seek-sense-share world of social networking as a professional provide opportunities for creative juices to flow? If it isn’t as good, is this what is lacking in on-line learning – the informal chatter that can take place among students? I know that my students who work in a blended environment tell me that, once they get immersed in my psychology in education class, they find themselves talking about it to each other and anyone who will listen, virtually non-stop. In order to be fully creative, maybe I need to create a group that just sits around and brainstorms face to face. Maybe Skype…

I don’t know the answer, and are not aware of any research on this, but in our increasingly connected world, this is something we should figure out.


Externally Sourced Instructional Resources

I read Keith’s blog entry today, and it got me to thinking about why we are so resistant to using each others materials, and what we can do about it. Cooperation and collaboration in producing good quality instructional resources is rare to the point of being unheard of.

I think there is one reason that Keith neglected to mention, and that is the hope of stardom. What I mean by that is in the competitive research world, there are massive egos and the opportunity for blips of stardom (being the top researcher in an area that only interests 14 other people in the world drives many). However, HE teachers, the ones who aren’t really in the research game, look for their chance for stardom in producing a best selling textbook or teaching gimmick. That’s a solo effort (or possibly a duet). As a result, we get inundated with “original” ways of looking at virtually every subject in the world (something Keith alluded to). Because every teacher has their own special way to reach students, and many of them publish their approach in hopes that they will gain niche stardom and all the fame and fortune (usually about £47.50/year) that follows.

As a result, there is no tradition of working together to produce high quality materials.

To use high quality resources that publishers market (and there is some superb quality stuff out there) is unacceptable – either because the cost is too high (the institution won’t fund it), or your colleagues will accuse you of selling your soul to the devil.

OERs are great, but usually mediocre quality. How do we establish a tradition of getting together to produce high quality materials? If they are already out there and freely available, where are they? How can we become co-producers and sharers in a world where no one wants to consume?

We do ourselves and our students a real disservice by not moving in this direction. Since information is abundant, we should be adding to it as a community and sharing our additions with each other. But more importantly, we need to be using what has already been made.

Student Centred Learning

I was away in the Canaries for a couple of weeks and developed pneumonia while there (I went with a bit of a cough, and it got worse). The medical care I received there was the inspiration for my blog post today.

I have lived all of my adult life in either Canada and the UK, both of which have had national health care systems (UK okay, Canada, much better). WHat shocked me about the health care I received in Tenerife (Canary Islands) was the focus of the care. The doctor in Tenerife acted like she actually cared about me as a person – she indicated on my daily visits that she had been thinking about me, and was concerned about my progress. I have developed good friendships with a number of the medical professionals I have seen in both Canada and the UK, but I have never been led to believe that the doctors I see at home are concerned about me as a person. They are there to treat an illness, and I happen to be the person currently carrying that illness. That doesn’t mean they aren’t kind and friendly, but the centre of their focus is almost completely on the treatment of some ailment, not on me as a human being.

What does this have to do with HE. I think we do the same thing with our students. We are concerned about everything except them and their learning (as people). Administrators worry about how well the system is holding together, lecturers worry about delivering a good lecture (or teaching event), and the students worry about getting good grades. Even the external stakeholders ignore the learning – parents worry about grades and job prospects, wile employers focus on institutional prestige, GPA and degree classification.

Who is concerned about learning? Who cares about the personal development that accompanies intense learning experiences? Assessments are largely focused on memory. Lectures are used because it is an easy way to teach and a passive way to learn. Large groups are the norm because we don’t have the resources to properly fund real learning opportunities. MOOCs are all the rage, in part because the give a whole new meaning to ‘large group’. We are teaching the material in education rather than helping our students learn. We need to refocus what we do on our learners and not on our instruction.