Category: Education systems (page 1 of 3)

Games (and learning) mechanics

The average age of those who play video games? Early thirties, and rising. So, I’m happy to say that purchasing Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of the best decisions I’ve made so far in 2019.

It’s an incredible, immersive game within which you could easily lose a few hours at a time. And, just like games like Fortnite, it’s being tweaked and updated after release to improve the playing experience. Particularly the online aspect.

What interests me in particular as an educator and a technologist is the way that the designers are thinking carefully about the in-game mechanics based on what players actually do. It’s easy to theorise what people might do, but what they actually do is a constant surprise to anyone who’s ever designed something they’ve asked another person to use.

Engadget mentions one update to Red Dead that particularly jumped out at me:

The update also brings a new system that highlights especially aggressive players. The more hostile you are, the more visible you will become to other players on the map with an increasingly darkening dot. Your visibility will increase in line with bad deeds such as attacking players and their horses outside of a structured mode, free roam mission or event. But, start behaving, and your visibility will fade over time. Rockstar is also introducing the ability to parlay with an entire posse, rather than individual players, which should also help to reduce how often players are killed by trolls.

In other words, anti-social behaviour is being dealt with by games mechanics that make it harder for people to act inappropriately.

But my favourite update?

The update will also see the arrival of bounties. Any player that’s overly aggressive and consistently breaks the law with have a bounty placed on their head, and once it’s high enough NPC [Non-Playing Characters] bounty hunters will get on your tail. Another mechanism to dissuade griefing but perhaps a missed opportunity to allow players to become temporary bounty hunters and enact some sweet vengeance on the players that keep ruining their gameplay.

We have a tendency in education to simply ban things we don’t like. That might be excluding people from courses, or ultimately from institutions. However, when it’s customers at stake, games designers have a wide range of options to influence the outcomes for the positive.

I think we’ve got a lot still to learn in education from games design.

Source: Engadget


Image by BagoGames used under a CC BY license

Is edtech even a thing any more?

Until recently, Craig Taylor included the following in his Twitter bio:

Dreaming of a day when we can drop the e from elearning and the m from mobile learning & just crack on.

Last week, I noticed that Stephen Downes, in reply to Scott Leslie on Mastodon, had mentioned that he didn’t even think that ‘e-learning’ or ‘edtech’ was really a thing any more, so perhaps Craig dropping that from his bio was symptomatic of a wider shift?

I’m not sure anyone has any status in online learning any more. I’m wondering, maybe it’s not even a discipline any more. There’s learning analytics and open pedagogy and experience design, etc., but I’m not sure there’s a cohesive community looking at what we used to call ed tech or e-learning.

His comments were part of a thread, so I decided not to take it out of context. However, Stephen has subsequently written his own post about it, so it’s obviously something on his mind.

Reflecting on what he covers in OLDaily, he notes that, while everything definitely falls within something broadly called ‘educational technology’, there’s very few people working at that meta level — unlike, say, ten years ago:

[I]n 2019 there’s no community that encompasses all of these things. Indeed, each one of these topics has not only blossomed its own community, but each one of these communities is at least as complex as the entire field of education technology was some twenty years ago. It’s not simply that change is exponential or that change is moving more and more rapidly, it’s that change is combinatorial – with each generation, the piece that was previously simple gets more and more complex.

I think Stephen’s got what Venkatesh Rao might deem an ‘elder blog’:

The concept is derived from the idea of an elder game in gaming culture — a game where most players have completed a full playthrough and are focusing on second-order play.

In other words, Stephen has spent a long time exploring and mapping the emerging territory. What’s happening now, it could be argued, is that new infrastructure is emerging, but using the same territory.

So, to continue the metaphor, a new community springs up around a new bridge or tunnel, but it’s not so different from what went before. It’s more convenient, maybe, and perhaps increases capacity, but it’s not really changing the overall landscape.

So what is the value of OLDaily? I don’t know. In one sense, it’s the same value it always had – it’s a place for me to chronicle all those developments in my field, so I have a record of them, and am more likely to remember them. And I think it’s a way – as it always has been – for people who do look at the larger picture to stay literate. Not literate in the sense of “I could build an educational system from scratch” but literate in the sense of “I’ve heard that term before, and I know it refers to this part of the field.”

I find Stephen’s work invaluable. Along with the likes of Audrey Watters and Martin Weller, we need wise voices guiding us — whether or not we decide to call what we’re doing ‘edtech’.

Source: OLDaily

Is the unbundling and rebundling of Higher Education actually a bad thing?

Until I received my doctorate and joined the Mozilla Foundation in 2012, I’d spent fully 27 years in formal education. Either as a student, a teacher, or a researcher, I was invested in the Way Things Currently Are®.

Over the past six years, I’ve come to realise that a lot of the scaremongering about education is exactly that — fears about what might happen, based on not a lot of evidence. Look around; there are lot of doom-mongers about.

It was surprising, therefore, to read a remarkably balanced article in EDUCAUSE Review. Laura Czerniewicz, Director of the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT), at the University of Cape Town, looks at the current state of play around the ‘unbundling’ and ‘rebundling’ of Higher Education.

Very simply, I’m using the term unbundling to mean the process of disaggregating educational provision into its component parts, very often with external actors. And I’m using the term rebundling to mean the reaggregation of those parts into new components and models. Both are happening in different parts of college and university education, and in different parts of the degree path, in every dimension and aspect—creating an extraordinarily complicated environment in an educational sector that is already in a state of disequilibrium.

Unbundling doesn’t simply happen. Aspects of the higher education experience disaggregate and fragment, and then they get re-created—rebundled—in different forms. And it’s the re-creating that is especially of interest.

Although it’s largely true that the increasing marketisation is a stimulus for the unbundling of Higher Education, I’m of the opinion that what we’re seeing has been accelerated primarily because of the internet. The end of capitalism wouldn’t necessarily remove the drive towards this unbundling and rebundling. In fact, I wonder what it would look like if it were solely non-profits, charities, and co-operatives doing this?

Czerniewicz identifies seven main aspects of Higher Education that are being unbundled:

  1. Curriculum
  2. Resources
  3. Flexible pathways
  4. Academic expertise
  5. Opportunities
    • Support
    • Credentials
    • Networks
  6. Graduateness (i.e. ‘the status of being a graduate’)
  7. Experience
    • Mode (e.g. online, blended)
    • Place

As a white male with a terminal degree sitting outside academia, I guess I have a great deal of privilege to check. That being said, I do (as ever) have some opinions about all of this.

As Czerniewicz points out, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with unbundling and rebundling. It’s potentially a form of creative destruction, followed by some Hegelian synthesis.

But I’d like to conclude on a hopeful note. Unbundling and rebundling can be part of the solution and can offer opportunities for reasonable and affordable access and education for all. Unbundling and rebundling are opening spaces, relationships, and opportunities that did not exist even five years ago. These processes can be harnessed and utilized for the good. We need to critically engage with these issues to ensure that the new possibilities of provision for teaching and learning can be fully exploited for democratic ends for all.

Goodness knows that, as a sector, Higher Education can do a much better job of the three main things I’d say we’d want of universities in 2018:

  • Developing well-rounded citizens ready to participate fully in democratic society.
  • Sending granular signals to the job market about the talents and competencies of individuals.
  • Enabling extremely flexible provision for those in work, or who want to take different learning pathways.

That’s not even to mention universities as places of academic freedom and resistance to forms of oppression (including the State).

I think the main reason I’m interested in all of this is mainly through the lens of new forms of credentialing. Czerniewicz writes:

Certification is an equity issue. For most people, getting verifiable accreditation and certification right is at the heart of why they are invested in higher education. Credentials may prove to be the real equalizers in the world of work, but they do raise critical questions about the function and the reputation of the higher education institution. They also raise questions about value, stigma, and legitimacy. A key question is, how can new forms of credentials increase access both to formal education and to working opportunities?

I agree. So the main reason I got involved in Open Badges was that I saw the inequity as a teacher. I want, by the time our eldest child reaches the age where he’s got the choice to go to university (2025), to be able to make an informed choice not to go — and still be OK. Credentialing is an arms race that I’ve done alright at, but which I don’t really want him to be involved in escalating.

So, to conclude, I’m actually all for the unbundling and rebundling of education. As Audrey Watters has commented many times before, it all depends who is doing the rebundling. Is it solely for a profit motive? Is it improving things for the individual? For society? Who gains? Who loses?

Ultimately, this isn’t something that be particularly ‘controlled’, only observed and critiqued. No-one is secretly controlling how this is playing out worldwide. That’s not to say, though, that we shouldn’t call out and resist the worst excesses (I’m looking at you, Facebook). There’s plenty of pedagogical process we can make as this all unfolds.

Source: Educause

Credentials and standardisation

Someone pinch me, because I must be dreaming. It’s 2018, right? So why are we still seeing this kind of article about Open Badges and digital credentials?

“We do have a little bit of a Wild West situation right now with alternative credentials,” said Alana Dunagan, a senior research fellow at the nonprofit Clayton Christensen Institute, which researches education innovation. The U.S. higher education system “doesn’t do a good job of separating the wheat from the chaff.”

You’d think by now we’d realise that we have a huge opportunity to do something different here and not just replicate the existing system. Let’s credential stuff that matters rather than some ridiculous notion of ’employability skills’. Open Badges and digital credentials shouldn’t be just another stick to beat educational institutions.

Nor do they need to be ‘standardised’. Another person’s ‘wild west’ is another person’s landscape of huge opportunity. We not living in a world of 1950s career pathways.

“Everybody is scrambling to create microcredentials or badges,” Cheney said. “This has never been a precise marketplace, and we’re just speeding up that imprecision.”

Arizona State University, for example, is rapidly increasing the number of online courses in its continuing and professional education division, which confers both badges and certificates. According to staff, the division offers 200 courses and programs in a slew of categories, including art, history, education, health and law, and plans to provide more than 500 by next year.

My eyes are rolling out of my head at this point. Thankfully, I’ve already written about misguided notions around ‘quality’ and ‘rigour’, as well thinking through in a bit more detail what earning a ‘credential’ actually means.

Source: The Hechinger Report

Why badge endorsement is a game-changer

Since starting work with Moodle, I’ve been advocating for upgrading its Open Badges implementation to v2.0. It’s on the horizon, thankfully. The reason I’m particularly interested in this is endorsement, the value of which is explained in a post by Don Presant:

What’s so exciting about Endorsement, you may ask. Well, for one thing, it promises to resolve recurring questions about the “credibility of badges” by providing third party validation that can be formal (like accreditation) or informal (“fits our purpose”). Endorsement can also strengthen collaboration, increase portability and encourage the development of meaningful badge ecosystems.

I’ve known Don for a number of years and have been consistently impressed by combination of idealism and pragmatism. He provides a version of Open Badge Factory in Canada called ‘CanCred’ and, under these auspices, is working on a project around a Humanitarian Passport.

Endorsement of organisations is now being embedded into the DNA of HPass, the international humanitarian skills recognition network now in piloting, scheduled for public launch in early 2019. Organisations who can demonstrate audited compliance with the HPass Standards for Learning or Assessment Providers will become “HPass Approved” on the system, a form of accreditation that will be signposted with Endorsement metadata baked into their badges and a distinctive visual quality mark they can display on their badge images. This is an example of a formal “accreditation-like” endorsement, but HPass badges can also be endorsed informally by peer organisations.

The ultimate aim of alternative credentialing such as Open Badges is recognition, and I think that the ability to endorse badges is a big step forward towards that.

Source: Open Badge Factory

The Digital Knowledge Loop

I’ve featured the work of Albert Wenger a few times before on Thought Shrapnel. He maintains a blog called Continuations and is writing a book called World After Capital.

In this post, he expands on a point he makes in his book around the ‘Digital Feedback Loop’ which, Wenger says, has three components:

  1. Economic freedom. We must let everyone meet their basic needs without being forced into the Job Loop. With economic freedom, we can embrace automation and enable everyone to participate in and benefit from the Digital Knowledge Loop.
  2. Informational freedom. We must remove barriers from the Digital Knowledge Loop that artificially limit learning from existing knowledge, creating new knowledge based on what we learn and sharing this new knowledge. At the same time must build systems that support the operation of critical inquiry in the Digital Knowledge Loop.
  3. Psychological freedom. We must free ourselves from scarcity thinking and its associated fears and other emotional reactions that impede our participation in the Digital Knowledge Loop. Much of the peril of the Digital Knowledge Loop arises directly from a lack of psychological freedom.

Wenger is a venture capitalist, albeit a seemingly-enlightened one. Interestingly, he’s approaching the post-scarcity world through the lens of knowledge, economics, and society. As educators, I think we need to be thinking about similar things.

In fact, this reminds me of some work Martin Weller at the Open University has done around a pedagogy of abundance. After reviewing the effect of the ‘abundance’ model in the digital marketplace, looks at what that means for education. He concludes:

The issue for educators is twofold I would suggest: firstly how can they best take
advantage of abundance in their own teaching practice, and secondly how do we best equip learners to make use of it? It is this second challenge that is perhaps the most significant. There is often consideration given to  transferable or key skills in
education (eg Dearing 1997), but these have not been revisited to take into account
the significant change that abundant and free content offers to learners… Coping with abundance then is a key issue for higher education, and one which as yet, it has not made explicit steps to meet, but as with many industries, adopting a  response which attempts to reinstate scarcity would seem to be a doomed enterprise.

Yesterday, during a break in our MoodleNet workshop with Outlandish, we were talking about the The Up Series of documentaries that showed just how much of a conveyer belt there is for children born into British society. I think part of the problem around that is we’re locked into outdated models, as Wenger and Weller point out in their respective work.

My children, for example, with a few minor updates, are experiencing the very same state education I received a quarter of a century ago. The world has moved on, yet the mindset of scarcity remains. They’re not going to have a job for life. They don’t need to selfishly hold onto their ‘intellectual property’. And they certainly don’t need to learn how to sit still within a behaviourist classroom.

Source: Continuations

Charity is no substitute for justice

The always-brilliant Audrey Watters eviscerates the latest project from a white, male billionaire to ‘fix education’. Citing Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ plan to open a series of “Montessori-inspired preschools in underserved communities” where “the child will be the customer”, Audrey comments:

The assurance that “the child will be the customer” underscores the belief – shared by many in and out of education reform and education technology – that education is simply a transaction: an individual’s decision-making in a “marketplace of ideas.” (There is no community, no public responsibility, no larger civic impulse for early childhood education here. It’s all about privateschools offering private, individual benefits.)

As I’ve said on many occasions, everyone wakes up with cool ideas to change the world. The difference is that you or I would have to run it through many, many filters to get the funding to implement it. Those filters , hopefully, kill 99% of batshit-crazy ideas. Billionaires, in the other hand, can just speak and fund things into existence, no matter how damaging and I’ll thought-out the ideas behind them happen to be.

[Teaching] is a field in which a third of employeesalready qualify for government assistance. And now Jeff Bezos, a man whose own workers also rely on these same low-income programs, wants to step in – not as a taxpayer, oh no, but as a philanthropist. Honestly, he could have a more positive impact here by just giving those workers a raise. (Or, you know, by paying taxes.)

This is the thing. We can do more and better together than we can do apart. The ideas of the many, honed over years, lead to better outcomes than the few thinking alone.

For all the flaws in the public school system, it’s important to remember: there is no accountability in billionaires’ educational philanthropy.

And, as W. B. Yeats famously never said, charity is no substitute for justice.

Whatever your moral and political views, accountability is something that cuts across the divide. I should imagine there are some reading this who send their kids to private schools and don’t particularly see the problem with this. Isn’t it just another example of competition within ‘the market’?

The trouble with that kind of thinking, at least from my perspective, is twofold. First, it assumes that education is a private instead of a public good. Second, that it’s OK to withhold money from society and then use that to subsidise the education of the already-privileged.

Source: Hack Education

Fluency without conceptual understanding

I’ve been following Dan Meyer’s work on-and-off for over a decade now. He’s a Maths teacher by trade, but now working as Chief Academic Officer at Desmos after gaining his PhD from Stanford. He’s a smart guy, and a great blogger.

Dan’s particularly interested in how kids learn Maths (or ‘Math’ because he’s American) and is always particularly concerned to disprove/squash approaches that don’t work:

In the wake of Barbara Oakley’s op-ed in the New York Times arguing that we overemphasize conceptual understanding in math class, it’s become clear to me that our national conversation about math instruction is missing at least one crucial element: nobody knows what anybody means by “conceptual understanding.”

It’s worth reading the whole post (and the comment section), but I just wanted to pull out a couple of things which I think are useful:

A student who has procedural fluency but lacks conceptual understanding …

  • Can accurately subtract 2018-1999 using a standard algorithm, but doesn’t recognize that counting up would be more efficient.
  • Can accurately compute the area of a triangle, but doesn’t recognize how its formula was derived or how it can be extended to other shapes. (eg. trapezoids, parallelograms, etc.)
  • Can accurately calculate the discriminant of y = x2 + 2 to determine that it doesn’t have any real roots, but couldn’t draw a quick sketch of the parabola to figure that out more efficiently.

I find this all the time with my own kids, and also when I was teaching. For example, I knew that the students in my Year 7 History class could draw a line graph in Maths, but they didn’t seem to be able to do it in my classroom for some reason. In other words, they were ‘procedurally fluent’ in a particular domain.

Children are very good at giving the impression to adults that they understand and can do what they’re being told to do. Poke a little, and you come to realise that they don’t really understand what’s going on. That’s particularly true in History, where it’s easy to regurgitate facts and dates, without any empathy or historical understanding.

Another thing that Dan points out which I think we should all take to heart is that we should learn a bit of humility. He criticises both Barbara Oakley (op-ed in The New York Times) and Paul Morgan (author of an article with which he disagrees for not having what Nassim Nicholas Taleb would call ‘skin in the game‘:

If you’re going to engage with the ideas of a complex field, engage with its best. That’s good practice for all of us and it’s especially good practice for people who are commenting from outside the field like Oakley (trained in engineering) and Morgan (trained in education policy).

Everyone’s got opinions. The important thing is to listen to those who are talking sense.

Source: dy/dan

Higher Education and blockchain

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the most useful applications of blockchain technologies are incredibly boring. That goes in education, too.

This post by Chris Fellingham considers blockchain in the context of Higher Education, and in particular credentialing:

The short pitch is that as jobs and education go digital, we need digital credentials for our education and those need to be trustworthy and automisable. Decentralised trust systems may well be the future but I don’t see that it solves a core problem. Namely that the main premium market for Higher Education Edtech is geared twards graduates in developed countries and that market — does not have a problem of trust in its credentials — it has a problem of credibility in its courses. People don’t know what it means to have done a MOOC/Specialization/MicroMasters in X which undermines the market system for it. Shoring up the credential is a second order problem to proving the intrinsic value of the course itself.

“Decentralised trust systems” is what blockchain aficionados refer to, but what they actually mean is removing trust from the equation. So, in hiring decisions, for example, trust is removed from the equation in favour of cryptographic proof.

Fellingham mentions someone called ‘Smolenski’ who, after a little bit of digging, must be Natalie Smolenski, who works for Learning Machine. That organisation is a driving force, with MIT, behind the Blockcerts standard for blockchain-based digital credentialing.

Smolenski however, is a believer, and in numerous elegant essays has argued blockchain is the latest paradigm shift in trust-based technologies. The thesis puts trust based technologies as a central driver of human development. Kinship was the first ‘trust technology’, followed by language and cultural development. Things really got going with organised religion which was the early modern driver — enabling proto-legal systems and financial systems to emerge. Total strangers could now conduct economic transactions by putting their trust in local laws (a mutually understand system for transactions) in the knowledge that it would be enforced by a trusted third party — the state. Out of this emerged market economies and currencies.

Like Fellingham, I’m not particularly enamoured with this teleological ‘grand narrative’ approach to history, of which blockchain believers do tend to be overly-fond. I’m pretty sure that human history hasn’t been ‘building’ in any way towards anything, particularly something that involves less trust between human beings.

Blockchain at this moment is a kind of religion. It’s based on a hope of things to come:

Blockchain — be it in credential or currency form …could well be a major — if not paradigmatic technology — but it has its own logic and fundamentally suits those who use it best — much as social networks turned out to be fertile grounds for fake news. For that reason alone, we should be far more cautious about a shift to blockchain in Higher Education — lest like fake news — it takes an imperfect system and makes it worse.

Indeed. Who on earth would want wants to hard code the way things are right now in Higher Education? If your answer is ‘blockchain-based credentials’, then I’m not sure you really understand what the question is.

Source: Chris Fellingham (via Stephen Downes)

On ‘academic innovation’

Rolin Moe is in a good position to talk on the topic of ‘academic innovation’. In fact, it’s literally in his job title: ‘Assistant professor and Director of the Institute for Academic Innovation at Seattle Pacific University”.

Moe warns, however, that it’s not necessarily a great idea to create a new discipline out of academic innovation. Until fairly recently, being ‘innovative’ was a negative slur, something that could get you in some serious trouble if you were found guilty.

[T]he historical usage of innovation is not as a foundational platform but a superficial label; yet in 2018 the governing bodies of societal institutions wield “innovation” in setting forth policy, administration and funding. Innovation, a term we all know but do not have a conceptual framework for, is driving change and growth in education. As regularly used without context, innovation is positioned as the future out-of-the-box solution for the problems of the present.

This makes the term a conduit of power relationships despite many proponents of innovation serving as vocal advocates for diversity, equity and inclusion in higher education. Thinking about revenue shortfalls in a time of national economic prosperity, the extraction of arts and humanities programs at a time when industry demands critical thinking from graduates, and the positioning of online learning as a democratizing tool when research shows the greatest benefit is to populations of existing privilege, the solutions offered under the innovation mantle have at best affected symptoms, at worst perpetuated causes.

Words and terms, of course, change over time. But, as Moe points out, if we’re to update the definition of innovation, we need a common understanding of what it means.

Coalescing around a common understanding is vital for the growth of “academic innovation,” but the history of innovation makes this concept problematic. Some have argued that innovation binds together disciplines such as learning technologies, leadership and change, and industrial/organizational psychology.

However, this cohesion assumes a “shared language of inquiry,” which does not currently exist. Today’s shared language around innovation is emotive rather than procedural; we use innovation to highlight the desired positive results of our efforts rather than to identify anything specific about our effort (products, processes or policies). The predominant use of innovation is to highlight the value and future-readiness of whatever the speaker supports, which is why opposite sides of issues in education (see school choice, personalized learning, etc.) use innovation in promoting their ideologies.

It seems to me that the neoliberal agenda has invaded education, as it does with any uncommodified available space, and introduced the language of the market. So we get educators using the language of Silicon Valley and attempting to ‘disrupt’ their institution.

If the goal of academic innovation is to be creative and flexible in the development, discovery and engagement of knowledge about the future of education, the foundation for knowledge accumulation and development needs to be innovative in and of itself. That must start with an operational definition of academic innovation, differentiating what innovation means to education from what it means to entrepreneurial spaces or sociological efforts.

That definition must address the negotiated history of the term, from the earliest application of the concept in government-funded research spurred by education policy during the 1960s, through overlooked innovation authors like Freeman and Thorstein Veblen. Negotiating the future we want with the history we have is vital in order to determine the best structure to support the development of an inventive network for creating research-backed, criticism-engaged and outside-the-box approaches to the future of education. The energy behind what we today call academic innovation needs to be put toward problematizing and unraveling the causes of the obstacles facing the practice of educating people of competence and character, rather than focusing on the promotion of near-future technologies and their effect on symptomatic issues.

While I’m sympathetic to the idea that educational institutions can be ‘stodgy’ places that can often need a good kick up the behind, I’m not entirely sure that academic innovation as a discipline will do anything other than legitimise the capitalist takeover of a public good.

Source: Inside Higher Ed (via Aaron Davis)