Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Collectionism as an approach to Instructional Design

It was the emergence and rapid growth of Pokémon Go, and a number of “Badge Breakfasts” in Johannesburg and Cape Town that first sparked the idea with me.  I want to coin a new word for the phenomenon of micro-credentials in the world of learning and teaching. Pokémon Go muscled in on the phenomenon that people like to collect things.  The same way we collect souvenirs on our travels, pick up shells on the beach, or collect credits towards the next free coffee at our local coffee shop, we like collecting. In the field of elearning this phenomenon has also been recognised both by the open badges community and by the rise of SCORM and Experience API.
So I was looking for a term that would cover the phenomenon of collecting bits of learning and stringing them together to form a portfolio, or maybe even a qualification.  I was looking for a word that would resonate with Seymour Papert’s Constructionism. So, I looked first at collectivism, which describes the fact that knowledge rests in the collective – and I like it, because it resonates with Rhizome theory. But collectivism is about people working as a collective, it does not describe the act of collecting.  Then I found a word that had no definition in Google’s online dictionary – “Collectionism”.  I found one use of the word as hoarding. So I want to propose the use of the word Collectionism in the design of teaching and learning as a way of leveraging our natural tendency to collect things, and using that as a basis of developing a knowledge base.
Collectionism would then form the basis of what I want to call asset-based teaching and learning – where the learner is seen as someone collecting assets to construct an own skill-set, rather than as an “empty vessel” with a deficit that needs to be filled or corrected. The concept of collectionism will resonate with librarians, who are, by definition, builders of collections. So from the librarians one might borrow the act of classifying and categorising assets.  Of course in dealing with assets one is already borrowing from economists, and thus it would be necessary to find some way of classifying the assets that are collected.  This definition of assets can already be seen in the way that metadata is imbedded into badges. One could define assets by their size – in other words the amount of knowledge that is contained in a unit, or by their duration – in other words, whether they are permanent assets, such as degrees, or whether they have expiry dates – such as drivers’ licences.  .  Are they cardinal or ordinal assets – did you get them for achieving a stated learning objective, or did you win them in a contest? One could also define assets in terms of their tangibility or otherwise in other words, can the asset be “traded” in the form of a course and certification.  I could be trained as a life coach and based on that asset, I could coach, or even train other life coaches.  On the other hand, in intangible asset would be the fact that I was voted the best life-coach in the district, and thus could charge more for my services that someone else.

So that is my opening gambit.  How can we develop a system of assets and recognise them so that they can form the building blocks of all our learning? 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Outline of a Masters or Doctoral Thesis or Dissertation

Ok, so two days ago I posted Chapter 4.  I didn't think of posting the others, because they have been on my website for years.
But then again, not everybody visits my website, which is at https://sites.google.com/site/johannescronje/ , and there may even be people who still don't know about my "Free online doctoral programme" which is at https://sites.google.com/site/johannescronje/doctor-doctor

For all of you then, here are the links, first to the "Logic of a thesis" and then a brief sketch of what goes into every chapter.

The logic of a thesis

So there you have it.  Now spend the weekend and just populate it.  Then you can submit on Monday.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How to write up the findings chapter

I don't know why I have taken so long to describe the findings chapter. My "Free online doctoral programme" has been up for three years now, but still it is silent on the most important chapter. So, here goes.

In a traditional five section thesis, the findings make up section four, Introduction, Literature survey, Methods, Findings, Conclusions and Recommendations. Nevertheless, it is really the first chapter that you will write out completely. It is the most important chapter of the thesis the most exciting one, but also the most difficult one to get started with.

The most common mistake that people make is to write the chapter as an inventory of what the instruments told them.  They would start unpacking the demographics of the participants, and then launch into the questionnaire from question 1 to question 100, providing all the relevant statistics, and generally boring everybody to tears.  So how is it done?

The first thing to do is to orientate the reader regarding the research.  Do not be repetitive, but explain briefly the purpose of your research and why you followed the methods that you did. Then explain how you will structure the findings chapter.  Two structuring principles are important here.  Your theoretical or conceptual model and your research questions.  The questions are structured as they are derived from the theoretical or conceptual model.  A simple example would be if one were to use a system as a conceptual model.  So the conceptual model will say that there is an input, there are processes, there is an output and there is a feedback loop to ensure sustainability. From this the questions will be derived.  What is the input? What are the processes? What is the output? How is sustainability achieved? And that is how the chapter will be structured.

So after brief description of the research and the participants you launch into the story of your research.   The rhythm is this:

The question was...
The reason for this question was to determine...
The instruments used to get to the answer were...
The instrument that gave the best information was...
This is the information that the instrument gave (in narrative form)
And here is the evidence of that information (statistics, quottionss, screen captures, embedded video clips, transcripts)...
These instruments supported the answer in this way, and here is the evidence.
These instruments gave contradictory evidence (if any) and this is it.
So my tentative answer to the question is ...
This supports the literature that says... and contradicts the literature that says... and adds the following to our body of knowledge.

And so you go on, question by question question.  Of course, you start with the sub-questions and the lesser questions so that they all add up when you finally ANSWER THE MAIN QUESTION(S).

And that's it. You  have presented your findings.  Now write Chapter 5 the way Tjeerd Plomp suggests. Then tidy up the other chapters and ensure they are completely aligned with Chapter 4. Then submit and have a happy life.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Don't be tense about tense

Prof Alta van der Merwe asked me to write up something about the use of tenses in a thesis, so that she could get her students to cite me.
I can resist anything except temptation, so, for the sake of citation, here goes, Alta!

Use the simple present tense for things that go on indefinitely. Use the past tense for things that have just happened, and the past perfect for things that had already been completed by the time the research took place.

Chapter 1 - Introduction
This thesis describes   research that was conducted to determine if there had been a significant improvement in the results of a given treatment.

So to explain more clearly.  If you are writing about the thesis itself, then you use the simple present.  Chapter One deals with the introduction, rationale and research method of the study. Chapter Two reports on the current literature. Chapter Three describes the methodology.  All in the present tense, because those chapters fulfil those functions right now, and always will.

Chapter 2 - Literature survey
The literature survey is written predominantly in the present tense.  Smith and Jones say: "We don't know what we are doing but we publish it anyway" (2014 p. 67).  Note that Smith and Jones are two authors, so they say.  But the article by Smith and Jones says, because it is just one article.  If, however, you are telling the story of Smith and Jones and their research, then it is in the past tense. Smith and Jones conducted research in the 1990s, and found numerous instances of people publishing in fields that they know nothing about. As their article puts it (present tense) "People publish for the sake of seeing their name in print, rather than to contribute to knowledge" (Smith and Jones, 1990 p. 27).

Chapter 3 - Research methods
Here you use mainly the past tense.  You are describing what you did.  If you have to follow up on things that had already been done, then you use the past perfect, and if you have to cite and author to substantiate what you did, then you use the present tense.
Questionnaires were distributed among the participants who had already viewed the movie and they were asked to complete a four-point Likert scale,  Johnson (2013) suggests that a Likert scale should have an even number of points to prevent participants from taking a mid-point position.

Chapter 4 - Findings
All in the past tense.  It is what you found.  Even if you found things that will hold true indefinitely, it still remains in the past, because that is when you found it.  Yesterday I found that the sky was blue. The fact that it is blue today, and will probably be so tomorrow is irrelevant.

Chapter 5 - Conclusions and recommendations
Conclusions are written in the present tense.  The conclusions are your contribution to the body of knowledge.  It was found that some people did one thing and other people did another. The conclusion is that different people do different things.
Recommendations are written in the imperative.  More research should be conducted to determine the circumstances under which people do what they do.

So that's it. No need to be tense about tense.  Just tell it as it happens.

Friday, August 1, 2014

...But not everybody has a smartphone

The most frequently asked question (faq - is a really good abbreviation for it) that gets put to me during any discussion on Rhizomatic learning, is "But not everybody has a smartphone?"
To which I get tempted more and more to reply, but anybody who is serious about their own learning should take the trouble and get one.  At less than R700 on prepaid it is not a bad option.
Now Arthur Goldstuck points to a "Massive increase in SA smartphone purchases".
This is hardly surprising, if one considers that Moore's law observes that computer power doubles every two years.
Goldstuck points out that this growth in purchases is driven by apps, most  noticeably WhatsApp. He continues, though, that the tendency of apps to need constant updating is bandwidth hungry and that consumers, therefore, even though they may have the phone, will be hard pressed to buy the data.  Nevertheless there is a tendency for cities to provide free wifi in selected areas. 
So, the answer to the question remains. Every student should have a smart phone.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I have just completed the Hour of Code

So I got the answer to the question that has been bugging me for all this time.
If the system is the one that learns, then what should we be teaching?
And as Andrew Lloyd Weber's Evita pointed out so poignantly, "The answer was there all the time":
So, to put it differently  If there's an app for everything, then what do kids still need to learn"
And the answer?  They need to learn how to put it all together.  The solution: CODING.
Victor Ngubeni stated on Facebook that he had just completed the Hour of Code.  So I thought it was a good idea and shared it on.  Then Niret Grobler commented that it was Awesome. So I thought I might try it too. And was it AWESOME.  In one hour I played "Angry Birds" and programmed a Zombi to eat a Sunflower.
I earned six "Mastery Trophies" and this beautiful certificate.  I learnt how to move, turn, repeat, use an "if" statement, and use an "If then" statement.  I intuitively understood for the first time why the "Go-to" statement is harmful, and I learnt a whole lot about my own behaviour as a learner.
In the process I interrupted myself two or three times to read WhatsApp messages from home (I am in Alaska for the #HETL14 conference) drink, coffee, etc. 
So, I learnt so much about 21st Century learning.  
I have never studied computer science.  In 1983 I did a six-hour course in programming a Commodore 64 in Basic. Yet those little bits of skill were enough to help me understand the logic behind just about every device I have ever had to interact with.  It made it easy for me to understand the concept of writing macros in Word or to create spreadsheets in Word and finally it helped me understand how to use IFTTT to navigate the maze of apps on my phone and to get them to work together.
The problem with the Rhizome, is that it is a maze. It has many many branches, most of which lead you nowhere, but many of which lead to aMAZING results.  And the point with programming, as is pointed out by the introductory video of The Hour of Code, is that it allows even a robot to navigate a maze.
So in our multilingual world and our multi-device world there is one language that we all need to learn to write - the language of code.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How to be smarter than your smart phone

QR Code for this site

The final confirmation of the conspiracy was when the trees in the Company's Garden acquired QR Codes, and the City of Cape Town, together with some partner institutions also provide free Wi-Fi access to people who wish to read these codes.  Although there was some political discussion about the extent to which the digital divide was really being addressed, there was complete silence about the fact that the users of the Wi-Fi and the OR codes were not the chief beneficiaries of this technology.  The chief beneficiaries were the providers of the codes and the access. While visitors to the Garden would acquire some information about the trees, it is the trees that are collecting information about the users - and this information is much more valuable than that Encephalartos Princeps Zameaceae have reproductive organs in the form of cones. The trees are discovering who are accessing this information. When are they accessing the information? What devices are they using to access the information? What routes are they taking through the garden? Which trees are viewed more than others? What other information are they accessing through the wireless network? To what extent is this information relevant to the trees? What patterns of use are emerging in the Garden? And you thought you were just finding out what tree it was. The moral of the story is that by acquiring a simple QR code, the trees have joined the Internet of Things, and the trees have become generators of information, rather than just providers of information.
    The stated beneficiaries of the Wi-Fi-enabled trees are, among others, school groups who will come on field trips and learn about the trees.  So here it is where it becomes interesting.  What will they be doing once they get back to the classroom. Will they be writing the traditional essay - my trip to the Company's Garden? Might they be required to produce a slideshow of the trees they had visited, or, heaven forbid, might they be given a test to give the botanical name of the Kei Cycad? Here then is the first challenge. If the information is already on my phone - I just have to point it at the tree - then why would I need to learn (read memorize) that information?
    It is not just the QR code, however, that has connected things to the Internet. All over the world Geocachers are squirreling away little boxes of trinkets and connecting them to the Internet via GPS coordinates. This map shows the caches within walking distance of the Hilton Hotel Anchorage. So, my whole world is be-speckled with little boxes that collect information about me.

The value of Geo-caching for education is clear. Numerous sites of historical or geographical importance have already been cached, and the planters of the caches usually take some trouble with providing relevant information - more often than not copied directly from Wikipedia. Teachers use these caches as way-point on field trips, they hide their own caches for students to find, or even encourage students to plan their own caches!
     But it is not just things that are getting permanently connected to the Internet. So are people. In your pocket you carry roughly a million times more capacity than the first IBM PC of 1981, and that XT computer had eight times more capacity than the Apollo 11 Guidance Computer. And most of the time the computer in your pocket is connected to the Internet, and sending back information about what you are doing. Then we use it to send text messages.
    More importantly, though, is that the phone in your pocket has unlimited capacity when it is connected to the cloud, Most of us enter the cloud through the Chrome gates of Google
        This is more than just a blog. It is also the text of my Keynote at the Social Media in Higher Education conference, Johannesburg  8, 9 May 2014.  In this talk I am trying to use a "Flipped Classroom" approach, using cell phones as response devices.  So here is the first exercise.  
Follow this link and list what you consider the "Trends in 21st Century Learning"
Here's a word cloud or the responses till 2014-06-02
You cannot use your Android phone without it, and you'd be silly to use any other smartphone without it. Once you have logged into Google Chrome on all your devices, they start discussing your movements among one another. When your phone alarm wakes you, Google Now will gives you a weather update and tells you how long it will take to drive to work.  It will even remember where you parked your car.  If you search for a place with Google Chrome on your desktop, Google Now will alert you on your phone to say how long it will take to get there.  If you drive there using Waze as a GPS navigator, not only will it let you bypass heavy traffic, it will allow you to see which of your friends are travelling, and even let them send you pic-up requests so that you can collect them on your way. If you run with the phone in your pocket, fitness trackers such as Endomondo will trace your route on a map, report on your progress every kilometer, tell you if you are ahead or behind your target, and even tell you which of your friends are running. And if running alone does not make you thin, a calorie counter such as Myfitnesspal will calculate how many calories you need to eat per day to achieve your target weight, and allow you to record every morsel you consume, either by entering the data manually, or by scanning the bar-code on the box of the product you eat or drink; and it will even communicate with Endomondo to give you credit for any calories you burnt on your run! Many of these apps connect with one another, and of course all of them with Google and Facebook. So, once again, while you think you are the one who benefits, actually, think of all the lovely data you are generating... When all this has you dead tired, then just put the phone on the mattress next to your pillow, and it will graph your sleep cycles, and ensure your alarm adjusts to wake you at the optimal level of your sleep cycle. Of course, all the information that all the apps collect, goes into the cloud, and that is where they get aggregated and disaggregated.
   Now here's where it gets interesting for me as a professional student of the learning process.  It takes us back to my post of July 5 2013, where the question is, if I can now navigate with friends, see traffic jams 10 kilometers ahead, and avoid them, really lose weight and keep it off, achieve a personal best with the assistance of a coach, then I have learnt. But what did I learn, how to launch an app? And, as I said previously, the answer is, no, it is not I who learnt, it is the system, the Rhizome, that has learnt, and it is all of us who benefit.
   Then there are two new questions: What should we be teaching in a world where everything is learning? How should we be teaching it?e
   I answer to the first question many Universities are developing a set of "Graduate Attributes" that they believe should characterize their graduates.  The move towards attributes rather than knowledge resonates with the well-established tacit knowledge we all have that "Good programmers teach themselves to code", or, for that matter, good writers teach themselves to write, etc. So our jobs seem to be to teach our graduates how to achieve those attributes. Samantha Thomas (2014) talks of the "Semantic Web and Personalization". She identifies two identities created by students working in a Web 3.0 environment: a personal and a narrative identity.  The personal identity is built upon sharing, openness and collaboration, while the narrative identity is one of personalization and automation, as we adapt to our ever-changing personal ecology. Then, of course, there are any number of websites that tell us of the characteristics of 21st Century learners, such as these 21 Characteristics of 21st Century learners from Dr Susan Elaine Eaton, and these from the DCS literacy framework.
   Closer to the answer to the second question may be Terry Heick's (2014) teachthrought on the eight things that students may learn in the future. These are Literacy, Patterns, Systems, Design, Citizenship, Data, Research and Philosophy.
   I believe that the answer to the second question, "How should we be teaching 21st Century Skills" lies in Project-based learning  (PBL), as described by the Buck Institute (BIE), who define PBL as "a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge". BIE identify eight essential elements: Significant content, 21st Century competencies, In-depth enquiry, a Driving question, the Need to know, Voice and choice, Critique and revision, and a Public audience.
    Once such a problem has been defined and the problem-based learning brief is being developed, one must consider the channels of delivery. It is here that the concept of blended learning comes into its own.  But what has to be blended? Terry Hick identifies Six channels of 21st Century learning: Community interaction, Absraction and creativity, Media literacy, Play, Self-direction and Dialogic response. So, How would you rate the various channels?
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