I was listening to a podcast the other day … I listen to podcasts every chance I get. I actually filled up a HDD the other day. My Juice refused to function, not enough space for downloads, it informed me. Sure enough, the disk was full. It came as a surprise to me – I thought HDD’s were bottomless on late-model computers. Anyway, it was easy to delete a few hundred mp3 files to make room for more. Anything over a month old is ancient history these days.
I was listening to the Worldbridges network, http://www.worldbridges.net, my favorite podcast network. The Worldbridges difference was illustrated when Jeff Lebow interviewed a triad of podcast luminaries for the purpose of having them make predictions for the new year, 2007. Nevermind the predictions but at one point the luminaries tried to make distinctions between podcasting and webcasting. The two were mutually exclusive they thought, and webcasting? what was the point? Why engage in webcasting when with podcasting people can listen at their leisure, asynchronously, on their iPods and iRivers, without having to be tethered to the Internet. Jeff humbly pointed out that having live conversations during webcasting added value to the subsequent podcast. The luminaries didn’t seem to get it. Funny so few people do. But that’s why it’s my favorite podcast network.
Jeff is doing what he can to spread the technique through his Webcast Academy, http://webcastacademy.net . I’m supposed to be helping facilitate the next one coming up in mid-January. This has been in the works for some time, but (see previous posting) the powers that be in the country in which I reside really do NOT want people here using VOIP. The reasons are most likely corporate, but they are having an impact on the education sector, one example being that my facilitation of this event is blocked at every turn Jeff and I can think of. Skype has been subject to nation-wide blockage in the UAE for some time. Jeff and I tried Gizmo, but that too seems to be relegated to the nether world of disconnection. Even the call button on Yahoo Messenger is greyed out here. That’s too bad because previous renditions of YM using HTTP protocol were working fine. It is hard to escape the conclusion that without some breakthrough in the VOIP problem here, I simply cannot be of much use in this session. An opportunity of state of the art professional development and a chance to help and interact with other educators is once again being compromised.
But I digress. I still have my podcasts. I can learn from others even if I can’t join in their conversation. The podcast that gave me the grist for this posting was from Women of Web two point oh! http://www.womenofweb2.com and the notion that got my attention was, “We’re preparing students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet.”
I’m a teacher of computing, and that notion pretty well sums up one side of a divide in what should be taught in computing. It gets right at the concept of computer (multi)literacy, and what skills should be taught in a curriculum of computing education.
Developers of curricula have to justify what they teach. One way to do that is to conduct a standard needs analysis; i.e. determine where those matriculating from your program of study are going and ask those at the other end what skills are needed. For example, I teach in a foundation program that sends students to freshman studies, so the obvious people to ask are the professors in that program, and based on their responses to our survey, gear our curriculum to the needs of the students as perceived by those professors.
The problem here is that those professors are all digital immigrants, as would be anyone born before 1980. So computing to them is a tool, but not a way of life. And their use and knowledge of computing as a tool tends to be limited to applications that would help students do calculations, write lab reports, and make presentation, all offline. They are engineers and scientists whose expertise does not extend into my field, computer literacy, any more than mine would allow me to comment knowledgeably on what maths skills would prepare students for the next level, let alone sophomore through senior years at college, and more importantly, into life beyond.
The foregoing approach is unfortunately the most defensible one in case what one is teaching is questioned. It is easy to point to the needs analysis survey and win the argument that the curriculum is the one that is most appropriate based on the evidence gathered. Depending on how a department within an institution is evaluated, it might be necessary to be able to produce such evidence.
This situation is less than ideal if one favors a second approach to how to determine what computer skills should be taught to students embarking on college careers and productive work-lives thereafter. This approach suggests that students need to learn how to use interactive Internet tools, how social networking works, and how blogs and wikis and other net artifacts can be collaborated on and linked through imaginative tagging. I think that these skills will not only make their learning more social, but will show them ways that projects can be and are increasingly being organized in real life.
I could say quite a lot on this topic. For the past three years I have been teaching a course on multiliteracies in collaborative learning environments: http://www.opensource.idv.tw/moodle/login/index.php . This portal to the course has numerous resources referencing the above topics in relation to constructivist learning environments, connectivism, informal learning, etc.
But it may be typical that your physical workplace is possibly the last place you will find colleagues interested in such concepts. The people reading this blog for example are not likely to be people where I work, but others with whom I have connected online. The people reading this are also likely to be saying yeah, he’s right, there aren’t many where I work either that I can really relate to, as I can to others, my closest and most respected colleagues, in the online environment.
Many of us work in environments where the read-write web is looked on as threatening (economically, exchange of ideas, productivity in a top-down management structure) or misunderstood as being frivolous. And worse, misunderstood by other teachers or administrators locally who simply fail to inquire, to learn about it, to bone up on it, because they don’t use it in such a way as to integrate these tools with many aspects of their personal and professional lives, and therefore they question why they should teach it.
It’s especially frustrating to be shut off from vehicles of professional development like Skype which could serve to rectify the situation. It used to be, in many educational institutes in the UAE, that chatting was blocked for all of the above reasons, plus the perceived threats to the network (letting others in from outside). This is generally not so much the case now (though sites might be restricted if they are considered frivolous and subject a network to large media downloads).
I used to give talks in the UAE on the benefits of chatting and reaction was sometimes, “Why do I need to know this? Chatting is blocked where I am!” I would respond that it would not be blocked for long, and that educators had best get themselves in position to take the lead once it became available to students. That is of course the real danger of blocking VOIP and ignoring social networking as a way of innovative classroom and job/project management. Teachers will be in no position to lead once the groundswell of user demand succeeds in breaking down the firewalls.
However, if we can prepare students for jobs that haven’t been invented yet, then there is some chance that their leadership will save the day. To me, the greatest validation of my teaching is when a student I have positively influenced shows me something new. The fact is we all have much to learn from one another and social networking facilitates that process. Learning how to learn about and harness the emerging tools is the best guarantor of success in life where jobs are yet to be invented, though it is very hard to do a needs analysis that will provide evidence for that contention when the people being polled are doing jobs that were invented long ago.