Sunday, 30 April 2006

What do you do if you cannot answer a question?

Teachers sometimes face a difficult question. What should we do?

Here is an example of what NOT to do....

I think the correct response should be seriously acknowledge the depth of the questions, promise to come back with an intelligent answer and KEEP the promise.

What if everything we think about school is wrong?

via BoingBoing

This is a trailer and worth the time to watch.

Voices from the New American Schoolhouse explores life outside the usual educational box. Narrated exclusively by students, the film chronicles life and learning at the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD which practices an undiluted form of freedom and democracy that turns mainstream education theory on its head. Filmmaker Danny Mydlack enjoyed unrestricted access over a two-year period to produce this candid and unblinking encounter with kid-powered learning. This movie is for anyone who ever went to school and imagined something better.

The kids in the film are articulate, intelligent and well informed. If all students graduating from Fairhaven School are like them, I don't have problem sending my child there.

Some comments from theTube are worth noting as well.

The problem with this model is that it sets up expectations that the world will not be able to meet. The world is not run by democratic process, and you usually CAN'T do what you want to do--it is VITAL that you give yourself permission to do something you don't want. It does not reflect the way grownups have to live each day. It is a merely a parent's fantasy about the way they wished the world worked for their kids. And the kids deserve more than living in their parents' imaginations.

You certainly seem to make sense when you put it that way. Problem with your logic is that it doesn't reflect reality. For example, I believe you arrived here via boingboing's link, a self-avowed 'free-schooler' (a pretty successful, real-world professional if I ever saw one.)

...while the world is not currently "run by democratic process" I think this is a step in the right direction. There is a similar debate in the business community right now about how well democratic management does for knowledge workers.

Are you suggesting that these children will be ill-prepared to deal with life's problems because they are taught democracy and learn, through their studies, that they are capable of doing whatever they want in life? I find that an odd position to hold.

and more....

Coming of Age: An Introduction to the New World Wide Web

Terry Freedman, an independent education consultant in London, coraled some pretty forward thinking educators, and me, to write a little something about Web 2.0. The contributors are listed below. I think that the project came out very well, and it’s free, as a downloaded PDF file.

I have a quick look at the 92-page pdf. It is mainly about the use of blog in education, some chapters on podcast, vidoecast and a discussion of wiki. While there are plenty of interesting ideas, most would be quite familiar with people constantly reading blogs.

Blogs, podcast, videocast are still publishing mode - albeit allowing more people to publish including students. There is no inherent structure or requirement to collaborate.

Wiki is a document-focus collaboration. The focus is on the collaborative construction of a wiki-page which, of course, is never final and will continue to be edited by future reader/editor.

I still think learning is a PROCESS in which students' active participation is essential. Discussion forum seems to at least imply active participation by students in response to discussions posted by the moderator. Blog, podcast and videocast do not have this implicit requirement.

Technology is TOOL. If you ever use only one tool, every problem will be a nail (if your tool is a hammer).

Blog, podcast, videocast and wiki are technological tools. I hope the new world wide web for education is more than just these.

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Wish list of an ideal technical working environment

Here is a wish list for information worker like me.

Screen estate
Current situation: I am using two monitors attached to my laptop running XP, another monitor for my miniMac and a fourth one connected to Ubuntu.
Improvement I would like: I can move documents between my two monitors on XP quite easily, but need to go through the network if I want to move documents between system. [status: clumsy yes] --> I would like to have clip board ACROSS computer so that I can cut and paste a selection from one document in one system to another. [status: not yet]--> one set of keyboard and mouse for all three systems. [status: use ]
Reason: We have limited short-term memory. Our productivity will significantly increased by having information available within visual range. see also The Virtues of a Second Screen

Network Connectivity
Current situation: Work stations connected either via wireless or wired Ethernet. They are connected to my servers via wired Ethernet. I am also connected to Internet via two board band ISPs.
Improvement I would like: Auto-switching and load balancing between the ISPs. [status: solution existed - need my own IP address instead of those supplied by ISP in order to load balance and auto ISP switching] --> Higher connection speed [status: in progress]
Reason:ISPs in Australia are not reliable enough. I have had both connections down at the same time before! I am thinking of adding a connection to Internet via other means such as wireless board band.

Current situation: Voice over IP using skype, IM, web cam on my XP; landline and mobile to telephone network, a dedicated fax line
Improvement I would like: Integrated
Reason: If these are converged into one set, is would be more cost effective.

Power supply
Current situation: Servers with UPS protection up to 30 minutes, XP laptop with battery, no protection for miniMac and Ubuntu
Improvement I would like: UPS for all
Reason: :-)

Data backup
Current situation: manual if I can remember
Improvement I would like: automatic realtime off-site backup --> reduntant disks in all system
Reason: Backup is necessary, but human nature is just not the best fit for routine jobs like that.

Free web sites for everyone

If you have a Google account, e.g. a Gmail, you can create your own web presence by using Google pages. You have 100M storage but I don't see any programming support - not even the ability to modify the title in the header.

However, it does represent a space which students can use both for studies as well as for social.

Tuesday, 25 April 2006

Use more verbs

by Patti at 37 Days

By comparing the beginner text, Patti pointed out an important difference between how westerners and easterners developed the first words in our first language. Westerners focus on nouns whereas Chinese (as an example of easterners) focus on verbs.

As Nisbett explains, in China it’s “not individual action but relationships between people that seem important to convey in a child’s first encounter with the printed word.” While we tend to say “I am who I am,” our Asian friends may more likely make reference to social roles—“I am Lori’s friend.” We say “See Dick run;” they say “Dick loves Jane” (the Truth about Dick and Jane, at long last).

Here is a specific quote:
“Developmental psychologists Anne Fernald and Hiromi Morikawa went into the homes of Japanese and Americans having infants either six, twelve, or nineteen months old. They asked the mothers to clear away the toys from a play area and then they introduced several that they had brought with them—a stuffed dog and pig and a car and a truck. They asked the mothers to play with the toys with their babies as they normally would…American mothers used twice as many object labels as Japanese mothers (“piggie,” “doggie”) and Japanese mothers engaged in twice as many social routines of teaching politeness norms (empathy and greetings, for example). An American mother’s patter might go like this: ‘That’s a car. See the car? You like it? It’s got nice wheels.’ A Japanese mother might say: ‘Here! It’s a vroom vroom. I give it to you. Now give this to me. Yes! Thank you.’ American children are learning that the world is mostly a place with objects, Japanese children that the world is mostly about relationships.”

Patti pointed out that
Westerners grow up in a world of objects while Easterners grow up in a world of relationships.

The consequence is...
We own objects—like little Mary Ann and Junior with their roller skates or Jane with that fancy Mercedes—but maybe it’s not the words, the nouns, the things that matter. What if Mary Ann had helped Junior learn to roller skate, rather than just concentrate on her own skates? Would we spend so much time fighting over ownership—of skates, of oil, of countries—in this vast world of ours if we focused on verbs, not things?

Teachers, what do you think? Will you start teaching more verbs?

Instruction Design Or Learning Design

On 9th April, I posted the following message to ITForum (Instructional Design Forum):

I know this is an old topic.

Quoting from Carl Roger, Erica McWilliam argued that "formal education erred in focusing on the skills of the teacher, when it was the learner who ought to be the centre and focus of pedagogy".

I suggest the term "learning design" is used to describe the body of work that would come out from the shift in focus when pedagogy focus on the learner instead of the skill of the teacher. (see

This thread attracted 30 responses. On 13th April, I posted a summary:
this thread has been going on for a few days now. As I started it, may be I will do a summary of what and where we are heading in this discussion.

Quoting from Carl Roger, "formal education erred in focusing on the skills of the teacher, when it was the learner who ought to be the centre and focus of pedagogy". I asked for insight about using the term "learning design" to describe the body of work that would come out from the shift in focus when pedagogy focus on the learner instead of the skill of the teacher. (see

A number of members suggested great resources for us: Tonya B. Amankwatia suggested to look at Papert's contention that we placed more of an emphasis on teaching rather than on learning. and Murphy's work. Doug Holton suggested "learning sciences", which focuses on both student and teaching learning.

Maggie McPherson put it better than I can. Quoting from one of her colleague: "the term "instructional" has behaviourist connotations, and proposed that "educational systems design" could be used to reflect a more learner-centred approach."

This is still slightly different from the original idea I have.

(There is also a few exchanges related with "technology".)

I came back, throwing into the discussion about the role of curriculum (inspired by the keynote paper of the first issue of Journal of Learning Design). Contrasting the role of curriculum (or pre-defined learning objectives) with learning ecology thinking: "Most ID approaches start with identifying the needs, learning objectives and then proceed to determine the best approach to cater for the learning needs of the target learners." I also asked "how can we start from providing an ecology to ensure learners are empowered to grow and learn." if we can accept the challenge of shifting design process by NOT having the curriculum first.

"There is a growing body of research pointing to a quite different direction - in particular - the concept of fixed curriculum is being challenged. This is in a direct course of collision with most ID approaches. For example, John Seely Brown talks about "learning ecology" see (you can find more by googling). Others talk about community of practice or community of learning."

[No doubt there is a body of literature on this issue, which I don't have time to list.]

Phoenixziaco asked to clarify what we are talking and Tonya B. Amankwatia cited an excellent reference: "Instructional design is the systematic development of instruction using learning theory to enhance learning outcomes. It is the entire process of meeting learning needs, including: defining the problem or knowledge gap to be addressed; defining the audience to be served; identifying objectives and assessment strategies; selecting and sequencing content and learning activities; choosing the best way to deliver those materials; evaluating the instruction and revising as needed to increase effectiveness."

So my question of the role of curriculum was in sharp focus.

Yolanda Columbus suggested "Generative instructional strategies guide the students to knowledge. These strategies depend on the student to generate ideas. It puts the responsibility for learning back in the hands of the students. These strategies are and should be used with a definite goal in mind."

Curriculum still seems to be the horse in front.

Melinda Johansson joined with a very good point: "In many training environments, it is the party who pays for the training who defines the learning agenda."

Well said.

David Gibson picked up the question of "how can we start from providing an ecology" and suggested "legitimate peripheral participation" role for the learner - a vicarious learner! He also see the learning apprenticeship at the final stages of professional training than at the beginning (MD interns, induction year teachers, clerking for lawyers, etc.)

The question David has is " if the ecology doesn't have the latent opportunity for those outcomes-standards-objectives to be expressed, then the back-mapping will most likely not find those relationships. So this makes me wonder if some parts of current ID approaches are OK as a background and preparation for building a new kind of learning ecology space, but then need to be buried, hidden and forgotten in order to focus on engagement, fun, action and decisions of the learner in a social setting where the learner can "pick up knowledge" peripherally while watching, participating and attempting to join higher levels of expertise."

One of my concerns (on a boarder scope) is whether today's education can provide the skill for our next generation to new world we are entering. I quickly layout the developmental growth from birth to working life and noted that "curriculum" appears in only the formal learning stages. Pre-school learning is undoubtedly very important. So is the continual upskilling and education. [I am aware of Melinda Johansson's comment earlier - but a good example will be myself. I have no formal training in computer or information sciences, but I am now making a living out of a skill which I picked up without any curriculum guidance!]

I also pointed out the different goals people have while they are participating in learning communities etc.

(David Gibson unintentionally ??:=) touched one of my soft spot - games and simulation being a "stealth learning" - which resulted in a branch to this discussion thread, sorry!)

Mike Taylor reminded us not to confuse "the need for problem solving with a backlash against formal learning objectives". This resulted in a few exchange in discussion too.

At this point, I think we can agree that 1. this discussion is about "expanding the universe of what ID might be if it addressed the fuller range of knowledge". - citing David Gibson 2. the role of the formal ID is not being discredited. Formal education and employer-sponsored training are BIG in our field and ID has important role in designing courses.

After that summary, Claude Ostyn comments on "I need to reconcile (for myself at least who works with LMS, Learning objects, SCORM - instructivitic and also works with online role play, collaborative learning - constructivitic). ... How can these ALL fit together in a coherent framework?":
I think it is possible to fit them all into a coherent framework, but unfortunately that is not where the money (or the tenure track) happens to be. A coherent framework seems fairly straightforward, but the field is dominated by commercial and institutional players that can only grow or survive by fostering ever more complexity in both the framework and the technology.

So, my search will continue.

Tuesday, 18 April 2006

Democratization of fiction

BoingBoing pointed me to The Democratization of Entertainment:

conventional fiction media (prose, film, theater, TV and the rest) are essentially aristocratic in nature: the Artist creates, the audience consumes. Games, contrariwise, allow individual players to participate in the creation of their fictional experience. The developers still shape and constrain that experience, to be sure, but there is no experience without the active engagement of the player; the player may well do something with the construct that the developers had not anticipated; and the ultimate experience is a collaboration in which both sides participate, not something handed down from On High by the Great Artiste. It is, in other words, the antithesis of aristocratic; games are a way for everyman to participate in creating his or her own narrative experience. Games are a democratic artform for a democratic age.

One good example I can think of is SecondLife. The game provides a 3-D virtual environment whereby players can interact with other players via the avatar. What you do within the environment is very much up to the creativity of the players.

Fablusi roleplay simulation is another good example. Roni Linser and I have written about a similar concept:
Master Yoshi says: "12 spokes make a wheel but it is the space between them which makes it useful. A window is made of a frame but it is the empty space which makes it useful." Master Yoshi was a Zen master in the 13th century. What he teaches us is that 'emptiness' is useful. In the context of educational tools it leads us to an awareness of the utility of the space opened up within the structure of tools. It is precisely this which explains why Role Play Simulations (RPS) are so useful. It is because the structure frames a unique space for participants to interact and create a learning experience for themselves.

An empty space is an empty space. Players need a "purpose" to be in the space and a "compelling reason" to act. Suppose we are flying a virtual plane in a flight simulator (e.g. x-plane). It is dull and no fun. Add a challenge, such as going from one place to another. OK, that would be some kind of thrill for some pilots. Add the challenge of a storm. OK, you have something to play with. Add yet a failure of an on-board engine - that's challenging.

From a game angle, one of the tasks of the game designer is come up with different kinds and levels of challenges so that a player is gradually "sucked" into the game.

The linkage of an environment (a space) with learning has been an interest to me for a quite some time. I see great parallel here. If a player, in order to achieve the game goal, needs to learn "something". The game goals become the greatest incentive for the player to learn "something". This is a classic case of a problem-based learning design - with one twist. We are now purposefully building an empty space (with constraint so that it is a contained space). We ensure the players are active participants in the space by providing "game goals". We "back-map" the game goals to learning objectives.

In A Novel Simulation for the Literature Classroom, Mary Noggle describes her experience of running a role play simulation for "American literature which emphasizes historical perspective, cultural context, and literary analysis." based on Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

The Scarlet Letter simulation begins at the pivotal point of the narrative when Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale meet in the forest, confess to their moments of deception, and avow to begin anew together. From there, the story moves to areas of the simulation set up for interaction among the characters. These interaction spaces (iSpaces) relate to spaces described in the novel. The forest scene, the governor’s mansion, and the meeting house, among others, serve as areas to intermingle, further developing the plot.

With the spaces set up, we then need the compelling reasons to act was.
The Scarlet Letter simulation begins at the pivotal point of the narrative when Hester Prynne and Arthur Dimmesdale meet in the forest, confess to their moments of deception, and avow to begin anew together.

and later in a second phase:
advances the storyline fifteen years in order to incorporate events leading up to the Boston witch trials of 1665, the persecution of historical character Ann Hibbins, and emphasizes the roles of Pearl and John Hathorne.

The result:
Surprisingly, students were reluctant to take part in the simulation at first; however, after the initial practice phase, these students demonstrated an eagerness to take part in the play. They take the story to heart, empathizing with the characters, and understand the painful experiences described in the narrative. Oftentimes in studying literature, students give a superficial reading of the novel. Through the simulation, though, students read more critically in order to delve inside the characters, understanding the key elements of motivation and internal conflict in order to effectively portray the roles. This careful reading was found with the supplementary reading material as well as the novel. Students read with interest sermons, journals, and poetry of the time period in order to capture the voice and beliefs of the people. In expanding the characters on their own, students also appreciate the author’s ability to develop characterization. In adopting the personas of these historical figures, students learn tolerance of varied beliefs while understanding the psychology of the times.

Monday, 17 April 2006

Fluid collections: a disincentive to resource-based instruction?

by Doug Johnson

Doug described very well a problem when lessons are linked to resources (digital) which may disappear without notice. OK, even with notice is still as bad.

Tom Hoffman commented that it is an incentive to just use free resources on the web. Unfortunately, it does not solve the problem as well. Free resources, like locked resources in repository, are equally likely to disappear.

The traditional "resource-based instruction" starts with a collection of resources gathered by the teacher and ends with the same collection! This is time to think about maintaining the collection by the teacher AND students. Obviously, we will still start with a collection of resources gathered by the teacher. BUT it should be end with the same collection. As part of the learning process, students can annotate, comment, add and remove resources. Year in year out, this would evolve into a collection much more appropriate to the cohort.

To begin, the collection can be as simple as a list on a web page (a wiki page will be better).

OK, that also means that we are sending students to the wild weird world and they may encountered inappropriate matter during the search and raise a Pandora of issues and concern. What should we do? In the real world, when a student wants to leave the classroom for whatever reason, what do we do? We send another one to go along, right? May be students should also work in pair for Internet searching.

A Glimpse into the History of Easter Candy

via BoingBoing

Easter has risen high in the candy hierarchy over the years. It is now the second top-selling candy holiday, just barely behind the glorious ode to sugar that is Halloween. Of the estimated 8 billion pounds of candy consumed in the United States each year, Easter makes up a very large portion of the pie.

Read on for a little history of how candy became a treat in Easter.

In view of the current worldwide obesity problem, we shall ban Halloween and Easter!

Just joking.

Sunday, 16 April 2006

Learning 2020 reactivated

I have written a new post for Learning 2020, which has been neglected for a few months.

Saturday, 15 April 2006

Flickr Tech Repair Group

For photos of technology repairs and ways to recycle electronic goods (from toasters to PC's).

Computers, printers, VCRs and other household devices seem to break too often... Sometimes it is something very simple that's wrong with them.
Upload your photos of any tech repairs (with a how-to description under the photo or in the group forum).

It could be as simple as changing a fuse or wiring a plug ... or more involved, like resoldering a circuit board.

Why don't I think about this use of Flickr first? Now with this as an example, we should start setting up different groups on different learning contexts.

Microsoft Excel viewer

Michael Robertson promised to announce a new ajax-based application each week. This week, he announced This version of solves this problem:

My son's Little League season started two weeks ago. The helpful "team mom" emailed a team schedule to all the players. Unfortunately, it was an .xls file requiring Microsoft Excel to open the file. This is not unusual. The majority of Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint users are casual home users who, like the mom in the above scenario, need to simply open a file that's been sent to them and then print it, or maybe make minor edits and pass it along.

Well before, we still have a legal and proper solution - use a microsoft application viewer. These viewers are available for download at Office download center. Alternately, as suggested by Michael, we can also use OpenOffice to open any Microsoft office documents.

One unique feature of the current version of is the ability to "create a link on your website that opens any spreadsheet in ajaxXLS."

Anyway, as Michael said, it is "Halfway to ajax-Excel" and I look forward to seeing the other halfway.

Friday, 14 April 2006

Google Calendar Wants To Date You

See a fairly detailed description of Google Calendar at Webpro.

Thursday, 13 April 2006

Drawing cartoon online

Comics @ Mainada is probably the first web application in the world to allow users to draw complete comic strips directly online.

It’s free to everyone and can be a great showcast for humor sketch artists to show their art : you can draw online and immediately everyone else in the world with a net connection can see it.

Can it be a good site for art classes?

Wednesday, 12 April 2006

Rube Goldberg Machine

From Wikipedia:

A Rube Goldberg™ machine or device is any exceedingly complex apparatus that performs a very simple task in a very indirect and convoluted way. Rube devised and drew several such pataphysical devices.

Here are some examples:

What about getting your high school students to build some?

"Rube Goldberg" is a trademark of Rube Goldberg Inc.

Tuesday, 11 April 2006

Revisioning the LMS: an examination of formal learning management systems and component-based learning environments

by Christopher D. Sessums

I am not interested in LMS, so I will focus on the component-based part. I am passionate about component-based learning system, see Virtual Apparatus Framework which was part of my research in the early 90s.

Christopher has spelt out a number of merits and disadvantages of using a component-based approach.

With current Web 2.0 tools available, we need to ask what do we mean by "component". This will end up like the debate of "learning object" - just another name for the concept of using fragments of resources.

If we really want to push in this direction, which I still believe worth doing, we need to be really clear about:
1. what are the required behaviour of the components, and
2. the glue which will hand all the components together and ensure that they can work both independently and co-operatively.

When I first started the concept of "virtual apparatus", I depended on a Netscape technology called "live connect" in order to make sure that the components on a webpage were able to communicate. I ran into lots of problem each time a browser was updated. (Back in those days when MS and Netscape were fighting for the dominance of the browser, updates were frequent.)

With Web 2.0, one is likely to use "web service" as a basic component. However, we shall run into "cross domain scripting" issues.

While I have solution to overcome the problem, I don't have time to implement! Any taker?

Response to Doug Johnson posts

In a series of posts Becoming George, Is experimentation ethical? and Creativity without purpose? Experimentation without control?, Doug Johnson of Blue Skunk Blog put on the devil advocate's hat and ask:

Why should we treat our children's intellectual health any differently than we do our children's physical health?

I have no answer to his question. I would only ask this.

Should we keep our children in a sterilized bubble so that they would never catch any deadly germs?

When our children are physically sick and they are treated, we expect the health professionals to follow best practice. When our children have intellectual or mental illness, we also expect the responding professionals to treat our children following best practice.

As for teachers who are helping our children to grow and to become independent, I don't want to see my children's teachers just to follow what they have been doing for the past 20 years and forget that my children are going to face a world very different from mine. I want my children to be challenged, inspired, take risks and manage success and failure. I want my children to enjoy learning, have fun and foe during the process. I like them to be exposed to germs so that they can build their immune system.

My previous two posts are also part of my response to Doug's challenging question. See Demotion and Creativity and Teaching


Moving from a teaching position to an administrative position is not a promotion into a senior position. It is a demotion albeit given more budgetary responsibility.

The core business of any education institute is to .... EDUCATE. Repeat after me three times. The core business of any education institute is to educate. The core business of any education institute is to educate. The core business of any education institute is to educate. Administrators are there to support and serve the teachers doing their job. Administrators are here to ensure that nothing will hinder the work of the teachers who are doing the CORE business of any education institute.

A promotion from a teaching position is to the "head" teacher position where the responsibility is to provide leadership, demonstrate innovation and creativity to the fellow teachers, excite and inspire the students, cultivate an effective and lively learning environment, etc. - in short STRENGTHEN the core competence of the education institute.

I know some principals who still teach a lesson or two, "to keep in touch with the students". Unfortunately, I also know a lot of them only do that half-heartedly. They took "easy" or unimportant lessons citing too busy in administrative duties to take on full responsibility of a course! My suggestion, don't put the car in front of the horse! Administrative duties can be shared. Leadership, innovation and strengthening the core competence of the education institution is the FULL-TIME job!

Creativity and Teaching

David Warlick, in Curriculum as Mashup commenting on Putting Creativity Back in Education said,

Today, information is the raw material that people work with. The creative class (Richard Florida) are artisans. They're information artisans, people who craft information into something that is unique and valuable to us.

Most students have a knack for learning to use technology. However, learning to work the information does not come so naturally. They must be taught how to do this -- and why.

David told an interesting story about a teacher in Hong Kong turning the classroom into a pinhole camera:

They had covered up the windows of the room, except for a single hole, attached unexposed film on the opposite wall, and then opened the hole for a predetermined amount of time, allowing the light from outside the room to hit the film. When they closed the hole back up again, they took the exposed film down, developed it, and then combined the prints into a wall-sized collage of the image outside their room.

This is CREATIVITY, meshing math, science and social science into a vivid, lively and unforgetable experience for the learners. I can imagine that these lucky learners will never in their life forget about this wonderful teacher and the feat they have achieved.

An ordinary teacher, doing her job day in day out with the same set of "proven" approaches and methodologies will NOT be able to inspire! The same pin hole photograph in the same school next year will NOT produce the same thrills and excitement. It is novelty and the sense of accomplishment by the learners that will give them the inspiration for the rest of their life.

Evan McIntosh in Don't worry, be crappy took inspiration from Guy Kawaski. The two points highlighted are:

Don't worry, be crappy. An innovator doesn't worry about shipping an innovative product with elements of crappiness if it's truly innovative. The first permutation of a innovation is seldom perfect


Don't be afraid to polarize people. Most companies want to create the holy grail of products that appeals to every demographic, social-economic background, and geographic location. To attempt to do so guarantees mediocrity. Instead, create great DICEE products that make segments of people very happy. And fear not if these products make other segments unhappy. The worst case is to incite no passionate reactions at all, and that happens when companies try to make everyone happy.

This points to another aspect of creativity and innovation. If teachers are constantly required to produce "evidence" of improvement for any creative changes, no creativity or innovation will ever happen. We have to trust the "good well" or the "good intention" of passionate teachers, afterall teaching is NOT a well paid job, most teachers still teach because they are passionate about our next generation!

Sunday, 9 April 2006

Instruction Design Verse Learning Design

From Wikipedia

Instructional design, also known as instructional systems design, is the analysis of learning needs and systematic development of instruction.

From Unpacking Learning Design
Learning Design can be broadly described as a philosophical approach to the design of learning environments and learning resources which aim to foster deep learning by engaging learners in authentic, active and interactive learning experiences.

The term "learning design" is used to describe the body of work that would come out from the shift in focus when pedagogy focus on the learner in stead of the skill of the teacher (Unlearning pedagogy):
formal education erred in focusing on the skills of the teacher, when it was the learner who ought to be the centre and focus of pedagogy

Unlearning pedagogy

by Erica McWilliam

This is the keynote paper in the first issue of Journal of Learning Design

Our teaching and learning habits are useful but they can also be deadly. They are useful when the conditions in which they work are predictable and stable. But what happens if and when the bottom falls out of the stable social world in and for which we learn?

This is timely. We know that for developed countries to remain status quo, our next generation needs to be able to work at very high value jobs which means the current industrial-era education system and methodology need serious review and change. (see What will her future be?, What will her future be? 14 months later, What will her future be - 2? and Our world is changing, our schools are failing,....)

Quoting from Carl Roger, Erica argued that "formal education erred in focusing on the skills of the teacher, when it was the learner who ought to be the centre and focus of pedagogy". She went on to identify 7 deadly habits:
  • Deadly Habit No.1: The more learning the better.
  • Deadly Habit No.2: Teachers should know more than students.
  • Deadly Habit No3: Teachers lead, students follow.
  • Deadly Habit No. 4: Teachers assess, students are assessed.
  • Deadly Habit No.5: Curriculum must be set in advance.
  • Deadly Habit No. 6: The more we know our students, the better.
  • Deadly habit No.7: Our disciplines can save the world.

Among these 7 deadly habits, I echo strongly with No.5. Knowledge is advancing too quickly for us to freeze curriculum to meet some metrics of usefulness and applicability based on past experience. However I would also like to caution that a loosen curriculum does not mean a relax of rigour in the depth of treatment in the subject matter.

Thursday, 6 April 2006

Web-based video editing and mixing

Michael Robertson has been introducing an ajax based application every week. There were and which I have reported. From my tone, you probably would have guessed that I was not particularly impressed, partly due to their overloaded server and network.

This week Michael introduced eyespot which is REALLY impressive.

First you upload your media (directly by sending MMS message from your mobile or email to your own account at eyespot. Start up the mixer, using drag and drop, you can compose your video and viola, you have your mix for saving or sending.

This will open up a new capability for students all over the world!


Wednesday, 5 April 2006

Gentle introduction of technology to girls

via boingboing

The first episode from this still beta website shows two girls making a recording photo frame.

I think everyone should give it a try.

Ideas worth nothing

In academic, we are very, VERY concerned about the source and the originality of ideas. However, among inventors that is quite different. Larry MacDonald in the [I-NET] list said,

Personally, I consider ideas to be like seeds that birds drop all over the world. One set of seed represents multiple holographic copies of the idea. Some land in the water, some on rock, some are damaged, some never get any water. However, there are usually several that fall on fertile ground, receive the right amount of water, sun, and nurishment to flourish. Now those "ideas" have value. The rest are "failures" or practice for people or ideas for books or movies or "I thought of that" stories. Much like the single sperm that amoung billions is the one to become a person.

I often ask myself whether the idea I just came up with is something I should do, or whether it is something I should enjoy and appreciate, but someone else is doing it. Most of the time I just admire the idea and realize that I don't have the skills necessary to do it, but someone must also be thinking about it who does.

One reason it is said that an idea has no value may be that the idea has no value UNTIL it is developed. It takes about 1000 ideas to result in one successful product (numerous sources say so). Certainly THAT one idea that led to success had value, but not until after the development.

How would anyone know in advance which of the 1000 ideas had value? The value of an idea is what people will pay for it in a market economy.

If we are over protective of our ideas and refuse to discuss, elaborate and develop the idea into useful practice in our endeavour to help people learn, it is like a seed falling on a little dry corner. Will it germinate?