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Power of Connections

I mentioned in my last post how fast Summer ’15 has flown by due to several obligations. One obligation, which I unfortunately didn’t get to lend enough of my time, was contributing to the “Power of Connections” course that was led by Rob Reynolds at NextThought and Stacy Zemke. Below are two conversation-style videos that I filmed with Rob on the subject of creativity in the classroom:

I also contributed to one of the assignments called an “artifact challenge” based off of Holstee’s manifesto.

As I mentioned, the course was developed by NextThought and ran on the NextThought platform. It’s good to see a company go to such great lengths to not only better understand the user experience of the platform but also the design process and its affordances/limitations.

I was able to briefly join in yesterday’s Twitter chat and I stepped in for a couple questions that circled around specific tools and how you leverage them for your own Personal Learning Environment (PLN).

I tend to get labeled as a technology guy and I’m always one to quickly reply that I’m really interested in the result of technology, not necessarily the technology itself. Even though I teach what would be consider the “tech” course of a sequence, I frankly find the tech side exhausting and almost intrusive at times. Do we really want to learn how to use a piece of software or do we want to understand how we can leverage creation for knowledge dissemination, persuasion, and a deeper understanding of one’s self?

I’ve heard Jim Groom say a couple of times how nice it was when he was no longer teaching “WordPress” and the technology simply became the medium in which student thoughts were exchanged. I had a similar experience this semester where the students were mainly comprised of a former class in which I had already setup with OU Create. It was like being unshackled for the first time. I had been once sentenced to serve a term of teaching how “Add Media” to a blog post and had found my way to parole!

This philosophical stance has deeply influenced how my courses have changed over time. While I understand how valuable it is from a student perspective to have specific buzzwords land on your resume (wordpressphotoshopillustrator) I feel like teaching the tech specifically as a skill is shallow. Committing to a technology means you are committing to a technology’s limitations, to a company’s philosophy (which is a moving target), and to a technological era. I almost feel bad when I can look a resume of a web developer and know exactly when they stopped learning based on the technologies they listed. I want to know you’ve continued to hone your craft over time. And this is the frustration I have with skills-based learning. It can be fantastic, but it’s bound to be dated quickly if you are not connecting it to a broader understanding of what you’re actually trying to do.

Stacy asked a great question on techology: “Why invest if not forever?” Doesn’t it feel a little existential? The clouds have parted, a bright light is shining down, and I’m looking up going “I don’t know Lord! I submit!”

But I really think it’s something that has to be communicated at both the student and administration level. An investment in technology is not a forever fix. It’s temporary like every other solution (including your employees). You need to assume that technology has a short shelf life and you have to plan for that. Some things I like to ask:

  • How flexible is the technology? Essentially: when the time comes can I get out of it? On what standards has it been built? At what cost do I get out? The problem here is sometimes we think the cost of getting out is more than the cost of just staying the course. This kind of thinking has depreciating long-term value.
  • How much does the maker of the technology really care about it? Is it potentially going to be deprecated? Whats the investment they’ve put into it? How open (not that open) are they in discussing their vision? Is it something that excites them? Is it publicly or privated funded? What VCs are backing it and do we know anything about the direction they are pushing the technology?
  • How much do you really care about it? This is a trick question because, if the technology is setup right, you only slightly care because you know your exit strategy. If you’ve invested everything into one format and you don’t know your way out of it, you’re in trouble.