Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning

January 19, 2017


Might as well share this on the eve of Donald Trump’s inauguration….

It’s a post to talk about my contribution to the book: “Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications” edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version). The book has a long list contributors and many are names that folks in the field of digital learning will instantly recognize: Terry Anderson, R. S. Baker, Angela D. Benson, Amy Collier, Alec Couros, Michael Dowdy, Margaret Edwards, B. J. Eib, Cassidy Hall, Katia Hildebrandt, P. S. Inventado, Royce Kimmons, Trey Martindale, Rolin Moe, Beth Perry, Jen Ross, Andrew Whitworth. It is well worth a read and I feel bad for not having promoted it sooner.


Ever since the book became available late last spring, I have actually been afraid to re-read the chapter that I had co-authored with my colleague, BJ Eib. And without having done so, how could I promote the book? At the time the book came out, with Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, I was already feeling low about human rationality. I was afraid I’d find our little book chapter had expressed too much optimism about internet connectivity and the human ability to filter and learn (and ultimately make good decisions) from the information available online. Like everyone else, over the past year I had been witnessing horrifying examples of falsehoods and illogic on social media. And it was appearing that not enough was happening to counterbalance the misinformation. It certainly didn’t get better over the summer and of course we all know what happened in the fall…. So, remembering that the Eib/Wellburn chapter had been enthusiastic about the online world as a source of learning, but not quite remembering how deep (and perhaps narrow) that enthusiasm ran, I felt apprehensive about checking it out, in case the chapter had been part of a naive belief-set. I knew that in our chapter we had talked about new roles for teachers and learners in this information-rich era and I knew we had written this because we were excited to explore the types of online environments where amateurs and experts could learn from each other and where authors and audiences could exchange roles and connect with each other. Had we been too “rah-rah” about these possibilities, which were often based on the very social media that was now allowing the widespread proliferation of “Fake News”? Had we neglected to consider the critical thinking and filtering abilities that are important to make the online environment a worthwhile place to be?

Well, today I have taken the plunge and re-read the chapter! And I certainly feel better to know that we *did* address the cautions (things I have always considered to be important but haven’t always felt sure I’ve expressed completely) along with the enthusiasm I felt, (and actually still feel). When we first wrote this chapter around 2009 (and even when we revised it in 2015) “Fake News” and “Post Truth” were not phrases we heard on a regular basis, but there were plenty of authors writing to warn that new literacy skills were going to be required in order to make sense of all the incoming information. And, thankfully, yes, BJ and I did acknowledge and share the ideas of those authors!

Here’s one quote from the chapter that gave me a bit of relief (and there are others):

“How do we ensure that breadth and immediacy do not replace depth and analysis? A new responsibility seems to be upon us: to ensure that our learners have the opportunity to develop skills and literacies that are appropriate for deep learning from (or in spite of) the published but unfiltered information they are currently encountering.”

So… the chapter did include a call to promote information literacy skills. As recent events have shown, the challenges are more pressing than ever. AND the exciting potential is still there as well.

In the conclusion of the book, George Veletsianos states: “Scholarship should evoke change, and academics, particularly academics in schools of education, should strive to improve our societies in meaningful ways.”

In an era where “Post Truth” is the Oxford Dictionary word of the year…(Nov 8, 2016)…
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/word-of-the-year/word-of-the-year-2016  I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly with what George is saying.


Here’s some history of the book and of the chapter that BJ Eib and I created.
Here’s the link to the current 2016 book:

Emergence and Innovation in Digital Learning: Foundations and Applications
edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (including a freely available e-book version).
And here’s the title of the 2010 book “Emerging Technologies in Distance Education“, edited by George Veletsianos and published by Athabasca University Press (also including a freely available e-book version).

  • Our original chapter title in 2010
    Imagining Multi-Roles in Web 2.0 Distance Education
  • Our chapter title in 2016 (a re-write of the 2010 chapter)
    Multiple Learning Roles in a Connected Age: When Distance Means Less Than Ever

And here’s my blog post about the 2010 chapter:

Around that time I also blogged about all the other chapters as well, so if you explore my blog you’ll find those posts 🙂


For more, read about Wael Ghonim and the role of the internet in the Arab Spring revolution. It’s a fascinating viewpoint:


June 5, 2016

Time for a post about an organization I’ve been part of for nearly two years. KIDCARECANADA. It was conceived and built by my wonderful friend Estelle Paget and is a charitable society creating (and sharing) captioned and translated videos on the topic of nurturing infants and young children.




I love the work I do for KIDCARECANADA and I can’t say enough good things about the great content provided by the experts Estelle has selected. We have a brand new 6th annual report, which explains it all beautifully and is linked below. Definitely worth a read.

And a share 🙂

Here’s a quote:

“We produce a trust-worthy and evidence-based educational program called HUGS FOR A BRIGHTER FUTURE.  It is currently comprised of over 100 videos of varying lengths, and Learning Guides to deepen understanding and enhance learning. Our videos bridge the gap between the science and the practice of early childhood development, and show how to raise emotionally-healthy children.  This work informs parents, caregivers and professionals about early nurturing, healthy brain development and social and emotional development.”

Here are some links:

KIDCARECANADA’s 6th Annual Report: http://kidcarecanada.org/sites/default/files/research/pdf/annualreport2016online.pdf

Twitter https://twitter.com/KidCareCanada,

& Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kidcarecanada/

Hope you follow, like, share widely, etc.




Productivity Decoupled from Employment

April 27, 2013

Erik Brynjolfsson’s TED talk “Race with the Machines” has a powerful idea. Due to technological advances, human work has become decoupled from wealth and our productivity decoupled from employment. In turn this leads to an ineffectiveness of traditional ways of measuring the economy — especially as a way of viewing innovation.


Lots to think about here. Another “distribution problem”? His point related to the industrial revolution is especially fascinating…. it took about thirty years (e.g. all the managers had to retire) for factory procedures to change when electricity was introduced. While the managers were in place, the factories ran as they had done with steam power – not taking advantage of what the new power source had to offer. The same 30-year cycle appears to be necessary to make best use of computers.

Are MOOCs an example? I certainly understand the arguments that MOOCs are incomplete. But couldn’t MOOCs be a valuable part of a new model, that includes teachers in a somewhat “guide on the side” role with the MOOC content being the central organizer. A different post-secondary economy would be required but maybe the new managers will see it that way — looking more at learning and less at the notion of formal education. Those who really hate MOOCs, often pointing to high dropout rates, lack of support and variable quality, seem to me to be missing the potential of MOOCs (or similar environments) to assist learning. Should we get rid of books since, after all, a person might start to read one, not like it and decide to move on to something else?

Update on May 6 – Bonnie Stewart’s interesting blog post!
“….MOOCs started, in a sense, as a recognition that the credentialing equation was hollow…

CEET Meet collections now launched on iTunes U.

December 11, 2012

blogbannerCEET is the Community of Expertise in Educational Technology. It includes a grass-roots Ning social media site, http://ceetbc.ning.com, helping educators create, use and manage digital resources to support best practices.

“Join CEET to to get advice from experts, exchange ideas and resources with peers, ask questions/get answers, and discover ways to improve teaching and learning with technology.” You can do this via discussion forums, shared videos and other resources, and through CEET Meets, which are free and open online professional learning opportunities via Moodle. You can go to the site, join a current or upcoming Ceet Meet or view the archives.

Recently, a small handful of collections derived from recent CEET meets has been made available via iTunes U. I’ve had the privilege of working with Mark Hawkes on the development of these initial collections.

The way to access these resources is to
1. go to iTunes
2. pick the iTunes store
3. search the store for CEET (or Community Expertise Educational Technology)

As you probably know, iTunes U is based on the engine that was initially developed by Apple for music downloads. The iTunes music download experience is widely used and very familiar to many. The iTunes U brand has the benefit of being very recognized in the educational field and the number of collections will be growing in the near future as our plan is to create templates so that any CEET participant could create materials for iTunes U. The template would reference back to the CEET Ning site to ensure that iTunes U users would be aware of other CEET resources. iTunes U is great for content delivery, but lacks the social component that is important to CEET’s overall success.

iTunes U collections are accessed just as downloadable music would be via iTunes – on a computer or a mobile device. As their name suggests, a collection is a group of theme-based resources and can include PDFs, video files, audio files and each collection is accompanied by sidebar weblinks. Once a user has accessed a collection, in many ways, the environment is not qualitatively that much different from a website with annotated links.

It is important to note that CEET Meets are teacher-developed and the CEET iTunes U collections are based on these. The hope is for BC teachers to be directly developing their own iTunes U content at some point in the very near future.

If any of this is of interest to you, please go to http://ceetbc.ning.com

The CEET materials on iTunes U are breaking some new ground for Canadian Pro-D. K-12 content and postsecondary content suitable for teacher pro-D is widely available via iTunes U. This content comes from many parts of the world but Canada has not been a big player at this point so it’s an exciting time for Canadians to start becoming a part of this.

iTunes U and Me

July 27, 2012

A few days ago Apple/ iTunes U announced that it had opened its course development process in a way that is intended to encourage anyone to develop a small number of personal courses without any institutional verification. I’ve been working on a contract to rework some K-12 pro-D for delivery on iTunes U, so this has been of special interest to me.

It’s an important change that’s described in several places:

The iTunes announcement refers to private courses – ones that won’t appear in the catalogue. That’s the opposite to the work I’m doing, where it’s hoped that many people will find our content through searches of the iTunes collections (which are different than courses).

It appears that students will access the private courses via direct links — and iTunes courses can only be accessed via an iOS5 device. For those of you who have explored iTunes U via iTunes on your computer, it’s important to understand that when you access content in iTunes on your computer it is from a collection, not a course. There’s definitely room for confusion here!

I recommend that anyone considering developing iTunes U courses (or collections) should spend some time looking through existing courses and collections to get a sense of how the environments work and how they differ from the idea of an LMS (learning management system like Moodle). iTunes courses now offer searching, sharing and other features — but don’t expect discussion forums or student assessment tools. It’s really about content delivery.

I’d love to communicate (via this blog) with anybody who’s planning to try this.

Here are some links I’ve found recently, relating to iTunes U and some of the issues you might encounter if you’re developing content.

iTunes U General information:

Are universities reluctant to use iTunes U?
Summary: Is iTunes U a viable platform for school systems to implement?

Charlie Osborne for iGeneration, May 5, 2012
Five things that could make Apple’s new iTunes U a winner
iTunes U may seem like an afterthought, but it could be the glue that holds Apple’s educational concept together.

Scott Stein January 19, 2012
Driving the Classroom with iTunes U
FEBRUARY 19, 2012

Resources related to having educators to create their own iTunes U courses or collections

Focus on Search Engine Issues (obviously not applicable to the private courses):

The enigma of the iTunes app search algorithm
Andrew Cohen, 11/28/2011

What factors does the search algorithm for the iTunes App Store take into account? Does it place a higher priority on keywords, description, etc? Shane Kittelson, 2011

Alternatives to iTunes U
Massive online learning and the unbundling of undergraduate education

How curation tools can enhance academic practice

Ning’s new mobile version (for smartphones)

Science Communication

July 5, 2012

This video addresses a number of things I really believe in: the importance of science communication, kids learning the things they decide are relevant, the use of media to communicate, combining creativity with factual information, education provided in a loving manner……

Watch Alan Alda’s ‘Flame Challenge’ Aims to Communicate Science on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Thank You Alan Alda!


May 25, 2012

Over the past seven or eight years, as “homestay mom” to over a dozen high school kids (from Japan, China, Taiwan, Mexico, Thailand and Korea), and with kids of my own — I have been to a lot of graduation ceremonies. Bus service is good from where we live, so these kids have attended four different secondary schools in our city. Each school is a large urban facility and the graduating class sizes are always around 300 kids – sometimes more. The shortest grad ceremony I’ve been to was three hours long; the longest was close to five hours. I’ve had time to think about what these mean. And the “recognition ceremony” personality is different for the different schools.

I don’t like to generalize too much, but I’d say the overall public perception of these four schools is:

School A: an inner city school with a focus on arts and trades, not regarded as an ideal school (my own son went there and we LOVE it – but some of our friends questioned his decision)
School B: a very academically-oriented school known as one of the best in the province; as well as academics, it has a focus on arts and athletics (our daughter went here briefly, then she was home-schooled, and then she went to music college)
School C: an “edge of the city” school with a decent academic reputation as well as being recognized for athletics and environmental sustainability
School D: a school near the city’s university with a well-rounded program and lots of athletics

I’ve been able to compare the values that leap out in these schools and again, without generalizing too much, there is a noticeable difference in several things but one in particular is the ratio of how much the kids take charge of the final ceremonies. In some schools the teachers do it all but in others it’s almost completely up to the students. To me it seems that the two schools where students more or less completely planned and ran the ceremony were the schools “best-loved” by the kids I know. And one of the schools where the grad is much more teacher-organized happens to be a school that two of my kids didn’t like, in fact they transferred away from it, in spite of its great reputation. One is just making that choice and I suspect he’ll do well once he makes the change. The other was several years ago and he did do just fine – now happily at college. Obviously this is highly anecdotal, but I know which ceremonies I have enjoyed the most (never the teacher-planned ones).

I suspect it’s about the notion of perfection. Some schools have a philosophy that allows for more experimentation and more mistakes and they’re even willing to present themselves that way to the huge auditorium of parents and grandparents at the final ceremony. I think these are hidden values that are passed down. And of course here, in this city, the school you attend isn’t just based on where you live — it’s possible to choose a school outside of your catchment area. So a school with a specific reputation will attract different students. The perfectionist kids may well end up at the perfectionist school and they may be quite happy to not take the “risk” of a student-run grad. As always, education is a complex topic and there is no one “best” way.

But we do move through the generations passing along a set of values about learning, competitiveness versus collaboration and even the role of compassion. My bias is towards giving kids the opportunity to make mistakes even if they don’t present something perfect to the world. It’s how innovation occurs. At the same time, I want zero slip-ups when I’m at the dentist, so perhaps I’m not giving a completely consistent point of view here….. but I do hope my dentist has a hobby where he can make a mess and enjoy it! It may be about balance.

And, in a different but related train of thought, it is amazing how a human mind can protect itself by re-framing events. I was astonished to receive the gift of these dolls. They mean something that the giver may truly not understand at a conscious level and yet, from her, they are the most perfect gift possible (Vicky you know what I mean here! I can’t wait to tell you everything!)