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, Elizabeth Wellburn, 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:

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!

Standardized Testing

December 6, 2011

When an adult took standardized tests forced on kids

@johnathanfields tweeted “Successful, educated adult gets crushed by standardized test for kids” when referring to this article, written by Marion Brady:


It’s about a school board member, someone with “a bachelor of science degree, two masters degrees, and 15 credit hours toward a doctorate,” who could only guess 10 out of 60 questions in the math section, and got a “D” on the reading section of a test that is used for Grade 10 students.

He is quoted as saying “I have a wide circle of friends in various professions. Since taking the test, I’ve detailed its contents as best I can to many of them, particularly the math section, which does more than its share of shoving students in our system out of school and on to the street. Not a single one of them said that the math I described was necessary in their profession.”

Horrifying to think that a hugely funded education system has its focus on something that compels a huge number of students to leave the education system feeling like failures rather than supporting them towards lifelong learning.

Another blog post about the article:

Hopes related to teaching and learning with technology

November 14, 2011

My post today is a distilled version of a message sent to LRNT 503 (program planning in the Masters of Learning and Technology program at Royal Roads University) students as a final goodbye. I guess it’s normal to have mixed feelings at the end of a course. This  message addresses some of what Stu Berry (co-instructor) and I hope for this group in the near and not-so-near future.

The MALAT program has at its heart the following statement; “The emphasis of this program is on best practices in learning – learning processes, planning for learning, designing for learning, facilitating learning, and assessing learning – that takes place in a technology-mediated environment”. Technology, in the context of this program, is primarily a mediating device, a rich set of tools that allow us to enhance and support our learning environments. We must not lose sight of the heart and soul of what we do every day. When we talk about program planning and about technologies we must not forget that the core must always be about learning.

It can be a struggle to understand the technology and what it could do to support learning as opposed to it being the object of what was being learned. This is a case of process versus product. You might be planning on teaching how to do something, i.e., learn about a product, but the core of this program is the process by which you go about learning about the product and not the product itself.

Please try and steer clear of the sales pitch as you research and look for academic material that provides a grounded approach to whatever it is you are looking for. We encountered several examples of learners using research that was clearly written by and for a product and this type of documentation is biased and suspect at the best of times. There are a great variety of academic articles that compare one type of product over another and they do so in reasonably unbiased ways. Ensure that the literature meets these standards.

This last item talks to us all: the LRNT 503 Learning Archive. This is a public resource at  http://thelearningarchive.edublogs.org/  with a long-term goal to grow beyond this course and allow current and future students an opportunity to add, edit, comment, and benefit from the contents. We have set this resource up as a public space, however only registered students in this course can add and comment on its contents.

We have just added a TED video to the Learning Archive that describes how the technology of a washing machine allowed women of a previous generation to have time to read. A small but profound example of the sometimes surprising interaction of technology and learning, the video can be viewed at: http://www.gapminder.org/videos/hans-rosling-and-the-magic-washing-machine/

FOLDIT – online game solving real molecular puzzles

September 28, 2011


Above is a link to an article about an online collaborative game that is
“designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.”

Sounds like a great learning tool. But there’s more.

“…players have solved a molecular puzzle that stumped scientists for years, and those scientists say the accomplishment could point the way to crowdsourced cures for AIDS and other diseases.”

And more about games and learning (from the same twitter source @IanYorston)


Learning at the Speed of Light

September 23, 2011

Today, at this very moment, CERN is having a webcast about their finding that some particles are travelling faster than light.


Along with this is a twitter hashtag: #nuquestions

so anyone can watch the webcast to see the scientists discuss their research, follow the tweets to understand what interested people around from everywhere are saying about this and even pose questions that the scientists may decide are worth answering. And of course, watch later for the purpose of reviewing the entire process.


Here are some screen shots from the Twitter stream using the #nuquestions hashtag:


By the way, I found out about this hashtag in my usual morning look at my twitter stream. I’m so grateful for the people I follow. They point me to things I might not find otherwise.

Jon Mott and David Wiley and CMS/PLN/OLE/PLE ideas

January 19, 2010

http://ineducation.ca/article/open-learning-cms-and-open-learning-network Mott and Wiley

http://www.jonmott.com/blog/2010/01/the-cms-and-the-pln Mott

Ideas to consider about the CMS (Course Management System) concept and the alternatives — revealing issues related to the roles of educational institutions, artificial time constraints, assessment, etc.

Is it possible that (as the Mott and Wiley article suggests) “the persistence and perpetuation of the CMS paradigm is resulting in a missed opportunity of epic proportions…. instructors and institutions are essentially making the old, content-centric paradigm more efficient, but leaving it largely unchallenged and unquestioned.”

And I can’t help but add a link to a presentation I watched online yesterday as well, from the K-12 perspective:


Scott McLeod addresses the NEA about disruptive technologies.