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:

Music, science, space, Canada, social media…. what more can I say

May 8, 2013

For his last downlink before returning to Earth, CSA Astronaut Chris Hadfield performed I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing) with hundreds of students at the Ontario Science Centre and nearly a million people, mostly students from coast-to-coast Canada and around the world, performing the song in unison from their location.

I.S.S. is a song co-written by Hadfield and the Barenaked Ladies’ front man Ed Robertson.

Chris Hadfield just seems to represent everything that *can* be right about humanity. The only thing to say is “thank you!”

Here are the lyrics:

And a link to more info:

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)

Paul Conneally – digital tools transform humanitarian aid

February 17, 2012

Paul Conneally says:
There are no more reasons not to do it.

His TED talk inspires by showing recent examples of how mobile technology brings solutions to crisis situations, taking the humanitarian world from analog to digital.

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/

Imagining Life Beyond “The Economy”

November 6, 2011

” ‘Democracy’ is the name for all the minor tinkering we’re allowed to do inside the space in which this economy has us locked.” is a quote from an article I’m just getting into — great food for thought at this moment when local occupy movements (Vancouver and Victoria) are being given eviction notices. Written by Ethan Miller, the title is “Imagining Life Beyond ‘The Economy.'”

Here’s the link: http://www.geo.coop/node/718

Democracy was intended to be so much more than “minor tinkering” — and I believe that with technologies available now, it can and will reach a much greater potential.

I often try to do such an imagining in the context of a “Little House on the Prairie” scenario, where really there are only

1. people (to do work) and

2. resources (required to build shelter, feed people, an so on)

Then the problem becomes (if you know me, this won’t be a surprise) a distribution problem. How to allocate the work and the resources. The issue of an “economy” doesn’t really have to factor into it when the community is small and connected. Ethan Miller addresses this in a deep and thoughtful way.

I believe (thinking of ideas from Clay Shirky and others) that with social media-style opportunities at our fingertips now, we can become a big “small” community. So I’m optimistic!

thoughts at the end of a course

November 5, 2011

Here’s a slightly modified version of the some end-of-course thoughts that I shared with the students I’ve been teaching in the Masters Program (Learning and Technology) at the end of their first online course (Program Planning)

It’s been great to be part of this group and to watch ideas evolve against the context of a technology-enhanced learning environment that seems to change from day to day.

I found it easy to be (as the saying goes) “guides on the side” because you, the students, have been a great, self-managing and independent group. You have brought many diverse skills to our online environment and you’ve done a wonderful job of sharing.

And as the weeks unfolded you addressed (in a very spirited manner) topics that were barely considered when I first taught this course, just a few years ago. Social media and informal learning are examples of concepts that are very relevant to learners in your field but weren’t considered all that much even as recently as 2008, which, by the way, was a significant year as it marked the election of Barack Obama and was a bit of an awakening for many people about the role of online communication strategies as they related to world-changing decisions.

And this got me thinking about how those my students from earlier years are faring as time as passed. My hope is for all my students to leave a course I have taught with a few new ‘learning-how-to-learn’ skills. I know that in this changing environment, I can’t ‘teach’ the content that’s needed for the future, not even the near future! But if the self-sufficiency approach has been instilled in my students, I know they will be okay.

And this brings me to another point about generating self-sufficiency and modelling the real world. I may have sometimes seemed a bit harsh in dealing with deadlines, but there is a reality (and this includes the reality of writing funding proposals, which might be familiar to many of you) about professional work and that is that missed deadlines can be deal-breakers. Missing a proposal deadline can mean your proposal won’t be read and your project might not be funded. Consider this experience as something to prepare you for professional behaviour in the future when it comes to having work prepared on time.

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)