Tag Archives: education

One webserver per child

Below is a fairly long quote from Gardner Campbell’s Educause 2012 presentation, A Personal Cyberinfrastructure. Jim Groom introduced it at Open Ed 2011.  Campbell advocates giving every student their own web server to administer over the course of their school career. I will let you read his words, and then I have a few thoughts.

“Suppose that when students matriculate, they are assigned their own web servers — not 1GB folders in the institution’s web space but honest-to-goodness virtualized web servers of the kind available for $7.99 a month from a variety of hosting services, with built-in affordances ranging from database maintenance to web analytics. As part of the first-year orientation, each student would pick a domain name. Over the course of the first year, in a set of lab seminars facilitated by instructional technologists, librarians, and faculty advisors from across the curriculum, students would build out their digital presences in an environment made of the medium of the web itself. … They would play with wikis and blogs; they would tinker and begin to assemble a platform to support their publishing, their archiving, their importing and exporting, their internal and external information connections. They would become, in myriad small but important ways, system administrators for their own digital lives. In short, students would build a personal cyberinfrastructure, one they would continue to modify and extend throughout their college career — and beyond.”

I really love this idea. The younger generation is digitally immersed. They have a presence in all the social media platforms. They use technology and the web like they drink water. But, do they control it? Are they reaching their full creative potential? Are they in charge of their digital presence?

At OpenEd11, alternative ways of showing what you know were a hot topic; badges that highlight education challenges completed, portfolios that physically show what you know and what you have done. There is no need for specialized portfolio software when a blog with entries tagged “portfolio” can show off your best work. These are elements that would naturally fit into a student’s personal cyberinfrastructure.

The web is full of services to help you engage, socialize, share, and perform. With their own webserver, students can put that all together, take control of when, where, and what to showcase, mix and match and combine elements, invent new things, decide what is private and what is public, switch services when needed, create their own spaces. Students can create their own journals, newspapers, radio stations, chat rooms. These are skills everyone should have, not just us geeks.

Several prestigious universities have created communication programs that span their undergraduate programs, with the goal of producing articulate alumni. Creating and curating a personal cyberinfrastructure could easily fit into such programs and enrich them for the digital age.

And of course tying this all back to my passion for open education, lets get started created courses and learning materials about making this real. Sounds like a challenge for School of Webcraft to me. And how about some new modules in Connexions on getting students started and creating programs in your school?

Combining the best of the studio model with personalized learning: Is it doable?

I was recently at the NITLE (National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education) Summit meeting in Arlington, Virginia and John Seely Brown (JSB) gave the keynote address on “A New Culture of Learning for a World of Constant Change.” His speech made me wonder whether new virtual learning environments can combine the benefits of the studio model and the benefits of automated, but highly-personalized learning. But first a little summary of his talk.

First, he proposed three fundamental shifts that define the world as we know it in the 21st century.

  1. Explosion of data — Google’s former CEO, Eric Schmidt, says that every 2 days we create the same amount of information as we created from the dawn of civilization to 2003. I found an interesting analysis of this quote, but regardless of the exact numbers, the general trend is very clear.
  2. Exponential advances in computation storage and bandwidth: These shifts have led to cloud computing, GPU’s (graphics processors), machine learning that automatically processes vast amounts of content and usage patterns.
  3. Large-scale, deeply-connected problems. Grand challenges require an interdisciplinary, socio-technical (human process and technology) approach. As solutions are implemented, they change the problem.

The result of these changes are that the half life of skills is shrinking dramatically.

So the question that JSB poses is how do we educate people that will be able to thrive in this environment of constant change, discover opportunities, and tackle the grand challenges?

His idea, as I see it, is that the goal is to see ourselves as “designers”, “creators”, “producers”, and “makers” and to have the ability to empathize with others so solutions will be usable. People will constantly incorporate new skills in the pursuit of the current challenge and that will seem natural, rather than overwhelming. The ingredients for the human as designer are knowledge, play, and, making.

The studio model, where individuals or teams share a physical space and work in parallel on similar, but unique projects, provides the ingredients for learning and absorbing the identity of “creator”. In a studio, experienced “masters” provide critiques (advice that moves a project forward along its own trajectory), and everyone critiques, is critiqued, and benefits from the critiquing of other projects. Essentially, his recommendation is to incorporate this model into education as much as possible. (If you don’t know Olin College of Engineering, definitely check them out. I recently saw a talk by one of their faculty and they have embraced the idea of the studio model of learning completely. One of their design challenges has 5th graders judging the swimming ability and aesthetic appeal of college students’ robotic creations.)

My questions: I have been interested in “learning machines” research; investigating personalized and optimized individual learning that takes advantage of the data, storage, and computation now available to deliver knowledge and practice to students, just-in-time. Another benefit of open education resources (OER) is a giant pool of content for feeding into learning machines, thus tying in my fellowship goals.

If the studio model covers “making”, could learning machines cover the “knowing” part of the ingredients for human as maker?

Can the studio model be virtual without losing effectiveness, and maybe even create gains? Another Shuttleworth Foundation fellow, Philip Schmidt, co-founded P2PU, the Peer 2 Peer University, where learners organize courses and deliver and take them together, virtually. Others are also creating virtual environments for learning (University of the People, OpenStudy, Khan Academy to name a few). How much should virtual environments try and mimic the real world where people gather in one space at one time? Are critiques richer if they are delivered synchronously? Would thinking explicitly about how to incorporate more from the studio model enrich these environments?