Are you nuts?

Badges for online learning: gimmick or game-changer?

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

As I’ve been thinking about building a MOOC for the 13.1 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, I’ve become increasingly interested in connectivism. One of the platforms I’ve discovered is called P2PU (“Peer To Peer University”), which draws heavily on connectivist ideas.

Surprise: on P2PU there is a debate raging on about badges, of all things. I initially scoffed. I’ve seen badges on Khan Academy and have read that they are very popular with learners, but did not really seriously consider these badges to be anything more than gimmicks.

It turns out that badges are serious learning tools, and that makes sense from a connectivist perspective. A white paper from the Mozilla Foundation summarizes why and how, drawing on an earlier paper from P2PU’s co-founder Philipp Schmidt.

George Siemens’s (2005) connectivism theory of learning is said to go “beyond traditional theories of learning (such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism) to include technology as a core element”. So badges in this theory would use technology itself ot make connections between learners.

First, it is claimed that badges can capture and translate learning across contexts, with more granularity (detail) than degrees or cumulative grades, with a badge for each specific skill or quality — and showing off progression over time as badges accumulate (like medals pinned to a soldier’s chest or a general’s stripes). Therefore badges could signal achievement and be matched to specific job requirements.

Second, badges are meant to encourage and motivate “participation and learning outcomes”. They are feedback mechanism — both gateway and signpost — on a learning path, ie showing what can be learned and when, as in Khan Academy’s Google-style map going from basic addition to multivariate calculus. In addition, they can also cover or highlight informal or soft skills of the kind that formal education doesn’t account for. And, in fact, making new badges available can be done in real time, fast enough to keep up with the pace of the fastest-changing fields (like IT or web development).

Third, badges are thought to formalize and enhance social connections, as they can be considered a mechanism to promote identity and reputation within a learning community. By doing so, badges may in fact foster community, bringing together peers to formalize teams or communities of practice.

There’s quite a bit of enthusiasm online for badges as successors to pre-digital forms of accreditation and authority, like university diplomas and CVs. For example, Jacy Hood, director of College Open Textbooksdeclared in a blog comment:  ”We are optimistic that Mozilla Badges will become the new international educational currency/credentials and that traditional education institutions will recognize, accept, and award these badges.”

Edutech blogger Mitchel Resnick explains that he is an increasingly lone voice to express skepticism about badges:

I worry that students will focus on accumulating badges rather than making connections with the ideas and material associated with the badges – the same way that students too often focus on grades in a class rather than the material in the class, or the points in an educational game rather than the ideas in the game. Simply engaging students is not enough. They need to be engaged for the right reasons.

For Resnick, it is the perception of a badge as a reward that throws back to behaviorist thinking:

When we develop educational technologies and activities in my research group, we explicitly try to avoid anything that might be perceived as a reward – what Alfie Kohn characterizes as “Do this and you’ll get that.” Instead, we are constantly looking for ways to help young people build on their own interests, and providing them with opportunities to take on new roles.

However, it really depents on the “Do this” component: what is the learner being asked to do? If it can be performed without engagement, then Resnick may be right. This implies that the reward component may not be the sole function of the badge itself but will depend on the activities required to obtain it.

I started writing this as a badge skeptic. Yet, I’m already starting to think of additional benefits: in a visual online world, badges are visual indicators, rather than text on a screen. They can therefore mobilize visual symbols to trigger our cultural and emotional sensibilities, without requiring reading effort on our part. By looking a badge, we can recognize its shape, colors and design and identify its meaning. This is pretty powerful stuff for learning.

What do you think?

eggs

Thinking about learning technology: is the product metaphor obsolete?

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

In my work, I am constantly discovering and evaluating new web sites and online services related to learning in some way. Increasingly, I’m wondering if there can be an underlying method for assessing them that is different from the prevailing consumerist, product metaphor.

What I mean is that we tend to look at a learning technology as if it were a product that we will consume if we adopt it in our learning/teaching practice. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Ultimately, we do have to make pragmatic, practical decisions: do I use Schoology or Edmodo or Scholar for my project? It seems to me like we are quite “naturally” thinking as *consumers* of learning technology, as we do in our daily lives making choices about whether we use Facebook or Twitter (or neither), keep our e-mail on Hotmail or GMail, etc.

One limitation I see with this product approach is that thinking about learning is quickly reduced to listing and comparing technical features. The traditional IT approach in choosing a technology involves building 1) use cases and 2) requirements and then trying to find the software package, platform, or service that most closely matches these. I have seen the most disastrous outcomes from this classical kind of analysis.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t think about feature sets, requirements or use cases. I just question that they come up first in discussion. I think this happens because “detecting” the underlying learning theory that underpins a learning system is much more difficult. And it’s not only about understanding what the project proponents grounded themselves in, but also looking at the gap between the intended theoretical underpinning and the live product. A good example is Moodle: I love the concepts, the history, the open access and the open source. But I fail to recognize the constructivism claimed by its authors when I see how mechanistic, do-this-get-that it quickly becomes. Doing peer review is outside its boundaries. Multiple-choice quizzes are inside. Scary — and not very constructivist, sorry. From reading Moodle case studies, I can see that good teachers are able to squeeze constructivism out of Moodle — but a good teacher can probably do that with just about any system, and I fail to see how Moodle is making it easier.

From my own experience in search of the holy grail of learning systems, I’ve drawn the frightening conclusion that we live in a world in which we can expect an exponentially growing number of online systems for learning, propelled by various ideas which have less and less to do with learning, more and more with corporate takeover and control of education, and less and less likely to meet our specific needs, much less be grounded in the specific remix of learning theories that we see as relevant to our learning community.

One implication: we need to give up on the idea of a centralized platform that can meet all our needs — and be grounded in coherent learning theory that leads to sensible teaching and learning practice.

Fortunately — and not just because I tend to be an optimist — I also believe that as the online world becomes increasingly fragmented, we are also developing the tools to pick and choose useful tools from the chaos, to which we can then creatively add identity (this is where visual design is important, as with the badges, etc.) to make a stable learning system. Most important, we need make these choices informed by a specific set of theories which we use as tools to make decisions on how we set up a course, how we determine its content, who “we” are (is it teachers, students, or both?), etc.

Philipp Schmidt from P2PU.org recently showed me The Mechanical MOOC, a good prototype for this kind of thinking and its application. It is a mashup or remix that relies on multiple platforms and tools, with technological scaffolding to glue the tools together, branding to give it identity. We know about *scaffolding* learning. We may want to think about *scaffolding* technology. (NYT article about this latest P2PU project)

Mobile Learning Crash Course

Mobile learning: the “anywhere” in the affordance of ubiquity

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

When I look at my Facebook friends online, I can see that most of them are connected, almost 24/7, via their phones. Those connected from a laptop or desktop computer (shown by a green dot instead of a little phone icon) are an ever-dwindling minority.

As Scholar is meant to be a social application for learning, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what mobile means for learning. Recently, I invited mobile design expert Josh Clark to explain to a Red Cross audience why we should design our applications (including those for learning) using a mobile-first strategy. He’s not a learning guy, but I haven’t been able to find a learning expert with useful insights on these issues (as I explain in my conclusion). You can read about Josh’s work on the web here, for example:

Josh’s first point is that we have a “condescending” view of mobile, seeing it as a “lite” version of the “full” desktop experience. This view is wrong, and to demonstrate this he debunks several mobile myths: “We have some really stubborn myths about mobile users, really screwing up the way we provide mobile services.”

Myth #1 is that “mobile users are rushed and distracted”, with a short attention span. With mobile learning, this has translated into little info tidbits or short exercises. MIT’s Open CourseWare (OCW) iPhone app, for example, starts up with a message warning that it’s “a subset” of the OCW catalog.

Yes, sometimes you use your mobile device for information on the go. But that’s far from the only use case. Mobile is also on the couch, in the kitchen, on the bed, or during a 3-hour layover… and, last but not least, sitting on the throne (according to Josh, 40% admit to using phones in bathroom).

Those mobile contexts allow us to concentrate and focus on content. They are non-traditional (for now) contexts of engagement which can make learning more pleasurable (because of the level of comfort, by saving us from boredom during that layover, etc.).

So what do users expect from a mobile application? 85% expect mobile to be *at least as good* as desktop. Why would this be any different for students or other learners? We do everything on our phones that it seems obvious we are now at a point where the concept of a distinct, discrete *mLearning* makes no sense.

OK, so if mobile doesn’t necessarily mean rushed users, what about small screen sizes? Doesn’t that physical limitation place limits on learning?

The screen size raises the issue of visual presentation of learning content. Yes, we have built a lot of user interaction and interface conventions on the assumption of a 4:3 or 16:9 screen ratio. This goes back a while for machine learning, starting with Macromedia Director interfaces in the 1990s that imposed 640 x 480 pixels as a “standard” screen size for interactive, animated content. So we have at least 20 years of thinking reliant on the model of eLearning that some are now trying to painstakingly reduce by changing the “e” in learning to the “m”.

I agree with Josh that the real answer is not in this alphabet soup. Don’t confuse context with intent. We make too many assumptions from screen size. Screen size should not be an excuse to limit functionality. Using small screen does not equal wanting to do less. It would be like saying that because paperbacks have smaller pages, you have to remove entire chapters. The trick is to make complexity uncomplicated. There’s a difference.

Mobile websites/apps should have full content/tools. Yes, they may be displayed differently and hierarchy may change. Some devices may be better suited to some tasks than others — so EMPHASIZE different content on different devices. But don’t arbitrarily give me LESS. That goes not only for individual sites but for families of sites.

A lot of people ONLY use their phone. And of course perhaps the more expected numbers from developing world: In Egypt, 70% of net users rely solely on their phones. In India, it’s 59%. Ghana: 55%. Kenya: 54%. Nigeria: 50%. OK, you say, but these are developing countries where desktop computers and broadband access are expensive. But wait, what’s this… 25% in the US and 22% in the UK use *only* their phone. Another 28% of US mobile web users *mostly* use mobile web.

And, if we are talking about teaching young people, I’m sure these stats are much higher.

This group of mobile-only or mostly-mobile users definitely expect to do everything on mobile. If we care about reaching them or teaching them, we have to care about hitting them on mobile.

For individual-learner click-through online learning modules, I’ve recently sent out two requests for proposals to over 20 companies that specialize in building such modules to support adult learning. Not a single one actually can currently deliver a mobile-first strategy. Yet, the tools and techniques to build a single code base (using HTML5 to replace Flash for animation and a technique called responsive design) already exist and are in wide use in other areas — just not in learning. Yes, they all know it’s a long-term trend, but in many of the responses I received they proposed to build a separate, “lite” version of the “real” learning modules. Exactly the opposite of what I think is needed. And the stats cited above (as well as more insightful analysis from Josh and other designers) make a strong case that this needs to happen today, not in some distant future.

Mobile learning: the “anywhere” in the affordance of ubiquity

Reda Sadki Writing

When I look at my Facebook friends online, I can see that most of them are connected, almost 24/7, via their phones. Those connected from a laptop or desktop computer (shown by a green dot instead of a little phone icon) are an ever-dwindling minority.

As Scholar is meant to be a social application for learning, I thought it might be useful to reflect on what mobile means for learning. Recently, I invited mobile design expert Josh Clark to explain to a Red Cross audience why we should design our applications (including those for learning) using a mobile-first strategy. He’s not a learning guy, but I haven’t been able to find a learning expert with useful insights on these issues (as I explain in my conclusion). You can read about Josh’s work on the web here, for example:

Josh’s first point is that we have a “condescending” view of mobile, seeing it as a “lite” version of the “full” desktop experience. This view is wrong, and to demonstrate this he debunks several mobile myths: “We have some really stubborn myths about mobile users, really screwing up the way we provide mobile services.”

Myth #1 is that “mobile users are rushed and distracted”, with a short attention span. With mobile learning, this has translated into little info tidbits or short exercises. MIT’s Open CourseWare (OCW) iPhone app, for example, starts up with a message warning that it’s “a subset” of the OCW catalog.

Yes, sometimes you use your mobile device for information on the go. But that’s far from the only use case. Mobile is also on the couch, in the kitchen, on the bed, or during a 3-hour layover… and, last but not least, sitting on the throne (according to Josh, 40% admit to using phones in bathroom).

Those mobile contexts allow us to concentrate and focus on content. They are non-traditional (for now) contexts of engagement which can make learning more pleasurable (because of the level of comfort, by saving us from boredom during that layover, etc.).

So what do users expect from a mobile application? 85% expect mobile to be at least as good as desktop. Why would this be any different for students or other learners? We do everything on our phones that it seems obvious we are now at a point where the concept of a distinct, discrete mLearning makes no sense.

OK, so if mobile doesn’t necessarily mean rushed users, what about small screen sizes? Doesn’t that physical limitation place limits on learning?

The screen size raises the issue of visual presentation of learning content. Yes, we have built a lot of user interaction and interface conventions on the assumption of a 4:3 or 16:9 screen ratio. This goes back a while for machine learning, starting with Macromedia Director interfaces in the 1990s that imposed 640 x 480 pixels as a “standard” screen size for interactive, animated content. So we have at least 20 years of thinking reliant on the model of eLearning that some are now trying to painstakingly reduce by changing the “e” in learning to the “m”.

I agree with Josh that the real answer is not in this alphabet soup. Don’t confuse context with intent. We make too many assumptions from screen size. Screen size should not be an excuse to limit functionality. Using small screen does not equal wanting to do less. It would be like saying that because paperbacks have smaller pages, you have to remove entire chapters. The trick is to make complexity uncomplicated. There’s a difference.

Mobile websites/apps should have full content/tools. Yes, they may be displayed differently and hierarchy may change. Some devices may be better suited to some tasks than others — so EMPHASIZE different content on different devices. But don’t arbitrarily give me LESS. That goes not only for individual sites but for families of sites.

A lot of people ONLY use their phone. And of course perhaps the more expected numbers from developing world: In Egypt, 70% of net users rely solely on their phones. In India, it’s 59%. Ghana: 55%. Kenya: 54%. Nigeria: 50%. OK, you say, but these are developing countries where desktop computers and broadband access are expensive. But wait, what’s this… 25% in the US and 22% in the UK use only their phone. Another 28% of US mobile web users mostly use mobile web.

And, if we are talking about teaching young people, I’m sure these stats are much higher.

This group of mobile-only or mostly-mobile users definitely expect to do everything on mobile. If we care about reaching them or teaching them, we have to care about hitting them on mobile.

For individual-learner click-through online learning modules, I’ve recently sent out two requests for proposals to over 20 companies that specialize in building such modules to support adult learning. Not a single one actually can currently deliver a mobile-first strategy. Yet, the tools and techniques to build a single code base (using HTML5 to replace Flash for animation and a technique called responsive design) already exist and are in wide use in other areas — just not in learning. Yes, they all know it’s a long-term trend, but in many of the responses I received they proposed to build a separate, “lite” version of the “real” learning modules. Exactly the opposite of what I think is needed. And the stats cited above (as well as more insightful analysis from Josh and other designers) make a strong case that this needs to happen today, not in some distant future.

Badges for online learning: gimmick or game-changer?

Reda Sadki Writing

As I’ve been thinking about building a MOOC for the 13.1 million Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers, I’ve become increasingly interested in connectivism. One of the platforms I’ve discovered is called P2PU (“Peer To Peer University”), which draws heavily on connectivist ideas.

Surprise: on P2PU there is a debate raging on about badges, of all things. I initially scoffed. I’ve seen badges on Khan Academy and have read that they are very popular with learners, but did not really seriously consider these badges to be anything more than gimmicks.

It turns out that badges are serious learning tools, and that makes sense from a connectivist perspective. A white paper from the Mozilla Foundation summarizes why and how, drawing on an earlier paper from P2PU’s co-founder Philipp Schmidt.

George Siemens’s (2005) connectivism theory of learning is said to go “beyond traditional theories of learning (such as behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism) to include technology as a core element”. So badges in this theory would use technology itself ot make connections between learners.

First, it is claimed that badges can capture and translate learning across contexts, with more granularity (detail) than degrees or cumulative grades, with a badge for each specific skill or quality — and showing off progression over time as badges accumulate (like medals pinned to a soldier’s chest or a general’s stripes). Therefore badges could signal achievement and be matched to specific job requirements.

Second, badges are meant to encourage and motivate “participation and learning outcomes”. They are feedback mechanism — both gateway and signpost — on a learning path, ie showing what can be learned and when, as in Khan Academy’s Google-style map going from basic addition to multivariate calculus. In addition, they can also cover or highlight informal or soft skills of the kind that formal education doesn’t account for. And, in fact, making new badges available can be done in real time, fast enough to keep up with the pace of the fastest-changing fields (like IT or web development).

Third, badges are thought to formalize and enhance social connections, as they can be considered a mechanism to promote identity and reputation within a learning community. By doing so, badges may in fact foster community, bringing together peers to formalize teams or communities of practice.

There’s quite a bit of enthusiasm online for badges as successors to pre-digital forms of accreditation and authority, like university diplomas and CVs. For example, Jacy Hood, director of College Open Textbooksdeclared in a blog comment:  ”We are optimistic that Mozilla Badges will become the new international educational currency/credentials and that traditional education institutions will recognize, accept, and award these badges.”

Edutech blogger Mitchel Resnick explains that he is an increasingly lone voice to express skepticism about badges: 

I worry that students will focus on accumulating badges rather than making connections with the ideas and material associated with the badges – the same way that students too often focus on grades in a class rather than the material in the class, or the points in an educational game rather than the ideas in the game. Simply engaging students is not enough. They need to be engaged for the right reasons.

For Resnick, it is the perception of a badge as a reward that throws back to behaviorist thinking: 

When we develop educational technologies and activities in my research group, we explicitly try to avoid anything that might be perceived as a reward – what Alfie Kohn characterizes as “Do this and you’ll get that.” Instead, we are constantly looking for ways to help young people build on their own interests, and providing them with opportunities to take on new roles. 

However, it really depents on the “Do this” component: what is the learner being asked to do? If it can be performed without engagement, then Resnick may be right. This implies that the reward component may not be the sole function of the badge itself but will depend on the activities required to obtain it.

I started writing this as a badge skeptic. Yet, I’m already starting to think of additional benefits: in a visual online world, badges are visual indicators, rather than text on a screen. They can therefore mobilize visual symbols to trigger our cultural and emotional sensibilities, without requiring reading effort on our part. By looking a badge, we can recognize its shape, colors and design and identify its meaning. This is pretty powerful stuff for learning.

What do you think?

Diving platform

Thinking about the first Red Cross Red Crescent MOOC

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

You have no doubt heard about the Red Cross or Red Crescent. Some of you may be first aiders or otherwise already involved as volunteers in your community. My organization, the IFRC, federates the American Red Cross and the 186 other National Societies worldwide. These Societies share the same fundamental principles and work together to build resilient communities by reducing risks associated with disasters and, most important, by leveraging a community’s strengths into a long-term, sustainable future. The only distinguishing feature from one country to the next is the emblem in an otherwise secular movement: Muslim countries use a red crescent and Israel’s Magen David Adom uses the red “crystal” (offically recognized as an emblem) inside the star of David.

Learning is a fundamental driver for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. People become volunteers, very often in their youth, to develop life-saving skills through extremely social forms of learning. The connection between youth, volunteers and learning are the very core of what we do to “save lives and change minds”. There are 13.1 million volunteers in the Red Cross and Red Crescent worldwide with a shared thirst for learning. This is a potentially massive, multilingual classroom — and the affordances of technology can help us realize the previously-unthinkable goal of linking these minds and hearts across borders for the purpose of learning together, from each other.

So where do we start sharing and, yes, co-constructing knowledge? Historically, the IFRC’s approach could be described as “trickle-down”: the Federation worked with the leadership of its members to provide guidance and expertise. Eventually some of this reached the communities where most volunteers work, at the grassroots.

In the last three years, something amazing has happened. IFRC invested in an online learning platform and made it open to all. Despite some limitations of this platform from a “new learning” standpoint, over 25,000 people have joined and they have already completed more than 30,000 online courses (which have been self-directed, individual click-through slides with a quiz at the end), with a completion rate close to 50%. 60% of these learners are volunteers from our National Societies — and most of them probably discovered the platform on their own, without being told to access it by their national leadership.

So, where do we go now? I’m thinking about a MOOC.

IFRC is organizing a global youth conference to bring together 150 youth activists from the Red Cross and other organizations, like YMCA, Boy Scouts, etc. Initially, the idea was to get them to write on our Learning network’s blog in answer to a set of questions about how youth are using technology to change the world. We did this with pretty amazing results in the run-up to RedTalk #12, an online webcast event. The mechanism was clunky: we used forum posts and pasted them into WordPress blog posts… We did not have recursive feedback, the multimodal meaning was limited to posting photos and videos as attachments to the forum posts, there was no formative assessment (only a post-event self-assessment), and the questions were the same for everyone. Despite these missing affordances, we collected an amazing 50 pages of writing from young people in 12 different countries and the live event brought together over 200 people in a powerful moment of communion and knowledge sharing.

So, why a MOOC?

IFRC’s youth policy declares that youth have “multiple roles” as “innovators, early adopters of communication, social media and other technologies, inter-cultural ambassadors, peer-to-peer facilitators, community mobilizes, agents of behavior change and advocates for vulnerable people.” That’s a tall order for young people.

If I had to formulate learning objectives, they might look something like this:

By participating in the MOOC, participants will develop their knowledge and skills to:

  •  discover and reflect how different technologies permeate our daily lives, by engaging with various online technologies used for social change and sharing experiences with others through a global online conversation in the run-up to the event.
  •  define technology and its place in humanitarian and development practice, by listening to and engaging with the RedTalk guest’s story during the one-hour live webcast.
  •  clarify what technology means in the context of a local/global humanitarian and development work.
  •  identify gaps in our understanding and use of technology, including the Digital Divide and inequalities in access related to gender, race or ethnicity, socio-economic status, etc.
  •  invent new ways of using technology to make our communities more resilient.

To explore these, across the broad diversity of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, requires a flexible, localizable scaffolding. The aim is to start with the 150 conference participants but to open it up to anyone, anywhere. I can imagine weekly activities that people could do at their own pace, after adapting them to their local context. For example, I’d love to have K-12 teachers — wherever they may be — enrolling their students into the MOOC’s weekly activities, adding their voices to the mix. But I wonder if the objectives would be relevant — and, if they’re not, how to make them so?

At this point, it’s just an idea in search of a platform and an audience beyond our own youth and volunteering networks.

So what do you think?

Maybe old learning isn’t so bad, after all?

Reda Sadki Thinking aloud

When I first saw Professor Cope’s photos of a 1983 elementary school classroom, I scoffed. It was so obvious that the “communications and knowledge architecture” was one-way, focused on rote learning and rewarding good behavior which involved staying safely “inside the box”. How easy to critique, deconstructing all of the ways in which this particular “banking” form of education was unlikely to intentionally “deposit” anything that might actually be useful to the future lives of these school children. How awful, I thought, and how at odds with everything I try to put into practice with respect to my own professional role. Today’s MOOCs and flipped classrooms, with their objectives of making active knowledge-making ubiquitous, make 1983 look like the Dark Ages of education.

And yet. And yet this classroom very closely resembles the ones in which I grew up, with 5th grade in 1980 as a reference point. And I was one of the kids for whom it was an enjoyable experience. I thrived in that environment. I wanted to sponge up the facts and figures, and was proud to raise my hand, hoping the teacher would pick me. Group work simply wasn’t as much fun or rewarding as the individual recognition and praise from the teacher. It’s only when I jog my 42-year-old brain to recall what made me enjoy school so much that I realize it was the interaction, the creativity, and the serendipity. But the scaffolding was sturdy and reassuring precisely because it was so rigid and didactic.

The same with university. In my professional life, I proclaim my belief that the time for “post-campus education” has arrived. Speaking to a group of young interns, I explained recently that they could expect that their life-long learning had only just begun, and that by abandoning the oh-so-twentieth-century sequence in which you complete your degree and then go to work, they could more actively shape their future careers.

And yet. I was a first-generation college student, going to a university in the U.S. when both my parents never made it past elementary school. My father was put into an orphanage. My mother was denied the education she strived for when her school was closed by the French colonial forces when the Algerian Revolution started. The university campus was for me the site of life-changing experiences.

Today I am also the father of three boys. Nassim, my six-year-old, learned reading, writing and arithmetic this year. When it comes to his education, my approach is far-removed from cutting-edge education. I make him read and re-read texts, do and redo addition and subtraction exercises, drilling it in and checking constantly to see if it’s sunk in yet. Rewards are limited or non-existent with me. Sometimes he resists, complaining about the repetition or that it’s “too hard”. But he also seems to genuinely enjoy completing the exercises. I do this because I’m concerned that his public school teacher is going to be too “slack”, because he goes to school in a poor neighborhood in Paris where many of the kids face tough life circumstances, have parents who do not know how to read and write, and are considered by many (including teachers) to be destined for vocational training leading straight to unemployment. Especially if they are of Arab or African descent.

So, what to do with such blatant contradictions between my professed interest in “new learning” and my personal experience? I believe this contradiction can be productive, meaning that I try to mobilize it to understand why colleagues and other interlocutors express skepticism about innovation in learning, whether explicitly or implicitly. And, yes, I’m also trying to rethink how I work with my sons after school. The world is changing. If we want learning to be supportive, participatory, inspiring, motivating, flexible… it’s not (only) because that will make learning a more pleasurable experience. It is because this is how our children (or those of others, for those to whom parents have delegated mass public education) will get the chance to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to not only survive but thrive — in the online classrooms before they learn the hard way, IRL.

Maybe old learning isn’t so bad, after all?

Reda Sadki Writing

When I first saw Professor Cope’s photos of a 1983 elementary school classroom, I scoffed. It was so obvious that the “communications and knowledge architecture” was one-way, focused on rote learning and rewarding good behavior which involved staying safely “inside the box”. How easy to critique, deconstructing all of the ways in which this particular “banking” form of education was unlikely to intentionally “deposit” anything that might actually be useful to the future lives of these school children. How awful, I thought, and how at odds with everything I try to put into practice with respect to my own professional role. Today’s MOOCs and flipped classrooms, with their objectives of making active knowledge-making ubiquitous, make 1983 look like the Dark Ages of education.

And yet. And yet this classroom very closely resembles the ones in which I grew up, with 5th grade in 1980 as a reference point. And I was one of the kids for whom it was an enjoyable experience. I thrived in that environment. I wanted to sponge up the facts and figures, and was proud to raise my hand, hoping the teacher would pick me. Group work simply wasn’t as much fun or rewarding as the individual recognition and praise from the teacher. It’s only when I jog my 42-year-old brain to recall what made me enjoy school so much that I realize it was the interaction, the creativity, and the serendipity. But the scaffolding was sturdy and reassuring precisely because it was so rigid and didactic.

The same with university. In my professional life, I proclaim my belief that the time for “post-campus education” has arrived. Speaking to a group of young interns, I explained recently that they could expect that their life-long learning had only just begun, and that by abandoning the oh-so-twentieth-century sequence in which you complete your degree and then go to work, they could more actively shape their future careers.

And yet. I was a first-generation college student, going to a university in the U.S. when both my parents never made it past elementary school. My father was put into an orphanage. My mother was denied the education she strived for when her school was closed by the French colonial forces when the Algerian Revolution started. The university campus was for me the site of life-changing experiences.

Today I am also the father of three boys. Nassim, my six-year-old, learned reading, writing and arithmetic this year. When it comes to his education, my approach is far-removed from cutting-edge education. I make him read and re-read texts, do and redo addition and subtraction exercises, drilling it in and checking constantly to see if it’s sunk in yet. Rewards are limited or non-existent with me. Sometimes he resists, complaining about the repetition or that it’s “too hard”. But he also seems to genuinely enjoy completing the exercises. I do this because I’m concerned that his public school teacher is going to be too “slack”, because he goes to school in a poor neighborhood in Paris where many of the kids face tough life circumstances, have parents who do not know how to read and write, and are considered by many (including teachers) to be destined for vocational training leading straight to unemployment. Especially if they are of Arab or African descent.

So, what to do with such blatant contradictions between my professed interest in “new learning” and my personal experience? I believe this contradiction can be productive, meaning that I try to mobilize it to understand why colleagues and other interlocutors express skepticism about innovation in learning, whether explicitly or implicitly. And, yes, I’m also trying to rethink how I work with my sons after school. The world is changing. If we want learning to be supportive, participatory, inspiring, motivating, flexible… it’s not (only) because that will make learning a more pleasurable experience. It is because this is how our children (or those of others, for those to whom parents have delegated mass public education) will get the chance to develop the knowledge and skills they will need to not only survive but thrive — in the online classrooms before they learn the hard way, IRL.

Audio source missing

The End of Paper: Interview with Richard Padley of Semantico

Reda Sadki Writing

At the 2010 Tools of Change for Publishing conference in Frankfurt, we met Richard Padley of Semantico. He spoke at the conference about mobile platforms from the perspective of publishers faced with multiple delivery models including apps and the web.

We started off our interview with Richard Padley by asking:

What does the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement mean to you?

So, is it the end of paper?

Even if I tell you that 30% of IFRC’s membership don’t have e-mail?

Many people seem to think that PDF is a usable digital format for publications. So, what’s wrong with PDF?

Even though EPUB is the basis for eBooks, in 2010 few people are familiar with this format. What’s right with EPUB?

The Kindle is a single-purpose device. It does one thing, and is meant to it well enough to convince people who love printed books to cross the digital divide. The iPad is a multi-purpose tablet. So, Kindle or iPad?

We hear about mobile platforms. What’s that about?

Audio source missing

Katja Mruck on starting a peer-reviewed open access journal

Reda Sadki Writing

In 2001, Katja Mruck started a peer-reviewed multilingual open access journal FQS – Forum on qualitative social research. In this interview, recorded at the Third Conference on Scholarly Publishing in Berlin, Germany (28 September 2011), she explains what ingredients were needed to make the journal’s launch a success. Mruck is the Coordinator open access and e-publishing, Center for Digital Systems CeDis), Freie Universität Berlin.