Friday, February 23, 2007

Locomotives and coaches in elearning

I remember sometimes listening to a radio interview, a person who had quit a high paying job to start his own business. In the interview, he said he wanted to find out if he is was locomotive or a couch. The idea being, if he is a locomotive, he will just look for coaches to attach to his business idea and off it goes. If however, he was a coach, he was just to halt. For sometimes, I have been thinking of the coach and locomotive idiom presented here as used in the adoption of elearning. But in my case is a situation where some coaches of a fast moving locomotive got detached along the way but due to Newton’s Law of Inertia (simply: An object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an external and unbalanced force) they are moving as though they are still attached. The locomotive captain on the other hand is too concerned about the speed (of getting there) and testing the limits of the new machine in total disregard of the signals that are being displayed showing that some of the coaches might be left or roll back.

It is reality though that a well powered locomotive can pull several coaches. This is the story of the champions or leaders in the whole adoption and diffusion of innovations process. In all the cases considered this are people who are willing to test the “limits of the new machines” and also move fast. They are people, who are willing to bear some risk to determine if they are locomotives or coaches. These risk takers, because of their tendancies, they entice a good following (coaches). Most of these followers do not live a life of transformation into locomotives, and due to the speed of their engine, the risk being left behind.

Can you find an association with the locomotive and the coaches in your environment?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

When they are marketing their wares & elearning challenges

The other day, I attended the mini-conference on ICT and business commerce education. This, as it turned out to be is a meeting between the the education sector (specifically high schools) and the vendors of business applications mainly accounting. Referring to my previous article on marketers and marketing, I instantly had an opinion on arrival of the venue. I however had to contend to the fact that, I had to do what I had to. Even though eLearning is my passion, and how it was used for teaching business in high schools is an important line I would like to see, the presence of more vendors have something special to offer for the high schools was making me uncomfortable.
The first presentation was as boring as ever, it was the key note address for the day, and was delivered by one of the vendors' representative. All though, most of the issues he pointed out were good, in relation to the way forward for the education sectors, he made a comment to the effect that it has to be the vendors way and no other way for the venture to succeed. This is unfortunate, especially because the vendor has managed to entrench itself in the government's ICT plans for school. Its ICT curriculum that is bragging about is too tailor made for it products - and NO OTHER, and it seems to be what the government is using. I have no problem with people being trained on using products from a particular vendor. What am worried about is the future of the students going through this kind of training for academic and professional purposes. I believe we should be training more people on the general principles that are used in any similar application, and leave the very specifics to them to choose. For example, what would happen if the learners leave school for workplaces that do not use products from the vendor? Will the learners start being trained on the general principles or on the particular use of an application? Are we really concerned about the employability of our learners?
Other challenges being faced, are almost the same everywhere in any education setting that I have encountered. First, there is the challenge of teaching with technology where questions are raised on where do teaching on using the technology end, and where do we start using the technology for teaching. Simply put, when do we stop seeing the technology but instead see the educational outcomes of using the technology of teaching and learning?
Second, there is the question of what influence on the outcome of the educational process does the technology have? Are we just using the believe that technology in teaching and learning improves the educational outcomes? What is its influence in the learning process? Is there any empirical evidence? Canadians were quoted to have done studies to this effect, I would like to know what they found out.
Third, there is the question we would want to wish away. That of access. We are very much being bogged down by the question of access that we cannot move beyond it to concentrate on teaching and learning.
There are subtle recommendations that like minded people and institutions should collaborate, communicate, use real-world integration models, and partnerships in education. However, I would warn anyone who would want to enter into any form of agreement or commitment with 'partners' to be wary of blackmail from vendors and others who would like to hijack the process for their own selfish gains.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Of Marketers and Marketing of Technology for Education

Apple is offering a presentation of their iPod (though not explicitly stated) in Cape Town in a campaign code named "Podcasting in e-learning". Some educational experts "will address the key issues and opportunities afforded by podcasting as an educational tool for eLearning." I am tempted to attend, although I am very apprehensive of any marketing campaign. I am very wary of salesmen because I know a good salesman would sell you something you will throw in the next trash bin for twice its market price. However, I would want to see, and be among the people who are in the forefront of the eLearning 'e-volution'. I have a belief (still naive) that podcasting can add value in the teaching and learning process.

In my mind, when thinking about attending this presentation, an article I read a while ago by Heather-Jane Robertson - "Towards a theory of Negativity Teacher Education and Information and Communication Technology" linger in mind. In the article, there is the warning of the vulnerability of educators to take any technology with the 'naive faith' in its promises. This vulnerability, unfortunately, is perpetuated by the marketers who back their marketing on research that has either failed or is inconclusive. Robertson disputes the 'findings' claimed to have been arrived at by Apple that "Classroom Computers = Remarkable Results" and how Apple applies its marketing campaign to win educational customers.

In the light of Robertson's sentiments about the claims on technology, and with my apprehension about marketers, I am enticed to go there to listen, and maybe see what 'e-volution' in learning Apple is claiming to bring us. I know, imaginatively, Apple is targeting the education sector through this campaign because it is a rich and wide market. I also, know some of us will fall for the marketing campaign without knowing whether whatever we buy, will be more useful in the next trash bin or will indeed 'extend the learning experience beyond the walls of the lecture hall."

See: Robertson, H. 2003. Towards a Theory of Negativity, Teacher Education and Information and Communication Technology, Journal of Teacher Education, 54(4): 280-296


A blog, short for web log is a personal journal or diary (that is frequently updated and published) intended for the general public. Blogs are usually hosted on a Web site to represent personal reflections, experiences, ideals, reactions etc regarding a topic or a series of random topics. Words that are closely associated with it are blogging (verb), blogger(noun), and edublog.

Edublog is a blog that is intended for educational purposes e.g in a Learning Management System. Though, in its infacy, edublogging presents a flexible way to learners' expression of ideas, conversations, dialogues, regarding not only their encounters in the classroom, but also things outside their classrooms that enhance or hinder learning. Developing a blogging culture, in my opinion not develops the learners' creativity but their writing skills and to some extents desire to learn further so that one can write credible journals.

To the educator, it may be a way to present him or her with an opportunity to understand the learners' passions and talents. This would allow him nurture or tap the talents to the benefits of the learners and the whole learning process.

Edublogs are not without challenges. There are the questions of getting the learners motivated to write and share their journals. To the educator, the challenges of showing the learners' how the edublogs can be used for learning purposes - given that a good number of educators do not have an idea of what blogging is.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Question of Access....Again

Today I encountered a new faculty member who wanted to start learning about, and using eLearning. Having contacted me last week to schedule a consultative session, I went in high spirits, ready to show all that I believe about eLearning and what it will provide to her teaching experience.
Part of my mission (as usual), is to go through some of the (perceived) benefits of eLearning, and then exploring what the options are given the specific requirements of the customer. All went well, until the time came for demonstrating what the customer could do with technology. I discover the technology that I am bragging about is a mile or two ahead of what my potential customer is using. Worse, an indication that the hardware need to be upgraded is met with a stun NO with question - What will my students use to access this technology if I am still behind?

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Is it PR, irony or doublespeak?

I wrote a while back two articles related to the patent application by blackboard (From blackboard to whiteboard and Life after blackboard). This week, Blackboard is in the press again for two reasons. 1) the patent office is re-examining its patents and 2) Blackboard announces Patent Pledge in support of Open Source Software and Home-grown Content Management Systems.
It ironical that they had to issue this pledge when they have a case pending in court and when their patent is to be re-examined - although they claim they have a high chance of success.
Isn't it doublespeak their claim that the
Pledge commits Blackboard not to assert U.S. Patent No. 6,988,138 and many other pending patent applications against the development, use or distribution of open source software or home-grown course management systems anywhere in the world, to the extent that such systems are not bundled with proprietary software..
without naming the 'many other pending applications'? What of the contradictory statements:
the Pledge, Blackboard promises never to pursue patent actions against anyone using such systems including professors contributing to open source projects, open source initiatives, commercially developed open source add-on applications to proprietary products and vendors hosting and supporting open source applications.
Q. How can you have "commercially developed open source add-on applications to proprietary products" that is "not bundled with proprietary software"?

All in all, I agree with them that this is "unprecedented for a product company such as Blackboard" to conceal and misrepresent facts to appear to be friendly or in support of the general public good.