Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

31 January 2008

K-12 education and technology

Clark @ 8:37 AM

On Monday, my day started with a meeting with our local school principal. No, my kids weren’t in trouble, nor was I, but instead I’d been offering to assist in improving the use of technology in the classroom, and the new principal finally got the message. So, I’m helping out.

The funding situation is dire; everything but No Child Left Untested, and legal requirements for special education is pretty much optional and dependent on parent support. However, there are grants available, and there’s an opportunity in our local community, so I’ve been giving advice.

It’s hampered, of course, by the state standards. They’re at the level of ‘use MS Word to do X’. Which is just wrong. There’s nothing wrong with using Word, but the standard should be focusing on the goal: ‘communicate Y using a word processing program capable of X’ or somesuch. And it shouldn’t be an independent goal, but a layer on top of curriculum goals ‘Outline and then finalize an article about the local Indians using a word processing program such as MS Word’. Hey, I’m thinking it might be Google Docs or Pages!

It gets back to your curriculum goals, and I’ve already argued those should be about using tools to accomplish goals like communicate, collaborate, evaluate, etc. So, together we’re considering using the grant (which has to buy technology) to run workshops that help the teachers rewrite lesson plans to use technology as a tool (and we’ll buy some projectors so the output can be viewed).

Of course, the workshops will have to require the teachers to create files and presentations, since some of them aren’t tech-savvy. And others of the teachers believe teaching to use the tools, e.g training on PowerPoint, is the answer. However, research tells us that if we teach the tools as ends in themselves, they won’t be used as tools to accomplish goals. I suggested that we even not teach the tools, but just give the goals and have reference cards around. Sometimes I think we don’t give kids enough credit!

Of course this is all further hampered by a limited tech environment. Students can manipulate other’s files, and even misplace their own, instead of saving into a safe place. A major district level effort was to get the teachers to all put their name, phone number, and email address on their school web page.  I said that that information should be auto-populated from a data base. Of course, silly me, the district system isn’t that sophisticated.

Our kids are getting tech savvy, despite the school system, but it’s got great variation, naturally correlated with the tech savvy and financial resources of the parents, which suggests an ongoing digital divide. There’s a long road ahead of us to address the curriculum goal we really need to implement, and use the technology to support these goals. So, I’ll start on one little part, and see what can be done.

26 January 2008

Virtual World Learning

Clark @ 3:14 PM

Yesterday I had the privilege of an in-world meeting with my colleague Claudia L’Amoreaux, who’s now a major part of Linden Lab‘s education efforts with Second Life. Second Life, if you’ve been in a cave the past few years, is the first major successful virtual world. It’s a massively multi-player online environment, but it’s not a role-playing game, as there are no quests or NPC (non-player characters). In 2nd Life, you can build things, earn ‘money’ (Linden dollars; which have a cash exchange value for US$), and of course socialize. Many companies have set up places or islands in 2nd Life, and are holding learning events or creating learning places.

It was very gracious of her to give me time in her busy schedule, and I’m grateful because she refined and extended my understanding. I’ve talked before about virtual world learning affordances, so I let me focus on the new understandings.

First, I have to say that she didn’t change my fundamental take on the affordances. It is very much about spatial opportunity, both in place and in 3D representations. These are not trivial at all, but instead may have unique appeal for special needs rather than being general purpose. When those are the need, however, the virtual world is very compelling.

A second issue is one that I undervalued, and that’s the ability to represent yourself how you’d like to be seen, in more ways than one. The overhead is somewhat high, but I think I didn’t really ‘get’ how important this can be, as Tony O’Driscoll has let us know. There was another facet of this, however, which I truly missed, and that’s the ability to create a place to meet (if you own land, or you can presumably choose a meeting place that represents the ‘atmosphere’ you want to convey).

What Claudia helped me see is that the ability to create a look and environment serves as a powerful channel to communicate much information. She teleported me to a location she’s created to hold meetings with people and it’s a beautiful, comfortable place, very relaxing. She showed me Pathfinder Linden‘s in-world place which is very different, full of cool toys.

She emphasized the informal learning potential in such spaces, which can be building things to share if you’re appropriately skilled, or taking people to places with appropriate things. In formal learning, it’s more about, as said above, spatial and immersive experience. She mentioned learners making a ‘film’ of a book about a child soldier, and it did occur to me that if you have internet access, you could create a set and have actors and record it with much less overhead than a live movie. So there are some barrier-reductions involved in this world too.

So, all in all, I have to say I’ve underestimated virtual worlds. By the same token, I still think they’ve been over-hyped. Claudia’s lasting message, however, is intriguing. She said that when the world wide web was established, no one truly imagined how it would grow. Claudia sees virtual worlds as a similarly new platform with as yet unexplored potential, where we’re still repeating old activities with the new technology. Which we know is historic precedent, and gives us reason to pause in judgment.. As she said, no one she knows who’s really gotten into it has subsequently ‘got out’.

At the DevLearn conference, Paul Saffo pointed out that our technology expectations are linear, but the capabilities grow in a non-linear manner. Consequently, we’re liable to find that such innovations underperform our expectations initially, and outperform as they reach critical mass. And I know that my old boss/mentor/colleague Joe Miller and the folks within Second Life are continually driving new innovations, so we can probably expect things to get simpler, more powerful, or both. So there’re unexplored opportunities. I’ll stick with my (modified) position now, but eagerly await new understandings.

24 January 2008

2008 Predictions

Clark @ 10:31 AM

eLearn, the online elearning magazine, has released it’s list of various folks predictions for 2008 (including yours truly). It’s a pretty stellar cast (self excluded) and there’re some really interesting thoughts, ranging from the visionary to the quite specific, and cynical to optimistic. Tony Karrer’s left a link to the Learning Circuit’s blog where the Big Question for January was also predictions, and also included is a link to Stephen Downes’ evaluations of last years predictions. Which is a daunting thought to face in writing one’s own, but what the heck, you have to take some chances!

Of course, I played it safe, with some easy guesses :). What do you think will be happening this year?

22 January 2008

Meta-learning and the future

Clark @ 11:41 AM

Sky’s blog post on meta-learning is sparked by Jessica Margolin’s post on helicopter parenting. Now we’re talking! I’m probably a bit guilty, frankly, of hovering, but I do also try and point out the meta-lessons on process, and model what I’m doing.

But Sky pulls out the important bit, that the skills going forward aren’t the skills that schools are focused on. It’ll be about process, about creativity. As Einstein said: “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

I’d suggest that we do face some quite serious problems, for instance there was an interesting debate on a discussion list I belong to, sparked by an animated editorial on our current state. One side was saying we needed to slow down and evaluate our values. The other side said that we weren’t giving enough credit to our ability to innovate. Where do you come down on this?

I’ve suggested the type of curriculum I think we need. Of course, if we follow Einstein’s dictum, once we make that step, we’ll create new problems, and then we’ll need the step after. Not that I know what that step is…

21 January 2008

ILS report update (please)!

Clark @ 3:18 PM

The eLearning Guild’s report on Immersive Learning Simulations (disclaimer: I wrote one of the articles) had not only the written component, but data put in by over a 1000 organizational elearning folks, and available as an option. In their ongoing efforts to track the market, they’re looking for people to update their responses (and we’ve added a few new questions).

I want to encourage this, as if you become an associate member (free), and fill out the survey, you get a free copy of the report, with not only my contribution on design, but Mark Oehlert’s on implementation, Clark Aldrich on the business case, Jeff Johannigman on game design, Angela Van Barneveld’s glossary and resources, interviews and more. Free! Plus points you can redeem for stuff.

Here’s what you should do:

  • Go to www.eLearningGuild.com <http://www.eLearningGuild.com>
  • Make sure you are logged in
  • Click on “Update My Profile” from your MY ACCOUNT menu
  • Select the survey called “Simulations, Games, and Immersion Learning” from the menu on the left, complete the survey, and SUBMIT it.

If you’re not a member, you can just join as an associate (free).  Note: They also want more people to complete the Simulation Tools survey they didn’t get quite enough responses to prepare a comprehensive analysis in the Authoring and Development Tools report. Again, fill out the survey, get a free copy of the report. I expect there’ll be a similar update to mobile later in the year.

Admittedly, the data access is extra cost, but if you want benchmarking or product reviews, it’s likely to be the best most unbiased data available! I get nothing for you doing this, BTW, I’m just aware of how hard they’re working to really do this right, and think it’s worth promoting on it’s own merits.

17 January 2008

MacWorld Expo report…

Clark @ 6:23 PM

For those of you who didn’t make the trek yourself (and why would you, unless you’re a fanatic Mac user or live in the Bay Area), here’re some brief thoughts on the MacWorld Expo this year. You can mostly ignore if you don’t care about Macs, but I have to say that more people are considering or making the switch!

First, the MacBook Air is unbelievable. It’s just SO thin! It’s hard to believe it’s a full computer. The way it uses wireless to remove the need for backup and accessing CD/DVD is very well thought out. You’ll have to have another Mac (or a PC) to do media stuff, perhaps, but that’s more peripheral. And I’ve gotta love the tag line: Thinnovation (sounds so familiar :).

Microsoft’s Office 2008 for the Mac is available, and is finally reasonably priced (Home/Student Edition; I don’t need Exchange capabilities). I just bought iWork, but Pages doesn’t have outlining, plus I’ll want to read the new Office XML formats, so I snapped it up. Apparently it’ll support 3 licenses, so it covers the whole house, too. I may not trust the OS, but the apps can be a requirement. (NB: iWork covers 5 licenses, so it’s around the house too).

I also bought Parallels, the virtualization software that lets Intel-powered Macs run Windows (supposedly runs XP better than VMWare’s Fusion, the main competitor, and I’m SO not going to Vista). It supposedly lets me use the license for XP from my old copy of Virtual PC (an emulator, that was unusably slow). I don’t intend to run Office, but I sometimes need Internet Explorer with Active X for various client stuff (as I was doing last week, with some over-the-top security plan). We’ll see how it goes!

The floor was covered with neat covers for iPhones, iPods, and even your laptops, accessories like input devices (keyboards), stands and furniture, etc. Also, of course, software. There’re usually expo-only deals, so I ended up saving more than the cost of the Bart ticket and lunch by coming down (but not by much, since I didn’t buy much, the only other thing was a keyboard cover for my laptop).

Apple made other announcements besides the MacBook Air, including a hard drive-equipped wireless router to automatically handle backups for the whole network, some iPhone/iPod Touch software updates, and iTunes movie rentals. Much as I like the Air, I think that the latter is the really interesting move, business-wise. The 24 hour limit on watching time after starting will be an initial deal-breaker (we often take 2 nights to finish a movie), but other than that there’s a real potential switch here in terms of the relationship between consumer, distributor, and producer.

I’m trying to recall what else I saw that’s of interest for elearning and more. There’re some Mac training companies, but that’s not really what I mean. I guess the one thing, besides cool software like Graphic Converter and OmniGraffle, was the fact that The Brain is now Mac compatible. The Brain is a tool that lets you link concepts together in ways that reflect their conceptual relationships. Jerry Michalski has publicly been creating his brain for years now, as a great demonstration (and a personal tool). It can currently be used to collaborate via a server version that uses the web (though potentially P2P soon, apparently), and it’s the type of knowledge sharing and collaboration tools I think we need to advance organizational innovation.

All in all, a fun way to spend the day (I also got to spend some time walking the floor with mentor/colleague/friend Jim Sky). I’ll have to let you know if more reflections emerge, but as I say when I talk about mobile learning, we really have magic these days (c.f. Arthur C. Clarke’s “any truly advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”). Our limitations are between our ears, now, no longer the technology.

16 January 2008

Performance Ecosystem Collaboration

Clark @ 11:19 AM

A while ago, I created a diagram that captures my notion of the performance ecosystem. At the DevLearn conference last November, I held a session where we collaboratively populated the system. A number complained that just putting text on the ‘map’ didn’t help capture the range, and I had to agree. They wanted to use ellipses or some other way to capture the range of the tools, and there were some differences of opinion.

It occurred to me then that I’d seen a collaborative diagramming tool that we could use to do this online, and promised to arrange it. However, I couldn’t remember the tool, and then I couldn’t for the life of me find it when I got home.

Well, I just found it: Gliffy, a reasonably powerful online diagramming tool, and I’ve opened an account and created the graph again:

However, you don’t have to take my approach, you can go in and edit it, too! Just let me know what your email is, and a little bit about you (I need *some* sort of filter…:), and I’ll add you to the collaborators. This is an experiment, so let’s see how it goes!

15 January 2008

Blog stats 2007

Clark @ 6:16 PM

Tony Karrer’s called me (and others) out about our blog stats for 2007. Hey, I’m always up for an experiment, even at my own risk…:) I didn’t have my site registered with Google until April, I guess, so you’ll see an initial gap (and, presumably, somewhat reduced overall statistics):


I couldn’t get it to appear the same as Tony’s (don’t know why I can’t get my Site Usage to appear as a single column, grumble, mumble). I wonder what FeedBlitz as a email version does to the stats? I read blogs in email, and make it easy to do so with mine as well. Probably counts as a search engine!

You’ll see I don’t compare to his usage, despite the lack of inclusion of 1/4 of my data; I’m jealous of his overall growing trend. Hopefully better this year!

11 January 2008

My Top Ten (Mobile) Learning Tools

Clark @ 10:12 AM

Jane Hart runs a great list of Top Learning Tools compiled from top learning professionals, and is updating the list for 2008. She includes performance support as part of her requirements. I had a list last year, but fortunately this year she’s given more structure and I like my new list better. Rather than repeat it, you can find both here.

However, I struggled to figure out how to put my mobile tools in (I cheated and lumped them under PalmOS), so I decided to do that here. Note that I’m still on my old Treo (I won’t go on yet again about how the iPhone isn’t yet ready for primetime :), and hope to switch this year to a new/faster one, or an iPhone, or an Android phone, or… Palm OS, while creaky (a new OS is in the works, but won’t appear ’til ’09), has heaps of apps that let you do most anything. So here’re the ones I find that I use a lot to make me more productive or to learn:

  1. The basic PIM functions: ToDo, Contacts, Calendar, Memos (since it’s my list, I can cheat and cram several under one item :). Makes me way more productive (if I make a promise and it doesn’t get in here, we never had the conversation)
  2. VersaMail: the included email application. It’s not great, but it’s good enough to preclude me spending my money on another one. I’ve got to be in touch. I probably use my phone more for email than to talk! (I’m not a great phone person)
  3. Opera Mini: the built-in browser, Blazer, pales compared to Opera, though Opera’s not as well integrated. Being able to search the web while in conversations or meetings is really useful!
  4. SplashPhoto: I put not only pictures of my family, but also my diagrams, and a portfolio of applications I’ve developed. I can talk about applications, but also talk to the diagrams in problem-solving
  5. SplashID: I need all those passwords, card numbers, logins, etc, with me when I’m on the road (rather than carry the cards or attempt to memorize them), but after almost losing my phone I realized that they’ve got to be secure
  6. Missing Sync: the better synching solution that keeps my desktop and mobile in line, and keeps me together
  7. Google Maps: I use this all the time for directions and to find nearby locations I want to visit
  8. Adobe Reader: I can bring documents along to read or for reference
  9. Documents to Go: I can bring Powerpoints along to practice my talks
  10. Clicker: this application turns my phone into a bluetooth presentation controller, so I can stroll around the room and not have to be tethered to my laptop

I’m not mentioning more personal things like the Bart schedule application that I use to know when to go catch a train. I’ve also just downloaded a Flight Status application that will let me check on flights, so it’s too early to say, but it seems like a potential win. So, what do you use to make yourself a better learner or more productive?

9 January 2008

Interactive Information Design

Clark @ 8:02 AM

I was reading my usual news, and saw an announcement for a new widget for my laptop. This one happens to be a tool for Bart schedules (we’re near a Bart station, and it makes it handy to go into San Francisco or to the airport), so I wanted to check it out. There was a link to the author’s philosophy of software design (really, interface design), and I’ve just spent too much time reading it, but it’s worth it.

He makes a reasonably plausible distinction between manipulation software, communication software, and information software (including learning), and focuses on the latter. The article then goes on to say that navigation to find what you want is the key, and minimizing it is critical (“interactivity is harmful”). He argues that the interaction design field has erred too much on interaction, not on meeting needs (though I’d argue that’s implementation, not the theory).

I am a sucker for articles talking about good design, particularly ones that use examples to make the point clear (he redesigns Amazon and Southwest Airlines, among others, with subtle wit), and can articulate the underlying principles (e.g. context sensitivity, one I argue is underused in mobile, but he has more general principles).

Ok, it’s long, and it does go off into some unnecessary side tracks from a ‘take home’ perspective, but there are some real gems. One I like is his contention that in general, you should present the user with a default answer that’s close to what the user would expect, and then make it intuitive to ‘critique’/modify the representation to get what you want, using the representational formalisms that have been created for this application.

IF you are responsible for designing the end-user experience, be it instructional, informational, or mobile implementations, it’s probably worth at least looking at the examples, and better yet skimming through.

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