Sunday, January 20, 2008

Week II: Immersion

OK - this is way too fast...I have to read quicker or slow down the clock. Right, then - faster reading it is! :-o

Log: This second week was intended to give me some space to re-immerse myself in the contemporary literature affecting this project - both in terms of ePortfolio and the environment into which I am bringing this research. As usual I got a little sidelined, but also got some support (and some potential opposition) from unexpected directions.

The first two articles I wanted to re-visit were NSCC's Strategic Plan and the original vision document for Portfolio College written by (NSCC's previous president) Ray Ivany, (NSCC's former Director for Portfolio College) Dave White, and (PLA Centre Director) Douglas Myers. I also began to read several articles from vendors and presenters at the Pan-American ePortfolio conferences hosted by Kathryn Chang-Barker's Learning Innovations Forum (LIfIA). I had made a number of important observations (see whistle stops below), before I got de-railed (big surprise) by two events that have me thinking about how I can use my skills as an IT Consultant and as an Educator to best frame my work and its output for the benefit of the college.

The first was a meeting in which I was reminded there are those with a change-resistant mindset that may oppose any new technological solution in our learning environment - whether because of change fatigue, philosophical conflict, institutional inertia, or simply a Luddite view of technology. [At the 2005 LIfIA conference, a presenter started his presentation saying that he asked a colleague how many college professors it would take to change a lightbulb. His colleague's only response was "ch-ch-change?" I thought it was funny at the time.]

The second "disruption" came when I proposed a question about technophobia to a Google group I am part of which has an interest in Educational Technology, particularly Second Life as an Educational resource. I was kindly encouraged to consider the reason for such institutional conflict - often resulting from fear and/or anger - and the need to identify its sources. Of course that sent me off to revisit Neil Postman (Technopoly, Amusing Ourselves to Death), who (as a Master's candidate) I had ridiculed as a mad Luddite - an evaluation that Postman would have endorsed heartily.

In Deus Machina, Postman identifies an important argument common to many who oppose the "intrusion of technology" into a perfectly healthy traditional system of instruction:

"What all of this means for education is fairly obvious (at least to me). The most important point is that our devotion to technology blinds us to the issue of what education is for. In America, we improve the education of our youth by improving what are called "learning technologies... To the question, "Why should we do this?" the answer is: "To make learning more efficient and more interesting." Such an answer is considered entirely adequate, since, to the technological fundamentalists, efficiency and interest need no justification. It is, therefore, usually not noticed that this answer does not address the question, "What is learning for?" "

I disagree with Postman on some of this - in particular because I think educational efficiency can lead to opportunities for learning effectiveness, and that student engagement is more important than ever because of the very conditions he eschews in Amusing Ourselves to Death - the mind numbing of our youth through television and other controlled media. However, he makes a good point that reminds me that to overcome technophobia, I will need to show that the challenge of technological change addresses other, more sensitive, "pain points" that result in a relatively valuable return on investment.

This is not to presume that NSCC will resist advances in educational technology for fear of corruption of educational mission; it may well be that resistance at NSCC will be the result of a resource management conflict, or maybe driven by the practice of full and substantial consultation on educational initiatives. I did hear of an argument that proposes that full engagement in such a technology could further marginalize those who are uncomfortable with information technology. That doesn't resonate with me: in part because this seems to suggest that the way to bridge the digital divide is to not engage in digital technology (which might suggest that the way to bridge the knowledge divide is to not engage in education); and second, because the knowledge economy counts on us promoting the new literacies, including computer usage and lifelong learning - ePortfolio proposes a system that may allow us to promote both in a much more engaging way than the discrete "Introduction to Computers" approach that has been favored by myopic program designers over the past few years.

Whistle Stops: I have made some progress identifying a number of key informants, both internally and externally. On the Educational Technology side, the internal contacts I hope to reach include Mike Kidney and Carolyn Campbell at NSCC Online Learning, and Ian MacLeod and Dave Jellicoe (Academic Chair and instructor at NSCC) while external contacts will include Remcoe Ploeg (Winvision), Simon Gheoghan (Microsoft), and Stephen Downes (NRC). Internal references for Portfolio as an Educational Pedagogy may include Dave White, Ray Ivany, Doug Myers (noted above), and my colleague, mentor and friend Mark Cameron (an instructor in Human Services who has employed unique approaches to portfolio learning).

In researching implementation approaches I hope to begin with internal discussions with Doug Langille and Wilson Verge at NSCC Tech Services, and with Colin MacLean (VP, People and Planning), as well as external experts in those institutions that have implemented ePortfolio and learning-centred systems, including Dr. Renate Krakauer at the Michener Institute and Darren Cambridge at George Mason University. To connect to the alignment debate I am hoping to interview NSCC's current president Joan McArthur-Blair, Bruce Tawse (my boss and author of the NSCC Academic Plan), Associate VP Academic Mike Hill and the college's Registrar, Patrick Donahoe while Jim Angel from Sir Sandford Fleming College (who conducted some earlier research on NSCC and portfolio) may be among those who can provide a valuable external focus.

As for ePortfolio, there are not many internal resources I can identify, but Sue Boutilier at NSCC Online Learning has some useful experience as may Rita Stevens who is on the Educational Technologies Committee. The list of external resources I have available is substantial and too long to list here, but likely will include Kathryn Chang-Barker, Helen Barrett, Phil Abrami (Concordia), and Darren Cambridge.

Reflection: I have given a great deal of thought to how I will format this work and I have come to realize that while the categorization of research topics are probably useful for schematic purposes, my search for answers may need to look between the lines to find the relationship between ePortfolio and national calibre standards, the scholarship of teaching and learning, constructivism and discovery learning, the new literacies, and engagement with the digital native. I have centred on a new aspect that I think encompasses efficiency and engagement, but also addresses a much broader thematic sphere: agility - which I relate to the ability of an educational institution to meet its own challenges in spite of resource scarcity and academic inertia. More on that in a later post.

Next week will be even more focused on secondary research (including O'Banion, Krakauer and Bloom) and source identification and hopefully the start of the internal interviews...assuming I don't go off the rails again. ;-) The site will be up this week - waiting on graphics. Oh hey! How many Luddites does it take to change a light bulb? Think about it! Answers in the next post.

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