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What Is on the Horizon in Higher Education

horizonThe annual EDUCAUSE Horizon Report for Higher Education is always interesting to read. The report for 2019 is online now. It is 44 pages, so it would be a full lunchtime read, but as a cheater's guide or preview I offer the two parts that I always look at first.  

One is the section on "Key Trends Accelerating Higher Education Technology Adoption."  If you look back at past reports you will see that some trends come back for several years. That is partly intentional as the report predicts ones that should be considered "Short-Term" meaning in the next one or two years, as well as ones for 3-5 years and long-term trends that are probably 5+ years away.

Of course, there are also trends and tech developments that are almost perennial. We always seem to be rethinking online learning, learning spaces and assessment. And some tech, such as blockchain and rethinking degrees, have been "on the horizon" for a chunk of years and still don't seem to be really making a big difference.

In the short-term, the report lists "Redesigning Learning Spaces" and "Blended Learning Designs."

For Mid-Term Adoption in the next 3-5 years, they list "Advancing Cultures of Innovation" and a "Growing Focus on Measuring Learning." I think the latter should be moved up as a perennial topic.

In the 5+ years category is the rather broad "Rethinking How Institutions Work" and the returning "Modularized and Disaggregated Degrees."

The other section I always jump to is called "Important Developments in Technology for Higher Education." Again, there are predicted "Time-to-Adoption Horizons" given for each. 

The report also considers the challenges in adopting any of these technologies or trends. For example, one that I have been challenged by since I started in higher education tech in 2000 is what they term "The Evolving Roles of Faculty with Ed Tech Strategies."

The report says about that (and I generally agree) that:

"At institutions of any type or size, involving faculty in the selection and implementation of educational technologies can be difficult. Whether an institution is implementing a new courseware platform for the purpose of personalizing learning or building a completely new program by applying a pedagogical approach such as competency-based learning, such efforts face a range of challenges. Identifying learning outcomes and engagement strategies before identifying educational technology solutions creates an advantage by establishing faculty buy-in at the earliest stages of a strategic initiative.

The role of full-time faculty and adjuncts alike includes being key stakeholders in the adoption and scaling of digital solutions; as such, faculty need to be included in the evaluation, planning, and implementation of any teaching and learning initiative. Institutions that address the needs of all faculty through flexible strategic planning and multimodal faculty support are better situated to overcome the barriers to adoption that can impede scale.

...in order for faculty to fully engage in educational technology, training and professional development should be provided to facilitate incorporation of technology... adjunct faculty also need to be considered in professional development...workshops that include both faculty and students could enable learning for both groups of stakeholders."

But I do always bristle when the business of education overrides pedagogy, such as the statement that "frameworks for tech implementation and prioritizing tech that offers high ROI should be a guiding principle for institutional tech adoption for faculty use."

The Web and the Internet

networkWe don't hear the term "World Wide Web" (WWW or www) or the shortened "Web" used to mean the Internet (contraction of interconnected network) as a whole much any more. We do hear a lot about websites, web content and other usages of the term.

For a time - and maybe still today - people have seen the Internet and the World Wide Web as the same thing. They are definitely closely linked, but are different systems.

The Internet is the enormous network of computers that are all connected together, and the Web is a collection of webpages found on this network. Web resources are identified by a Uniform Resource Locators (URL), such as https://www.serendipity35.net.

The first and oldest (1985) registered .com domain name on the Internet is http://symbolics.com - now home to the Big Internet Museum. In 1985, there were 6 registered domains on the web; by 1992, there were about 15,000. After that, the web boomed and by 2010, there were 84 million separate domains. Today, it is more than 330 million.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 and wrote the first web browser in 1990 while employed at CERN. The first web browser, called WorldWideWeb, was invented in 1990 by Berners-Lee who then recruited Nicola Pellow to write the Line Mode Browser, which displayed web pages on dumb terminals. That browser was released outside CERN in 1991 to other research institutions. 

1993 saw the release of Mosaic, credited as "the world's first popular browser" with its innovation of a graphical interface. Browsers certainly made the Internet boom of the 1990s happen. Marc Andreessen was the leader of the Mosaic team, but started his own company, Netscape, which released the Netscape Navigator browser in 1994 which then overtook Mosaic (which it was based one) as the most popular browser.

The World Wide Web is the way almost all of us interact on the Internet, though it is possible to access and use the web without a browser and that is how it is used by many research institutions.

I have assigned students as a research topic the forerunners of the Internet and the Web. Berners-Lee is the start of the Web, but we can find people and concepts that precede it.

Considering the concept of the web, one person you will find goes back to 1934. Belgian lawyer and librarian Paul Otlet came to the idea that the physical wires and radio waves that were then the high tech that was connecting the world could be used for more than just entertainment.

His concept was of a “mechanical, collective brain.” My students who chose Otlet saw connections from his work to today's work on web infrastructures such as the semantic Web and browsers. Some consider Otlet to be the father of information science .

 

Circular Economies

circular
A circular economy model is a new idea to me. Look for books about circular economies (CE) and you will find enough to keep you busy reading for quite a while. 

One aspect of a CE is that it is an economy that does not mine new materials or manufacture products that end up in landfills. This is very "green" thinking. Can we use resources in closed loops? Might this be the fourth industrial revolution?

Designing For a Circular Economy is a book that describes an economy that will reuse through repair, reconditioning and refurbishment. At first this would seem to be a terrible model for a business. Since the middle of the 20th century we have talked about things like "planned obsolescence" and the disposable nature of our products. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, if your television set broke you had it repaired. As a boy, I watched my father test the tubes in our TV set and proudly replace the one that was causing problems. When was the last time you repaired a television? Many people would not even know where to go to get a television repaired.If it is out of warranty, you will probably dispose of it and buy a new one. And disposing of it may be a problem. Your town may not accept it as "trash" and you will need to bring it to a special place or can only dispose of it on certain days or at certain times of the year. 

But a circular economy does offer business opportunities, and most companies say they plan to transition to a circular economy model.

Developing products and services and achieving competitive advantage will mean rethinking existing business models for design processes, marketing, pricing and supply.

This is certainly a disruptive innovation, and one that will create social change and require new consumer attitudes.

Is this all about recycling and upcycling?  The Upcycle is the follow-up book to Cradle to Cradle, and they certainly draw upon green lessons learned in reusing and recycling resources. But CE goes beyond those activities.

In another book, Waste to Wealth, the argument is made that "green" and "growth" can coexist. Business models that provide circular growth are deploying sustainable resources and working with the sharing economy.

Circular economies are also about reducing waste, making sure that products are recycled, having products and materials staying in use longer. That means less resource extraction, less risk in supply chains, and reducing climate pollution. 

Reading all this I wondered if this had anything to do with education. Certainly, educational institutions will need to educate about circular economies, but can they treat their own institutions as circular economies in many of the same ways as other businesses? They can definitely reexamine their own supply chain, buildings and equipment purchasing and use.

But how else might learning work into a circular economy? Since we will need to change the way we create products, services, and systems, schools would need to change how they teach those processes.

There are organizations, such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, that are already looking at how we might create a new kind of expertise. It will require co-operation between silos, and a general change in attitudes and operating methods.

Education is not always open to change. But education still plays an important role in developing experts.  

I found this Circular Classroom: a Free Toolkit for Activating the Circular Economy through Experiential Learning. The Circular Classroom is a free, multilingual educational resource for students and teachers alike, designed to integrate circular thinking into high school and upper secondary classrooms in Finland. Finland is often considered to have one of the world’s best education system. It is quite different from other educational systems: no-homework, student-centric, interdisciplinary, with a life-skills teaching approach that is committed to experiential and phenomena-based learning. (You can find out more about Finland's schools: readings 1  2 3)

If not a circular economy, then what? We stay in the "Linear Economy" which is the take-make-use-dispose model of consumption that we arrived at with the Industrial Revolution. Many people believe that kind of global economy is no longer sustainable. A radical new model, the circular economy, with design thinking and education for sustainability may be a topic for academic papers today, but I believe it will be put into practice sooner than may of you reading this would predict.

 

 

Setting a Course in Rhizomatic Learning

A literal rhizome appears on plants. It is not a root, but more like a stem that sends out shoots and roots from its nodes. "Nodes" may make readers of this blog think of a network and that is one reason why the word was used to describe a kind of learning. As a gardener, I think of the plants (especially weeds and invasive species) that spread with vast networks of roots and will even shoot up new plants at a distance from the original.

grass rhizome

This method of spreading appealed to two French philosophers, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in writing their book, A Thousand Plateaus. Rhizomatic learning is actually a variety of pedagogical practices that has more recently been identified as methodology for net-enabled education.

This theory of learning is not like the goal-directed and hierarchical approaches that has been the traditional approaches in classrooms. In the rhizomatic approach, learning is most effective when it allows participants to react to evolving circumstances. That means the task or goal is fluid and continually evolving.

That is a structure where the "community is the curriculum" and it turns teaching, learning and instructional design. Most educators and students are primed for pre-existing objectives. There is comfort in knowing where we are headed and then knowing that we have arrived there.

Dave Cormier's introduction/preface/prologue for an upcoming edited book on rhizomatic learning is online as a long post. Cormier avoids a hard definition as he finds that when we define "particularly in writing, we necessarily exclude some of the nuance of the meaning. We leave out the chance that the definition can get better. We leave out another’s perspective." But people want definitions.

via GIPHY

It is no surprise that that Dave Cormier first came to worldwide educational attention as one of the early users and pioneering formulators of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Those original MOOCs were often rhizomatic in structure in that the learning path, the goals and objectives of learners, and so the course it self, was not written in a stone syllabus.

Cormier found in his teaching that using new technologies his students' work "became more diverse and more individualized, and, at the same time, I had lost some control over the teaching process." That can either feel exciting or frightening to a teacher.

And yet, like most of us, Cormier's research reading indicated that "students were ‘most successful’ when they had a clear expectation of what success could look like." Having clear goals for each learning event did not match up with what he was seeing in his teaching.

Curriculum that is textbook-driven (as far too much of our courses are "designed") support a highly structured, linear approach to learning. Add to that structure assignments that come from the content and answers to those assignments that are clearly stated (perhaps in the Teacher’s Copy) and you have a very un-rhizomatic growth pattern. This is growth restricted by borders, walls, planters and possibly even prevented from moving outside the structure by educational "chemicals" designed to kill off stray rhizomes, roots and shoots.

It seems that what gave rise to the current rhizomatic learning growth spurt was the Internet. Cormier's piece goes back much further.

First, he looks to Marcus Tullius Cicero and Gaius Julius Caesar. Then he jumps to the year 1270 and the University of Toulouse, and then to Switzerland in 1800. On that last stop in his history, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi decides that in order to teach the entire country to read (this is before a public school programs and before teacher education programs) he needs standardization. His method is the textbook. It is a way to make 10000 identical copies of content that all will use.

Pestalozzi was using the new technology of his time - the printing press. It allowed him to scale the learning process to more people. But his efforts and ones to follow not only sought to standardize the content, but also the process and the path to learning.

Cormier argues that following that path may have led us to believe that simply following the path means that learning is occurring. He also believes now that under the technology, rhizomatic learning was always happening. As a simple example, he points at the citations in an academic article that thread back rhizomatically to sources.

The Wikipedia entry of rhizomatic learning notes that educational researcher Terry Anderson has criticized the way in which advocates of rhizomatic learning seem to attack the idea of formal education as a whole. And one of Cormier's fellow MOOC pioneers, George Siemens, has questioned the usefulness of the rhizomatic metaphor: "I don’t see rhizomes as possessing a similar capacity (to networks) to generate insight into learning, innovation, and complexity... Rhizomes then, are effective for describing the structure and form of knowledge and learning...[h]owever, beyond the value of describing the form of curriculum as decentralized, adaptive, and organic, I’m unsure what rhizomes contribute to knowledge and learning."

If this approach to learning is truly rhizomatic, it should be difficult to stop from spreading.