Thursday, November 22, 2007

some thoughts about prof. Stephen Heppell's VITTA keynote

One of the big themes of Stephen Heppell's keynote was how important local knowledge was. This was not contrasted with an opposing force, ie. there was no mention of any important non local knowledge, hard to discover core knowledge that ought to be part of everyones education.

Another theme was the importance of connection (web2.0-ism). Anything is possible provided you are connected and can communicate and collaborate through the internet pipe. The role of the leader pales into insignificance.

Another theme was the cutting edge power of web2.0 apps, that the "digital natives" now swim in this stream and we need to adapt or become irrelevant

Some thing is very wrong here:

1) an important international expert arrives from overseas to tell us that local knowledge is the most important thing
2) We sit in lecture mode hearing that the lecture is no longer important
3) the limitations of web2.0 apps are not mentioned. There was no context either historical (computer science) or historical, about all the knowledge discovered before computers were invented

I don't get this "big picture"

Apparently, the source of inspiration for the VITTA conference "revolution" theme was Michael Wesch's video "The Machine is Us/ing Us"

Michael Wesch's youtube video was a big hit, which suffered from the same deficiency as those who make a playword out of "revolution" -- that revolution will happen by itself as an inexorable progression of technology and Moore's law. This view, also promoted by Ray Kurzweil, has been disputed, notably by Rodney Brooks. I wrote a blog about this some time ago, "the machine is not yet us"

I'm tired of web2.0 hype, its far from new and because I'm not looking forward to the next education ICT conference that once again will have web2.0 as the main theme and present it as a "revolution"


Anonymous said...

I love points 1, 2 and 3 Bill, it is a wonder you could remain seated in the audience - we are all increasingly compromised by what we claim and what we do

... I am enjoying unpacking a short critique on Web2 between Trebor Scholz and Paul Hartzog: Toward a critique of the social web It sounds like it explored issues in a greater depth than the conference keynote managed

For example -exploring a possible breach of social contract -

The motivating carrot for the participation of networked publics is the “free” service that does, however, come with the hidden price tag of utilization. Users read posts on social networking sites. They tweak the design of their MySpace pages. They enter their status on Facebook (FB) (e.g., ΗO. is ummm…. not telling you what she is about to do….or ΗY. is feeling pink… or ΗE. is feeling oppressed by her hairbrush after coming back from a Patti Smith concert.). They respond to so-called FB wall posts, create and upload videos, update their profiles (complain that there is no option to be married to one’s job). Users groom their FB galleries, tell each other if their photos are hot or not. They poke each other or watch each other’s videos. They friend and unfriend and embed videos. Time can be spent installing one of the 400 applications on Facebook, or by just blogging on MySpace and chatting on [11] Skype.

All these activities create monetary value, which is sometimes based on involuntary participation. Interfaces put only few hindrances in the way of contribution. However, it’s a breach of the social contract if users don’t know that they are used. At other times, people are aware of the fact that they are utilized and can live with that. It’s a trade-off– corporations get rich while users enjoy the pleasure of creation and sociality, gain friendships, share their life experiences, archive their memories, get jobs, find dates and contribute to the greater good.

To sum up my response to the question, I’d point out that the means of production are available to networked publics; these tools and platforms are, however, owned by corporations.

Bill Kerr said...

Posting this from Donna Benjamin, who sent it as email after having difficulty posting as a comment. Some background: I did post one critical comment on the Vic IT teacher lists about the "revolution" theme of the conference and linked that to Rudd's "education revolution" rhetoric. I decided to post this follow up comment about Stephen Heppell on my blog - and not on the Vic IT lists. Why? Because I recognise that the organisers have worked very hard and I respect their work. But still I feel the need to speak out and I can use my blog for this, without seeming to become a carping critic, hopefully.

Hi Bill,

Thanks for your thoughts, and for provoking debate and reflection.

I wanted to point out that the VITTA conference theme was rethinking education: you say you want a revolution?'

The theme is questioning the idea of a revolution in education, not
necessarily advocating one. What kind of revolution are we talking
about? A bloody one? Or just a gentle turning of the wheel? What does revolution mean in this context anyway?

Whilst working with the designer who did our conference imagery this
year, we played around with the theme, and what it meant and pondered what it referred to.

Having been at the original meeting of the conference ctte that
determined the theme, I took it be a pretty broad exploration of the
idea of an education revolution. Who's asking the question? Are they
refuting the need for revolution? Are they daring the audience to put up or shut up?

So we chose circles - symbols of ongoing change to represent the theme
(those looking closely might pick up that the half and quarter circles also say vitta C07C07)

I think the VITTA conference had a huge range of topics - from sessions on databases, to action scripting, to blogging, to core curriculum for VCE and VELS... stuff for early primary years, and stuff for the TAFE sector.

I feel there is a shift in progress - something is changing, and
technology is now core to education, not peripheral.

The challenge, in my view, is how to resource everyone to make the most of what's available. How to resource those teachers yet to appreciate the power of the internet, at the same time as those who want to resource kids to build and create their own techno tools. There's a big gap there, and there's room for all of us.

VITTA07 conf coordinator.

Donna Benjamin
Conference Co-ordinator
2007 VITTA Conference and Expo
Rethinking Education: You say you want a revolution?
19-21 November, The Grandstand, Flemington Racecourse

Durff said...

I think it is clear that you do get it! I gave a presentation at acsi and one thing I stressed was I was not a sage on the stage, it made me uncomfortable(as it ought), & it was not useful to participants. So what did those poor souls do? Communicate, Connect, Collaborate of course. I see the obvious irony in this too and honestly 12 minutes is my max - what is the max for learners assigned to us for 78 min blocks? I tell the learners in my rooms-we are ALL learners here and I am not the teacher-now I have to get ready for yet another lonnngggg church service which is not how our Lord taught mind you. I will get to talk to old friends however so it will be worthwhile - but how long will this culture persist in hanging onto the inculcated industrial model? Time for a radical paradigm shift - not a revolution (that movie is good on many levels though)

Darius said...

Hi Bill,

I do believe there are some fundamental shifts in our society driven by technology and how we learn is strongly affected by these. This, at least, has happened several times in history.

There may be too much rhetoric and hand-waving. However, the test to which I like to put everything which I hear is this.... I replace the word "social web" or "web 2.0" or what ever technology is the topic with the word "codex" and see how the reasoning sounds. There was a big debate in academia when the codex and printing arrived whether this new era of paper-based learning was good or bad in the long run. What about all the learning that had gone on before paper? What about all the professional organizations that benefit from oral learning? They'll never change for paper learning. There no real feeling conveyed in paper. You lose the human touch of the voice's intonation.

These "paper" scholars never mention the limits of paper. It's burnable. It breeds bugs. It's hard to correct thousands of copies of an error (word of mouth is proven faster). It's costly. No one can really afford buying or printing the codex on a large scale. The rich who can afford the codex will control the direction of knowledge. Now transportation of knowledge is an additional cost. The most popular "little books" have nasty stories you don't want your youth to read and you can't hide a codex in you house forever, but you can keep a secret in your mind. There are even stories now about discovering a "secret" codex and changing the world. People will start printing rubbish and everyone will believe it, diluting true, time tested institutes of learning. Everyone will start reading and not need teachers themselves, etc.

If nothing else, it is a very fun mental exercise.

Bill Kerr said...

hi Darius,

I like your historical exercise very much. It's the sort of context that Stephen Heppell didn't provide for us.

I wrote about this earlier, see what did the printing press change ...

I do believe in some form of the digital revolution, which has not happened yet. Web2.0 is great for what it does but overhyped. I've yet to see the analysis which puts it into context but a number of critical thinkers are no working towards that, eg. see the link that artichoke provided.

Bill Kerr said...

I left this comment on Ewan McIntosh's blog:

"I read your Scottish history piece (part one). I think the title ('Why Scotland has been blogging for 5 million years') is a bit unfortunate - technology eats it children, we invent tools and then they shape our outlook, a blogger looks at history through web2.0 eyes, what does he see?

A comparative study with Australian history would reveal many similarities as well as some important differences. I question the notion that the local is more important than the global as some sort of general truth. The notion of "local hero" appeals as do stories and myths, it taps into the universals . But modern societies have much in common. We would be better served by viewing the local / global as a dynamic relationship and that often the global component is more important

If you wish to think about this more have a look at my summary of furedi's book in which some of the sources of the local dogma are explored in more depth"

Anonymous said...

I'm not trying to be facetious here Bill but what would your ideal "technology" conference look like? It's clear that aspects of the VITTA conference, including the keynote, weren't meeting your learning needs. Ignore my idea if you wish but it would be interesting just to hear from your POV what would be a satisfying line up of speakers for you, what topics or workshops would be offer or even if you'd want it packaged up in the traditional conference wrapping.

Could it be that your reaction to Stephen Heppell's message is related to the fact that it is geared towards people new to or much less familiar with the ideas behind using the web as a platform or innovative ways to leverage technology for learning? In other words, it's no surprise you found it disappointing if you weren't really the target audience. I'm probably as much of a sheep as anyone and I do use your blog as an important "node on my network" to expose me to the areas with which I am not strong (maths and science based computing ideas) - we probably don't have any sort of critical mass of teachers thinking and writing and reflecting on any ideas related back to pedagogy or "bigger picture" ideas - so the overseas expert imported to do a bit of evangelical inspiring is going to be around for a while yet.

Bill Kerr said...

hi graham,

I would have preferred a debate between a web2.0 position and a conflicting position. Any real discussion - something challenging - would have been preferable to Stephen's nice guy avuncular message. Surprise me! Some talks have an underlying tension, a coming together of disparate views or an unresolved tension at the end. Stephen's talk was far too smooth, no untidy loose ends, no internal struggle. If web2.0 was radical (it's no longer new) then wouldn't you expect this? So much of the web2.0 material is just bland goodness. It has become the new received wisdom. This sort of approach would have also been more congruent with the theme of the conference ("revolution).

Guy Boulet said...

Social networks have been around for million years. In fact, since mankind decided to live in society, humans are collaborating and are sharing expertise with each others. Prehistorical tribes were probably the first form of organized social networks where each member was putting its expertise and knowledge to the service of the community.

Web 2.0 did not invent collaboration, experts were sharing expertise way before technology appeared in the workplace. Despite official hierachies, informal network always existed: in any organization, there is always someone towards who people turn for advice, even if they are not in the same hierarchical structure. Web 2.0 is simply enlarging the network outside the physical boundaries.

People have been holding face to face meetings forever to develop documents and documents have been shared for a long time for review and comments. Wikis are just an extension of this process. As well, almost everyone used to have their own black book to keep track of people they know. Facebook did not invent tracking friends, it simply facilitated it. In the end, web 2.0 is simply the automatisation of existing processes. It did not create anything, at best it makes processes more efficient and widen the network.

The same was true of other so called "revolutions": online shopping was supposed to change the way we shop and still, Wal-Mart and others are making big money selling from brick and mortar stores. As well, elearning was supposed to kill the classroom and we are still atending face to face lectures.

Bill Kerr said...

hi Guy,

You are pointing out that web2.0 can be seen as continuous with the past, rather than representing a revolutionary discontinuous break from the past. I agree.

Discontinuity vision: P2P connections challenge and undermine social hierarchy and institutions. P2P journalism, education, politics will radically transform our current institutions

Continuity vision: Media, education and politics will need to make adjustments to new technologies but a case can be made for their continuing predominance. Reform is required but not revolution.

Is this just POV - to stress the continuity or discontinuity - or can it be resolved?

To resolve this question we need to look more deeply at web2.0 itself - what is it and where does it fit historically. Web2.0 itself is just a pimple on the big pumpkin of modernity. It's understandable that people become excited by new technologies that do provide new affordances. But at some point the uncritical hype needs to be challenged and a deeper analysis developed.

Bill Kerr said...

arti provided a link and a quote from Towards a critique of the social web

Just a few quick notes about that interview ...

It promises a lot ... "a critique of the social web along 5 axes: production, exploitation, individuality/collectivity, cultural difference, activism" ... and contains some interesting sections, but, does not fully deliver

In part, the interviewees, Paul Hartzog and Trebor Scholz, contradict each other and the contradictions are not further discussed. eg. PH says that the issue is not ownership but access; TB says that users produce and corporations profit

It says the NewsCorp made 14 billion for MySpace - I'd like to hear more detail here about how

The section I enjoyed the most (indentified with) was "Activism" with the reference to Hannah Arendt
- rather than attacking existing practice, simply engage in alternative practice
- that you become attached to what you attack
- the tar baby principle, that many sticky situations are aggravated by attempts to solve them

I was left with the feeling that a few have tried to develop an all round critique of web2.0 - establishing framework, positives and negatives - but no one has really delivered yet. But we have reached the point where more people are feeling the need for such a critique - and so it will come in time.

Anonymous said...

Bill, Billy, William, Will, Willy

nice to meet you the other day

i;ve posted some response (parallel discussion with stephen heppel)

Anonymous said...

it tells me i can use links in my comment and i can't

whats the use of this Web2.0 blogosphere, i'd like to know, if its eats my links

anyway, here's my thoughts on it

Bill Kerr said...

Rob's post is very interesting. He presents evidence of a deeper, more angsty Stephen Heppell, who replied to rob's mail as follows:

"I was very prominent in the Hypercard movement when we had hosts of students and teachers making and swapping code and resources. We certainly have a crisis of capable developers and the crisis is even worse in terms of gender balance - very few girls now, although wasn’t originally the case. In truth we really lack “low start high finish” tools that can get developers up and running quickly - Dylan, VIP, Script X and a number of others promised this, but came to naught - we still need them.

many children now see the computer as a tool for creative and other fab work, but not enough as something that they can develop themselves - ie they consume applications rather than evolve them. I do worry about this heaps."

I left a comment at Rob's blog.

Bill Kerr said...

One of the buzz words I don't like is "21st Century learners", it's far too easy to forget history and think new technology is all you need with fatuous slogans like that floating around.

I agree with the analysis of 21st Century learners by Nichthus here (scroll down to 21st C section):
"Web 2.0 has hit us at a rather interesting point of society's philosophical development. We are awash in postmodern nonsense. Let's get a little more modernistic... but, of course, let's not go all the way back! By all means let's embed critical thinking and problem solving into the curriculum, but let's try not to do so at the expense of valuable foundational skills. And, while we're at it, let's not get too nonsensical about being 'student-centred' and afraid of becoming irrelevant. There is too much fear about these conversations, fear of being 'too modernistic', 'out of touch', 'didactic', 'traditionalist', 'Web 1.0', 'Luddite'... my fear is that we become so open that our common sense and responsibility fall out and land with a squish. We are, at the end of the day, about education and learning."