Tag Archives: MOOC

Distance Learning – Then and Now

Distance Learning isn’t new. Start with the clay tablets, the Greeks, mail order classes, and eventually work through history to examples like Liza Loop’s LO*OP Center where people who were interested in learning could remotely login to mainframes and explore programming. Distance Learning was enabled by our ability to “Store it Forward” in things like books and now digital media. Storing information forward for future generations is a basis for civilization’s advance. Some of today’s issues were questions and concerns then; and that history may hold answers for now. Now, partly because of the pervasiveness of computers, everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner. Students sitting in classrooms already know there’s a lot to learn beyond four classroom walls.

Thanks to GeekFest Berlin’s 2016 event, we’ve created a series of videos from Liza Loop’s presentation that touch on various aspects of the topic and our organization’s history within it. We pass this information along as possible aids to include in your communications and as an introduction to our mission and current activities.

Geekfest Berlin 2016 – Liza Loop – Distance Learning – https://youtu.be/eVSEDK_MBKw

The complete presentation is available at: GeekFest’s Youtube channel.

2016 was the year we at HCLE saw an increased interest in the history of computing in learning and education (hence our acronym, HCLE). We are building a virtual museum to collect and catalog born-digital artifacts and digitized versions of physical artifacts to researchers, scholars, educators, and the general public. Incredible amounts of money are being spent on how to improve education and learning, and how best to integrate technology into the process. Very little is being spent studying the decades of similar attempts, which may be why society continues to ask the same questions and make the same mistakes.

Our museum’s story stretches back to 1975 and the founding of LO*OP Center, (Learning Options * Open Portal), a 501(c)(3) California nonprofit corporation chartered:

To improve the quality of people’s lives by integrating cultural diversity and appropriate technology into local communities through educational projects and events.

The ways that computing changed learning and education have fundamentally shifted our society and civilization. We have found no other institution with a specific focus on formal and nonformal education that is working to preserve that history. If you are aware of any, please pass along the appropriate contact information.

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Computing in Schools: For Good or Evil??

At the ISTE Conference last week, Audrey Watters and David Thornburg were on a panel debating whether computers are helping or hurting in schools. Audrey blogged about this saying,

Screenshot 2015-07-06 at 21.24.45

From @AudreyWatters, “In the early days of educational computing, it was often up to innovative, progressive teachers to put a personal computer in their classroom, even paying for the computer out of their own pocket.”

Well, Audrey, yes and no. What we need to give up is human passivity, not the tool/computer. Any tool — a hand, a stick, a motor, a computer — can be used by one human to dominate others. They can be used for war or peace, control or compassion. Computers are no exception. The non-liberation phenomena (the use of computing in schools to control and indoctrinate students) that you observe is not the ‘message in the medium’ of computing. It’s our human tendency to give away our power to others who claim to know more or better. Blaming this on the machine is an additional example of giving up power and agency. The computer remains unbiased and neutral. What it does do is extend the reach of the tyrant by orders of magnitude. We do need to fight back, but smashing the machine will not be effective. Giving as much attention to ‘social technologies’ as we have to electronics will be a more fruitful strategy. IM-not-so-H opinion, computing actually is liberating us from a powerful agent of domination itself — the school. By storing and forwarding learning objects (open educational resources from single pictures to MOOCs) and instrumenting a planet-wide communication system computers are breaking down the walls of the classroom and the authority of the formal school. So, yes, we need to give up computers in schools. Classrooms are special (and costly) meeting places for people and should not be wasted on activities that can be engaged in anywhere else. And, no, we should not try to eliminate computing as a tool for learning, any where, any time, by any person.

History (and Future) of Education: It’s in the Details

In the History of Education, as in many other arenas, the Devil is in the Details — not only the Devil, also the opportunity to understand what works under what circumstances for what purposes. Take a look at Audrey Watters’ excellent blog on The Invented History of ‘The Factory Model of Education’. She brings us an informative and long view recap of school development and puts the use of the ‘factory model’ metaphor in context. Audrey’s thesis and critique of expectations that computing can somehow ‘automate’ education are echoed in Marc Guzdial’s May 25th blog.

From these writers and their predecessors we learn that most of the objectives touted by educational reformers today have been part of the discourse for thousands of years — our goals are not new. We are still addressing issues of compulsory vs. free choice schooling, play and games to motivate deep learning, efficiencies offered by presenting the same didactic lessons to masses of students, the role of schooling in promoting ‘industrious’ behavior and reducing idleness, and the concept of matching methods of instruction to the characteristics of the learner (whether age, personality, learning style, sociocultural background, or individual interest).

All of these topics came together and were hotly debated when personal computing burst upon the scene, the period highlighted by HCLE*. Why are we still mired in arguments about whether or not our school systems should engage in ‘mass production’ and whether ‘personalization’ is important in teaching? Ubiquitous computing (which in turn enables mass information storage and telecommunications) has created a paradigm shift that lets us respond “yes” to all choices. We can now provide ‘mass instruction’ via MOOCs, permit learners to ‘play’ in a cafeteria of YouTube lessons and open educational resources. We can convene social groups we call ‘classrooms’ and track the progress of solitary learners studying in remote corners.

So why are these surmountable details keeping us in turmoil over how to educate our children and provide adults with continuous opportunities to acquire new skills and information? I think the answer lies in our desire for a single solution, a ‘universal’, ‘unified’ system of education. The potential of computing to let us offer ‘different strokes to different folks’ brings us face to face with our deep desire for uniformity – our inner wish to be surrounded by people who share the same hopes, goals, values, interests and taboos that each of us holds dear. It’s hard work to discover what turns on an individual child. It’s challenging to build models of a future society and anticipate what our youngsters will need to learn early in their lives in order to thrive in whichever model comes to pass. In this age of labor-saving devices we need to do the mental labor of studying exactly how to craft learning environments which take advantage of the strengths and interests of each individual while providing exercise equipment to strengthen individual weaknesses. Is it our fear of unleashing a Pandora’s Box of diverse people and cultures that keeps us from jumping into the educational revisiting that computing makes possible?

The History of Computing in Learning and Education Project provides a snapshot of an historical period in which many experiments were done and much data was generated about both cognitive and physical abilities of learners. This museum will help us to recapture the lessons of the past. But that isn’t enough. We need to move forward, to exploit the capacity of our present technologies by attending to the details, not the generalizations, of learning. Just as we can now mass produce and distribute clothing and cars, we can now mass produce and distribute the information, facts and basic skills that ‘factory model’ schools were invented to disseminate.

Our new challenge is to harness computing technologies, coupled with excellent teachers filling many new roles, to customize our educational offerings for each individual learner. Assessing the diversity of interests, talents, experience, goals and cultures each learner brings into the educational nexus results in a complex model of the individual student. This is a ‘big data’ problem we can now handle if only we can figure out what factors to track. Understanding how to pair the learner with the most effective stimuli to foster engagement, problem-solving, creativity and emotional well-being will require a huge amount of new and detailed educational research. In the end we may discover that learners themselves are best able to select their own educational experiences.

As observed by our fellow bloggers at the beginning of this essay, the questions we are asking about education today, as well as the criticisms we are making, are not new. Even highly personalized education has been going on in the form of one-to-one teaching and learning dyads for centuries. The change brought about by modern computing is the potential to implement such old solutions on a planetary scale. It won’t be easy. That’s why we’re still struggling with it after 50 years of personal computing. But we can succeed — if — we are willing to address the Devil in the Details.

*History of Computing in Learning and Education, 1960 to 1990

HCLE At MW2013

The conference is over and I’m glad we attended. HCLE (Liza Loop and I) was at the 2013 Museums and the Web conference in Portland, Oregon. Days of tours, workshops, sessions, exhibits and demonstrations were overwhelming and useful; though the people and ideas may linger longest. I gained a new perspective on the size and need for our museum, and the state of the museum culture.

OMSI action shot – Tom and Liza (She’s the one in action.)

Museums are in transition. Digital technologies, whether they are the web or smartphones, are changing the way museums are managed and visited. Archives can be tracked more efficiently, and frequently must include room for digital artifacts. Visitors are more likely to begin their visit online where they decide when and how they’ll visit, and during their visit, are more likely to add to their experience by pulling out their smartphone and diving into details (even if those details come from uncurated sources like wikipedia.) This is a major shift for organizations that were built into massive structures, expansive halls, with complete control over the collection and its commentary. Digital technologies usurp some of the control, which sometimes means visitors create an unexpected experience, and sometimes mean they don’t feel the need for a physical visit. Challenges are opportunities.

Other industries are undergoing digital revolutions. To quote from another of my blogs;
Digital technology allowed independent movies to revolutionize Hollywood, garage bands to challenge record labels, ebooks to shock publishing houses, . . .
In each of those industries, new formats arose, surprised convention, and have since lived beside the earlier format; and both continue to change.

HCLE will be almost completely digital. (Details on the HCLE wiki.) The majority of our collection will be either scanned documents or heritage software. Our major physical exhibit will be a traveling show, a replica of a 1980s classroom computer lab. The other major element will be the story project where we collect people’s tales of how they learned and taught, about and with computers. We changed how we learned how to learn. We taught ourselves a new way to teach. It is appropriate that the museum is a new type of museum.

The most positive lesson I learned was that many of the tasks before HCLE have been solved for similar situations. Massive databases of digitized information are becoming the norm. The task remains as large as before, but it is encouraging to know that others have completed similar projects. Maybe none have exactly the same set of tasks, but that isn’t a surprise. And, if there isn’t a museum example, there may be other examples in other industries. As one attendee put it, (pardon me as I paraphrase),
If you think your database is large and potentially slow, go to amazon.com and search for something, anything. Their search will sort through millions of items and an amazing array of possible search terms and deliver a comprehensive result within seconds.
Somewhere starting with spreadsheets at one end and amazon’s monster solution at the other lies what most museums need. As for user interfaces and academic access, Disney has probably solved the one and the Library of Congress has probably solved the other.

I also had my mind opened by a gentleman from Qatar. Without intending to, he made me realize that the history of computing in learning and education is international and multi-lingual. I’ve known that, but a personal conversation can have much more impact than an abstract consideration. Others, without realizing we were focusing on the earliest years of classroom computers, extended the concept to insights into modern day MOOCs (Massively Open Online Classes) and distributed synchronous learning. Our job may have just gotten bigger, again.

Throughout the conference, I was reminded by a role model. Every time I walked outside, I saw OMSI across the river. The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry sat across the Willamette River from our venue. Liza and I have mentioned them in previous posts. They served as a reminder that change happens, and the easiest way to adapt is to accept it early and positively.
OMSI and solutions

Now it is time to sort through the program, my notes (available on twitter @tetrimbath and #MW2013), a stack of business cards and pamphlets, and memories to allow the key solutions to become clear. We have a big task. It could be a lot bigger. But, now I know that there are solutions to problems, and one thing the conference was good for was finding solutions. (Besides, who would want to go to a conference looking for problems?) Thanks to everyone who made it happen. I hope I see you next year.

Tom Trimbath, HCLE Project Director

(For a more personal take on the conference and especially the city, you are welcomed to read my post on one of my other blogs.)