Education


10
Feb 10

On Fear of Blogging: Optimist: Speaking with your Digital Voice: Part 1

This is one of those self-indulgent, reflecting on my own blogging posts, so if you hate that sort of thing, stop reading now.

Wherein the Optimist Wins the Internal (Eternal?) Debate:  To Blog or Not To Blog

A friend and I recently got into a heated debate about blogging.  The context isn’t important so much, but it made me reflect a bit about my own blogging.   (Though I do wonder if I am alone in thinking that sites like Slashdot and the DrudgeReport – no matter how they may have started – are not “blogs”. They are or have become news sites, and news sites are not the same thing as blogs, in my mind.)

What is a blog anyway?

First, I had to separate out what _I_ do that I consider to be blogging.  Is Twitter a blog?  People say it’s a “micro-blog” but it rarely feels that way to me.  It feels more like a group IM conversation with an archive instead of a reflective piece of writing.  I think my core definition of blog includes that – a reflective piece of writing is a main feature of the vast majority of blogs.  It may reference other sites, it may incorporate different kinds of media, but the essence of the “web log” is a person logging their thoughts, experiences, results, art, images, whatever documentation that can be submitted to the “web log” system, so that others can learn and share from our experiences, so we can learn from the experiences of others, and so we can contribute some part of ourselves to .. well, the world – the world wide web log system, the internet, the metaverse – whatever you want to call it.

This is my blog.  This is where, when I can, from time to time, I try to share something of interest to the world.  Whoever’s listening, whoever’s reading, whoever shares a passion for the same things I do – here’s the stuff I’m working on.  I’m trying to “web log” my work, parts of my life, parts of my family, parts of me.  I don’t get as much time to do it as I wish I could, I’m not nearly as skilled at all the different forms of media as I wish I were, and I often self-consciously worry terribly about what people will _think_ of what I say or what I do – but I want to try to share my stuff with people who might care, and I want to have a web log for myself, so I can go back and reflect on what I’ve said, reflect on how my views have changed, or remember why it was that I chose some path that didn’t work out at all like I intended.

A “blog” to me is personal.  This blog is personal.

And in this age of .. such rapid change, with all notions of privacy being challenged, of a time in my life when I wear so many hats I couldn’t print a business card that would fit, when my work (which I personally define as attempting to study and help provide answers to the questions:  What’s happening on the internet and particularly in that part of the internet they call “virtual worlds”?  What implications does it have for education and for society as a whole? What or which of these tools are most effective for teaching, learning, sharing ideas, and instigating positive change?) is studying a rapidly, constantly dynamic phenomenon that I can only study by doing and being involved in to understand the technology well enough to study it..  What part of my life or my work is personal?

Isn’t ALL of it personal?

Is that a stupid question?

Why teachers, professors, and educators should blog

I try in my workshops to talk about how a technology can be used, for teaching, for personal discovery and learning, for organizing distributed workforces or volunteers, for communicating with constituents – but essentially, I don’t know if any of it makes sense until you’ve done it yourself – for yourself.  It’s hard to understand the real power of a “web log” until you’ve done it and seen how much it improves your own learning.

For every instructor or faculty member who has asked the question – why would _I_ want to blog?  That would be my answer.   We talk about experiential learning, and reflective writing, and all the appropriate buzzwords, but in terms of a tool that really truly enhances and promotes experiential, self-reflective learning, I almost can’t think of a better tool than a blog.  Telling a story, to yourself or someone else, and creating or finding the media, creating the narrative, and sending it .. out there, into the big world of all the people in the world having a conversation or sharing in the big web log system, is, frankly, a thrilling experience.  Or it can be, it should be.  The ability to create something, share something, document some part of your experience, communicate with others who share your passions, create an archive for yourself to learn from too – it’s journaling in the 21st century.  All of the great forebears of science, philosophy, and human knowledge recorded their experiences, publishing research is the heart of academia, and the web simply provides a better way to do it.

The “blog” – no matter how far they stretch the term in the media – is a reflective piece of writing that exists for its own sake or ties together all of the elements of an “entry”  that is thrust into the global web log system of human knowledge.  When you put it out there, you’re talking to everyone, anyone.  You’re talking to the person who is reading it now, and the person who will read it tomorrow, and all the people who will read it in the future to come.

What do you have to share with the world of now and the world of tomorrow?  What do your students have to share?

Education, at its core, is about training people to think rigorously.  It is about teaching people how to distinguish between signal and noise, correlate data, understand cause and effect, think broadly about the implications of our choices, and contribute something meaningful to society as a result of this training.

Speaking with your Digital Voice

To me, this is the beauty of blogging, of twittering, of connecting..  Watching the “web log” and learning from it, seeing my experiences echoed in it, recognizing and appreciating the art in it, applying what I take from it (to my own life and to my work), these things make blogging and participating in the conversation worth the investment of time.  The reward, the return, is enormous.  The power of finding the information I need or want when I need or want it, of finding the people I need or want when I need or want to talk to them, running across information I didn’t even know I needed – this stuff has changed how I work, how effective I can be, how many people I can reach, teach, learn from – it allows me to be my own teacher, my own guide, and still find the wisdom and the guidance from others whenever I am receptive and ready to learn from them.

Podcasting, videos, virtual worlds, blogging, twitter, social networks, social media, wikis, YouTube, they’re all elements of the same thing – using your digital voice to speak.  It is simply another mode of human communication, one with many implications for changing society in the future, and every student, and every teacher, should learn to speak with their digital voice.  When you do, the results of what you share are better indexed, searched, and located, which allows others to find you and you to find each other so that between you – between us – we can do a better job of.. whatever it is we want to do (or need to do).

Using our Digital Voice to Solve Real (Big) Problems

The people of the world seem to agree – global warming is real.  The people of the world seem to agree – solving the energy crisis is one of the great challenges of our time.  The people of the world seem to agree – giving every child an opportunity to live, grow, and learn in safety is a priority.  The people of the world seem to agree – actually on quite a number of things.  And what we disagree about, what we argue and debate about, the choices we make in our real lives as a result of our experience or nature or knowledge – the web log system is one way we are working it out and looking for answers, looking for solutions, or maybe just the right questions.

Everyone I know these days is saying and thinking, “There has to be a better way of doing things.  The world seems like a mess.”   We, as a people, have unprecedented power to reach each other, learn from each other, and work together using our digital voices.  Why aren’t we using it to solve the big problems ourselves?  Why does it seem everyone is waiting for Them to come up with the answers?  Institutions, governments, NGOs, charities, your boss, the board, the People In Charge.

I’ll ask again – why aren’t we solving the big problems ourselves?

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that not enough people with not enough of the right skills know how.  I don’t know how, myself, I’m trying to learn.  I’m trying to understand how my own actions help or diminish my own cause(s), I’m trying to understand how best to leverage my time and my resources to help solve common problems – or is that ridiculously naive?

A Bad Addiction or Addicted to Empowerment?

Maybe I’m just addicted to the fire-hose, watching the next generation’s version of the boob tube on endless repeat except there’s no repeat – just a steady stream of fresh data, fresh experiences, fresh laughter, fresh music, fresh conversation, fresh opportunities, fresh challenges.. all of the stimulation, freedom, creativity, joy, efficacy, acceptance, and .. empowerment.. that I feel quite denied in the “real world”.

I can’t afford to drive all over and pay for concerts.  I don’t have the right credentials to help plan cities or communities or spaces in the real world.  I don’t have the right wardrobe to attend certain kinds of functions.  I don’t have the capacity to hop-skip around the world to meet a colleague for coffee and chat when I have time.  But I can do all of these things online.  I can practice at any number of things that relate to people, to creating, to  planning, to experimenting.. with virtual things instead of physical things.  Virtual resources are, electricity permitting, infinite.  Time is not.  Talent is not.  But if I need to get people together to help me solve a problem, or create a community, if we collectively are going to solve the really big challenges of our time, I’m more convinced than ever that we’ll need our digital voices to do it.

That’s my optimistic answer for why you should blog, why I should blog, why my mom should blog, why teachers should blog.  I dunno if that’s right though. The pessimist wins some days.


1
Feb 10

Video from OETC2010 + Link to Second Life Streaming Schedule

Check the conference info at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference 2010 page, or see the schedule to be streamed into Second Life starting today at the University of Cincinnati Second Life Project website.  I’ll be heading down shortly!


25
Jan 10

“Fear the Boom and Bust” a Hayek vs. Keynes Rap Anthem

This is hysterical!  And sure maybe a little overdone, but economics lessons that make you laugh can’t be all bad, right?

Thanks @ThomasStone for the link. 🙂


8
Nov 09

Educause 09, Copyright/IP in Virtual Worlds, Dusan’s War

This week seemed impossibly full of interesting, with not enough time to process.  Wait, who am I kidding, I never feel there’s enough time to process, but this week more so than usual.  So a quick roundup to remind myself to keep thinking about these things:

EDUCAUSE 2009

I made a vow last year to reduce my conference travel.  It seemed prudent to cut back on expenses in this tough budget climate, but more than that, all the conferences began to run together in my mind, all the sessions sounding the same, the airports and hotel rooms one big blur.  From time to time I’ve felt sad to miss seeing good netfriends, at SLCC09 especially, but it also felt good to take a step back and not be so darned harried.  Until this past week, when so many people I admire gathered at EDUCAUSE 2009, and for the first time I felt a tinge of real regret.  Because it sounds like maybe this year’s EDUCAUSE breathed a bit of fresh air into the room.

Fortunately, I was able to follow at least some of what was happening through the ever fascinating tweets of EDUCAUSE attendees, and the conference organizers (bless them) streamed many sessions on the web, so those of us who couldn’t attend don’t get too terribly left behind.  I haven’t watched all the sessions, but two in particular that I want to keep thinking about:

Point/Counterpoint:  Disrespectful and Time-Wasting, or Engaged and Transformative
The Mile High Twitter Debate (Gardner Campbell and Bruce Maas)

I first met Gardner Campbell (@gardnercambell) through an NMC Summer Conference several years ago (another conference I was sad to miss this year) and I’ve been a faithful reader of his blog Gardner Writes ever since.  His passion for teaching, and for exploring the use of technology in teaching in meaningful ways, has been illuminating.  He’s the kind of faculty member I want to learn from and collaborate with, and he’s always been unbelievably approachable for such a rock star.  😉   So when I heard he was taking the pro-Twitter position in a Point/Counterpoint session, it seemed like a must-see and I wasn’t disappointed.

From now on, when administrators and faculty ask me what the point of Twitter is, I’m not even going to discuss it, I’ll just send them a link to this video.  If they aren’t convinced after that, there’s no hope.

Thanks to Gardner and Bruce Mass for a great debate and a terrific resource we can share with others.

It’s About Time:  Getting Our Values Around Copyright Right
(Lawrence Lessig)

The other “must-watch” video from the conference is really a must-watch for more than just educators.  Netizens everywhere need to be thinking about this issue, especially in light of the ACTA treaty negotiations that were leaked this week (see the Electronic Freedom Foundation’s take, ReadWriteWeb, Wired, and more – universal sentiment is “BAD – VERY BAD”).  I’m beyond outraged about ACTA and hope to make a separate post on that topic soon.

In any case, Lessig delivered a powerful talk about copyright that I hope you’ll take the time to review.  You won’t be sorry you did.

On Copyright, Intellectual Property Rights, & the Rule of Law in Virtual Worlds

These issues, of copyright and intellectual property, are not abstract for many Second Life users.  Indeed, I often imagine that these Second Life content creators (the ones who make the virtual clothes, hair, buildings, cars, etc. that you can buy in Second Life or on the web) are likely some of the very people who downloaded pirated music, software, or movies without a second thought in earlier times, but now the tables are turned after experiencing what it is like to create something from your own imagination, market it, sell it, and have it stolen out from under them.  (Reminder to self, experience is truly the best teacher. )

I refer to the great angst and gnashing of teeth over content theft in virtual worlds.  Linden Lab responded to the lawsuit filed by SexGen bed maker this week, a group of content creators staged a 48 hour period of creating nothing to protest content theft, Ben Duranske urged everyone to register their copyright with the US government, and the very controversial Emerald Viewer team filed a DMCA notice to Google about the much vilified Neilife viewer.

Oh, and by the way, Michael Risch at the West Virginia University College of Law makes a compelling case that the rule of law has been an abysmal failure in virtual worlds.  From the abstract:

The article finds – unsurprisingly – that virtual worlds now lack many of the elements of the rule of law. Which aspects fail is more surprising, however. Provider agreements and computer software, the sources of regulation that are most often criticized as “anti-user,” provide the best theoretical hope for achieving the rule of law, even if they currently fail in practice. On the contrary, widely proposed “reforms,” such as community norms, self-regulation, and importation of real-world law face both theoretical and practical barriers to implementation of the rule of law in virtual worlds.

What are we to make of all this copyright/IP mess?  I dunno.  I don’t have any easy answers either.

But I have long argued that one of the greatest benefits of being involved in virtual worlds like Second Life is that you get to see some of the great issues of our time being played out in another context, a different context than the “real world” – a smaller context – and that this gives us a new perspective with which to view what’s happening in the “real world”.   It’s so difficult for me to articulate this thought, I wish I could do a better job of it, but it’s the primary reason I feel like educators – no – academics and intellectuals of all stripes – should be involved in what’s happening in virtual worlds.  This copyright issue is just one of many examples, it’s fascinating to see how it plays out in the context of a conversation at EDUCAUSE versus the context and conversations of Second Life.

On one hand, we hear Lessig imploring educators and edtech IT folks to find ways to honor the rights of content creators in ways that do not turn our kids into terrorists.  He says, and I agree, that the creativity unleashed by mashups in the digital age cannot be stopped.  We hear Lessig warning us that by forcing people to live a a life outside the law, we undermine the very rule of law that democracy requires.  He urges us to help find a third way, a middle road between copyright extremists on both ends of the spectrum.

In another context, in the microcosm of virtual worlds and Second Life, we hear that the rule of law has yet to even emerge, all while we watch from the sidelines as real life courts are asked to adjudicate a potentially precedent-setting case about virtual content theft.   We hear some virtual world content creators arguing they must have the right to back up their work, to port their work, the products and artifacts of their creativity, into whatever medium they desire, whatever grid they happen to be on.   Other content creators are arguing that so long as the tools to make this backup/portability possible can also be used to steal THEIR content and creativity, these tools should NOT be available.  Even though they already are.  And, I think they are here to stay, no matter how much Linden Lab tries to enforce some kind of 3rd party registration for viewers.

Much to think about.  And I wonder,  what would the content creators who staged the 48 hour “create nothing” protest say to Lessig’s point?

I’ve run out of time to finish this post, and didn’t even get to the other big stories of the week.  I’ll add some links to remind myself, because they all play into this conversation even if I can’t synthesize it all at the moment:

Linden Lab offers standalone “behind the firewall” servers at $50k a year price – are they crazy?

Dusan talks about the Lab being at war with itself, and humanity at war with ourselves, and with technology – what?  I want to respond to this, I want to argue some of us ARE stopping to think about it – obsessively thinking about it even –  but it’s just all happening so damned fast (see this post, I can’t even get a few hours to properly synthesize):

But there’s a Masonic feeling to the whole thing: we’re not just individual actors contributing to the common good, we’re individual actors contributing to the evolution of digital spaces that have no governing body, and we’re hoping that in so doing our collective contributions will lead to a common good, without always stopping to have much of a conversation about it, although we start to get worried if it happens all over again: if Google actually turns out to BE the next Microsoft, although it’s typically only the big, easy-to-spot targets that we worry about – the rest of it is too granular, too innocuous, the metadata is invisible to us, it’s all held in those windowless rooms.

Healthcare reform passes the House after bitter partisan vote – will it actually improve anything?  Is this REALLY what democracy has come to in the digital age?  Am I the only one disgusted with the sausage making mess?

A fellow from the team writing recommendations for the National Education Technology Plan comes to Second Life for feedback – did he get anything useful from the process?  I greatly appreciated the effort of the ISTE organizers and all the speakers, and that he made the effort to reach out to cutting edge educators, but I found the process chaotic, frustrating, and unsure what the take-away was.

I’ll have to stop here.  Too much to process this week.


6
Oct 09

PBS Video & A La Carte Education?

This post was inspired by a video I recently watched on the web.  I was tickled pink to discover that @pbs is placing their video collection online.  Time and again I see PBS innovating and using technology in new and meaningful ways, and this is no exception (though, please, I want to embed, PBS!) – the video archives are rich with the kind of nerdy stuff I love to watch, including the Journal with Bill Moyers.  In this clip, Sam Tannenhaus was on the program to discuss his new book, The Death of Conservatism.  From Bill’s introduction:

Sam Tanenhaus edits two of the most influential sections of the Sunday NEW YORK TIMES – the Book Review and the Week in Review. He’s had a long fascination with conservatives and conservative ideas. He wrote this acclaimed biography of Whittaker Chambers, the journalist who spied for the Russians before he became fiercely anti-communist and a hero to conservatives. Now Tanenhaus is working on a biography of the conservative icon William F. Buckley JR.

They discussed the protests in Washington (teabaggers, health care reform, anti obama, glenn beck, september 2009) and I must say, Sam quite blew me away.  I’m not sure I recognized all the names he mentioned, but here was a guy who knew his American political history.  Wow!  My first thought after the show ended was – where does THAT guy teach, I wanna go there!

And then I thought, it sure would be nice if you could choose your professors, not from the pool at your current institution, but from anywhere in the world, and perhaps even from outside academia.  Why can’t we do that already?  With distance being so easily mediated by technology – through video, skype, virtual worlds, podcasts, twitter, RSS – the web and all its glory, why aren’t the very BEST teachers already teaching online to reach more people, more motivated people, more motivated people willing to pay (and maybe handsomely) for their expertise?  Why hasn’t this already happened?

Well, there is that pesky issue of assessment and accreditation and the institutional ballyhoo that’s tied into the “degree” but barring all that, why hasn’t some accredited, established institution emerged to facilitate this kind of customized education? MIT famously opened up their their course content, but I think we’re learning it’s not just the reading lists, powerpoint slides, and class notes that make a great class – we also need great teachers and mentors.

But what happens when you find that the great specialists in your field or area of interest aren’t AT one institution, they’re scattered all over the place? If I were going to mortgage my future for grad school, I’d really want access to the best of the best no matter where they were. Wouldn’t you?


18
Sep 09

CCK09 – Connectivism & Connective Knowledge 2009 Begins!

Just catching up on the start of Connectivism & Connective Knowledge 2009 – a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) being offered by George Siemens and Stephen Downes from the University of Manitoba.  (Search this blog for CCK08 to see posts from last year’s class.)

This year I am making a conscious effort to not feel pressured to participate in the synchronous components of the course.  If I can attend the synchronous meetings on the web or in Second Life, I will, but I want to experiment with taking full advantage of the flexibility of this kind of course format – can I get as much out of the class, and the connections with other course participants, in a mostly asynchronous way?  I think so!

This will be in contrast to the Second Life cohort I facilitated last year, we met weekly in Second Life to discuss the course readings and the mechanics of taking a MOOC, which was a new experience for most of us last year.  This year, Sharon Collingwood (SL: Ellie Brewster) from Ohio State University has taken over the SL Cohort, and she’s posted details on the course Moodle:

SECOND LIFE COHORT for CONNECTIVISM & CONNECTIVE KNOWLEDGE 2009

PRELIMINARY GET-TOGETHER & ORIENTATION SESSION, Sunday Sept 20
at 4pm Eastern U.S. time (1 pm Second Life time, as read at the top right-hand corner of the Second Life screen) This is bound to be inconvenient for some people, we’ll talk about meeting times then.

To get to the meeting, sign up for the Second Life group “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge”

– search menu, “groups” tab, find Connectivism & Connective Knowledge
– follow link, find group profile, click “join”
– be sure group is activated (>>edit >>groups)
– read previous messages (>>info >>notices)

IF YOU’RE NEW TO SECOND LIFE:

Check your system: http://secondlife.com/support/system-requirements/

sign up for Second Life: http://secondlife.com/

Become my friend big grin
>>>search menu >>people >>Ellie Brewster >>add friend

(Feel free to friend me in Second Life, too, my name there is Fleep Tuque of course.)  🙂

The introductory videos by George and Stephen are good starting points if you’re not sure what the course is, how it works, or what Connectivism is, and I’d highly encourage you to participate if you have any interest in education, learning theories, how technology is changing how we learn, or how large open distributed courses can be delivered on the web – it’s free after all and fun too!

George’s introduction video:

Stephen’s introduction video:


9
Sep 09

Gartner publishes 2009 “Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies”

Gartner publishes 2009

While I don’t always think Gartner gets it right, I finally took a moment to compare this year’s hype cycle for emerging tech with last year’s – interesting to see where public virtual worlds are relative to the 2008 chart.  You can see both Gartner’s analysis and my own thoughts from 2008 in the next graphic.

This year I think not much has changed, in terms of the _hype_ and level of adoption, with the exception that virtual worlds for education seems to be closer to the peak of inflated expectations.  By 2010, I’d think Course Management Systems shouldn’t be on the list as an emerging technology as most institutions have adopted a platform by now.

Web 2.0 for education, or anything 2.0, still has not caught on except among technophiles, though the explosion of Twitter in the news is helping to move things along the hype cycle curve.

Do you work in higher education?  What do you think?

Posted via web from Fleep


7
Jul 09

Reconnecting with Connectivism (CCK09)

Sign Up for Connectivism & Connective Knowledge 2009!

Faithful readers may remember a series of posts last year about a Massively Open Online Course (MOOC) I took called Connectivism & Connective Knowledge, taught by George Siemens and Stephen Downes through the University of Manitoba’s Extended Education program.

George and Stephen are offering the course again this year, and just like last year, it is completely free and open access to any and all who want to participate.   Here’s a brief course description blurb:

Connectivism and Connective Knowledge is a twelve week course that will explore the concepts of connectivism and connective knowledge and explore their application as a framework for theories of teaching and learning. It will outline a connectivist understanding of educational systems of the future.  The course will begin on September 14, 2009.

I highly recommend the experience to anyone involved in education in any capacity.   George and Stephen utilize the web, RSS, blogs, wikis, podcasts, tagging, and crowd sourced teaching and learning in a way I’ve never experienced in any other course I’ve ever taken, and the experience last year had a tremendous impact on my understanding of what a “course” is, is not, and what it CAN be in the future.  Sign up here to receive course information in preparation for this year’s course!

Connectivism Cohort in Second Life

Last year I facilitated the Connectivism Cohort in Second Life, an experience that also taught me quite a lot about using virtual worlds as a site for meeting, discussing, sharing, and building in the context of a MOOC like Connectivism & Connective Knowledge.  You can read more about my conclusions and experience as a facilitator (in addition to some stats about participation) in this post from last year CCK08 – Off the Wagon, But Not Off My Mind.

While I won’t have the time to be a main facilitator for a Second Life Cohort of the class this year, if someone is interested in taking this on, the Chilbo Community in Second Life can host the cohort’s meetings and work in the re-purposed Education Village.   The Connectivism Reading Room is still available for holding discussions, and the sandbox and houses/offices can be used again this year for anyone who wants to participate.

Interested in facilitating or using Second Life as part of the CCK09 class?  Let me know at fleep.tuque@gmail.com and I’ll do my best to help!


24
Jan 09

Metanomics Monday: Teens in Virtual Worlds


Fleep on a previous episode of Metanomics

This coming Monday, January 26th, the weekly Metanomics show will feature a topic of interest to educators.

Kids Building Digital Bridges
Metanomics, Monday, January 26, Noon to 1 Pacific Time

Virtual worlds transport young people outside their neighborhoods and offer them chances for creative collaboration across physical, generational and cultural boundaries. Metanomics host Robert Bloomfield investigates the novel ways that kids use virtual worlds to break down barriers with Barry Joseph of Global Kids and David Klevan of the United State Holocaust Memorial Museum. On the Spot, Daniel Voyager discusses the future of Teen Second Life, fresh from his graduation to the main grid, and educator Chris Collins provides closing commentary.

(Hey, Chris Collins, that’s me! Come hear me get on a soapbox!)

See the Metanomics website for more information, watch in-world or on the web!


10
Jan 09

2008: The Year of Limits

I started writing this post in 2008 but didn’t get it finished before the year ended, even with the extra second. In light of the subject, perhaps that is quite apropos.

Like most of you, I’ve been reading all of the end-of-year retrospectives and predictions posts, and scrolling through the “year in photos” or video clips or whatever, caught up in refreshing my memory about just how many things happened in 2008. Wars, elections, economic meltdowns, media shifts, massive natural and man-made disasters, and that’s not even including all my personal stuff. It was a crazy year no matter how you slice it!

And though it is.. overwhelming to absorb this barrage of our collective memories on the net, I do think there’s value to the tradition of reflecting on the year just past and the year ahead. If it’s honest reflection, and you or someone else learns from it, then there can never be too much of it so I refuse to apologize for the length of this post. =)

2008: The Year of Limits

In reflecting on 2008, my experience was one of recognizing “limits”. Some of them are absolute limits, but some of them are just current limitations that I know will change in the future. Some of them are artificial limits, too, and those seem to deserve special attention since it’s easy to make bad choices if you’re working with falsehoods.

The list below describes some of the limits I ran into in 2008…

1. The limits of American-style “free-market” capitalism

Wall Street I won’t belabor the point, we’ve all heard plenty of analysis and finger-pointing, but I will repeat the headline from my initial blog post at the beginning of the end of the beginning of the crisis:

Privatizing Gains, Socializing Losses

On the days when I feel most pessimistic, I think the TARP bailout is nothing more than a wholesale absconsion of our national treasury with perhaps more on the way. So far at least, the US government seems to be much more concerned about the troubles of our corporate citizens than the troubles of our human citizens. On my optimistic days.. I have the teensiest bit of hope that _someone_ _somewhere_ will have the will and the power to do what’s best for the people, not just what’s best for the corporations.

The economic problems have limited the options for many people I know – friends and relatives laid off, retirement nest eggs shrunk to nothing, people unable to sell or buy houses and get on with life. On a personal level, I haven’t felt this economically pinched in a long time. My modest university salary isn’t keeping up with the rate of change very well and in 2008 I began to really hit the limit of my budget in ways that cause me to question what I’m doing, how I’m doing it, and how much I can scale back.

Of course, many people are in tight situations right now, that’s why they call it a recession! But it’s what choices you make when you start to hit those limits that define who you are as a person and as a people.  The government (of the people, by the people, for the people) has choices, too. I guess we’ll see in 2009 what choices we all make in light of these new limits and I hope for all of our sakes that they turn out to be good choices.

2. The limits of American racism

Change

Of all the limits on my list, this one felt really good to bump up against. I can’t say how immensely proud I am of my country for the results of the 2008 presidential election. I am relieved to know that the president-elect’s middle name is Hussein and his last name sounds like Osama, and he’s black, and spent some time living in a Muslim country, and grew up in a non “2 parent/2.1 kids” houseshold, and that none of these things kept him from being elected. Not that racism has ended by any means, but this was an example of its limits and it really does give me hope.

On the personal side, my 74 year old grandpa who still refers to people as “colored” from time to time, and who has been a staunch Republican voter all of his life, actually voted for a black Democrat. Yes Virginia, hell really did freeze over! I can’t take 100% credit for this change of course, but we had a lot of downright difficult and uncomfortable conversations about race, so this year’s election felt like a personal victory as much as a national milestone.

3. The limits of the American educational system and limits to learning online

It’s possible I am living in a concrete-reinforced, super-duper-thick, no-sound-enters-or-escapes echo chamber, but it seems that everywhere I turn, everyone from _everyone_ is convinced that the American educational system is in desperate need of a massive, major overhaul. In my own neck of the woods, Ohio is in the process of implementing a state-wide university system, several education related organizations that are funded by the state are being abolished or merged, and a couple of universities including my own are switching from quarter systems to semesters (not as simple as it may sound and more expensive than you might think).

So change is happening already in a pretty big way, but I’m not sure how much these changes will address some of the underlying problems. One of which, I am convinced, is a staggering lack of understanding about the power of current IT/web/net based technologies. There is increasing curiosity at all levels – thank goodness or I wouldn’t have a job! But from administrators to faculty to staff, I’m perpetually shocked by how little others use the web even for basic things,like as a reference system. Everyone now uses email, of course, and LMS adoption has increased tremendously in both breadth and depth of use, and the core university business and billing systems are state of the art, but the social media/personal empowerment side of the web doesn’t seem to have penetrated academia very much yet at all. You might be surprised how many faculty don’t know about using quotes in google searching, for example, or who don’t read the blogs of their peers from other institutions.

I find that pretty distressing for a lot of different reasons, not least of which because this lack of understanding really limits my choices as a student (or potential customer, if you prefer).

The first problem is that the thing I want to study not only doesn’t have its own discipline or recognized curriculum, most people aren’t even aware it exists! My area of study is the metaverse and I spend far more time trying to demonstrate that it is “real” (ie has real impact) and justifying why we should be studying it than anything else. What time I do get to spend on actual research doesn’t count towards tenure, and unfortunately, most of my output is in blog posts and wikis and PDFs and Second Life builds, and none of these things will get me a degree either. They aren’t “accredited” kinds of output.

The second problem is that even if I could find a good fit in a program, then what? Will I be able to bear sitting in a classroom with a bad teacher who regurgitates the text book and wants me to regurgitate it too? Will I be able to keep my trap shut when we all hand in our papers to the prof and learn nothing from each other instead of sharing them so we all learn more?

When I think of it, I tend to tell myself and others that I can’t find the time or money to go back to grad school right now (artifical limit, I’m sure I COULD if I were willing to radically alter my life), but the truth is something different: I can’t bear the thought of fitting my learning style back into that crummy old model when I’ve found something 1000000 times better – the entire web is my school, my laboratory, and my teacher. I would guess that in 2008 I read more reports, white papers, and peer-reviewed journal articles (and thousands of blog posts and news articles), attended more lectures by more world-class thinkers and teachers (and talked to them, individually!), and had more hands-on, active and engaging learning experiences than I have ever had in any other year of my entire life – in school or out. I also spent a heck of a lot of time reflecting on what I learned, sharing it with others, collaborating on shared learning experiences, and had a few pretty nice milestone publications of my own.

Everywhere I look, I’m butting up against limits. Limits of the existing system, limits to people’s understanding about what it is I want to study, limits in program and curriculum choices, personal limitations (financial, practical, selfishly wanting to learn MY way instead of THEIR way)..

Furthermore, despite the free and wonderful education I received from the intarnets this year, I also learned that there are limits here too. There are limits to how much information I can process, how many connections I can form, and how many channels of communication I can keep up with. There are absolutely, most definitely limits to how many emails I can process in a day. There are limits to how much I can learn on my own unaided by others. I often have questions, need help, need guidance, need mentoring, need direction. I know without a doubt my work and output would improve if I had a better foundational understanding of both the technology that makes the metaverse possible and the research that already exists about human behavior in online environments. I don’t for a second believe I can “master” this material all on my own, even with the tremendous resources the web offers.

And of all my learning experiences online this year, I’m perhaps most grateful for my experience with the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge MOOC (Massively Open Online Course), because it _broke_ some (artificial) limits in my understanding about what a “class” is and could be, reinforced some limits I was aware of (how much info/connections/channels I could keep up with), and gave an example of how universities might overcome limits in how many students they reach.

Without a doubt, these limits are frustrating, but not altogether discouraging. It just means there’s much work to be done, and I sincerely hope decision makers at the institutional level are paying attention to technology, but at the same time, I also hope that those of us using and evangelizing technology are being honest about its limits even as we explore its promises.

And speaking of technology evangelism…

4. The limits of personal evangelism

My suitcases are tattered from so many cross-country flights here there and everywhere talking about Second Life, Web 2.0, and the emerging metaverse. I gave talks at conferences and workshops and lunches, to teachers, professors, administrators, instructional designers, businesses, entrepreneurs, laywers, government employees.. so many different sectors of society. What I’ve taken from all my days on the road is that there’s a real lack of perceived value and ROI. 1) People need to see more evidence that this technology is useful for accomplishing their goals before they will be willing to invest the time and resources it takes to get to successful implementation. 2) The technology itself must become cheaper and easier to use.

This is not revolutionary news, I know. But I’m reminding myself because as I mentioned above, I genuinely hope to do more research into those areas so that the next time I spend all day flying across the country just to give a two hour talk, I feel like it was really and truly worth the trip for me and the audience and the university that paid for me to do it.

I guess this means my “zealot phase” (and hopefully “self-righteous jerk phase”) is over for the moment. That isn’t to say that I’ve given up, but rather that I’ve learned the limits of what I, Fleep can do alone. I need to start leveraging my networks better and work in collaboration with more people instead of running myself ragged trying to do too much alone.

5. Limits of the Second Life platform and our current Metaverse

Of course, the job of evangelizing would be a lot easier if the thing itself were easier. Alas, we face some tough issues. The metaverse as a concept is mind-boggling for many, the best iteration of it at the moment (Second Life) is hard to use and has serious limitations, and everything else out on the horizon is still in alpha/beta phase.

I really can’t stress enough what an obstacle our current lack of.. vocabulary is. What is a virtual world? What is the metaverse? What the heck is Castranova talking about with all this synthetic stuff?

Earlier this year when I was struggling with the Looking to the Future: Higher Education in the Metaverse piece, the hardest part was explaining what the metaverse currently IS, nevermind what it might be in the future. Here’s what I wrote:

In its current context, the metaverse is a complex concept. For the purposes of this article, the definition in the Metaverse Roadmap will suffice: “In recent years, the term has grown beyond Stephenson’s 1992 vision of an immersive 3D virtual world, to include aspects of the physical world objects, actors, interfaces, and networks that construct and interact with virtual environments. . . . The Metaverse is the convergence of 1) virtually-enhanced physical reality and 2) physically persistent virtual space. It is a fusion of both, while allowing users to experience it as either.”

In short, we can imagine multiple and myriad digital mirrors of the real world existing alongside multiple and myriad digital worlds that do not represent the real world, all used for a variety of purposes, tied into a variety of communication methods, and populated by any user with Internet access, as well as a steady stream of data originating from objects and devices in the real world.

That’s awful! A mouthful of confusing stuff and I feel very disappointed in myself that I couldn’t find a better way to communicate it. That’s a limitation I (we) must break through in the coming years.

Beyond the limits of our terminology, there are serious limits with existing platform(s) that can’t be ignored either. I still believe that anyone interested in the metaverse must be in or at least paying attention to Second Life – Linden Lab’s platform and the OpenSim derivatives are the most promising metaverse project on the horizon, and perhaps more importantly, the people using, working, and playing in Second Life simply _are_ the vanguard.

But Linden Lab’s Second Life, and the alpha-stage OpenSim grids, are still extremely limited in their enterprise use. Whether the intention is to use it as a social or collaboration space, or as a modeling and prototyping space, or to explore the new frontiers of music and art made possible in these worlds – the platforms need a LOT of work across the board, from the GUI to reliability to providing access to other digital content. Sadly, after 5 years of being out of beta, Second Life’s group IMs still don’t work reliably.  I can’t show a flash or .wmv movie in Second Life, can’t collaboratively access webpages and documents with others easily, and it takes forever and 50 steps to do something as simple as making a prim clickable to launch a webpage.

And those are the simplest technical limitations that need to be overcome. That’s not even getting into the wet, squishy world of legal, philosophical, and social questions: content creator rights, intellectual properly, who has jurisdiction, who governs these spaces, code as law, what’s happening with all of the data we generate from “living” in these spaces and how can we protect ourselves from its misuse, what are the social implications for communities moving to the metaverse, and on and on and on..

In other words, we have a LOT of work to do.

6. The limits of Will Wright

Yes, I’m sorry, this one gets a whole bullet point of its own. Do you have ANY IDEA how long I waited, and with how much _anticipation_ I waited for the release of Spore? (Many many years, and a lot, respectively.)

Others have done a much better job than I in analyzing just why it was such a rotten egg, but I think that might be my biggest (most trivial) disappointment of the year.   I don’t know where it all went so wrong, Will, but dude, you really let us down.

(Sorry, needed a little levity before tackling #7..)

7. The limits of life itself

In late 2007, we learned that my Dad (grandpa, actually, but my dad in all other ways)  had stage-4 metastatic lung cancer that had already spread to his adrenal glands. By mid-2008, it had spread to his spine.  Helping to take care of him through this battle with cancer has been excruciating and it affected every single day of the year for me.

I know that death is a part of life. I know that death is inevitable. I know that I am neither the first nor the last person to lose a parent or to lose a loved one to cancer. I know that some day I will die. I know all of these things, but I’ve never _felt_ them until now.  In my heart, I know it’s a minor miracle that he’s survived more than a year past the initial diagnosis, and it’s a gift that we’ve had all this time to say goodbye, share memories, and adjust to the hard reality. But it has also irrevocably changed my sense of time. I see the limits it imposes on us all in the starkest of terms now.

This experience has also made me wonder how on earth people without families or support networks manage in the face of serious illness (something we’re all bound to face) because without a doubt, I have finally seen the limits of the American health-care system up close and personal.

Wow, what a wreck. I don’t even know where to begin. The absurdities of insurance claims and Medicare, Part-D and doughnut holes, hospital staff that don’t even put on clean gloves unless you ask them too, different doctors with different charts and lab results and patient information systems that don’t talk to each other, medication regimens that require a PhD and 50 gazillion bottles, refills, and dosages to keep up with, doctors prescribing medications that conflict with pre-existing orders… the list goes on and on and on and on. It’s insane. INSANE.

Our family care-team is made up of four intelligent, literate, capable people and we can’t really keep track of it all. The hoops are simply ridiculous, the cracks in the system are more like black holes, and for all the mistakes or near-mistakes we’ve caught, I fear to think of all the ones we didn’t. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my deep bitterness that the _only_ part of the American health-care system that appears to be using IT efficiently is the damned billing systems. Sharing information about the patient to improve care? That’s a spaghetti mess, but they can sure share information about how much it all costs!

Perhaps my viewing the year 2008 from this prism of limitations is all the result of Dad’s cancer; maybe it’s colored my view so much that limits are all I see at the moment. But I don’t really think so. When I look at what’s happening in a broader context, I see that the American economic, education, and health care systems aren’t the only large-scale systems and institutions that appear to be feeling the strain.

For one, the financial/economic crisis is definitely a global one. It’s not an indivual experience, or a national experience, it’s a global one. Even those who haven’t felt the pinch yet have certainly felt the fear.

For another, I believe wars and violence result when political systems fail. Mumbai. Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Palestine, Georgia, and many more places besides, deaths caused by people killing other people, caused by the limits of our existing political institutions.

Human activity in combination with completely “natural” weather and geological phenomena are rapidly, and I mean RAPIDLY changing our environment. The very finite resources of the planet and the real consequences of natural disasters are absolute limits that we simply can’t afford to ignore. The earthquake in Sichuan, China killed almost 70,000 people. The Nargis cyclone in Myanmar killed almost 135,000 people. Predictions seem to indicate that more trouble is on the way, and for the most part, our individual, national, and global responses to these challenges have seem limited by disorganization, misinformation, and a terrible refusal to plan for the reality we all know is coming. It’s absurd. And frightening.

I should probably stop there, this post already turned into something of a monster and I could go on in this vein for quite a while. But the lingering question I have at the end of all this reflection is this:

Have we reached the limits of our patience with behaviors and systems that just plain don’t work anymore?

I sure hope so, because the upside, the real benefit to recognizing these limits, is the ability to leap into the paradigm-shift – and leap we must.

The parameters aren’t what you thought they were.

The rules of the game are changing.

The world of the 21st century is different than the world of the 20th.

The sooner we come to terms with it, the sooner we can start dealing with it. These limits – even the artificial ones – really need to, can, and must be addressed.

I don’t know if I’m up for all the challenges I see looming in the days ahead, with my work, my personal circumstances, with Dad’s cancer. I don’t know how to best prepare, either, but if I’m sure of anything after 2008, it’s that I don’t have a choice about it anymore. The changes are already coming too thick and too fast to ignore, best get with it, buckle down, and get ready.

(And 10 days after the new year, I finally get this posted.  Hooray.)

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