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Unabridged Interview: "Extreme Learning, Matrix-Style" in Big Think
Friday, August 03, 2012
Some people are wondering when I will post to TravelinEdMan again. How about tonight? Perhaps.

Why have I not been blogging you ask? Well, after finishing my Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for Blackboard back in May (see blog post with archive), I have been working on a book on online motivation and retention using my TEC-VARIETY model which I hope to give away free as a PDF and sell cheaply in Amazon CreateSpace as well as Kindle. One chapter left to write--on goal setting and yielding products. Each chapter takes about a week to write up. Hope to be done after I get back from the 28th Annual Wisconsin Distance Teaching and Learning Conference next week. Will I take a break from writing and hang out in Madison, Wisconsin next week and jog along Lake Monona and Mendota in early August? Yes! But I will try to finish the book before I leave or right after I get back. Then, it will take a few months of editing (and cutting) and copyediting before it I get the book done. I wrote too per usual.

In the meantime, below is my unabridged interview by David Berning from Big Think which took place a few weeks ago and was posted yesterday. Some of you might want to read the article that appeared in Big Think, Extreme Learning, Matrix-Style. It was, in fact, the lead article in a set titled: "Today's big idea: Disrupting Education" (see list of these article).

First, I think I must explain how this interview came about. My team and I have been tracking Big Think as part of our extreme learning research and contacted them to help us collect survey data on informal and extreme learning (you can take the survey, in fact). A couple of wonderful people at Big Think replied that they wanted to talk to me about the research we were doing. Since only part of my reply is in that article in Big Think, I thought I would post the full response here in my TravelinEdMan blog.

What is Big Think you ask? Some might check out their Wikipedia page or their YouTube Channel. Bascially, Big Think includes short video interviews, multimedia presentations, panel discusions, and blog posts of hundreds of intellectuals around the planet. If you browse through it, you might find information on topics like stem cell research, happiness, global warming, technologies or foods of the future, etc. See the About. I heard that some of the founders have experience with producing the Charlie Rose show on PBS. It shows. Suffice to say, this Website is top notch. I remember some of their early interviews when I first explored it around 2007 were with folks like Richard Branson from Virgin Airlines and Deepak Chopra. People now listed in their expert list include John Seely Brown, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Larry King, Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom (IU Professor, recently deceased), Ken Burns, James Gleick (author of "The Information"), Salman Khan from the Khan Academy, Dana Boyd, Jimmy Carter, Gloria Steinem, and many other artists, novelists, neuroscientists, filmmakers, politicians, and economists. Way cool.

This is the age of the open education world. Websites like Big Think are playing a huge role in that openness. It now focuses on topics like the future where my interview appeared as well as history; life and death; love, sex, and happiness; science and technology; the environment; beliefs; media and the internet; identity; politics and policy; etc., among the experts of the world. I definitely plan to use this resource in my emerging learning technologies class as well as my class on learning theories. For those interested in shared online video sites, see my portal listing of nearly 80 such sites.

Ok, now, on to that full interview with David Berning from Big Think (and remember, you too, can take our informal and extreme learning survey).

Unabridged interview of Curt Bonk, Instructional Sytems Technology Department, Indiana University, by David Berning, Big Think.

(Please Note: Resulting article in Big Think can be found here: Extreme Learning, Matrix-Style, Posted August 2, 2012.)

David (Big Think) Q#1. What is, in your opinion, the main purpose of education? Is this purpose being fulfilled today? How can the integration of technology better serve this purpose?

Curt Responds: Among the chief goals of education is to help the human species deal with unique problems, issues, or situations as they arise. Education offers possibilities for reflection on the credibility, appropriateness, relevance, and reliability of information sources. The education person knows when she knows, what she knows, and how to obtain information and new skills and competencies which she presently lacks. And that is where technology often plays a significant role. Learning technology, when thoughtfully integrated, can assist in efforts to seek, find, and filter knowledge that is appropriate and timely. It can share the cognitive load with the learner by offering cognitive maps of key concepts, interactive timelines and notecards, images and graphs, assorted referenceware, and sequenced data upon demand. Technology supplements and augments what the learner already knows.

Today, much of the dialogue about education is about catching up to those deemed ahead on various standardized test scores. Unfortunately, most highly used tests measure the basics and not much beyond. Web-based technologies, however, can give us all the information we need within milliseconds. When we can have the equivalent of the Library of Alexandria in our pockets on an inexpensive flash drive, we must begin to question exactly what should be taught and ultimately what knowledge is. As the forms of such knowledge-based technology multiply and reduce in price, a new dialogue needs to open up about the benefits and intensions of education.

The purpose of education has swiftly pivoted from knowing what something is to knowing how to find out about that thing. The basic tools of knowledge discovery are now Wikipedia and other wiki-like tools, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, TED talks, online news services, digital books, and a vast array of online learning courses and modules.

David (Big Think) Q#2. Your study focuses on understanding the motivating force technology can have on the learning/teaching process and the capabilities it has on sharing knowledge and information. What exactly do you wish to do with the results of your study?

Curt Responds: We hope to create a space for sharing stories of how technology has impacted one’s life in a significant or life empowering way. Such cases and stories can be used to inspire others. We want people to imagine new careers and discover how learning opportunities on the Web can lead them there. We plan to put these stories, with proper permission, of course, into a book or report that is indexed across ages, cultures, and learning situations. Whether one is a young person or more experienced adult, we hope to build an assembly of stories that anyone can use to find role models, new learning vistas, and innovative ideas about education. We intend to help open up the educational world to people who have had it closed for far too long. Open educational resources, opencourseware, open content, open source software, open access journals, and so on, bring immense possibilities for change. The world is now open for learning as I discuss in my book, “The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education.”

I also want to document aspects of human development during the lifespan that heretofore have been hidden from view. This particular goal will admittedly take much more time. However, we are living longer and there are myriad more ways to learn today than just a few years back. It is likely that there are not only human learning gains from the expansion of learning technology and open content on the Web but also wholly new forms of human development that need to be revealed, mapped, and understand.

David (Big Think) Q#3. You distinguish between two separate types of 'informal teaching/learning methods' in your study: simple self-study and "extreme" learning. Can you briefly elaborate on distinction of these terms?

Curt Responds: We are attempting to distinguish between everyday informal activities such as looking up travel or health information in a Wikipedia page or finding an article in a learning portal on Shakespeare, Hemmingway, or Jane Austin, from something that is much more novel and unique which we are calling extreme learning. An example of extreme learning happened to me this past May when over 4,000 people enrolled in a course I was teaching for Blackboard using their free course management system in CourseSites. The course, “Instructional Ideas and Technology Tools for Online Success,” was focused on how to teach online and people who completed it got a badge (registration remains open; in addition, a recap of the course can be found in my blog).

You might think that 4,000 is a lot of students. So did I. However, there is a course on social networking this summer at Stanford with over 400,000 students. And last fall, a professor at Stanford taught an online course on artificial intelligence to over 160,000 students. Not too surprisingly, the success and potential of such massive open online courses or MOOCs has fostered a number of new ventures including Coursera, Udacity, and Udemy. Those wishing to stick to branded universities are in luck as MIT and Harvard recently formed a new partnership to offer such courses through edX.

Other forms of extreme learning include teenagers navigating the globe as solo sailors and keeping up with their high school studies using Skype, satellite phones, and other technologies. Another example would be when researchers in the Amazon provide educational resources and blog posts for kids in schools to read, analyze, and respond to. Still other forms of extreme learning are evident when a researcher listens to a podcast of a chemistry or physics course while involved in a scientific project on polar ice. Perhaps you have heard about people who bike ride through the Americas and blog about their adventures. Or maybe you have been one of the millions of people around the world signing up to take or teach a language in Livemocha, Babbel, or The Mixxer. These, too, are examples of extreme learning.

David (Big Think) Q#4. Surely, it could be argued, that the internet exposes its users to a more distracting environment than what is experienced in a classroom setting. Is this a problem you have witnessed first-hand with your students? Does this argument at all hinder the appeal of online learning and its overall efficiency?

Curt Responds: Sure. There are times that I have to ask my students to turn off their screen or power down their devices. However, one might also think about how to enlist their services with the technology that they bring into the classroom. For instance, you might assign someone the role of “Google Jockey.” The person in that position might find and display Web resources and tools as you mention them in a lecture or as a small group is presenting their project or ideas. In effect, instead of banning various technology that learners bring with them, you are endorsing it. With such a policy, the learning resources of the course dramatically expand.

Another Internet problem is being distracted by inappropriate content. There are trillions of pages of content on the Web. If just one percent could be used in education, there would be more content than anyone could ever hope to use. What each instructor and every department should be doing is finding and agreeing upon 20 or 30 of the highest quality Web tools and resources (e.g., The Encyclopedia of Life, the Khan Academy, The British Library “Turning the Pages” Website, TED Ed, LinkTV, Big Think, The New York Public Library, Sophia, MIT OpenCourseWare, Open Educational Resources Commons, Impossible2Possible, Polar Husky, Earthducation, iCivics, MedTube, Livemocha, BBC Learning English, etc.). Once selected, they should design innovative and pedagogically engaging curriculum activities around these resources and programs.

My research team and I have been finding and rating hundreds informal and extreme learning Websites during the past couple of years. We are looking at the learning potential, scalability, novelty of the technology used, content richness, functionality of the technology, uniqueness of the learning environment, extent of technology integration, and potential for life changing experiences. If successful, we think we can alter and perhaps elevate the discussion about online learning quality.

David (Big Think) Q#5. What are critics' primary concerns about the integration of technology and education? In your opinion, are these concerns valid?

Curt Responds: There are many issues that have been repeatedly raised for decades. Among them is the cost. Once you purchase laptops, iPhones, or Smartboards for a particular learning purpose or need, at some point, they will need to be upgraded or replaced. This is an expensive undertaking, especially in these tough monetary times. However, if technology can help to blend the learning environment, thereby reducing the time for face-to-face instruction, it can offer significant monetary benefits.

Second, is the concern about technology replacing teachers or the entire school or university. Some charter and innovative school programs, for instance, are experimenting with different types of blended learning. With blended learning, students might learn online as well as in physical buildings wherein lab assistants handle student questions and concerns instead of higher priced teachers. Naturally, there are debates about the quality of such instruction and the role of traditional teachers. Despite the debates and concerns, I expect that this trend will accelerate in the coming years. The role of the teacher will dramatically shift as basic skills are handled with computer technology. Teachers will play a more vital role in higher order tasks. For instance, such instructors will orchestrate online collaboration activities with students and classrooms around the world. I predict that increasingly, teachers will be concierges, tour guides, and expedition leaders who find content and make it available for learners to explore, instead of force feeding them with precanned lectures and prepackaged content.

A third concern related to technology in education is the continued digital divide. Many students lack technology access at home and hence are often behind their peers in both technology-related confidence and skills. As a partial solution, stimulus monies in many communities (including my own) were used to get an iPad or laptop for all children enrolled in lower SES schools. But such initiatives are only going to have a modest impact without proper teacher training.

A fourth concern relates to the types of technology tools that should be integrated. The arguments made between using technology for basic and higher-order thinking skills began decades ago with Skinner machines, were extended in the 1980s with the emergence of hypermedia and multimedia, and persist today with in the world of the Web 2.0 and beyond. Fortunately, the tools for collaboration, interaction, engagement, and authentic learning have proliferated in recent years. Still, many educators and politicians view learning technology strictly from what it can do to help boost standardized test scores.

David (Big Think) Q#6. Where can readers go to learn more about you and your study?

Curt Responds: They can explore our extreme learning research project. Once there, they can read our recent conference papers, explore extreme learning Web resources, tools, and projects, and scan through the interests and biographies of those involved in the project, including my own. They can also read some of the life changing stories that have been shared to date.

(Remember the interview in Big Think is here, Extreme Learning, Matrix-Style. Enjoy. Some of  you might also enjoy my survey on informal and extreme learning)

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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Click here for information about my recent book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

Visit the Indiana University Home Page of E-Learning Expert Curtis J. Bonk.

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