Monday, November 14, 2011

Sensemaking: badges, certificates and higher education

I have characterized myself as a square peg trying to fit in a round hole most of my professional life--first in "corporate" and now in the "academic" world. Just last week I was asked in a job interview why I hadn't  pursued my "academic field." That has never been a big concern of mine--only those around me who seem to feel that just because I obtained a degree in instructional systems technology (IST) I should be working as an instructional designer. When I explained to the interviewer that I took classes in IST to help me with my job at the time--and they did, it didn't seem to satisfy him. I finished the classes just in time to get the degree, but the field has advanced rapidly since then. This MOOC has been a great entry into the current world of IST—my alumni organization/job board can’t seem to help me because I’m a trained educator who has never “worked” in education (only business/industry), and I don’t have a “teaching license.” I learned a lot from my IST classes, and the lessons have helped in various areas of my life--even if I'm NOT working as an instructional designer. 
 Lifelong learning and informal learning offer many opportunities, but are not valued by business, industry and traditional academic institutions. The idea of "badges" to certify skill attainment has received some interest through the latest Digital Media and Learning Competition.  From my experience with the Indiana Essential Skills and Technical Proficiencies Initiative, (IESTP), the concept of connecting skill-based learning in the classroom to actual needs by existing business was not well-received because it was considered "vocational training" and the focus seems to be that everyone in the United States NEEDS  college. Some of those IESTP scenarios could be used today to certify the skill set of "workers for high tech fields" instead of the bioscience and health fields that were considered low tech back then (late 1990’s) because they were taught in "vocational" schools or on the job. One particular high school had their academic students obtain the certificates in business classes because someone in the school administration recognized that those business skills would be valuable in life! Those students were able to use their “certified skills” to earn money while going to college, and gain valuable business contacts/experience.  IESTP was defunded, because it was “vocational not academic”.

Today, I skimmed through “A Report of the National Science Foundation Advisory Committee for Cyberinfrastructure” and bring to your attention these ideas about cyberlearning from higher education. (The link to the full report is at the end of this.)

When learning can occur anywhere (from formal schooling, to after school, to workplace years later), we need to consider frameworks that explicitly support lifelong and long-term learning, and that embody innovative ways for self-assessment. How can the 30-year-old scientist refer back to the journal paper that used an unusual statistical method that she read a year ago, and connect that to her notes from the statistics class that she took 10 years earlier? We need to support students integrating and aggregating across opportunities for learning over time and over technical platforms such as e-readers. This learning will require new kinds of visualizations (perhaps mod­eled on mental maps) to track knowledge and learning opportunities over time, to go beyond traditional models of portfolios. This in turn points to the need for frameworks to integrate across multiple instances of learning for just-in-time learning and argumentation.

Pervasive access to CI means that learners can access resources across formal and informal settings. Even today, students probably learn more per hour during their access to Internet resources than they do in their normal school day, because their Internet learning is based on interest, curiosity, and engagement rather than an ex­ternally imposed curriculum. Pervasive access built on powerful learning platforms means that the boundaries between formal and informal settings blur—students can build on their home explorations when they get to school, and what they learn at home can be assessed and added to their personal portfolio in school. Once these boundaries are blurred, the similar boundaries of grades and even K-16 can blur, and we can use CI to truly cre­ate seamless learning.”

I  thought the final assessment for learning was “applying the learned skill/knowledge in new and/or novel ways.” I have managed to apply some of the knowledge and skills I obtained in my masters coursework to enhance my job skills and personal life. But, I’m not able to quantify those skills to future employers, as my masters degree is seen as “overly academic” in the business world (disconnected from reality) and “not adequate” in academia--where a PhD is the ultimate authority! 

College is not vocational training. Learning can occur just about anywhere, but assessing the learning is very difficult. Assessment may differ depending on who does it and how it’s “framed” (vocational vs high tech, high school vs college). How then do we, as lifelong learners and consumers of “traditional education,” find common ground to move forward in this ever changing world? 

Ultimately, it’s what you can “do” (with all your learning) and what someone will pay you to do it that determines the value of your knowledge and skills—or education. 

That's the sense I see in US. I wonder, is it the same everywhere?

And, only moments after I post this I find  "The Learning Registry is a new approach to capturing, sharing, and analyzing learning resource data to broaden the usefulness of digital content to benefit educators and learnerThe Learning Registry: Use, Share, Find, Amplify.s. "

Friday, November 4, 2011

Learning expectations--and frustration

Scanning through the comments over the last week because I was away gave me a renewed perspective about expectations. Reading some of the frustration from fellow participants about the technology failures for the first few live sessions reminded me of when I was in one particular graduate class, "Group Dynamics." I was a wreck the first few weeks because it seemed we were just sitting around deciding who was going to bring dinner the next week and what it would be. "How is this graduate level work?" I questioned in my mind (And, why the heck am I paying so much to sit around a room a strangers and eat, I can eat at home just fine!) As the class progressed the actual "learning" became apparent when the instructor presented more material about roles in groups. It was the process of group dynamics and how our group worked through those dynamics, and VOILA, I was learning something, it just wasn't in the traditional method that I was used to.

Why am I so willing to accept the lack of "technical perfection" from our hosts/facilitators?
1) I'm not paying for this
2) I'm not going to be "graded"
3) My expectations are significantly lower than some of the other people in the MOCC.

Why? I work in an educational technology area, and I've seen some pretty dismal performance from others putting on this kind of show--and I'm talking about technology professionals presenting to a group of 30-40 people instead of peers around the world. Yes, it's frustrating when the technology doesn't work. It's more frustrating when the technology isn't used correctly by technology professionals--and they seem oblivious to the audience/learner's reaction. I was glad to see that the MOCC facilitators addressed the issues providing some background about why they made the choices they did.  

I'm so glad I watched Nancy White's recorded presentation--it energized me when I was about to fall into the depths of despair and possibly just say, "forget it, no reason to keep up with this experimental "MOCC thingy." I finally have a name for what I want to be when I grow up: Social Artist. Maybe, I've been one, and just didn't know it. (Now, I have to find a way to get paid for it.)

I also overcame my shyness in the group. I actually put my photo on this blog, commented on a couple of other blog posts and participated in the live Friday online meeting. (PATTING MYSELF ON THE BACK) I still need to organize the "artifacts" or breadcrumbs of where I've been poking around and reading. I'm sure there's a tool for that, I just haven't found it yet. 

I will expand on why I think I may have been a social artist in later blog posts.