open & distance learning

reflections and ideas on open and distance learning - by irwin devries

Research as ceremony: Living a congruent lifestyle

This is the first of a series of short reflections I want to share, based on my live tweets of a streamed session by Dr. Shawn Wilson on indigenous research methodologies. I don’t find this easy, because I have to confess how little I know, how much I need to learn, how much I fear not understanding in the right way, or distorting things through my own European roots and lens of privilege. I’m selecting the tweets to write on as they resonate for me at the moment. The two I bring forward here were breathed into life for me at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls march in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side today.

Being with the gathering today, seeing the people and the vivid images, hearing the tragic stories of so many Indigenous women and others, yet also feeling the support and strength among those assembled…What is my relationship to this?

…a time of reflection on reality as relationships… …relationality is our reality. Our roles in relationships are our ways of being.

As I understand from Dr. Wilson’s explanation, indigenist research methodologies compel us beyond a research methodology as a technique that can be used at will, to a way of inquiry embedded in the way we live and connect to others and the world around us. A way of seeing the connections between things, people, ideas in a way that changes us. We need to live our research.

“Stages of ceremony–Incorporate into your lifestyle. Bring new knowledge from ceremony in own life and use/share. This is where wisdom comes from. “If your research doesn’t change you, then you haven’t done it right.” Part of the axiology of research.

This stage of the ceremony turns our research lens both outward and inward at the same time and asks us to confront who we are, what our beliefs and philosophies are, and how we live them out before, during and following our research. I’m reminded how easily research can become disconnected, dispassionate, severed from things that matter. I don’t have answers but rather a question to take away: What does this mean for us as teachers, researchers, learners?

Indigenous research methodologies with Dr. Shawn Wilson

These are my Twitter notes from a remote live stream of an indigenous research methodologies session by Dr. Shawn Wilson, held this day at Royal Roads University, which I shared with the knowledge and approval of the facilitators. There’s a lot to unpack here, which I’ll work on at the right time, but for now since I didn’t create a proper Twitter thread I’ve copied them here in a chronological sequence for anyone who might be interested.

* Modified Feb. 14 to add several tweets missed in the original transfer

** All images are screen shots from the presentation.

Traditional Indigenous knowledge is a system of science. Science is the system behind our knowledge. Indigenous peoples would not have survived without science.

What are the four main assumptions behind your research paradigm? Should be easy if you’re a grad student or PhD (paraphrasing)

What philosophy informs your research approach? PhD should = Dr. of Philosophy. But we usually look at other philosophies rather than our own

Not knowing what you believe about your own philosophy & worldview affects your research. Also you are not seeing your own white privilege.

Culture as iceberg – visible culture above and underlying philosophy below the waterline

Beliefs & values are what make “me” Indigenous, not just visible parts of the culture. “Who am I inside?

Research paradigm: Nature of reality, ways of knowing, values, methodology–ways of acquiring knowledge. Ontology–what is real. What is worth researching? What methods are appropriate? Axiology–your values. Who owns the knowledge? Applies to all research.

Research methodology is a reflection of a worldview

State our world is in requires a different way of looking at things. We’re f-ing up the planet.

“Wetigo disease” – Colonialism as psychosis – greed knows no limits, perversion knows no borders, deceit etc. (missed some).

Wetigo disease – description of capitalism

Yowi wanders around aimlessly, can’t see its reflection. Has no skin (i.e. no kinships, relations, accountability).

Laughter scares Yowi away. But recognize the Yowi’s power.

Indigenous research carries some answers.

Audience Q about spirit. A: Personal belief vs religion. Religion top part of iceberg that is visible. Often religions become disconnected from their spiritual base. But mostly related to each other at the core.

Love how Shawn Wilson laughs freely and frequently while he talks.

Indigenist/indigenous. Don’t need to be indigenous to follow an indigenist research paradigm. But also know there’s a different lived experience. It’s the philosophical system you want to follow. But comes with rules to live by.

Lovely picture of family, kids, seniors... Everything around us in relationship. We are accountable to those relationships.

…a time of reflection on reality as relationships… …relationality is our reality. Our roles in relationships are our ways of being.

“Our ways of knowing are based upon relational epistemology”

Live stream comment

“Our ways of being – reciprocal, respectful, responsible”

Why research is a ceremony: Reality is relationships – Space ‘between things’ in relationships is sacred – Stepping between things in relationships enters us into sacred space

Relationships also between ideas, things, abstractions… “Research is a ceremony for building a closer relationship with an idea”

Stages of ceremony: * Live a congruent lifestyle. (e.g.: Live it first, before you start. If doing health research be healthy. If research into environment live an environmentally responsible lifestyle.)

Stages of ceremony * Prepare the space – most western concepts fit in here as well. * Assemble – bring together actors or ingredients (with intention)

Stages of ceremony – * Engage in Ritual: all working / thinking together at the same time. Ritualized manner – repeatable, people know what’s coming next, thinking about the same thing. Miracle will happen. It’s a miracle when you can teach someone anything

Stages of ceremony- * Incorporate into your lifestyle. Bring new knowledge from ceremony in own life and use/share. This is where wisdom comes from. “If your research doesn’t change you, then you haven’t done it right.” Part of the axiology of research

Distinguish between data, knowledge, wisdom (when lived, incorporated into lifestyles)

How to document? Everything from tattoos, artwork, environment – many ways to read and relate to others. Different people trained to read in different ways.

Engaging with the world – not just in nature

You don’t have to be out in the wilderness to see relationships in the environment. Listening to the land.

Audience Q: Thoughts on appropriation? A: Indigenist vs indigenous paradigm, i.e. without claiming indigenous understanding. Can use a belief system without appropriating lived experience. Understand different relationships to the knowledge

All these things affect the products of our research. Paper, widget, whatever we come up with. “Some products can fundamentally change our belief system.” Cycle. That’s why don’t need to be stuck in culture.

I get to understand concepts in a non-language way. Then I need to translate it for people. Then you need to translate my words back into an idea. But if you have different knowledge systems there can be misunderstandings. Different ways to tell a story.

…need cultural bridges

Stalled video stream gave me a chance to take this final screenshot …. Thanks Dr. Shawn Wilson for sharing your Indigenous knowledge and wisdom today.

Dr. Shawn Wilson during a live stream stall

Thanks to Royal Roads University for offering this session. I think we all learned a tremendous amount in this brief time. I should add there are parts of this discussion that I didn’t know how to relate in Tweets, for instance where visioning of relations and a discussion about dimensionalities came into play, with analogies to the delightful Flatland novella. I think you had to “be” there…

As curious observers

I can hardly believe it was already more than two years ago that a small group of us Canadian west coasters had just finished up the OER17 conference in London and were heading to Edinburgh to meet up with a few colleague-friends. We used a brief break in our travels to wander around parts of the city. Along the River Thames I came across a poet-for-hire and commissioned a poem on the topic of being open. I shared this poem in an earlier blog post “I can feel it kicking.”

Well, it’s still kicking. I came across a poet-for-hire today at a farmers market close to home, and commissioned another poem on the same topic: open.

Poet Zaynab Mohammed

Sometimes we try to describe “open” in academic language but somewhere along the way it seems to elude our grasp. The concept, rich, deep and complex, keeps slipping away as we try to chase it down. Sometimes it beckons, and other times it advises care.

In the science fiction movie Contact, scientist Dr. Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) tries to describe a mind-boggling celestial event. She finally gives up and says, instead, “They should have sent a poet.”

There must be something about a thoughtfully considered concept of “open” that invites a creative flow of energy and breaks through the clutter, as this new poem is as captivating as the previous one. One part, to me, speaks especially to our efforts as a community to better understand the seemingly inexhaustible meaning of open:

so as curious observers / we learn depth / when we braid our parts / open to the streams

So here it is:

And here’s what it sounds like…

Maybe we need a few more poets.

Untextbooks, rethinking instructional design, and whatever else comes to mind

“I see instructional designers, educational technologists or learning ecology consultants (which was a new title for me) as the Marine Corps of the educational world. They have seen many battles and have (mostly) survived. They have even learned how to occasionally win battles. That’s the kind of wisdom of which academic leaders and faculty and instructors should make much better use.”

Dr. tony Bates

As if people aren’t already busy enough. Dr. Michelle Harrison from Thompson Rivers University and I recently initiated a collaboration with BCcampus to develop an open textbook/reader on rethinking instructional design. To be written by multiple authors, representing multiple voices, the textbook is intended for use in senior and graduate level instructional design courses. We proceeded to cook up some initial thoughts, which went something like this.

Open textbooks are increasingly entering the mainstream of higher education as an important and valued element of open educational practices. While open textbooks are now available in a growing number of disciplines, the academic area of instructional design itself has relatively few open resources. (Which means we want to teach about open educational practices, for example, with…proprietary textbooks…right?)

Maybe not…

Online learning and use of educational technologies continue to grow in higher education, and also we see crossover of instructional designers more broadly between other sectors as well. In both our design work and teaching, we see a need for resources to spark a rethinking of instructional design beyond some of its traditional approaches among practitioners, faculty and students. We certainly know we’re not the only ones thinking about this, and we simply feel ready to add our own nudge to this slowly moving caravan of desires for change.

Some examples of issues to approach are the persistent underlying influence of behaviorism in instructional design practice, often in subtle and unrecognized ways; emerging open and critical pedagogies that are challenging some of the very foundations of instructional design; and the fact that instructional designers are increasingly wanting to know how to design inclusively and for different ways of knowing. And all this in the face of serious questions about the corruption of social media, the learning technology industry, and privacy and safety online, to name but a few. To summarize, given these and many more design settings, there is a need to learn about designing for… (fill in the blanks). In a way, we recognize that each of these areas relates to variations of questions forced by applying open and critical instructional design to the field.

This situation calls for teaching and learning resources not only for basic coverage of technical aspects of the field and its history, but also for our area of interest, which is introducing emerging directions in research and practice in the textbook/reader. This may consist of a collection of both recent  openly licensed research articles, and invited chapters and other commentaries…or a whole lot more…

When our colleague and friend Dr. Tannis Morgan recently took on an Open Education Researcher role with BCcampus, we were delighted to expand the team to include her; and Michael Paskevicius (with a shiny new PhD!) was welcomed on board shortly thereafter. The formidable foursome continued the conversation and soon arrived at the question, what kind of textbook/reader or resource do we want? We bashed out a quick early idea, and it went something like this.

Crowdsourcing the Untextbook
Open has provided us with new ways of constructing higher education, but at the same time has been mapped onto many of our existing artifacts and systems such as textbooks, design processes such as ADDIE, and course publishing models.  The textbook has been a prominent focus in the discourses and practices of open.

“A textbook is not merely a compendium of knowledge. Rather, it is an assemblage of knowledge organised for educational purposes. Textbooks, therefore, are not simply depositories of knowledge. Through their chapters, headings. tables, illustrations, worked examples, homework exercises, and so on, they mediate the structure of knowledge on the one hand, and the performance of teaching and learning on the other.”

Hamilton, 2003

While open licensing enables certain open pedagogical practices, what other aspects of the textbook need to be rethought in the context of open pedagogies and practices in light of the contradiction by Hamilton noted above?

In exploring options for the textbook, we are planning to build upon the emerging idea of the “untextbook” and facilitate a set of group processes to explore it further at several upcoming open education conferences. We held our first session at the Educational Technologies Users Group Fall 2018 workshop.

Upcoming sessions will challenge participants to be creative about the idea of the “untextbook” as conceptualized with its use in open pedagogy (Cronin, 2017) from the start. How can we build open pedagogy into the design of the untextbook resource itself so that students can engage, participate and contribute more effectively? How can the untextbook challenge traditional elements, roles and hierarchies embedded in pedagogically structured learning content? How then would we consider the purpose, structure and types of content? How would it be used in the mediation of knowledge, teaching and learning? Would it stimulate a rethinking of learning resources and learning design? Could an untextbook prioritize other forms of expression than just text, such as visual thinking, comics, other media – or alternative forms and combinations that we haven’t really thought about yet?  Finally, we need to consider how an untextbook could be developed and sustained over time. Could an untextbook be built and owned by community? How could the community be formed and what would define membership? How do we maintain currency and usability without the untextbook coalescing into yet another “finished” artifact?

Ideas generated in the earlier sessions will provide input for an all-day collaborative sprint that aims to begin creating prototypical untextbook elements within a critical instructional design lens at the Cascadia Open Education Summit in April 2019.  Our processes are still under development but will involve an iterative, design-based research approach, as well as Liberating Structures group activities.

Along with the conferences, we plan to do a lot of crowdsourcing using different methods to collect ideas and, ultimately, contributions. More to come.

—–

Cronin, C. (2017). Openness and Praxis: Exploring the Use of Open Educational Practices in Higher Education. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 18(5). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v18i5.3096

Hamilton, D. (2003). Instruction in the making: Peter Ramos and the beginnings of modern schooling. Accessed at https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED477528.pdf


Forty years of openness: TRU Open Learning

Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division, known informally as Open Learning (OL), is celebrating its 40th anniversary. OL has been around in different forms since 1978, when it was established as the Open Learning Institute  (OLI) in the province of British Columbia, Canada. OLI was inspired in large part by the model established roughly a decade earlier at the UK Open University, including the use of distance education print packages, educational broadcast television and course development teams and technologists to make education more widely available to those who were unable, for a variety of reasons, to attend a university campus.

“Telephone teaching.” Early display at the PNE promoting the Open Learning Institute.  Provincial Educational Media Centre, BC Archives.

OLI was established by BC’s  Social Credit government — known for its unique flavor of western Canadian right wing populism of that era — in part to address geographical isolation and other circumstances that prevented attendance at regular post-secondary institutions across the province. The advanced education minister at the time, Dr. Patrick McGeer, promoted the idea that broadcast media and other technologies could have an important role to play in higher education. Along with being an accomplished physician, neuroscientist and UBC university professor, as well as a controversial politician, he had an experimental mindset and advocated for an open sky policy promoting better access to satellite television signals, and built his own personal satellite dish out of plywood and wire mesh to encourage British Columbians to do the same in an act described in the provincial legislative assembly debate record as “a little civil disobedience.”

April 11, 1980. B.C.’s Minister of Universities, Science and Communication Pat McGeer holds part of the pressure-reducing regulator that is part of a compressed natural gas conversion kit – Vancouver Sun

While his push for an open sky satellite signal policy was perhaps related mostly to federal-provincial relations and an anti-regulatory mindset, his interests seemed to align well with the need for better access to higher education across BC. The complex and turbulent educational, social and political context of these early years is well told in a journal article by long-time open and distance education researcher Dr. Louise Moran.

My earliest work in open and distance learning was at the original OLI building, soon after it opened in a converted warehouse in Richmond, BC, where we designed and developed a variety of distance education course packages in course teams, burrowed among cubicles on the second floor of this industrial site, with airplanes roaring overhead in their approach to Vancouver International Airport. It was one of those areas where you could get your coffee and morning donut from a coffee truck that blew a loud horn as it rolled into the parking lot.

At the time we worked on Wang mainframe system terminals, plunking away on heavy monitors with flickering green screens.

Page from an Open Learning page layout guide

Our course teams consisted of instructional designers, content experts, editors, proofreaders, graphic artists, typographers, media specialists and technicians in the print shop. While our courses were largely print based – we paid a lot of attention to page layout and design – we also used video and audio cassettes, experimented with radio, and had access to late night television broadcasts.

Of course this was long before the introduction of the Internet;  courses went out through the postal service in pizza boxes, containing any or all of a bundle of bound booklets, manuals, textbooks, video or audio cassettes, and other such resources required to complete a course. Personal computers were even sent to students who were studying computer programming.

Since those early days, Open Learning has been through many changes, ups and downs, including a stint as the BC Open Learning Agency, which operated the BC Open University. These developments culminated in its merger with the University College of the Cariboo as part of the formation of today’s Thompson Rivers University. And that is where I returned around eight years ago to spend the latter part of my career in higher education and distance/open education.

Today Open Learning has 13,000 students online, and implements an impressive variety of open educational practices such as the use of OER including open textbooks, open access courses and programs, experimenting with open tools and pedagogies, asking for minimal prerequisites and residency requirements and supporting a highly regarded prior learning assessment and recognition policy.

This story could go on a lot longer, but I’ll just leapfrog to the present and conclude by congratulating Open Learning and its amazing faculty and staff for their huge contributions to learners and open educators in BC, across Canada, and around the world. I’m glad to have been part of it, both early on and most recently. May the next forty years for Open Learning be even better.

Another click on the wall

What to do when your technology fails in the classroom? This was a student teacher’s question submitted for our weekly online forum. The ensuing discussion was robust, with many examples shared. When the projector broke down in an elementary class, a pupil in the class had suggested the perplexed teacher sing the fun-dance action song that was intended to be played, and the pupils could act along. In another case a teacher decided make animal noises to compensate for failed sound clips; another played charades. When a Smart Board broke down, the pupils proclaimed “The Smart Board isn’t very smart today.” Smart pupils! There were many wonderful and creative examples. In some cases I think the workarounds were as good as, or better than, the technology-supported versions.

Below is a list of some lessons gleaned and summarized from this class’s collective practicum experiences and workarounds shared in the online forum. Inspired by a session offered by BCcampus’s Amanda Coolidge, there was interest in the class to share helpful products developed in the class with a CC license. I’ve named this one Another Click on the Wall, and I hope others will not only find it useful in their teaching-with-ed-tech practice, but also 5R it for others as well. (It should be copy-and-pasteable from the text below.) This project brings to mind discourses around “pedagogies of failure” but that’s for another time.

And here are some accompanying lyrics, which may be sung to this fairly recognizable tune:

We don’t need no applications
We don’t need remote controls
No dark projectors in the classroom
Teacher leave them vids alone
Hey! Teacher! Leave them vids alone.
All in all it’s just another click on the wall


Another Click on the Wall

Classroom technology fails and bails

Creative Commons License
By the students of EDIT 4150 TRU, Spring 2018 class. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Tip 1: When something breaks down and you can’t fix it, explain the intent of the activity to the students and let them suggest alternatives.

Tip 2: Don’t be afraid to step out and try something different when you’re stuck. It may be risky but students will appreciate your efforts, especially if you can maintain a sense of humour about it.

Tip 3: Check everything – technology, connections, accounts, passwords, permissions – ahead of time to make sure everything is working.

Tip 4: Learn from accidents – e.g. sometimes students will listen more closely if the volume of a video is lower even if it wasn’t originally intended that way.

Tip 5: Think on your feet – example: put a microphone (if available) up to a mobile device speaker if the audio output to the A/V system isn’t working. AKA pulling a rabbit out of your hat.

Tip 6: If your planned AV doesn’t work, mime or mimic the actions or sounds you wanted to play. Or… have your students do it. It might even be fun. AKA practice your farm animal sounds ahead of time.

Tip 7: Have a hard copy handy – e.g. in case the audio book stops playing, you can keep reading from the text. Same goes for slides, discussion/activity notes, etc.

Tip 8: Flip the app – e.g. turn an app designed for competition among students into a cooperative class activity by having them all work from the one device (gather them around, or if possible plug it into your projection system and let them provide the answers for the teacher to input).

Tip 9: Remember to sync the Smart Board; or else you’ll sink it.

Tip 10: Have your own emergency tool kit – a few cables, spare adaptors, charger, audio connectors, etc. suited for your own digital environment. Also paper and pens.

Tip 11: Charge the devices. Keep them charged. Check early to make sure they are charged.

Tip 12…add your own…

Being better thems

Source: Giphy

What are some things that make for a good workplace? Reminiscing about some of the jobs I’ve had over the years, ranging from delivering pizzas to operating a drill press to developing and teaching university courses, I started making a list. It was a pretty good list.

Then I took step back and re-read the list and realized how much of it was about “them”; i.e., what everyone else needs to do better to make this a great place for ME to work. Sometimes I think I have spent too much time living in the shadow of an all-encompassing THEM. Of course, there are many things “out there” that could be better. But also, I am part of someone else’s THEM. So…that makes me a THEM. So, how can I be a better THEM to them? I started a new list.
.
• Comfortably Numb. Own up to the fact that I have social, cultural and other biases that I am blind to, and yet that may be visible to or felt by others and contribute to their feeling of exclusion. I need to keep looking inward as well as listening to others.
• Lazy. Be willing to take responsibility for work that I haven’t given enough attention to, or rushed, or did sloppily. That’s my fault. I need to acknowledge this and do better.
• Communication Breakdown. Talk more. Sometimes I can rush ahead and do stuff without talking to the people who need to know, or who might have great insights to add, or who will have to pick up the pieces downstream. Bad.
• Heard It through the Grapevine. Put on the brakes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the chatter. In the absence of information, and in the swirl of change in the work setting, it’s a natural thing to speculate and ride the rumour mill. It doesn’t help anything or anyone. Stop it.
• Paranoid. Close to the previous thought – sometimes it’s too easy to assume the worst. Reasons for others’ decisions, announced changes, comings and goings, new initiatives – all of these can so easily invite negative assumptions. Give things a chance; a little time to breathe and learn more. Try a different perspective.
• You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Give and take. There are endless needs in work settings, as well as many different perspectives on what to do as well as the best way to get there. My own way naturally is the best. So: Get over myself.
• Shake It Off. Stuff is always going to happen and you can’t let it get to you. Players gonna play play play play. Haters gonna hate hate hate hate. So baby I’m just gonna shake shake shake it off.

Anyhow, it’s time to go. I could keep going all night long. But I’m starting to ramble on.

Ten years after: Running the rivers again

A little over ten years ago the BCcampus Educational Technologies Group (ETUG) held their spring workshop at Thompson Rivers University. Titled Running the Rivers: Challenging Currents in Teaching, Learning & Technology, the program included such topics as The Wiki in Post-Secondary Education, In the Moodle, and, presented by no less a luminary than Scott Leslie, Finding Free and Open Learning Resources.

Apart from its use as a metaphor, the “rivers” reference in the program title also acknowledged the flowing-together of the North and South Thompson Rivers in Tk’əmlúps, the local indigenous Secwepemctsín name for Kamloops, meaning “where the rivers meet” (as shown in this blog’s masthead photo).

Another convergence took place today at the same location, with a strategic framework planning session for open textbooks and related initiatives held on our campus. Ably led by Dr. Rajiv Jhanghiani from BCcampus and Kwantlen Polytechnic University, the session’s purpose was to combine multiple open educational resource efforts into one combined framework.

The threads being woven together:

  • The TRU student union (TRUSU) open textbook initiative, which has been under way for well over a year now.
  • The BCcampus Zed Cred program, from which TRU, along with two other institutions (Justice Institute of BC; KPU), has received grants to develop a zero-cost textbook one-year academic certificate.
  • Internal funding received by Open Learning from TRU to develop open textbooks.
  • The impending rollout of the first year of OERu studies at TRU.
  • Initiatives in the library to promote and curate OER.
  • The ongoing mandate of the Open Learning Division to provide open education to our students.

This was a big day for us, as we felt excitement and awareness build about our collective strengths combined to promote and expand the reach and benefits of openness in education. As the plan develops, it’ll be shared here and elsewhere for suggestions, and for others to use and adapt as they wish.

Well, I did it…

Well, I did it. Pulled the pin, as they say. After more than seven years at Thompson Rivers University’s Open Learning Division I’ve put in my letter. I’ll be done sometime in January 2018, though I’ll be off campus by November. I hate to call it retirement because that seems to imply golfing (which I don’t do), watching TV and/or doing nothing at all (both of which I also don’t do). Seeing what “retirement” means to people like Tony Bates makes me nervous…I could never live up to that superhuman level of energy. So I use that term with some qualifications. I am turning 62 this year and feel like it’s time to try some new things, but no longer full-time. In my career I’ve worked in the once-reputable book publishing industry (Prentice Hall), for the original BC Open Learning Institute, UBC, the Justice Institute of BC, the Certified Management Accountants of BC (now CPA), and, finally, circled back to Open Learning, which had since been merged with TRU after several iterations in between. I’m not sure how I got here, given that in my early teens I wanted to build race cars and motorcycles. Life can be weird.

Some good things have already come my way, including teaching for Royal Roads University, which I’m really excited to start in a few weeks. I get to work online with a group of graduate students learning about the use of technology in higher education. I will continue some of the open education research I’m currently involved in, and of course I want to spend more time on music and recording, something I feel I’ve neglected for far too long.

I’ve been interim Associate Vice-President at TRU for close to two years now. I started on at TRU as Director of Instructional Design which then expanded to all of Curriculum Development. Over this time some key moments have been getting my blasted PhD finished, increasing my network of amazing colleagues around the world, participating in the OERu project, co-editing an open access journal, and working side-by-side with the one-and-only Brian Lamb, who continues to be a wonderful colleague, friend and inspiration. I’ve gained many new colleagues and friends at TRU and I’ve really appreciated working with the instructional design team in Open Learning including department Chairs Melissa Jakubec and Michelle Harrison. I’m hoping to maintain an affiliation with TRU to enable more project work and research.

My former job has just been posted. It’s a great job and we worked to expand the scope and combine it with program delivery, which means all online teaching in Open Learning. The position is titled “Director of Curriculum Development and Delivery,” and it’s a good one. Please check it out or pass the tip on to a qualified individual you know. I want to leave this thing in good hands and someone out there, maybe YOU, is just right for it!

Things we don’t want to get used to

In a recent Bloomberg column “Let Robots Teach American Kids,” Tyler Cowan makes the case that their intrinsic lack of emotion can make robots more effective than humans in certain situations, by avoiding our psychological flaws. While I wouldn’t disagree that robotic communication may work in certain situations, the author makes me nervous when he says this will be the new normal and kids need to get used to AI early:

“Exposing children to robots early, and having them grow accustomed to human-machine interaction, is one path toward this important goal”

Screen Shot 2017-07-26 at 11.03.23 AM

Two quick stories.

Just making idle conversation in the medical lab chair this morning, I asked Laine about her name – is it short for Elaine? She chuckled as she poked the needle into my vein and told me her full name is Orlaine – but people always read her name tag wrong and call her Lorraine. So now it’s just Laine. She finished filling the tubes, released the rubber tourniquet from my arm and sent me off. I wished Orlaine a nice day as I headed out the door for my badly needed post-fast toast and coffee.

Earlier, few minutes before I stepped into the chair, Laine couldn’t find my standing order in the lab’s database, thanks likely to the recent merger with another lab company that has been characterized by all kinds of database glitches.  I expected her to tell me to come back later with a new requisition. But that’s not what happened. Instead, she called my doctor’s office to see if they could fax it over. The office wasn’t open yet. Since I had another blood requisition as well, she said she’d draw the extra tube anyway and hold it till I could get the requisition faxed over that morning. She spent probably ten minutes trying to get this problem sorted out for me so I wouldn’t have to make another appointment and come back.

Things like this make me feel good; I really, really appreciate that level of caring and professionalism, the willingness to go a few extra steps to help someone out. Robots don’t, and, I predict, never will, go to such lengths and adjust procedures to help out as Laine just did. They will be programmed for one thing: efficiency.

In a similar vein (ok sorry) I appreciate the attendants at those self-checkout machines. Because the machines have no idea what’s actually happening beyond their minimal inputs, they become what can only be interpreted as passive-aggressive at the slightest perceived human malfunction. Taking a little too long to move items from one step to another? The machine urges you in an overly friendly tone to get on with it. If you just dropped a can of beans on the floor and have to chase it down, it nags you to “Please put the item in the bagging area.” (Of course, it’s polite; it says “Please.” But can’t you see I’m busy, idiot?) When you dig through your wallet trying to find your debit card, it again loses patience and repeats the command to pay up, in an increasingly louder voice. All too often, it glitches out and asks you to locate an attendant. Usually, with a roll of the eyes at the machine, the wave of a magic ID card in front of the scanner and the punching of a few mysterious buttons, the attendant resets the machine. The final “Thank you for shopping at …” robotically burped by the machine doesn’t really move me at that point.

So, I vote for keeping humans in our many systems where human interactions not only do the job well, but also can show the ability to care and cut to the chase. I vote for not allowing ourselves, or our children, ever to get used to the dehumanizing shortcomings of robotic talk.

Now I’m trying to picture classrooms of the future staffed by robots …

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