Cheating as Learning P2PU course on Rhizomatic Learning

I’ve recently started doing a course on Rhizomatic learning on the Peer to Peer University – it is a great course which is available here

I’ve been having a few technical problems pasting onto the site – so have elected to post the comments here. The post below is related to the prickly issue of Cheating as learning – and the text below is the comment (I attempted) to post


I”ve recently finished listening to a great LSE podcast keynote speech  delivered by the advertisement guru Dave Trott. Available here

Now Dave engages in something he calls “predatory thinking” (well he is in advertising I suppose) and it got me thinking about “cheating as learning” as I saw a number of parallels between what Dave was saying, and the content we are discussing here. Dave describes “predatory thinking” as a process (indeed a rejection of the traditional didactic (as he puts it) parroting of facts back to educators) where one must “question everything, break it apart and don”t accept it until it makes [personal] sense”. This is from Dave”s Website

“Predatory thinking. Street smarts. Whatever you want to call it, it’s about writing the rules on your terms, rather than following someone else’s; it’s about changing behaviour through reframing a story or changing the context; it’s about seeking unfair advantage to outmanoeuvre the competition.”

Now Dave is in the cut throat world of advertising – but I thought it was worth discussing as he is conveying some of my thoughts on “cheating as learning”.

My thoughts are that society at large has been effectively “lobbed” this great new technology, because of spectacular leaps forward in microprocessor power, telecommunications, personal connectivity, etcetera, that has descended straight out of the clouds, or more likely Amazon, Currys, Dick Smith”s etc; either way, as “consumers” (hate that term) this technology has been dropped straight into our laps.

Culturally we, as a species are now in the process of “making sense” of it all. I am minded of the apes in Stanley Kubrick”s movie version of Arthur C Clarks “2001: a space oddysey” when the apes tried to figure out what the obelisk was. Ironically I tried to find a parody clip of this scene in 2001 from Zoolander where they “deconstruct” an Apple Mac in a similar manner – but because of “copyright” reasons the NPAA have deemed this clip should not exist for free in the public domain” Go figure”

So – as we go about breaking down, and sometimes just breaking this technology – remixing it, linking it up, adding bits here and there, repurposing it deconstructing it, we do so out of necessity in order to incorporate unrealised efficiencies, new practicalities and ultimately brand new “affordances” from the technology. To maximise our use of these new technologies, we must bend or break existing rules in order to maximise opportunities for use of  the new technology, to create new landscapes and environments from the old. That causes friction.

I am minded of (I think) the RIAAs thwarted attempt in 1999 to outright “ban” Mp3 players, as the technology was against the “rules” of copyright. How ridiculous does this sound now” Yet the technology – legitimately designed by the Fraunhoffer Institute in Germany – was used, remixed, and incorporated into new unheard of forms of content distribution which in turn gave rise to wholly new forms of technology and ultimately a new technological landscape, aptly demonstrated by the humble mp3. Portable MP3 players gave birth to the iPod, which became a household name, which gained ubiquitous adoption, which gave rise to its counterpart iTunes and the iTunes music store, and a burgeoning online marketplace for audio and now apps” You can see the trajectory.

Without dragging on, the key point here is that each incremental step in the evolution of these technologies to what we have now was met with barriers, and sometimes downright hostility. If it wasn”t for the (so called) “rule breakers” we would still be driving in cars at 3mph with a guy with a red flag walking in front of us. Hold on, we”d still be in steam trains, or would Thomas Newcomen and George Stephenson still be in their respective family kitchens thinking to themselves”. ” I better not touch that kettle, it’s against the rules – and I might burn myself”, thus writing off 300 years of industrial progress in the process.

I”m being flippant, but in closing – I feel that “cheating as learning” is Dave Trotts “predatory thinking”, good old fashioned competitive thinking strategies utilised in order to gain advantage in a competitive environment. Dave Trott put it well and I think it fits well with “cheating as learning” – he says “creativity is the last, legal unfair advantage we have.” I think that “cheating as learning” as long as it is not particularly egregious and not wholesale ripping off of someone else”s efforts is part of an avant-garde, a leftfield creative advance that acts to safeguard against outdated dogmas and rules and one that is successfully checking and challenging the status quo. It is thoroughly entrepreneurial at heart, and long may it continue.

Defining where/when it becomes something other than healthy – now that is another story… Anyone? :o)


Artifacts for learning. Are Hi-tech solutions contingent on Lo-tech solutions?

I’ve dug out an old Prezi presentation from my archives, and tweaked it a bit – so you can see some of the excellent effects and transitions available in Prezi. This one is just some ramblings of mine on the subject of Technology Enhanced Learning, that I thought I would share, and one of the first “Prezis” I have ever created. I started this presentation ( a long time ago) with the premise that all artifacts we use – are man made, therefore they are in essence human developed technologies. In that regard, learning is no exception to the rule. We use technology to learn with all the time, to assist us with the working out of problems and the generation of ideas, the remembering of useful facts and in the demonstrating and sharing knowledge with one another through discourse.

From the humble spiral notepad – or ruler, to the latest innovations from the world of social media, tablet computers, mobile devices, etc, they all constitute human technological artifacts that can assist us in the process of learning. As an educational pragmatist I have always used what ever fits best for a given teaching scenario, whether that be a crayon, interactive whiteboard, webcam, or a cup of tea and a chat, all technologies – even human speech has a part to play in our journey through education.

As someone who is a keen advocate of shiny new technologies, (a financial burden my wallet can attest to) I sometimes court controversy with colleagues and peers who believe in the superiority of new technology over old. I love to use new technology all the time and regularly introduce new technology into teaching and learning. However I am of the opinion,that if a less technological solution can get the same results with equal or less problems – then, providing it is fit for for purpose – it should be used.

I am minded of the space race, when a U.S company called Fisher spent thousands of dollars from  their R&D budget to build a “space” pen for the US space programme, They invented a special pressurised ink cartridge, and after hundreds of hours of development time, had developed the ultimate in writing technology, a pen that could be used in zero gravity, underwater – and any number of extreme conditions. Indeed it was a genuine triumph of  engineering, a tour de force in the modernisation and adaptation of an existing technology, a pinnacle of engineering design…. That was until a Russian Cosmonaut quipped… “Instead of wasting all that money, why didn’t they just use a pencil?”

Lo-tech – can sometimes trump Hi-tech, and whilst the Fisher pen was no doubt the crowning achievement of writing technology, the humble pencil was, although technically retrograde in comparison – it was equally fit for purpose – without all the additional time and expense. Therefore it is the best choice in that situation.

I make the argument in my prezi presentation (above) – that new demands and new environments can sometimes liberate old technologies. With the advent of extremely high bandwidth technologies – the restrictions and barriers on socially meaningful and “human rich” environments, traditionally reserved for face to face, physically present interaction are now being liberated for the age of the internet. Gone are the restrictions that asynchronous and non instant technologies had on our exposure to the internet.

Nova Spivak - Web as world

Nova Spivak – Web as world

These technologies still have their place, email, blogs, and web publishing are an integral part of the internet landscape, but to my mind the “Warp” of asynchronous technologies is blending and becoming augmented with the “weft” of the synchronous or immediately interactive technologies, thus creating a rich fabric, that is allowing us the ability to explore new richer and socially meaningful dimensions of learning, which, seemingly counter intuitively, are also liberating the older technologies of speech, human collaboration, and ultimately human social interaction. Nova Spivak described it brilliantly when he said that we are using the system of the internet to amplify our understanding of the world, as outlined in his image above. the interplay between the inner-space of the digital world and outer or physical space is helping create an amplification of our understanding of the world, with each aspect of the system reinforcing the other. To reuse the fabric metaphor, we as human agents – the “weft” are through the use, adaptation and the augmentation of the internet becoming enmeshed in the “warp” of this new emerging, and socially transformational technology that is the internet?

Food for thought indeed.

XO Marks the Spot: CEIBAL and the Educational Transformation of Uruguay

I attended Association of Learning Technologists Conference (ALT-C) last week  in Leeds, (Tuesday 6th September) with one of my colleagues from the Academic Development Unit (ADU) here at the University of Salford.

It was my first ever ALT-C conference despite working as a Learning Technologist for almost ten years.  Unfortunately ALT-C has always seemed to come at the wrong time of year for me. The time either seems to coincide with the transitional phase that invariably occurs between one semester and the next, of one online system or another, or it tends to conflict with preparation for the new semester. Sometimes, mentioning no names – it can be picking up the lose ends that should have been done before the conclusion of last years work.

Well,  this year I made it to Leeds and ALT-C for one day, thanks to being involved in writing the content for a workshop with Nerantzi Chrissi from the ADU, and Professor Huw Morris – our PVC Academic. I really have to thank Chrissi – for taking the time to ensure that we both got to the ALT conference, as one of the events in particular has made a positive impression on me.

The most important event for me was the key note speech given by Miguel Brechner, shown here at ALT-C . Miguel is director of the Technological Laboratory of Uruguay and the lead figure in charge of Plan CEIBAL, (Educational Connectivity/Basic Computing for Online Learning in English) a project which has allowed many (over 400,000) school children in Uruguay (a country with only a population of roughly 3.5 million) effective ownership of their own laptop. This scheme thereby equips every single pupil and 18,000 teachers of Uruguay’s public primary education system with a laptop, (and by extension their families) access to the world of computers and the internet for the first time,  Plan CEIBAL  is a project that resembles what we know now as the One Laptop One child initiative. Below is a presentation that thoroughly details the excellent work CEIBAL.

The reason I’ve written this entry, is that Miguel conveyed for me something powerful, indeed inspiring. It wasn’t so much the undoubtedly inspired use of the XO laptops themselves which are detailed here and pictured below, but the important piece in jigsaw puzzle the XO was now playing in terms of no less than the transformation of Uruguayan society.

XO laptop

XO Laptop

It was clear that the little XO was now the unlikely lead role on the stage, a diminutive, green plastic, bit-part player that has emerged from stage left to become, to my mind, what could be one of the most important and transformative catalysts for change in Uruguay, and, if successfully replicated in other countries, a model for the rest of the developing world. You see for me what was special about project CEIBAL and the little XO wasn’t that it wasn’t conceived as a technological project per se, but that it was conceived as an integral part of a comprehensive package of technical, infrastructural, and social initiatives that have transcended technology to become transformative at a societal level.

The young people using the laptops get to take them home to their families to use, families that are usually using computers for the very first time – some of which live quite remotely, and some of which only have intermittent electrical supply, or solar power. This still enables the charging of the laptop – an important consideration.

One of the challenges according to Miguel Brechner was the installation of ubiquitous connectivity in each of the regions being benefited, as he put it, “it was expensive – but it was necessary” if the project is to work as intended. As all areas have local connectivity, this allows the family, as well as the schoolchild to explore the internet together, and they can learn from the young person, and as they each learn – the family learns as a whole. As Brechner again put it to the ALT-C audience – “the Internet is a right”

In this regard CEIBAL seems to perfectly represent what seems to be, from my mind, a confluence of Educational, Sociopolitical  and Technological factors which seem to join to bring the perfect mix of not only a project that works in its physical implementation, but one that harnesses in that unique South American style, the forces of equality, social capital, political will and a clear vision for what is right, and just in any society.  CEIBAL seems to represent a modern coalescing of the political ideals and social welfare agenda espoused by revolutionary Venezuelan Simon Bolivar and the pedagogical influences of Brazilian Paulo Friere, demonstrated in his work in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

If we look wider it appears to me that CEIBAL seems to be a vital building block in a transformation of South American society. Although in South America’s Southern Cone, Uruguay is joined in it’s implementation of similar social welfare and educational schemes by is neighbours in the north in the form of Evo Morales’ Bolivia, and particularly Hugo Chavez’ Venezuela whose Bolivar Orchestra chimes a similar chord to the CEIBAL project, demonstrating that a country’s poorest can achieve exemplary levels of skill and accomplishment, given the right chances, as amply demonstrated below at the UK’s last night of the proms.

I see Miguel Brechner’s CEIBAL as something special, something which should serve, and indeed could serve as a template for the rest of the world, a pathway for us all to follow, and something driven by inclusivity, need, and social justice, and crucially one which puts the poor at the heart of the transformation.

Do I have any regrets from ALT-C, well yes, one. I didn’t have the courage to go over and talk to Miguel Brechner, but from my computer I wish him all the best, and if there is anything we can do for him – please just let us know.

Step aside Pareto!

Hi all. This blog, as you can no doubt see from the scant insertion of articles has been in abeyance for some time now – as I’ve not really had much “quality” time to devote to it. Occasionally I have had that moment of inspiration in which one has the impetus to scramble to the keyboard and wax lyrically about the latest development in the world of Technology Enhanced Learning, or “TEL” as we Learning Technologists call it, only to fall foul of the Pareto’s famous principle, or the 80/20 rule, where to make the article “fit” the rigid boundaries of what I would qualify as TEL I have to spend 80% of my time writing about the aspects of the blog which would in effect constitute only 20% of the finished article.

Well, I don’t know about you other bloggers out there, (or is it just me?) but because of this aspect of blog writing, I’ve struggled to find the time to cultivate suitably tailored articles to commit to my (this) blog – not because I don’t think that I have anything interesting or constructive to say – but because the way I first envisaged my blog was that I would write perfectly pruned, cultivated articles that were tailored specifically and exactly to the subject of TEL.

As one who has set up dozens of blogs for academic colleagues, and trained them on their setup, use and content management, etc – I have found myself (ashamed to say) becoming unstuck with blog writing myself – and not listening to my own advice – now where have I heard that before?. Recently I have I have had a re-evaluation of what should be in my blog, after observing that in the real world not many things “fit” within rigid boundaries, and therefore my blog could in effect be no exception.

So – I’ve decided that my blog will still be about Technology, Learning, and enhancement, but, I have given myself permission to go off piste, and delve in to what really makes me tick. Before you nod off I’ll cut to the chase – I am interested in technology, yes, but what gets me interested and makes me sit up and take notice is what happens in the thin gap between us, humans, and the technology – the tectonic zone that is the boundary between us and the technology.

That ever-shifting gap, that causes us to embrace or recoil from certain technologies, that interface where technology is adopted or rejected, for me, is where the action is. Technology is shaping everything we do, and we are shaping everything it does for us, and that two way interchange between society and what we call technology is what is exciting for me?

Any thoughts? Answers on a postcard.

Higher Education and the rise of the Flelephants

Events seem to be moving with an increased pace these days in Higher Education not least spurred on by the imminent parliamentary vote on tuition fees for students. What ever way the vote goes, I think it is safe to say this issue will have a profound effect on the HE landscape in the months and years ahead, as we enter a new paradigm of austerity.

As core budgets continue to be squeezed, the issue of student payment amounts and mechanisms for that payment will undoubtedly become a substantially larger agenda item for most Vice Chancellors, as they struggle to make their respective books balance.

With this in mind I started to think about the future of HE. What will it look like, feel like, and exist as – in the months, years, and decades ahead.

I was minded of the metaphor of the Elephant and the flea, and the place of Universities as large institutions (elephants) in our economy – large, stable, dependable establishments, much like their contemporaries in the commercial world – the corporations. But I thought that we need to also be mindful of, is the smaller infinitely more adaptable flea.

An individual in Handy’s original text – (but a description I feel fits smaller organisations too) the flea, is the creature in this analogy that is smaller more adaptable, quick, and equipped for change.

That got me thinking about Higher Education in general, and how much of the development of the Higher Education apparatus – in terms of infrastructure, buildings, historic funding and to an extent pedagogical approach has been built around that of the “Elephant”?

The bulk of what we regard as our current University system in the UK was built up around the end of the 19th and start of the early 20th century. Originally built in industrial towns – these “Red Brick” institutions were constructed as engineering and science colleges erected to provide talent, educated knowhow and entrepreneurial “liquidity” to the burgeoning industrial behemoth that Britain had become at the latter part of the 19th century.

Driven in part by the rapid technological change of the railways, steam ships and the internal combustion engine, the development of these institutions was also expedited in part, as a response to the biggest industrial competitor Britain had at the time. Germany.

The start of the 20th Century was a time of massive political, cultural, economic upheaval and transformation. The industrialisation of the country was the route to success for the U.K then, and ultimately this model, became a highly successful meme, which spread and transformed the West into what we can see today.

The building of big “things” was key to this development, big companies, big ships, big cities, big institutions. Physical size and presence was the key to this success of industrialism.

This “industrialisation” model of transformational change, which was ultimately derived from Enlightenment thought a century before, as extolled by Kant, Locke, and Hume provided the mechanism for 100 years of economic, cultural, and technological domination of the globe, worldwide trade, and cultural and political memes such as the spread of systems of democratic representation throughout large parts of the world.

Moving forward a century we can see the same dynamics at work again. With the rapid development of new technologies, the emergence of strong competitors in other countries, and the current economic dislocation of western systems of finance; all routes point – in my mind – towards an inflection point, if you will – where the technology, systems and infrastructure of the past, are rapidly becoming obsolete.

From a HE perspective, the tectonic shift of the wider geopolitical world is creating a profound resonance for us in the way we do business.

Change is looming, and unavoidable; the old “industrial” certainties are a thing of the past. The harsh reality is that the future of education is no longer dependant on large buildings, city locations or large manicured campuses. The reality is that we are even becoming less reliant on “places” per se.

So my contention is, that the systems we have used for the last century are becoming increasingly redundant. The competitive advantage afforded historically by large buildings, libraries, auditoria and lecture theatres, is giving way to the comparative advantage of small institutions, and private sector competitors, who are using technology to “lever” themselves into positions of note.

They can now reach more people via technology than the largest lecture theatre, as a result the price point for their courses is less, but their reach via the internet is no less great than those of traditional institutions. Indeed some would contend that their reach (as fleas) is greater at the moment – as they have adapted to the new realities much more quickly than those of the elephant.

The gauntlet has been thrown down for us in HE. I believe however, it is possible to use the competitive advantage of our reputation for quality, and historical integrity, to our advantage, whilst simultaneously creating smaller technologically advanced “divisions” – offshoot if you will – for HE institutions that can become more “flealike” in their adaptability, become accustomed to the new paradigm and much more quickly start to compete in the new environment, whilst at the same time allowing the larger parent time to adapt, and to lend weight to the new offshoot.

We need to adapt, change, and become more flexible in our approach to “being”; this will have to be reflected in a wholesale change in the way we operate. From location, and the use of physical resources and infrastructure, to systems of organisation, to working patterns (no more 9-5 on a globally attended course) and to the implementation of technologically innovative solutions.

We need to think about how to “transmogrify” into a hybrid that is both Elephant and Flea…. Now where’s a geneticist when you need one?

Elephant. – Quality assured, Reputable, Permanent, Reliable, Value added and Prestigious,

Flea. –Flexible, dynamic, innovative, adaptable, quick.

More to follow…

Weapons of Mass Construction

I had a provoking thought the other night about the power and democratising effects of mobile technology when I attended a Faithless gig at the MEN Arena in Manchester on Saturday. The lights went down – and I could see an ocean of  Smart Phone handsets lighting up the whole arena as people texted and took photos of the venue.

The main act started and the lead Singer Maxi Jazz was making a few good points in his lyrics, reinforced by a series of LED news tickers on the stage. The messages I was hearing were about pertinent, current, social and world issues in the world regarding environmental degradation, war exploitation, etc. All very worthy stuff, and with a captive audience of 25,000 his messages couldn’t fail to hit the mark. With the audience cheering readily at his proclamations, he had definitely hit the mark.

This “event” got me thinking about a conversation I heard on the radio last week regarding how news topics being driven via online services such as Google trends, as well as social networking services – and how a growing section of the corporate mainstream media – particularly in the US – were increasingly determining their news agenda on the basis of search topics, and trending phrases, allowing them to immediately plug into the “trend of the moment” via Google.

As the market for TV news is incredibly saturated; the news corporation that can successfully capture the public mood – or tap into the current issues of interest in the general population will become more relevant, and steal a lead on the competition – and – will always have the “issue of the moment” on their screens at the right time – every time, allowing for immediate, highly current, “Zeitgeist Broadcasting”.

It just stuck me there and then at the gig, that ordinary people could actually shape the corporate news agenda and alert the news corporations as to what the current, pertinent news stories of worth were.

This led me on to thinking about the phenomenon of “Googlebombing” which is a practice  intended to influence the ranking of particular pages in results returned by the Google Trends section of the search engine. So by reckoning – if the Maxi Jazz were to have asked everybody in the Arena with a internet equipped handset to type a phrase such as “Peak Oil”, or “no students fees” or “release Liu Xiaobo” or another phrase  into Google – then there would have been a massive surge in the search term in the Manchester area. Maybe the Manchester Evening News or north West Tonight may have run an article on “Peak Oil” or Liu Xiaobo the following night?

So I wonder – in the right hands – with the right circumstances, the correct phrase, and the a host of willing participants –  could we use mobile technology to actively shape the news agenda to reflect the wishes aspirations and interests of the people? now that would have a democtratising effect on the media, and become a force of mass constuction…