Friday, September 17, 2010

My Brain as my PLE

This simple concept map represents my response to some of the issues that have arisen during Week 1 of the open course in PLENK (Personal Learning Environments, Networks and Knowledge).

Specifically, it attempts to address ambiguities around:
  • the distinctions between PLEs (environments) and PLNs (networks), as raised in the Week 1 discussion forum

  • the degree to which the P (personal) actually applies, as raised during the Week 1 webinar
As I see it, such ambiguity stems from the assumption that such concepts must always be understood as technologically mediated.

The graphic above therefore posits my brain as my PLE -- the space where information from other sources is gathered, analyzed and acted upon. 

My PLN(s) then become(s) the (combination of) various human networks, each containing important discourses for me, that I choose to plug into to support various aspects of my learning.   

Th bi-directional arrows indicate knowledge flows, both between my brain and the various discourse networks as well as cycling among the networks themselves, through me.

The fact that I make choices about which networks to integrate into my brain, and the fact that such integration will then influence my identity as a learner or practitioner in that field, make this for me an intensely personal space.

For me, the above re-articulation of the concept(s) of PLE/PLN helps to resolve some of the ambiguities. 

Note that what I am proposing is not the brain as a metaphor for the PLE, but rather the technology-supported PLE as a physical manifestation of the brain, or at least the part of it that has been outsourced to technology tools for low-level information processing. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Worst Practices in CoPdom

Communities of Practice

With the development of web-based communication technologies, the Community of Practice (CoP) is a growing presence in larger organizations. These online mini-environments -- which bring together a/synchronous communications, document sharing and multimedia display -- are designed on the logic of user-driven open collaboration and resource sharing and allow for ongoing dialogue among employees.

Organizations take up CoPs on the premise that the horizontal communications enabled by the technology will facilitate the breaking down of siloed cultures and encourage innovation out of the resulting multidisciplinary dialogue. Real-life experiences of CoPs show, however, that these ‘new’ forms of organization and communication tend to fail in the medium- to longer-term.

Communities of Practice - Worst Practices

Numerous lists of best practices have been written on setting up and running successful CoPs; having witnessed the failure of a few online communities, I propose this list of worst practices – what not to do to have a successful CoP.

(Please note that this list of worst practices has also been posted in the CPsquare wiki  and is open to collaborative modification there.) 

1) Expect a CoP to change your organizational culture

If the organization lacks a collaborative culture to begin with (or is not invested in creating one) the CoP will do nothing to advance the silo-breaking objectives sought. Simply opening up avenues of communication is not enough to get people talking.

It can however be a valuable tool in a larger strategy to open up spaces for peer discussion and collaboration. A CoP is a product of -- and tends to reproduce -- the organizational culture.

2) Incorporate a CoP into an unstable organizational environment

If insecurity and competition is high in the organization, trust and sharing will be low, and it will be difficult to maintain a productive CoP. You will end up either with an inactive community or an activist one. If you don’t want to deal with unresolved issues, don’t bring in a CoP.

On the other hand, a CoP can be an effective tool to capture various data during an organizational transition, if it seen by members as a supported space to document real issues and openly contribute to developing organizational solutions.

3) Use a CoP to filter down organizational talking points

Intranets and other organizational communications do this, and replicating it in a CoP will nullify the value of the community for employees.

The CoP is a trickle-up technology that privileges perspectives from the ground that provide insight as to where to make changes. If you don’t want to represent on-the-ground perspectives, don’t implement a CoP.

4) Be exclusivist in your selection of CoP members

Choosing your members based on positions rather than fields, disciplines or interests replicates internal hierarchies and will limit the diversity of discourses that could be represented and developed.

Opening up your CoP membership as wide as possible can bring in novel insights from non-specialists in the field who might be just what's needed to be able to see the issues from fresh and alternative perspectives.

5) Fail to recognize employee participation in your CoP

Asking your employees to participate in CoPs 'off the corner of their desks' neglects the value of work time invested, ideas produced or learning gained that contributes to employee and organizational development.

Publicly recognizing and rewarding employee contributions and participation in a CoP will generate value, interest and incentive for further participation and could make it a place for employees to showcase their unique skills and passions, all of which can further organizational objectives of knowledge and product creation.

6) Control the discourse in your CoP

Planting members to strategically redirect or silence opinions or information that may run counter to organizational perspectives is the surest way to remove incentives for participation in a CoP, not to mention trust within the organization.

Being open to counter-discourses, on the other hand, will build trust and give you both credibility and access to information that is being discussed among employees in any case, with the added bonus of a chance to present the logic behind organizational perspectives. If you are not open to such negotiation, don't implement a CoP.

7) Leave your CoP to its own devices

Simply opening up a space and asking your employees to fill it with content will not work -- if you dont have the incentive to fill it with content, why should they?

Participating and modeling the kind of interaction you expect in your CoP from the top down will act as the strongest driver for employees at lower levels to be included in the discussions you open up.

8) Use a CoP to colonize knowledge

Lurking and silently plucking out for development any innovative ideas produced in your CoP, while leaving out those who produced them, will be seen as knowledge theft and your CoP will be viewed as a technological hierarchy. This will generate strategic rather than open communication, and could leave your employees even less collaborative than they might have been before the existence of the CoP.

On the other hand, including employees in processes developed from the fruits of their labour will immediately incentivize knowledge sharing and production, with the added benefit that the employees will feel more part of and take more autonomous responsibility for your organizational success.

9) Commodify a CoP for profit

Pushing for-fee technology platforms, tools, expertise or memberships for your CoP creates a commodity, not a community. Charging members to interact, innovate and produce knowledge that is of value will be seen as snake oil at best and exploitative at worst, and you will end up with an empty CoP and no profits.

A CoP can, however, become an integral part of your business plan with the objective of applying the knowledge produced there for the benefit of developing both the employees and the organization in the process of product and profit generation.

10) Expect a quick quantifiable ROI from your CoP

Growing seedlings takes time, and the fruits of knowledge gained or produced in a CoP, like the fruits of learning, will only become apparent in the long term, usually as altered organizational relationships, processes or services. It is difficult to quantify the potential value of a seedling as so much depends on the surrounding environment, careful nurturing and unexpected events that can affect its growth and production.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

CONFERENCE - LearnTrends 2009 (Balances & Paradoxes)


A little late, I know, but I'm still buzzing from the LearnTrends 2009 Conference -- three days of peace, love and learning about organizational learning -- all online and by the digital glow of my monitor.

With its focus on trends and innovations in learning in the workplace, the event brought together a diverse lineup of corporate and academic presenters plus hundreds of interested participants -- opening day boasted 300-person-packed Elluminate sessions.

The highlight for me was a fruitful session led by George Siemens, co-founder of the Connectivist theory of learning (taking as its central metaphor the network), who made "an argument for contextual reflection" in his talk Finding New Points of Balance (video above).

Beginning with dichotomous perspectives -- such as those that emerge when organizations try to integrate learning technologies into their operations (i.e. open/closed, formal/informal, learner/worker) -- George used a highly interactive webinar to argue that:

  • 'Two elements can be opposed but have overlapping points on a continuum'
  • 'Balancing of oppositional elements fosters learning'

  • 'Context will determine the balance'

  • 'Every act of expression is a potential point of connection'

The four points above, in sequence, would be my twitter summary of the talk -- which is to say that each point packs a massive amount of information for me.

George's element/continuum model echoes for me the particle/wave dichotomy in quantum physics -- which reminds me of a friend's comparison of Newtonian ('linear, logical, traceable') versus Quantum ('circular, non-linear, and constantly in a state of becoming and transformance') thinking patterns, and their relationships to languages ('noun-based' versus 'verb-based', respectively).

'Try describing a chair without using a noun', she challenged me (thanks to lmibach, in reference to an address given by Professor Leroy Little Bear).

All of this occurred in the context of a discussion on knowledge management -- in particular, why rich communications were so rare in large organizational communities of practice.

The upshot for me is that noun-based languages objectify, and therefore tend to rationalize and commodify. A chair is a thing that I sit on. Verb-based languages, on the other hand, would tend to generalize and equalize by imparting animate qualities to all things. A chair is...sitting strong(?).

With regard to communities of practice, then, Newtonian thinking would tend to produce discussions in which fully-formed, pre-analyzed and well-supported ideas were presented, whereas a Quantum-thinking forum would expect the free-flow of seemingly contradictory, incomplete, outrageous and even subversive ideas.

And in my view, the capacity for subversiveness ought to be one (if not the) raison d'être of the organizational community of practice -- which otherwise simply replicates existing structures/discourses and so adds little of new value.

So the question for me becomes: How can one foster Quantum sociality within a Newtonian context? Or to ask it in a more familiar way, how can we foster (open) networks within and across (closed) institutional hierarchies? George's answer would be: Start by finding their overlapping points on a continuum.

It sounds like an obvious strategy -- something I could easily express linguistically by replacing all of my 'versus' and '/' above to 'and' (or perhaps to 'and/versus'). But really it's tight-rope walking -- an attempt to bring together polemically opposed discourses.

This balancing act itself fosters learning, according to George, forcing us as it does to explore "ways in which divergent viewpoints find some level of similarity." Sounds to me a lot like the idea of 'cognitive dissonance' -- those uncomfortable inconsistencies in our worldviews that drive us to learn more.

And that's related to Patrick Cohendet's notion of 'cognitive distance' (sufficient differences in roles, knowledge, perspectives and norms) between communities of practice as an essential condition supporting successful cross-community knowledge building (thanks to fgossieaux).

"We learn from others only when they see and know things differently," Cohendet emphasizes, and "out of this friction of competing ideas can come the sort of improvisational sparks necessary for igniting organizational innovation."

In all three cases, destabilization acts as a driver for learning as means of (re)establishing equilibrium.

So, applied to the case at hand (networks and/versus hierarchies), the overlapping points as I see them are: hierarchies and communities. 'Hierarchies' because networks are also self-organizing hierarchies within the wider institutionally-imposed hierarchy; 'communities' because to me the best example of a community of practice in practice is the organizational hierarchy itself, which produces a culture that tacitly and efficiently socializes its members to acceptable roles, knowledge, perspectives and norms.

So: networks as hierarchies within hierarchies and hierarchies as communities within communities.

If the above is true, then the logical function of an organizational CoP should be to act as a nurtured 'autonomous bubble' within the wider hierarchy (thanks to pstoyko) or a counter-culture within the community. As George put it, "discussion and debate needs to occur to shape any strategy to support organizational culture."

So then why do organizations that invest so much in setting up CoPs then invest further in developing strategies to control the discourse and stifle debate that may unfold on their discussion boards? Does this not nullify the value of (and the investment made in) the organizational CoP?

For me, the answer to that comes from Chris Argyris's work on paradoxes as symptomatic of what he calls 'organizational defensive routines', which he defines as "any policy or action that prevents someone (or some system) from experiencing embarrassment or threat, and simultaneously prevents anyone from correcting the causes of the embarrassment or threat. Organizational defensive routines are anti-learning and overprotective."

The best example of an organizational defensive routine is the 'mixed message', which for Argyris contains "meanings that are simultaneously: ambiguous and clear; imprecise and precise." The inconsistencies in the mixed message are crafted by design, and are produced according to a process:
  1. Design a message that is inconsistent.

  2. Act as if the message is not inconsistent.

  3. Make the inconsistency in the message, and the act that there is no inconsistency, undiscussable.

  4. Make the undiscussability of the undiscussable also undiscussable.
As I see it, the creation of a CoP within an organization that then acts to control its discourse functions as a classic mixed message -- both soliciting and silencing alternative perspectives. Which again makes me wonder why that organization would have set up the CoP in the first place, given its aversion to potential 'threat and embarrassment'.

One obvious reason -- paradoxically -- is to try to break out of stale organizational defensive routines (or 'silos' as they are more commonly known) that take a quantifiable toll on organizational efficiency and stunt innovation. The organization thus recognizes its need for a CoP (or an 'autonomous bubble') within its hierarchical structure, in the interest of its own long-term health -- yet its culture clings to outmoded defensive routines that thwart this.

Looking back at Argyris's characterization of organizational defensive routines, it isn't difficult to draw correlations between how these shape organizational culture in much the same way that we theorize CoPs should be doing:
  1. they are taught through socialization;

  2. they are taught as strategies to deal effectively with threat and embarrassment;

  3. they are supported by the culture of the organization; and

  4. they exist over time even though the individuals (with different psychological defensive routines) move in and out of the organization.
As such, it could be argued that the organization, as a community of practice, already possesses the means (and motivation) necessary to shape its own culture -- it simply needs to learn how to (consciously, constantly) come to a balance between its defensive routines and its risk-taking behaviour, something that Argyris would refer to as 'double-loop learning'.

And that balance, to come back to George's talk, will be determined by context. An organization in rapidly changing and uncertain contexts may need to be both more defensive and more risk-taking, but in different ways and to differing degrees -- as the situation warrants. Its ability to sense changes in signals from its own environment (both internal and external), therefore, and to then adapt accordingly becomes increasingly significant.

With each organization living out its own history in its own contexts, each will need to be able assess its unique environment and respond uniquely -- rather than applying what George called "cut-and-paste template organizational solutions." This is where on-the-ground perspectives become important and where the organization can leverage real value from its communities to both foster and strike an effective balance between competing discourses in its current context.

In practice, however, "there is nothing so rare in corporate learning as considered contextual approaches to problems," according to George. "It's surprising how rarely balance is achieved," and, in his view, "this is the reason so many initiatives fail" -- which should perhaps be seen as the real threat and embarrassment.

As it currently stands, then, learning organizations need to be taught how to learn socially by considering alternative perspectives and practices and by applying a little meta-cognition to their own development -- the same things they ask of their learners.

To put all of this in another context -- or perhaps to push it towards another state of imbalance -- below is a paradoxical and (therefore) enlightening exposé on The Uniqueness of Human Beings, delivered by neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky to the graduating class at Stanford University in 2009.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

COURSE - ProgPlan

Finished the Program Planning in Adult Education course -- simple, logical, effective and completely online in the ANGEL (which was anything but) LMS.

Coursework was based on Caffarella's Interactive Model of Program Planning (above) -- which (integrates and) distinguishes itself from pre-existing models in four ways:

  • " is interactive and comprehensive;" -- program planning as a set of non-sequential, interconnected, iterative components that planners work with, taking into account all aspects from concept to final evaluation
  • "people and place are acknowledged as important in the planning process;" -- actively discerning the organizational context in which learning will be applied, building a solid base of support with key stakeholders and negotiating amongst stakeholder groups

  • "differences among cultures are taken into account in the planning process;" -- sensitivity to conflicting needs, objectives, communication styles and agendas among individuals, teams and organizations that make up the the stakeholder groups in a learning program

  • "and practitioners find the model useful , and therefore a practical tool;" -- although iterative, and therefore not a step-by-step model, it is nonetheless practical in identifying and cross-referencing all the components of the planning process that must be attended to

Students were divided into groups of 6 in ANGEL, and the bulk of our online communications were conducted within our own teams, although other teams' discussions were also visible.

Evaluation was based on four discussions (responding to specific questions posted by the prof and satisfying specific criteria laid out in an evaluation rubric) plus three assignments.

Assignment 1 was an analysis of a previous program-planning experience vis-a-vis the Caffarella model. Below is a snippet from my assignment, in which I identify areas for improvement:

In hindsight (and from the perspective of the Interactive Model), I was an inexperienced program planner. First, I should have insisted on establishing clear and common stakeholder objectives early on (p. 27, Assumption 5). This, along with a solid transfer-of-learning plan (p. 26, Assumption 1), could have set a strong foundation to keep the project on track through later crises.

Accomplishing this would have required a willingness and ability to facilitate open dialogue among groups with competing interests (p. 72), a skill I will need to develop to be a more effective program planner.

Second, while I believed that I had a good understanding of the organizational structure and cultural context (p. 63), I did not do a good job of
identifying power dynamics and did not succeed in building alliances to move the project ahead when it hit roadblocks (p. 26, Assumption 3). Such a support base could have been solidified with regularly planned reporting opportunities to key people (p. 24).

Third, during difficult negotiations, I could have made better use of organizational belief statements and professional codes of ethics to defend the program (p. 51)...

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I should have consciously applied an iterative approach to program development (P. 26, Assumption 2). Rather than going through the project as a sequence of moments (or series of crises) to be passed through to reach the next stage, I could have used the data gathered at various stages of the development process to reopen previous phases improperly completed. Doing so would have allowed me opportunities to resolve the earlier issues, rather than simply dealing with their consequences.

Assignment 2 focused on program evaluation. Having participated in a fruitful webinar with Jim Kirkpatrick, I had already been doing some thinking about the current Kirkpatrick model of evaluation, which I then cross-referenced with Caffarella's interactive model to construct a needs-based program-planning process for my own context. Below is a snippet from my assignment:

In this assignment I sketch out a model for a needs-based program-planning process -- one that attempts to embed needs-assessment throughout the program planning, delivery and evaluation sequence.

The three phases in the sequence have been tied together in iterative cycles; needs are interrogated at each step within each phase, and data gathered at one step in any phase often feed back into what’s happening at other steps and phases.

Much thought has been put into integrating the learner and work context into the planning process, from developing program objectives through to program evaluation, and meta-cognitive and transfer-of-learning activities have been integrated into the delivery format. As the particular type of client for which this model was built is a language learner, much of the collaborative planning (if done in the target language) can itself serve as training.

The model was constructed based on two existing models:

  1. Caffarella’s Interactive Model of Program Planning, from which I take the functions to be fulfilled and tasks to be accomplished in program planning. Although I stay true to the spirit of the model, I have in some cases modified the language and structure to fit my context.

  2. Kirkpatrick's Four-Level Model of Evaluation, from which I take the steps in the program planning, delivery and evaluation sequence. I like the emphasis this model puts on post-training learning in the work context and its focus on behavior in the learning process. Again, I have modified some of the language and structure of the model to fit my context.
To these I have added a greater emphasis on the application context and formulated key questions to be answered by the planner at each step along the way.

The model has been written to be applicable to both individual and organizational clients, and need not be restricted to the field of language training. It proposes a process that can be launched from the moment a client walks in to produce a tailored program that focuses on negotiated objectives specific to learner needs and operational contexts.

Assignment 3
required working online with the team to plan and develop a full-blown program, applying Caffarella's model. After much negotiation, the team settled on the fictional context of a corporate training company requiring an educational program to familiarize their trainers with social networking tools, in preparation for a merger which would reposition the the company as global education provider. A snippet from the program developed follows:

Taking it Online: Introduction to social networking tools to expand the classroom

Participant Objectives - the learner as a result of this program shall be able to:

  1. Use common online social networking services with ease.
  2. Select appropriate social networking technologies for a range of teaching situations.
  3. Facilitate positive interaction among learners by creating safe and engaging online learning environments.
  4. Develop and publish multimedia content for online learning contexts.
  5. Feel comfortable with the online delivery format and conduct their existing courses using this medium.
Operational Objectives - this program aims to:
  1. Develop a training environment that simulates employees' eventual delivery format using online social networking services.
  2. Address the perception that new training approaches and technologies will cause unmanageable workloads for employees.
  3. Improve collaboration among employees and teams that are geographically dispersed.
  4. Strengthen internal perceptions of the company as a global quality education provider.
  5. Prepare employees to maximize the use of new technologies to assist in the shift to delivering services online.
  6. Identify and subscribe to all necessary online software services.
  7. Upgrade office computers and networks to latest generation to support online synchronous communication.

By the end, we had created a solid 15-week 'train the trainer' program, complete with weekly instructional plans, that could (with some tweaking) be applicable in each of our working contexts.

The online technologies we used as a team to collaborate on developing the program (GoogleGroups, GoogleDocs, Skype) were also integrated into the program itself, along with other technologies we decided would be useful (communities, bookmarking, wikis, blogs, podcasting, audio/video editors). At the end of the process, we reflected on the effectiveness of the technologies we had used. A snippet follows:

The program was developed in phases on the Google Doc, with agreed-upon structural content being inserted during the live Skype sessions and detailed content being filled in asynchronously by individual members according to collaboratively delegated tasks....The ability to comment on the work of others proved to be the most effective functionality of Google Docs, as members were able to solicit and integrate feedback over time. The overall effect was one of watching the same page evolve from planning document to rough draft to final product.

....The primary advantage provided by Skype during the planning process was the ability to have real-time group voice communications while working synchronously on the Google Doc. The Skype sessions allowed for more immediate team negotiation and decision-making processes, as compared to the more reflective and longer-term processes that emerged in the Google Doc environment.

Negotiation was a significant component of the planning process, and in the final project I was able to (a) apply the the negotiation tactics I had outlined for myself in Assignment 1, and (b) apply the program-planning process I had developed in Assignment 2 -- both with some degree of success.

As such, I found this an extremely useful course that allowed me to (i) reflect on my past experiences, (ii) develop strategies to make adjustments for future experiences and (iii) apply those strategies in a realistic context to build skills.

And all of this was accomplished at a distance via a simple approach -- a focus on the text (the Caffarella model), collaboration with peers and minimal intervention (apart from evaluation) on the part of the prof. Observing the course unfold was a learning experience in its own right.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

VIDEO - Community Wall


Above is a sample of an instructional video produced for a nationwide community of language learners.

This community existed to provide members online venues for social interaction in their second languages, so social learning activities targeted at language development were integrated into its core functioning. As such, the usefulness of the community depended on member participation.

Cultivating an open, trusting and supportive environment for adult learners to comfortably share new ideas in a second language was a challenge. For me, this was related to the parallel challenge of asking adult learners to pick up and use new communication technologies in natural and unselfconscious ways.

There needed to be a feeling of learner control over the technology, a desire to communicate and a sense of tolerance within the community for (both technological and linguistic) mistakes.

I tried to address these needs in the member activity above -- the Community Wall: a personal introduction to the online community -- which for me wraps social skills (sharing of personal histories) with technological skills (using the online tools) important for building virtual communities.

The instructional video for this activity, which is one of the first things a new member would see in the community, therefore tackles multiple objectives:
  • Familiarizes members with the space
  • Introduces online tools - empowers members to change the space
  • Encourages sharing of personal details - fosters a sense of community
  • Applies a task-based approach - uses adult/distance learning models
  • Supports member-to-member communications - motivates social learning
All of the above had to address an audience that included second-language viewers, so the instructions had to be comprehensible and useful without being overwhelming technologically or linguistically.

I chose video (rather than text) for these instructions because I felt that, as the community developer and administrator, my own image and live voice would help to humanize the activity and lend to the sense of community I was asking members to participate in. The video also served as a listening comprehension exercise for members, thereby meeting their language-learning objectives.

Launched as a group introduction to the community, this activity aimed to generate curiosity, enthusiasm and member connections vital to the future growth of the community.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

PRESENTATION (Diigo) - Groupthink: Expertise, Credibility and Truth

Clicking the image above will take you to my Diigo presentation, which attempts to foster media literacy among my students.

As my students are adult language learners whose objectives in my classroom revolve around English (rather than media) literacy skills, and as their use of the Internet for this purpose tends to focus on searching out useful sources for linguistic information and practice, I have to slide in media literacy skills on the sly to have the concepts addressed.

This is not difficult, however, when approaching the learning from a constructivist angle that focuses on generating dialogue rather than on imparting rules. When confronted with provocative ideas that challenge accepted norms, students tend to feel a need to express their own views -- and the more abstract the concept, the more abstract the language needed to articulate opinions and to negotiate towards some kind of classroom consensus.

As such, issues that are current and newsworthy are often also quite classroom-worthy, and within a mediascape replete with collapses in citizen confidence in the information provided by experts and leaders, the validity of received information is a hot topic.

The presentation above takes this context as a starting point. Using the new web-page annotating technology of Diigo -- which permits users to highlight, comment and discuss directly on any web page -- an online activity has been constructed that is part scavenger hunt and part semantic analysis.

Starting from a central web page, students are asked to tour through and examine selected online media sources and to reflect on the information they find there in terms of concepts such as expertise, credibility, truth...and groupthink.

Each web site visited on their tour has previously been annotated as follows:

  1. A speech bubble at the top of each site that, when clicked, opens instructions for that particular page, which include questions for reflection and discussion.
  2. Yellow highlighted text that draws attention to particular sections or language on the page.
  3. Blue highlighted text and images that, when moused over, open comments or links to other web sites for a questioning or cross-referencing of information.

This is an effective activity for language learners because it provides:
  • multiple pathways to multiple sources of information
  • the realia of existing web pages
  • intellectually provocative and controversial topics
  • avenues for expression of abstract concepts
  • an environment for social discussion
  • a multimedia mix targeting all four skills (texts for reading, discussion forums for writing, videos for listening and realtime [virtual] discussions for speaking)
The activity begins on a creatively constructed web site spoofing the New York Times and from there links to and through a real NYT editorial, a FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) media analysis piece, Democracy Now! (independant news and analysis) video, the Yes Men (political pranksters and hoaxters) web site and a PsyBlog (blog focussing on psychology) post on groupthink.

At each stop along the way, students are asked open questions to stimulate reflection and generate discussion in their target language. Assuming the students are also Diigo members, opportunities exist for them to leave comments and notes directly on the pages they visit, thereby building up a social network exchanging ideas around these information sources. They may also expand the activity by seeking out and adding to the network new or alternative sources of information in order to expand opportunities for critical thinking and dialogue.

Diigo also permits members to generate static versions (no live links, no opportunity to comment) of annotated pages that can be shared with non-members, thereby allowing non-Diigo-ites to view the existing annotations.

This is what I have done for the presentation above -- this means that, although you can see my annotations on the pages in the presentation, you will not be able to comment on them and you will have to copy/paste any hyperlinks into your browser rather than being able to click them. A bit cumbersome, I know, but it still gives you a good sense of how this technology can be used for web analysis, commentary and social networking in a classroom context.

And for me, it provides a creative way to blend some digital/meda literacy -- specifically, the ability to find, question and evaluate accepted (or not) sources of information -- into the language literacy that is my students' primary objective.

Please click directly on the image to begin the activity...and enjoy.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

CMAP - Needs-based Literacies for Community Builders

Literacy/ies is/are (a) slippery thing/s, as shown by the lack of consensus on what exactly it/they consist/s of in the digital era -- not to mention the historical lack of consensus on what exactly a literacy is.

As for digital literacy/ies, although valiant attempts at mapping out all-encompassing frameworks continue (not without controversy), the final conclusion in this relatively nascent field still seems to be: come up with a model for your personal needs that works -- a feat that itself requires the metacognitive dexterity of digital literacy/ies to accomplish...and yet both are appropriate responses in the age of information superfluity and flux.

For me, the concept of literacy is intrinsically linked with power -- it is the knowledge of how to identify, access and use information to build economic and social power.

So, my definition of literacies (in the plural) is: What you need to have in order to understand what you need to understand so that you can know what you need to know in order to do what you need to do.

Confused? Hopefully you won't be after taking a look at the concept map above.

It breaks down the function of building an online community of practice into sequential steps and then attempts to map onto that sequence the necessary literacies involved at each step.

It goes without say that multiple literacies may be involved at any given step; however, what the map tries to do is define the dominant literacy needed to successfully complete each step and move on to the next.

I focused on the role of community builder because this is what I do, and the map represents my own literacy framework, but also because I think that the tasks involved generally represent skillsets -- and therefore literacies -- expected of new knowledge workers:
  • Cultural literacy
  • Research literacy
  • Tools literacy
  • Information literacy
  • Evaluation literacy
  • Communications literacy
  • Management literacy
I put this map together using Keynote, a PowerPoint-type application for Mac, trying to keep the visuals simple and the links intuitive while focusing on breaking down workflows, tasks and information needs.

As with all my concept maps, the hard part was having to define and categorize what I generally do intuitively and holistically. And of course, that was the value of the exercise, which has left me with not only a clearer understanding of my own digital literacies (and lack thereof) but also a nice digital product that I can now repurpose into my work.