This is the second in a series of posts where I’m publicly fumbling my way toward the EBook for the Future of Learning, Freedom and the Web, which will appear early next year. This is scary for me! I am used to having an editor, not 1000s of people to edit what I’ve written before it’s finished. That said, I’m embracing the fear, and this is submitted to the community for your response and hopefully constructive derision.

So I’m playing with relating the themes of Learning, Freedom, and the Web, with the intuition that these three could be fertile enough ground on which to build a whole manuscript.

Let me start with learning cause that’s what I know the most about (ahem):

Roughly speaking you might say there are two kinds of learning: scholastic and empirical. Scholastic learning means accessing the accumulated body of knowledge that humans have been building up since the beginning of recorded history. Read a book, memorize words in a new language, practice algebra: you’re engaging in scholastic learning.

Empirical learning means engaging in discovery, expanding the borders of that accumulated body of knowledge through creative work or factfinding. Write a poem, conduct a scientific experiment, code a new program: you’re engaging in empirical learning.

Laying out this dichotomy should make it clear that it is inherently flawed, however much it may be perpetuated (usually by debates between vocational studies and the liberal arts, or pure and applied research, or the hopelessly academic and the supremely practical.)
Scholasticism and empiricism are really two sides of the same coin. There is no one with out the other. One generation’s shocking empirical discovery ages into the next generation’s reliable historical scholarship. The young have something to teach the old, the old have something to teach the young. And between the poles of these two kinds of learning there’s a clue, maybe, to the key relationships amongst learning, freedom, and the web.

Maybe “empirical” learning embodies the principles of freedom, individual unbounded exploration, and “scholastic” learning embodies the principles of the Web—knowledge of the basic architectures and grammars, following the rules that make us intelligible to each other and allow us to work and play together nicely.

Or alternatively, you could say that “learning” embodies the principle of humanities scholarship, or study and rediscovery of what already exists; “the Web” embodies the principle of scientific empiricism, or following scientific methods to build and discover new things; and “freedom” is the awareness and permission to switch smoothly and appropriately from one to the other.

Or perhaps “learning” is the verb: the key organizing, refining, and review process by which the ideals of freedom, openness and transparency that enable empirical explorations are compiled and codified into the structures and networks of the web (the scholastic codes)?

What do you think?

Here’s the debate:

How Should the University Evolve?, part 1 of 2 from BLSCI on Vimeo.

and the Q&A is here:

I’m in the midst of Thanksgiving prep so don’t have time to contribute my own commentary. Basically we were a bit at cross purposes. Siva gave a theatrically impassioned and well-supported defense of the traditional university and I tried to make the point that I don’t care much what happens to the traditional university. I come neither to bury nor to praise it, but to talk about the needs that learners have (whether students or no) and how those needs might best be met (using both technology and traditional forms and new hybrids of the same).

This discourse was pronounced both “empowering” and “bullshit” on Twitter, and rightfully so I think. Kyra Gaunt, an anthropology professor at Baruch, a TED fellow, and a hero of mine, gave out more truth at the microphone during the Q&A than I heard coming from the stage all night. She correctly intuited”My sense: @sivavaid who really liked your book was doing the academic devils advocacy thing which I hate. #debateisnotengagement”

At some point academics end and you have to take a stand on stuff.  My fave Tweet was this one:

@unboundstudent: @anya1anya @sivavaid DIYU Takeaway? future of higher ed is a conversation of the ppl!

Little Andalusian girl with an iPad

So there’s this kid. Super bright. Failing classes in high school. He can’t concentrate on his homework. What he can concentrate on, for hours at a stretch? Editing videos on his laptop.

“At the beginning of his junior year, he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software.. He acts as his family’s tech-support expert, helping his father, Satendra, a lab manager, retrieve lost documents on the computer, and his mother, Indra, a security manager at the San Francisco airport, build her own Web site…

Vishal taught himself to use sophisticated editing software in part by watching tutorials on YouTube. He does not leave his chair for more than two hours, sipping Pepsi, his face often inches from the screen, as he perfects the clip…“I’m spending two hours to get a few seconds just right,” he says.“If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d focus more on school and be doing better academically,” he says. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, “I also wouldn’t know what I want to do with my life.”

Is his computer the distraction? Or is it his classes that are the distraction? Why should he have to wait to turn 18 and get into art school to concentrate on his passion full-time? How can he get connected to a broader community to help him collaborate, get his portfolio out to a wider audience, and support his self-learning through sites like YouTube?

What kind of paradigm shift does it take to get parents, teachers, school officials, and the bureaucrats who measure and count “student achievement” to see  this kid as a success story, not a screw-up?

Mozilla - Drumbeat Festival - After Party (67 sur 84)

Massive Multiplayer Thumb War at the “City Hall” nightclub in Barcelona, via mozillaeu

via @remixmanifesto

So I’ve been back in NYC a few days now and trying to describe to people why I was so psyched about being a part of the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival, and what I think is important about it for others.

[This is both a fun conversational gambit as well as part of my professional duties re: documenting the festival. The hope is to transform the notes and raw materials found here into something as sleek, visual and inviting as these].

So here’s what I got so far:

The magic was in combining 1) educators and 2) technologists who are both committed to 3) innovation in 4) the noncommercial space;

And throwing them together not just to form relationships and build community, but with the expectation that they actually Make stuff (which generally speaking is the best way to form relationships, to build communities, and to learn)

And a specific type of multiculturalism emerged: you have the thoughtfulness, reflectiveness and social engagement of the education people,

combined with the can-do, results-oriented, rapid-prototype, touchable-sketch skillz of the tech people.

And together they Make stuff using technology, specifically, which is one of the most powerful forces shaping and driving social change, but is often perceived by non-technologists as being obscure or malign because it is 1)complex and hard to understand and 2) controlled by Others (those with expertise, corporations, and/or government)

Which helps establish one of the key elements that Mozilla Foundation, as I understand it, is out to establish, which is that the WEB is something WEBuild. (We= Everybody, you, me, not some faceless Others). That’s why you need an open “free” noncommercial web so that it belongs to you and me. And that’s why you need people in general with the skills (and resources, of course) to build it. Because those who control the design of the Web increasingly control other elements of society and our experience.

Which is, in turn, a major task for those in the Learning space to take on: WEB building skills (or WebCraft) constitute a new form of literacy that is lacked by far more people than good old Reading and Writing. I am a Webcraft illiterate myself.

So basically: to spread Webcraft literacy, to learn by making stuff together, to keep the web free by making it ourselves, to shape society through more democratic design, to figure out best ways and practices to learn and make in groups of people who bring different skills to the table, and to think critically about–and tell joyful stories about–all this doing and building and learning and making and sharing, the better to get more people to notice and get involved.

I am doing a bit of handwaving here but this is my first draft sketch–let me know what you think!

I’m back from a challenging and invigorating and even relaxing 2 weeks in Europe, where I spoke at the JISC CETIS edutechs conference in UK and the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival in Barcelona.

I’ll be chronicling some of my take-homes from the conferences and the state of higher ed in Europe, but right now I wanted to get up a little post about 11/9, when I Skyped in from my hotel room in Almeria, an extremely charming city on the Mediterranean in Spain’s Costa del Sol, to John Maeda‘s monthly meeting of executives at RISD. Here is a picture John shot of the scene.

John Maeda is this incredibly visionary and playful thinker across a host of disciplines–design, art, technology–who finds himself in the unusual role of an academic administrator. No disrespect, but I get the sense it’s a little bit like having Willy Wonka in charge of some civil service bureaucracy. Nevertheless he has an extremely strong team around him, clearly, with a range of strengths, and they had all read the book and we traded some interesting observations.

First of all, John was at MIT when the Open Courseware program got started, and he pointed out to me something crucial that I neglected to mention when discussing the program, namely, that professors were paid directly, a few thousand bucks, for the work of putting their classes up on the web. Incentives are good when you’re persuading people to try new technologies!

Second, they asked me what I thought about how an old-school institution like RISD should adapt to these new possibilities for technologies in teaching, learning, and interacting.

I said I thought the most important thing was to figure out how every student can get their work out onto the open web to join the global community of practice of designers, to begin to learn how to use the web to collaborate, to innovate and improve their techniques, get feedback and of course to build a portfolio for jobs. That this should not be the exceptional achievement of a few students but it should be the basic expectation of every student. But this is not something that RISD administrators and faculty should figure out how to do on their own. They should involve their students in the process of figuring out the best way to do this, the best tools to use, the best practices to adopt. Assignment can be open ended; create a digital portfolio and get 100 people to interact with it. You can use a wiki, Blogger, Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Behance, LinkedIn, on and on…Students are the digital natives and should lead the way.

Secondly, RISD should think about adopting technologies in ways that are congruent with their mission. When it comes to faculty, faculty are like anyone else–they use technology when it helps THEM do something they want to do BETTER. When it makes teaching easier, not harder. When it makes it easier to connect with their students. When they can hold virtual office hours and spend more time at home with their families, or when they can put together a 500-image slideshow from crowdsourced images in a matter of minutes and have more time to prepare their lectures, or when students view TED Talks at home on their own time and come prepared for a livelier class discussion in small groups instead of teachers having to lecture for 50 minutes.

Many of us–and John laughed when I said this–are fanboys and fangirls. We get obsessed with the gadget, the app, the widget itself for its own sake. But that’s not a recipe for a lasting broad adoption of technology.

That technology when it really succeeds becomes like electricity. It disappears. You don’t think, “I am now connecting to the national electric grid, wow, cool!!” You just flip the switch, and it works.

I’m in Barcelona for the Mozilla Drumbeat Festival on the Future of Learning, Freedom and the Web. It’s overlapping with the OpenEd conference, the premiere gathering for the global open educational resources community, featuring such edtech luminaries as David Wiley, Brian Lamb and Scott Leslie, which I attended last year in Vancouver when I was researching DIY U.

A surprising attendee at the OpenEd conference whom I met at the cocktail party last night was Brian Ouellette, a Vice President at Kaplan University. It seems Kaplan (a subsidiary of the Washington Post Company whose solid profits subsidize, yes, the Washington Post: traded on the NYSE as WPO) is putting some money into an internal startup, a new assessment and accreditation business, focused on offering college credit for prior learning—including self-learning taking advantage of free Open Courseware such as that provided by MIT. This could be the long-awaited missing link for open courseware–everyone says that an open, democratic accreditation system is the Holy Grail that’s sorely missing in order for free and open courseware and peer-based learning networks to translate into affordable, accessible, higher education. Or it could be the Evil Empire taking over and strangling the edupunk movement.

This is the same Kaplan, after all, that’s currently under fire from Congress for aggressively targeting vets
and the subject of a federal false claims whistleblower lawsuit by 3 of its own former academic advisors.
not to mention new regulations from the Department of Education challenging the poor graduation rates and debt burdens of the whole for-profit sector; regulations that this sector is fighting with millions of dollars in lobbying cash to Congress; and also apparently fighting by misleading their students that the regulations would take away all of their federal aid, leading to tens of thousands of comment letters from students based on bad information.

They are also the same Kaplan who are the authors of an amazing viral video ad that says everything that needs to be said about the future of higher education. And they are part of a sector that already enrolls 10 percent of all students, and is growing several times faster in enrollment than the traditional higher education sector.

Brian wouldn’t comment officially on any of these issues. But I bared my soul to him over some tapas: I believe that the for-profit sector in higher ed has the ability and the resources to be innovative, as this freelance accreditation idea shows. They also have the right students in mind–the working adults, the veterans, the first in their families to go to college. I believe that they shouldn’t have to pressure or trick people into buying their product. If the sector doesn’t clean up its act and submit itself to real regulation, how can they ever earn the public’s trust?