Tea and tech

by Yule Heibel on July 25, 2005

Possibly tomorrow I’d like to post a list of some of the e-learning blogs and websites I’ve been reading lately — the reason I keep putting it off is because I keep finding too many interesting reads and pointers on those very same sites…

An example: a while back I wrote about finally trying out Skype, and today I see on the EdTech Posse (via the Couros Blog) that there is a program available that basically provides a “personal assistant” for Skype users. It’s called Pamela (…hmmm…?), and there’s a free basic version as well as two pay-for versions. The latter are useful if, like EdTech Posse, you want to record Skype conference calls for use in podcasts…

(Meanwhile, I still haven’t solved my headset problems with Skype & my iBook — the USB converter would set me back quite a bit, so for now, if I want to Skype, I’ll be shouting at the built-in mike on my computer. Headphones work, but mike not yet… Which means that I won’t yet need Pamela either, for I won’t be “skyping” a lot. But it’s nice to know “she” is there…)

On a related note, Couros Blog really likes technology. Yesterday they he had a pointer to something called Dijjer, a “free P2P software that dramatically reduces the bandwidth needed to host large files.” This is important for those people who really rely on podcasting and, if they get very popular, find their bandwidth eaten up. “Kid in a candy store” syndrome is hitting me, I guess: considering it’s hardly in the cards that I’ll be podcasting (or getting that popular), I really don’t need to know about Dijjer. But what will they think of next?

But if truth be told, I am much more drawn to the sort of discussion and thinking generated by Ida Takes Tea, who writes:

Institutions of education, like other social institutions, do have a role in “authenticating” individuals. In so doing, they endow them with attributes. Some of these identity-attributes are tangible and function as formal attestations of competence (like a degree certificate, or a graduate-entry job). Others are less tangible and belong as much to the group as to the individual: social and political identities, for example. Whatever the specifics of the institutional context (size, Carnegie class, study mode, etc.), learners do not learn in isolation. When they enrol, they assume an institutional identity. They “affiliate”, they become part of the institution. [More…]

It’s a fascinating exercise to juxtapose this sort of metathinking about enrolling individuals and “authenticating” their learning selves to the following entry in EdTech Insider/ eSchool News (note: this page takes forever to load), which seems to be asking us to think of individuals as instrumentalised entities put to purposes suited to economics — but not necessarily to education writ large:

Is there any question that we need to be producing the brightest minds possible? And let’s not get sidetracked by lamenting the loss of manufacturing jobs to cheaper labor markets overseas. It’s a done deal. It’s over. Get used to it. Instead, let’s focus on the kind of work that isn’t easily outsourced—the creative, right-brained work that produces innovation. Let’s ask tough questions about what kind of curriculum is needed to produce citizens that can adapt rapidly, use technology effectively, communicate convincingly, cooperate seamlessly, solve problems creatively, and think unconventionally. Somehow I don’t think it looks much like the curriculum we have now. [More… (page takes ages to load …patience…)]

The toys and the instruments (and the attendant instrumentalisation) fascinate me, but in the end, I’m with Ida, taking tea. I hear the talk about “right-brained” and creative thinking, but I also read the subtext, based on economic fear: that we need rapid adaptation, effective use of technology, convincing communication, seamless cooperation, creative problem-solving (to what end?), and unconventional thinking. Notice anything? I removed the subject of the sentence (“citizen”), and amazingly, the list can stand without its subject. Is that because the subject (“citizen”) was extraneous to begin with, or because the subject is interchangeable — with “soldier” or “manager” or “business leader”? What does education “authenticate” and how do we ask that question? More tea, Ida…

* PS: I have all my “feeds” back (see July 22). After a good night’s sleep (see July 24…), I realised that every subscription was saved in my bookmarks folder, under “sage.” So, I just reloaded that file to the Sage reader, and bingo-presto, all was well once more… I even realised that I didn’t need to rely on the little “megaphone”-style icon at the bottom right of many blog and web-pages to subscribe, as Sage states. I can just drag the RSS symbol, if the site has one, into the Sage feed reader, and it’s done.


Alec Couros July 26, 2005 at 2:40 pm

You’ve provided a very interesting discussion here around the term authentication and the “place” where learners learn (“learners do not learn in isolation”). First, I think it’s interesting to look at the term “authenticate” not only in its educational (institutional) context, but from a technical sense (as these worlds seem to connect). It’s interesting to look at Wikipedia’s definition for authenticate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authentication). Phrases such as “web of trust”, “ensure users are who they say they are”, “blind credentials”, etc. certainly speak to both worlds (technical and academic). At the same time, they support a very highly credentialist type of authentication.

I think Stephen Downes’ Evaluation of Websites document (http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/website/view.cgi?dbs=Article&key=1121531748) points to a trend where authority becomes less meaningful in some academic and knowledge pursuits. Additionally, some excellent thoughts around “where learning happens” can be found in the article by George Siemens on Connectivism (http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm).

I guess what I am trying to put forth is that first, I agree with you that students align are authenticated to a certain institution during an academic pursuit. However, the reality of learning and making connections in the age of the Internet (for lack of better term) is one that is in some ways dissassociating itself from formal institutions. In some ways, we can learn more from how people are connected using P2P software or are part of commercialized social networks (e.g., myspace.com) than we can from current attempts at connecting students in a classroom (e.g., webct, blackboard).

As a side note, give me a buzz on your problems with your mic and skype on your iBook. I’d be happy to help problem solve with you.


Yule Heibel July 26, 2005 at 9:57 pm

Hi Alec, thanks for stopping by! Your linkage of authentication‘s academic and technical meanings is interesting. I had thought of it exclusively in terms of “authenticity,” insofar as education takes place across a range of relationships that involve trust — and yes, of course the technical definition applies as well, as far as the trust issue goes. The relationships aspect I’m not so sure about…! I did see Stephen Downes’s article on evaluating websites and found it very useful, especially since he gives specific examples. Back to “authenticate,” Wikipedia’s caveat is helpful:

…note that much of the discussion on these topics is misleading because terms are used without precision. Part of this confusion may be due to the ‘law enforcement’ tone of much of the discussion. No computer, computer program, or computer user can ‘confirm the identity’ of another party. It is not possible to ‘establish’ or ‘prove’ an identity, either. There are tricky issues lurking under what appears to be a straightforward surface.

In terms of dealing with people, I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we have clarity (and control) — it’s always going to be ambiguous, with things going sideways or on-track depending on the personalities involved.

So, in terms of education: I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who used to teach, but who for the past 5 years has been a homeschooling mom (uh, well, ok, I guess I still teach — but not in an “authenticated” institutional context!), and whose kids have lately been distance ed. learners, exposed to a lot of pretty second-rate stuff in terms of content and mediation, but supposedly tr

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: