Sunday, November 27, 2011

Vacation Schooling

My family is currently on a well deserved two month vacation in Thailand. And during this vacation we have committed to "home" schooling the kids. I'd rather call what we are doing as "vacation" schooling. As the environment provided by being in another country, with another language and different culture provides many opportunities to take our children's regular curriculum and adjust it to our surroundings. The benefits and approaches available as we vacation school our children I see as follows;
  1. The benefit of taking the classroom outside
  2. Utilizing the many different K1 workbooks available at a different pace than a classroom with 24 other children
  3. Learning vicariously through the kids (traveling with kids opens doors otherwise not even available)
  4. Applying the lessons in both English and the local language (particularly, counting, math and polite social interactions)
  5. The ability to be more physical (particularly in having two active boys)
Lucas stacking chairs in Chiang Mai in both English and Thai.

related thoughts on global socio-political-economics
Our world is in the midsts of a global power and economic shift. I have no doubt about this and I often ask myself the best way to prepare my children for a world where the original G7 no longer hold the power and the money. And other countries (China, India and southeast Asia) are the future of the global economy. I often wonder how my North American children will compete with a billion strong reasonably well-educated multi-lingual workforce born out of the developing world. Well... if they can speak a language or two and understand the cultures from these regions, they may do fairly well. Time will tell...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Working towards finished

As usual, I have been involved with shipping software, some was for a start-up (which I really can't talk too much about) and the other was a fairly complicated work-order to fix an invoicing / e-commerce system. In particular, during the last week I got involved in some conversations about being finished and I had this simple realization;
When developing online software you will get to finished faster if you ship whenever it works. It's about cognitive load...
So what do I mean by this?

Shipping software has a lot of details. And many of these details have a good number of interdependencies. Making sure all the details have been thought through as the team nears shipping the software takes work. The best way to reduce the number of details is to resolve them and put them away. In other words work towards reducing the complexity of software features you are shipping all at one time. This is done by grouping the features into sets. And shipping the sets when they are working and tested. This creates an approach where you frequently ship working sets toward a "finished" product. And each working set provides enough features to engage the users. Always aim to ship the least number of features frequently and work on soliciting feedback from the users. Feedback can come from a number of sources including; analyzing traffic data or direct engagement with the users. In the end shipping ten 20 feature sets would occur in less time with less effort than one 200 feature release. And often feedback received from the customer alters the feature set for the coming releases, improving the product.

For more information on this type of approach to software development begin reading about agile and lean approaches.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Engagement, Language Learning and Analytics

My family and I are traveling in Thailand as a part of our commitment to raising our adopted son Kai. Over the last two days we traveled from Vancouver to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. One of the main goals for this trip is to begin developing our Thai language abilities. Being immersed has reminded me that language learning is really hard and best done when you engage the learning content often and at regular small intervals.


Something that happened yesterday was the random meeting on the pool deck with a fellow named Peter Lutes, a lecturer with Kagawa University. He is in the process of setting up a dual degree program between Chiang Mai. Thailand and Kagawa, Japan. An interesting part of our conversation was regarding Learning Analytics and their growing importance toward blended and online learning.

All this got me thinking about Learning Analytics and the growth of this relatively new idea within education. In simple terms this idea is how to use ALL the meta-data that can be "harvested" from a learners online activities to improve the online learning experience, deepen learning and encourage completion. A small while back David Wiley put together an excellent post about applied learning analytics with great use of a google chart gadget.

To see this interactive visualization (play with it here). In the end I was thinking about how this applies to my current language learning task? What I took from David Wiley's post is that frequent and meaningful engagement with the learning content assists greatly with achieving results. And the neat thing about learning analytics is that this can be measured from the beginning and all through a course in great detail. In particular, with online courses all this detail data is available from log files and other data capture embedded in the software used during the online learning experience. If teachers can closely monitor the engagement they can intervene sooner so students are encouraged to engage and therefore achieve better results.

So... what does this have to do with language learning? Engage often, track my engagements, use a variety of approaches and don't stray from being disciplined in my practice.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Creating IT Roadmaps, Technology Trends

If you have stumbled upon my series of posts on technology roadmaps and you have been looking at the associated data you may be wondering where I have come up with all the data and labels for the trend graphs. Described here is how I have derived all this information for the Technology Trends Graph. Every line on the graph shows saturation within the overall trends being analyzed. In this technology graph, small-devices will continue to be adopted, internet platform will continue as the preferred platform for deployment (though it will plateau), Cloud computing will continue to be increasingly utilized and software broaden to meet more needs.  The lines are there to identify trends and to identify events. And yes, there are many other event that could go on all of these lines... feel free to email other important events.

Small Devices
It is predicted that there will be more small devices than there are people by 2020. Even if this prediction is false there is no denying that mobile / small devices will have an impact on how we communicate and work over the next decade.
  • Palm / Newton - the early stages of small devices needs to be credited to the Palm and Newton devices. Even though neither of these became main stream the Palm gained the most consumer acceptance. Both of these products began the commercialization of small devices.
  • 7x24 - with the small device also came an expansion of the "working day" this isn't to say it created the longer working day it has created the opportunity for people to work anywhere, anytime.
  • Blackberry / Nokia - it could be argued that the blackberry and nokia were the first two small device companies to gain global commercialization. Blackberry for its text messaging / pager solution and nokia for its internationalization.
  • Smartphone - The smartphone is significant as a small device for its usability and ability to make mobile applications across many features (web, readers, phone, email, messaging, photography, etc). Before the smartphone there was no single device that could provide usability, access and platforms for mobile application development.
  • iPhone - the iPhone is a smartphone. The significance of the iPhone is it set a new bar for usability and therefore made the smartphone accessible / usable for the general public.
  • Android - the android phone made the smartphone opensource. And disconnected the operating system from the hardware so any manufacturer could produce a smartphone. This opensource approach is set against the proprietary approach of the apple iPhone. The adoption rates for android have been steadily increasing where they are passing the iPhone.
  • iPad - the iPad is doing to the tablet market what the iPhone did to the smartphone market. It innovated the UX so the product has dominated the market. This does not mean other products will not follow from other vendors that will take market share (as the android is now doing to the iPhone). And as would be expected Apple has created, or encouraged the creation of, many great learning and knowledge applications for the iPad.
  • Geo-location - the location based abilities of small devices can be well applied to learning.
  • Tablets - in general will gain in popularity and will gain upon the popularity of the iPad.
Internet Platforms
New and existing technologies continue to support and build the internet as the platform for business, learning, social interaction, media, etc. The trend will continue where the internet as whole will be the platform used to build and support peoples and organizations endeavours, regardless if they are social, business or personal. These items have influence the internet to be the platform;
  • Co-location - the ability for organizations of any size to move their internet application software and related servers into specialized facilities could be considered the first step in the internet being the platform. The co-location has enabled 7x24 servers without having each organization create its own 7x24 location. The co-location centres offer many services in support of organizations moving their internet servers.
  • Bandwidth - with always increasing bandwidth availability the internet as a platform has moved from the exchange of text and simple documents to streaming high-definition video and assorted rich media.
  • Hosted Solutions - no longer having to take care of your own servers is the next natural step after co-location. Having a technology organization who can administer servers, databases, application software and custom software lessens the burden upon an organizations IT team. The primary difference between a hosted solution and co-location is an organization does not own the servers at the hosted location.
  • Software as a Service (SaaS) - moves the care and feeding of application software up to the level of the software. With hosted solutions the organization still has the concept of servers and databases, with SaaS an organization only considers the application software and leaves the rest to the provider of the SaaS. This allows an organization to focus on its business (and the required software for success) rather than the infrastructure and HR issues required to host the software.
  • Open source - the sharing, use and availability of "free" software has been occurring since personal computers became available. Open source software now occupies most areas of software, all the way from operating systems, through databases and software development languages and environments to full end-user applications like word-processors, spreadsheets, Internet browsers and email.
  • Web 2.0 - adding collaborative features to the internet changed the whole thing. Even though this is still gaining traction within the business sector we are entering a time where businesses will increasingly struggle without a solid Web 2.0 strategy.
  • YouTube - having an open and "free" service to host video changed the breadth of media that could be made available to everyone, created by everyone. The internet became a broadcast platform available to anyone with the inclination and technical skill to create their own online videos.
  • Wireless bandwidth - as wireless technology improved it allowed people access to the internet as they roamed. This roaming ability combined with the web 2.0 abilities to contribute and collaborate open the internet to be open all the time from almost anywhere.
  • Cloud Computing - the ability to create and destroy (virtual) internet servers for a few dollars and to have these servers scale with little to no effort is how cloud computing is another game changer when it comes to the internet as the platform.
  • HTML5 - this HTML standard is a big step toward bringing browsers and mobile devices into a single development approach without the burdens of proprietary features and platforms.
Cloud Computing
The ability to create and host content online for little to no cost began with the early Web 2.0 technologies of blogging, wikis, discussion groups and social tagging. Cloud computing is a collection of servers configured in a way where new services can be requested and built in a number of minutes. These services are charged based on the amount of cpu and disk space is consumed during the life of the service. The service can exist for hours or years depending on the computing need.
  • Wiki - was one of the first collaborative publishing systems openly available on the internet. It is the wiki that began the significant shift of groups of people working together on servers hosting free 'publishing' software.
  • Blogger - blogging services like wordpress and blogger were among the first generally accepted Software as a Service applications. These and other web 2.0 applications began the move of people working exclusively online.
  • gmail / google apps - Google has created a suite of software that runs exclusively in internet browsers. This collection of software as a service is gaining acceptance and has further proven the viability of cloud computing for hosting business applications in the cloud.
  • Amazon - the amazon elastic compute cloud (EC2) provided one of the first consumer cloud services focused on providing organisations a place to host their applications without having to consider the hardware infrastructure
  • Rackspace - introduced an alternative to Amazon where they allowed organizations to instantiate a Linux virtualized server of their choosing (Redhat, Ubuntu, Etc...) to host their custom or open source application software. This differed from the original EC2 in that you were not restrained by the application framework dictated by Amazon. This has since chnaged and Amazon also offers virtualized servers.

  • Education as a Service (EaaS) - educational software as a cloud based service is coming. There is many articles which discuss the changes coming in higher education, in particular the higher education bubble. There is a lot to read in this area, and these three articles provide a good background;
    The two main factors that will encourage the growth of EaaS are; First, cost; it doesn't make sense that an activity (education) in place for the public good has so much redundancy when it comes to Information Technology. Every institution should NOT have their own IT infrastructure. Second, internet; more and more people using better and better approaches will increasingly be learning online, 7 x 24. People just won't physically go to school, they will attend online and cloud based EaaS platforms will be a cornerstone to this ability.
  • Virtual Asynchronous Conferences - the cost of traveling to and hosting conferences combined with improving asynchronous conferencing will give greater rise to people attending conferences and like learning events online.
About a decade ago it was popular discussion within the technology industry that we were shifting from hardware innovation and growth to software innovation and growth. The idea being that we had lots of hardware / infrastructure to build and host the software, and the growth area was no longer hardware but software. I completely agree with this hypothesis and we see much evidence in how the greater amount of innovation is within software. When you consider the adult learning space the software having an impact includes many offerings.
  • Open source - the idea of sharing free software has been around for many years and has considerable influence in all software development arenas. In particular, higher education.
  • Learning Management System (LMS) - is an open source system for managing and shepherding students learning. it will continue to have an influence within adult learning even though it is being 'replaced' or supplemented with web 2.0 approaches.
  • Really Simple Syndication (RSS) - made content distribution a pull technology rather than a push. This allowed people the autonomy to access the content they had identified as interesting when they were ready to consume the content.
  • Virtual Environments - provide online places for people to 'inhabit' while they learn, socialize or play games. Virtual environments are being increasingly used for learning.
  • Slideshare - allowed for free publishing of presentations with aligned audio (if desired by the publisher).

  • Search - It's not information overload. Its filter failure. This idea encourages innovation in search and other tools that will provide people with the ability to filter and find the information they require within the context and subject specific areas they are searching.
  • eDiscovery - is the next step of search where greater reach, intelligence and purpose is given to traversing large amounts of information from a variety of sources (digital and otherwise) to find specific and meaningful results.
  • Augmented Reality - having software and tools to assist in understanding information (in particular, large volumes of data) will increase as the technologies to support this ability become commodities. Augmented reality will provide new ways to visualize and interpret information, greatly assisting in knowledge management and learning.
  • Personalized Filtering & Focus -The ability to personalize the emerging technologies of context specific search, eDiscovery and augmented reality will assist each individual with their knowledge management and learning needs. This personalization is furthest on the horizon for personal learning and related technologies.
What does all this mean?
The main gestalts I get from all this reading, research and reflection are as follows;
  1. Small Devices will become the preferred device for information retrieval and collaboration.
  2. Internet Platforms will continue to mature and innovate. And with the growing amounts of bandwidth and standardization available to the different platforms accessing knowledge will become increasingly easy.
  3. Cloud Computing will provide cost benefits which will further open up the innovation and commercialization of software (and education) as a service. The barriers to entry will be reduced for new innovative organizations.
  4. Software development rates will continue to increase with new platforms and software applications becoming available to meet more personalized learning needs.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Progressive Inquiry and Transformative Learning

I believe that in finding;
  1. a trusted set of learning partners
  2. a well facilitated iterative learning approach (progressive inquiry)
  3. a robust and nimble platform for building a community of practice and transformative learning practices
these would be optimal for creating deep learning for adults and those engaged in continued professional development.

So what do I mean by all this;
  1. you can't learn everything by yourself. No matter how hard you try.
  2. people (re: mentors) will greatly assist in your learning and these should be ongoing relationships.
  3. inquiry based approaches deepen learning.
  4. online communities provide an excellent (asynchronous) source for networked learning and for meeting like minded learners.
  5. collaborative technologies have come along way in the last 10 years. And you should endeavour to use these technologies, and find the technologies that work well for you.
  6. transformative learning is about pushing boundaries, sometimes really far. Learning should oscillate in and out of your comfort zone.