[Dear Reader, this is a long post, and a somewhat selfish one, in which I think out loud about the kinds of projects I’d love to work on, in part to get clear myself, in part in the hopes of attracting some leads. You are entirely forgiven for skipping it, though I do hope that buried in here are some gems that you yourself are free to run with if you feel so inspired. I promise to return to regularly scheduled blogging after this. – SWL]
It’s been about a month now since I left BCcampus. It’s been a hugely restorative time, spent writing, reading (both the long overdue “The Whale and the Reactor” and the more recent “I am a Strange Loop“), recuperating and being with my family. And while it was impossible not to ponder a little about my future, by and large I managed to spend the month not worrying about a new job, which was a satisfying accomplishment.
But time has come to turn my attention to the question everyone seemed eager to ask me upon learning I had left BCcampus – “So, what’s next?” Because while this change was a long time coming, I must admit I am without a specific plan (this is the 3rd time I’ve left a position not knowing exactly what was next and so far it’s worked out well – let’s hope the streak holds!)
I’ve got a number of ideas for ventures, both for profit and non-commercial, that I am exploring, but I will leave those aside for the moment. While I do plan to write about them at some point, I need more time to get parts of them in motion. For now I’ll focus on what to me would be “blue sky” projects/positions I’d love to have a go at in the space I’ve been focused on for the last 20 years, which broadly speaking has been post-secondary education, educational technology and knowledge management. I’ve grouped these into 3 rough themes, “Teaching,” “The Networked University,” and “21st Century Literacies.”
I have had the great fortune to teach in the past, but it’s been too long, and I miss it. In the past the teaching I did was often focused on technology training. I still have a lot to give in that area and would embrace any position that allowed for it, but I also hope to “move up the stack” a bit, as it were, to focus on some issues above the basic use of tools.
There are two “courses” which I am working on outlines and readings for which I would be incredibly excited to teach, because I think both of them have the potential to expose learners to ideas they are not currently encountering and I have yet to see many examples of them out there in the wild.
The first I am calling “Network Thinking.” Far from being a technical course, it is instead aimed at people from pretty much any discipline other than computing (& sociology) and is an effort to help people understand the magnitude (and type) of changes that occur when the network comes-a-calling in their field. Whether it be in education, medicine, government, businesses of many types, etc, I believe we are still at the point of trying to fit networks into old conceptual models, and in so doing are misunderstanding the size of the disruption they represent, and also misunderstanding their strengths and weaknesses. I do think each specific discipline and sector has differences, ones I wouldn’t want to elide, and hopefully we will see more and more domain specific courses and curriculum addressing these issues. But for now it feels like there is some real potential here.
Philosophy for Programmers
The second one I am calling “Philosophy for Programmers” and while it IS aimed at technical people, it is not at all meant to be a technology course. Developers make all sorts of choices that have deeply interesting philosophical implications (and heritages) when they create applications, and this course would start to explore the background of some of these choices, and possibly other ways to address them. To take but one example – what are the implications to inclusion and exclusion of modelling users via “personas”? The idea is simply to help technical people become more aware of the implications of the choices they make in how the technology will then shape what it means to be human. The hope is that it will help influence developers to be more reflective and less reductive in the choices they make.
In both these cases I’ve started to collect readings and create outlines (though neither feel like they are quite “ready to go.”) In addition to these, there are many other areas which I know I have the experience and expertise to teach:
- open education / open textbooks
- copyright / intellectual property
- assessing open source maturity
- evaluating technologies
- emerging technologies and their impact on education
- personal learning networks / network learning
- loosely coupled teaching and learning
- interoperability in ed tech
- learning content management strategies and technologies
The Networked University
In an effort to stimulate some employment leads I’m putting the cart a little before the horse here, as my next major series of posts will explore the idea of the Networked University and what it means to create “semipermeable membranes” as a response to the permeating flows of the network. So you’ll have to wait a bit for the full explanation of why I think the following projects and approaches represent an important part of the future (though if you are a regular reader of this blog the reasons are likely already well understood.)
University as hackerspace / libraries and makerspaces
I certainly can claim no ownership of this idea as there are now some great examples out there – Joss Winn wrote an early piece that inspires me; one of my nominations for Open Ed 2012 keynotes was Beth Kolko of the University of Washington for her pioneering work on Hackademia; there’s a blog dedicated to all things Maker and Librarian; and even my local university, UVic, has started a Maker Lab in the Humanities. This is a trend I hope we will see more of and I would love to be involved with – not only do I think it represents a new turn, as I’ll describe more in my upcoming series I think innovations like this have a real chance of bridging silos, be they between disciplines, experts and “non-experts,” or “town and gown” that will be crucial for institutions remaining relevant to their local communities.
Reputation systems in higher ed; badges, credentialing, formal and informal education
Another area which is already well underway, though I don’t know the extent to higher ed is actually exploring it versus simply resting on their existing credential models. That said, I think they need to, both for the opportunity it represents (to acknowledge prior learning, convert informal credits to formal ones, etc) and for the threat (of people by-passing the increasingly expensive formal option by building up portfolio-based online reputations. The fear I have though is that this isn’t particularly a technology or pedagogy problem but one of business models, and I’m not sure the “owner” of this process (the registrar’s office and others) necessarily see the threat or will be able to adapt to meet the potential.
Interweaving institutional resources and open network learning – wikipedia/library mashup service
For those regular readers, this theme will be familiar – that rather than treat it as the enemy, we should start to envision ways in which students’ searching wikipedia can become a gateway to more scholarly resources. The first reference I can find in my blog to some of the underlying ideas was in 2006, which I expanded on in my 2007 Open Ed demonstrator, and more specifically in this 2010 post on annotating wikipedia with OPAC resources. It wasn’t until a conversation with Joel Duffin from Open Tapestry at Open Ed 2010 that they way to implement this at scale for an institution became clear – via proxies and page re-writing. Put simply – I know we can build a system (and hope to demo a prototype soon) that will dynamically annotate any wikipedia page with links into an institutions library catalog to books and articles on that topic. This is but one way in which we can bring our institutions resource back to the forefront for students, and the converse is also true – that we can highlight scholarly resources and educational materials, on the fly, to learners outside the institution with little effort.
21st Century Literacies
Finally, in terms of “blue sky” work, there are (at least) two sets of literacies (and skills) I would love the chance to work on
Expanding digital literacies
Even if we were to just stick with the current list of digital literacies that have been proposed over the last few years, we have more than enough work helping learners, at all levels, improve on these. But as I’ll argue in an upcoming post (tentatively titled “What the digital literacy crowd can learn from makers and pirates”) we don’t go nearly far enough in helping learners cope with the onslaught of technologies (and their accompanying social issues) they face.
Mindfulness in education
This is a topic dear to my heart. I have absolutely no idea how I might get involved with this, yet deep down feel that if there is one change I could help bring about in the world that could make the most difference, it would be to work on getting mindfulness practices (completely agnostic mind you, and very much scientifically grounded) into schools, especially the K-12 system where I think it has the most chance to have a profound effect, but even in higher ed, where it has lots of affinity with study skills and learner success. I only came to serious mindfulness practice myself in the last 5 years, and I WISH someone had encouraged me along this path when I was much younger. Especially in our increasingly distracted, hyper-rational and technologized world, there has never been a more important time to help develop mindfulness.
If any of these resonate with you, if you can see ways in which they might benefit your institution (or indeed ways to move them forward outside of conventional institutions) I would love to hear from you.
What I know I can already do
Still, it’s not always “blue sky.” In addition to the above, there are a whole lot of things I know I can do (and like to do) because I’ve done them before and done them well. You can see my resume for the full blow by blow, but here’s a highlight of the areas of expertise, competencies and technical skills I bring to my work:
Areas of Expertise
If you think there’s a way my expertise and skills can server a need your organization has, I would love to hear from you so please feel free to contact me, either via this form or at email@example.com. And if you got all the way to the end of this post – thanks! – SWL