Friday, May 28, 2010

CNIE 2010 Keynotes and Ning Online

This is the first year in a long while that I haven't attended the annual CNIE Conference (formerly either the AMTEC or CADE conferences). So, imagine my delight in finding the three keynotes online. Kudos to New Brunswick Community College for capturing the video and coordinating with the presenter's slides.

Watching and listening to Nora, Alec and Daniel was great -- in fact, I would argue that post de facto online access is better, in some ways, than real time. I can play, pause, re-play, repeat the video / audio in ways that are better than real time. I can insert phrases in my French-to-English translator, which would be tricky in real time. Admittedly, the video was of varying quality, and there were some hiccups with the audio. Notwithstanding the dollars and time saved, and the lesser impact on the environment (see Anderson and Anderson's article about online vs. f2f conferencing), without real-time attendance, I still missed the many sessions and panels that are unavailable online. By staying home, I missed visiting with friends from across the country and around the world, and hearing about their latest research and teaching. Still, it is great to have the "keynote" taste of the conference available online.

Another "layer" for remote, post de facto participation, is the CNIE Ning site:  This community resource includes videos, photos, forums and links. Hi Bruce!! Hi Brad!!

I cannot wait to see what the "Cascades of Innovation" CNIE conference is like in Hamilton in 2011.

We Need Academic Journals and We Also Need Academic Publishing to Change

My colleague, Tony, asks: do we need academic journals anymore? As the "soon to be former" editor of a peer-reviewed, academic journal (Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology), my answer is a resounding YES.   In various editorials for CJLT, I have written about the value and necessity of peer-reviewed forums for the sharing and dissemination of academic research and scholarship. For example, in Winter 2007 CJLT Editorial,  I wrote:  A great deal of hidden volunteer effort supports the scholarly review process of an academic journal. After a paper has been reviewed by the editorial team, it is blinded and sent to three expert peers for their assessment of the manuscript’s quality and potential contribution to the field. Peer reviewers submit comments and a recommendation to the editorial team to aid in the publication decision making process. At least 21 peer reviewers contributed their feedback and expertise to the review of the seven manuscripts in this issue. Peer review, by its very nature and, some would argue, by necessity, is anonymous. A journal maintains its scholarly integrity by employing a valid and reliable peer review process.

In my Winter 2008 CJLT Editorial, I argued, "Academic journals disseminate both new research and the critique of existing research as an important part of the inquiry and knowledge sharing process. Scholars rely on academic, peer-reviewed journals for research on which they can build their own investigations and scholarship. ... Good academic journals tend to publish competing and even contrasting articles about a particular research field, question or topic – this approach to academic debate, combined with disciplined inquiry, is believed to characterize a vigorous, growing and dynamic body of knowledge and reliable research in a discipline. Canadian academics believe it is a right and a responsibility to analyze, synthesize and critically evaluate the current knowledge base and to identify inaccuracies, faulty arguments and claims that are not well supported with evidence".

Academic researchers, scholars, graduate supervisors and graduate students, campus and classroom teachers, journalists and citizens, will continue to need reliable, trustworthy and credible peer-reviewed research on which to build ongoing research and teaching and living efforts. Our current academic journal publishing and peer review models have served us fairly well (with a few notable exceptions -- leaked emails about climate change, anyone?), will continue to serve us well, for the most part, and also have to change and evolve in order to remain relevant and to serve the community well.

Here is my comment on Tony's blog:  "You are asking a few good questions here, Tony. I believe that our academic journal publishing models DO need to evolve and change, and that the type and magnitude of change needed will take no small courage and a great deal of effort on the part of academics, faculties and institutions. As editor, I advocated for CJLT to become fully open-source and online in order to make present and past educational technology research freely and widely available. Going open-source and online is only the first small step for academic journals. Across disciplines, there is an enduring and widespread snobbery about "online" versus "serious, top-tier publishing in a paper journal" - going for tenure or promotion, anyone? I agree with my colleagues, Mark Bullen and Ryan Tracey, that there is a strong need for good academic research, and with Sean Lancaster, that the blind peer review process is vital for credible and trustworthy academic publishing. Peer reviewed academic journals also need to incorporate interactive and participatory social networking models in support of developing active academic research communities online. Key challenges that academic journals face include, but are not limited to: variable institutional support and academic merit for journal editors, heavy workload, quality and quantity of peer review, an enduring culture of snobbery and entitlement, and sustainable funding. Does academia have the appetite to change the status quo in academic journal publishing? We can always hope..."

A blog post by the Speculative Scotsman, Publishing Apocalypse... Now, has a relevant message, and funny bit about a grumpy old man, that I believe we can apply to academic publishing:  "Publishing is assuredly not, as Keillor would have it, dying. It is only changing - as all things do. That it is not what it once was, that the industry has had to adapt to new technology, new media, new modes of communication, is symptomatic not of the end - woe betide us all - but of evolution". 

Academic publishing is evolving, and will continue to evolve, however painful and disruptive this process might be, in the coming decades. I look forward to watching from the sidelines. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Should we filter and firewall in schools?

For teachers and students to make full use of social participatory web 2.0 technological resources and processes for 21st century learning and competencies, then they need unfiltered, unrestricted access to these online resources in the classroom. In some of my classroom-based research, I have heard from a majority of teachers who are extremely frustrated by the filtered / firewalled restrictions placed on the rich and plentiful resources available online. Who is restricting access to things like blogs, wikis, youtube, facebook, and many other online resources and processes that characterize the social web? Often, it is the school jurisdiction or school IT folks - people who do not have a BEd.

A plethora of resources, experts and processes are available online - in education, we need to seriously consider and debate WHY we would restrict teachers and students from access to this growing and expanding online knowledge base.

Issues to consider:
- Decisions about appropriate online content / resources / processes to be used in the classroom should be made by teachers. What are the Alberta Education, Alberta Teachers' Association, CASS, School Council Committee, etc., positions on this issue of professionalism and teacher selection of online content and technological resources?

- Often, at the district level, and even at the school level, technology personnel, who are not educated as teachers / school leaders, are making "appropriate use" and "censoring" decisions about online content / resources / processes that are available to / restricted from teachers and students in classrooms.  Who should decide what knowledge, perspectives and ideas are worthwhile, necessary and appropriate for Alberta teachers and students? Are we comfortable leaving these important decisions about "appropriate" and "valuable" and "dangerous" in the sole hands of technology staff? In the sole hands of administrators?

- POLICY regarding access to online content, technological processes and resources, should be created based on consultation among all relevant stakeholders - administrators, teachers, school jurisdictions, parents, technology personnel, AND STUDENTS.

- Every school jurisdiction, or even school, should be able to determine the policies that make sense WITHIN a greater provincial context and policy structure. Provincial policy and school jurisdiction policies on access to online content and technological resources should be reevaluated at the beginning of each school year to take into account changing students, changing technologies and changed thinking about teaching and learning.

I believe there is a role to be played by research:
- Which school jurisdictions have the most restrictive policies and why? How are these policies working? How do teachers, students and parents feel about these policies?
- Which schools or school jurisdictions have the least restrictive policies and why and how are these working?
- How do school jurisdictions and administrators justify the filtering / firewall policies that are in place? Are these policies defensible? Are these decisions supported by data from different stakeholders? Information from the research literature?
- What do parents say about access to online content and technological processes? How have we collected this data? Who have we asked? Whose opinions count?
- What is the real incidence of serious problems with unfiltered, unrestricted access, as opposed to ad hoc reporting or imagined problems or fear mongering?

Feel free to comment on my comments and ideas.