Learning lecturer or lecturing learner?

September 26th, 2012

On Steve Wheelers last blog post “Live to Learn” he talked about his passion about learning and that got my thinking about my own passion.

Different from Steve, I am not some successful lecturer for several years and I think I am still somewhat more on the student way of life. I’d probably say it is 80/20 student to lecturer.

On the one hand I am still a student at Fernuniversität Hagen, trying to achieve my PhD at Plymouth University and I am an eager user of tools like Udacity iTunes U and justinguitars.com, on the other hand I am also a lecturer at the University of Applied Sciences in Worms.

Surprisingly the emotions of these two roles are completely different for me.

On the student side what gets me the most going is that enquiring curious thing that I want to know how things work, why something happens and maybe even get a jist of what will happen before it does. I thinks I am also a “type” of learner that learns by watching others and talk to others so my communicating side is strong I guess.

On the lecturer side the communicating is even stronger. It is not only the subject that matters to me , it is also or even more, the Communication with the students or better expressed fellow learners. The dialog and the task to explain a certain exercise gives me the chance to understand it with their eyes which gives me a second, completely different viewpoint.

And by that I mean real lecturing and care about a topic not only tell something in front of a class of students. So for me teaching or lecturing is also a different form of learning. That brings me to the question if you have to be a passioned learner in order to be a passioned lecturer? Maybe some of you experienced lecturer can give me an insight on that?

Hello ICL2012

September 26th, 2012


After nearly two years tinkering on my area of research I finally managed to come up with the right questions and submitted my first paper at ICL2012.

This week I’ll be in Villach at the conference to present my paper and meet up with some of the fines e-learning researchers there are.
If you’re around, let me know and we can meet up. Ohh yeah and if you’re free on Thursday around 15:45 come and see my presentation about how we can foster adaptive e-learning by looking at culture-aware multidimensional user profiles.

See you in Villach!

The culture of errors

April 19th, 2011

Rather make mistakes than do nothingWriting my last blog post “Fish anyone” I thought about the way we can prepare your youngsters for their future. How can we teach them not mindless content which is going to be obsoltete in a few years anyway but the principle behind it?

Reading and disagreeing with”Learning from failure is overrated” I started thinking about learning from failure.

First of all, making mistakes isn’t a bad thing overall. It just means are absolutely 100% sure what doesn’t work. The second and in my opinion more important thing is: Making mistakes means you’re actually doing something; you experimenting with the subjuct, playing with it, just have a go or don’t. Making errors implies that you already dealing with a certain topic hands on. You already rolled up your sleeves and dug in deep.

Psychologists call that kind of learning “Error Management Training (EMT)” and have proven that it is often more effective than regular training methods. EMT promotes adaptive learning over analog learning and part of its process is to reveal errors, so the possibility that students discover their own errors is very high. So why aren’t more people using that method that is effective and I’d say more fun?

I came up with a bunch of reasons:

  1. Beaten Paths
    Let’s be honest, a lot of teachers like to wander on beaten paths. There is a lot of material already given and mostly even standard solutions. To most questions there is a standard answer. The effort they have to bring is very low.
    Going a new path in which students can have questions the teacher isn’t prepared for is definetly more effort. Additionally going new ways mostly comes with some resistance from many directions: students, fellow teachers and super visors.
    Since the Bologna process started the lunacy of “everybody is doing the same everywhere”, new ways are even harder to go for a single teacher.
  2. Freedom in experimenting
    Due to the Bologna process, studies are structured more and more school-like. There is already a plan, where you have to go, which classes you have to take and when they are taking place and when. Students are getting used to just follow a way of getting information, storing it in their brain and spill it out during exams.
    I think for a lot of students it would be difficult at first to approach a “loose” way of EMT, just diving into a topic without a particular objective. Some get even confused without a assignment. The reason herefore is connected with the way we handle errors or failure.
  3. Culture of Errors
    In my opinion, our society has a little problem with failure or making mistakes. It is mostly seen as something bad which you absolutely have to avoid. Making mistakes in an exam means you get less credits, making mistakes within your line of work means you get trouble from your boss. Instead of trying and maybe failing, a lot of students prefer to do nothing and wait for the right answer. Very few people see the opportunity within errors.

Ross Mayfield, the VP of development for Slideshare says in his blog post Culture of Failure that there was a culture of failure before the bust of the dot-com bubble and that it did do a lot:

“Most people learned more in those fast years than they did in their entire career. …  I can’t imagine how any manager who went through it would not recognize past mistakes and false incentives.”

He even thinks it is required: “If a culture can’t accept and build upon failure, it will never be a success.”

How we, as a society, are handling errors also affect how we are learning. The way we demonize errors, students actually are afraid of making mistakes. Neurologists know for some time that if you are in a state of fear, your creativity goes back to almost zero. (A man, attacked by a tiger, doesn’t think of the most creative way of fleeing, normaly he relies on well-known patterns).
Students flinch from doing it and risking a mistake. They actually prefer doing nothing and wait. By stigmatizing errors, we push students into a passive attitude, which is the exact opposite we want them to be in.

Young children don’t show that behaviour. Sir Ken Robinson tells that story in his talk “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity” where a little boy had to substitute within the nativity play and doesn’t recall the text exactly. Instead of “I bring you frankincence” he utters “Fank sent this”! He just have a go and tries what he thinks is right. He wasn’t afraid to be wrong. Maybe it is not a coincidence that young children follow the path of “trial an error” and have the steepest learning curve at the same time.

So in order to motivate students to just try, go ahead and have a go, digg in deep in content without shying away from making mistakes, we have to chance the way we look at errors. We have to build a culutre of errors.

What do you think could we do to build this culutre? Is it possible to incorporate this culutre to your normal school system? Let me know what you think! Comments are welcome!





Fish anyone?

April 12th, 2011

I am just returning from the Plymouth E-Learning Conference (PeLC) in Cornwall wich was very inspiring for me.

After an outstanding keynote by Shelly Terell there was a plenary session with Shelly Terell, John Davitt, Andy J. Black and Peter Yeomans hosted by Steve Wheeler.

A question that got stuck in my mind was “How are we going to teach children what they need for the future?”.

In my opinion the answer is pretty simple: “We can’t!”

Andy Black said that there is going to be more change during the next 10 years than during the last 100 years. And he is probably right. Nobody saw the changes coming that happend the last years. 10 years ago, nobody thought of the success Facebook had.

In times where we have no idea how the world looks like in 10 years, how could we possible think we know what children need in their life? I’d say we can’t!

But …

… what we CAN do is to prepare children to be able to compete with challenges that life throws at them. We can teach them to experiment, explore, fight and think creatively. That should be all it takes to tackle pretty much any problem. At least it is what it took us so far.

In order to teach these abilities the focus has to shift from the content to learning principles. Instead of teacheing them a certain topic, we should rather go ahead and teach them how to learn what they need on their own. This way we can be sure that they will be able to gain the knowledge they’ll need not only to design our and their future, but also to teach it to their children for their future.

Big fish

This kind of reminds me on an old chinese saying:

“Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today.  Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime”
—Author unknown
What do you think? What is your opinion? Can we define what’s important for children in their future? Let me know and add a comment.

Integrated PLEs?

March 11th, 2011

The first time I read about PLEs and talked about them with Steve Wheeler, I was intrigued about the simplicity of PLEs. It’s so easy, take the tools you are already using and use them for learning. In order to improve, just mix and match. But why aren’t more people doing it? Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are using those tools, just not for learning.

Inspired by the #elearning2020 discussion of Steve, I started thinking of the future of PLEs. What happens in other domains and areas? How are people improving and changing their tools?

Steve Wheeler once said to me: “You can create a tool and maybe suggest what the user is doing with it. But you can’t control what the user is actually going to do with it”. People will always use the tools for what they need it for. But does that mean it is optimized for it? I don’t think so.

Potato printingEven if you can print with potatoes, which is quite popular within elementary school in Germany, the process of printing has been improved over time. People, that had to handle with the technique on a daily basis, thought about the process and tried to eliminate drawbacks while improving the advantages.

Couldn’t that happen to learning tools? Isn’t there potential to improve some angles of learning tools?

I mean there will definitely be some downsides, like the freedom of using whatever the heck you want. But in my opinion a combined “building-block-kind-of-system” could offer the upside of integration. The system could be able to “know” what you did in all these tools and help you to find connections. You could easily add people you know from Facebook within your blog, point out the connections you have with a fellow blogger on xing.com and so on. There would also be the chance of using computing power to personalize certain things for the current user, which is just not possible in a class room and which current tools don’t have the features for. Even suggestions, based on your behaviour or your learning history could be useful.

For the current generation it is easy to use what they already know but the digital natives and the upcoming generation will probably use different or at least modified tools anyway. Think about MySpace it was quite popular some years ago and is now languishing away as a special place for musicians to upload their music.

We just have the chance to contribute to this modification at an early stage and try to push it into the right direction. What is you opinion on integrated systems for learning? What does outweigh, upsides or downsides?

The Bonsai Incident

February 2nd, 2011

I just finished reading “The Element” from Sir Ken Robinson Ph.D., a must-read for everybody interested in education or personal development. The “One Element” is the activity you’re designed to do, that you forget time and space doing it.

He states that the human creativity and intelligence is nearly infinetely and most of all, diverse. I understand this in the sense of Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences“. I think therefore it is not sufficient to create a test like the Meyer-Briggs-Test that only holds like 5 or 6 categories to describe a human being, all his plans, feelings, dreams, and behaviours. For nearly 6 billion people you’ll need 6 billion categories.

Robinson compares the thrive for knowledge of humans with the thrive for growing within fauna. I think everybody who has ever seen a bonsai tree or ever has cut one can see that. A Bonsai will keep growing only within the possible conditions. As long as there is the slightest chance, it will grow! It is not getting as tall as it could, but it doesn’t give up either.

Manfred Spitzer wrote in “Learning: The human brain and the school of life” that every animal is optimized for a specific task. Birds are optimized for flying, the cheetah for running, and the human? The human is optimized for learning! No creature is better in adepting to new situations. So why are so many humans that much discouraged about something they are designed to do?

It could be, that often in education methods and knowledge is forced on children and nobody cares to explain why this knowledge is important for them. Nobody cares if this knowledge is useful to them or if only one of them is talented at what he is trying to teach to them. Additionally sometimes if learners try to verify their understanding of the content by asking questions, their opinion is not appreciated if it doesn’t match the one that is taught.

So how could learners or possible learners be motivated intrinsically? Could personalization be an option? Would personalized content be an motivating factor to boost or even initialize thrive for learning? I think if that’s the case, computers could help to determine a template for learners, based on several profiles of learners.

What’s your opinion? Could there be a personalized learning? Would it motivate learners? Could computers help with personalizing content? And if, to what degree would you think they can be of help?

Plymouth E-Learning Conference 2011

February 2nd, 2011

The Plymouth E-Learning Conference 2011 is coming soon. From April 6th to April 8th, Plymouth will be crowded with E-Learning researchers from all over the world. Within the University of Plymouth at Drake Circus, researchers will be talking about web 2.0, social media and technologies within the process of teaching and learning. Key note speakers this year include Jane Seale, Stephen Heppell, John Davitt and Inge De Waard. The motto this year is: “Digital Futures: Learning in a Connected World”.

As a regular attendee I’m really looking forward to interesting dialogs, presentations and meeting the community, following the call of Steve Wheeler every year. Hope to see you there.

Are PLEs the inflection point?

July 24th, 2010

I did some thinking about the development of learning. Back in the ancient Greek the teacher had a group of a couple students and taught them the absolute basics, meaning philosophy, maths and physics.
The teacher had the chance not only to adapt the topic to the recent situation but to every student. He knew every student, his strengths and his weaknesses. He could create different examples for different students providing them with the first kind of personalized learning.

During the industrialization the industry needed a vast amount of standardized trained workers for their machine halls. The design of studies changed from personalized to job-centered. Only classes that are needed on the job are being taught. The result is a student that can do exactly what he is trained for, but nothing more.

My complains are that these fact hasn’t changed since then. Soft skill classes had been introduced once “team ability” has been identified as key value for employees. What studies are chosen by students are guided mostly by the fact how much money an according job is generating, not by interests or talents. In my opinion this is the fist step towards “unhappiness” and in extreme cases even burn-out-syndrome.

The motivation for learning should be a passion, a vocation not thrive for money. In other words it should be an intrinsic motivation, not an extrinsic motivation.

Viktor E. Frankl pointed in his talk 1972 out that the percentage of students that name “make a lot of money” as their dedicated goal for life was 16%. 78% specified “finding a purpose and meaning to my life” as their goal.

I’d say this percentage clearly has changed since then. Learning went from beeing a desire and priviledge to a tool in order to “make a lot of money”.

The upcoming of Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) could mean an inflection point of this development. PLEs in my eyes is the summary of all your tools, habits and sources you use during your personal learning process. In adapting new tools and habits one is structuring and creating a learning process. In doing so he is getting in touch with new topics and areas. So in using a PLE instead of the traditional frontal lecture type of learning, students could build up or rediscover responsibillity for their learning process. The earlier a student feels responsible for their “path” of learning in their life, the earlier they can take action and steer their path towards their interests and talents. This will also help them finding out what their “Element” is, as Sir Ken Robinson calls the true vocation,

In using and creating PLEs we also express our believe in people that they are willing to develop and learn, or as Goethe did say: “If we take man as he is, we make him worse, but if we take man as he should be, we make him capable of becoming what he can be”.

What do you think PLEs are good or bad for? What is the future of PLEs? Please comment.

I’ll learn … but why?

July 23rd, 2010

I always wondered why there are some students highly motivated and some students seemed to be bothered by the class they chose. Viktor E. Frankl postulated in his masterpiece “Mens search for meaning” that the meaning behind an action is highly important for the one acting and can provide the power to go through with something. Nietzsche already talked about that when he said “He, who knows why, can bare almost any how.” (“Götzen-Dämmerung”)

So my question is: “Do students always know why they ought to learn a certain topic?”

Asking this question a couple teachers I got different answers. One of the most told answers is: “They will need this in their future life”. In their what? How do they know? We train students for a future that nobody can say nothing about. Most graduates take on jobs that didn’t even exist four years ago. And even if they need a specific knowledge for their future life, how are they suppose to know why they are learning this? Most teachers don’t even know themselves. So how are students supposed to imagine why they ought to learn it?

My personal experience have taught me (painfully) that there are things in life you learn and you WILL need it later. I rejected math classes as far as I could back then, when I started to do some graphical programming it dawned on me that all that math is worth something. Especially matrices haunted me.

I guess if I would have been told an example, for instance something breathtaking within 3D graphics or something like that, I would have brought up more motivation for that topic. Especially if I would have discovered by my own why I need that.

Dan Meyer has reconstructed a math lecture so that his students have to develop the formula for a calculation themselves instead of just giving it away and let them fill in the values. That shows that finding out for yourself forces you to really dig in the topic. So it seems the reason why a student is learning is strongly tied to the creation process of intrinsic motivation. The next question in my eyes would be if an intrinsic motivation could be supported or even created by computer systems?

What do you think? Please comment!

What’s in it for me?

November 5th, 2009

DecissionSteve Wheeler pointed in his blog post “Hanging in there” out some really good points. He posted “…informal learning is more reliant upon an individual’s intrinsic motivation than it is by any external pressures. In other words, we learn because we are interested.”
I couln’t agree more with that! But how to “create” that interest? Or better how is the interest in informal learning different from the one in formal learning? Is it the relation to the content? So that directly relation to the content causes intrinsic motivation (the chinese girlfriend) and an indirect relation (good grades lead to a good job leads to a good pay … some day) needs an extrinsic motivation?

Could it be possible for somebody to improve his motivation by creating intrinsic motivation, just by finding a way of directly relating the learning content to one self? That would imply to be very creative in order to relate any given topic to a current living situation.

But how to achieve that? Creativity is defined as “…thinking items together, that haven’t been thought together before and getting a value out of it…”. I would say that matches the need of connecting externally imposed demands of learning content and personal interests pretty much.

This again would emphasise a certain view on PLEs. Not only would they document ones successful learning history in an e-Portfolio and an overview on current learning activities but they could be used as a support for trying to find a relation between given learning content or topics and current personal situations. Situations of any professional or private nature. The closer to ones interest the better.
I guess with the help of some semantics in the future it will get easier for a PLE to find connections that not even me was thinking of.

My guess is, the more clear I can see what’s in it for me, the more important “it” is for me, the more motivated I am.

What’s your opinion? Any experiences with that? WVDA67ET62Q2