A heretical view of higher ed..

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This is a response to an article that was forwarded to me in email:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/rogerdooley/2013/02/05/college-branding-tipping/?goback=.gde_2121504_member_212443734

I liked this article, and think it is a pretty good round up of where we are now. I think its very typically Forbsian, in that the author sees a problem that only the market can both explain and solve, but its not really that far off the mark. 

Allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment. What I'm going to say next is probably heretical, so if you have a sensitive nature, you should probably stop reading here.

I think we should challenge ourselves to consider what it would look like if we no longer thought of ourselves as preparing students to find jobs. What if we prepared our students to be knowledge-entrepreneurs instead?

Here's what I mean by that:

The concept of working for somebody else as the most-likely-to-be-successful lifestyle to pursue is Industrial Era thinking. Its easy. It made sense because the means of production were controlled by a few. Likewise it made sense to industrialize education because that was the only way we could reach the scale we needed to produce enough workers to drive the means of production. I think this is why our access hierarchy looks like a pyramid. At the base, you have K-12 education, which is a right in the US and has the broadest access. Most of these people are destined to be factory workers. At the top you have Terminal Degrees (and the idle rich), the people destined to be factory owners/managers.

This strategy works so long as you have factories (in a literal sense).

In a knowledge driven society, the means of production are open to anyone. In other words, everybody owns a factory, nobody has to work for anybody else. Now we don't have a production problem, we have a very different set of problems. To be successful in this environment, one has to become a knowledge-entrepreneur. 

To be successful, a knowledge-entrepreneur:

  • has to be creative, 
  • has to have a good design aesthetic, 
  • has to be observant to know what people need or want,
  • has to be imaginative to know what people really need or want, 
  • has to be entrepreneurial (duh!), 
  • has to be good at networking and building relationships, 
  • has to be good at marketing, 
  • has to build, maintain, and articulate a vision, 
  • has to have the skills to deliver that vision, and 
  • has to develop a coherent strategy for success. 
We don't deliver on these skills in most disciplines. Our Higher Ed factory produces content and faculty experience. If you are being especially generous you can say that we help students transition to adulthood. All of these things  were highly valued in the Industrial era, but now everybody has a factory (metaphorically speaking).

Where am I going with this? Obviously people are still going to work for organizations, especially to build anything that has any kind of scale. So we aren't going to throw everything we know out and rebuild the University from scratch to answer to some utopian ideal. However, I think there is an enormous untapped potential in the knowledge-entrepreneur space and, probably not coincidentally, this is where we're seeing MOOCs, OER, badges, etc play out.

To conclude, another characteristic of the Industrial Era that no longer makes sense was that people once had to flock to cities to live because this is where the means of production were concentrated. With online learning and with telecommuting in general, we are dismantling the notion that where you live is determined by what you do. People are intuitively grasping this I think, but how long until the knowledge-entrepreneur who lives where she wants to live and does what she wants to do becomes the most-likely-to-be-successful lifestyle?

Hiring (more) fairly

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Since we are expecting to have quite a few hiring committees over the next several months, and since OHR is not currently offering an equivalent to Hire Power, I'm taking it upon myself to create a collection of tips to help make the hiring process fair(er). 

I say fairer because hiring committees are inherently subjective. To make matters worse, we rarely see candidates who have all of the criteria we are looking for, so we have to apply judgment, and that judgment may be biased. I like to think of it as though the candidates are actively trying to trick you into hiring them. Because they are trying to trick you (and you are trying to trick them into working here), it makes it kind of hard to be objective. So we need to do whatever we can to be as objective as possible. It will never be completely "fair", if there even is such a thing.

The other thing we have to keep in mind, is that we have unconscious biases towards a certain "ideal type" of person that doesn't exist, and away from "the other". The ideal type might be someone who is classically attractive, someone who has a similar skin tone, someone of our own gender, someone from the area we grew up in, someone who went to the same school as us, someone who does or doesn't wear glasses, left-handed people with dyed blue hair ... whatever. The "other" is the person who is not like us.

We may or may not be aware of our bias, and you may insist that you aren't, but you are. Bias and prejudice are biological functions, an ugly product of nearly a million years of the human species fighting for its survival in an incredibly harsh environment. We will never (biologically ) overcome this bias against "the other", but socio-culturally, it is our responsibility to accept our human condition and then devise ways to treat other people so that we minimize our prejudices, hopefully to the point where they don't affect anybody else, at a minimum, on a situation-by-situation basis. At least that's the goal.

There is also what I like to call an "Ayn Randian" aspect to offense and unfairness. You might be tempted to put the responsibility for the unfairness on the person who has been offended, mostly because you didn't mean to offend (and I have been guilty of this, its something I think you have to work at). 

The problem is, they don't know what you did or didn't mean.

In an ideal world, people who are treated unfairly would be able to speak up and bring it to the attention of their aggressor, and it would be immediately rectified. This is so far from reality that, personally, I don't think we can't afford to leave it up to the other person to do that. You could be doing damage through your own unconsciously biased actions that could have major unintended consequences for everyone involved. There are issues of power balance and ingrained cultural identity and probably tons of other intellectual sounding "stuff" at play that are very complex and beyond the scope of this post, but suffice it to say, there is a golden rule for a reason.

This list is not exhaustive, so if something comes up in the course of working on a committee, please ask someone who has that knowledge rather than guessing or going with what "feels" reasonable. Often times what might seem reasonable is actually not the correct course of action. People you can ask include myself, or somebody who has been through Hire Power, or somebody from OHR. 

This is not official PSU policy. I rarely put that kind of disclaimer on what I write, but again, ... unintended consequences ..., see above. These guidelines are here to serve the practical purpose of helping the University avoid lawsuits, but I also think we should strive to do everything we can to make sure that the hiring situation is as fair as possible for everybody involved, and make these actions overt, rather than assume they are implicit. Its the right thing to do.

So without further ado, here are some helpful tips:

Try to make sure that the hiring process is as similar as possible for all candidates. Have a process. Make that process as close as possible for everyone. 

This includes making sure you use the same or equivalent process and questions for every candidate. 

One place where this comes up frequently is when you have some candidates who are obviously stellar (based on criteria), but you have other ones that you think might be good or at least comparable. Another place this comes up is when you have out-of-town candidates. Still another place is when you have internal candidates.

It seems reasonable to not do phone interviews for some of these people, but, by not using the same process, you might be subconsciously stacking the deck against someone in the pool. It might seem absurd to do a phone interview for an internal candidate, who might even be in the room next door, but if you do not, you run the risk of, say, creating a sort of automatic response in the committee to what the internal person says and does over the rest of the pool (which they will already have, by the way, because the internal person is less of an "other" than the rest). 

This example might make it seem like it's impossible to predict what someone is going to perceive as unfair so why should we even bother. After all, if someone wants to sue us, we (well, PSU lawyers anyway) are going to be in court no matter what we do. Yes that is true, but you have an easy way out: Just use the same process for everyone. If it's fair, then great, if its unfair, at least we have some sort of paper trail to build an argument that we weren't doing it intentionally.

Come up with a set of questions beforehand, and try to stick to those as much as possible. Use the same questions for all candidates. Make those questions experience-based.

Always keep in mind, we are first and foremost hiring someone who has the right combination of skills to do the job we need to be done. We are not hiring someone who "fits in with our culture" (a person who is not "the other").  The easiest way to demonstrate that we are trying to do this is to meet with the committee once or a few times before the interview process, and come up with a set of experience-based questions (e.g. "Tell me about a time when you had a difficult customer that...") to try to establish some sort of proof that this person has those skills you are looking for.

One place where this gets sticky is when a question you asked someone else does not apply to a candidate. In that case I would say have some alternate questions that try to get a picture of the person's skills in a separate but related area. Or change the question up a bit to make it fit the situation.

Another place where this gets interesting is when a candidate answers a question as part of another question. When this happens, I like to still ask the anticipated question, but ask the candidate to provide a little more detail.

Keep the conversation on task and on time

This is everybody's responsibility on the committee, not just the chair. Having both a question set and a process helps alot here. Don't let anybody on the committee go too far off on a tangent, and try to keep the conversation as directed as possible. 

There are going to be situations when the candidate ends up talking alot, and you know you aren't going to get to the end of the question set, and this is OK. Just do your best to reign them back in. Also keep in mind that sometimes the candidate will divulge some valuable details if they are allowed to expand on a topic. The committee has to use its judgment here as to what the best course of action is on a case-by-case basis.

Have a diverse hiring committee. Bring the committee together as often as makes sense.

This is a good way to uncover and mitigate potential biases. Diverse can mean many things. I like to put people on hiring committees from different parts of the unit, or even from different units. Having a mix of "technical" and "non-technical" people, men and women, people with different socio-cultural backgrounds, different generations.. there are a lot of ways you can achieve diversity in your hiring committee. I also like to have at least three people on the hiring committee, and try to keep the numbers to five people or less. Odd numbers help if you are using some sort of democratic process in your scoring procedure (see below), but are not absolutely necessary.

You should also, at a minimum, be getting the committee together after each stage of the process. Don't make assumptions about how the people on the committee are going to make sense of the candidate's performance.

Develop and use rubrics for all stages of the process. Use score cards. Have a plan for how you are going to do a potential "tie-breaker". Archive materials.

I think of the scorecard (based on the business need as stated in the job posting language) as the best potential indicator of fairness, but this is also where subjectivity comes into play. The best use of the scorecard, other than providing a paper trail, is that it helps the committee to avoid looking for people who "just fit in". It also gives you a basis for keeping conversations on task and on time.

Scorecards get tricky though. Sometimes you will have a stellar candidate who scores well across the board, but more often you will end up with people who end up with similar scores because they score well in different areas. Its up to the committee to determine how they are going to deal with that, but I suggest using a combination of multiple scorecards (one for the resume, one for the phone interview, one for the in person interview) and qualitative data to break those ties. WHEN IN DOUBT, ie you have two candidates with great scores in different areas, ask someone in management to prioritize those AREAS (not the person). What's more important? Customer service? Technical skills? Communication? Then go back and rerun the numbers with a weight applied.

The chair should collect all materials used to make the decision, and check with someone as to how they should archive them and for how long.

Don't get personal. Don't make too many assumptions about the candidate's motivations.

First of all, its illegal to talk about certain things in an interview situation. But its also incredibly risky. Once you go down that road, its hard to make the argument that you didn't select the person out because of some kind of prejudice, even if you honestly didn't. Remember, you are hiring someone who has the skills to benefit the organization. You aren't hiring someone who doesn't have kids so they'll be able to put in more overtime. You aren't hiring someone who is married, so we just know they'll fit in with our family oriented environment, etc.

The other side of this coin is making assumptions about the person's motivations. Do they know the salary is going to be half of what they're currently making in New York? Is she going to have a child and go on maternity leave 12 months from now? My only advice here is to avoid this type of speculation as much as possible. It's almost always irrelevant. Focus on the question, "Does this person have the skills and experience necessary to do this job, or don't they. If so or if not, what evidence do you have to make that argument?"

Don't make assumptions about people's diversity, check with HR. Make sure your pool is as diverse as possible. Don't bring it up in the hiring process.

Diversity is important. People bring experience with them that will change the way your organization does things in ways that you can't even anticipate. Don't look at someone's name on their resume, don't speculate on the tone of their vocal inflections, don't look at the address they put on their resume, etc., and start making assumptions about their background. Don't speculate about how their socio-cultural background will affect how they perform. SPEAK UP IF YOU THINK SOMEBODY ON THE COMMITTEE IS DOING THIS. Either to the committee itself or to your supervisor

So how do you make sure your pool is as diverse as possible without making these kinds of assumptions? Ask your HR rep to evaluate the diversity of the candidate pool and make recommendations. I must confess that I don't know or care how HR does this. It's a black box. But that means that you don't have to put yourself and the feelings of the candidate at risk by doing it yourself.

*Optional* Don't immediately disqualify people based on "first impression"

All I can say here is that I've recommended hiring someone who was late for their interview and they turned out to be one of our best performers. I've given interviews to people who had typos on their resumes, and they turned out to be very competitive. I think there's alot of people who place alot of emphasis on these little things. To me some people seem to be consumed by the little details that make up the "first impression". While I do think the first impression is important, and perhaps more so in some jobs than others, I don't think there is much basis for disqualification because of a bad one. People get nervous. Or maybe there was a traffic situation that has never happened before which made it impossible to anticipate. Keep an open mind. Ask for an explanation, if applicable. 

That being said, I think it IS reasonable to give them a lesser score in the applicable area for those infractions, but I would rarely disqualify someone based on "first impression".

So that's it for now. I hope to add to list list over time, but that should be enough to help get the ball rolling.

INSYS 447 Fa11 2012 Syllabus

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Insys447 Fall 2012 Syllabus and Schedule

Instructor: James Mundie

E-Mail: (Please use ANGEL for course-related e-mail)

Office Hours: By Appointment

Course Website: ANGEL

Location: 104 Business Bldg.

Phone: 814.865.0921

Meeting Time: Monday 6-9 P.M.

Required Texts: (Do not purchase before the first day of class)

Open educational resources handbook for educators

Open Educational Resources and Change in Higher Education: Reflections from Practice


Required Readings: 

  1. Hokanson, B., Miller, C., & Hooper, S. (2008). Commodity, Firmness, and Delight: Four Modes of Instructional Design Practice. In L. Botturi, & T. Stubbs (Eds.), Handbook of Visual Languages for Instructional Design: Theories and Practices (pp. 1-17). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-59904-729-4.ch001
  2. Ice, Phil "The Future of Learning Technologies"
  3. Kanuka, H. & Brooks, C. "Distance Education in a Post-Fordist Time: Negotiating Difference"
  4. Ledward, B. C., and D. Hirata, 2011. An overview of 21stcentury skills. Summary of 21st Century Skills for Students and Teachers, by Pacific Policy Research Center. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools-Research & Evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.ksbe.edu/spi/PDFS/21st%20Century%20Skills%20Brief.pdf, August 2012.
  5. Other selected readings, TBD
Course Overview:  This course introduces students to the design and delivery of instructional multimedia using various methods for delivery on modern educational platforms.  Throughout the course, students will be asked to create multimedia instructional materials within the context of a larger discussion about Instructional Design, Copyright and Open Educational Resources (OER), Massive Open Online Courses, and the changing landscape of Higher Education. Course work will consist of readings and discussions, in-class activities, and three media projects, posited around three central questions related to the design of instructional materials to address contemporary issues in modern online education:

  1. What are Open Educational Resources (OER)?
  2. What conditions are driving the emergence and adoption of OER?
  3. How can designers leverage OER to produce and deliver quality instructional materials?


In addition to attendance and active participation in class, students will draw upon their own experience, interests, and abilities to produce three media projects throughout the semester. These projects can stand alone or work together to explain a topic, or augment existing educational resources found in various OER collections such as Merlot, CONNEXIONS, Content Without Borders, etc. Each project will consist of a brief proposal/justification, the project itself, an in-class presentation about the project, and a brief reflection on the process and outcome of creating the project. Additionally, students will build and utilize an ePortfolio website that collects the work completed throughout the semester and allows the student to demonstrate evidence of intellectual growth via construction of a narrative around artifacts generated within the course.

In consultation with the instructor, students may choose to work in teams (2-3 per team) or on a solo basis, although all students are expected to create and maintain their own ePortfolio. Students will create 1 reflective entry each week highlighting any work completed (or reflecting on the readings) and linking to previous entries if applicable.

Course Prerequisites:  This course has no official prerequisites.  However, I expect that you have an understanding of computers and can effectively use computer applications, e.g. e-mail correspondence, presentation software (Keynote, PowerPoint, Google Docs), and word processing.

Additionally, as students will be designing media, they should have some knowledge of design software such as Photoshop, Premiere, or other packages. The instructor will provide some guidance in the use of media production software as well as information on where to find help resources for completion of project work, however, this is not a hands on workshop. Students will be expected to attain a degree of proficiency with whatever software is required to achieve the desired outcomes.

IMPORTANT: If you find you are struggling in using the suggested technology or meeting the project deadlines, notify me as soon as possible and we can discuss a plan for getting the work done.


Course Objectives:

  1. To acquire and practice the skills necessary to create educational multimedia materials
  2. To define OER and articulate how they may be leveraged in the creation of digital educational materials
  3. To develop an awareness of online copyright issues and understand the various open copyright systems and their uses
  4. To utilize ePortfolios to demonstrate evidence of intellectual growth through the collect, reflect, select, present framework
  5. To develop an awareness of the broader context of higher education and forces driving the growth and adoption of OER.

Required Supplies:  Each student must have either a Penn State Access ID account or a Friends of Penn State (FOP) Access ID account. Students should also have access to a computer where they are able to download and install software. This computer need not be a laptop, however this is highly recommended.


Course Policies:

Class Participation & Attendance  

Class participation is a key component of this course.  Students will be expected to participate in and outside of class.  Discussion outside of class, if applicable, will be conducted through posts and comments on PSU's blog space.  Attendance is required.  Missing more than 2 unexcused classes will result in a failing mark.  

Lateness 

Please email me if an unforeseen problem arises and you cannot submit one of your projects on time.  Otherwise, projects are to be submitted on time.  Any late work will be penalized.

Assignments

There will be a number of required readings, 3 required projects, and reflective blog/ePortfolio postings throughout the semester. All readings will be posted on ANGEL.

Multimedia Projects

The overall goal of the course is to enable students to gain experience in designing and developing multimedia instructional materials for online delivery. This will be accomplished through 3 separate multimedia projects in which students will be responsible for selecting and analyzing an audience, determining needs, and producing the materials. In lieu of consulting with a subject matter expert, students may find it useful to adapt Open Educational Resources to form the framework and narrative of their projects within a selected topic area, however the multimedia projects must be original material produced by the student. Multimedia projects will be produced in a format and using software that the student is comfortable with or can become competent in quickly. The elements below describe examples of multimedia projects that students may produce.

Infographic/Poster

http://visual.ly/what-infographic-2

In its simplest form, an infographic is meant to take a set of data, arrange it according to some pre-determined metric, and present it visually so that an audience may immediately grasp the significance of the point being made. Infographics range from minimal text and imagery conveying a very general subject (http://visual.ly/what-infographic-2) to a large amount of text, packed with images and graphs, conveying a very specific set of data (http://vector.tutsplus.com/tutorials/designing/how-to-create-outstanding-modern-infographics/). Throughout your career as a designer, you may never be called upon to create an infographic, however, the skills needed to produce one are very general and can be relied upon in the production of many other forms of multimedia and instructional materials.

In this project, you will select your topic, compile the data (if necessary), synthesize it, and create a visualization to attempt to get your meaning across as simply as possible. Ideally, you will select a topic such that it may be used in your social networking site project (below), however, this not required. Some resources that you may find useful are:

http://vector.tutsplus.com/tutorials/designing/how-to-create-outstanding-modern-infographics/

http://www.netmagazine.com/tutorials/how-create-great-infographics

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/infographic-create-infographic/

http://lynda.psu.edu (graphic tutorials)

Student Choice Project

You will select a topic area, define the audience and its needs, and then plan and create a project using a technology of your own choosing. You may wish to draw upon a particular OER, or other subject matter expert in order to complete this project, however it must be simple enough to complete within the stated timeframe. Examples might include an instructional video, an interactive diagram, an iBook, etc. You must create a proposal and it must be approved by the instructor before you may begin working on it. Your proposal must include a brief (1 page) justification of the project including a description of what it is and what you are trying to accomplish, your audience, and why they would find your project interesting, helpful, or compelling. Ideally, you will select a topic such that it may be used in your social networking site project (below), however, this not required.

Social Networking Site to deliver OER

You are asked to select an Open Educational Resource of any level of granularity, and develop a social networking site around it using the various free and open tools we will be discussing in class (ie Ning, Gogle, etc.). Your site must be designed to support multiple users in their own exploration of a topic, including the ability to collaborate in some form (ie, with a wiki, twitter, etc.), and must also support the delivery of information about that topic.

You will be asked to create a proposal, plan and implement the site, and add the rest of the students in the class so that they can become familiar with it. More details will be provided as we get closer to this project in the course.

Presentation

At the end of each project, we will spend time in class showing our work to our peers.  This is an informal presentation and will count only towards the participation grade.  

Other Elements

Readings

Students are expected to read the assigned articles before they get to class.  During class discussions, students will be asked to summarize the readings and provide insight and implications of the articles.

Blogs  

Throughout the semester, you will be asked to keep a running reflection of the course readings, demonstrations, and projects.   Every week, students will be required to post at least one entry to their blog that pertains to class and at least one comment on another student's blog.  Although only one posting is necessary, students are encouraged to post numerous times within the week.  In each blog entry, students should answer at least one the following questions:  What did I learn or what do I want to learn?  What is currently frustrating me?  What should others in class learn about that I find interesting?  Additional questions will be provided after each class discussion. Each blog posting a student makes should be tagged with insys447fa12. We will use this tag to aggregate all students' blog postings.

Academic Honesty

You are expected to be honest in your academic work and to display integrity in the demonstration of your achieved competencies.  A copy of Penn State's policy on academic integrity is available at http://www.psu.edu/dept/ufs/policies/47-00.html.

As you will be inevitably incorporating the work of others into your own through the use of OER, there is a slightly different standard for academic integrity that must be maintained. You must be very careful to understand the licensing requirements around the particular piece that you are using, and provide the necessary citation in the form that it is required. As this will vary for different OERs, you will be required to provide a citation for any work that you use that is not your own, on the page or in the project in which it is used. The citation should include, at a minimum, who created the work and where it was found, however, be aware that different licenses may require more information than this. When in doubt, consult with the instructor.


Grading Policy and Scale: 

20% Infographic Project

20% Student Choice Project

35% Social Networking/OER Delivery Project

15% ePortfolio reflection (Blogs)

10% Class Participation / Attendance

--------------------------------------------------------------

100% Total

95%-100% = A

90%-95% = A-

87%-89% = B+

84%-86% = B

80%-83% = B-

77%-79% = C+

74%-76% = C

70%-73% = C-

60%-69% = D

Below 60% = F

If you require an accommodation for a disability, I would like to meet with you during the first week of the semester to be sure you are appropriately accommodated.


Tentative Course Calendar

August 27th - Introduction

Topics to be covered: Class Introductions, Course Introduction, Syllabus, Blogs @ PSU & RSS Feeds, Discussion about OER, eLearning, and emerging tech.

Activity: Photo essay: You can select any topic for the photo essay, but must follow the guidelines here: http://digital-photography-school.com/5-photo-essay-tips. You must decide how to layout the photo essay, add narrative, and deliver it. This assignment is intended to assess your relative comfort with technology and multimedia, including dealing with images and text, availability and use of technology, and presentation and delivery of multimedia using freely available tools or whatever you have access to. You will present photo essay to the class in 2 weeks.


September 3rd -Labor Day, No Class


September 10th

Topics to be covered: Photo Essay Presentations (5-10 minutes each), Discussion of readings: Christensen et. al., 21st Century Skills

Presentation - briefly cover the meaning of the photo essay, the choices you made in creating it, and how you pulled it together (what technology you used).

Readings to be discussed in class:

  1. Christensen, C. M., Horn, M. B., Caldera, L., and Soares, L., 2011 Disrupting College: How Disruptive Innovation Can Deliver Quality and Affordability to Postsecondary Education 
  2. Ledward, B. C., and D. Hirata, 2011. An overview of 21stcentury skills. Summary of 21st Century Skills for Students and Teachers, by Pacific Policy Research Center. Honolulu: Kamehameha Schools-Research & Evaluation.
Project #1: Poster/Infographic - You will create an infographic about a topic of your choosing, supported by data/information from Open Resources. Images used in infographic not created by you must be licensed under some sort of Creative Commons or other open licensing system. Brief project proposal due next week outlining your idea, intended audience, what data you will be using, and any ideas you might have for organizing and displaying the data.

Project 1 Resources:

http://lynda.psu.edu


September 17th

Topics to be covered: Discussion of readings: Kanuka et. al.; OER Handbook: Introduction, Find; Glennie et al.


Readings to be discussed in class:

  1. Glennie, J., Harley, K., and Butcher, N., 2012 Introduction: Discourses in the Development of OER Practice and Policy
  2. Kanuka, H. & Brooks, C., 2010. Distance Education in a Post-Fordist Time: Negotiating Difference
  3. Gurel, S.,  Open Educational Resources Handbook for Educators (Introduction & Find chapters)
Activity: Break into groups and explore the various OER repositories mentioned in the reading. Find an example of OER that appeals to your group and prepare a brief (5 minute) presentation to walk the class through this OER. Guiding questions include: What is it? Who created it? What is appealing about it? How could it be improved? - These will be presented next class

Infographic Project Proposal due today.


September 24th

Topics to be covered: Discussion of readings: Hokanson et. al.; OER Handbook: Compose, Adapt; Presentations on OER from previous class

Readings to be discussed in class:

  1. Hokanson, B., Miller, C., & Hooper, S. (2008). Commodity, Firmness, and Delight: Four Modes of Instructional Design Practice. 
  2. Gurel, S.,  Open Educational Resources Handbook for Educators (Compose & Adapt chapters)
Activity: In Class: Work on Infographic/Poster



October 1st

Topics to be covered: Discussion of readings: Ice; OER Handbook: Use;

Readings to be discussed in class:

  1. Ice, P., 2010 The Future of Learning Technologies
  2. Gurel, S.,  Open Educational Resources Handbook for Educators (Use)

October 8
th

Discussion of readings: OER handbook: Share, license, conclusion; Infographic/Poster Presentations (tentative), Introduction to Project 2 (tentative)

Activity: Infographic/Poster Presentation (tentative): Walk the class through your infographic/poster. Explain what it is, what it means, where the data/images came from. Be prepared to answer questions from the class. Final Infographic/poster due today. 

Project 2: Student Choice Media Project: You will choose a multimedia project to work on. You must investigate a need, analyze the audience, define a scope of work, and build and implement the project. Project proposal due today.

Example: Create a video to communicate instructional information to an audience. Determine the audience and topic, and provide a rationale for why the audience would find this information useful, and why they might find it compelling in video form. You can use any editing software and hardware to produce, compose, and edit the video.


October 15th - Class Cancelled. I have been asked at the last minute to attend a one day MOOC conference http://www.nebhe.org/events/october2012/. Use this time to work on your projects or get caught up if needed.


October 22nd

Readings to be discussed in class

  1. Chih-Hsiung Tu et al., 2012 The Integration of Personal Learning Environments & Open Network Learning Environments

Activity - Constructing your Personal Learning Environment - Based on the reading, think about what technologies your own Personal Learning Environment consists of. Develop a concept map or some other visual representation of your PLE. Come to class next week prepared to demonstrate your PLE to the class.


October 29th

Readings to be discussed in class

  1. Committee on Institutional Cooperation Chief Information Officers, August 2012 Is This Time Different? Questions for MOOCs and Online Learning Beyond 2012
  2. Downes, Connectivism and Connected Knowledge, pages 3-20 http://www.downes.ca/files/Connective_Knowledge-19May2012.pdf
  3. Siemens, http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/09/04/designing-and-running-a-mooc-in-9-easy-steps/ (A presentation about MOOCs in general. There's very little content here, but it gets better towards the end.)
  4. http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/08/02/conventional-online-universities-consider-strategic-response-moocs

In-class - Finish up PLE presentations. Work on projects after discussion of readings. LEt me know if you can't attend the MOOC webinar mentioned below for November 9th.


November 5th

No In-Person Class ..Instead of class, please attend this webinar on MOOCs (hopefully it will be recorded if you cannot attend):

Event: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Date: Friday, November 9, 2012

Time: 1-2:00 pm (ET)

Presented By: 

Dr. Nish Sonwalkar, (Sc.D.MIT)

USDLA, Director of Research

The International Center for Distance Learning Research and Praxis (ICDLRP) 

Description:

This webinar will cover the recent rise of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which are large-scale online courses with open access via the Internet.

Register Now


November 12th

Project 2 Due. We will demo these in class, so be prepared to demo your work (You do not need to prepare a formal presentation, just be ready to demo and talk about it.)

(Though you are welcome to also prepare a formal presentation if you feel that's necessary.)

Project 3: Designing a social media site


Many Massive Open Online Courses utilize free tools to build a community around a certain topic. These might be in the form of a collection of articles located around the web, for example. In order to facilitate  discussion of the articles, particularly with a large number of students, it helps to use some sort of social discussion tools. Project 3 is to design an experience that uses social media in some way to facilitate a discussion around a topic of your choosing. Ideally you will already have some sort of content or idea to design the site around, if you don't, find and use an open educational resource or two from sources identified earlier in this class.


Some examples you might consider are:


Google Sites


Ning


A free blogging site (not psu blogs)


Facebook (be careful here if you want to keep this separate from your own Facebook)


Twitter


There are many others. To successfully complete this assignment, you must design an experience such that people can openly find the media you would like to have a discussion around, and then participate in a discussion in some kind of organized way. You don't have to ACTUALLY conduct a discussion or attract participants, just design the experience! This is due the Monday during finals week, by 9pm. Please have a proposal ready to give in class on 11-26-2012 that will be a rough draft of your idea.


Note: If you have any questions, let me know. If you have already negotiated an idea for project 3 with me, just be prepared to talk about that in class on the 26th.


November 19th - No Class - Thanksgiving

November 26th - MOOCs 1

  • Discussion of readings from previous class (11-12)
  • MOOC Guide - Section 0 through Section 4 (make sure you watch the videos!)
  • Talk about your proposal for project 3 (see November 12th, above)

December 3rd - MOOCs 2

The remainder of the schedule will be determined as the class works up to this point.

Example schedule:


MOOCs 1

Discussion of Readings TBD

in class project work (Student Choice)

October 29th

MOOCs 2

Discussion of Readings TBD

in class project work (Student Choice)

Project 3 -> Students will plan and create a social networking site incorporating elements of MOOCs as discussed earlier. Students must come to class with a topic for their site prepared to present to class for feedback. Site must be suitable for at least partial delivery on mobile platform.

November 5th

MOOCs 3

Present Project in Class (Student Choice)

Readings TBD

November 12th

MOOCs 4

Project Work in Class (Social Networking / OER Site)

Readings TBD

November 19th -Thanksgiving, No Class

November 26th

Project Work in Class (Social Networking / OER Site)

  1. Readings TBD

December 3rd

Project Work in Class (Social Networking / OER Site)

Readings TBD

December 10th - Last Class - Final Project Presentation

Connectivism and the LMS

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The Connectivist LMS

This post is a reaction to Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, by George Siemens (2004).

What if the Constructivists are not quite correct in thinking that learning occurs within the individual, as he interacts across the zone of proximal development with a social peer who is more experienced in a given domain? Should we consider learning as something that occurs solely in the individual, and assign its value accordingly as a process of personal gain? Or is the value of learning perhaps more Newtonian in nature, with both parties to the transaction experiencing a net gain as a result of the process? And if we consider that the value of this negotiated knowledge may reside between individuals rather than within them, what does that say about our design of (and relationship to) technology as a means of enabling learning?

In his theory of Connectivism, Siemens states "Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements - not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing." This theory places more emphasis on what you can immediately do with knowledge -- and how learning leads to more learning -- than the constructivist (and perhaps, now that I think of it, mercantilist) conception of knowledge as something that is stored for later use. Siemens then uses this concept to address a perceived limitation of current modes of learning -- that knowledge gained has a half life that is growing increasingly ephemeral.

Its an interesting idea, and I recommend reading this article carefully, but what I really want to do in this space is pose the question, "What would a Connectivist learning environment look like?". I have to confess that this question is driven by a few criticisms I have of current learning management systems: 
-They are not very good at creating communities of learning (or even exploiting existing ones in a given domain), 
-The basic building block of the LMS is the course, a logical unit for a bricks-and-mortar teaching and learning operation governed by scarcity of resources (ie seats in classrooms, number of available teaching hours and teachers), however I'm not convinced the concept of the 15 week course is optimal in a paradigm of information abundance (gluttony, even)
-And they operate on the principle that the person running the show (be it faculty or administrator) is a benevolent dictator, knowing what's best for every learner and prescribing a one-size-fits-many approach to learning.

What if:

  • The LMS enabled, even assisted the learner in finding and exploiting knowledge in the networks proximal to the learner as well as those that are distal (networks connected to networks). This would be accomplished with recommender engines, similar to amazon.com or netflix, that would make recommendations based on prior usage of the system as well as similarity to other users.
  • The basic buiding block of the LMS was the learner, rather than the course. The learner would add resources to their profile rather than adding the learner to a collection of resources.
  • The role of the person runing the system (be it faculty or administrator) would be to help the learner sort the knowledge wheat from the information chaff, rather than prescribing a course of information anti-biotics as if it is the one and best cure for a paucity of knowledge in a given topic.

Visceral, Behavioral, and Reflective Design

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This is a reaction to Chapters 2 and 3 of Donald Norman's book, "Everyday Design: Why we love or hate everyday things". This is part of an assignment for Design Studio. As I've mentioned before, this reading is part of the Level 1 readings, but since I entered the program beyond Level 1, I am revisiting it to inform my own work.

Begin Reaction:

As I've talked about before, Norman believes that there are three levels of reactions that humans have when interacting with designed objects or experiences, and these reactions dictate the success or lack of success a product has in the chaotic marketplace of ideas, products, and emotions that is life on planet Earth.

In this part of the book, Norman gives more detail about these levels, and offers three corresponding modes of design to provide a framework that designers can work within to achieve success. Not surprisingly, visceral design attempts to persuade the human through appealing to the base, automatic reactions to things, a cappacity we have developed over vast stretches of time through survival and evolution. Behavioral design tries to appeal to our desire for functionality, understandability, and usability. While reflective design gets at our capacity to put some thought into why we use or prefer certain things, and ultimately how we see these things as potential enhancements to our self image and prestige. 

Of course there are two things to keep in mind about this idea of visceral, behavioral, and reflective reactions to experiences and things:

1. These levels overlap, and it is the job of the reflective layer to make the ultimate decision on whether a human will actually purchase and/or use something. Although the reflective layer does not always win. It is important to understand this.

and 2. What we are really talking about here is manipulation and trickery. Whether it is genuinely innocent -- as in the designer who just wants to make a better widget to make his or her own life better (which, incidentally results in the best quality of products overall); or whether it is ingenuous -- as in the store layout designer, who purposely puts the common daily items at the back of the store which can only be reached after passing through a gauntlet of strategically placed impulse-purchase items. Design, to Norman, is the science of manipulating people's emotional and intellectual reactions to achieve the desired outcome: successful products.

The previous paragraph may sound a little harsh, and I don't mean it to be so. This is the way in which the human, as a social animal, copes (quite successfully) with our place in the universe. Norman is merely offering some practical guidance for how to do this in a more scientific, more efficient way. 

The piece that I am choosing to take away from this writing is that as a designer, it is better to expend my focus on creating something that I personally find useful, such as an iPhone app or a web service, than to put the cart of money before the horse of usefullness, which is also quite possible in the space of software development. Ultimately, like every one else, I do want to sell things, even if it is only ideas. Norman's advice is a good starting point for understanding how to become good at doing that.

Using Core Data in iOS

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This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts about developing iOS Apps. Today I want to talk about the wonder and majesty that is Core Data.

When I first started delving into the tutorials on Lynda.com and elsewhere, I very quickly made it to the point where I wanted to store data somehow in the application. The data storage tutorial on Lynda.com was very informative, walking you through how to leverage the built-in capability to store data in a SQLite database, walking you through construction of the database itself, implementation of the lower level C code that interacts with the database (including writing SQL statements), and then sort of providing you with an Objective-C wrapper to make it easier to work with the db. I was a little dismayed at how complex this turned out to be, but looking at a few books, I was seeing the same sort of basic procedures, so I thought "This is what it means to use data on iOS devices".

In truth, this *was* how it was to use data on iOS devices -- until Core Data.

I have a background in Java, and have built a few web applications using Web Objects, Apple's framework for rapid prototyping that never quite saw the widespread adoption it deserved. The way the programmer interacts with the database in Core Data is very similar to Web Objects, so it turned out to be very refreshing when I started getting into iOS programming and came upon some of the same techniques.

As an aside, I spent the Fall 2010 semester digging into Flex, which is incredibly similar to Java programming, and did alot of work setting up applications that talked to various data sources, including MySQL databases and XML feeds. I never liked how up close and personal Flex and PHP programmers have to get with databases. Writing SQL statements and iterating through arrays is tedious work to me. Because of the Model-View-Controller way in which Web Objects interacts with the database, it seemed very unnatural to me to have to deal with those things. Things should go into and come out of databases as objects, or collections of objects.

So how is Core Data different? Well, for one thing, say goodbye to writing SQL statements. Apple has very graciously abstracted that very tedious work away from us. Just as you don't have to know how to build or fix an engine to drive a car (although it certainly helps), you don't have to know anything about databases to use Core Data.

Instead, you now work with Entities, Attributes on entities, and Fetch Specifications. You now also have something called a Managed Object Context that handles all of the actual interaction. The basic workflow is:

  • Design rows in your database visually, as objects. Your objects can also have attributes and relationships with other objects. Attributes are like columns in your database, while relationships are like relations. This comes in handy, for example, when you want to load large amounts of binary data, as you can take advantage of something called "Faulting" (as I'll talk about a little later)
  • When you want to interact with objects in your database, you ask the Managed Object Context to fetch them for you. You can fetch either all of the objects or just some of them using a Fetch Specification, which is just an object you can set up to specify how to Fetch objects from the db.
  • After the objects are fetched, they are held in memory, where you are free to alter, undo, and redo changes on them. When you are ready to commit the changes to the database, you ask the Managed Object Context to save the data.
The following image illustrates how objects are visually defined in the database:

coredata1.jpg


In this example, I have created a photo object to hold metadata about a photo, and an image object to hold the actual binary image data. I then set up a reciprocal relationship between these two objects. The reason I did it this way is to take advantage of a process called "Faulting". 

The basic idea behind Faulting is that memory is at a premium on mobile devices. The actual binary data that makes up an image takes up much more memory than the string data that is collected in the metadata attributes defined on the Photo object above. So wherever possible, we want to represent our object using the metadata object (such as displaying the title in a row in a table rather than using a thumbnail). We use faulting to control when the binary image data is displayed on the screen. Because there is a two-way relationship between the Photo Object and the Image Object, the Managed Object Context knows to only fire that fault when the image data is actually needed (by asking for the Photo.toImage value in the code). Then it removes the image from memory when it is no longer needed, freeing up valuable space.

So this to me is a much cleaner and more logical way to interact with a database. Working with objects also has the benefit of being much cleaner code that is much more tightly coupled to the IDE, enabling you to take advantage of advanced features of Xcode like code completion and refactoring.

There is one problem I ran into though: I found myself in the situation of needing to store an array of CGPoint values in the database. Core Data does not provide any collection data types. I searched around on the web and found that there are a few solutions to this, neither of which was particularly great. 

One solution people do is to use a one-to-many relationship between objects, defining a collection object and then a to-many relationship to a series of more primitive objects like strings or whatever. Since I had to store perhaps thousands of points, I thought this might get a little messy, so my next option was to convert the array into binary data and store it as a binary data type. This took some effort to figure out, but I finally got it working by

  1. Converting my data from CGPoint objects into NSValue objects because NSValue objects respect NSCoding, which is a delegate protocol used to encode objects into binary data and decode it again (objects that are encoded have to implement the NSCoding protocol, which will be the subject of another post)
  2. Creating a custom SequencedMove object (also respecting NSCoding) to hold the NSValue point and a string representing the identity of the object that pertained to the point
  3. Adding each SequencedMove to an NSArray (which also respects NSCoding), then
  4. Encoding the NSArray into binary data.
Getting the data back again is the reverse of this process.

Emotion and Design 1

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This post is a reaction to the Preface and Chapter 1 of "Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things", by Donald Norman (2004), which I selected to read as an assignment for a class I am taking: Instructional Systems Design Studio. Note that normally students would read this in their first year of Design Studio, but because I jumped into the process at the third level, I missed out on what is turning out to be a very interesting reading.

Begin Reaction:

Donald Norman puts forth the idea that things (designed objects) tend to work "better" when they are more aesthetically pleasing. He arrives at this conclusion via a neuro-cognitive perspective -- basically that the emotions you experience as a human being change the way you experience the interaction with the object as you are interacting with it. In layman's terms: if you are in a good mood, you are more creative, perhaps choosing alternative paths to achieve a desired result, and more tolerant of difficulties encountered when interacting with an object.

He makes a very plausible argument that there are three levels with which the human brain interacts with the world: The visceral level, the behavioral level, and the reflective level. The visceral level is the mostly unconscious automatic reactions that we have that prepare us to survive any given unknown encounter. The behavioral level controls everyday behavior -- what we do in situations that are not novel. While the reflective level allows us to intellectually exert a finer level of control over the other two, but only after we have determined that we have survived the encounter and have time to reflect on what happened. 

This fits in with what I understand of evolutionary biology. It makes sense that we could have only survived to the present day if we evaluate all new encounters with a sort of 'fight or flight' preparatory suspicion. Over the millennia, we animals have developed an innate sense of which sensory experiences generally promote survival (warm fuzzy things) and which ones potentially threaten it (sharp pointy things). 

However, what I believe is that because humans have language and the ability to educate successive generations, the survival oriented benefits of the visceral reaction to everyday things has become diluted over time. Norman explains this in relation to design in that our visceral reaction is manifested as emotion related to products, and one that we cannot always necessarily explain. What is interesting about this is Norman's assertion that the visceral level still usually wins in any given situation. What this means is that sometimes even when we consider all the variables, we still like things for reasons that may not be entirely logical. Norman's idea, then, is that if we can design objects with properties that exploit this emotional connection, we should have a better chance of success in whatever it is we are trying to achieve through the design we are creating.

Apple understands this and is currently exploiting it (along with being first to market) to mop the floor with its competitors. Consider the case of the iPad or iPhone vs. any supposedly technically superior Android device. Apple made their devices so pleasing to use, from the design of the hardware (with features like rounded corners) to the experience of using the software (pleasing sounds and feedback, intuitive buttons, large pleasing interface elements, satisfying touch gestures) that it doesn't matter if the hardware capabilities of some of their competitor's products are technically superior. The experience of using an iPad puts us in a good mood, and therefore we prefer to use it. That is not to say that the logical reflective part of our brain can't overcome this -- after all, some people still buy Android tablets (and some people keep snakes and spiders as pets). 

The lesson to take away here is that considering your audiences' emotions as they use the thing you are designing can pay enormous dividends. I look forward to reading more of Norman's book to learn how to achieve this in future designs that I participate in creating.


Revisiting source code control with SVN

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This semester brought a number of challenges, one of which was a relatively easy one to overcome: What is the best way for two or more programmers to work on a project based on the same code base? This is a very well understood problem in software development, and the answer is to use a source code repository like CVS or Subversion (SVN). This is meant to be an introduction to the concept of SVN for non-programmers or novice programmers.

If you don't think too deeply about it, it doesn't seem like that big of a deal. You might think "We could just work on different parts of the code and then elect one person to put it all together" or "We could just throw the files up on the web-server, that's where they're going to end up anyway". And yes, that might work to some extent, but what if you are working on code that doesn't ultimately go on a webserver, and what if you are trying to take an object oriented approach where there are tens or even hundreds of classes. It would be very difficult to manage which programmer 'owns' which classes, and which version has the latest set of all the classes, and what if the programmers want to actually work on the code at the same time? This last question poses an interesting problem, namely, if Programmer A and Programmer B each are writing code at the same time, and they upload their changes to the server, which version is the correct version? The answer to all of these questions, in the absence of a source code repository is unclear.

This is where SVN comes in. You can think of SVN as both a location where the project actually lives -- ie file space on a server -- and also as a sort of gatekeeper for changes to the code. SVN the gatekeeper allows users to check the code in and out of SVN the repository, and when you do that, it gives you the tools you need to ensure that you are working on the latest version of the code (the latest to be checked in) and it resolves any conflicts that may come up when you are done working on your little piece of code and want to check it back in. If you do any kind of coding in the real world, you are likely going to run into SVN at some point.

A typical (simplified) workflow for someone using SVN might look like this:

  • User A and User B simultaneously check out version 123 from SVN
  • User A adds a class and starts using it in the main program, User B does some other work, but really needs that new class that User A just added
  • User A finishes her work, tests that the code works, and checks it back in as version 124. She calls user B and tells her that she finished the new class
  • User B refreshes his working copy, and SVN automatically downloads the new class to his working space (ie his desktop) and integrates it with the existing code
  • User B refreshes the code in his IDE (like Xcode or Eclipse) and is now able to use the class that User A created.
  • User B finishes his coding, tests the app, and commits it to the repository as version 125

The nice thing about SVN is that it automatically keeps track of every version of the project, and any user can go back and see any version (0-125 in the above example). Since it is only tracking the differences between versions, this consumes much less space on the server than if you were making a copy of your project manually every time.

Lastly, SVN is a server technology, so there are clients for virtually all platforms. I use SVNX on a Mac. Other people claim that TortoiseSVN is decent on Windows. Most Integrated Development Environments such as Xcode and Eclipse usually have clients built in as well. These are all usually well documented and easy to use, but if you are having trouble with the client, it is a topic that is so well understood and so widely used that you should be able to resolve your issue within minutes of searching google or asking on a forum.

Here are some best practices that you should keep in mind when using SVN:

  • Always test your code and be sure it works when you check it in. You don't want other people on your team to have to fix your bugs to get the code working. Its embarrassing.
  • Its a good idea to make sure that everybody on the team has identical development environments. Its just easier, and if the code doesn't run or compile, its one less thing you have to troubleshoot. This includes making sure everybody upgrades at the same time when new versions come out.
  • Remember that you can check out code and work on it for days or weeks. SVN doesn't care. The longer you have it checked out though, the more your code might differ from the project code in the repository. If this is a concern to you, you can pull down the latest version with the refresh functionality of your client.
  • Here is a really great resource that will tell you everything you need to know about SVN, and then some: http://svnbook.red-bean.com/


App development with iOS SDK - First thoughts

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For my Design Studio class this semester I have embarked on a journey to learn how to develop mobile apps on the native iOS SDK. I have spent a good deal of time with this and have already put together a few apps, some more complete than others, using a variety of technology

Getting started requires overcoming a few obstacles, technically and mentally. In no particular order, here was what stood out to me as challenging in the first few weeks:

  • Getting all the developer crap installed. Xcode, getting a developer certificate, setting up a provisioning profile, provisioning a device to run the actual code on... All of this is way more complex than working with Eclipse and the Flex SDK, which is basically a regular installer. I understand why this is the way it is, especially in light of the malicious android apps that are floating around recently, but its still really complex. As it is, it works now. I'm left hoping that it doesn't break. 
  • Most of the example project code I downloaded needs to be adjusted if you don't have the same SDK as it was originally written for. This turns out to be kind of clunky because you have to find where to set the SDK (in the Target->Get Info->Build settings), change it, then shutdown the project and reopen it.
  • Learning XCode itself. Its just different than Eclipse, in the way things like code completion works. It is also really different in terms of debugging code. The Flash Builder debugger let you get down into the details of your code, like seeing objects in arrays kind of detail. I haven't figured out how to do that in Xcode.
  • The Objective-C language. For some reason this was probably the least of the challenges. It was daunting at first, but now I am completely used to it. I am partly referring to the '[]bracket structure' of the code itself, but also the way that it is built on top of the C language and at times relies on C code for certain things.
  • The cocoa touch framework. This is huge, and there are definitely ways to do things that are different than in java/flex. You might be banging your head against the wall for a long time on something only to figure out that Apple already has a reaaaaaallllly long-named class that does what you want to do. Which is good, but frustrating.
  • Figuring out the Navigation View Controller stack. Yeah. When you switch between views, those views don't just go away. And when you switch back, you have to reload 'em.
  • The single biggest challenge though is what I call "the documentation fragmentation problem". Basically, the SDK has been around for a few years, and in the old days, there wasn't necessarily a way to do lots of things. In subsequent iterations of the SDK, Apple released better ways to do stuff. The problem is alot of the turorials, code fragments, and documentation (unofficial) in general is geared toward the 'older way' of doing things. An example of this is using Core Data vs. Querying-SQLite-directly-using-some-crazy-C-library-thats-hard-to-use.

Understanding Technology

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This post is a reaction to Heidegger's "Questioning Concerning Technology"

I chose to reflect on this article because I think Heidegger puts into words a lot of the thoughts that a student of design should be having. It was written in the 1950's, after the invention and use of nuclear weaponry by "the good guys", and the revelations of the horrors of the holocaust perpetrated by "the bad guys" (to which Heidegger was likely connected, although to what extent scholars are unsure). To sum up a very dense piece of reading, Heidegger is concerned with understanding the essence of technology in order to understand the 'why' connected with it. Humanity, to that point had already become adept at demonstrating the 'what' and the 'how' of technology.

The 'what' and 'how' piece positions technology as a means to an end, an instrumentality dependent on 4 (semi-Aristotelian) causes:

The material it is made of, the physical dimensions or final form of it, the purpose for which it is made, and the intent of the creator of the thing. These are all things that a designer is concerned with when creating something. Heidegger didn't disagree with this definition, but argues that it doesn't go far enough. To Heidegger, the key to technology is that it is the thing that humanity uses to understand the universe as it reveals itself to us. Understanding the 4 causes isn't sufficient to understand technology because it implies a certain pre-existence which doesn't agree with the idea of invention, nor does it impart a sense of responsibility for use of the technology. Technology is seen as a mere means to an end.

Heidegger is concerned with technology because he sees in it a grave danger, the enablement of the self-destruction of humanity. This is in contrast to most people's conception of technology. Most people would admit the destructive potential of particular things they learn to be destructive, such as bullets and bombs, but may not see the same destructive potential that Heidegger might see in something like a hydroelectric dam, a silver chalice, or a mainframe computer. The danger in the use of technology is not just limited to explosions, but more so the idea that humanity is reduced to the status of a resource and therefore becomes enslaved by the very thing that is supposed to be helping us.

The answer to this question of danger, to Heidegger, lies in the role of the craftsman or artist, or designer. Art and design is an exploration of the unfolding of reality, without the destructive-consumptive aspect of modern technology. This ties in nicely to Hokanson et al's conception of the balance that is needed in role-based design between commodity, firmness, and delight. Thinking about it this way, this says to me that our designs do not necessarily need to always be productive, efficient, and technically resilient, and in fact the more we can deviate from these qualities, the better off we will all be. We should always keep in mind the 'why' as well as the 'how' and the 'what'.

I end with a quote that always stuck with me from the movie "Slacker", which was important in my formative years: "Every single commodity you produce is a unit of your own death".