Get Your Head Out Of Your Asana & Look Around: An Introduction

“Asana is a simple way to stay on top of your classes, assignments, and student club activities. Before you get started, it’s important to understand how to set up Asana.” – Asana.

The Digital Communitas project, Student Voices, is actively soliciting blog posts, vlogs, and mp3 audio from post-secondary students at Canada’s universities to share their experiences in the classroom with digital media. Sara Humphreys, our fearless leader, has challenged both my colleague Shannon Haslett and I to come up with a blog post which meets the precipitous of the guidelines of the call for posts. I have come up with the idea for a series of posts under the title “Get Your Head Out Of Your Asana.”

One of the tools we use to communicate with each other and control workflow for Student Voices is through an app called Asana. Asana is project management software intended to replace the need for email by making work more “social.” In learning to use Asana, I visited its “Getting Started” page, and immediately noticed the language they used to sell you on their product especially its big-headed and “new-agey” marketing rhetoric. Looking at Asana critically, I thought it would be fun to pick on it to create a series of posts which comment to what level digital technology provides a source of assisting in our education and to what level they provide us with a distraction from learning. How much attention is the twenty-first student paying to Wikipedia and YouTube in the classroom as opposed to well-trained instructors? Or engaging with projected PowerPoint presentations instead of with their peers for in-class discussion? Or looking down at their various digital devices instead of observing the world around them? Where platforms such as Asana or Blackboard provide excellent tools for managing and synthesizing information, to what extent are they becoming a priority for institutional investment at the expense of learning resources whether digital or physical? Is ease of access and coded interactivity truly more important than the information we engage with? Could Marshal McLuhan have been right? Has the media, or the tool, really become the message?

Cool app or Kool-Aid?

Asana was started up by Facebook co-founder Dustin Moskovitz and ex-Facebook engineer Justin Rosenstein in 2008. Their goal is to revolutionize the way we communicate with each other by basically ridding the need to communicate needlessly via email and other, presumably, face-to face means (no more virtual water cooler chit chat), so more actual work can be produced. It professes to replace perceived idleness with efficiency yet it is a bit oxymoronic; replacing traditional digital communications with social communications so you can communicate less.

Ironically, Asana also refers to a yoga position which literally translates to the art or “mastery of sitting still.”  There is no real ‘sitting still’ embedded in the Asana software despite its name, unless they are referring to the ideas that are stagnating. It claims “[y]ou’ll spend less time reading and writing emails and more time getting work done.” Less time reading and writing… hmm. In actuality, it replaces not idleness with efficiency but creativity with efficiency, for out of boredom and dialogue, ideas are born. In the humanities, the work being done is about people and their interaction with (fill in your specialization here).

So, is Asana a good tool for education? What Asana proposes is digital Fordism or Taylorism, where we work with parts never being able to conceive of the whole. And isn’t trying to understand the big picture what a good education is really about?

In their own words,“Asana is the single source of information for your team.  Add projects, tasks, and comments as you go, and you’ll instantly build a team archive that’s easily accessible whenever you need context or information.”  Unfortunately, Asana is about Asana.  It’s mission to keep our heads in our Asana and out of other digital and physical spaces.  However, the truth behind the rhetoric is that Asana can only provide limited information and context, obvious to anyone who takes the time to logout and look around.

 

 

 

 

Utilize Online Tools for a Better Teaching Environment

Throughout my post-secondary career, only one professor has used any kind of online media within their classes. Sure, the others used Blackboard or Desire to Learn, or some other form of Learning Management Systems (LMS), but most in a not so effective way. Most LMS are used to simply drop course documents (slides, syllabus, essay topics etc.) and not create an online collaborative classroom. In my case, I want an accessible online classroom where I can log in from anywhere in the world (learning should know no bounds) to: check in to what the weekly plan for the class is, visit some discussion boards to have a meaningful and interesting discussion with fellow classmates and my professor, check my grades and see my work marked online and maybe, if the professor is really advanced, to check out a blog or some element of gamification incorporated into the class. I enjoy my in-class sessions (mostly), but for many of my classes, there is nothing about the in-class experience that could not be replicated to an online classroom, except the personal face-to-face element. For some, that is very important, it just isn’t for me. I enjoy lectures (when the professor is passionate and interested), but I enjoy lectures a lot more when they are recorded online and I can pause, rewind (do we still say rewind?) and go back and re-listen to them as I need to understand the point being made. I want accessible learning.individualized learning

Learning for me is an on-going venture; one I never plan to stop, and it does not make any sense why the way in  which we learn seems to have taken a stand still approach. The world has changed leaps and bounds from when I first stepped into a post-secondary classroom ten years ago. We have watches that can send text messages, TVs that bring 3-D graphics into the home, and social networks that allow you to instantly share information with someone across the world. With these advancements, why can’t instructors still not utilize online systems to allow a more universal learning environment? Not only will it allow the typical student to access the information anywhere and participate at a time and location convenient for them, but it also allows alternative learners (those who don’t learn via lecture and tests) to learn in a way that fosters their learning style. Having content online allows anyone to alter it to suit their needs in a way that makes sense to them. We have an understanding that each of us is different, and each of us learns in a different way- so why do we not utilize great tools that can help each person learn their way?

We students pay a lot of money to attend post-secondary education in Canada and yet we do not get a lot of say in how we learn. It’s time we get to make an impact on our own learning experience, use tools we find helpful and have professors who have a knowledge of these tools. I want to see a more universal online approach to learning, with the same caliber of education I can get during an in-class experience.

 

 

 

Gaming, digital futures and Curtis Bonk! | Day 2 at #DEANZ14 Conference

Sara Humphreys:

Wonderful overview of a conference I am sure we all wish we could have attended!

Originally posted on Disrupt & Transform:

Last week, I managed to attend a day of the DEANZ conference, a great opportunity to catch up with those involved in research and practice related to e-learning and distance education in the schooling and tertiary sectors.

While one day couldn’t really capture the conference as a whole, there were a few takeaways for me that made me wish I’d managed all three days!

2014-05-01 09.18.58Keynote:  David Gibson – Games and Simulations

Associate Professor at Curtin University, David’s focus is in supporting university departments to further e-learning design as part of their programmes.

His keynote made some exciting (and mentally stretching!) points about the way gaming structures can enhance learning pathways. For example:

  • He…

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The Digital Classroom: Catering to Idealism

One more theorist inspired post from me, once more applying ideas towards technological learning environments. This time I will examine the issue from a perspective inspired by Jean Baudrillard. Baudrillard was a French theorist, writing in the latter half of the 20th century and into the 21st. He covered a broad range of ideas, but some of his core themes were that of simulations, consumerism, media, technology, and signs/symbolism. His bibliography is quite lengthy, and since I can only include so much, this article will use some ideas found in The System of Objects, Simulacra and Simulation, and The Gulf War Did Not Take Place.

Again, I must note in advance, this post will seem very non-supportive of technology in the classroom, but I want to again note that this is not my position, rather that this should provoke thought about the origins of said technology, and the political/economical/ideological motives behind equipping classrooms with technology. By understanding these underlying themes, we can have a fuller understanding of the true meanings and ramifications of technology in the classroom. It may be a harsh reality to face and some may rail against such claims, but technology in the classroom does in fact have many downsides to it, most of which are the fault of said ideological influences.

As one of the arguments for supporting digitized classrooms, technology is slated to combat boredom, to cater to new ways of learning, and create new methods of teaching. However, I want to point out the most obvious fact: teaching with technology is still teaching. It is not replacing teaching or teachers, and thus will become subject to the same miseries, or even worse distractions, than traditional methods eventually. Digital interfaces in a classroom hold the attention of younger generations and students because they are a novelty. A techno-generation of students will view digitally enhanced classrooms much in the same way rebellious children today view the traditional methods. It is a circular process. The idea of learning and the attitudes towards that is what needs to be changed to allow the full effects of technological enhancements in the classroom to be felt. We are deluding ourselves into believing that technology will save the classroom, or that the fundamentals will somehow be different and more effective. Not that this is naivety, on the contrary, that is the very goal of technology, which allows it to flourish and invade our body. But we must be suspicious.

In the mad rush to equip schools with technology, the reduction of technology to merely a sign is evident. I do not mean to deprive digital interfaces of their ability to fundamentally change the classroom, but the symbolism of a digital classroom is stronger, and arguably more important. This movement is a modernization, to pull into the 21st century one of the oldest social environments. Digital interfaces serve as a sign of modernity, of a technologically savvy and triumphant society. Traditional methodologies are not seen as rational, nor 100 percent efficient; there is always a piece of technological equipment that can be created to achieve this, though always within limits imposed by dominant social structure. In short, technologically advanced classrooms serves to further legitimize our technocratic society. It is more the idea of an advanced classroom that is appealing to many than the practical application of it. The actual implementation is a nothing more or less than a worthy goal of society, though successful integration would be a “token” of power.

Referencing back again to my first post about surveillance and data collection, we come to a concept Baudrillard detailed in Simulacra and Simulation. He believed that we bring the sacred objects in life into a scientific order, in an effort to control them. He gave the example of museums effectively “killing” Egyptian mummified corpses; that we write our own ethnographies. The world has become a museum; everything is an exhibit. Though this work was written in 1981, it has been amplified to the infinite degree by the internet today. Social media is a prime example; we build our own exhibits for ourselves, and prostitute our images. Our data is collected, and advertisers have their own museums about us, the consumer, and cater back to us so we can continue to build on our own exhibit. In a similar way, this works in the classroom as well, if the technology is set up in such a way. The statistics of how well we perform in certain areas lead to an exhibit of our academic profile and abilities. We have seen how advertisers have invaded digital academic tools such as Blackboard; theoretically they could advertise to the student particular devices or programs that best suit their academic abilities or deficiencies. Additionally, schools or programs that require applications can see a deeper/rational/synthesized evaluation of a student, or even a host of students, through simple things like data collection and analysis. An exhibit of a student or classroom can be quite revealing. Nothing is private, and everything is oriented towards efficiency and economical benefits. Schools have a vested interest in having top performing students, advertisers make money from the data, and other companies make money from people purchasing the programs. Although this idea of an exhibit of the student may seem like a logical step, do exhibits and statistics always demonstrate the potential or true abilities of a student? As Baudrillard suggests, there is more and more information, but less and less meaning.

This idea of the exhibit of the student somewhat leads into the idea that people believe technology adapts to them. Any little learning deficiency, interest, etc, is seen as an individualization, personalization, a focus on them. This is wrong: everything is coded, predicted, anticipated, and such “adaptations” are designed to dupe you into believing technology is working for you. Any “adaptation” is an orientation to a paying consumer, or creation of adaptive ideas for profit in patents. Problem with math? Try this new teaching program! I see you like science; try this new data collection program! Perhaps if a new development is made requiring non-existent technologies, it could be an adaptation, though it is not an adaptation for the sake of the person, it is for the sake of filling another gap for profit. Point is, technology is not working, or doing the work, for you. If we have digital interfaces in the classroom as an example, they cannot “work” unless we utilize them. It is what WE do that matters. We manipulate it, and it does what it is told. Ultimately it is the programmers and corporations YOU are working for, the opposite of what we believe technology is doing. Every quirk has a niche and a price; there’s an app for that.Governments and companies both are pushing for this equipment, as it benefits both of them. Given the recent revelations of widespread data being monitored by government agencies, it can be debated whether or not this is actually in the student’s best interest.

Relating to this, technology opposes progress just as much as it promotes advancements. Advancing too far, too fast will kill it; it is only logical that it organizes itself against too fast of progress. It is in its best interest to go slow, and “adapt” to situations that come up instead of preventing or pre-empting them. This is economic play. Baudrillard discussed at length in The Gulf War Did Not Take Place how speculators make money of things that never really happen, that do not catch on, take off, what have you. The same effect is being applied here. Economic powers are speculating the worth of technologically enhanced classrooms, and speculating off the students. Why else would companies be interested in equipping schools with tablets, e-readers, computers, and so on? Advertising, media, promotion, money.

Baudrillard suggested objects and technology grow like an organism; it evolves, it has waste, it has obsolescence. Technology, of course, is the exact same. Every year we see it, the new Apple products and the mad rush to purchase these expensive devices that undergo minor changes that are often aesthetic only in nature, a planned obsolescence designed to suck money out of the masses. In the classroom, this is the greatest danger of technology. It is expensive, and cannot be replaced at the consistent rate of growth it is experiencing. There will always be a school that is out of date, and then the point of digitally enhanced classrooms is lost, as methods become obsolete as fast as the technology. Again, economics are at play. We must also deal with the waste; where does all this go? The amount of waste technology produces is astounding, and is only growing.

There is another problem, regarding specificity of technology. Again, I noted in my first post that many instructors are incapable of fixing problems with the rudimentary technology in the classrooms. Baudrillard noted the increasing specialization in “gizmos” and technology in general. This is part of the plan; there are jobs out there for people who can fix these problems, so the people who really need to know (instructors) are not taught. Here is an example, though it is not exactly about learning with digital interfaces, but it paints the general picture. In my final year of high school, all of the clocks broke and everything fell out of time. All the buzzers were 8 minutes behind, and not a single clock in the school was correct. It remained this way for quite some time because apparently there was only ONE PERSON in the entire municipality that was licensed and trained (aka entitled) to fix the clocks. Great. In terms of actual classes, why do students have to wait for IT help to get the lesson going? It would be more much efficient if the instructors knew how to work these things, and then both students and instructors would not lose out on 10-15 minutes of class every week.

It boils down to this: money. Baudrillard asserted that the cultural mosaic does not exist, rather there is only one “culture,” and this one is the capitalist centralization of value. Everything can be given a price, and now that education and instructors are increasingly under the economic scope, economics are extraordinarily important, especially given the enormous focus on economics today. This centralized tendency to reduce everything to monetary value is extraordinarily demeaning, and is certainly a backwards progression. Technological advances in the classrooms are suffering from this, and as noted in this post and my last one, it is solely due to money, presumably greed.

There is a great technocracy at play here. It is evident in all of the above issues. It is also evident in the prevailing attitude about technology: if you do not have it, are not up to date, or non-proficient with it, you are socially ridiculed. Although it is not the social “castration” Baudrillard suggested happened to those who lost their driver’s licence, the principle is still applicable. It is an expectation of people today, an expectation that everybody has cell phones, social media accounts, mp3 players, and so on. Technology is not to be halted; those who have not come under technology are backwards, morally and socially. This idea allows it flourish, and continuously creates pretexts for development, pointless or not. This is one reason why we consider the traditional classroom model out of date, and legitimizes the push for digital enhancements.

The final idea I will explore about technologically advanced classrooms is that of a social paralysis. Baudrillard suggested technology does not actually create communication; I believe this to be a result of given historical time-frames (1968), and I will say technology DOES in fact create communication, but a non-standard type or form of communication. It cannot be denied that objects such as Smart phones or other media platforms are killing true human interaction and relationships. It may seem contradictory: does social media not count as human interaction or relationships? Not in my mind. Social media deludes people into believing this, but subtly we must be aware that we do not really have 900+ friends. It is merely an exhibit; social media does not give us the opportunity to learn how engage our peers in the flesh, and digital interfaces in the classroom pose the same threat. I feel that speaking with colleagues and engaging in open dialogue in seminar settings allows the best ideas to be birthed and grow. Technology cannot, and should not, be allowed to isolate students from not only themselves, but from the instructor. If indeed technology does not create or foster standard communication, this is what it should (at least in part) facilitate.

To wrap things up and keep it short, it is suffice to say that we need to really take a step back and look at digitally enhanced classrooms as something more than an educative tool. It was quoted in The System of Objects that “there is something morally wrong about an object whose exact purpose is not entirely known.” Technology in the classrooms is this. Very few people know every line of code that goes into these programs, the underlying motives, etc, for this equipment. It is a consumption of technology, and Baudrillard left us with an excellent definition of consumption: “an activity consisting of the systematic manipulation of signs.” Technology is the sign, and there is so much at stake for all parties that everybody wants their piece of the pie, economically, politically, and so on. By considering some of the more sinister aspects of technology, and figuring out how to mitigate them as best as possible while being as open as possible, we can make progress in this endeavour.

Student 2.0: How Social and Digital Media is Shaping New Types of Learners

“A powerful force to change the university is the students.  And sparks are flying today.  A huge generational clash is emerging in our institutions.  The critiques of the university from fifteen years ago were ideas in waiting – waiting for the new Web and for a new generation of students who could effectively change the old model” (Don Tapsott in Macrowikinomics – see page 156)

The wave of new students has arrived and they have been dubbed “digital natives,”  of which I am apparently one.  This wave of new students use digital technology with ease, but are they actually well-versed in digital technology? Not in my experience.  After all, I am still learning and have a great deal to learn about how the digital “stuff” I use actually works.  I prefer to think of digital natives not as oppositional from digital immigrants ( those not born into digital tech), but as a diverse set of learners who are working with (or sometimes still waiting) for the education system to meet our needs. Let’s move away from simplistic sound bites about teachers being “old-fashioned digital immigrants” students as digital savants. Neither position is entirely true nor entirely off-base.

This is the stereotype but not the reality.

We can say that students who are digital natives are really artists of their own education using the palate of social media technologies and platforms to learn and study, conduct research, and collaborate with professors and other students alike.  Social media is about sharing, while also about individualizing one’s own unique online experiences.  So, as the new student is learning on their own steam, they are also interacting with a community that transcends their classroom.  Thus, they are the global student.  The new student can access lectures from renowned scholars from MIT for free, for instance.  They also can use some free brush-up math or science help from the Khan Academy.  This is unprecedented.  The source of the plethora of information stems from the tools students have, in particular laptops and Smartphones (with their many array of apps), which allow them to manipulate, interact with, and network with the information they learn.  This new wave of students relies on collaborative learning.

Collaborative Learning 101:

Interactive multimedia consists of text, image, audio, and video, which all collaborate to help students learn and create.  The interactivity of these tools is revolutionary, as social media guru, Don Tapscott, prolifically acknowledges in his 2010 best-selling book, MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World: “we need to toss out the old industrial model of pedagogy – how learning is accomplished – and replace it with a new model called collaborative learning” (141). (Read our interview with Don by clicking here for the post and here for the prezi). This new pedagogy ensues all “participants would contribute to an open platform of world-class educational resources that students everywhere can access throughout their lifetime.  We call it a Global Network of Higher Learning” (141).  In schools, students are becoming part of a global network and the value of this is far-reaching, especially in regards to reshaping the global economy for a new century.  Furthermore, students from an early age are not just becoming more marketable, but reaching potentials that move beyond the financial benefits of a good education.  The new student has social media skills that seem inborn, but they have actually been actively trained by their exposure to social technology.  It is the Millennial Generation (1980-1995) and Generation Z (1995-present) of which are now occupying schools and often face educators and curriculum that cannot meet their learning needs.  This applies to all disciplines in education, from the humanities, arts, to the social and natural sciences.  Due to the internet’s hybridization of information, students no longer separate information into categories.  In other words, the average young person’s life is multidisciplinary and requires multi-tasking in order to be part of their demographic.  The Wikipedia effect is an example that Tapscott has pointed out.  Wikis are more than just sites, they are collaborative spaces which are shaped by readers, who enter, edit, and delete information.  Wikis are more than just simple websites because each wiki is a site of interaction between multitudes of readers who are also simultaneously writers.  Due to their exposure to this model of knowledge production, students are used to interacting with what they learn, therefore, the simple teacher/professor – student relationship is changing.  This last point must be recognized.  Collaborative learning, as Tapscott argues, is changing power dynamics on both microcosmic (in the classroom) and macrocosmic (in educational institutions throughout North America) levels.  Instead of a hierarchy, classrooms and institutions will be more like communities, where power is shared and focused on serving the development of many individuals.  Communities value trust over obedience and authority, therefore, students develop a sense of belonging on their own terms that will ultimately serve others.  Ultimately, social media encourages community and communication because it is collaborative.

The Blog as a Unique, Collaborative Learning Tool for Student 2.0:

As pedagogy, social media is inherently experimental.  A blog is a good example of a type of social media which is empowering students to experiment and shape their ideas.  For instance, part of Dr. Sara Humphrey’s teaching methods is to allow students the option of doing a blog for a major assignment.  Many students jump at this opportunity and use it as a new way of exploring a literary text.  Since blogs are a dynamic way to express content, students can write blogs similar to essays and/or use different ways to present their interpretation of the text.  Aside from producing analytical content, students also design the blog, which enables them to unlock creative ways to express an interpretation.  We have provided a link to Dr. Humphrey’s own blog, “The Expendable Citizen,” below.  In this blog, you will find links to student blogs from Dr. Humphrey’s courses.  We are confident that you will be impressed!  The blog as a learning tool provided these students with a unique challenge.  Why is this relevant?  For various reasons.  The university is changing to accommodate social media on all levels.  The challenge faced by universities right now is to incorporate it in the undergraduate classroom, in order to introduce students early on to using it, exploiting it for its value to their studies, and begin to develop an inter-disciplinary communication network with students throughout their academic career.  Blogging as a digital media tool offers an introduction to an array of skills that helps students prepare for the future.  Many students agree that a blog can be a step towards a professional online identity since blogs can be used as an addition to a CV or resume.  Blogs may even function as a CV and such innovation is bound to encourage future employers that their candidate has unique skills ready for a digital world.  Ultimately, blogs and other digital mediums open up a new dimension for educational institutions to explore.  Digital media in the classroom is so promising because it encourages the five principles of digital media that Don Tapscott points out: collaboration, openness, sharing, integrity, and interdependence.

It is a whole new way being a student for a new age. The following resources offer examples of instructor’s embracing digital mediums in their teaching.

Dr. Diane Jakacki’s blog:

Diane Jakacki

Dr. Sara Humphrey’s blog:

The Expendable Citizen

Dr. Constance Crompton is a postdoctoral fellow at the Electronic Textual Cultures Laboratory at the University of Victoria. She specializes in digital humanities, Cultural Studies, Victorian periodicals and popular culture, the literatures of transition (1880-1920), and gender studies. We have included her personal teaching philosophy on our site, as it expresses a particular exemplary opinion of digital media in the university setting.

Dr. Constance Crompton’s Teaching Philosophy: Dr. Crompton’s Teaching Philosophy