Personality and other factors in education

Tracey’s found her blogging mojo with a raft of posts (new since I last looked) including this one linking to work that identifies conscientiousness as the main secret to success in much of life. The focus on personality is in common the connections to Myers-Briggs and related ideas that Brendon and Anne have touched on.

Tried one of the tests Brendon pointed to and it confirmed earlier results – INTP. So at least it’s somewhat reliable in a broad, “I haven’t changed much” sort of a way. Even if there are some significant questions about it. I wonder whether this labeling of me makes sense to the other NGL participants?

Tracey’s post links to some more work that the current formal education system is set up to reward “dependability, perseverance, consistency, following orders, punctuality, and deferring gratification” and penalise “creativity, aggressiveness, and independence” suggesting that schools “promote individuals with the personality traits most associated with ‘good workers.'”.

i.e. the factory model of formal education produces what it is required of it be the type of society that set it up.

As the folk that participate in a course like NGL (both teacher and student), I wonder whether we’re coloured by our time in school? Is this something that might explain part of the struggles getting underway in NGL?

Tracey ends with the $64K question

How do we encourage educators to adopt methodologies that support such learning?

As alluded to in my last post, I’m pessimistic about whether this is possible as achieving that requires systemic change. Or perhaps more explicitly a change in the system and its foundational assumptions. Something which would appear very difficult to happen under current management approaches.

Can you really expect educators change their practices, when the organisation remains the same?

Can you expect educators to be digitally fluent when their organisation isn’t digitally fluent? Another member of staff commented today that our institution appears caught in this really strange nether world between an old paper-based organisation and a “network age” organisation. As evidenced by the struggles to get a form signed.

Can a network model of learning and teaching exist in such an environment?

On trying to be optimistic in a stupid world

It’s been an “interesting” few weeks destined to challenge the optimism of the most optimistic person – of which I’m not. Broader events in the world do appear to be the outcome of a conspiracy to rob the world of optimism. Mix in some personal woes – death of a grandparent, illness (no great problem), interruptions to routine brought on my Apple’s inability to provide a working iPhone, and the stupidity of organisations (especially universities that have been recently restructured) – and it’s definitely a time for pessimism.

I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.

Antonio Gramsci by flickrenric, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  flickrenric 

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve come across this quote from Antonio Gramsci

I am a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.

It resonates as my pessimism (i.e. my inability to whitewash the limitations of a solution with the supposed benefits) often gets me labelled as “being negative”. Which always struck me as unfair as most of what I do in terms of “research” has been “design research” and informed by the optimistic view that it can be made better. Hence the tag line for this blog.

Lately I’ve found myself sinking into a more negative form of pessimism, perhaps brought on the difficulty (due to organisational stupidity, and not a small part of my own) I’ve had getting back into “making things better”. Perhaps this is a realisation that my sanity needs time being able to make things better.

Perhaps linking to Bryan Alexander’s point

I lost sight of human capacity and agency

in a round about way. My own feeling of agency has been taking a beating.

What could be with a blank cheque

Which makes it interesting to come across related struggles, solved in part by focusing more on what could be.

Bryan Alexander started the ball rolling with his post – “Returning to optimism” in which he diagnoses the source of his gloom as being “Analyzing education at the macro level in 2013-14”. Interesting much of my current malaise arises from working within education at the micro-level. Bryan describes his failure as

of late I’ve failed to pay enough attention to the positive developments. And I haven’t been open enough to the ways we can shove history around and make things better.

Anne shares some of the malaise of dealing with the micro-level of education

Over the last several years, I have watched as policy, curriculum changes and the great scrabble for implementation and compliance have gradually begun to suck all the fun out of learning! Our schools days are so cram-packed with achieving outcomes so that boxes can be ticked and grades can be assigned that the process of learning and discovery has been compromised.

But then explains how she and others are taking steps to “shove history around and make things better”. Like Brendon is thinking about, Anne has implemented a “Genius hour” in her class with positive results

What a change I saw in my students. We both found ourselves looking forward to Friday afternoons

In terms of think about what could be, Anne links to an interview some middle school students did with Sir Ken Robinson in which he was given a blank cheque “to design a learning place of his dreams”.

Brown fields, green fields and systemic change

Of course, this brings me to this point from (emphasis added)Siemens (2008)

Yet, in spite of small-scale innovation, new methods typically do not result in new spaces and structures of learning. As noted by David (1990), new innovations are adopted in the context of existing physical spaces. Changes of a more significant and profound nature need to be enacted at a system-wide level. The adoptions of blogs and wikis in classrooms, or use of Second Life and other virtual worlds, or the use of social networks to connect learners with peers around the world, still occur largely within a classroom context. To truly harness the transformative potential of new technologies, change at a systemic level is required.

Add in some points from Dave Snowden from this presentation and it’s not hard for pessimism (or perhaps negativity) to rear it’s ugly head. One of the points Snowden makes is that in human systems

you are always dealing with people’s perceptions of the present and memories of the past….you never get to build on green fields. You are always building on what’s called brownfields.

In the absence of my iPhone I’ve been sent back to physical books as the source of reading material. The two most recent I’ve been reading are Confronting managerialism: How the business elite and their schools threw our lives out of balance and “An Elusive Science: The troubling history of education research. Both a historical pieces, one of the rise of managerialisation and the US-based business schools and the other on education in the US. Both show how entrenched the idea the quantitatively focused, hierarchical mindset of management/control is in both fields. Which is only increasing Australian universities and will only increase more.

The idea of a greenfield free of these “memories of the past” seem unlikely as does building the type of systemic change that is necessary on the dirty brown fields of today’s education system. A topic Anne picks up in her follow up post.

The cost of being flexible and pushing the boundaries

For some time Australian universities have led an increasing mantra around increasing flexibility. An inevitable repercussion of the vast majority of students not being full-time learners, but instead having to balance family, work and study, is that study comes last. Family and work pressures lead to difficulty in meeting set deadlines for assessment, hence the call for flexibility. I’m actually all for that increase in flexibility, but it comes at a cost.

This post is evidence of that cost. We’ve just started week 6 of second semester and I’ve got three assignments from last semester to mark due to the need for flexibility. As it happens with this course I’ve engaged in a bit of development to do things a little differently. That’s all well and good, but when you’re kludging together technical solutions flexibility isn’t typically deeply considered at the “design” stage.

That last post reported on the evolution of the kludge I use to the next generation. Now I need to go back make sure that evolution will work properly for the previous generation so I can mark these assignments. Work that will never show up in institutional work allocation calculations or in the budget for IT.

What I’m finding particularly concerning about this extra work is that I’ve only got finite reserves of time and cognitive energy. Doing this is taking time away from current students, but it’s also taking time away from thinking about the learning experience of students and how it can be improved. Does the cost I expend doing these changes outweigh any potential benefit to students?


Importing activity completion

  1. Moodle users working? – DONE

    Need to identify course id and groups.

    The semester 1 course is much larger than semester 2 and has more offerings. Hence more groups. So rather than work with a single group, it needs to be able to work with a list of groups.

  2. Are we starting with the right first activity at 150000?
  3. Ensure only activities that count have activity completion turned on in the course site. – DONE

Updating the report

  1. Mapping activities to weeks
  2. making sure the mirror of blog posts is up to date.

An hour later, seems to be working and I can get to marking.

One process for the NGL course

One of the other participants shared her current position with NGL

I’ve also found it a bit tricky to get my head around all the components I need to cover off on in my blogs for assignment 1, as there seems to be a lot of different pieces we need to address. Hoping this will become a bit clearer to me as I go along.

In an attempt to help I’ve outlined below the basic process I’ve used in fits and starts. The reason why I haven’t done more of the follow process links more to factors external to the course and the process. But I haven’t engaged as much in this process as I’d have liked. Also, this is a process that works for me and where I’m at right now. It may not work for anyone else. So take the following with a grain of salt and as one example and certainly not as an exemplar or the “one way” to do it. In the end it’s important that you develop an approach that works for you.

I’m thinking I might share this more broadly as I think it might help the odd other person.


First, have a PKM process that centres around Feedly as my main “seeking” mechanism. All the feeds etc go there supplemented by the weekly pages linked from the study schedule. Perhaps the biggest tool/seeking mechanism that sits outside of Feedly is twitter. A great source of unexpected connections.


Second, whenever I’m doing or reading anything about the course or NGL in general I should consider it from three perspectives

  1. As learner – I.e. How does this connect with what I’m doing around learning World of Warcraft? How can this help me understand what I’ve experienced? How can it help me make plans for changes to how I participate?
  2. As teacher – same questions almost but connected to my thinking about how I’ll evolve both courses I teach (this one and EDC3100).
  3. As student – focused more on how I’m thinking about and engaging with the course readings, the blog posts of others and the resources shared via Diigo. How does the experience of using my PKM process compare with other approaches to learning? How does it fit (or not) with how I like to learn? What can I do to change and improve my learning in this course? Etc.

For me, an important part of the “sense” phase is to write summary blogs of any readings. For example, this one. These are meant not to only give a summary of the reading, but also to record my initial reactions to the paper and what linkages I think might exist with what I’m thinking about as learner, teacher and student. This does take longer than simply reading an article, but it does encourage me to read and consider the article more deeply (something I need) and it also provides a record of my thoughts that I can come back to at a later date.


As part of the sense process I’d be writing it all down in blog posts. Not just thinking about it. In some cases what I do is start a blog post and just jot down rough ideas and links to what sparked those ideas. So that later I can come back and fill them out.

In other cases I write them straight out. The idea is not that these are polished, complete formal bits of academic writing. They are quick mind dumps an example of working through ideas and thoughts. Often with fairly significant flaws and unfinished thinking. The point is to get the thinking down, because I find that writing about it helps. More importantly making my thinking publish has often led to an unexpected bit of learning as someone makes a point or connection about what I’ve written.

Importantly, I need to make sure that as I’m writing these posts I’m making explicit connections with both what other participants have written and also with various readings, both those set from each week and also others that I find and follow up with because they link with what I need to discover/understand about me as learner, teacher and student.

As part of the above process I also come across resources etc as I follow various leads. Some of these I’ll share via Diigo

Ahh Mendeley and freemium tools

You don’t have to be rich to invest in i by joe.ross, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  joe.ross 

I’ve been using Mendeley for a few years now. Generally fairly happy with it. Move to it from Endnote after the bad experience of using it for the PhD thesis. Have heard that more recent versions of Endnote may not be as horrible anymore, but Mendeley has me locked in a little (better the devil you now etc).

In theory Mendeley has some nice support for groups and I thought that NGL would be a good opportunity to try this out. At the very least the currently group approach I used would allow sharing of the references and we could always explore a bit further. The sharing of annotations on documents sounded useful.

This week I found out you can’t share documents in a public group. Had assumed this might have been connected to copyright of articles etc. But no, that was me being naive. Apparently it’s part of a Freemium strategy.

Mendeley supports the notion of both private and public groups with a private group you can

upload files to which only a selected set of people have access to. Each member can collaboratively contribute to this group too – adding new papers, updating document details and by annotating and highlighting PDF files.

Public groups allow you to curate a reading list, but not share the documents.

Private groups are limited to 3 people, but the premium subscription package allows you to grow your private groups. In fact, it appears that a free account can only have 1 private group.

A team plan will allow you to have more, but the base rate for a team plan is $49 (USD I assume) a month and that’s for 5 group collaborators.

Looks like we won’t be playing with that feature of Mendeley in NGL.

Should probably look for an alternative myself at some stage. Some thoughts from @thesiswhisperer on the possibilities (and with a lot of comments of people sharing their perspective).

And more NGL catch up

I had a choice to make. Do a bit of prep of content for the next week of NGL or make more connections with what folk have been doing? I’ve decided that the later is more important and long overdue.

Wonder what the participants think?

Technology or Pedagogy? – EduDoggy

Musette makes an interesting point about what she’d have liked more of in her post-grad education course

In the subjects around ICT and teaching and learning I would have loved more of an opportunity to play with different technologies and learn about how they work and can be used

As a “technologists” teaching in an education program I’ve always been questioning of the balance between pedagogy/theory and technology. The previous version of NGL matched many of the prior courses that Musette and Mari have discussed. Readings, discussion forum posts, write an essay. Not much focus on technology at all.

I wonder how much of this arises from the “digital fluency” of the teaching staff involved? How much is from them being education experts? In much the same way that my courses perhaps include more technology because, in part, that’s where my expertise is. But I also wonder how much of it comes from a view that technology isn’t that important. That it’s important that pedagogy is considered first. My current view is in line with the point Goodyear et al (2014) make about dualistic perspectives (technology or pedagogy) being limited and a relational perspective as being much more useful.

A personal justification why both my courses include folk engaging with technology as part of their learning. Engaging in the complex entanglement of technology and theory/people is much more useful and effective than studying technology from afar.

How far can all this go?

Paul asks

  1. Whether social media will guide the future of learning or will learning shape social media?

    For me this is a good link back to the relational perspective mentioned above. I don’t think it will be one or the other, it will be both plus a whole range of other factors.

  2. Whether there is any limit to NGL?

    As it happens, we’ll look at some of this in a week or two. To identify where I come from, the limits largely reside with us. Human beings are inherently irrational and stuck in the ways of thinking. Especially when in groups.

    I tend to think individuals will get more out of NGL quicker than formal education will.

    e.g. even with some of the smartest technology brains currently around, the xMOOC crowd gave us lectures with quizzes!

This appears to link nicely with another of Paul’s questions

So if educational institutions are supposed to be as that lovely quote from Men in Black, ‘the best of the best of the best’ then surely shouldn’t they be at the forefront of networked and global learning and not relying upon out-of-the-box solutions?

Networked learning and functional efficiency

Philip comes across a claim in the literature that I hadn’t heard before

It has also been suggested that networked learning offers educational institutions more functional efficiency, in that the curriculum can be more tightly managed centrally, or in the case of vocational learning, it can reduce costs to employers and tax payers

The tighter central management of the curriculum is possible with certain types of ICT, especially the large single enterprise system approach inherent in the LMS. However, the type of radically networked approach in NGL makes this a little harder (though not impossible).

The social cyborg

Philip finds and reports on an article “Dawn of the social cyborg”. Beyond the disruptive changes with IT, globalisation etc it suggests that the next big challenge to corporate learning environments is the “appearance of a new species of learner” called the social cyborg and I quote

It’s helpful to think of these people as a distinct species, one that has evolved unique capabilities to take advantage of networked people and information systems

This challenges corporate learning with extinction as they become irrelevant. The solution is new tool sets, skill sets and mindsets.

Frankly, I’m not sure that the need wasn’t there all along. The “4 steps to best leverage the social cyborg in the workplace” strike me as particularly weak and inappropriate. The first one is to appoint a taskforce and draft a technology plan. Sounds like stone-age thinking to me.

Learning through community

Annelise’s latest post includes a nice quote related to an important idea in NGL

I now know that for me to become that master I must be engaged in a knowledge-based community in the real-world of writers who are further developing their craft.

The idea is that to learn to be a writer (or many other things) it’s very beneficial (perhaps best) to be engaged with a collection of people who are writing and sharing how and what they are doing. More so than attending a formal class on writing, or just reading a book.

Of course, there are numerous areas of interpretation within this, for example

  1. What exactly is meant by “community”?

    Many different definitions, some of which I don’t like, but in Annelise’s case she’s using a definition from Reil & Polin (2004) that she describes in more detail in her post.

  2. How do you engage most effectively?

    Really don’t think there are simple answers to this.

The reward of NGL?

Annelise also quotes her son

Maybe the lecturer is trying to show you how the real-world of blogging is like. To keep on doing it without reward, and how you need to be persistent.

Which begs the question of what is the reward that you expect from “the real-world of blogging”? What do you want, rather than what’s possible?

For much of my early blogging the reward was having a space to make random thinking a little more explicit. I didn’t really care whether others read or commented on what I was writing. However, seeing the stats trend upward was a motivating factor eventually. Getting comments are also great, but the value for me remains as a learning tool for myself. Certainly a tool enhanced by the input from others, but not necessarily required.

Assessment in NGL

Annelise also writes about assessment. The problems with more traditional forms of assessment and the difficulties I’ve mentioned in coming up with the criteria for NGL. The process we’ve used to formulate the criteria seems to have been a plus for Annelise, but I still think what’s been set remains questionable.

One of the problems I’ve faced is the assumption (from the institution and the participants) that there should be a clear expectation of what is required. It’s not surprising that students want to be able to answer the question, “What do I need to do to get the grade I want?”. But the problem I have here is that NGL is meant to be very open and emergent. What each participants learns from the course can’t possibly be predicted by me ahead of time. If this is the case, then how valid can a rubric or three designed ahead of time be? I’ve tried to use “generic” criteria related to reflection, learning, and participation but I still feel it can be improved. This is one area I’d like to explore “as teacher”, if I ever get the time.


Goodyear, P., Carvalho, L., & Dohn, N. B. (2014). Design for networked learning: framing relations between participants’ activities and the physical setting. In S. Bayne, M. de Laat, T. Ryberg, & C. Sinclair (Eds.), Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 (pp. 137–144). Edinburgh, Scotland.

A bit more NGL catchup

Catching up with everyone in NGL is taking longer than I thought, mainly due to external factors. Here’s some more.

Stone-age facebook

It is interesting to see a reference to the “stone ages” that includes Facebook. I still remember explaining to my daughter how lame she was going to feel because she was still on MySpace and not Facebook. A pre-Facebook time.

Short cut kings

I really like this sentiment for a few reasons

We are shortcut kings really

Kat was talking about this in the context of Toolbelt Theory from @irasocol. I use this early in both my courses as it represents an approach to technology that I like on a number of levels. For example

The thing about toolbelts though, is that no two people ever really need the same one.
the trick to tool use is to learn to evaluate tasks and environments and your skills and the tools themselves as they change and determine what works best for you
The only way to allow students to assemble this essential toolbelt for information and communication is to to throw open your classroom and let the world in

It also brings to mind Kahneman’s (2011) idea of “fast” and “slow” thinking and the linkage that Goodyear and Carvalho (2014) make between it and networked learning

For example, in a learning task, there are often some aspects that require close attention – hard thinking – and others that do not. A well-designed task, and supporting resources, will act in ways that focus hard thinking on the parts o the work that are intended to leave a beneficial cognitive residue – in short, mental effort needs to be focused on what is core to the achievement of learning, on what is hard and important. Well-designed scaffolds, navigational cues and other kinds of procedural facilitation or performance support will mean that ‘slow thinking’ is not required for those enabling, but marginal, tasks.

Toolbelt theory is about individuals finding the tools that help them focus on the important tasks.

I wonder about the NGL course. I’m guessing many participants would argue that the first few weeks were really, really hard. Especially the need to learn a range of new tools. Shouldn’t this process have been scaffolded better?

Aspects of it could have been. However, there’s also a part of the difficulty that is required. Actually learning those tools and having difficulties with it are part of what is “hard and important” in the context of this course.

I also believe that many institutions of higher education have a lot of learn from this perspective. Too often I find myself wasting time on marginal tasks and expending energy that could be better spent on more important tasks.

The other illustration from this post is Kath’s mention of her dyslexia. As I was reading through her posts I had noticed the writing and wondered what I’d end up saying. With this post I now know what’s happening, not something that would always be readily apparent in a different type of course.

The links

I now find out that Kath plays WoW (which is more than I’ll claim for myself at this point in time, time is a problem). Her experience reinforces the importance of the community part of NGL and is illustrated nicely through the use of Diigo’s annotation ability.

Walled gardens and protection

Andrew and Anne share experiences with EdModo. A tool I played with a bit as I headed towards high school teaching. I wonder whether their perspective of Edmodo will evolve as they proceed further into the course?

For me, Edmodo isn’t that far removed from the LMS (learning management system). Yet another walled garden. Something that puts in barriers between the “real” world and the world of formal education. Of course, that’s a view formed from my context in higher education, many years struggling with the confines of the institutional LMS. I don’t have the same sorts of concerns about student protection (and societal expectations) that exist in a school setting.

But I’ve also argued that working within the walled garden and slowly opening up more holes in the wall has some promise as a “change management strategy”. One of the reasons for that perhaps links to the comment above about not wasting time on the marginal tasks. The walled garden provides a safe environment and an opportunity for the teacher (and/or others) to open it up as called for.

But then I also wonder how this approach compares with the plethora of teachers who have bitten the bullet and broken the confines of the walled garden? For example, this post from a teacher that has been using Twitter with her 6 and 7 year old students.

Learning how to get a grade

Interesting to read Mari’s reflections as she engaged with a new program. In particular by her 5th subject having “learned how to achieve an HD in any subject, regardless of how deeply I really engaged in the study materials”. Something that certainly resonates with me. Also interesting to hear how that learned process translates into a standard approach to the use of ICTs and study.

Speaking of “games”. Mari also connects the idea of Wittgenstein’s ladder used in Bigum and Rown (2013) to the metaphor as life as a game – Snakes and Ladders. Especially as

as a game that could be played over and over and not to see losing one game as failure, but rather as a motivation to immediately “start a new game.”

Personal and Personalised learning

The institution has adopted the idea of personalised learning as having strategic importance. I’m not much fussed on the idea, especially given some of the bad press it’s been receiving recently. Mari references the following tweet from @downes and reflects a bit on how NGL is learning toward the personal end of the spectrum.

Though I’m not sure I would limit the following statement to just “art” educationArt education (in an ideal world) has to be more about the process of individual discovery and learning from mistakes than about completing specific tasks and handing in a final piece

Ahh, success

It does sound like Mari has achieved a level of success as an NGL participant. Her PKM process is becoming routine, her network is providing unexpected sparks and she realises that it isn’t linear.

I also wonder about the implications that this statement might have for institutional planners

I don’t think I’ve signed into my USQ account once over the past 3 weeks, as everything happens through the blog