On moving away from Facebook

Time to move and refocus

The idea is to post once a week here on this blog, with all my thoughts for the week, and then link to it from Facebook. So I am not giving up on FB completely, but only accessing it on the weekends. I have taken it off my phone and am avoiding the urge to post. I hope to have the process down by the new year. (I may blog more often, if it becomes sustainable).

I have noticed, though, that my outrage is mitigated by posting to the blog instead of FB. It requires a bit more contemplation, some thought, and more consideration. The zing is less, but that, in my opinion, is a good thing. Zing is addictive and destructive.

Instead of having FB open on my phone, I have WordPress ready to go. I have reworked the site here, mostly ignored in 2017, but ready for a resumption.

What you guys can do to move away from the FB ecosystem is to use one that I have used over the years, and you may have done too. RSS. Get a reader. I use Feedly, Mac people like Inoreader. You can even set up Flipboard as an RSS reader if you are using that. You will see, after the initial investment to set up your feeds (the websites you monitor), that the control you get is well worth it. I end 15 minutes of FB enraged; I end 15 minutes of Feedly enlightened.

And if you do make it over to my blog at kevinryan.com, you are welcome to make comments. I have to approve your first comment (this is spam control), but once approved, you can comment any time.

Connectivism mathified #el30

I am in this online course, an extension of a MOOC, called E-Learning 3.0, hosted by Stephen Downes. Over 10 weeks (12 if you count the warm-up) we look at the technical and social sides of where learning online (edtech?) is going, or at least where it is right now. 

MOOCS have been closely associated with Connected Learning over the last 10 years, especially for Stephen and a group of thinkers “connected” to him. I, for example have been “connected” since the first MOOC in 2008, and since then in a couple of other online events. Building a personal learning envirionment (PLE) or similar is expanding your connections to other resources and people, thus the name “Connected Learning”. But others have taken that idea and refined it so that it could be considered an alternative to Constructivist (think Piaget), Constructionist (think Papert) (disambiguation) or Behaviorist (think Skinner).  

Connectivism came about as a result of the environment. The web was maturing, and the web is based on nodes with anchors, links and targets to other nodes. Brain science (OK, neuroscience) was going great gangbusters with a new tool called FMRI, discovering all these links between neurons. I was reading Linked by Albert-Lazlo Barabasi. It was only natural that we try to apply these advances to learning (and by extension, to teaching, and finally to education). 

Back to the present. In our 3rd week of #el30 we are looking at some highly technical roots of connectionism, mostly mathematical concepts that underlie how tech works, how we work with tech, and how we work with each other.  Last week we talked about tree structures, which look like the sentence diagrams we wrote at kids when Chomsky was applied to everything. It also looks like the sports league championship diagrams. 

But this week we move from trees to graphs. All trees are graphs (a subset), but graphs can be more like networks, with multiple connections in all directions, without–and this is crucial–a center. From there the thinking widens to neural networks and machine learning. Note again that these can be applied to networks of machines or of people. It is a way to look at the world, a way to see that the connections are just as important as the nodes of content. I can see how this can even get philosophical. 

I don’t understand much of this. When I studied this stuff in the ’90s, about Speech Recognition, there was the Markov Model and not much else. It has blossomed as I have ignored it. My silly prediction that SR would be viable was premature by at least a decade. But now we have SR, many of us use it every day, and it is based on these ideas of graph theory. This is my corner of the connected part of this course. You can jump in any time. 

E Learning 3.0, A MOOC for the Future

I have been working at the intersection of language teaching and technology for almost 30 years (had to know when it started, the connection). One of the best influences I have discovered, following the sharing of new content in the Tokyo PC Users Group (an excellent learning experience), was a MOOC. I was a member of the first real MOOC 10 years ago, hosted by our current host as part of a team of 3 or 4. A truly revolutionary idea to tap the expertise around the globe on a topic of great interest to me. Connected Learning.

E Learning 3.0: And now we have a look at how this idea of MOOC is morphing, how it is influenced by other factors, technical and social, and where we might be headed as I head for retirement. Like Sylvia Curry, another “Old Fogie” and my first connection in what I hope will be a rich web, this is a personal look for my future, as well as my current students at a women’s university in Tokyo.

I hope to see you there.  I was interviewed by iTDi last week, if you have an hour, you can find out about where I stand on most of these issues.

#el30

iTDi Interview Follow-up

Last Tuesday Steven Herder, of the International Teacher Development Institute, or iTDi (itdi.pro, YouTube, Facebook) was nice enough to include me on the list of people interviewed for their Teacher’s Room series. Steven interviewed me online using Zoom conferencing software. It ran almost exactly an hour and was really exhilarating. I started to realize I may just have some things that are worth telling people.

I went on far too long about my own history of language learning and teaching, how I discovered at 11 years old in Mexico that there were some people who did not speak English. I didn’t get to tell the story of watching Batman in Spanish, and how two little bilingual kids about half my 10 years of age could translate the dialog on the fly, all the while giggling. I wanted to do that. So you can go through my notes if you don’t want to watch the first 30 minutes.

More interesting was the last half where we talked about teaching and learning languages, along with tech (I am a tech guy). We did a few minutes at the beginning on RSS feeds and (one of many readers) Feedly software and how to use that to collect (aggregate) blog posts from across the world. I didn’t have time to note that after 20 minutes of Facebook, I am angry, and after 20 minutes of RSS (Feedly) I am enlightened. (Facebook is like porn, which, as Bruce Springsteen notes, “Just makes me mean,” because the enticement is there, but no real interaction.)

But after my history of junior year abroad in Barcelona, returning to teach English, studying for DELTA (in those days RSA Dip) and working my way into the field, my move back to Chicago for an MA (under Elliott Judd, great mentor), then to the TESOL meat market to get a job in Tokyo, meeting my wife at work, China for a year then daughter and university job 3 days apart 34 years ago, we finally got to the real discussion.

We talked about influences like JALT as a professional development network, but I did not talk about the Tokyo PC Users Group where I learned how to learn with other people and without a textbook (there were no guides to PC use in the early 90’s, things were moving too fast). The thrill of arguing about the best way to improve speed on the BBS software (a precursor to the Internet) to avoid high telephone bills when using a modem at 300 “baud” was eye opening in that we could create our own knowledge and help each other as a group. Following the Hacker Ethic has guided my teaching too. (Look it up. Hackers were good before some went to the dark side.)

Now a list of links because I was too excited and talked too fast about too many things, so you can follow up here. MIT Conference on Connected Learning netted a new tool for Augmented Reality software (for iOS) and Interactive Storytelling ARIS. We talked about Stephen Downes and his contributions to MOOCs and Connectionism. Do note that right now, he has just started a new MOOC taking it to the next step, E-Learning 3.0. Do take a look. The future of learning with tech. We talked about the JALT CALL SIG and how that paralleled my experiences of the TokyoPC in that we were (and still are) creating new knowledge, this time about teaching languages with tech.

We talked about frameworks for teaching. Steven liked that we had come up with similar ideas about having a variety of approaches to vocabulary learning, some with tech, others not. Developing a set of tools is something the learner has to do on their own, with support of course. I talked about using small groups and having students teach each other. Here are slides from a presentation I made last year on the topic. I didn’t get to talk about Socratic Circles (pdf) where you ask questions in the SIR order (Summary, Issues, Relevance) and SOLE (Self Organized Learning Environments of Sugata Mitra) to develop learner autonomy.

Language learning is 90% motivation, 10% autonomy. If I am doing my job correctly, students will not see most of my work, which is developing and fostering an environment conducive to learning (languages).

More in upcoming posts.

Moving to Medium

mediumlogoThere is a new blogging platform, one that I think is better than WordPress, and I am moving there for future posts. I will add pointers here, but the content will be there.

Why am I releasing total control over my feed here, with my own domain name and wordpress installation? Two factors, curation and convenience.

Medium was developed by one of the co-founders of Twitter. Understanding social media and applying it to content, Evan Williams put together a platform that allows any user to blog, limits the format options to make the content the draw, and allows for readers to decide easily what should be highlighted and promoted each day. Add to that paid authors of note, like Steven Levy on Crypto War Redux, to draw the public.

There are other alternatives to Medium, outlined at Lifehacker, but they don’t put the author at the center, supported by the readers, in a symbiotic relationship that is an evolution from what publishers used to do. Medium acts as a medium, but is, in its current state, almost invisible. Something I like.

As an occasional blogger in the days of fading RSS use, I cannot expect people to come to my domain to read what I have to say; it gets lost in the shuffle of a million other blogs. With Medium, I have a chance that they may get linked or looked at more often. As well as the convenience of web-based posting. Find me at https://www.medium.com/@tokyokevin

UPDATE: about a year later. Medium is going through some changes. I am back here. Sorry about the leave.