Same or different languages, cultures and practices?

Last August, I was honoured to receive an invitation from Larry Johnson and Alan Levine to join the New Media Consortium (NMC)  2008-9 Horizon Project Advisory Board (pdf file), a multi-disciplinary and international team whose annual work informs the annual Horizon Report on Emerging Technologies for teaching, learning and creative expression. I was a bit taken by surprise as I am not American, do not represent any institution and am not a “regular” member of the organization. Alan assured me that my experience in using new technologies and wide network were of interest, though.  According to him, the NMC wants to reach out more internationally by inviting non Anglo-Saxon members to contribute with their perspectives and get more exposure in Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries. Some steps in this direction:

It has been enlightening to contribute to and participate in this carefully constructed process (totally online and open). The experience , as Larry puts it,

is like a crash course in emerging technology, with the class made up entirely of very knowledgeable experts and futurists.

I also echo Scott Leslie’s words in his post “The Value of Openness – creating the Horizon Project, out in the open.

while I hope you do find the report useful when it comes out in late January 2009, you too can derive much the same benefit as I simply because the process to advise on the Report takes place ‘out in the open’ on this wiki. Indeed, I honestly find the raw materials gathered in the Research Questions (as well as the ongoing hz09 tag in delicious) to be ultimately the most valuable part of the process; inevitably, in order to create a ‘unified’ picture that can be summed up in a printed report certain details are lost, smushed together, improved upon, etc. But all of the raw materials are there for anyone who cares to dig.

Since my exposure to the Future of Learning in a Networked World series of unconferences and during this sabbatical year, I have taken advantage to open myself up to different local communities, participate in various national educational and cultural initiatives and meet the actors. This roaming exposure  (one is usually confined to a professional track, idea or a classroom) and free (but expensive) time has allowed me to observe, compare and reflect on the mores and cultural traits of the different groups locally and internationally.

Participating in the Brazilian Práxis community this year has been one of many such instructive insights. It introduced me to fellow colleagues in different institutions in São Paulo, who are in some way or another involved in the use of new technologies. Like the NMC,  Práxis aims at convening people around ideas and practice, catalyze dialogue, discussion and contributions to the field in the form of cases, papers, demonstrations and other related projects.

However, differently from NMC, an NGO which relies on paid membership and whose open initiative projects happen mostly online to include perspectives, discussions and research from organizations all over the US and abroad, the Práxis community activities are basically local and presential (São Paulo city) and supported/directed by the Bradesco Institute of Technology, which is in turn funded by the Bradesco Foundation.

In 2004,  a small group of K12 ICT coordinators and CIOs from the private school sector in São Paulo gathered at the occasion of an e-learning event to exchange ideas, practice and better get to know each other. In 2008, although most community members still represent these elite institutions, membership has opened up to encompass a variety of new people (who are selected through personal nomination), including technical schools, colleges, universities, edtech, e-learning businesses and big corporations. Membership is renewed annually by a public acceptance to follow at least 70% of the face to face  monthly meetings, during which practice/experience or products (100% proprietary until now) are demonstrated. The Moodle environment serves as a communication distributor, information archive and occasional discussion forum.

I have noticed there is a striking difference between the way innovation is envisaged and practiced. Is it this a result of a national or an organizational culture? Is it local, global or both?

Last night, during our last meeting of the year, Alexandre Zapparoli, from Gartner (Brasil) and Yang Sik Pak, from Daul Soft Brasil made their presentations.

Gartner Hype Cycle 2008
Gartner Hype Cycle 2008

Now, although Gartner partners and networks with institutions and consultants to track breakthrough ideas and how they become established and part of general practice, it targets basically the corporate world business leaders in th etechnology/communications industry.  Its research process and methods are totally closed and the advice reports are delivered for a high fee.

I noticed that the data collected and the trends openly suggested by educators for the 2009 Horizon Report did not differ significantly from the ones presented in the graphic above. The focus and objective are a bit different, though.

Gartner recommends an open and free form adaptive structure, open to participation and modification, visible work in progress and create_organize_find_interact flow instead of rigid schemes, access rights, templates and costly infrequent change. Organization should reflect current use and needs and natural group formation should be based on activities and interests. Links, tags, ratings and usage are to determine importance and quality. One should find content through people links and people through content links. Interaction records reinforce personal and group identity, reputation and memory.

As for Daul’s authoring tool combo (TeachingMate and LectureMaker) , although it evidences progress over the ready-made one-size-fits-all software, it still operates in the closed environment model, centred on  transmission mode, which does not help transform the educational practice but perpetuates the sage on the stage, closed silos and expensive walled gardens.

Education, IMHO,  is much more complex than a linear series of events, a politician’s discourse /short-term policy or a measurable and defined pre-packaged product. Learning is a process of reactions and layers which lasts a life-time.

The age of information and knowledge has led education into the media and big business spotlight and  schools/colleges and universities have fallen into the vicious circle of student /teacher bashing. Will educational institutions and businesses ever understand that transplanting a foreign model, installing an LMS system, revamping a classroom with a whiteboard, or submitting and enforcing the use of new technologies will not automatically lead to change?  Focus on people rather than technology, enable and support processes and weave in connections and possibilities for empowerment.

In spite of the innovative discourse and good intentions of many, I still feel that in the country of Paulo Freire and the government’s innovative initiative to support OSS, banking education and delivery practices are still a strong reality. Too many have no or very restricted access to information and social connections and many are paying too high a price for it.

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