Thursday, September 29, 2005

Blogging Assignment 2: Metacognitive Exercise

I feel as though I’ve stepped through Alice’s looking glass this semester. Up till now, my MS classes in the VC have – comfortingly, if not always conveniently – been conducted within the restrictive confines of our own little LMS. I now find myself branching out – blogging here, forum-ing there, trying desperately to keep track of all the “small pieces” that my once-monolithic learning system suddenly seems to have fragmented into.

If, as Clark Aldrich claims, the “loose join” to all those small pieces is Humanity 3.0, I think I must be stuck somewhere back in evolution’s v1.

Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate Mr. Aldrich’s attempt to humanize the fragmented, faceless world of small pieces loosely joined. I appreciate the commentators who echo the sentiment that it’s the people, not the technology, doing the joining. I just don’t buy it, at least not for me.

Maybe I’m a poor organizer at heart. Maybe I need better time-management skills. Maybe my diet is deficient in ginkgo biloba, or maybe I just need to tie more strings around my fingers. Maybe I need a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. All I know is that the one comment that made me heave a sigh of relief came from Harold Jarche, who noted that some small pieces (such as Moodle) are moving towards integration with other small pieces. These “integrated” small-piece systems would preserve the pick-and-choose nature of the loose join while (as I envision it) providing the common connection that we v1 Humans need.

Perhaps v3 Humans can be their own loose joins. Perhaps they can manage their time, their desktops, their resumes well enough to juggle all the connections effortlessly. My admiration for those skillful souls is boundless. I, however, need some help. I need a central source to go to in order to make my loose joins retain some sort of connection; without it, I feel constantly adrift, my small pieces floating ever farther apart in the internet universe.

As an online instructor, I would never be so bold as to assume my students could independently maintain the loose joins of many small pieces since I don’t feel confident doing it myself. I would want some centralized “organizer” to be available (even if students chose not to use it in favor of developing their own organizational and tracking systems) to bring together the disparate pick-and-choose elements. Maybe it would resemble a beefed-up RSS aggregator – capable of linking all the small pieces together, showing when a piece had been updated or changed, summarizing key content from each piece and providing a checklist of what-to-do-when in each piece. Even a simpler aggregator, capable of being a central “holding station” for all the small pieces even if it couldn’t draw content from them to form summaries and checklists, would be preferable to leaving students to fend completely for themselves.

Small pieces loosely joined may be the future – or, at least, one future – of online education. Making sure users have the ability (either self-generated or derived from external sources) to organize, access and keep track of those small pieces is the key to success in that future. Seeing to that might ensure that there will be room in the loosely-joined online learning environment for all versions of Humanity.

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