Reflections on Blogging

In my exploration of blogging for distance education research, I’ve found the process to be freeing and intellectually stimulating. Initial thoughts on blogging left me with hesitation… Do I really want the world to know what’s on Jon’s mind today? At first it felt almost superficial, not that I wasn’t trying to be. But in my quest to post something worthwhile or witty to say I’d find myself thinking and re-thinking the words of my blog post. It didn’t seem natural. And in retrospect, I guess you could say it’s not meant to be. Who really wants to visit a blog that is random and nonsensical? Now a blog that’s intellectually stimulating and perhaps amusing? My kind of blog.

I suppose the important thing here is that I get across the message I’m trying to, clearly, sincerely, and with a simple and easy-to-understand explanation. But its hard to express oneself clearly and with sincerity without choosing the right words carefully. It’s challenging to manage a blog on distance education without really getting into the heart of what DE is all about — learning about what it takes to successfully learn at a distance, the challenges of DE, the advantages and freedom of DE, and about the future of DE.

In my journey of blogging on the topic of DE, I’ve learned there are many arguments surrounding DE given that we’re in the midst of a cultural shift with DE tools and technologies breaking new ground each day. Instructors, institutions and students are increasingly turning to DE solutions to solve the challenges of traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. Traditional pedagogies are being challenged daily by the rise of new software capabilities such as instant chat, wikis, and Twitter, the likes of which are being readily used by the majority of today’s students. As DE continues to shift with the tides of change, blogging I believe will play a much more crucial role in the learner-focused knowledge-base society that encourages a learner-teaching-learner and learner-teaching-instructor role. Instructors will continue to serve as the guides that help students to navigate the complex knowledge and wisdom readily available online. But I believe the future holds that the students — to include instructors — will serve as the primary catalyst for new paths of knowledge and wisdom, and blogging is just one tool to enable it.

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Knowledge-Based Skills for today’s Distance Education Student

Hello and Happy Independence Day! 238 years ago today, the great nation of the United States of America declared its Independence. I’m eternally grateful for the freedom that the many brave women and men who have selflessly served our nation have provided so that my family and I may have the freedom we enjoy today. God bless the USA!

I came across an insightful article today by Tony Bates entitled “Are universities teaching the skills needed in a knowledge-based economy?” (http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/05/29/are-universities-teaching-the-skills-needed-in-a-knowledge-based-economy/) In his article, he proposed what skills today’s knowledge-based worker requires, particularly as it applies to knowledge management (KM). I thought about what skills I felt I could improve in my own exploration and implementation of KM. In Tony’s reference to the baseline skills required of knowledge management, “how to find, evaluate, analyze, apply and disseminate information, within a particular context,” I think there are a couple of prerequisite or perhaps sub-skills that should also be factored in.

Initiative is required in today’s knowledge-based worker, to even take the first step in finding information. One can say they practice knowledge management because they understand the process, but getting one to implement KM requires initiative on their part. As much as the idea of KM has become immersed in society I believe many choose to not practice it, simply because it takes too much time or effort for what can be perceived as little ROI.

Decisiveness is the other sub-skill I think is required in today’s knowledge-based worker. I’ve found since resuming graduate study that it is very easy to be absorbed in the process of evaluating and analyzing new information, knowledge and wisdom. So much so that one can suffer from ‘analysis paralysis’ — being stuck in an endless cycle of seeking more and more new knowledge to counter or support what’s already been discovered. In the grand scheme of KM, decisiveness is what the knowledge-based worker requires to make the transition from finding, evaluating, and analyzing, to applying and disseminating. Just my humble opinion but I think it is applicable to today’s KM environment.

Managing the Balance between Synthesis and Action

Since resuming graduate studies at a distance, I’ve learned to importance of being decisive when making the shift from the synthesizing/analyzing stage to the action stage of work. As I started to get caught up in the insights and discussions of numerous distance education (DE) SMEs, I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the analysis paralysis of DE knowledge and wisdom synthesis to the point that I’ve been losing track of the time constraints within which I must focus my action efforts (i.e., submitting intelligible responses to questions on time). Tony Bates (http://www.tonybates.ca/) for one, has some pretty decent counter-arguments to the open courseware movement that make sense, especially as it pertains to freely available content (http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/02/06/oers-the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly/). As I read such posts I find myself reviewing poster comments that support or refute such bold claims and am better able to form my own argument in support for or against such topics of contention like the open courseware movement.

When MIT first announced the move to release all its content to the world I recall thinking, wow, now anyone can have an ivy-league education for free! And can I utilize that resource to improve myself? As it turns out I’ve not yet availed of this resource, but there are numerous international students who have. What I continue to see is that there is a middle-ground between the benefits versus the disadvantages of open courseware. However, this goes back to my point of analysis paralysis while studying the arguments and counter-arguments that surround DE today. The expectation is to take what I’ve synthesized, and to present it in an intelligible format for my professor, peers, and the online world to see. Lately I get so caught up in reading the different discussions that I’m realizing the need to shift my priorities from analyzing the information to forming an opinion. Which argument makes the most sense? Which one do I support more? Sometimes there is a desire to have all the information before one can make an informed decision. Other times one must make a decision with what little or plentiful information one has. As new information is received and synthesized, new opinions can be formed. Isn’t that why the science of medicine is a practice? Its because doctors continue to introduce, analyze and review new and old practices to see what works, what doesn’t, and what other possibilities are out there. In summary, I’ve found that it’s acceptable to form an opinion, right or wrong, with the information at hand. As I continue to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of DE and such areas of contention like the open courseware movement, I find that any opinion one has was formed based on the knowledge or wisdom harnessed up to that moment in time. When time constraints are introduced an opinion may change as inputs of new knowledge, wisdom, or wit are introduced. In the meantime, one musn’t let all the world’s knowledge and wisdom hinder one from forming an intelligible case when it is expected.

Can tweeting provide value to distance education?

It’s nice to go online and see that a post can actually be a catalyst to invite discussions about topics that are meaningful. I decided to visit a blog from a fellow student today and learned that Twitter is a technology that has value to a certain audience, and I’m not the only one not included in that audience. In 140 words you have the opportunity to share the activities, thoughts, or any number of witty or wishfully-witty comments with others. “On my way to soccer practice and had the munchies so I picked up a new quesarito. OMG. amazing.” Yes, that post alone would probably bring Taco Bell’s market research team to my blog. Unfortunately I’ve not tried the legendary quesarito yet, but I’m sure I would enjoy it. Who doesn’t enjoy a tasty treat from Taco Bell after all? Oh yeah, I guess those who appreciate real Mexican food. Hah. I’ve still got love for Taco Bell. But I digress. I suppose a blog lets you do express the same sentiments without a word limit.  If I were a quesarito fan, I could probably dedicate a whole blog site to writing about it and I’d attract all kinds of fellow quesarito-lovers from around the world to like my blog and post comments like. “Dude, you and me, we’re like brothers from another mother!” Or “Quesaaaaaa—ritoooooooo! Yes!!! Eat on!!”

The point is not everyone has a desire to share their activities or wit with the world. But some 255 million do, according to Twitter’s site, and they see value in that type of relationship. One in which someone shares their ideas, or what’s going on, and another gets the latest update on what’s hot and trendy. I think certain generations of individuals to include myself don’t like to communicate in that manner. Since Twitter came out, I thought wow, that’s a great way to stay connected alright. But then again, I don’t like being connected all the time. Just like a computer being always on, always ready to process information. There is certainly value to Twitter for use as an updater tool, during emergencies like the San Diego wildfire years back, or even 9/11. Those in the thick of the action posted their feeds and immediately every follower had the latest update, even when cell phones couldn’t get through.

From a distance education (DE) perspective, Twitter may have value. Twitter does allow instructors, TAs, or students to post their thoughts about a discussion topic and followers may submit responses to that topic.  I imagine if everyone participating in a distance education class had access to synchronous technology, such as a cell phone, everyone could receive the latest updates as they’re posted. In the case of those who don’t have access to a cell phone, that benefit would be unavailable. The downside with Twitter for DE is that the communication is inherently designed to be one-way. I read somewhere once that Twitter is the perfect tool for narcissists with an opinion that matters to everyone wanting to hear it. Contrast Twitter with a blog, in which there is a two-way exchange. I believe a blog, as an asynchronous technology, lets instructors, TAs, and students post meaningful topics and responses at their convenience. Any comment, thought, or question can be responded to and a discussion can take place.  Twitter wasn’t designed for that purpose but rather to make a statement and leave no room for argument. This model contrasts learner-focused educational goals that I believe is required of higher education in today’s knowledge-based society.  This is just my humble opinion. Synchronous and asynchronous technologies alike must both be used to facilitate learning today.  Twitter is useful as a communication tool, but can it be used for DE purposes? That is something I’m curious about, since I don’t Tweet today and probably won’t in the near future…. unless I can be convinced otherwise…

Hello World!

Hi! So it’s 2014 and I ask myself … Why don’t I have a blog yet? And here it is. BAM. Jon’s blog. Courtesy of WordPress.com!

This blog will serve to incite deep thoughts about life, learning, and relationships for visitors to this site.

My hope is to improve the lives of those that visit this blog and to leave the online community a better place.

Thanks for visiting!

Jon