Tiny, Micro, Mini… Everything is so Small!

While I was going back through my notes from the 2008 ELI Annual Meeting in San Antonio, I noticed a common pattern that came back over and over again: everything is getting smaller. We see in our everyday life examples of this miniaturization of things: cell phones, PDAs, laptops, memory keys, cars, etc.

The same seems to apply to communication. While access to high-speed internet becomes widespread, people are now microblogging, sharing their thoughts with their friends and the world at every second of every day, using all the electronic gizmos they can lay their hand on. Let me share my thoughts on microblogging for a second, having started myself to use Twitter.
Twitter, or the art of constantly processing bits of information

Twitter, or the art of constantly processing bits of information

During the ELI conference, it was the buzzword of all buzzwords: Twitter. Twitter this, Twitter that… Are you Twittering? Can you Twitter that link please? I’m a Twitteri.

As a good instructional designer, I said to myself: “It’s something the digital natives do, so I should do it too. Plus, I’m not that far away from being a digital native myself, I can handle it!”

So I set up my account, subscribe to the ELI Twitter, and observe the Twitterii (Twitter users) in action. It was a mix of interesting on the spot reflections, reactions to controversial comments, link sharing, and everyday stuff (like Oh no, my shoe lace broke!). I must say that beyond my first thought that this was another buzzword, I must say that it helped me get on the informal side of the conference, and to get to know people I would have never met otherwise.

As a professional development experience, I must say that it was somewhat a success, and I’m still using Twitter as we speak… I have recently found out that there are a ton of widgets available, including some pretty cool desktop clients that can help you manage multiple accounts, and get the same kind of feeling you had a couple of years ago with MSN Messenger (seeing people change their personal line). We’ll see how this turns out in a couple of months…

I must say that I wouldn’t recommend to any of my faculty members to use it though… I would look like an alien. Twitter goes against the main message we are trying to get through: learning has to be interconnected and contextualized (like a portfolio approach). Students need to get a global view of their learning and try to connect the dots, and Twitter offers a junk food (or snack) approach where knowledge –or more likely information– is bite-size, scattered, consumed, and thrown away.

As we heard during a video that was built by citizen journalists during the conference, “Twitter is like texting, but its cooler”.

The Emergence of Tiny in Higher Education

It started a long time ago, back when the only way to teach was to lecture in front of a class. Countless hours of knowledge absorption. We all thought the internet age would solve this malaise, and it might have… somewhat.

The concept of learning object is one of the first attempts at reducing the instruction chunk. Professors would now produce bits of knowledge and arrange them in a sequence in order to get millenials (also known as the MTV generation) to watch and read in a way that was familiar. Regardless of the fact that most learning objects are not shared to the world, this method is pretty effective in comparison with a three hour lecture.

But what about faculty training? I have been working with faculty members for the last eight years, and I can say one thing: they don’t have a lot of time on their hands to go through instruction manuals on teaching and learning with technology. But, still, we provide technology training in-class (knowing that it is highly inconvenient for them), or through documentation (who has the time to read anyway nowadays?).

By listening to my colleagues at the ELI conference, I realized that small chunks of training material were appropriate for faculty training too. Stacy and John at Indiana University talked about their upcoming “OnCourse Minutes”, YouTube style getting started instructional videos for professors, Becky at University of Florida developed a Toolbox, where professors can get a quick overlook at all web 2.0 technologies, and the popularity of the 7 Things You Should Know About series (a two page document explaining the use of a technology and its relevance to education); these are all demonstrations of the application of the tiny principle in faculty training.

There comes a time where something cannot get smaller to make sense. Think of the reduced leg space in some discount air carriers, for instance… But I think that using job aids in addition to documentation is a start. I’ll try to push to make sure every document developed at our institution regarding our next learning management system is accompanied by a one page diagram that shows the full process at a glance (sorry, it’s in French), something a faculty can tack on his/her wall in the office. Users could inspect the parts they don’t understand in more depth in the documentation if they need to.

The next step after job aids would be embedded training (just-in-time) and wizards, but that’s for another blog post…


Have a look at my del.icio.us links for some examples (tags: JobAids LearningObject, Faculty, Training, Twitter) at http://del.icio.us/mathplourde

Oh, and you can follow me on Twitter. My nickname is mathplourde.


2 thoughts on “Tiny, Micro, Mini… Everything is so Small!

  1. I just joined. I tried to search for you, but their search was temporarily down. Don’t know that I’ll update often. Don’t know that I want people to know everything I’m doing. If my family joined, I would update often, as I live far from them and they would care more about the mundane; otherwise, why would I want this information to public and mixed amongst my professional life? Hmmm. Maybe I’ll get it? Deb (Twitter: dbmor10)

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