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Let the Can Get Kicked

An innovation is one of those things that society looks at and says, if we make this part of the way we live and work, it will change the way we live and work.” — Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway & founder of FIRST

This evening I was I-chatting with my daughter (love that synchronous discussion).  For some reason, we got on the subject of the game ‘kick the can’ that I played when I was a kid.  I told her it was too bad she had never experienced it.  She made some comment about not growing up in the 1940’s.  Ouch.  But it is a fond memory – the ritual of summer in the neighborhood, 20 kids playing a game together and enjoying ‘social networking’ of the time.

The game didn’t require everyone to be in the same place at the same time, in fact that was its allure.  While we were ‘hiding’ we played the game asynchronously, watching and taking in clues, reflecting on our next step.  Once someone succeeded in ‘kicking the can’ we all converged in synchronous discussion, comparing strategies and next steps.  Both aspects of the game had its advantages, and both were learning opportunities.  Stefan Hratinski’s 2008 article in Educause (as quoted by The VCU Center for Teaching Excellence)  distinguishes simply between the two types of learning:  asynchronous learning improves cognitive participation by increasing the ability to reflect and process information while synchronous learning increases personal participation, by increased excitement, motivation, and convergence on meaning.

So if this type of learning can improve cognitive and personal participation, why is it not a common instructional practice?  Are there things about transition to truly networked learning that are as foreign to today’s educators as Facebook would be to the neighborhood can kickers?

Lori Reed and Michele Martin (the Bamboo Project) both concur that delivering synchronous lessons is a LOT of work.  I was struck by a couple of pointers because although I have experienced this phenomenon in synchronous and asynchronous sessions, I had not thought of them from the instructor preparation perspective. 1) Contrary to what I’ve always been told, more slides are better.  They create a sense of movement and progress.  How many web-based courses have I sat through where I stare at slides for a long period of time?  2) Not only do you need to prepare content, you need to prepare for technology confusion.  It is SO annoying to be ready to learn and have to wait for technology to work.  3)  You need at least 2 people to run the session – one to deliver, one to watch technology.  This could put a big dent in the cost savings for web-based delivery.

Ruth Reynard, in her article Tips for Using Chat as an Instructional Tool, agrees that  the best instructional design for digital learners is multidimensional with diverse inputs and diverse outputs.  I enjoyed her differentiation between discussion and dialogue:  “Discussion is mainly about the exchange of information and ideas; dialogue requires the working of ideas towards a knowledge-based learning outcome – it involves a process of critical thinking in order to achieve outcome and relies on the valuing of each contributed idea as a group idea and not belonging to the individual.”  I cringe every time I hear a facilitator say we were going to break up into small groups and ‘dialogue’ on a topic.  Rarely does this mean have meaningful conversation that involves critical thinking and insight development.  It is easy to let synchronous and asynchronous instruction fall into the same trap – say it is one thing when it is really the other – a push and an exchange rather than an opportunity for a greater learning process.

There is hope in innovation.  I stumbled upon this site from a Tweet about web-based educational resources.  CHECK IT OUT: is an innovative social business solution to global economic inequality and a lack of intercultural dialogue. Glovico combines two missions: the business aspect lies in offering private language courses with native speakers from developing countries via video conference technology. The social aspect comprises additional income opportunities for small scale entrepreneurs in less developed countries of the world while also fostering intercultural dialogue between our language students and teachers.

Glovico offers real-time language courses with native teachers.  This is a short video of how it works:

The only difference compared to a “real” classroom is that you and your teacher won’t physically be at the same place.  Synchronously learning a foreign language with a native speaker?  Imagine offering THIS to a 9th grader instead of a classroom of Spanish I!  A V8 moment for sure!

In his Open Thinking Blog, Alec Couros talks about the Metcalfe Law which, loosely translated suggests that each member can potentially leverage not only their network but also the network of those who are in their network.  The number of potential connections between nodes grows more quickly than the number of nodes. I can only imagine the founders of Glovico believe this to be true, and are hoping this to be true for the sustainability of their foundation.  I hope it’s true – we need more of this type of innovation in education.

Instead of guarding the can so tightly, maybe it’s a good strategy to let the can get kicked once in awhile.


One Response to “Let the Can Get Kicked”

  1. As I understand, kicking the can allows those caught to get out of ‘jail’. So, allowing the can to be kicked once in a while would free perhaps up the community to explore new ways of collaborating or being creative. Is that it? That does seem to be a key question, building community, collaborating, creating something new or a new way of viewing or being open to a new perspective… And the mix of synch and asych, in my view, seems to open the doors for creativity, innovation, new perspectives. It was helpful for me to see that the asych fosters the reflective cycle and synch helps to bring about shared meaning and convergence.

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