(the above is what conferences/retreats looked like 100 years ago. Stillness, contemplation; a slower pace for a slower time. My wife’s relative is the dapper looking gentleman in white to the left. Daegu, Korea, 1912)

Having just returned from a few weeks (more or less) of vacation (in the UK and then North Carolina), not surprisingly my professional productivity dropped off a bit in that time. I had limited connectivity in terms of anything outside email and social media; I find it increasingly difficult to blog without dedicated, reflective space. Yet, I cherish blogging above all others as it is precisely a reflective activity, a sensemaking exercise in extracting meaning from incessant motion. So, here I find myself blogging early in the Monday after a long vacation before heading into work (and the onslaught of emails that await). Some realizations/developments over the course of the last few weeks include:

mLearn 2011 in Beijing

Heading to Beijing (from Seoul, no big deal) in October to deliver a paper/presentation at mLearn 2011 (10th World Conference on Mobile and Contextual Learningand I couldn’t be more excited. It was co-authored with several participants on the MobiMOOC course which ran awhile back and the geographical scope of the authors alone is worth writing about. Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Turkey, US. Completely collaborative writing and review proces. No hubris, all productivity. A really refreshing writing experience. The paper was accepted and will be published in the conference proceedings and, hopefully after a bout of intensive expansion and revision, in the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning. Crossing my fingers. A very rewarding experience with colleagues I have never actually met yet hope to work with again. On that note.

2nd Paper: A Narrative of Retention in Online, Open Courses

Not surprisingly, MOOCs and other open online courses have low retention rates, high rates of student attrition. With such a flurry of activity of the beginning, it is easy for many to 

  • assess that this format/topic offers little application/relevancy to their needs
  • get bewildered and paralyzed by an inability to navigate the activity
  • just isn’t for them (doesn’t mesh with their perceived learning style)

All are valid reasons for dropping out, but my quick take on the discussion boards for MobiMOOC leads me to believe that this process of removing oneself from a course is a learner narrative, with signals here and there to indicate confusion, dissatisfaction, or frustration. Learners, however tenuous the connection to the group, generally (I think) don’t just pick up and leave without signalling something, a cry for the help in the digital darkness. So the paper, as it stands, will construct a narrative analysis around several passages in the discussion logs to look for emotive language for analysis. My assumption is that this language signals extreme satisfaction (which could lead to eventual disillusionment), dissatisfaction, or confusion. If this language can be spotted and addressed, perhaps as a sort of retention activity or mediation, then presumably retention rates would improve. Either way, I will be working with much of the same crowd as the first one. 

The more I try to sit still, the more….wait, where I am off to next?

I actually do literally want to not travel for a bit. It has been fun, but now I view it with a degree of trepidation. I have actually turned down one conference invitation (Qatar), and am focusing on a relatively light travel schedule for the next academic year. Considering I am moving to Seoul in a few months, that seems warranted. I will have mLearn in Beijing on October, one Plants trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand in November and that is it. There is one last conference this summer in Australia, the International Botanical Congress, which begins next week. I will be presenting next Monday on what the usage statistics for our Plants site has told us about the audience for these types of services, how that informs our site development, tinkering with functionality, etc. Data leading to actionable intelligence. That sort of thing. That is one long flight, so I am bracing myself this week by relaxing as much as possible. Ie, writing blog posts from my sofa with the sun just coming up. 

Either way, I am entering a stage where I believe I need to stop working in the false dichotomies of motion and rest. How the two naturally interact and aren’t mutually exclusive. To incorporate rest into motion as the motion bit doesn’t seem to be going away. So infuse one with the other and look for balance. Reflect early and often and look for the sublime beauty of the world from a new perspective and a new place. Then return home and kiss your loved one and be still. Whenever there is a going, generally there is a returning and that, in this stage of life, has become my favorite bit about these journeys.  I am reminded of this search for balance in the following quote from Augustine, which sums it up nicely. Here is to the pursuit of the difficult:

Complete abstinence is easier than perfect moderation-Augustine of Hippo


By Michael Gallagher

My name is Michael Sean Gallagher. I am a Lecturer in Digital Education at the Centre for Research in Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh. I am Co-Founder and Director of Panoply Digital, a consultancy dedicated to ICT and mobile for development (M4D); we have worked with USAID, GSMA, UN Habitat, Cambridge University and more on education and development projects. I was a researcher on the Near Futures Teaching project, a project that explores how teaching at The University of Edinburgh unfold over the coming decades, as technology, social trends, patterns of mobility, new methods and new media continue to shift what it means to be at university. Previously, I was the Research Associate on the NERC, ESRC, and AHRC Global Challenges Research Fund sponsored GCRF Research for Emergency Aftershock Forecasting (REAR) project. I was an Assistant Professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies (한국외국어대학교) in Seoul, Korea. I have also completed a doctorate at University College London (formerly the independent Institute of Education, University of London) on mobile learning in the humanities in Korea.

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