An Interview with Curtis Bonk: Leadership in Educational Technology?
Michael F. Shaughnessy - June 22, 2009
Senior Columnist EducationNews.org
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico
1) First of all, could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Looking back, I have been a CPA, corporate controller, and educational psychologist. Now I am a professor in instructional technology who is interested in emerging technologies such as YouTube, Facebook, wikis and Wikibooks, and so forth. I want to understand how they can enhance teaching and learning in any educational sector from K-12 to higher education to corporate and military training and then on to informal settings as well. Learning in a museum, grocery store, or train is as important as classroom learning, if not more so. Today anyone can learn anything from anyone else at any time. My background in business, education, psychology, and technology forces me to use a different lens to analyze new technology trends and initiatives.
Because of what I see happening at the intersection of these four fields, I am excited about the potential for human learning in the twenty-first century. So now, in addition to my teaching, research, and writing, I run around the planet speaking about online learning possibilities to educators and anyone else who cares to listen in. I do about 75-110 talks a year in places like Saudi Arabia, Korea, Canada, Singapore, and the UK. Some are big picture talks to motivate the masses and some are specifically for those in the trenches of online teaching and learning. While such a schedule is demanding, I am trying to clear off months of my schedule to write books. I am attempting to move into a career that is mainly focused on my writing and speaking. We will see.
2) Now, I understand that you have just written yet another book. What is the title of this one and what is it about?
This book is intended as an educational extension of Thomas Friedman’s well known book, “The World is Flat.” When reading as well as listening to his book four years ago, I found many of the things he mentioned that were flattening the world economically, were simultaneously opening the world from an educational standpoint. But he only scratched the surface. So much more is happening in education.
With that apparent gap causing dissonance in my brain and tugging at my heart, I went on a personal journey during the next two years to gather up all the resources I could find related to the open education world. However, it is only now that I can label my quest to be about open education. I started writing the book in the early summer of 2007 and finished a draft in August 2008 or so I thought. Back in 2006 and 2007, I was just hoarding interesting articles related to learning with technology. Of course, I continue to collect them!
The book, which comes out in July, is titled, “The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education.” It is two books actually. I wrote too much--nearly 300,000 words--and I had to chop 130,000 of them which I am now smoothing out into a free e-book extension of “The World is Open.” I hope to post the free book in August to Scribd.com as well as to the book Website at WorldisOpen.com (http://worldisopen.com/). The Website already contains all the Web links and references for both books. It also has a link to book excerpts posted by my publicher, Jossey-Bass/Wiley, including all first Chapter One and the Index. The site has links to the early book reviews as well as a prequel to the book called “Sharing…the Journey.” The prequel explains the history of the field of open education and reasons why people might share online content as well as how to go about doing so. Soon I hope to post a postscript which will be in the form of a letter to the learners of this planet.
The book is about a set of 10 technology trends which I call openers. The technologies highlighted include e-books, e-learning, open educational resources, collaborative tools, mobile learning, virtual worlds, wikis, shared online video like YouTube, social networking systems like Facebook, online language learning like ChinesePod and LiveMocha, among many others. Each of the main 10 trends is detailed in a different chapter of the book. When combined, they spell the acronym, ‘WE-ALL-LEARN.”
3) Let’s talk about leadership in educational technology. Who do you see as the leaders and what kind of leadership is needed?
If you are talking instructional design, there is my Indiana University colleague, Charlie Reigeluth and David Merrill, who recently now retired from Utah State University. If you are talking about online learning, there are research leaders like Charles Dziuban and Patsy Moskal at the University of Central Florida.
Needs analysis and evaluation, I am not sure. Mobile learning, look to John Traxler at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, and Paul Kim and Elliot Soloway in the United States. E-books or Web 2.0 have other leaders. There are many aspects to educational technology. Then you still have to ask who are the leaders in K-12 education, higher education, corporate training, etc. So many people and areas to consider. I think I am noted as a leader in the field of instructional design on a popular list found in Wikipedia. I do not even like instructional design. Please get me off this list!
4) It seems the same people that led the field 20 years ago, are STILL leading the field. What is going on here?
Many of these people, Roy Pea, John Bransford, John Seely Brown, Marlene Scardamalia, etc., are extremely smart people. And once you build a reputation, it has some staying power. But the field of educational technology perhaps no longer exists. And so the people who were leaders when it was a hot topic remain the leaders and will always be so. Keep in mind that I come from the field of educational psychology so I list people who link educational psychology and educational technology. Pure educational technology people would likely not list any of these people.
5) In terms of conferences and conventions, who seems to be at the cutting edge, and in your opinion, why?
I am trying to think about what conferences I get excited about that are for the field of educational technology. None. I can catch up on my sleep at most of those. But I do enjoy the Ed Media and E-Learn conferences from the Association for the Advancement for Computing in Education (AACE). These two conferences attract researchers, educators, trainers, and others from around the world. These people are interested in where technology can make a difference in learning and education.
I am currently helping to create a new conference for AACE called “Global Learn: Global Conference on Learning and Technology.” This conference will be held in Asia and the Pacific Rim each April or May starting in 2010. The first will likely be held in either Kuala Lumpur or Penang in Malaysia. The opportunity to get hundreds and perhaps someday thousands of people from around the world to come talk about the globalization of education and learning brought about by technology is quite exciting. Of course, there will be virtual components to such a conference. AACE, in fact, is creating a conference that will be entirely virtual. We tested this in the February with a mini-conference type of event on how to run conferences differently. With just one month of online advertizing, hundreds of people attended the event with keynote speakers from around the world.
6) I know you have been to Finland and South Korea. Who seem to be the leaders in those countries?
It is hard to say. In Finland, there is Professor Erno Lehtinen at the University of Turku and Sanna Jarvela at the University of Oulu. I have not been to Finland in 6 years so I do not really know.
However, last month I spent 2 weeks in South Korea. Each day I would ask a couple of Korean students as well as professors if they could tell me who the top 5 educational technology people were in Korea. I got highly varied and biased responses. Students from Seoul National University mentioned their professors, whereas those at Kyung Hee University immediately said Dr. Inae Kang, who was their professor.
Perhaps the most influential Korean is Dr. Insung Jung who is actually working at the International Christian University in Japan right now. When I tell people the United States that I think the leaders of the educational technology field are folks like John Hedberg from Macquarie University in Australia, Ron Oliver from Edith Cowan University in Australia, Ron Owston from York University in Toronto, Randy Garrison from the University of Calgary, and Gilly Salmon from the University of Leicester, they might say who? Americans in the field of educational technology are far too limited in their views. But, alright, let me add some U.S. people like Paul Kim at Stanford and Elliot Soloway at the University of Michigan. Both of these people are leading us into the field of mobile learning.
7) Where else have you been and what have they been doing there?
A decade ago, Finland and Australia were common destinations for me in terms of my speaking about e-learning. More recently the stops are in the UK, Canada, Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, and Saudi Arabia.
In fact, I have been in Saudi Arabia three times in the past 2 years to present at Saudi Aramco (in the petroleum industry) and at King Khalid University (KKU). Saudi Aramco had me keynote their corporate e-learning forum in February 2007. They brought me back a few months later to speak to their English and math instructors about online learning methods and emerging technologies for teaching.
I traveled to 5 different cities in 5 days and gave 4 talks each day or 20 talks in one week. Exhausting! Those in the audience were from countries like India, Egypt, Sudan, the Philippines, and the UK. In February 2009, I spoke at KKU which is in Abba, a resort area in the southwestern part of Saudi Arabia. Just 11 talks that week. Smile.
Each one was about 4 hours long, however. They brought me there to speak to their instructors as they transition to online learning in their classes. The Saudi government seems to be investing heavily in e-learning. This may be in reaction to increasing numbers of people attending college there. They have a very young population and a concern about the percent of males receiving a degree in higher education.
8) Why this leadership void?
That is an excellent question and one I have been asking myself for a decade or more now. Here are some possible reasons. First, the field of educational technology is being divided or fractionated into many parts. There are competing disciplines such as information science, learning science, informatics, telecommunications, educational psychology, human resource development and human performance technology, and many other sub-specialty areas. Each has siphoned off a piece of educational technology.
All it is left is instructional design (ID), online and blended learning (though this may be in adult and distance education; no one seems to want this area for some reason), and needs analysis. Face the facts, ID and needs analysis topics are as boring as doing accounting work. I know, I was trained in accounting and now teach in instructional technology.
So, if the field wants to attract leaders, there needs to be sexy topics of interest such as the Web 2.0, global and transnational education with technology, and research on emerging Web technologies and aspects related to e-learning. Another reason for the lack of leadership is that no one knows where to look for it. The field is stuck in the past. But educational technology constantly changes. Hence, the leaders or potential leaders change often and a possible leader one day is argued to be a member of the dinosaur age in the next. Online learning, for instance, has altered the field of educational technology forever and many are slow to realize or react to it. They still are teaching the history of the field and how to turn on and off an overhead projector. Unfortunately, any electrical surges from such projectors will not likely spark new leadership.
9) What have I neglected to ask?
There is the issue of how to inspire new leaders. I think it comes from respect within the field. Governments allocating monies for research and development is one sign of respect. Media attention on education and technology issues is another. Such press coverage would help to attract people around the world to take notice and say, “hey, I want to make a contribution here too.” In addition to attention and respect, there needs to be much greater passion and vision from those in the field. Instructional designers and educational technologists are typically not the most animated presenters or teachers. There is also a need for less inner fighting about which theory or instructional design approach is the correct one.
We are a more applied discipline than most realize. And we benefit the planet most from highly eclectic approaches to education such as those related to learning environments. Few people can say that they have created a new theory that people find value in. Many in the field of educational technology, however, can design models, examples, activities, and guidelines that can transform schools, institutions, and organizations and find value by millions of people.
A final way educational technology can inspire leaders is to start younger. In Korea and China, students can major in educational technology as an undergraduate. That is rare in the United States. Perhaps professional organizations in educational technology need to create online educational technology classes aimed at secondary and undergraduate students. Free virtual conferences for young people in educational technology would also help.
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