darcynorman.net’s Saved Items http://darcynorman.net/fever Shaun Inman’s Fever http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/tech/rss <![CDATA[So what is Technology Integration?]]> files/images/IMG_0395.jpg

Chris Betcher, Betchablog, April 5, 2014

Nice description of the role, with lots of links: "the role of a tech integrator is all about finding ways that technology can assist learning, and helping teachers and students make the most of it. To do that we try to think about things like the SAMR Model, the TPACK Model, Blooms Taxonomy, Multiple Intelligences, Visible Thinking, Dweck’ s Mindsets, etc, etc, and figure out how technology can assist to make them work even better."

[Link] [Comment]
http://www.downes.ca/post/61998/rd 672080@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 04 Apr 2014 19:46:39 GMT
<![CDATA[Blogs and wikis in formal higher education: examples of open education]]>

 UBC blogs

Raths, D. (2014) An e-portfolio with no limits Campus Technology, March 2

This is an article on a project by the University of Mary Washington, Virginia, that enables all students to create their own academic web presence through the provision of a university-wide blogging platform. The article provides some good examples of student work done through this project, particularly in history. A recent development at UMW has been the creation of a community site that aggregates the activity of the project, including sites created and content published. The article also provides links to similar projects at Emory University and Davidson College.

It should be noted that the University of British Columbia here in Vancouver established UBC Blogs and UBC Wiki several years ago.

UBC Blogs currently has 22,785 members. Go to http://blogs.ubc.ca/support/about/ to see the many different ways UBC Blogs are being used. Choosing any one is invidious, but the first one I came across is an excellent example, UBC student Matthew Kyriakides’ essay on gentrification and social movements in Vancouver’s downtown east side.

While the blog service is aimed at individual students and faculty members, i.e. anyone with a CWL (campus-wide log-in), the wiki enables group contributions:

The UBC Wiki is a shared space for use by students, staff, and faculty at the University of British Columbia. It serves as a course repository, a personal and collaborative work space, a documentation depository, and a growing guide to everything and anything UBC. The information, resources, and links that it contains are created, expanded, and annotated by its users. It is constantly evolving and changing because every member can add to it and edit any page.

A good example of a UBC wiki is Math Exam Resources:

a community project started in March 2012 by graduate students at the UBC Math Department [that] features hints and worked out solutions to past math exams. The goal of the project is to provide an open and free educational resource to undergraduate students taking math courses, with a strong emphasis for first and second year courses. The provided solutions do not simply provide what the answer is, but instead focus on the processes that it takes to solve the problem. The Math Exam Resources wiki offers:

    • Free study tips, hints and detailed solutions to past exams of the Math Department.
    • High quality content written by math graduate students. The content is reviewed and can be updated on the fly with your comments and feedback.
    • The ability to use the discussion pages of any page in this wiki to dialogue with us or with other students about mathematics!

I strongly recommend that you browse the UBC Blogs and Wiki sites in particular to see how social media are being integrated fully with credit-based online learning at UBC. Most UBC courses still use a learning management system that allows for ‘private’ or ‘course only’ communications, but the blogs and wikis open up the courses to the general public who can comment on blogs or participate in wikis. Linking blogs and wikis to particular courses and controlling access through the use of passwords enables a degree of quality control. Usually it is UBC students who are ‘in control’. This is a development of open education that deserves more attention.

http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/04/04/blogs-and-wikis-in-formal-higher-education-examples-of-open-education/ 672037@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 04 Apr 2014 19:36:05 GMT
<![CDATA[Instructional design, the academy and industry: a ‘blended’ event]]>
image © eLearning Industry Companies, 2013

image © eLearning Industry Companies, 2013

What: The Academy and Industry: Exploring Instructional Design Roles

In a professional discipline, sometimes there can be uneasy tensions between those in the Academy (i.e. professors and researchers) and those in industry. This collaborative event will attempt to highlight some of the tensions that exist in instructional design. How do I.D. practices and conditions differ in the Academy vs in the corporate sector? How important is it to keep up with current research? What value is placed on formal credentials, or practical experience? Join us in our discussion online, and attend the culminating panel session.

Who: CNIE (Canadian Network for Innovation) + CAID (Canadian Association of Instructional Designers – ACCP en français)

When and how:

http://www.tonybates.ca/2014/03/31/instructional-desin-the-academy-and-industry-a-blended-event/ 670816@darcynorman.net/fever Tue, 01 Apr 2014 00:34:41 GMT
<![CDATA[Fleshing out the pedagogical features of textbooks]]> In a post from last week I wrote about some of the research I’ve begun doing around the pedagogical features of a textbook as I try to identify the features of textbooks that we need to make sure we include as we begin to construct open textbooks.

In my initial scan, I’ve found a few interesting papers & studies looking at the effectiveness of pedagogical aids in textbooks. This morning I read two papers from Regan Gurung at the University of Wisconsin (Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance published in 2003 & Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? from 2004) and one earlier paper from 1996 from Santa Clara University (Wayne Weiten, Rosanna Guadagno & Cynthia Beck) titled Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids.

These 3 papers are specific to Psychology textbooks and are primarily built around student perceptions of the pedagogical aids in the books & whether or not students used them.

Student perceptions are important, especially if they do not use a pedagogical aide since an “unused pedagogical aide cannot facilitate learning” (Weiten, Guadango & Beck 1996), but perception is just one factor I want to look at & Gurung’s research digs a bit deeper than student perceptions to see if there is a connection between student use of pedagogical aids and better exam performance.

Weiten, Guadango & Beck surveyed 134 students asking them how familiar they were with the different pedagogical aids in their textbook, the probability of use and their perceived value of each aid. From their research, Weiten, Guadango & Beck showed that the top 3 pedagogical aids students used in their textbooks were bold-faced technical terms, chapter & section summaries & glossaries.

Mean Ratings of Pedagogical Aids (Weiten, Guadango & Beck, 1996)

An interesting takeaway from their research (although it is over 20 years old now) is that at the time “virtually no research has assessed the usefulness of the numerous pedagogical aids that are now standard far in psychology texts”. Meaning that, in the views of these researchers, the features of a textbook that have been put in place to help student learn weren’t put there because they have been shown to help student learn.

Again, the caveat that I am looking at research from 20 years ago, but so far my scan has shown something similar – there is not a huge amount of empirical  research on whether these features of a textbook actually help student learn. In fact, some of the research from Gurung hints at something quite the opposite; that there may be some textbook features in use that we take for granted that may actually hurt student performance.

Do they help or hinder?

In Gurung’s 2003 research Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance,  Gurung surveyed more than 200 undergraduate students and asked them to rate the usefulness of 10 pedagogical aids and instructional techniques (Gurung’s research wasn’t specific to textbook aids, but included a number of textbook specific aids like outlines, chapter summaries & reviews, boldfaced & italicized terms, key terms & practice questions found in a textbook).

Looking at the types of aids mentioned in the research that are textbook specific (ie eliminating items like paper assignments and research participation) and the results showed that the top textbook 3 aids used by students were boldface terms, italicized terms and practice questions (with chapter summaries & reviews a very close 4th). In terms of helpfulness, students rated boldfaced (92%) and italicized (81%) terms as the most useful pedagogical aid, followed by practice tests questions (77%), and chapter summaries & reviews (73%) all as being moderately to extremely helpful.

Reported Use & Helpfulness of Pedagogical aids (Gurung, 2003)

Reported Use & Helpfulness of Pedagogical aids (Gurung, 2003)

When Gurung compared the reported use and helpfulness of the textbook specific aids and student performance based on their test scores he determined that “correlation analysis did not show any positive relations between the reported use of a pedagogical aids and learning as measured by exam performance” and that textbook authors, “…should not feel pressured to load their books with such aids.” Gurung also notes that the lack of effectiveness of textbook pedagogical aids isn’t an isolated finding & quotes research from 2001 by Blach (guess what is going high on my list for further reading).

Can pedagogical aids actually hurt learning?

One of the really interesting findings from Gurungs 2003 paper was that there was one correlation between a pedagogical aid and exam outcomes was “significant” and that had to do with key terms. Students who rated key terms as being helpful had lower test scores than those who did not use key terms. However, Gurung does note that “the correlational nature of the data does not allow for a true test of this question (can a pedagogical aid hurt exam performance)” and there are a few significant limitations to the research, including not accounting for student performance, ability or effort, nor the amount of time the student spent studying. Also important to note that Gurung only looks at one outcome; exam performance.

Still, it isn’t hard to see how a pedagogical aid could negatively affect student performance if the student tries to get by on the built in aids as an alternative to doing the actual reading. If a student sees the aid as a shortcut to doing the actual reading, then it isn’t hard to imagine that these tools could affect student learning. A scenario where a student is crunched for time and instead of doing the reading for the course instead relies on the chapter summaries to give them all the information could be fairly common.

Gurung followed up his 2003 research with a 2004 study that supports the ineffectiveness of the pedagogical aids we seem to take for granted. In his paper Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? Gurung assessed 240 introductory psychology undergraduates (again looking at test scores) and showed that the reported use of aids “did not positively relate to student performance on any exams” and again showed that key terms might hurt test performance. In this research, Gurung did try to account for the 2 limitations he noted in his first, namely student ability & time studying.

My takeaway

I’m still early in my research so it is hard to draw any definite conclusions yet. But articles like these help me flesh out pedagogical features of our textbooks. For example, all the articles note that students use bold and italicized text (whether it is actually increases their learning is another matter all together). But knowing that those features will actually be used by students helps to guide our advice to open textbook authors. When you make a textbook, concentrate on the way you use bold and italicized text because students will be looking for that to help them understand the content.

This is also helping curb my assumptions that just because something appears in a lot of textbooks doesn’t mean it is either a good nor a proven aid to learning, or that students will use the aid in the way it is intended. What we may be doing when we add features that we think students will use to connect deeply with the material may, in fact, be convenient devices students use to shortcut their learning. I’ll be interested to see if this issue of pedagogical feature as shortcut instead of pathway to deeper understanding comes up more in the literature.


Weiten, W., Guadagno, R. E., & Beck, C. A. (1996). Student’s Perceptions of Textbook Pedagogical Aids. Teaching of Psychology, 23(2), 105-107. doi:10.1207/s15328023top2302_8

Gurung, R. A. R. (2004). Pedagogical Aids: Learning Enhancers or Dangerous Detours? Teaching of Psychology, 31(3), 164-166. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3103_1

Gurung, R. A. R. (2003). Pedagogical Aids and Student Performance. Teaching of Psychology, 30(2), 92-95. doi:10.1207/S15328023TOP3002_01

http://clintlalonde.net/2014/03/31/fleshing-out-the-pedagogical-features-of-textbooks/ 670738@darcynorman.net/fever Mon, 31 Mar 2014 19:27:18 GMT
<![CDATA[On Open Learning Environments]]>

Sweden’s Vittra School (Image from Edudemic.com)

When looking to explore the panoply of 21st century incarnations of education, I am often compelled to seek out a tangible unifying force at work which might correspond within a larger context of society as it is being influenced by the digital technology revolution.

As the web has increased in its capacity for open sharing and collaboration, it has inverted power-structures and business models that have failed to meet authentically the potentialities of the emerging digital age. Where we can see outdated business-practices in the music and film threatening those industries’ continued existence in the age of file sharing online and the advent of remix culture in aps and Macintosh Arts on devices around the world, educational institutions should seek to embrace the 21st century as an opportunity to help cultivate educational value in the communities they serve. In attempting to identify this through-line within the lens of imagining future learning environments, I find inspiring the conception of a scholastic experience whose foundational purpose is to aid in the removal of the boundaries and walls which exist in our institutions.

The literal and perceived ‘walls’ of school largely extend from a bureaucracy established to serve a different conception of knowledge and schooling than exists today. We separate students by age and grade, divide classes by time (with bells!), segregate our subjects in different areas of our buildings, and detach much of the experience of learning about a variety of topics from applying or rejoicing in the value the labour of their learning contributes to the community. If we look at the manifestation of 21st century principles at work in enterprises like Wikipedia – where the values of connection, openness, and collaboration have made the peer-edited encyclopedia a global storehouse of emergent knowledge – schools would be well advised to adopt similar ethos in creating tomorrow’s schools.

While the information revolution might be in the process of changing cataclysmically the manner in which we go about learning informally as much as formally, the spirit of connection, openness and collaboration presents the possibility of a one room school house for the 21st century, where the physical barriers in our schools – walls, separate subjects, age groupings – dissolve along with the larger boundaries we imagine construct our schools.

John Willinsky talks about how “the democratic culture of [our] country is dependent on the educational quality of our civic lives,” which I would like to apply to a conception of schooling wherein the cultivation of this ‘educative civic life’ is nurtured and maintained by the learning activities carried out by the students themselves. This notion of learning has been nurtured in my own practice through the open-education movement and pioneers such as Stephen Downes, Jim Groom and Gardner Campbell, who have worked to develop the architecture of open online courses. In opening their courses and institutional learning communities to the wider web, and reflecting on and reforming their work publicly, they have created courses which function as just this sort of societally enriching education.

In sketching out the design principles underlying effective self-organizing networks, Stephen Downes describes how “human neural networks, student educational experiences, the cities, ecosystems and anything else you want to create a network out of work better if they satisfy the following four criteria”:

Autonomy, the individuals in the network makes their own decisions.

Diversity, being one isn’t about being the same. Let me repeat. Being one isn’t about being the same. Being a Valencian isn’t about being the same, being a pine tree isn’t about being the same, being a doctor isn’t about being the same. Diversity, in fact, is what makes being doctors possible.

Interactivity, the knowledge created by a network is created by the interaction between its members and, as we would say, is emergent from its members and is not simply the propagation of one person’s opinion to another, to another, to another, to another. Everybody contributes together to make knowledge.


Finally, openness, because networks cannot work if they are closed. Networks cannot work if there are barriers to communication, if there are barriers to entry, if only some kind of messages are allowed.

Something I’ve been thinking about in my last few posts has been the possibility and potential for our schools to embrace these more open principals while fulfilling their institutional responsibilities. As much as we might wish (or philosophically rationalize) that education to take on this more free-range (or what Jim might call feral) approach, there is tension here between an intrinsic inspiration – that emanating from individual learners – and and the extrinsic obligations of institutional requirements. But in exploring the boundary between these opposing forces, there is much to be learned about which assumptions about learning we can retain, and which we might discard.

Jim Groom‘s recent Internet Course at the University of Mary Washington, which he has been teaching with Paul Bond, has offered an example in striking a new balance in course planning, execution, and assessment:

What was somewhat unique about this particular test was that the students designed it. The questions for the test were based on the four panels discussions they ran over the first half of the semester. These panels were student-led, driven by the research they did in the first couple of weeks on specific topics such as internet historyhow it workscreation/consumption, and intellectual property.

Given the students have been framing the curriculum and discussions for the class thus far, it only made sense to have them create the midterm. The result was pretty remarkable. The test is impressive, and it reminded me a bit of what happened with assignments in ds106. What’s more, the feedback students gave Paul and I on the test was interesting–almost to a student they found it both difficult and useful in forcing them to re-engage and clarify what we discussed during each of the panels.

Gardner Campbell recently captured the web’s role in bringing about some of what these first two have described here by highlighting the role of recursion and syndication in learning:

Web syndication really does think about the web as a vast database, and each site on the web as potentially a dynamic, curated representation or slice of that database. But the database is itself constantly refreshed because the web that feeds the database of the web is the web of human curiosity, expression, and meaning-making.

Education as a constantly refreshing database. A web of human curiosity, expression, and meaning-making. Idyllic, utopian even. What might such principles lead to in the K12 classroom, though?

Enter Sweden’s Vittra School, which brings us back to the initial idea of division and barriers in the classroom:

The principles of the Vittra School revolve around the breakdown of physical and metaphorical class divisions as a fundamental step to promoting intellectual curiosity, self-confidence, and communally responsible behavior. Therefore, in Vittra’s custom-built Stockholm location, spaces are only loosely defined by permeable borders and large, abstract landmarks. As the architects explained, “instead of classical divisions with chairs and tables, a giant iceberg for example serves as cinema, platform, and room for relaxation, and sets the frame for many different types of learning,” while “flexible laboratories make it possible to work hands-on with themes and projects.”

Whether our schools feel compelled or pushed to pursue these (r)evolutions is something only time will reveal. But there is an ecosystem of knowledge and learning that is enabled by the advent of the web that schools would do well to embrace if they are to grow meaningfully into the 21st century.

http://bryanjack.ca/2014/03/29/on-open-learning-environments/ 670244@darcynorman.net/fever Sat, 29 Mar 2014 20:58:10 GMT
<![CDATA[Teaching & Technology in the Afterglow at Baruch College]]> I want to share my impressions of Baruch’s 17th Annual Teaching and Technology Conference before the sun sets on my memory and the experience dissipates in the afterglow of what was. I had a total blast doing it. I have deep personal ties and many a collaborator and friend at CUNY, so it’s always a ball when they ask me to present. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited more than a few times now. I just can’t see how this pattern can be sustained much longer, especially after this talk :) That said, I’m really honored Luke Waltzer and Baruch’s CIO, Arthur Downing, invited me to do the keynote.

On a more logistical tip,  I thought he format of this conference worked quite well. There were three time slots for general presentations from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM, 10:35 AM to 11:35, and finally 11:40 to 12:40 PM. Each of these time slots had three or four concurrent sessions, all of which were full. After that, everyone met in a large conference hall for lunch and the all sorts of edtech wisdom (not necessarily in that order, mind you) from 12:45 to 2:00 PM.


GIF care of the great Micahel Branson Smith

In terms of the nature of the sessions, the three talks I went to were excellent. A rarity at any conference. I started the morning with a presentation by Monica Dean and Allison Lehr Samuels about Baruch’s Pop-Up Makerspace. Although to start it wasn’t a presnetation at all, there were two long tables and people sat down at a table filled with circuitry, duplo legos, fabric, and much more. Right off Michael Branson Smith, myself and two other attendees started making stuff. It was amazing how quick a half hour went by without any sense of a presentation, and when they did grab our attention it was to share out what we made and provide a quick frame for Baruch’s Pop-Up Makerspace that we had all just experienced. Start with the demo, indeed. I loved their approach to the presentation, and I had a blast making a shanty house as well as collaborating on a DIY spinning night light that was a very rough prototype. There was also a 3D Printing working tirelessly in the background as we were playing around.

I spent a bit of time at the beginning of the second time slot for sessions getting the AV and streaming requirments for my presentation worked out. I’d like to take a quick moment to note that the technical support on the ground at Baruch making sure everything went seamlessly was the best I’ve ever worked with in the eight years I’ve be doing the conference rodeo. The were professionals through and through, and that makes all the difference. They recorded the talk and there should be an archived video of the keynote at some point soon. I have no doubt it will be excellent. Anyway, after that I caught the last half of the “Publishing with Blogs@Baruch” session featuring two students, Albert Mathew and Arvien Siswanto, who gave a brilliant talk about the blogging they do for the Weissman Center for International Business. I was really struck with what poised, yet passionate, presenters they were, it was quite the showing. Following them, the chair of Baruch’s Jounralism department, Josh Mills, discussed the award winning magazine on Blogs @Baruch Dollars and Sense. This magazine published students’ local reportage on topics such as homelessness,  Hurricane Sandy, Food Stamp cuts, etc.


The session struck me how much I’ve taken for granted how much amazing work is happening on Blogs@Baruch as a matter of course. The power of blogging never did go mainstream in highered, but the few of us who’ve pushed it to the limit have created some bonafide magic. Between the pop-up makerspace, state of the art publishing platforms, and the video assessment tool Vocat ( a presentation I didn’t attend), the work folks like Luke Waltzer, Tom Harbison, Suzanne Epstein, and Mikhail Gershovich have done over the last ten years has truly had a deep impact on the teaching and learning culture of Baruch. This conference was testament of that for me, and I’m sure for them too.

The final presentation I attended shared out of research collected by librarians Maura Smale of City Tech and Marianna Regalado of Brooklyn College about how students from at least five different CUNY colleges are using technology as part of their educational experience. They started with the quantitative demographic information which was fascinating. But it really became poetry when they started sharing the stories collected from the students. They did qualitative research that featured interviews, student drawn maps of their commutes (a huge part of anyone’s life in NYC), images of their favorite study spots, schematics of their technology, etc. They called this bit CUNY Tech Stories, and the way it dug deep into the aprticulars of the CUNY student, their particular challenges, and alos their unbelievable richness of experience. it was a surefire reminder of why CUNY is such a special place, despite all the bureacratic frsutrations that come with a system that big. They’ll be publishing this work, and I really can’t wait until they do, it’s deeply resonant and important. My only recommendation would be to do much more of it :)

Also, Luke Waltzer and Kate O’Donoghue presented their own findings of a survey they conducted about student preceptiosn of online learning at Baruch College which was very telling. I’d write about it here, but I’m not going to because Luke needs to freaking blog in his new role. As soon as CUNY makes him a director he’s already complaining about time, writing, etc. And he didn’t blog nearly enough already. Three words: deal with it. Two more: just blog. There are no excuses if you’re gonna preach open, you need to lead the way and set the example. Share these awesome stories regualrly, promote your faculty and students, carve out the time—it’s the most important work we do. Have you learned nothing from the bava, you Michigan hippie?! I kid because I love, but also because his voice is way too important to remain quiet.

Finally, the keynote. It was a bit meandering and indulgent, I’ll admit that upfront. This was the third version in as many weeks of the “Domains in the Afterglow” talk I’ve been working on. It started in its curren concept at the Digital Media Learnign Conference and was further tweaked for Mary Washicon. I say indulgent and meandering ebcause I spent an inordinate amount of time on the early web space stuff, tilde spaces, Geocities and the cultural history because I am so drawn to it right now. I should have gotten to UMW Domains sooner. Truth be told, I could’ve cut the history section down by half. That said, I warned Luke I might be a bit indulgent, and I was using the opportunity to try and get a rhythm around it.

Also, I think I need to shorten and change-up the Domains/house/Richard Scarry analogy. While I love it, Michael Branson Smith gave me a better approach, and I’m going to run with it. I’ll be presenting this talk again for the Sloan-C Emerging Technologies Conference in Dallas in less than ten days, and again at the end of the month in Atlanta for Emory University’s Domain Incubator. I’m having fun with thus far, and I’m hoping to have it nailed for Atlanta because I’m putting this one to bed after that.


In terms of the presentation for me, it was liberating not to talk UMW Blogs or ds106. It’s been years since they weren’t the foundation of some part of my talk. I’ve really been enjoying the move back into a bit of independent research of edtech more broadly spurred on by Domain of One’s Own. Alos playing around with popular concpetions of the web and teaching and technology with the GI Joe PSAs created by Fensler Films. A sign of a good project is it keeps you moving and searching, UMW Domains has certainly done that for me. Also, the push to blog my thinking has helped me incorporate invaluable feedback from folks like Chris Lott, Scott Leslie, Alan Levine, and Mike Caulfield into the talk. Actively writing about my thinking for this talk has been useful for challenging some of my assumtpions, and keeping me honest. What’s more, I’ve been inspired by Brian Lamb’s thinking and writing on this subject lately. I especially love it when he talks the learning objects repository history. This is one of the earliest lessons I got when orientating myself in the borader discourse of the field in 2006/2007. What’s more, it’s affirming for me that I want to do more work in this vein. The return to a bit more focused reading and writing has been doing my imagination and inspiration good, so why not feed it? As Brian noted: “Somebody should do a dissertation on the values embedded in guides like these.”

Before I throw the slides at you. While the presentation still needs work, I want to thank the CUNY folks in the audience for putting forth an encouraging front even if they it was tiresome. In fact, the Question and Answer portion of this talk was extraordinary. I’m not sure how long it went on for, but it seemed to be as long as , if not longer. than the talk itself. And I am not ashamed to admit much better. The questions were great and I felt like on some level I’d connected with at least a few people. That’s what I’m doing this for in the end, and I really do want to believe some of the ideas I’m sharing frame an ethos of liberating our imagiantion of edtech from rigid,  soul sucking systems. Alternatively, the open web as platform for teaching and learning. For me Baruch is a shining example that communities of people can make a real dent in institutional culture.

I’ll end on a personal bavalove note. I really missed hanging with Mikhail Gershovich while up in NYC this go around. He’s my Russian connection, and I sorely missed him yesterday. That said, it was awesome to see so much of the great work he helped set in motion continue to gain momentum!

http://bavatuesdays.com/teaching-technology-in-the-afterglow-at-baruch-college/ 670212@darcynorman.net/fever Sat, 29 Mar 2014 16:19:24 GMT
<![CDATA[Syndication and dead-easy open content reuse]]> Structured Serendipity
Structured Serendipity shared CC by Giulia Forsythe

Sometimes encouraging developments sneak up on you. I’ve done my share of hand-wringing lately about the apparently dwindling fortunes of syndication. But a few very promising items have pulsed through my trailing-edge feedreader lately.

From Gardner Campbell, this nugget of recursive wisdom:

Web syndication really does think about the web as a vast database, and each site on the web as potentially a dynamic, curated representation or slice of that database. But the database is itself constantly refreshed because the web that feeds the database of the web is the web of human curiosity, expression, and meaning-making.

Also, I’ll be following the impressive and exciting work by David Wiley and Bill Fitzgerald on transclusion and syndication that motivates the Candela WordPress work, and the super-cool wiki federated reuse thinking and building from Michael Caulfield. These are all welcome reminders that the state of the field is not as dire as I sometimes tend to think.

I thought I’d share an example of out-of-the-box syndication and transclusion that’s being adopted more or less spontaneously by students here at Thompson Rivers University. We have been slowly rolling out our own instance of MediaWiki, with a small but growing cohort of early adopters that includes a course on legal perspectives. This is an interesting group, there are a large number of students divided into more than twenty groups to develop public pages analyzing historic Canadian cases from a variety of legal schools of thought. It’s been fascinating to see how some groups have put more effort than others to understand what the system can do in terms of presenting their work with things like layout commands, and to observe how particularly effective techniques are noticed and re-adopted by other groups as the semester proceeds.

One very cool feature of MediaWiki that the students have discovered and are using relates to syndication. If you look at this page, you will see the students have used an image of Ronald Dworkin to enhance their text. If you click through to the image, you will see that it is drawn from the Wikimedia Commons, and the TRU wiki media file has remarkably detailed metadata outlining where the image came from, the licensing of the image, and where else on the TRU wiki the image is being used. In other words, pretty exemplary reuse of a public knowledge resource.

What’s exciting is how easy it was for the students to do this. If you go to the source media file page on the Wikimedia Commons, you’ll see a number of reuse links on the sidebar. If you click “Use this file on a wiki”, you are provided with the basic MediaWiki markup, ready to use on your own page. In this case – [[File:RonaldDworkin.jpg|thumb|RonaldDworkin]]

What’s so cool is that once you add this code to our page, MediaWiki InstantCommons then adds this file into the TRU wiki’s media library, so the file is only downloaded from the Commons once, and there is a local copy with our own metadata and usage tracking on our system. (FYI, there is also a WordPress plugin with similar functionality.)

And again, this was functionality that students more or less figured out on their own, and a technique most of the Legal Perspectives groups are using to incorporate copyright-compliant images into their public work. The Wikimedia Commons is one of the most impressive sources of open media available to us, and with projects like this to harvest more high-quality learning media for the Commons, its future seems bright.

Open tools, open media, and syndication. Observable open content reuse in the TRU student population. Nice to end the week with some love-mongering for once.

http://abject.ca/syndication-and-content/ 670070@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 28 Mar 2014 21:28:56 GMT
<![CDATA[Why I love the Web, Reason #4,763: The Pulp-o-mizer]]> So much beautiful work has gone into the free service that is the Pulp-o-mizer — a brilliant way to create your own retro sf covers. It took under 5 minutes to create each of these:

Pulp-O-Mizer_Cover_Image (1)


Thank you, Pulp-o-mizer! Thank you, Web!

http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2014/03/28/why-i-love-the-web-reason-4763-the-pulp-o-mizer/ 669896@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 28 Mar 2014 11:27:02 GMT
Jim Groom, bavatuesdays, March 31, 2014

People are beginning to notice the the proponents of learning analytics need to brink some new data and examples forward to support their case, as the old ones are not only, well, old, they have also been thoroughly discredited. Jim Groom comments, "a lot has happened since 2010. Mike Caulfield pointed out  six months ago, and Michael Feldstein re-iterated, the research claims of the effectiveness of Course Signals to increase retention are deeply problematic."

[Link] [Comment]
http://www.downes.ca/post/61970/rd 669888@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 28 Mar 2014 09:12:39 GMT
<![CDATA[Tamed]]> black_white_elephant_seesaw

I’ve been enjoying the series of posts by Jim Groom inspired by The Internet Course. His dip into the language of 2001′s Using the Internet to Strengthen Curriculum perfectly captures the prevailing attitudes of many online educators around the time this book was written.

Jim reproduces this page, so loaded with revealing language that it may serve as an edu-historical Rosetta Stone to decode early stages of the nightmare from which we may never awaken.


Somebody should do a dissertation on the values embedded in guides like these.

Jim notes the language of “taming” and “managing” that dominates the text, and the jaw-dropping assertion concerning the “hazards” of “serendipity”. Faced with a novel environment of “immense potential” and “immense challenges”, the response is not to investigate and to understand, but to assert authority and control. Not for any self-serving reason of course, but “for our students”.

Jim suggests this mindset lies at the heart of the command-and-control nature of learning management systems that became a dominant medium around the time when this book was written. Speaking for myself, I was transported back to my experiences as an educational technologist during this period. Back then, I was involved with the development and implementation of a number of “learning object repositories”, which might best be described as platforms designed to promote the sharing of learning resources — but only proper learning resources, and only shared with the right sort of people.

It can be fun in a dreary sort of way to bash the LMS. But it would be unfair and incorrect to simply blame the vendors for the many disturbing values built into these systems. I took part in a lot of conferences, workshops and focus groups with higher education people who attended those “learning object” sessions because they were interested in reusing materials using the as-yet untapped power of the world wide web. I listened as “serious” educational leaders dictated that the platforms require users to adopt unfathomable and complex metadata to ensure that no tangential learning materials be encountered by mistake. I took part in meeting after meeting where technology leaders and faculty representatives demanded strict access controls to limit sharing within elite consortia or collections of funding partners, or even within faculties or departments. Later on in the process, I would try to facilitate workshops with other groups of working educators that rightfully complained that the resulting systems were unwieldy and useless. I took part in evaluations that tried to divine some value from these costly efforts, and watched the project grants run dry.

Then I’d go for beers with the poor coders and developers who were trying to build and support these systems, and commiserated with them on the thankless and impossible nature of the task. Around this time, I started to keep in touch with some of these people via the new-fangled technology of blogs, which seemed to work pretty well as platforms to support sharing of resources and to stimulate cooperative discourse. And we had fun. Maybe that’s why the serious people rarely saw much value in these trifles.

It was around then that I began to distrust the serious people in educational technology.

http://abject.ca/tamed/ 669807@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 28 Mar 2014 02:20:03 GMT
<![CDATA[The pedagogical features of a textbook]]> Ever since I’ve started working on the BC open textbook project, one of the bits of research that I’ve wanted to do was deconstruct “the textbook” to dig into what exactly are the pedagogical features that make a textbook a textbook. As we enter into the creation phase of open textbooks – and with a book sprint coming up in June where we will be creating a textbook from scratch in 4 days – I’ve started taking a closer look at what makes a textbook a textbook.

Specifically I am trying to identify a couple of things.

First, I want to identify a list of common pedagogical features that textbooks have that make them different from other types of books. By features I mean what are the specific elements or attributes of a textbook that help students understand the content in the book. This can range from chapter outlines and summaries to practice questions and glossaries.

Second, I want to find out to what degree do those pedagogical features actually help students understand the content. Here I am searching for some empirical research that shows that specific features of a textbook may be more useful than others when it comes to helping students learn.

Third, does the format of the textbook change or alter the usefulness of a pedagogical feature? By this I mean are there features that were created specifically for printed textbooks that may not be relevant to an electronic version of the book, and are there pedagogical elements that can be done in the electronic version that can’t be done (or are done differently) in the printed version? This third question is challenging, but is important in the context of our work since students have the choice of format types – physical copies or electronic copies and the work we are doing has to be sensitive to the formats (and I think I have a future post brewing that may touch upon my frustration at having to work with both formats, both from a technical perspective and from an educational culture perspective. I’ve easily spent a majority of my time dealing with issues around “the print” vs issues with “the electronic”).

So far I’ve identified 24 different pedagogical features (or aids as I have seen them referred to) that are commonly found in textbooks. These are:

Pedagogical Aid/Feature
Chapter Objectives Chapter Learning Outcomes Chapter Outline
Checklists Headings & Subheadings Bold & Italicized text
Table of Figures Index Focus Questions
Chapter Summary or Review  Case Studies and Vignettes  Glossary/Key Terms
Demonstrations  Examples of Best Practices Maps
Interviews  Illustrations (which include photos, diagrams, charts & figures) Simulations
Further Reading suggestions Timelines Practice Questions
Multimedia (audio/video) Pronunciation Guide Table of Contents

From here, I am creating a description of what the feature is, what pedagogical purpose it might have for learners, what research I can find about that feature to see if there is any evidence that these aids help students, and, finally, some thoughts around how the feature might be different in the print and electronic versions of a textbook.

There is one pedagogical feature that I have intentionally left off of this list is, arguably, the most important pedagogical feature and that is structure. A strong structure provides a logical, well thought out path for students to navigate the content. But given the importance of structure, I think I need to tackle that on its own, perhaps using these 5 rules of textbook structure as a starting point.

Extending PressBooks

The other reasons I am trying to take this deconstructionist approach to analyzing features of a textbook is that we want to see if there are ways we can extend PressBooks to accommodate what we identify as the most useful pedagogical features. For example, in the user interface of PressBooks, Brad Payne has built some textbook specific buttons that insert specific types of content blocks into PressBooks (I spoke a bit about this in an earlier blog post). What we want to do is not only build buttons in the editing interface that inserts visible elements (like say a green box around a case study), but also inserts metadata that identifies that specific pedagogical feature as a chapter summary. Brad has been looking at the emerging Learning Resource Metadata Initiative (LRMI) to see how we can begin to tag bits and pieces of the content in our textbook.

This is pretty exciting stuff. Theoretically, if we create a button in the user interface to insert a case study into the textbook, it could also insert metadata that identifies that block of content as a case study. Once you have content identified, you could then build API’s that could extract the textbook specific content chunks. From a reuse and remixability perspective, this makes a textbook modular. Build an API that can, for example, extract just the practice questions in a book and you can create a separate practice question handbook with nothing but the practice questions from the book. In essence, we can make the book modular and with that modularity comes flexibility to potentially mix and match content in interesting and unique ways.

But before we get to the point where we could have modular & remixable content, we need to focus and determine what are the really useful pedagogical features of a textbook that improves student learning. Once we can answer that, then we have some footing to proceed to the next step & build the technology to enable that.

http://clintlalonde.net/2014/03/27/the-pedagogical-features-of-a-textbook/ 669756@darcynorman.net/fever Thu, 27 Mar 2014 22:16:43 GMT
<![CDATA[On Running Your Own Servers, and Why We’re Not]]> In Web Hosting for App Developers, Marco makes some important points.

One is that high-level cloud hosting (think of Node.js hosts, for instance) may come with “unexpected changes, limitations, and costs.”

Another is that you can save yourself from these problems by running your own servers — and “running your own servers really isn’t hard” and you can set up reliable servers that require a minimum of administration.

I don’t disagree.

It’s entirely possible that Q Branch will run its own servers some day. But we’re not right now, and I’ll explain why.

(Actually, we do have an internal-only server at MacMiniColo. Great service. But we’re not running servers for external services.)


I ran servers — as the sole responsible guy (with no got-hit-by-a-bus-policy) — for seven years, from 1995 to 2002.

Many of these were Mac servers — pre-OS-X — which meant they were un-hackable. (Unless you did something remarkably stupid.) But they could go down. And did.

Very early in my career I ran one of these in my bedroom behind an ISDN connection. It would crash once or twice a week. I ran a system extension (I forget the name) that automatically rebooted in case of a crash. Sometimes this happened at 4 am and we’d wake up in panic at the sound of the Macintosh startup chime.

One of my Mac servers crashed and never came back — the hard drive was fried. (Code name “Roma.” An old 8500 that I cherished. Great computer. I’m still using the Apple Extended Keyboard II that came with that machine.) My second blog was on that machine and it was gone. (This blog is my third blog.)

Later I also ran Windows and Linux boxes (late ’90s, early ’00s). One of the Linux boxes was hacked and apparently used in a DDOS attack. I hadn’t updated BIND quickly enough.

These should have been in a data center, but instead we ran a T1 to my house and called it a data center. Primitive days.

Times have changed, obviously. I’d run VMs in a real data center, and have good backups, and way better admin tools.

But the thing that I hated, that I couldn’t stand after seven years, was being on call all the time, day and night, for the servers.

But. But.

But I’m still on call for our web services. True.

And I do have to do some administration. Our hosted services (two Node.js servers, S3, and a database) don’t come without some housekeeping.

And it’s likely that this will all cost more than running our own VMs. And I might run into things I wish were more flexible (hasn’t happened yet, but I grant that it could).

So it’s a matter of degree: running web stuff means running web stuff, no matter how you do it.

But running our own servers has a cost. A month or so for me to feel comfortable enough with it to trust it and myself. (I know myself: that would take a month. A month where I don’t get much, or any, coding done.) And then probably a year of day and night anxiety.

I’m willing to make this particular trade-off: more productivity and less anxiety for higher costs and possible inflexibility and limitations down the road.

I’m willing to make that trade-off precisely because I know I could run servers, and I could switch later (though not without some pain) if I choose to. And I can see that happening — if not for Vesper, maybe for a hypothetical other app.

Marco writes:

Most developers reject the idea outright without even trying because it’s unfamiliar and intimidating. It’s considered an extreme, horrible, unfathomable situation that must be avoided at all costs, usually by people who have never tried it.

That may be true of most developers, though not of me. With me I’d just rather wait and see if at some point in the future I need to, for whatever reason. (Cost, flexibility, whatever.)

If I don’t, then great. If I do, then I do, and I’ll apply teeth to ammo. But not till then.

http://inessential.com/2014/03/27/on_running_your_own_servers_and_why_we 669716@darcynorman.net/fever Thu, 27 Mar 2014 19:01:26 GMT
<![CDATA[Rewiki Makes Me Remember…]]> Watching Mike’s screencast of the rewiki prototype lead me down memory lane to a tool we built back in the day called Send2Wiki. Here’s a summary from the extensions page at Mediawiki:

  • Provides a bookmarklet that makes it easy to send web pages to a wiki.
  • Converts web page HTML to wiki format (using html2wiki by David J. Iberri).
  • Strips chrome from web pages during the conversion process.
  • Displays information about sent articles in the MediaWiki footer.
  • Optionally translates web page to another language (using Google’s Language Tools).
  • Preserves links by converting relative links to absolute ones.
  • Autodetects license information such as Creative Commons and GFDL licenses.
  • Lets the user specify a license for the the new wiki page.
  • Sends PDFs to the wiki by first converting them to HTML (using PDFTOHTML based on xpdf 2.02 by Derek Noonburg).
  • Creates didilies describing the conversion.

Basically, you setup the extension on your Mediawiki and then installed the bookmarklet in your browser. Then you could push the content from any page you’re looking at into your Mediawiki with the click of a button and a few options:


It looks like Mike’s rewiki work is drifting this direction. Maybe someone will get some benefit / reuse out of this old code after all!

That last bullet reminds me of my favorite tool the old COSL team ever built – scrumdidilyupmtious. Inspired by the social bookmarking tool delicious, this was a social relationship-mapping tool. Instead of helping you bookmark a single site, it helped you capture relationships between two sites. It was implemented as a browser extension and server:


In the case above, you would just type “owns” or “purchased” in the pink box and then hit save. You could then visit the didily site and see “google.com owns writely.com” and all the other relationships you had expressed. More interestingly, you could search the site for a specific URL and get back all the relationships expressed about the URL by everyone, with results coming as RSS, RDF, or HTML.

Ah, we did some cool things back in the day… I still think both these ideas have legs. Hopefully some of it will prove useful!

http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3302 669645@darcynorman.net/fever Thu, 27 Mar 2014 18:00:17 GMT
<![CDATA[How the Web was Ghettoized for Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed?]]> files/images/home_pages.png

Jim Broom, bavatuesdays, March 30, 2014

Can't say I disagree with this: "For more than a decade the web has been systematically ghettoized as a dangerous space where people steal and victims are robbed (not entirely false, but not the whole story either).... The fear and loathing surrounding the internet, copyright, and downloading that enabled universities during the late 90s to shutoff the web for anything beyond basic business operations is best summed up for me in the :38 second GI Joe PSA 'Stop All the Downloading.'" I would add that the deeply disturbing aspect is that the materials available through the 'safe' portals are just as harmful, albeit in more long term and subtle ways, as students are guadually acclimatized to a learned helplessness and dependence on augthority and order.

[Link] [Comment]
http://www.downes.ca/post/61968/rd 669560@darcynorman.net/fever Thu, 27 Mar 2014 11:41:48 GMT
<![CDATA[OPEN UBC]]> Continue reading ]]> http://hadar.tlc.sfu.ca/wordpress/open-ubc-2/ 668875@darcynorman.net/fever Tue, 25 Mar 2014 16:59:29 GMT <![CDATA[Desire2Learn team eases transition to new system]]>
Werklund School and Faculty of Social Work among first to adopt new learning management tool

The expertise, patience and resourcefulness of the University of Calgary’s Desire2Learn (D2L) implementation team has helped ensure a smooth and seamless transition from the Blackboard communication system to D2L for academic staff and students in the Werklund School of Education and the Faculty of Social Work.

“We have greatly appreciated the engaging training sessions offered by the D2L team of trainers, says Jennifer Lock, associate dean of teaching and learning in the Werklund School of Education.  “Quick response to email questions about various features or issues with D2L has helped instructors to continue their teaching using this technology.”

Technology is key for Faculty of Social Work’s province-wide programs

With three campuses (Calgary, Edmonton and Lethbridge) and dedicated online programs like the Virtual Learning Circles, online classes are a way of life in the Faculty of Social Work. That’s one of the reasons the faculty decided to participate in the D2L pilot last fall, and it’s been a positive experience overall.

Rachael Crowder, an assistant professor in the faculty’s Southern Alberta Region, agrees that the D2L team has provided outstanding training and support. She’s also happy with the tool itself.

“One of the things that I really like about D2L is how easy it is to integrate video into the online learning experience,” she says. “For example, I can post a quick video if there’s an important message students need to hear, or I can attach an audio or video comment when I’m giving feedback on their work. It’s a great feature because it helps personalize their learning experience, which can be a missing component of online classes.”

Crowder also found that the transition to D2L has been relatively smooth for her students, especially because “a number of them had previous exposure to D2L either in high school or some other learning environment.” Even those who didn’t have previous experience with D2L were pretty comfortable because of its similarities to other online platforms that they use regularly.

Students experience the benefits too

Werklund graduate students who take the bulk of their courses on-line agree. Jenn McKay, a high school math and science teacher from Trail, B.C. who is studying for her doctorate in educational technology says that overall, D2L is well-organized, visually pleasing and has a logical design, making it user-friendly.   

“The communication feature allows students to access news, discussions, group chats, Elluminate sessions, and send group or private emails to other students and the course instructors,” McKay says. “Blogging and ePortfolios are D2L tools that provide opportunities for a more personalized approach to learning.”

Ruth Swart, a Werklund graduate student who is also an instructor in the Faculty of Nursing, likes the ease of access. “Taking an online course makes one appreciate easy online access to the teaching materials, readings, assignments, and to the communication tools for access to instructor and other students.”

A few words of advice

As the rest of the university makes the transition to D2L in the coming weeks, Crowder has some advice: “Take advantage of the training opportunities that IT is offering. They are extremely knowledgeable, friendly and very responsive.”

She adds, “I can’t rave loudly enough about the support from IT. They’ve been absolutely fantastic.”

Visit the D2L project online for more information including support documentation for instructors and students.



http://ucalgary.ca/utoday/issue/2014-03-26/desire2learn-team-eases-transition-new-system 668985@darcynorman.net/fever Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:50:03 GMT
<![CDATA[Memorandum of Understanding on Open Educational Resources]]>
Various authors, Alberta, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, March 26, 2014

By email from Paul Stacey: "The Premiers of British Columbia, Alberta, and  Saskatchewan (the three most western provinces) have released a  Memorandum of  Understanding on Open Education Resources, which will see the three provinces work together to make higher education more affordable by developing Open Education Resources within their advanced education sectors." As he say there's not much to it (the third page of the PDF is completely blank) but it of course serves as the sprringboard for further activities and initiatives.

I like the definition of Open Educational Resource: "'Open Education Resources' means 'teaching, learning and research materials in any medium, digital or otherwise, that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions. Open licensing is built within the existing framework of intellectual property rights as defined by relevant international conventions and respects the authorship of the work.'" Note: no-cost access. Limited restrictions (eg. NC) allowed.

[Link] [Comment]
http://www.downes.ca/post/61944/rd 668091@darcynorman.net/fever Sun, 23 Mar 2014 06:43:16 GMT
<![CDATA[Section 106]]> section_106

Of course this would be section 106 of the Copy Right Act of 1976: reproductions, derivative works, distribution, public performance, display, and, of course, digital audio transmission.  106 was never a coincidence, it was always already a numerological lattice of copyright intervention! And when you invoke section ds106 you automatically authorize others to do any and all of the above. Culture is the freedom to appropriate and interrogate.

http://bavatuesdays.com/section-106/ 667931@darcynorman.net/fever Sat, 22 Mar 2014 02:10:19 GMT
<![CDATA[Google Apps for Education are here]]> ]]> http://www.cbe.ab.ca/new/news2013-14/20140207-google-apps-for-education.asp 667872@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 21 Mar 2014 23:01:18 GMT <![CDATA[Google Under Fire for Data-Mining Student Email Messages]]> Benjamin Herold, reporting for Education Week:

As part of a potentially explosive lawsuit making its way through federal court, giant online-services provider Google has acknowledged scanning the contents of millions of email messages sent and received by student users of the company’s Apps for Education tool suite for schools.

In the suit, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company also faces accusations from plaintiffs that it went further, crossing a “creepy line” by using information gleaned from the scans to build “surreptitious” profiles of Apps for Education users that could be used for such purposes as targeted advertising.


http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/03/13/26google.h33.html 667587@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 21 Mar 2014 00:42:32 GMT
<![CDATA[Facebook Introduces ‘Hack,’ the Programming Language of the Future]]> files/images/facebook-hack-660x440.jpg

Cade Metz, Wired, March 23, 2014

Onteresting. I remember when Facebook was PHP (I actually saw the code once, because of a dropped format declaration). Their new programming language "lets programmers build complex websites and other software at great speed while still ensuring that their software code is precisely organized and relatively free of flaws... the new language is called Hack." It has some nice features - it's statically typed (which means you declare what all your variables are before you use them) but compiles at run-time, which means developers can immediately see the rsults of minor changes. It runs on a virtual machine, which allows it to be independent of the hardware layer. But what may make it widely popular is that it addresses the weaknesses of PHP: "“ While PHP is the most widely used language on the web, it’ s unpopular in many places because of its inconsistencies. Hack addresses these … and thereby makes the language more attractive to users of other languages." Get Hack here.

[Link] [Comment]
http://www.downes.ca/post/61938/rd 667603@darcynorman.net/fever Thu, 20 Mar 2014 22:53:03 GMT
<![CDATA[‘It’s Time for Us to Start Making the News a Little Nerdier’]]> Nate Silver’s ambitious re-imagined and vastly expanded FiveThirtyEight has launched.

http://fivethirtyeight.com/features/what-the-fox-knows/ 666454@darcynorman.net/fever Mon, 17 Mar 2014 19:58:10 GMT
<![CDATA[The End of Trust]]> Nick Valery, of the Economist:

So, what can be done to prevent another disaster on the scale of the Snowden fiasco, or the recent theft of 110m customer credit- and debit-card details from Target stores that has affected one in three Americans? Best to start by accepting that there is no such thing as a totally secure computer network; that data theft is always going to happen, whether by malicious outsiders or disgruntled employees. The answer (in so far as there is one) is to make the crime as difficult and time-consuming to perform as possible. For those with the know-how, it is laughably easy at present.

Until the first Snowden documents started to trickle out last year, there was a general assumption that many of the software- and hardware-based components of the security chain were fairly secure. Things like HTTPS and RSA keys were regarded as sacrosanct, while the weakest link in the chain was always understood to be people. Now, everything is assumed to be tampered with or totally insecure.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/babbage/2014/03/difference-engine 665827@darcynorman.net/fever Sat, 15 Mar 2014 04:05:11 GMT
<![CDATA[More storytelling lessons from "Cosmos"]]> This is an exciting week for anyone who was even remotely influenced by Carl Sagan's "Cosmos: A Personal Voyage," a thirteen-part TV series which first aired in 1980. This week began the much anticipated follow-up called "Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey" hosted by famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. Like many people, I'm a huge fan of both the late Carl Sagan and current science communicator extraordinaire Neil deGrasse Tyson. I'm interested in Cosmos for the science and the awe of the universe that will unfold before us on screen. But for me — and I suspect for many of you as well — I'm interested too in the many lessons about presentation and storytelling that will be implicitly displayed over the next several weeks in the new Cosmos. But before touching on those points, the first question is really why does the original Cosmos endure to this very day? Why does a show about the universe produced in 1980 have such a strong pull on us today? It's not because of the compelling communication style of Carl Sagan alone, although that is a small part of it. Nor is it because Sagan gave us information that most of us never had. The reason Cosmos endures is because the presentation of the original Cosmos series made it clear why what we were seeing and hearing mattered. Even if it was not always explicitly stated, the message was clear: This is important. This is remarkable. And you are a part of it.

If you listen to the creators of Cosmos you will hear the words Story and Storytelling uttered frequently. "You realize that science is not just this subject from a textbook," Tyson said. "It's a human story. Discovery is human… It's a celebration of human curiosity and why that matters to who and what we are." Below are just a few lessons from Cosmos—the original and the new series—that we may be able to apply to our own presentations. There are many, many more than this, but here are just a few for now.

Make the tough choices about inclusion and exclusion
Whether you have 5-minutes, 18-minutes, or an all-day seminar in which to tell your story, it is never enough time to tell all that you know or to share everything in as much detail as possible. Time can be a real obstacle, but it's also a great enabler if you are willing and able to put in the time to think long and hard about what's the most important and what's less important for reaching your audience in a way that is honest, informative, and engaging. You can't include all that you know or all that there is to say. The secret is in knowing what to leave out. Cosmos is only thirteen-hours long so the creators had to be very focused about what to included and what to exclude. When cutting we must be careful, however, not to misrepresent or conceal or distort or embellish the data. This is not easy. Balance is key.

Make 'em care and tell them why it matters
As Neil deGrasse Tyson points out in this Bill Moyers interview, the original Cosmos was not just a documentary of the latest scientific findings concerning the universe. There was something more there. After all, Tyson reminds us, there have been many documentaries since the original Cosmos that did a good job of laying out the latest science, and yet they more or less fade from our memory. But Cosmos did not fade. Why? "It's not because it brought you the latest science—although it also did that," says Tyson. The impact of Cosmos endures to this day, says Tyson, "...because it displayed for you why science matters. Why science is an enterprise that should be cherished as an activity of the free human mind. Because it transforms who we are, how we live, and it gives us an understanding of our place in the universe."

It is hard to choose just one element that a successful story must have, but if I had to choose just one, I'd say it is this: Show clearly why your topic — or result, cause, mission, etc. — matters. What's the big picture and our place in that picture? Pixar's Andrew Stanton said something very similar when he identified the most important element of storytelling as "make me care." You must make the audience care. And you must let them know clearly why they should care.

Respect your audience
Two of the great crimes of science education, says Tyson, is (1) not knowing how to make it exciting, and (2) believing that you are making it exciting by "dumbing it down." The audience, says Tyson will know if you are dumbing it down. He says you must speak to the audience with respect and dignity and have appreciation for the audience's capacity to wonder and for their intelligence. Too much TV programming, for example, Tyson says goes down—way down—to the lowest common denominator. "What kind of vision statement is that for producers of media or even for a nation to create programming that does not treat people as intelligent beings?" The lesson for us? Know your audience as best you can and prepare with that audience in mind.

Make it visual
The new Cosmos is a "visual-effects extravaganza," says John Teti writing for avclub.com. "Cosmos doesn’t hesitate to indulge in eye candy. But the true feat here is how Cosmos’ imagery overcomes our puny ability to conceive huge spaces," says Teti. "Each line on the cosmic address follows clearly from the last, and the sequence’s methodical buildup lets viewers acquire a sliver of insight into our universe’s baffling bigness or, to put it another way, our pathetic smallness." However, "visual" does not mean only the use of graphics such as photography, video, animations, visualizations of data, and so on. Visual also means helping the audience to clearly "see" your ideas through your use of descriptive language, through the use of concrete examples, and by the power and simplicity of metaphor.

Present in the spirit of contribution—make an offering
Tyson says that Cosmos is not an attempt to beat people over the head with things they must understand to become science literate. Instead, he says, it is an offering. "I'm not saying learn this or else!" But rather, Tyson says, "it's like, here it is and here's why it matters....Here's why your life can be transformed just by having some understanding of this."

Spark their curiosity
Producer Ann Druyan says that the way science has been taught in schools is "horrendous," an approach which often results in our natural curiosity being "beat out of us." Therefore, says Druyan, "the way we are trying to tell these stories is an opening, an aperture to the excitement [of science]." Tyson goes on to add, "Cosmos will reignite the fires of curiosity that I know live within us all."  

Take them on a journey
"In the new Cosmos we are continuing this voyage. We are continuing this epic exploration of our place in the universe," says Tyson. There have been new discoveries obviously since the original Cosmos in 1980. For example, some thirty years ago we did not know—though people suspected—that there were other planets orbiting other stars. This discovery is not just new science, says Tyson. "It's new vistas of thought and imagination." Science can be told as an adventure as exciting and mysterious as anything any man has made up.

Trigger a question
Good storytelling causes the audience to ask questions as your narrative progresses. As the storyteller you can ask questions directly, but often a more interesting approach is to present the material in a way that triggers the audience to come up with the questions themselves. And yet we must not be afraid to leave some (many?) questions unanswered. When we think of a story we may think of clear conclusions and neat, clear endings, but reality can be quite a bit more complicated than that. There are an infinite amount of mysteries to ponder and puzzles to be solved. Many observations can not (yet) be explained, but that is OK. This is what keeps us going forward.

Touch them emotionally
"Science doesn't have to be the opposite of religion in terms of its emotional value," says producer Brannon Braga. "Science can move you like any other story. Science can be a visceral, emotional experience." In an interview with Skepticality, producer and writer Ann Druyan said "In order for it to qualify on our show it has to touch you. It still has to be rigorously good science—no cutting corners on that. But then, it also has to be that equal part skepticism and wonder both." In this interview with The Christian Science Monitor, "Tyson says, "what you remembered most about Cosmos is how it affected you not only intellectually, but emotionally."

Great interview with Bill Moyers and NDT.

"Whoever said you couldn’t communicate science by way of stories? Cosmos is an occasion to bring everything that I have, all of my capacity to communicate. We may go to the edge of the universe, but we’re going to land right on you: in your heart, in your soul, in your mind. My goal is to have people know that they are participants in this great unfolding cosmic story."  — Neil deGrasse Tyson (Wired)

• Seven things we learned from episode 1
Q&A: Neil deGrasse Tyson Unveils the Cosmos
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
• Cosmos Live Event video (great discussion)
• The Carnegie Mellon University website has a page entitled Telling Science Stories with documents and links to resources for helping people incorporate elements of storytelling into their science writings and presentations.

http://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2014/03/more-story-lessons-from-cosmos.html 664527@darcynorman.net/fever Tue, 11 Mar 2014 09:11:53 GMT
<![CDATA[How the Web was Ghettoized for Teaching and Learning in Higher Ed?]]> Short answer: learning management systems.

The above title was something I tweeted out last night when I finsihed the presentation I delivered yesterday at the Digital Media Learning 2014 conference.

I’ve been working on a broader narrative for contextualizing the work we’re doing at University of Mary Washington with Domain of One’s Own. This initiative offers students and faculty a domain and web hosting so that they can more deeply inhabit and interrogate the web. For some, it’s most easily explained as an eportfolio, but for me that explanation is far too short-sighted. What’s more, it ignores higher education’s ongoing over-dependence on learning management systems (or siloed teaching and learning) for well over a decade.

Martha Burtis has been on a blog tear as of late framing our expeirence with Domain of One’s Own six months on, how we are building out community through community.umwdomains.com, as well as how faculty and students are using UMW Domains. I recommend reading Martha’s trifecta of awesome posts for a detailed account of where we are with Domains of One’s Own to date.


In terms of the DML presentation, after briefly explaining Domain of One’s Own and blowing the audience’s collective mind :) with the greatest Richard Scarry cannibalistic pig analogy ever used for explaining how domains/web hosting work based on this post (which accounts for the first 14 slides) I moved into the core of the presentation, at least for me,  ”A Brief and Incomplete History of Personal Web Spaces” starting at slide fifteen (see slide deck at bottom of post).

I’ve talked about tilde spaces (~/spaces) in relationship to Domain of One’s Own in a cursory manner before, and the idea of tilde spaces as a precursor to UMW Domains is something I’ve continued to return to in my mind. In an attempt to more concretely frame the history of web publishing at universities I started doing some initial digging since. I hope to get deeper into this reseach in the coming months because it’ a total blast, but until then, let me share out some initial discoveries.

Earlier this month, while talking about the history of personal web spaces on various campuses at the office, I sent out the following tweet to get a sense of the rough timing of whenpersonal web spaces started to show up at campuses around North America.

I got back an impressive stream of responses—more than 75 in all! I’ve embedded some of them below to give yiu an indicator of the range of dates and universities.

While some of these personal web spaces were available as early as 1993, from this informal poll it seems that 1995 was the most common date for the collective memory on Twitter. And thanks to Tim Owens taking a spin on the Wayback Machine, we discovered the earliest recorded date for personal home pages at Mary Washington College (we didn’t become a University until 2004) was Fall 1996. That’s right, Domain of One’s Own is hearkening back to a tradition almost twenty years old. There was even a “community” page offering an index of all the staff and student home pages. There’s even a link for the howto.

Mary Washington College’s personal homepage hub

A real pleasant surpise was that thanks to the awesomeness that is the Wayback Machine the links to these personal pages were archived. So we could see the various home pages of faculty and students linked to. And lo and behold Gardner Campbell‘s personal home page was right there-front and center.

Gardner Campbell’s 1996 Personal Homepage at MWC

The page links to his various courses for that semester, has an image of his kids as the header, and a whole series of relevant, scholarly and personal sources below. Hell, I was even able to listen to a recording of “My Favorite Town” (a song he wrote, produced, and perfomed) on his bio page. The genre of the personal home page was in full effect already in 1996.

@jimgroom FWIW “Genres and the Web: Is the personal home page the first uniquely digital genre?” https://t.co/JFcBZV38tP — Alan Levine (@cogdog) February 10, 2014

And this genre was not limited to faculty, below is a screenshot of Molly Barber’s  home page from Fall 1996.

Molly Barber’s homepage at MWC circa 1996

The following image is a scan of a tutorial (which I got from Andy Rush who started me down this rabbit hole) Jim Greenberg  wrote about creating personal web pages at SUNY Oneonta. If you read it, you’ll notice users had to create the www directory, change permissions, FTP files, write HTML, etc. In other words, creating and managing a personal webpage on universities servers back in the mid-90s wasn’t simple.

But, at the same time, it was an option that was empowering. A larger number of schools from small liberal arts colleges to big universities provided their students and faculty with personal web space. This was on par with the cutting edge services of the time like GeoCities—which also emerged in 1995. What GeoCities did well (and universities did not) was to use frontier and other spatial metaphors to link the folks exploring and writing on the web with “homesteaders” and pioneers that were building the virutal cities and neighborhoods of tomorrow. They featured their work and designed the entire site to promote community. To my knowledge, I don’t know of any universities that tried this out with their personal web spaces. Does anyone out there have any examples of something like this?

Here is a my personal favorite webpage on GeoCities from 1996.

Another thing GeoCities figured out that universities didn’t was how to make creating personal web pages as easy as possible. They created a GUI interface for uploading files, managing those files, and editing HTML—not dissimilar from something like a streamlined CPanel.

As a result, by 1999 when it was sold to Yahoo! for $3.7 billion, GeoCities was the third most popular site on the internet behind AOL and Yahoo! The dot.com boom was in full effect, and GeoCities was a model of social space on the web. The rest is history, a decade later Yahoo! closed Geocities and effectively trashed a whole swath of internet history.

Thanks to the Archive Team‘s Herculean efforts, much of the GeoCities community was preserved and made available for free download a year after the shutdown. One terrabyte of data from the kilobyte age as Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied describe it as part of the cultural study/art project they’re designed around the terrabyte dump of more than a decade of web culture. Their work is truly inspiring and as Dragan recently posted:

The tumblr blog One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age Photo Oppresents one way to make it all accessible, by transforming it into an exciting soap opera of screen shots.

With the Geocities Research Institute’s latest effort, categorizing the home pages can go as easily as checking tumblr: When accessed through the Geocities proxy server, each post is connected with the local database, widgets to view and modify the displayed home page’s metadata are inserted into tumblr.

It’s pretty awesome to think that after the corporate apocalypse that leveled GeoCities to internet kipple, a motley band of artists and archivists are picking up the pieces. Sadly, but not surprisingly, universities are nowhere to be found in this work—we’re too busy running conferences and doing digital humanities :)

On that note, while going through the Geocities FAQ from 1996 I stumbled upon this gem under the “What is GeoCities all about section?”:

We aspire to be positive contributors to this new culture. We’re committed to developing innovative ways to foster the spirit of community that is so vital to the future success of the Internet and the World Wide Web.

And under the “What is GeoCities hoping to accomplish?” section I found this:

Our homesteading initiative is just the first step in building World Wide Web based communities that are destined to become a vital part of the Net. Please send us an E-Mail if you’re interested in learning more about helping build the societies of the New Frontier.

What?! This is from the GeoCities FAQ? The idealism of the web was at full rhetorical throttle. This doesn’t sound like a business FAQ, this sounds like…like magic. A vision of a web that I would like to believe universities, the guardians of culture, would have taken on the responsibility for fostering. Promoting a generative web by cultivating distributed communities of open publishing at the institutions that helped build and create the culture for the internet more generally.

But, instead we got this….


The blackbox for online publishing that was and is the learning management system (LMS). Like the pinetree deodorizers hanging from rearview mirrors, you could find one in every college and university. And as the world of Web 2.0 came around in the early 2000s the LMS became the rationale for dismissing blogs, wikis, and social media out of hand, while at the same time systematically discontinuing these personal web spaces provided on campuses without replacing them with anything else. The last relic of campus publishing spaces that tried, however pathetically at that late stage, to empower students and faculty alike were gone. So as we’re waking up from the hangover of a decade of innvoation lost at the hands of the LMS we are greeted with the corporate MOOC. As Mike Caulfield notes so brilliantly, it’s not Groundhog’s Day it’s Memento.

And where is the web in all this? Why are we surprised that we’re still pulling teeth as instructional technologists to get faculty and students to recognize the value of the open web when it comes to teaching and learning? For more than a decade the web has been systematically ghettoized as a dangerous space where people steal and victims are robbed (not entirely false, but not the whole story either). It’s during the Napster era that these educational safe spaces were introduced to “protect” our communities from the web, insulating us from what was possible at an astronomical cost. The fear and loathing surrounding the internet, copyright, and downloading that enabled universities during the late 90s to shutoff the web for anything beyond basic business operations is best summed up for me in the :38 second GI Joe PSA “Stop All the Downloading.”

And that’s basically the historical frame for the presentation as it relates to edtech. It’s not perfect, and it’s not done, but I will be presenting a few more iterations of this argument at least two or three more times over the next month. So any and all feedback is more than welcome.

I rushed through the final slides about how Domain of One’s Own tries to revisit the idea of web publishing at unviersities that breaks beyond the lip service to social media and the inevitability of the LMS and/or MOOCs. It’s time for universities to integrate the web into their culture across disciplines as a basic ingredient of literacy. But more on that anon, this post is way too long as it is, and I got to get some sleep. Here’s the slides for the presentation if you’re interested, and the video should be here at minute 34:00. That said, if you are short for time watch the presentation before mine by Jonathan Worth, as well as the one after by Kristen Swanson. They were much better than me :)

http://bavatuesdays.com/how-the-web-was-ghettoized-for-teaching-and-learning-in-higher-ed/ 663461@darcynorman.net/fever Fri, 07 Mar 2014 06:51:04 GMT
<![CDATA[University of Calgary students report facing a ‘wall of debt’]]> Jamie Zarn knows she’s got a big choice to make.

The social-work representative with the University of Calgary Students’ Union has always wanted to work in community development with non-profit agencies after graduating the spring, but she admits jobs in that area don’t pay well  — if at all.

And she’s staring down $25,000 in debt incurred during her time in post-secondary.

“I’d say it’s a really huge burden . . . you feel like you have to get a well-paying job,” Zarn said. “I have to choose if I follow my passion and continue my choices or do I suck it up and go and work in child and family services, which is totally against my values.”

She’s not alone. About 150 students took part in a “wall of debt” event put on by the SU on campus Tuesday. Each was asked to write what they owe on a placard and then add it to the wall.

In all, those participating reported nearly $3.9 million in outstanding costs to cover, or about $25,000 per head.

Student leaders said they plan to use the information to help advocate to government for better support in the form of scholarships, bursaries and grants.

Nursing student Lucy Sun admitted she owes nearly $31,500.

When asked how she would pay it back, Sun replied, “Slowly, I suppose. Slowly and consistently.”

http://metronews.ca/news/calgary/961699/university-of-calgary-students-report-facing-a-wall-of-debt/ 662832@darcynorman.net/fever Wed, 05 Mar 2014 08:34:03 GMT
<![CDATA[Flipping isn’t a thing apart]]> http://jaredstein.org/2014/03/flipping-isnt-a-thing-apart/ 662579@darcynorman.net/fever Tue, 04 Mar 2014 16:15:10 GMT <![CDATA[why I care about edtech]]> I’ve been in the edtech game for a long time. I started as a programmer in 1994, then moved into instructional design, and now am working with an amazing group of folks to integrate learning technologies into the practices of instructors and students.

But. Why?

I just came from a workshop that made it clear that many in the edtech field see innovation as something like “working out creative licensing deals with vendors and/or publishers.”

No. It isn’t.

Edtech is important because it can be transformative.


It can literally change the nature of the learning experience. It can shift people from consume mode, into collaborate and publish mode. It can knock down walls. Evaporate silos. Connect people across campus, across campuses, and across the globe.

None of that has anything to do with the lame excuses for “innovation” being described in the field of educational technology. Where brokering a 50% reduction in the cost of textbooks is an acceptable goal. If the textbook publishing model is broken – and it is demonstrably broken by any conceivable metric – the only acceptable goal is to either opt out of that model, or to toss a grenade into it.

This is akin to negotiating with a buggy salesman to get the best deal, when what we really need is a bicycle. Or a pair of shoes. Or a hovercraft. Or a factory.

Edtech is important not because of the tech, but because of the educational activities enabled by it. Which means that the licensing agreements seen as “innovative” are often necessary, but not sufficient.

This stuff is important because it can change the nature of the educational activities. It can make resources and people accessible to those who would not have had access otherwise. It can amplify the voices of people who would not have been heard otherwise. It can make what you do matter outside of your own isolated context.

And higher education is uniquely positioned in such a way as to lead the development and adoption of educational technology. It is in our mandate to create new knowledge, to disseminate this knowledge, and to share what we learn with as many people as possible. That is a truly awesome responsibility, and one that some would outsource to commercial entities.

To allow that to happen, to outsource educational innovation to commercial interests (or, really, to outsource it at all), is to shirk the responsibility that we have as members of institutions of higher education. It is our job to work in the interest of the public – the people that pay our bills – to build ways to share the research that we conduct, to enhance the learning of our students, and to make learning accessible to as many people as possible.

It is not our job to reorganize our institutions around managing and enforcing DRM that is designed to prop up companies who have built entire industries around bilking our students for every penny they can siphon out of them.

Our job is to provide the best possible learning experience to our students. Full stop. That’s it.

Now, if that happens to be best done through a commercial solution, then let’s do that. Let’s sign the best damned contracts we can sign.

But, there will be times. Many times. When that means going against the interests of commercial entities. To share what we have and do so freely and willingly, despite potentially reducing the direct profits of others. And so we shall. Our mandate is not to serve companies that profit from our students (or our taxpaying supporters). Our job is to provide the best damned experience to our students. That’s the guiding principal that should shape every decision, every project, every action. Is this the best thing for our students’ experience? If so, do it. If not? Don’t. It’s that simple.

Edtech is important because it is transformative. Because it has the potential to amplify (or mitigate) innovations across the field of higher education (and beyond). It is our responsibility to take this seriously, and to do what is best for our students above all else.

http://darcynorman.net/2014/03/03/why-i-care-about-edtech/ 662382@darcynorman.net/fever Mon, 03 Mar 2014 23:46:13 GMT
<![CDATA[Emergent Knowledge and Institutional Learning]]> Discussable Object in #Philosophy12

“…if educators wish to encourage the emergence of meaning in the classroom, then the meanings that emerge in classrooms cannot and should not be pre-determined before the ‘event’ of their emergence.”

Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta

A conception of learning I have been exploring and experimenting with in the last year has been attempting to design learning which imagines knowledge as an emergent event. Building on the constructivist perspective that knowledge exists in the act of its creation, meaning can be seen to emerge as it is assigned contexts of identification, value and purpose by individuals, as well as cultures. But even while such progressive perspectives on knowledge may be embraced by school administrators and teachers across institutionalized learning, the emergentist view presents a unique challenge to the design-minded educator.

In attempting to conceive of education within an emergent epistemology, Deborah Osberg and Gert Biesta explore the question of “whether it is possible to maintain an emergentist conception of meaning in an ‘educational’ context, which in turn raises the question of what is meant by education.” Educational designers are forced to consider such questions in providing a context for learning in which meaning can be created by participants, and yet still fulfill the mandated curricular aspects of a particular course of study.

Osberg and Biesta outline the pragmatic critique of such “unguided” learning thoroughly:

The idea that meaning can be ‘created’ in the classroom has, however, been regarded with a good measure of suspicion by many educators because of its association with the much criticized ‘romantic’ or ‘anti-authoritarian’ version of progressive education in which the role of the teacher is downplayed to the extent that it does not matter precisely what is learned as long as students are leaning something. It has been argued again and again by conservatives and radicals alike that this pedagogy has no real ‘educational’ value. On the one hand, the ‘untutored’ approach puts people in the position of having to ‘reinvent the wheel’ before they can egt anywhere, and, on the other, it allows for anything-goes inventionalism, where people can simply ‘make things up’ rather than deal with the ‘reality’ of the world. Dewey (1984: 59) himself – one of the foremost proponents of progressive education – claimed the ‘romantic’ approach was not only uneducational but ‘real stupid.’”

In reflecting on these learning experiences, I agree with the authors’ assertion that “for an emergentist conception of meaning to contribute to discussions about education it must not reduce the concept of education to untutored learning,” and hope here to shed some light on the role of instruction in an emergent setting.

Fortunate last semester to consider the curriculum of our locally-developed Philosophy 12 course alongside these ideas, last fall’s class’ Metaphysics unit took the form of a “discussable object.” For my part, I hoped to engage the content-aspect of the course curriculum here by experimenting with what Paulo Freire called “the program content of the problem-posing method,” which he proposed should be:

“constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world, where their own generative themes are found. The content thus constantly expands and renews itself. The task of the dialogical teacher in an interdisciplinary team working on the thematic universe revealed by their investigation is to “re-present” that universe to the people from whom she or he received it – and “re-present” is not as a lecture, but as a problem.”


Before delving into the explicitly content-oriented aspect of the unit (the nature of metaphysics), the class held a handful of discussions and negotiations to reach a rough agreement of the questions raised by the topic – essentially revolving around the seminal, What is? -  and sought consensus around how those questions would be explored, shared and represented.  As the group deliberated on the themes and ideas brought about in their own study of an individually chosen metaphysician, practical aspects of the unit plan were analyzed and revised to align the assignments’ form authentically with an emergent view of content.

From my perspective, the notion of not apprehending the direction or meanings yet to emerge from the collective inquiry created a challenge in defining my role as teacher, a topic I brought as my own part in the group’s investigation and inquiry. In developing a scope and sequence for the unit’s activities and assignments, my own obligations – to the Ministry of Education, our course curriculum, as well as the individuals in the class itself – were only one part of the collected spectrum of needs expressed in these formative discussions, and were integrated into the emerging course of action as we progressed together.

As a co-investigator and mentor, rather than de-facto leader of the group, I attempted to teach and facilitate by advocating for my own expectations as part of an ongoing negotiation that included each member of the class on (somewhat) equal footing. I was upfront about the contradiction of attempting to provide student freedom within the constraints of our school system where I was/am still tasked with rating and evaluating their learning numerically for the purposes of university admission and other future prospects.

Aesthetics Discussion

Given this reality, it was nevertheless my intention to provide the necessary space for an authentic synthesis of individual subjectivities to be discovered and expressed by the group, free of interventions on my part that unfairly leveraged my power as teacher.

However, just because I had intended to create a vacuum of authority in the classroom didn’t mean that it was immediately or ‘productively’ filled by students eager to seize control over their own learning. Through the course of the class’ initial discussions and unit plans, I found myself interjecting to highlight different aspects of the processes at work (variously successful and with room improvement) as the group attempted to reach consensus:

  • pointing out people’s unconscious tendency to seek my approval before progressing with a topic or question;
  • inquiring about ways different aspects of metaphysical thought might be applied to the class’ efforts to discover its individual and collective ideas;
  • and identifying moments during which I very well could provide the next step in synthesis, but wherein it would be more instructive for the group to reach its own conclusion.

Image courtesy of EmeraldInsight.com

These interjections might be considered efforts to facilitate the generation of dialogue and empathy around tacit and explicit meanings being uncovered throughout the unit. In attempting to sense the meanings and concepts emerging through the class’ discussions, my expertise as the teacher had indeed shifted from dissemination of the course content to a facilitation of the course process.

Building on the initial success of the Discussable Object, I viewed the course’s next unit – that of Epistemology – as an opportunity to synthesize our recently concluded learning into new paths of discovery, both for myself and the class. In looking past the first level of such spiral learning, each of us had to press beyond the understandings reached through the Metaphysics unit and seek out the questions and contradictions at the heart of epistemology, namely: What do we know? And How do we know it? 

Epistemology Unit Planning

Epistemology Unit Planning

Here, the class was aided by Julie in capturing a discussion that looked back at what had come out of our previous unit, as well as ahead at what the class intended to make of its next topic. There were elements of the Metaphysics study that many deemed essential to repeat, and ways in which the group could seek out new challenges.

For teacher and students alike, one of these opportunities involved the nature of my participation in the process. Previously, I had contributed to class discussions and learning by gently nudging the group forward with questions or interventions that sought to connect or create context between different aspects of metaphysics and the group dynamic. But in initially discussing Epistemology with the class, we began to see the possibility of meaning and understanding arising more genuinely through student creation, free of teacher input.

Without question this next level of autonomous learning would not have been possible without the more involved teaching that preceded it. Again during Epistemology I was forced to (re)consider my position in the room to best support the expressed intentions for the unit during class discussions, smaller-group inquiries, and individual development, working toward a series of peer-facilitated conversations where I attempted to resign myself position of observer, only.

In these discussions, there were many different moments when I would have liked to pipe up, offer my own thoughts or connections to the class’ collected momentum. At others, when the discussion stalled, I found myself reflexively wanting to help, and question, prod, or provoke some new angle on the conversation. But in each case, having let the moment of possible intervention pass, something spontaneous and meaningful arose from one member of the class or another.

No longer were eyes and faces awaiting my permission or validation before proceeding; knowledge was being constructed between participants essentially without my guidance. But this characterization is misleading, as my ‘guidance’ had merely shifted its focus over the course of several weeks to accommodate and help bring about a more organic collective consciousness. Far from diminishing our part in the learning process, there is a niche to be explored and defined outlining the teacher’s role in an emergent classroom.

True to the epistemology from which such a pedagogy might take its inspiration, we cannot yet know where this might take us.

http://bryanjack.ca/2014/03/02/emergent-knowledge-and-institutional-learning/ 662104@darcynorman.net/fever Mon, 03 Mar 2014 02:31:47 GMT
<![CDATA[higher ed as a platform for innovation, collaboration, and read/write culture]]> Thought fodder for this morning. First, this from Jim Groom:

Oh, how far we have fallen! Just two decades later the LMS, not the web, has become where universities do most of their web-related work with students. University websites are little more than glorified admissions brochures. In a depressing twist of fate, higher ed has outsourced the most astounding innovation in communications history that was born on its campuses. Through a process that started in earnest during the late 1990s—roughly at the same time the dot.com market boom—universities moved to a market-driven corporate IT logic. Digital communications were understood as services, and the open web got lumped with email, intranets, and the LMS as a business application. Somewhere during this time the internet was confused with efficiency and the web was mistaken for an interactive fact sheet.

via BavaTuesdays – Innovation Lost

Follow that up with this from Jack Hylan:

We have moved from a Read/Write Culture to a Read/Consume and bicker culture. It is time for us to retake our creativity and expand upon our most wildest dreams. Stop consuming and start creating. That is the importance of the internet for future generations.

via Internet Stuff | A place on the internet for the internet.

I left a rambling comment on Jim’s post:

Absolutely. I got onto the internet in 1987, the semester I started a as a biology undergrad. I had to get a prof to sign a piece of paper saying that I was worthy of being granted access. I fooled him into signing it anyway. And everything – EVERYTHING – on the internet back the was on higher education servers, with a few governmental ones, and a handful of corporate. The internet, from my n00b undergrad perspective, was owned by SUNY, CUNY, Stanford, and UCalgary. (UCalgary, because that was how I got online via AIX terminals, and accessed the command-line tools to get to the others. SUNY and CUNY were the big Gopher servers back in the day, full of awesomeness).

Over the years, it got more crowded, and then the web hit and the shift to corporate holdings began.

I think we can push innovation from higher education again, by not caring about venture capital and the other nonsense that completely derailed the sense purposeful design and collaboration. It’s largely lip service now. Web 3.0 is all about collaboration! No. It isn’t. It’s about tricking users into creating accounts on your servers so you can sell the company to yahoo/Facebook/google and cash out. Real collaboration is building the tools and platforms together, not just posting our animated gifs on the same servers.

The reality check part of my brain is tingling, whispering something about nostalgia and revisionist history, but I’m ignoring that particular set of voices at the moment.

We can do this. Again. Still.


Also, I realize there is an insane amount of privilege that needs to be unpacked from my description of the early days. It was restricted to those who were worthy due to being able to be at a post-secondary institution, etc… The modern corporate internet is more readily accessible by everyone, so it’s definitely better in that sense. But I’m still not comfortable with delegation of real innovation to corporations who are mandated with leveraging us for profit. That’s diametrically opposed to the culture of the early days – and something we need to try to restore on some level.

I’ve been kind of working both sides of the fence for a few years not – pushing for real collaboration and innovation, while also trying to work from within the IT organization to infuse a sense of purpose and connection to why we’re doing this stuff in the first place. I think I’ve had varying levels of success at that, but it’s important to keep pushing.

http://darcynorman.net/2014/03/01/higher-ed-as-a-platform-for-innovation-collaboration-and-readwrite-culture/ 661845@darcynorman.net/fever Sat, 01 Mar 2014 19:29:59 GMT