CNIE session on campus engagement

I was fortunate to be able to present a session at CNIE 2014, to share some of the campus engagement stuff we did as part of our long LMS replacement project. I tried to stay away from the technology itself, and focus on the engagement process. Full slide deck is available online, and fuller reports describing the engagement and findings are still available online, as well as the GitHub repository of LMS RFP requirements1.

Basically, I described the process, which started as a conventional inventory of shiny things. We then realized that we had the opportunity to have a more meaningful discussion as a campus community, and the conversation shifted to more interesting topics such as how people actually teach and learn, and what they actually care about.

I billed this as a hands-on session, and was rewarded with a coveted 90 minute slot. The first activity was to have participants try working through building a “fishbone diagram”, based on the research of Jeffrey Nyeboer. It’s a useful way of organizing the description of organizational attributes – things that make up the workflow of an organization – in a way that’s more meaningful than simple word clouds.


(photo by the awesome and talented Irwin DeVries)

It’s a process we used with faculty leadership across our campus, to describe what they mean by “teaching and learning”. We provided them with a simplified template as a null hypothesis, and asked each faculty to correct/complete/adapt/recreate it as needed to describe what they care about. The beauty of this kind of diagram is that it’s pretty inclusive – it’s easy to work on with a group, and when there is disagreement about something that’s on it, or something that has been missed, it is easy to hand people markers to hack away at the diagram until they like it. Used that way, it’s an interesting way to build consensus around what things an organization cares about, which is something that often triggers conflict and defensive postures. The cool thing about the engagement model is that it has lead to some much deeper discussions about things that are much more interesting than what they need from an LMS – it’s opened the door to ongoing discussions about teaching and learning that would have been difficult, impossible, or unavailable otherwise.

Here’s the simplified fishbone we used as a starting point for each faculty on campus:

Fish Bones

Here’s one of the fishbones that was adapted by one of our faculties:2

Fish Bones  Education

And the fishbones that some of the session participants came up with, to describe various contexts:

Evernote Snapshot 20140515 162905Evernote Snapshot 20140515 162905Evernote Snapshot 20140515 162905Evernote Snapshot 20140515 162905

In the session, I also talked about how we identified the various types of people/groups that make up our community, which is surprisingly difficult at a complex organization such as a university.


The session went really well, even though it was an “LMS session” at a time when we’re finally getting some movement away from The LMS As All That There Is™ – but this engagement model would work well (and has worked well) for anything – the LMS change on our campus just provided us with the Macguffin to get the plot moving.

  1. but I would strongly recommend that you don’t use the full set – this was far too much for everyone, and with enough items, things basically cancel each other out. pick a subset of items that you really care about, and have the respondents tailor their responses to that, rather than the whole shooting match. at a high level, they’re essentially all the same thing anyway… []
  2. we provided these via copies of documents in Google Docs, so people could happily add/edit/remove stuff without worrying about access or tools []

presentation on visualizing online discourse

I gave a presentation at the University of Calgary’s Collaboration for Learning conference today, on some of the visualizations I built as part of my thesis research. I made a point of avoiding talking about the thesis itself, but presented some of the key visualizations of metadata and coding data. I also made a point of only having enough slides to last for no more than half of the allotted time, in order to ensure enough awkward silence to hopefully prompt an active discussion. Kind of worked, almost.

The presentation was intended to show what kind of information can be gleaned from examining the system-generated or -inferred metadata (title, date, author, wordcount, etc…), and contrasting that with what can be learned by “cracking open” the posts and conducting a latent semantic analysis using a coding template. The conference theme was “collaboration for learning” – so I was trying to take a slightly different angle, to see if it was possible to show what collaboration might look like by analysing online discussions.

Some of the points I made during the setup:

  • normalizing online discussion data across platforms is hard, labour-intensive, and not likely to be done by anyone who isn’t a desperate grad student trying to finish a research project before running out of time in their MSc program…
  • looking at the metadata can be surprisingly enlightening – especially when mapped in a timeline view. Why on earth don’t more online discussion analyses use timeline views rather than coarse aggregations at the week/month/semester level?
  • pretty pictures are impressive, but often don’t actually tell you anything. I’m looking at you, Wordle.

Some of the points that came up in discussion:

  • the coding-data analysis may not be necessary to learn much of what can be inferred through more automatable metadata analysis, especially when combined with sources of data (like, radically, talking to the participants…)
  • having better coding-data analysis tools may not be as awesome as it sounds, as there is the potential for having nasty feedback loops if the discussion analysis is available to participants during the discussion itself.


Herein, the presentation. In PDF and/or PPT formats. No audio was recorded…

Canadian Learning Commons conference session on DS106

blurb about the conference via @ppival:

On May 7-9, 2012 the University of Calgary hosted the 6th Canadian Learning Commons Conference. The theme of the conference was New Media, New Fluencies and Life Skills Development: Preparing Learners for the 21st Century.

I was asked to do a session, and worked up a presentation describing how the DS106 course experience can be framed as a student-centric learning commons, placing the student in the role of teacher (and vice versa). Wherein, I used the words “cool” and “awesome” entirely too often.

Probably the biggest “holy crap” moment in the presentation, if there was one, was the Inspire site built by students in the course. Students, deciding they needed better tools to share and showcase each other’s work. So they built it. Cool. Awesome.


Session proceedings, including my presentation on DS106, are now up on the UofC DSpace collection. A repository, if you will. Of learning-object-like resources.



Me, presenting the “Identity in the Open Classroom” session for the From Courses to Dis/course: Exploring the Future of Courses online conference. I picked a topic that I’ve been thinking about, but hadn’t done much with, so it gave me a chance to pour through research and writing on the subject and put together a presentation. I think it went OK, and there was great discussion.

Leslie Reid on team projects in large classes

I had the distinct pleasure of introducing Dr. Leslie Reid this morning, for her presentation “Creating Team Projects that Work in Large Classes: Redesigning a Large Science ‘Service’ Course” – part of the Teaching & Learning Centre’s 10th anniversary series of presentations. She talks about her experience in redesigning a large class (300 students with 13 weeks of lectures) into a format based on group projects (250 students with 6 weeks of lectures and 6 weeks of group work).

The video recording of the presentation is just over an hour long, and includes some questions from some of the faculty members in attendance. I recorded the session with my little Flip Ultra camera, and it did a surprisingly good job.