Bud Deihl and I traveled north a few miles to attend the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy 2009 in Fredericksburg, VA. It was a chance to reconnect face-to-face with some of my Twitter friends like Martha Burtis (see her reflections on this day here), George Brett and Laura Blankenship.
One of the highlights for me was the lunch debate between the Right Reverend Jim Groom and John St. Clair on “Is the CMS Dead?” In a lively back and forth, the original Edupunk Jim suggested that the course management system was only good for management, not learning, and as such, SHOULD be dead … but appeared to be more undead (I knew zombies would appear at some point in his talk). John countered that he thought the talk was about CMS – conservative mid-sized sedans – and that he thought most people wanted a sensible automobile and not some do-it-yourself hovercraft!
Both gentlemen gave great passionate arguments to their side. I talked to Jim afterward and asked why the question had to be CMS “or” open systems? In the past two semesters, I have used the Blackboard CMS for the things it does well (document and link management, rosters, grade management), but also used blogging, Jing and wikis for collaborative work with my students. In other words, Blackboard served as a portal and launching point for my students into the open web. This seemed to me to be a case of “AND” rather than “or.”
I enjoyed the lunch debate, but in reality, the whole day was fantastic!
James Boyle gave an invigorating keynote on “Cultural Agoraphobia: What Universities Need to Know About Our Bias Against Openness.” Having just come off the Board of Directors for Creative Commons, he was uniquely qualified to discuss this issue. He started with a history of the internet and how openness was a bug meant to be fixed later, but the internet grew more rapidly than anticipated and openness spawned many wonderful opportunities and profitable enterprises. It definitely caused problems and concerns, but also amazing positives in the business world, entertainment, government, and education. Yet, Boyle stated that education has yet to deal with its concerns and instead simply is biased against openness. He noted that openness meant not only the ability to copy but also the ability to improve.
I attended a great panel discussion by UMW faculty on their use of blogging in their classes. It was a chance to see a very diverse mix of blogs associated with writing classes, art classes, science classes and math classes. One of the take-aways was that blogs allowed time for students to reflect on critical issues for which there just was not time in 50-minute classes.
Cole Camplese of Penn State University gave an excellent talk on emerging trends impacting teaching and learning. I loved his observation that we view what our students do as “technology,” but that it is only technology to those of us born before technology. To the students raised in a wired world, it is simply a means of communication and connection. I was blown away by the fact he listed that 40% of students at Penn State no longer bring a TV to campus. They get their “TV” and entertainment straight off the web. He noted that our universities are still designed as if our students are going to receive our wisdom and reflect it back to us, when in reality, through their own content and knowledge creation, our students act more as amplifiers than reflectors. At Penn State, they have cast blogs as a form of digital publishing and are exploring ways for students to keep their own digital content. If blogs are viewed as personal content management systems, then digital expression is seen as a form of scholarship that must be systematically supported.
I was also impressed that a third of PSU faculty reported using YouTube instructionally.
The last session of the day was a workshop run by Laura Blankenship on “Creating a Personal Learning Network for Yourself and Your Students.” We will be discussing the same topic at our upcoming Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute in June, so I was interested in seeing how Laura presented this concept. She did a great job by first focusing on problems that needed solving, and then brainstorming from the group web applications that could be used to solve these problems. In the course of the discussion, we discussed RSS feeds, Google Reader, delicious, Jott, and a host of other tools.
One last side thought – Twitter was very active among participants, and the hashtag #umwfa09 made note-taking unnecessary. However, Twitter had scheduled maintenance today which hit right at the end of Cole’s talk, and it was momentarily frustrating to lose it mid-conference (so much so that I complained about it in Facebook!!!)
Great day – looking forward to Day Two tomorrow!