Final Day of BbWorld09

Yesterday was the final day of Blackboard World 2009.  It was an enjoyable conference.  I met some interesting colleagues who are all grappling with best ways to teach online.  It was great seeing old friends from Georgia Virtual Technical CollegeTwitter as a backchannel was going strong, and I added quite a few new contacts in Twitter.  The hashtag #bbworld09 allowed us to attend a session but keep up with several other sessions simultaneously.  Yet, as compelling as the digital links were, I think I enjoyed most the quiet retrospective back in the hotel room with my colleague Bud Deihl about what the two of us were experiencing.

Thursday was only a half day.  I started the day the way I start every day – up before the sun, coffee, and a review of emails, tweets, Google Reader, and Facebook.

Before the closing keynote, I attended two sessions.  Kathy Keairns of University of Denver discussed leveraging Web 2.0 tools for teaching, research, and fun.  I liked that she provide her wiki handout link.  She focused on four tools:

– A great screencast tool that I frequently use
– Free but limited to 5 minute videos

– Free online image editing tool
– Works in the cloud, no downloads
– Good for quick resizing, cropping, and neat effects like Polaroid view

– Cute and quick animated video program’
– Text based cartoon – no audio (other than canned music)

– Chat Box on the fly
Just add ‘‘ in front of any URL

After her session, I attended an interesting session by two gentlemen from England.  Mark Kerrigan and Mark Clements discussed using Web 2.0 as an assessment process to improve institution retention and learning.  They noted that students come to college to get a degree, but the reality they find is that they are enrolled in 24 siloed courses.  At University of Westminster, they have integrated a process where by every student is assigned a “tutor” – what we would call an academic advisor.  After every major learning event in each course, the students are automatically sent a questionnaire/ survey, with the results forwarded to their advisor.  The students are also encouraged to blog about their learning journey after each learning event.  The advisors use the survey results and the blog reflections to help the students see the relevance of their course work and the interconnections with their chosen degree.

U of Westminster is much smaller than VCU, yet I could see parallels between their effort and our Focused Inquiry program for first year students.  Their use of social media could enhance our process in which our students are together with each other and the same faculty member for both FI One and Two.  Food for thought!

The closing keynote was Lester Holt of NBC News.  He gave a very engaging presentation on the parallels between how journalism has been evolving and how education has been evolving. One comment I liked is that both good journalists and good teachers are in the business of informing and provoking deeper understanding.  He said that Brian Williams reminded them all the time that they were writing the first draft of history.

He focused on the timeshift that was occurring, where the new generation of students expect and demand both their news and their learning on demand 24/7.  NBC is partnering with Blackboard to provide its archived news material for online learning (details and costs about NBC Learn to be provided later).  Lester noted that he was not a super student, preferring hands-on to book learning.  He suggested that he might have had better grades if he had had the online opportunities today’s students have!

His keynote was upbeat and a nice way to end three days of learning at Blackboard World 2009.

{Photo Credits: Sheila Chandler, Glenn Harris}

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BbWorld09 Day Two

I thoroughly enjoyed this second day at Blackboard World 2009.

Bud Deihl and I presented this morning on weaving the social web into learning while still using the Blackboard learning management system for the things for which it was good.  We used the class that Jon Becker and I taught last spring as an example.  In that class, Delicious was used to share resources found by students.  Wikispaces was used for collaboration and sharing.  And Wimba Classroom was used to bring in both guest speakers and total strangers who connected with us through Twitter.  Blackboard allowed for effective class management of rosters, grades, and safe discussions in the discussion board.  The web allowed for connections with other professionals involved in educational technology in K-12 settings.  It was not an either-or situation but a both-and.

We had around 130-140 people attend our session, and the dialogue was excellent.  Several reinforced our notion that social skills are a necessary literacy for the 21st Century.  When one person remarked that these skills were needed for 21st Century jobs, I reminded all that we have been in the 21st Century for nine years now!  I pointed them to danah boyd’s post from yesterday that nicely summarized some of our frustrations with faculty negativity about using social connections in education.

Needless to say, Bud and I thoroughly enjoyed both our presentation and the rich discussion it generated.

During the day, I attended several other sessions.  Connie Weber of Blackboard discussed the new Bb Grade Center, which has a quite different look and feel from earlier versions of Bb Gradebook.  I liked some features (locking columns, sorting features, special views) but saw other features as problematic.  Where you used to be able to simply click on a student’s name and see all grades associated with that student, you will now have to create a special report to achieve what one mouse-click did in the past.  As with any “progress”, we will adapt and learn to live with it, but faculty traditionally do not deal well with change…and this is quite a radical change!

I was disappointed with the Birds of a Feather session for Faculty Developers.  It turned out that no one was designated to moderate this session, and so after ten minutes of quiet, we all started sharing some practices, but it was not a session in which I gained much.

I then attended a session entitled “Social Networking, Text Messaging, and Web Technologies to Support Web-Based Teaching and Learning.  From the title, I thought the key words were “teaching and learning,” but it turned out the key word was “support” – in that this was a session about Help Desks targeted at other Help Desks.  Interesting use of social media that I sent back to VCU’s support staff via Yammer…but not what I expected.

The final session of the day was our own Sheila Chandler’s discussion of how Virginia Commonwealth University manages its Blackboard environment to ensure 24/7 availability of a system that is now considered mission critical.  I can only add my thanks for our support team who do an excellent job!

The day ended with a Client Appreciation Party.  The look-alike Barack Obama and George W. Bush had to be seen to be appreciated.  As “W” told Bud, he liked his name because he did not need to come up with a nickname for him!  I did complement “W” and told him I voted for him 3 times, and he asked “Which election?!?”  Good food, good humor, good music, and me with a bum knee!  Oh, well!  The conference wraps up tomorrow.  Overall, it has been a very valuable experience.

Unicorns in a Balloon Factory

Just completed the first day at BbWorld 2009 in Washington DC.  The setting has been wonderful – the new Gaylord Resort in National HarborBud Deihl and I are attending together and it has been fun hearing his perspective on the various sessions.

There has been an active Twitter backchannel linked here, so check that out.

Seth Godin of Tribes fame gave the keynote, substituting for Sir Ken Robinson.  While I hated to miss Sir Ken, Seth gave a great talk.  In many ways, it was an expanded version of his TedTalk earlier this year.  But one take away was that education was the one industry Ben Franklin would have no problem recognizing.  He likened those of us in education to workers in a balloon factory.  It is nice work and we enjoy creating our balloons, but every now and then, a unicorn comes along and makes us nervous.  I would like to think that our work in online learning is one of those unicorns…and I kind of like the analogy!

After the keynote, I attended “Back to Basics: Five Elements of Exceptional Technology Enhanced Learning,” by Stephen Laster, CIO, Harvard Business School.  It was a good session and about 120 attended this session.  His five elements:

o Styles
* Learning Styles
* Cannot give every student every choice, but you can drive expectations on how learning will be delivered
* Also consider Teaching Styles
o Designs
* Course design is like creation of symphony
* A flow that comes naturally
* Design starts with objectives and outcomes and navigates based on learning and teaching styles
* BIg Question – How much mass customization can be support?
o Context
* Relevance
* While not perfect, students are pretty good at finding info
* My comment to him – all learning is now online  – he agreed
o Community
* New notion of teams
* Tribes
* Collective learning models
o Adaptability
* Leveraging Unplanned Opportunities
* New communication norms

Laster suggested that these elements gave a common language that geeks and non-geeks could get behind.  He did note that there was no need to mention technology – that technology should now be assumed to be transparent.  He also suggested that the overhead in education is administration, and that the internet makes higher education ripe for consolidations.

Jarl Jonas of Blackboard discussed Creative and Proven Ways to Keep Students Engaged.  It was somewhat a sells pitch for Release 9, but I did agree with his roles of instructors in an online class:

o Space Planner (Suggested students see our classes as blindfolded musical chairs)
* Consistency, flow
* eClass online model – Explain, Clarify, Look, Act, Share, Self-Evaluate
o Host
* First Impressions
* Keep Out the Welcome Mat
* Banners
* Orientations
* Icebreakers
o Pace Setter
* Manageable Segments
* Vary Discussions
* Individualize
o Connector
* Connect to Content
* Alternative Assessments
* Connect to Each Other
* Students as Teacher
* Groups
* Blogging
* Connect to Faculty
o Mirror
*Model what you are expecting of students

The corporate keynote after lunch was focused on welcoming Angel, as well as discussing strategic direction for Blackboard NG – universal access, increased ability to measure results, and increased mobile applications.  Ray Henderson discussed customer support and transparency, and Michael Chasen announced that Blackboard had just acquired TerriblyClever Design, creator of the iStanford mobile phone apps.

We attended two more sessions in the afternoon.  The one on Constructivist Approach to Distance Ed showcased some interesting use of videos but never really discussed constructivism.  The other was on faculty development and why faculty fail to come to training.  Their bottom line was that one cannot force training, so they have shifted their efforts to web tutorials and tip sheets.

We wrapped up the day at the poster receptions.  Bud and I talked to some interesting folks from Valdosta State University (smartphones in ed), West Virginia University (course design), and Texas Womens University (Quality Matters assessments).

Looking forward to tomorrow – Bud and I are on first thing in the morning discussing weaving the social web into Bb to make it more of a learning portal.  I hope we pop some balloons!

Is the CMS Dead? (…and other UMW FA 2009 Fun)

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.

Thoroughly enjoyed the talk.  Jeff Nugent has recently had us at the CTE discussing licensing our Center organizational web material with a Creative Commons license.

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!

My BFO of the Week

In getting set to start the Fall Semester teaching an online class, I have been totally revamping the previous course I taught (as you know from previous posts) and have been neck-deep in Blackboard. This week, I had a BFO – Navy lingo for a Blinding Flash of the Obvious!

My BFO – Blackboard may be a Learning Management System, but it remains teacher-centered and not learning-centered.

Now, I am not a Blackboard basher…I have enjoyed using Blackboard for six years. But it does have limitations, and one of them is that it lags the rest of the edtech world in features, particularly those associated with Web 2.0.

I was creating some discussion forums and saw that our upgrade to Bb 7.3 this past May had added a new feature – “tagging”

Well all right now!!!

Tagging is an essential component of user-generated material on the web, and is part of what makes Flickr, YouTube, SlideShare, and Delicious work so well. As described in Delicious (relating to bookmarks, but the same principle applies to pictures, videos, posts, etc.):

“A tag is simply a word you can use to describe a bookmark. Unlike folders, you make up tags when you need them and you can use as many as you like. The result is a better way to organize your bookmarks and a great way to discover interesting things on the Web.”

I thought – “Cool, now students can tag their posts and search other posts using tags!” This would be folksonomy at work in my class!


What I soon learned when I tried out a few threads is that students cannot tag anything, nor can the instructor while replying. It is only when the instructor collects multiple threads that a tag can be added. While this has some marginal usage, it remains Web 1.0 in philosophy. I put tags on my blog posts and appreciate when others do the same. Students have learned to search using tags. Blackboard apparently allows students to search by tags, but only the tags that the instructor has put in on the threads the instructor chooses. This is NOT a folksonomy, but a very teacher-centered approach.

I’ll still use Blackboard…but in many cases it will be a springboard to jump out of into the interactive world wide web…where I can turn students loose and watch the learning occur!

{Photo Credit: shoebappa – Nice picture that combines the concepts of “Blinding Flash” and “NAVY”!}