The Social Side of Social Bookmarking

DiigoIn EDU6323 this week, my students explored social bookmarking.  As one student noted in her weekly reflection – “Holy Moly – How Did I Not Know About This?”  Her observation matched about 90% of my class…which is interesting given that social bookmarking has been around for nearly a decade.  In my mind, this in some ways simply demonstrates that our past educational system was built on the individual, which resulted in people who do not naturally share or collaborate in digital ways.  The changing landscape of the digital world in the past decade has resulted in processes that are open, social and participatory…but that does not mean that those educated in earlier days automatically adopt these practices.  Within our class discussion forum, we had some interesting discussion around digital literacy and skill building.  Many suggested that they were rethinking fundamentals – that skills such as social bookmarking were critical skills that should be integrated in K-12 education rather than waiting until higher education.  Several stated that they were immediately discussing this practice with their students.  Others likewise were sharing the practice with their co-workers.

To help demonstrate the power of social bookmarking, we used Diigo to collaboratively collect articles associated with three myths discussed by Michelle Miller in her third chapter of Minds Online.  Michelle debunked three common myths involving digital technology – that use of technology is rewiring our brains, that kids are digital natives, and that the use of social media is destroying relationships.  Student reflections noted that many of these myths resonated with them, and that they were frankly surprised to find that there was little research substantiating these beliefs.  They collected a nice variety of articles that supported Miller’s view, and in the process illustrated how collectively we can quickly amass an excellent resource.

In thinking deeper about digital literacy, they reflected on how they and their colleagues tended to reject change.  In working with faculty over the past decade, I and others have seen this repeatedly.  However, after initially rejecting change, we have also seen faculty come back, retry something, and ultimately embrace it – whether we are talking about technology or new teaching practices.

In reflecting and discussing the social side of social bookmarking, several students saw potential opportunities for collaboration, but they also worried about collaborative approaches in a world still focused on individuals.  If a group collaboratively built something, how does one grade individual effort?  Others worried that students might violate copyright if they were allowed to freely share content.

Regarding grades, I spent part of the 1980s involved with the quality movement, known then as Total Quality Management.  One of the guiding lights of TQM was Edwards Deming, who passed away in 1993.  Deming was chiefly responsible for the rebirth of Japan following World War II, in which the quality of products (Sony, Toyota, etc) far exceeded USA products – at least until American companies started listening to Deming.

One of Deming’s beliefs was that you could pick the top 5% and bottom 5% of effort in any project, but that it was meaningless to spend time trying to quantify the middle 90%.  As such, he felt that in education, individual grades tended to be meaningless.

That was 30 years ago!  With the new affordances of digital technology – and the opportunities associated with collaborative learning, perhaps a new grading scheme is needed!  Would teachers and faculty be ready for such a radical notion?

As to remixed copyright, I shared Larry Lessig’s TED Talk.  Another radical notion?

I really enjoy our journey through digital technology, which several students describe as “eye-opening”!  Next week, we move into aggregating content.  I hope more radical notions are uncovered!

{Graphics: Marc Campman, Educause}

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!

Individual Assessment in a Collaborative World

I had the good fortune last Tuesday to participate in a podcast with Kathyrn Murphy-Judy, professor of French in the School of World Studies here at VCU.  Facilitated by Jeff Nugent and joined by Bud Deihl, we spent nearly an hour discussing the uses of social media in our classes.  As Jeff set the stage, he noted that as faculty continue to explore ways to take advantage of the learning opportunities afforded by the participatory web, they face new challenges about how to assess student learning in a context that values collaboration and shared knowledge building.  After all, we want students to collaborate and build knowledge together, but at the end of the day or course, each student must be assigned a grade.

As always, I learned a lot listening to Kathyrn and bouncing ideas off my two colleagues here in the Center for Teaching Excellence.  Have a listen – I would be interested in your thoughts and feedback!

{Photo Credit: JustABigGeek}

Timesharing Dogs

We had a fruitful faculty brown bag lunch conversation today.  The topic was Building Connections and Communities through the Web.  Ten folks present locally, and since Jeff Nugent was using UStream, another crowd actively joined via the internet.

I used these slides to guide the conversation:

My framing questions revolved around (1) “What is a community?”, (2) “Does building community enhance student learning?’, and (3) “What web tools can now be used to build connections and community?”.  I used three vignettes to illustrate my thoughts on social media and connections.  First, my many connections with Gabriela Grosseck through College 2.0, delicious, Google Reader, our blogs, Slideshare, and Facebook, all of which have informed my own teaching and learning.  Second, the viral reach of Slideshare for one of my presentations from last year.  And finally, a Twitter shoutout by Will Richardson earlier this week and the resultant comments tweeted by others.  These all illustrated connections, but I asked the participants to reflect on how one gets from connections to community (and the image below evolved out of a sketch Jeff made on the back of a notepad):

One participant said that social media to her was like visiting the SPCA.  She could not go in and choose one dog.  All dogs were lovable, all dogs needed to be adopted, and she would leave crying and unfulfilled.  When I suggested that maybe she needed to just rent a dog this week and a different dog next week, she said, that would be like timesharing dogs – an unworkable solution!

The conversation that resulted was rich and nuanced.  It flowed from professional versus personal digital identities, issues of privacy, student misunderstandings on their own digital identity, and time management regarding the tools.  Jeff made an excellent point of differentiating users of social media between broadcasters and instructional.  Broadcasters have to be present in multiple applications and visibly engaged in multiple applications.  Instructional uses suggest more nuanced approaches with clear boundaries.  Bud Deihl illustrated how “conversations” could start in one application and spill over into other applications, such as his networking with his fellow graduate students through LinkedIn.

There was some concern about how we as educators advise our younger students when we are just trying to figure out the – as Michael Wesch calls it – mediascape ourselves.  Conversations like we had today are one way – and commenting via blogs is another.  I would be interested in the thoughts of my readers on how you visualize using the Read/Write web to build connections and community, both professionally for yourself and instructionally for your students.

Of course, one benefit from today’s session was that I did pick up several new “friends” in Facebook!  🙂

ps – One unrelated and yet relevant event today.  I posted the above powerpoint in Slideshare last night so that I could embed it in our wiki and here in this blog.  Overnight, I got an email from Slideshare noting that the editorial team had selected it to be showcased on their Education page.  I also got tweeted by Gabriela saying that she had seen it there,  Another example of connections and community.

Email is For Old People

Yesterday, Jeff Nugent and I had the opportunity to present at the 2008 Virginia School Board Association annual convention.  We had around 40 people attend our session entitled “Email Is For Old People.”  Two were school administrators and the rest were all school board members from around the state.

These were our presentations slides:

The final slide had embedded this video:

As one can see from the presentation, we asked a series of questions around communication:

1.  Who had sent a hand written letter recently?

Around 20% had done so in the past week – two-thirds had in the last year.

2.  Emails?

Everyone used email.

3.  Instant messages?

About 60% did not IM – we did have a couple of power users.

4.  Text messages on cellphones?

Again, about 60% did not text, a couple of heavy text users.  (…and some misunderstanding of the differences between IM and SMS)

5.  Updates to Facebook or MySpace?

Around 80% did not have social network accounts.

We then had them all stand up and slowly revealed a slide with 18 different web application logos on it.  We asked them to remain standing if they recognized and used at least 3 – and all remained standing.  We then asked about five, and half the room sat down.  As we progressed through 7, 9, and 12, we still had two people standing.  Jeff then revealed the dates at which each of these applications went live, and noted that – given the short lifespan of these applications – the notion that K-12 students are digital natives and we are immigrants is a bit of a leap.  We are all trying to figure out the uses at the same time.  What is different is that the kids are less fearful of attempting apps – and they tend to look to them for socialization and entertainment, not learning.  Jeff suggested that it is the role of skilled teachers to lead them through this web world, just as skilled teachers have always led.

I then gave a quick tour through six families of applications – emphasizing not the tool but the practices associated with the tools (communication, connections, shared knowledge creation, etc.).  Our handout wiki has more details on each:

–  Blogs


Social Bookmarking


– Social Networks like MySpace, Facebook and Ning

Picture and Video Sharing websites

The attendees were interested in our message and acknowledged their lack of background in this area.  One went so far as to basically say – Tell me how I should vote when questions about the use of the internet come up in school board meetings! It was evident to me that K-12 student use of the internet remains an area of fear, and I am not sure we successfully demystified it for them.  They recognized that Jeff and I were advocates and they wanted more info on the downsides.  One member noted a case at his school where a student had emailed in a Columbine warning hoax which shut the school down.  I countered that kids had been doing that for generations – in my day it was notes in the bathrooms instead of electronic notes.  We tried to suggest that the tool (the web) was not the issue – the issue was the practice…as it has always been.

We closed our presentation with the above video A Vision of K-12 Student Today by B. J. Nesbitt, IT Coordinator for Pickens County, South Carolina.  His younger take of the Michael Wesch video certainly sent a powerful message to these school board members.

Now one wonders, will the seeds we planted yesterday have any impact?  Time will tell.

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What is Online Learning?

(…or “It’s All Fracking Online!!!”)

I was looking over the session schedule for the SLOAN-C Conference on Online Learning and was a bit disappointed in what I saw.  Here, as in elsewhere throughout the blogosphere and more importantly the mainstream education journals, one sees the term “online learning” continually bantered around.  Yet, it is a term with fuzzy edges – a term that continues to evolve.  While I am sure many very good presentations will occur at the SLOAN-C Conference, it appears that many will involve someone with a deck of powerpoint slides lecturing to a “class” on approaches to online learning.  How ironic is THAT?!?  Some appear to be taking the square peg of online learning and trying to jam it into their existing classroom structure with which they are comfortable.   I must admit that the K12Online Conference was much more cutting edge than anything showing up in SLOAN-C’s conference, for the very reason that K12Online is adopting and modeling the practices being discussed.

We are at an interesting juxtaposition in the evolution of online learning.  After a century of little real change in classroom teaching (college lecture halls of 2008 look little different from college lecture halls of 1908), we now have tools and capabilities to actually teach and learn in new ways.  Economic, administrative and social pressures are pushing faculty to consider transitioning some or all of their courses online.  Students are looking for the 24/7 access to learning that they experience in their social lives.  The early adopters have already made the transition, but the majority of faculty are hesitant.  Some maintain that online learning is inferior to their established classroom approach.  Yet, as Douglas Johnson noted in “Towards a Philosophy of Online Education” in David Brown’s (2003) Developing Faculty to Use Technology:

“Critics are already lamenting what is lost, particularly from interpersonal relations in the classroom, but the real test of online education will be what on balance is gained.”

To better understand what could be gained, one has to first define online learning.

Google defines it as follows:

Definitions of online learning on the Web:

  • Online learning is an option for students who wish to learn in their own environment using technology and/or the Internet.
  • (also online education, online training) Learning or training conducted via a computer network, e.g. using the internet and the World Wide Web, a local area network (LAN), or an intranet.
  • e-Learning over the Internet (as opposed to a local or wide area network).
  • Any learning experience or environment that relies upon the Internet/WWW as the primary delivery mode of communication and presentation.
  • Distance learning where the bulk of instruction is offered via computer and the Internet is called online learning.
  • Use of the Internet and the World Wide Web (WWW) to deliver interactive learning experiences to students, independent of distance, time and place.
  • Education that occurs online via computer.
  • Course work is completed entirely through electronic forums. The learning model also includes groups of small teams but also has discussion questions posted in the forum and students are required to respond. …
  • .

    If you check “online learning” in Wikipedia, it redirects you to “Electronic Learning.”  But it seems to me that this is too limiting, as are the ones above.  My colleagues have heard me on a variety of occasions say it’s all fracking online when hit with these limitations.  It is limiting to me to simply equate online learning with distance education or worse, with electronic correspondence courses.  Online learning is more than just one’s PLE/PLN.  We seem to be fighting whether to equate it to a formal class taught via the internet or to serendipitous learning while surfing the web.  To me, online learning is an interactive medium that applies equally to totally online courses and totally on campus courses.  Just as students need oxygen and food to grow and nourish, so too do they now need the internet – as do their faculty.

    My job title is “Online Learning Specialist” so I certainly have biases.  I have taught online for a dozen years, and so see this topic through my own filters.  I would hope that by stating my biases, we can start a conversation with others.  I am interested in where you think I am on target and where I need better focus.

    • I believe that online learning involves the use of the internet to promote interactive learning experiences for both students and faculty, independent of distance, time and place.
    • I believe that online learning is not about the technology, it is about how the technology is leveraged to facilitate the learning.  (Thanks to Bud Deihl for helping shape this one)
    • I believe that online learning uses all of the seven principles of good practice first espoused by Chickering and Gamson in 1987.
    • I believe that online learning is active, learning-centered, and associated with the higher order thinking skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy.
    • I believe that online learning expands the walls of the classroom to incorporate global resources available anytime and anyplace.
    • I believe that online learning is not individualistic, it is the result of participation in a community of learners.
    • I believe that online learning is metacognitive and reflective in nature.
    • I believe that online learning involves mutliple senses and learning styles.
    • I believe that online learning shatters the concept of seat time and is focused on learning outcomes.
    • I believe that online learning does not just happen.  It is the result of hard work and good teaching.

    Our students increasingly turn to the internet for answers to their questions as they arise.  They are buying mobile cellular technology that increasingly provides capabilities and capacity to integrate the web into their daily lives…and into their learning if we also adopt these processes.  It is time for our classes to reflect this changing world, and that suggests new ways of teaching.  Putting our powerpoints up in a learning management system is not online learning.  I would like to refine the discussion about what is….and how it should shape our teaching.

    Be interested in your thoughts.

    {Photo Credit : Dave Trapp, McGeorge Photolibrarynswlearnscope}

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    Web Collaboration

    This Saturday, I will be doing some guest lecturing in our Fast Track Executive MBA “mini-camp” here at VCU.  They have asked me to demonstrate “collaborative software.”  I am looking forward to this session, but the language they have used demonstrates how the world is evolving.  We really do not use “software” anymore for collaboration – it is now done on the web.

    I was struck by this in reviewing a post today from Read-Write-Web entitled “Back to School: 10 Great Web Apps for College Students“:

    1.  Evernote

    2. Google Notebook

    3.  Google Docs

    4.  Zoho

    5.  Zotero

    6.  EasyBib

    7.  Google Calendar

    8.  Remember the Milk

    9.  Rate My Professors

    10.  Meebo

    Evernote and Google Notebook are listed as note taking applications.  Google Docs and Zoho are online office suites.  Zotero and EasyBib help build bibliographies.  Google Calendar and RTM help keep students organized.  Rate My Professors helps pick the right class (debatable…but the students do use it!).  And Meebo is an instant messaging app for staying in touch.

    The list above generated quite a few comments, with some suggesting the addition of some favorites of mine, including Jott (even though it costs) and Facebook.

    Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

    In my presentation to the Executive MBA students, I plan to do some quick polling to get a sense of what they currently use, and then suggest some quick tools built around Google applications.  From Google Sites to Google Docs to Google Calendars, and of course, Google Reader, MBA students (and students in general) have a rich variety of web tools that can enhance their collaborative work and build networks for the future.

    Image via CrunchBase, source unknown

    So, building off the question Frederic Lardinois asked in his RWW posting, what am I missing?  What tools would you suggest to Executive MBA students to bring their collaboration into the Web 2.0 arena?

    Photo Credit:

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