Paradigm Shifting Again

RIP DeliciousI have waited a couple of days to post about the “relaunching” of Delicious … primarily because I had such a visceral reaction to it… as the image to the left illustrates.

The old Delicious was my gateway drug into Web 2.0.  Through Delicious, I began in 2007 to connect with colleagues (dare I say “friends”) worldwide who shared similar interests to mine, such as Gabriela Grosseck in Romania, Eduardo Peirano in Uruguay, and Michele M. Martin up in Pennsyvania.  Our connections have evolved over time (as has Web 2.0), so that we continue to connect through our blogs, Twitter, Slideshare and Facebook, but Delicious is where I first made the network connections.

I found Delicious personally very useful.  I could get to my web bookmarks on any computer.  I could in effect organize the web, bundling bookmarks around themes.  I could add colleagues (and students) to my network and follow what they were bookmarking.  I could use it as a vetted search engine to find resources that others worldwide had located.  Through class tags, I could share web resources with my students.  At Gabriela’s urging, I experimented with the use of Delicious in my online class, and presented my results at eLearning 2008 and in the online journal edited by Gabriela – “Instructional Uses of Social Bookmarking: Reflections and Questions.” (REVISTA de INFORMATICA SOCIALA, pages 28 – 39).

One of the more useful features of the old Delicious was the ability to set up RSS subscriptions around networks or tags.  I like to know each day what individuals whose tagging practices I value were curating off the web.  By adding people like Jeff Nugent, Jon Becker, Alexandra Pickett, and Gardner Campbell to my network and then subscribing to the My Network feed, I automatically built an amazing intelligence and environmental scanning process.  It piqued my interest to know what they found interesting.  When the term “edupunk” first surfaced, a subscription to the Delicious tag “edupunk” siphoned from the web a very interesting collection of sites.  Every morning, email is the first thing I check…but Google Reader is the second, and Delicious was an important component of my Google Reader aggregation.

Delicious was originally launched in 2003 and acquired by Yahoo! in 2005.  I joined in 2007, and by the end of 2008 according to Wikipedia, I and my public links were part of a global network of more than 5.3 million users and 180 million unique bookmarked URLs.  The site was sold to AVOS Systems on April 27, 2011 – which was exciting in that Chad Hurley and Steve Chen of YouTube fame were involved.  This week, Delicious was relaunched in a “back to beta” state.

Delicious was one of the first sites explained by Lee Lefever of Common Craft – a great explanation “in plain English” of social bookmarking.  The relaunched Delicious has invalidated much that Lee explains.  With the flip of a switch, Delicious went from a must-have tool in my digital toolbelt to just another web site.

My 5,547 links are still there.  I think ….but am not sure … that my tags are all still there.  My bundles are gone.  My networks have now become friends but what they are doing collectively has disappeared.  RSS functionality is gone, replaced with a Facebook like sharing function.

In other words, the ways in which I have been using Delicious for four years have disappeared.

Granted, you get what you pay for … and Delicious has always been free (though I would gladly pay for the old service).  The new owners warned that they were updating Delicious…I just did not expect basic functionality to disappear.  I am not the only one upset.  Just look at:

One of my favorite recent movies is “Up” … probably because I can identify with the old curmudgeon Carl Fredericksen.  Towards the end of the movie, he is pushing his way through a crowd and he says words to the effect of “Sorry, old man coming through”.  Maybe RSS is dying and friending / sharing are the new norms.  It seems paradigms are shifting once again.  The new owners are probably less interested in the old guys like me that stuck with the old product as they are in launching something hip that connects with the masses.  So be it.  But this old curmudgeon misses his old Delicious and so far has not found the energy to go back and stack what I used to have.

Pile on and let me know what you think.  Am I wrong?

{Up graphic from filmgabber}

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What Walls Need Tearing Down?


Michael Bugeja’s opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Reduce the Technology, Rescue Your Job,” struck a nerve today.  He started by noting that for “most of this decade, professors embraced the pedagogy of engagement, wooing students via technology and ignoring the costs because traditional methods, from textbooks to lectures, purportedly bored students who multitasked in the wireless classroom.”  He then noted the massive cuts occurring across higher education, and suggested that these “facts alone merit an immediate technological and curricular assessment, or else hundreds more professors and staff members could lose their jobs in the coming weeks and months. You may lose your job.”

Bugeja raised the valid point that too often technology decisions are made without factoring in true costs, but he then suggests that teaching centers (like the one at which I work) are part of the problem for pushing the use of technology for teaching and learning.  His final paragraph reads:

  • “I challenge anyone objecting to these arguments to look in the eye of secretaries, janitors, adjuncts, advisers, and professors of eliminated programs and say that avatars, clickers, social networks, and tweets—and the pedagogies, IT expenses, and teaching centers supporting them—are more important than feeding their families. To believe we can afford both indicates how incapable many of us are of making the difficult choices that the times require.”

It would be easy to dismiss this article if I did not think that his way of thinking was not reflective of many in mainstream faculty.  I have seen a number of faculty in higher education, as well as teachers in K-12, who see technology as an evil.  In many ways, they want to wall off their classes from the outside world.

That image of a wall is particularly relevant today, the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  President Reagan has always been one of my favorites, and one cannot think of him without hearing his exhortation:

“Mr. Gorbachev…tear down this wall!”

That is the line most remember, but I like his comments later in the same speech, in which he stated “this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.”

Bugeja’s comments to reduce technology in order to save jobs ignores the realities of a changing world…much as the Berlin Wall did.  Technology in and of itself is not evil, and technology integrated into education is opening minds, not closing them.  The participatory web and open access to information has created freedoms that never existed in the past.  Those freedoms directly and positively impact learning.  As Derek Bruff noted in a comment to Bugeja’s piece:

“…point out that Bugeja has focused here on the cost of instructional technology, but not on the benefits to student learning. There’s plenty of research that shows that student learning is positively affected by instructional methods that involve more active student engagement before, during, and after class. Technologies that support or facilitate such instructional methods are certainly worth exploring, if our goal is student learning. When conducting a cost-benefit analysis, it’s only appropriate to spend as much time thinking through the benefits as it is thinking through the costs.”

“…if our goal is student learning…”  Well said, Derek!  If one shifts the microscope from technology to student learning, one might find many traditional classrooms in trouble!  President Reagan made his speech in 1987, and during that same period, Chickering and Gamson developed a seminal work on teaching and learning, their Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Instruction.  They synthesized fifty years of research on teaching to develop these principles:

Good practice in undergraduate education:
1. Encourages contact between students and faculty
2. Develops reciprocity and cooperation among students.
3. Encourages active learning.
4. Gives prompt feedback.
5. Emphasizes time on task.
6. Communicates high expectations.
7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

Rather than cast technology as an evil, I would suggest that technology is a powerful tool that encourages contact between students and faculty, provides avenues for reciprocity and cooperation among students, creates new venues for active learning, enables more timely and prompt feedback, and gives new opportunities to keep students on task.  High expectations can now be communicated in multiple ways across social media that students are using, and these diverse and multiple paths respect the talents and new ways our students are learning.

We certainly need to be fiscally prudent with taxpayer and tuition-funded monies, but now is not the time to build walls and isolate our students from a 24/7 wired world.  Instead, we need to actively help our students create the learning networks that they will need to thrive in the 21st Century.

So to Mr. Bugeja and others who agree with him, I say “Tear down this wall!”

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Faculty Development in An Open World


I just finished reading Curtis J. Bonk’s new book, The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I will tell you that Wiley, the publisher, emailed me after I reviewed Dan Willingham’s book in a previous post and asked if they could send me Bonk’s book for possible review (with no strings attached).

I said yes and the next week received a copy of this book at no charge.

With that said, this book has resonated with me and I found Bonk’s approach interesting.

In many ways, Bonk is as much a fan boy of Thomas Friedman’s The World Is Flat as I am.  Just as Friedman had ten flatterners, Bonk has ten openers:

Ten Openers: (WE-ALL-LEARN)

  1. Web Searching in the World of e-Books
  2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
  3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
  4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
  5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
  6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
  7. Electronic Collaboration
  8. Alternate Reality Learning
  9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
  10. Networks of Personalized Learning

WE-ALL-LEARN provides a framework for his book and the premise that anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.  Bonk  spun out chapters on each opener, illustrating each concept with stories, a bit of research and statistics, and implications for education in the future.  Working in the field, I recognized some of the people he named, but I also learned new pioneers.  Bonk continually reinforces that these openers ought to be changing education as we know it, as our world is quite different from our parent’s world.

In Bonk’s view, these openers need to viewed through three overarching trends.  First, the pipes are getting bigger allowing access to tools and infrastructure.  Second, more and more pages of content is becoming available as free and open content. Third, a participatory learning culture is evolving around social media.

One of the things I found fascinating was my own reaction to the book.  I buy the basic theme that openness ultimately improves education, and I consider myself someone who is part of a participatory learning culture.  I was pleased that Bonk provided a companion website with hyperlinked references and other resources.  But my first inclination was to begin following Curt Bonk’s Twitter account…and I could not find one for him!  Other than his blog, I did not see Bonk participating to the same degree that he discusses in his book.  I have never met him and may be way off target, but I was somewhat surprised that I could not immediately connect with him the way I did with some of the people he mentioned in his book like Stephen Downes, Vicki Davis, Clay Shirky or Dave Weinberger.

So I was thrilled with the content and miffed a bit by the author!  Weird reaction!

I also found that increasingly with books like this one, I read it with a laptop nearby, so that I can quickly go look at something new and immediately start the learning process for myself.  I had never seen Dancing Matt before, so really enjoyed viewing his Youtube video while reading that section of the book.  This bouncing between the web and the written word is a new but interesting process…and it suggests that in many ways, this should have been an e-book as opposed to a print book.

His final opener has to do with personalized learning…something we reflect on often in faculty development.  Bonk stated that we should be striving to move from where we see personalized learning as the ideal to a culture where personalized learning is the accepted norm.  With the pipes, pages, and participatory culture, anyone can establish their own learning path on any topic, whether it be improved teaching, learning a new language, or finally programming the VCR (…just kidding).  The implications for faculty development are huge!

Bonk has fifteen predictions at the end.  I will leave it to you to check them out, but I liked that he is questioning the status quo.  With the availability of all the world’s knowledge in our pockets/cellphones, the typical four-year college process no longer makes sense to Bonk.  He suggests that formalized education will expand rather than contract.  But informal learning with global partners will play an equal role to the formalized higher education model.  Learning will be authentic from passionate teachers…but those “teachers” may no longer be credentialed.  Bonk also served up a dozen issues that will have to be solved for openness to succeed.

I work with faculty daily on best ways to incorporate the internet into their teaching practices.  In the past three years since I came to VCU, the access to learning on the web has exploded.  Bonk’s book is pushing me to reconceptualize how I should facilitate faculty development in an open world.  I recommend the book to you and would be interesting in your thoughts on the evolution/revolution of faculty development in these exciting times!

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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!

The Fourth and Last Set of Rules

In the past three posts, I have covered the first 39 “rules” from Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb.: 52 Truths For Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self (2009).  I found this book to be relevant not only for entrepreneurs in business, but for those changing the paradigm of teaching by moving online.  This post will complete my review of his rules and their application to online teaching and learning.  Here are the last thirteen:

Rule #40 – Technology is about changing how we work.

Webber makes a great point that directly ties into our work in online teaching and learning – “It’s never about the technology – it’s always about what the technology makes possible.”  Technology is a moving target.  The online environment today is totally different than just five years ago due to the increased two-way interactivity now possible.  Rather than adopting “a” technology, we should be about adopting technological concepts that allow us to bring learning alive.  The question is never WordPress versus Blogger or Moveable Type, but rather whether blogging can improve dialogue and connections in your class.  This rule also suggests that it is okay to try new approaches to teaching and learning due to new affordances technology grants rather than trying to shoe-horn our old course into an online learning environment.

Rule #41 – If you want to be a real leader, first get real about leadership.

In business, leadership is not attached to a single job title.  It is also not attached to a specific gender or race.  In classes, the same can be said.  Leadership is a way of thinking and acting, and we do our students a disservice if we do not cultivate that.  Real leaders grow new leaders, and real teachers grow the next generation of leaders as well.  How is your class organized to recognize and cultivate thinking and acting as leaders?

Rule #42 – The survival of the fittest is the business case for diversity.

Webber noted that diversity is the key to adaptation and the way to tap new ideas.  It is a way of learning new ways of thinking and operating.  Much has been written about the anonymity of students online, but I would suggest that one can also create opportunities that expose the diversity of thought.  I will never forget an early online class I taught in which college leadership was being discussed.  A white American male posted a lengthy comment about authoritative leadership, and then one male student from Guam started his post with “I am a Chamorro and that is not how we think…”  Online classes open up wonderful opportunities for cross-cultural, gender, or racial discussions in a safe environment.  Exposing our students to diversity of thought equips them for success in the flat world.

Rule #43 – Don’t confuse credentials with talent.

In business today, particularly with the speed of change that is occurring, it makes sense to hire for attitude and then train for skills.  I wonder if we are guilty of the reverse in education.  We (and our students) place great value on degrees and grades.  The number one question we tend to get in class (online or F2F) is “Will this be on the test?”  If we were in the talent business rather than the credentialing business, we faculty and our students would be focused more on learning and less on grades.  Do our classes help or hurt our students’ future job prospects when it comes to attitude?

Rule #44 – When it comes to business, it helps if you actually know something about something.

The same can be said for teaching online.  Our role as faculty has definitely changed.  We now live in a world where Scantron tests are obsolete if students can enter the question into Wolfram Alpha or Google or Wikipedia and ascertain the correct answer.  But that is not learning.  Our role has evolved from knowledge giver into a knowledge guide, which does mean that we have to know something about something…so that we can guide those who only check the first five returns in Google.  We should want to move our students beyond information to knowledge.

Rule #45 – Failure isn’t failing.  Failure is failing to try.

Webber noted that the articles in FastCompany magazine that garnered the greatest reader responses were the ones where authors talked about their failures and what they learned.  One cannot take risks without having failures, but the question becomes what one does with the lessons learned.  That is true of online teachers and it is true of online students.  Regardless of the myth of the digital natives, the truth is that the online environment is still outside the comfort zone of many students (as it is for many faculty).  Yet, this new environment offers rich opportunities to try things that could never be tried face-to-face.  I recently required my graduate class of technology-frightened students to research a Web 2.0 tool and then post a multimedia presentation on that tool in a wiki to their fellow classmates in a two-week period…with no instruction on “how” to do that.  But I also told them that anyone who successfully posted a multimedia presentation passed the assignment.  They ended up amazing themselves, posting a combination of YouTube, Jing, and Camtasia videos on 25 separate tools.  They also learned that the lesson was not the presentation but the journey in preparing and posting the presentation.  After that two-week period, I no longer had a class of students scared of technology.  Almost all of them ended up applying their new skills in the K-12 classes they taught.  What excites me most is the spirit of experimentation that has suddenly erupted in these teachers.

Rule #46 – Tough leaders wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Webber noted that the kind of leaders the world needs are those who exercise tough leadership with warm hearts.  I believe that the worst mistake an online faculty can make is to be invisible.  It is okay to have a tough course but your students should “see” you as someone who is passionate about the subject matter and caring about their success in the class.  The social presence of the faculty impacts learning, retention, and ultimately student success.

Rule #47 – Everyone’s at the center of their map of the world.

I am currently in Boston visiting my daughter and grandkids.  One of the lesser known tourist attractions is the Mapparium, a three-story tall stained glass globe that you walk into and stand at the center of the world.  It certainly is a unique view of geography.  Yet, unique views are common.  I was talking with my good friend Bruce Robinson last night.  Bruce is Headmaster of the British School of Boston and was my roommate at University of Nebraska as we worked on our doctorates.  Bruce is also originally from Australia, and he had a world map that (to me) was upside down and showed Australia as center of the world.  Technology has given us all the ability to construct our own personal learning environments in which we are the center of the world, with linkages to information and knowledge being generated all around us.  This concept that not only are we at the center but also we are responsible for our own learning is a great literacy that we need to pass on to our students.  Webber makes a great point in Rule #47: ”

“It’s a big world-and getting smaller all the time. It’s not so much that the world is flat.  It’s that we are all connected…you’re in the middle, and so is everyone else.”

Rule #48 – If you want to make change, start with an iconic project.

Everyone talks about “change” yet few really believe in it of do it.  The concept of change is too nebulous for most people.  So Webber suggests that the road to change is to pick a doable project that provides proof of concept and makes change believable.  So if you would like to add online courses to your education delivery mix, don’t try to do all of them immediately.  Pick one course that has impact and do a proof of concept design and delivery.  When we started the online delivery at Gwinnett Technical College in Georgia, we started with three courses and 41 students.  Within five years, we were offering 200 courses a quarter with the largest online technical college enrollment in the state.

Rule #49 – If you want to grow as a leader, you have to disarm your border guards.

It is an unwritten law of business that the higher you rise, the more inaccessible you become.  Webber points our that business today is more than numbers and rationality; that emotional intelligence plays just as important a role.  In a similar view, faculty who teach online need to be accessible and real to their online students.  It is too easy to put up barriers to access – rigid office hours, unreturned email, no use of social media like Facebook or Twitter.  Think about how accessible you are and what barriers may be blocking students from getting to you.

Rule #50 – On the way up, pay attention to your strengths; they’ll be your weaknesses on your way down.

We are all fascinated by lists of the best…but when it comes to businesses, those in the Fortune 500 today probably will not remain there.  Take a look at the Fortune 500 from fifty years ago – the top company was General Motors!  Every strength also has the potential as a vulnerability.  There are lessons from GM that can be applied to higher education.  We need to examine our strengths today with new lens of digital connectiveness, ubiquitous access to information, and open publishing.

Rule #51 – Take your work seriously. Yourself, not so much.

Great advice…whether you run a company or a class.  I start all of my online classes with an icebreaker to get to know my students…and to let them get to know me.  There are a ton of interactive websites that can be used for ice breakers online. One I have used in the past with college-aged student is “Gone To the Dogs.” You click on GAMES (along the left side menu) and fill out the Dog Breed Calculator test to find out what breed of dog you are!  Turns out I am a “Azawakh” (or Tareg Sloughi)…a large but very skinny dog from the sub-Sahara. It is “rangy, leggy, lean, rugged, and elegant”…and my wife might suggest that I am three out of the five and leave it to me to figure out which!  My students love it – and we begin that first week making connections with each other.

Rule #52 – Stay alert!  There are teachers everywhere.

Wonderful way to end the book!  Webber suggests that we should all stay open to what we are hearing and be willing to listen and learn.  I note in my syllabus that I expect to learn as much from my students as they do from me, because I set my online classes up with the expectation that we are all co-creators of knowledge who learn from each other.

Webber ends his book by noting that the old rules no longer apply and that we need new rules of thumb.  That suggests a continuing evolution.  He asks that we all share our Rule #53, and has set up a website – – to facilitate that sharing.

So – four posts covering 52 rules.  What do you think?  What would be our Rule #53 for online teaching and learning?  Leave a comment here and let me know!

A Nice Touch

We wrap up our Center for Teaching Excellence annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute tomorrow, and it has been a wonderful week of discovery for ourselves and our 18 participants.  It is always fun to immerse yourself with colleagues in explorations of teaching practices built around the web and networked learning.  From delicious to digital storytelling to RSS to Slideshare and Jing, we have heard a lot of excitement and brainstorming on practical applications.  One of my high points was being a part of a panel discussion on blogging with three of my colleagues.  Laura McLay blogged about it here.

Check out the Twitter hashtag of “#tlwt09” to gain some appreciation for the week!

As energizing as this week has been, it has been equally fun to reflect on how far I have come in the past year.  I just went back and looked at my blog posts from one year ago.  I had forgotten that just one year ago we both changed our office locations and I bought my scooter!  More importantly, I have had the opportunity to continue learning and growing with my colleagues Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl.  The three of us spent from December to May brainstorming and then publishing the White Paper on online teaching and learning.  We also totally revamped this Institute, such that the current year focused on networked learning hardly resembles the previous more tool-oriented institute.

As an example, this afternoon was focused on “Casting the Net”.  In a three hour period, we took our participants on an exploration of first podcasting, then screencasting, and finally webcasting.  Our focus was on using these techniques to communicate and connect with students and colleagues.  While each is useful for disseminating material to students, we also demonstrated how each could be equally useful as student-generated material.  As one participant noted in Twitter, she sort of liked the concept of shifting from grading 30 five-page papers to grading 30 five-minute videos!

I illustrated how Jon Becker had put together an impromptu webcast with colleagues nationwide and our students, then Twittered a link for the web meeting, which allowed others outside our walled garden of Blackboard to join the conversation.

As something tangible to take back from their week with us, at the end of the day we gave each participant an iPod Touch.  It was totally unexpected and you could feel the boost in energy and excitement (and goosebumps) from the crowd as we began to hand them out.  We feel confident that this is a group that will make good use in this investment in technology!  This institute has really been an opening commitment to building a relationship that is going to evolve and grow over the coming years!

As I said, it was a nice Touch!  🙂

{Photo Credit: Apple}

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Personal Reflections

End of the semester, and a good time for reflection.

For their final assignment, we asked our graduate class that Jon Becker and I taught on Educational Technology and School Leadership to reflect on their 15-week journey. Their reflections are captured in the Wordle above. We had twenty-five K-12 teachers who immersed themselves in the Web 2.0 stream for a semester and examined applications to their teaching and to school leadership. The reflections indicated that they thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

The Wordle points out some obvious observations – everyone focused on technology and their students. Many discussed the immediate application of web tools to their teaching in their own classrooms.

I was struck, however, by some of the personal observations that did not emerge in this Wordle. One student noted that she had just been selected as Teacher of the Year for her school, which she attributed to her engagement in our class and her excited reapplication of her learning from our class into her own school. Another student stated that she had originally wanted to move out of the classroom and into administration because she felt burned out in the classroom. Our class had so re-energized her that she now saw that she could have a greater impact on children and learning by remaining in the classroom and helping her digital kids grow. Several students used the same term in their individual reflections – “life-altering”.

While I am both proud and humbled by the impact this course had on many of our students, I suspect much of the impact was similar to the impact I saw in myself this past year. The more I network and connect, the more it impacts me on a personal level. Our students began to see this too. Many reflected that “professional development” had taken on personal aspects that they had never considered before.  It was a paradigm shift to move from professional development as something you attend to professional development as something for which you take personal responsibility.

This provides interesting context as we get ready for our week-long institute with seventeen faculty on teaching and learning with technology.  Trent Batson lamented yesterday that “life on campus goes on as normal. Faculty members are still expected to publish in traditional journals, still expected to meet their classes in rooms equipped with chalkboards and designed for lectures, and still expected by their students to tell them what they should know so they can write it on paper during a test.” Our hope in the institute is to break that cycle – help faculty see – at a personal level – the impact that the web now has on teaching and learning.  Jeff Nugent suggested one way to prepare for this week was for each of us facilitating it to return and update our own notion of our personal learning network. So here is what I came up with:

(Link to full size image)

My PLE contains traditional methods of information gathering like journals, listservs, and even morning coffee sessions. But I am also mindful of and tapped in to numerous web applications, where I hear the conversations taking place worldwide on topics of interest to me. Some of those conversations pop up in Delicious, some through my Google Reader, many from Twitter or Facebook. When I go seeking information, I tend to look in Delicious or Wikipedia, but I also still Google things, though I am increasingly looking to Twiiter as a search engine.

While I tried to collate items in neat areas of “collect, communicate, collaborate, and create/share,” the truth is that the interconnections are numerous and blurry.  Twitter is all of the above.  Our class wiki was all of the above.  Delicious many times is all of the above.

The key for me is that the web now weaves itself into all aspects of my work life at a deeply personal level.  In keeping with the interactive nature of the web, it is no longer enough to passively receive information.  Personal learning includes actively connecting and communicating with my network across multiple paths.

It seems that the “buzz” about PLEs and PLNs has died down recently, yet I found it illuminating personally to relook at my own concept of my own learning environment and network.  I suspect that it will continue to evolve.  What do you think?  What resonates with you?  What seems off base?

I would be interested in your thoughts.

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I’ll Find Out, Sir!

As I checked my Facebook account last night, a chat box popped up from a colleague from a former institution, Gwinnett Technical College, where I worked in Georgia.  We chatted for a few minutes, and she relayed a nice complement.  She had stopped by our old college to visit with friends and discussion turned to some frustrations with their moving to Angel from Blackboard.  One faculty said, “I wish Britt was still here.  He would never tell you ‘I don’t know.’  Instead, he would tell you ‘I bet so and so knows so let’s both go and learn together how to do it.’  That brought a smile to my face, as I remember doing that many times.

Forty years ago when I was a plebe at the U. S. Naval Academy, I learned quickly that naval officers never said “I don’t know.”  The correct response if you did not know the answer was “I’ll Find Out, Sir!”  And then you had better find out!  It is a little thing, and yet, from an attitude perspective, huge.  “I don’t know” is a passive response requiring no action.  “I’ll find out” is a proactive response requiring action.

As I said goodnight to Michele, I was reflecting on her comment about my not saying “I don’t know.”  That is a personal attitude, but could it not also be transferred to our students? After all, it is simply an expectation that students will take responsibility for their own learning.

We have been debating the efficacy of allowing laptops in classrooms here on campus.  At the risk of calling them old-schoolers, there is a segment here that flatly bans the use of laptops or mobile devices in their classes.  To me, that is inviting a passive student to your class.  Luckily there are faculty here who feel the opposite.

The alternative as these other faculty have found is to tap in to the natural curiosity of students and set the expectation of “I’ll Find Out!”  At a brown bag lunch last week, one faculty talked about the excitement of having students in his History class fact-check him during lectures and pull their impromptu research into the class discussion.  I totally agree, and I think the attitude applies whether you are talking face-to-face or online classes.

In my online classes at both the undergraduate and graduate level, I have tried to set the expectation of student-generated content to add to the learning process.  My current class is a good example.  I have enjoyed co-teaching Educational Technology and School Leadership this semester with Jon Becker.  Over the past twelve weeks, we and our students have collaboratively explored the integration of Web 2.0 in K-12 programs.  At the start of class, we had a group of self-described technophobes who were very worried about taking an online class.  Through the use of active learning and collaboration in a wiki, they have grown comfortable working and sharing online.  Now, they wonder why their colleagues are not doing the same.  During the past week, the online discussion was rich with commentary about the professional development of K-12 teachers.  It was interesting to see my students moving from a former expectation that it was the administrator’s job to provide professional development to one that espoused personal learning in a networked world as the key to professional development.

“I’ll Find Out!” may be the heart and soul of learning-centered teaching, but I am coming to the realization that it also is the heart and soul of faculty development as well.  Of course, it requires action on the part of each individual.  A personal learning environment or network does not materialize overnight.  It requires time and conscious thought to develop a learning network that works for you.

Trying to figure out how to facilitate that process will tug at me for the next few weeks.  In June, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I will be guiding our annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute.  Our theme this year is Teaching and Learning in a Networked World.  Our challenge will be to introduce faculty to the power of networked learning and to assist them in developing their own networks.  I have had the luxury of a full semester with my class, so this is a tall task to attempt in one week.  It will be interesting to see how we do.  Will we succeed?

I’ll find out.

{Photo Credit: Ezalis, Chrisfreeland2002}

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Telling Your Story Differently

Like any major institution, there is sometimes overlap in training opportunities being offered around campus.  We noticed this morning that I have a workshop on blogging today and Technology Services has one next week.  Interestingly, mine is about web publishing and instructional opportunities (with 4 people signed up) while the other is about the mechanics of setting up a blog, and has 12 people signed up.

Workshop In Stone

I probably read too much into this, but it suggests that people are not interested in the conversation about “why” one should or should not blog, they just want to know “how” to do it. And one reason I read too much in to it is that whether we are talking 4 or 12, few faculty in general even consider blogging as part of their professional life.

The issue may not even be blogging per se, but rather “workshops” as a verb.  Few faculty in general see a need to change how they do what they do.  While workshops remain a necessity to efficiently provide training, those who read this probably have shifted much of their professional development to the social media landscape (as I have).  But the majority of faculty do not use social media for their PLE, and if they see no need to change, they probably view workshops as something they do not need.

This was on my mind when I opened the April edition of Tom Peters Times newsletter, which arrived today in my email and contained several interesting articles on customer experience.  It linked to the following video of a Southwest Airlines flight attendant rapping his mandatory pre-flight  safety announcement.

You have to admit that this person delivered his message in a new and compelling way!

I am not suggesting that I begin singing my workshops…that would definitely drive down participation.  But I do think we in faculty development need to [re]examine our approaches in light of social media.   Taking a cue from the marketing types, networks like Twitter, Yammer, and Facebook could all be used to announce and draw in participants.  But more importantly, I need to look at the total delivery.  Would a “conversation” about blogging with faculty here be enhanced if bloggers from around the world joined the conversation by live streaming?  Why do I look at workshop format as locked in stone?  As the flight attendant noted, maybe I need to shake things up a bit!

And if the “customer experience” was enhanced, would word of mouth spread that news around campus, growing demand?

Be interested in your thoughts.

{Stone Carving from Flaming Text}

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