Thirty-One Days of May

31 Day Comment Challenge Logo2

Wow! With full disclosure (something this month raised for better or worse), I will first admit to shamelessly borrowing the stacked Comment Challenge logo from Ken Allan, as it perfectly denotes how stacked up I got this last week. During the month of May, we at the Center for Teaching Excellence do one Institute early in the month focused on Teaching and Leaning, and starting in two days, we do a second Institute focused on Teaching and Learning with Technology. That is two weeks with 18-20 different faculty in a five week period! So, I have not been real focused on this Challenge, and yet it has certainly enriched me through participation in the process. So, summarizing the last six days of the Challenge in one post:

Day 26: Exploring Other Ways to Comment

Even with the problems Twitter was experiencing this past week, I found it to be an effective tool that supplemented blog comments. Whether it was bloggers announcing their posts (an effective use of Twitter IMHO) or discussion about comments (which the Stephen Downes issue certainly created), Twitter helped jump-start me into specific discussions.

Day 27: What Do You Communicate About Your Personal Brand Through Comments

At the gym, I wear a t-shirt that simply says WYSIWYG. Those who have been around computers for awhile will recognize that as “What You See Is What You Get.” Given that I am a 58-year old, greying, overweight geek, the t-shirt certainly fits! I am not sure I have a “brand” the way CogDog does, but I try never to fake my way in a comment. What you see in my comments is me….pure and simple. If I remain authentic and true to myself, that is brand enough for me. But part of my authentic self is a healthy sense of humor, and I see nothing wrong with that either! 🙂

Day 28: What’s Your Blog Commenting Strategy?

This one is a little tough. I have worked for years helping institutions develop strategic plans, and I have always suggested that thinking strategically involves setting some stakes in the ground to guide your journey. Yet, I have done little strategic planning for my own blogging and commenting. I have, however, seen some excellent models by others in this challenge, and so have set some commenting stakes in the ground for my future journey. These include continuing to routinely blog myself (most bloggers do not last beyond 6 months…and I am 5 and 1/2 months into mine!), using RSS feed to follow the bloggers in education, science, technology and business – as each of these fields have value to share, and finally, commenting routinely to posts in these blogs and providing summary comments in my own blogs to those who comment to me. And as the pirate noted in Pirates of the Caribbean, “these be more guidelines than rules!”

Day 29: Write a Commenting Guide for Students

This one is one I want to spend some more time on after our Institute. I will be teaching a graduate course next Fall and Spring where the “students” are all K-12 teachers. So I see value in having a blog as part of the course. Yet, a commenting guide for students may suggest that students are required to comment, and I am still not sure I want to “mandate” either blogging or commenting for students. After all, I see blogging as an intensely personal endeavor, and I am not sure you will get much if and when it becomes tied to a grade (and I would be interested in others’ views about this). Ken Allan laid out some excellent points in his blog post for this day. My thoughts might be to allow commenting in my blog as an alternative to discussion board – or to alternate weeks between discussion boards and blogging. I just do not feel ready to have 25 teachers all start blogging as part of a course. I could sure use some useful comments from all of you on this!!!

Day 30: How Can You Use What You Have Learned About Commenting to Change Your Teaching?

As I noted above, this is one I need to think on for a while. What I have learned is that I have become a better commenter – more reflective and more willing to scratch below the surface level. Yet, I feel that it has taken me over 20 weeks of blogging and 31 days of commenting to reach that level, and this is not something you command students to do in 15 weeks. Having seen the power, it suggests that one can begin to build the process within a class and model a process within a class. Ken Allan talked about non-participants. I asked my Spring graduate students if any of them routinely read my blog (since I never saw comments from them). It was not a part of the course and they were not graded on reading it or not..but out of 12, only 2 had. The rest said that they thought it was cool that I was blogging but they really did not have time to waste on that. Ouch! The intrinsic values are just not evident to our fellow educators (yet)…so I want to think through ways to help my Fall and Spring students next year appreciate the value of blogging and commenting. This month has impacted me…but as Barbara Sawhill noted last week on Twitter, “impacted” also applies to teeth and is painful! I have not figured out the details yet – and would love your creative ideas!

Day 31: Your Top Five Lessons

It has been a wonderful month in which I have learned more about myself as a blogger/educator and more about the blogosphere.

The first lesson is that it is a wonderful world in which the creative minds of Kim Cofino, Michele Martin, Silvia Tolisano and Sue Waters can unleash at no cost (other than our time and efforts) a Challenge that draws educators worldwide together. This truly shows both the power of the web and the interconnectiveness of us all.

My second lesson is one of time. I jumped in to this challenge without weighing the costs of participation versus the real job commitments with the aforementioned two institutes. It caused stress early on, but once I came to terms with the balance required, I actually looked forward to seeing the array of comments that flowed into my Google Reader.

The third lesson is one of companionship. I was already following 40 bloggers before the Challenge. I am now following 52 and really like the additions. I might have found these bloggers on my own but I doubt it! So the Challenge helped me connect to more colleagues.

The fourth lesson is that I might be an island but that I am in an archipelago. We each flower in different ways, and yet we have more in common than we do in differences.

The final lesson is that the human bonds are as important as the virtual ones. Part of what made this Challenge work for me was the offline conversations I had with Jeff Nugent or Bud Deihl in our various offices or in Starbucks as we talked over what we were seeing and how we were reacting. As connected as I feel to a fairly large number of fellow bloggers and twitterers, it is still amazing to see the body language associated with the engagement we were feeling.

To all who read this blog and to all who commented to me, my deep thanks! It has been a fun month and I look for the relationships to continue long after May has faded in time.

[Photo Credit: K R Reinsch]

The Trust Factor


Events this week have had me thinking about “trust” as it applies to our craft. My last post was a bit of a knee jerk reaction to Stephen Downes knee jerk reaction, when he said “I can’t trust anything Sue Waters and Steve Dembo write – and that’s an unhappy state to be in.” What transpired over the last couple of days around the edublogosphere was some interesting commentary about trust. Sue Waters blogged about transparency and maintaining trust, and in the comments there, Darren Draper made the point that he could sign in AS Stephen Downes and leave a comment and potentially get away with it. Darren then went on to confess to what he had done in his own blog and point out how easily one can forge another’s identity.

The word “trust” is too easily tossed about. Wikipedia noted that trust is a belief in the honesty, benevolence, and competence of another party. We are increasingly dependent on our virtual connections, yet yesterday I could not email my wife at her Comcast account because two punks (my term) hacked in and hijacked Comcast’s DNS for over five hours. All week long, many have joked about how untrustworthy Twitter has become. In fact, Hugh MacLeod had several hilarious cartoons lampooning Twitter. As Wikipedia noted, one is apt to forgive trust issues in competence areas such as these much more readily than in honesty or benevolence, and I guess I took Stephen’s questioning of trust as a deeper and more personal level.

Many have pointed out the Dark Side of trust and how easily one can be duped, but it leads me to question if this is the world I wish to live in or not. One can be cynical and assume the worst of everyone, or one can model trust and be trusting. As educators, we impact the world daily. If our actions (and our syllabi) reflects distrust, we will find it returned in multiple levels.

Yesterday, Cathy Mosca posted an interesting note on Tom Peters blog about a Trust Assessment. This is a self-diagnostic test to measure one’s Trust Quotient, developed by Charles Green. I asked myself the same question Sue did and view my integrity as one of my strengths. So I was a little shocked at how “poorly” I scored on the Trust Quotient.

Trust Quotient

My score is in the normal mid-range of the2119 who have taken the instrument so far, though at the lower end of that range. I got a 4.7 out a a range that runs from 0.6 (low) to 15 (high). According to this instrument, my strength is my credibility, and I need to work on showing others that I care about them more than me. In other words, stop trying to control others and start trying to help others.

Maybe this instrument knows me and my role as a faculty developer better than I like!

But to return to my theme, much of my value system on trust comes from my work in the quality field. I was deeply influenced by Dr. W. Edwards Deming, who said that once one understands about quality, one will:

“…apply its principles in every kind of relationship with other people. He will have a basis for judgment of his own decisions and for transformation of the organizations that he belongs to. The individual, once transformed, will:

  • Set an example;
  • Be a good listener, but will not compromise;
  • Continually teach other people; and
  • Help people to pull away from their current practices and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.”


That has guided me for a quarter-century, and has guided my craft as a teacher. I start my classes with a discussion of what does quality mean in that class. If students see themselves as active deliverers of quality instead of passive students, then they typically will rise to meet the high expectations I set. In the same light, if they internalize that they are responsible for the quality of the learning and are working with me to achieve that learning, then high levels of trust can exist between the teacher and the students. I attempt to model honesty, benevolence and competence and seek the same from my students and colleagues. I may be disappointed from time to time, but those are the minorities. Most of my students and most of my colleagues rise to my expectations, and so I am a trusting individual and hope to stay that way.

[Photo Credit: Thorinside, doctor paradox]

Wis-Dumb of the Crowds

I subscribe to Stephen Downes’ email newsletter “OLDaily” because I find interesting and relevant items there that complement the other blogs I read. However, I feel he stepped way over bounds yesterday. One of his items was as follows:

Quick Quiz: What New Web Tool Can You Use and Get an ASUS? How about a little disclosure here? Are Steve Dembo and Sue Waters getting paid to promote a commercial product (I assume Alan Levine’s rah rah post is unpaid, though you’d never know from the tenor)? Was Dembo being paid when he started plugging it on his site back in early April? I don’t care if people want to make a little money, but let’s keep the advertising content in the edublogosphere clearly labeled as such, OK? Because, as it stands now, I can’t trust anything Sue Waters and Steve Dembo write – and that’s an unhappy state to be in. Alan Levine, CogDogBlog, May 27, 2008.

In fairly quick fashion, Al Levine, Steve Dembo and Sue Waters all stated in the “Comment” area of Stephen’s newsletter that none of them were being paid. Several others joined in the discussion as well, and Sue added a response in her blog.

It is worth reading the string of responses, and as Alan Levine noted, it is good to have pot stirrers shake things up from time to time. But I would suggest that there is a difference between stirring pots and making personal attacks, and attacking the trust of fellow educators is just a low blow. In a Web 2.0 world, one’s validity is about all the currency one has, so a very public attack on someone’s credibility online is extremely damning.

Trust is a slippery fellow, hard to gain and easy to lose. I have been honored to have Sue help me in my blogging – as she has helped many others, and I see the trust that other “trusted” educators have in her. When someone with the street cred of a Stephen Downes slams a fellow educator, a lot of people will take notice. I checked the Technorati stats and Stephen has an authority of 708, WAY above my 33. (I am happy to finally rank in the 6-digits instead of 7!!!) So a ton of people check out Stephen’s blog and listen to what he has to say – many more than me. Unfortunately, given the skimming practice of many on the web, a lot of people may see Stephen’s slam but not go in to the comments and see the responses from those individuals he incorrectly slammed.

The wisdom of the crowds is normally fairly good, but vocal minorities can unduly influence it. I would hope that Stephen Downes does the right thing and apologizes so the the crowd can learn from his error. We have enough people worldwide who try to build themselves up by putting others down. Darren Draper recently did a blog series on blogging etiquette. After watching this personal attack, I would agree that we in the edublog world need to step up to a code of ethics that rises above what transpired here.

[Photo Credit: Alexandralee]

The Comment Challenge Continues

Edublogs has updated WordPress, so thought I would do a quick Comment Challenge update to test it out. The “real estate” is quite different, but in taking it for a drive, not seeing any problems and like some of the new features I am spotting.

My previous Comment Challenge post summed up nine days – doing better now so this will only cover three days! Day 21 asked us to use a comment to make a recommendation. I did that in several places to highlight Kayrn Romeis and her request for “How I Got Started” stories on social media. She will be analyzing those stories for her dissertation, which should be very interesting. Our own Michele Martin gave a great response this past week, so I bet I was not the only one making this recommendation.

Day 22 asked us to reflect on the comments we received and highlight a favorite. I would have to first say that I am so new to blogging that I treasure every comment received! But if pushed to pick a favorite, the one that jumps to mind is one our favorite blogging cheerleader sent me last week. After I noted that I had broken all the Comment Challenge rules by dumping 9-days worth in to a single post, Sue Waters sent me this:

Can I break all commenting rules and say excellent post? Well I going to anyway. Any post that makes me laugh several times will I read it means that you have done an excellent job and engaged the reader. Its a special talent to be able to convey humour in a post and you’ve done it well here.

It put a smile on my face that lasted all day! Thanks, Sue!

For today – Day 23 – we are to blog about what makes a great comment. What comes to my mind is something I heard Barbara Sawhill say at Faculty Academy 2008. She was talking about how some students of hers evaluate peer writing. One comment was “It showed the writer cared and made me care.” To me, that is what makes a great comment – the passion comes through the text.

So hope everyone has a good weekend! At our Center, we continue our preparations for our week-long Summer Institute on Teaching and Learning with Technology. Since it is hands on, we limit the Institute to 18 people (16 desktops in the lab and another 2 laptops on tables in the back of the lab). This summer, we have a full Institute and 8 people on the waiting list. It appears our faculty are growing more hungry for technology skills!

For those outside the United States of America, this is our Memorial Day weekend. It is the traditional start of summer for us…but as a retired naval officer, it also is an opportunity to remember those friends who gave their lives for this country.

Being a long weekend, I plan to also spend some time doing something I really love – woodworking. Last summer, I expanded the deck on the back of our house, so this weekend, I plan to build an outdoor dining table for the deck. It will be a slat-top table so that water runs through it fine, with L-shaped legs on the four corners and mortise and tenon skirts on the sides. Should be fun! I find it refreshing to do work with wood after swimming in Web 2.0 waters all week!

The Impact of Social Media


I passed a milestone today, in that I tweeted my one-thousandth tweet in Twitter. As I thought about that fact, it reminded me that last Friday, I saw a blog post from Karyn Romeis, who said she was exploring the impact of the use of social media on the professional practice of learning professionals for her dissertation. She wanted to know educators’ stories, and in particular:

  • How did you get started with social media?
  • What was your introduction, and how did the journey unfold?
  • What difference has it made in your professional practice?

A milestone day is a good day to tell my story.

If I had to entitle the last year of my life, it would be the year of social media. In January of 2007, I was teaching online, but I was not using any of the social media tools that I now take for granted. I had just recently joined the Center for Teaching Excellence here at VCU. Part of what helped my journey unfold was the job transition. I am not sure I would have been able to adopt these tools to the degree that I had if I had remained an administrator and faculty at my former college. I would have been using the same “no time” excuses I routinely hear from faculty. So part of how I got started was simply by moving in to a new position that gave me the freedom to explore Web 2.0 as part of my job description.

Social MediaThe second factor that helped my journey get started and unfold is that I was not doing it alone. My colleagues here at the Center, Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl, cajoled me, prodded me, (or “poked”in Facebook terms), and certainly mutually supported me as I began my journey. It is easier to use “we” rather than “I” in discussing “our” journey. The first one that stuck was social bookmarking and We also were trying out some of the new Ning social networking sites such as Classroom 2.0 and College 2.0. Through these connections, we began to build a network of colleagues worldwide. We began to use RSS feeds to aggregate feeds from various blogs, Ning sites, and delicious networks…and we would frequently discuss what each of us was seeing and feeling around coffee each Monday morning. As we became increasingly connected with others virtually, we grew to cherish our physical connections here in our office, and so our weekly coffee conversations remain important to us.

For about six months, we were fine at this level but did little to add to the global conversation ourselves. However, Jeff suggested to us that we needed to model blogging ourselves if we were to effectively sell it to our colleagues, so Learning in a Flat World was born (as were techne and Exploratory Learner). Again, it was a mutually supportive effort in shifting from lurker to producer. It was good timing, as Sue Waters was launching her Edublogger blog at about the same time, and her tips and advice helped us craft our blogs and improve our delivery through this spring.

Jeff talked often about Twitter and whether that was something we should also examine. About three months ago, he sent me a short email that basically said – I dare you to start Twittering! He knows me too well! I dove in, built a network (based again on my blog companions and THEIR Twitter followers), and in three short months, have a small but respectable following of over a hundred colleagues leading to my thousandth tweet today.

Karyn importantly asks what difference all this makes to my professional practice. I have found it transformative. I was working with some faculty last week and they noted that one had to be physically present with people to form any type of relationship. I strongly disagreed and noted that I had friends in Australia, Uruguay and Romania that I have never met and may never meet – yet I consider them friends. I share laughs with Sue Waters (Australia) and know that her husband is fishing-challenged (something we share). I also admire how she effectively uses technology for adult education. Gabriela Grosseck (Romania) helped me set up my classroom use of I have seen the passion with which Wes Fryer (Oklahoma), Michele Martin (Pennsylvania), Jeff Utecht (Shanghai), or Vicki Davis (Georgia) attack global problems and have added my voice to theirs. In a sense, the impact lies in the fact that I now see myself not as a player on one campus but a player on a flat world – contributing to the scholarship of teaching and learning on a scale I would not have conceptualized several years ago.


Two years ago, I would have had a hard time conceptualizing that I would connect with and interact with hundreds on a daily basis, yet I now find delicious, blogging, Twitter, and Ning part of my life. These connections have added a richness to my professional life that makes the “before” life seem dull and single-dimensional. The challenge is to remember that the vast majority of faculty have not (yet) discovered this transformation, and so to work towards facilitating their journey.

How has your experience differed (or not) from mine? Let me (and more importantly – Karyn) know.

[Photo Credit: janusz]

Following Threads

In the Comment Challenge, Days 19 and 20, one is to comment to a commenter in one’s own blog and then go to a regularly read blog and click three links out and see where it takes you.

The first was easy – I had blogged on Sunday about Parallel Universes and Sue Waters left a comment to which I responded. As Sue has noted, blogs become conversational if one takes the time to comment.


It was Day 20 that took me in unexpectedly rich waters. As I noted in Parallel Universes, I attended the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy 2008 last week. One of the organizers – Martha Burtis – has a wonderful blog that I follow – The Fish Wrapper. She had blogged a couple of weeks ago about the difficulty in getting students to buy in to the use of technology in classes, but I had not then followed the thread in her post. I went back and did so, which took me to a blog post by “Joe”, a student aide at UMW. Joe sparked a lot of discussion from UMW profs, one of which is Serena, who I met at FA2008. So I clicked through to Serena’s blog.

In her post Madcap Scheme (beta), she discusses the overlapping conversations and debate generated by presentations at FA 2008 overlaid by Twitter posts, and in particular, a conversation between her and Steve Greenlaw on the battle professors face when trying to connect to students. Steve made the comment to her on Twitter:

“I think it’s part of the academic culture that undergraduates don’t do real world. It’s not true, but the mythology is a hurdle.”

She goes on to discuss how to change this…and one of her comments really grabbed me –

“Forget about persuading this guy to adopt new technologies in his classroom. If he’s not viewing his students as scholars, then he’s not even going to be concerned about truly connecting with them.”

This ties back in to a post Jeff Nugent made yesterday, in which he said:

The next time I have the opportunity to talk with faculty members about how the web is impacting students, I’m thinking I’ll forgo the NetGen rap and see if we can come to any agreement on some of these questions:

1) What does critical thinking – on and about the web – look like?

2) How is the unprecedented access to information on the web [re]shaping our notions of teaching and learning?

3) What is the read / write web anyway? How is it changing our perspectives of publishing, scholarship, authority and authenticity?

4) How is hyper-connectivity (always on) changing our expectations and thoughts about communication?

5) How are web-based social networks redefining the exchange of ideas, collaboration, and community building?

For me, seeking answers to these and similar questions – across generations – is where we are going come to some better understanding of how to build connections among varied expectations and experiences.

These are great questions…and the right questions we should be debating. It appears Serena would respond (as she did in her post):

“My theory is this: make student creation and inspiration inescapable.”


She then goes on to provide seven suggestions for bridging the online world, the physical world, and the academic world. She proposes some radical thoughts that are cross-disciplinary, cross-media, and potentially engaging! It draws to mind Laura Blankenship‘s post this morning that “too many people are dismissive of “the kids today” who do more than one thing at a time.” Serena’s suggestions would not only condone this behavior but welcome it.

Lots of threads….and lots to think about. Follow these threads yourself, comment to Jeff on his questions, and let me know if following these threads has helped shape your view of the hyper-connected world.

[Photo Credit: Buttersweet, Randy Son of Robert]

Sooooooo Behind in Comment Challenge!

Challenge Logo

The road to hell (or Comment Nirvana) is paved with good intentions, but the reality of a week-long faculty institute slammed me like a two-by-four. I had intended to follow Sue Waters’ advice and combine some posts, but I am now realizing that I am nine-days behind since I last “played.” I also am noticing a decline in daily readers in my own blog simply because I have not been blogging routinely like I have done for the past four months. Now that the Institute is done, I have quite a few blogs in me (started this morning with Parallel Universes), so I plan to blog seriously this next week – and hopefully regain my readers along the way!

So, breaking all 31-Day Comment Challenge conventions, here is a very streamlined nine-days worth (actually eight…but you will see why below):

1. Day 10: Comment Audit: Did Chris Brogan‘s audit – actually seem okay on this one. I am definitely in to it!

2. Day 11: Comment Policy: I have to admit that I have not had so many comments that this is an issue for me! 🙂 However, I liked how Michele Martin incorporated some language into her ABOUT page, and so updated mine to reflect similar guidance. THANKS, Michele!

3. Day 12: Making Blog Comment Friendly Technically – pretty good shape here. If I am deluding myself, feedback from those commenting (PAAHHH-LEEEZZZZ) would be appreciated! 🙂

4. Day 13: Write Post Using Comments – To Be Provided (only one I cannot do in this streamlined approach)

5. Day 14: Turn Blog Over to Readers – Have not tried this, but would love for those in this challenge to take my post from earlier today (Parallel Universes) and run with it!

Comment Award

6. Day 15: Give Comment Award: This one is easy. I work with two amazing colleagues – Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl. Jeff probably stretches me intellectually more than any person with whom I have ever worked. My award, though, would have to go to Bud Deihl. Bud is in many ways my soul mate, and we are both dog paddling in the Web 2.0 swirling stream! Bud makes a point of commenting to my blog and does so in targeted and insightful ways. I am not nearly as conscientious in commenting back to Bud’s blog – The Exploratory Learner – though I do highly recommend it. So my first commenter’s award goes to my good friend Bud Deihl, who inspires me in more ways than he knows!

7. Day 16: Go Back and Catch Up: What I am doing here!

8. Day 17: 5 in 5 – A miserable failure for all the right reasons! I do not believe in speed commenting – I like to reflect on what I have read and hopefully provide enough meat that others do the same on my blog. So I found that I could not rapidly comment to five other blogs in five minutes. That said, this challenge has opened up my ability to scan and interact with many more blogs than I was doing before May. Through Techorati feeds for CommentO8, I am developing new networks and new awarenesses that would have been difficult to develop in other ways. So I am glad I failed this portion!

9. Day 18: Analyze Comments in my own blog: Quantity is not something I have had to worry about! The most comments any one blog got was 7 – there are many with none and a sizable chunk with one to two comments. That said, since I tend to blog about things that matter to me (and I hope not just blogging for blogging’s sake), those few who do comment tend to also care and that caring comes through. It would be hard for me to predict up front that a particular post might go viral the way Will Richardson’s did this spring, but I do not have Will’s readership either. If one opens up the definition of “comment”, I have received feedback face-to-face, by email, through Twitter, and through posts others have made on their blogs. I do learn from the comments I receive…and that has value not necessarily reflected in the numbers.

Looking forward to jumping back in to the Challenge for the final 13 days! My twins were born on the 13th, so 13 has always been a lucky number for me!

Parallel Universes

If one is looking for evidence that parallel universes exist, one need only look at this past week in my life. I had the opportunity to participate in two separate faculty development activities – one on our own campus and one at the University of Mary Washington. The two activities provide an interesting continuum of faculty adoption of Web 2.0 processes into teaching and learning.

Parallel Universe

At our own institution, we ran a week-long Summer Institute with twenty faculty participants. The theme for this year’s CTE Summer Institute on Teaching and Learning was “Reflection, Alignment, and Engagement: 3 Keys to Better Learning.” A key focus for this institute was the teaching philosophy. As our website stated:

How we think about teaching and learning impacts the decisions we make about our course design, classroom teaching and how we interact with our students. How do we view our role as instructors? How do we view our students as learners? What are the conditions that are conducive to learning? Sometimes our focus is so granular and we forget to revisit these very important philosophical questions, or understand and appreciate the extent to which they influence our decision making. Furthermore, absent a cogent, unifying teaching and learning philosophy, many courses appear to students as a maze instead of a roadmap—after all, it is called a course.

The focus was on teaching and learning, not technology, and yet building off a question that arose last week in Twitter, I think that the question ought to be about the effective application and use of technology as an integrated component of teaching and learning. Whether you buy the term “Net Generation” or not, it is now a given that the internet impacts today’s classrooms. Yet in our Institute, the session regarding today’s students and today’s capabilities given technology was delegated to the final session on the fifth day before the parting lunch. Throughout the Institute, I heard different participants discuss the “problem” of technology. One noted on the first day that four participants had brought laptops to the the Institute and he thought that was rude. Another noted that he would never allow laptops in his classroom. The web was seen as an impediment to “true” learning. As one noted, learning could not occur unless he was seated at the table with his students and reading their body language. I am singling our three men but there were women present who felt just as strongly.

I do not want to imply that these are “bad” faculty – on the contrary, they are seasoned teachers who genuinely worked hard for an entire week on improving their craft of teaching, and hopefully through the process, will improve student learning. What I did observe was a strong need for and uncompromising refusal to let go of teacher control. They had no problem with student-centered learning as long as they controlled the process and outcome.

I do not know if it was fortunate or unfortunate that the timing overlapped, but in the middle of our Institute, the University of Mary Washington held it’s annual Faculty Academy. This had a different focus – a celebration of web-empowered learning by faculty both at UMW and at other institutions. As their website stated, for “the past 13 years, Faculty Academy has brought together faculty and staff from both campuses at UMW to share and celebrate the year’s efforts and accomplishments in the classroom, with teaching and learning technologies as the specific focus (or, one might say, catalyst) of the event.” The Faculty Academy is for UMW faculty but faculty from other institutions of higher learning can attend. Guest speakers come from all over the nation to present and engage participants in analysis of learning activities. I drove up to attend the first day’s activities and my colleague Jeff Nugent did the same on the second day – using Twitter and the UStream to stay connected with each other at the two events – Faculty Academy and Summer Institute.

The most striking difference between the two events was laptop use. Tables at the Faculty Academy had placards that announced “This Table Has Power” to facilitate the use of laptops, and wireless connection was provided at no charge. As presenters talked, one could hear the quiet clicking of keyboards as an underlying theme – and it seemed normal! I remember at one point when Barbara Sawhill described blogging and commenting as a dance and Twitter lit up – six of us tweeted that point simultaneously and then saw that we had and commented about that. The backchannel discussion was a natural and expected component of the learning process at Faculty Academy.

I attended some excellent sessions – which were facilitated by the use of blogs and wikis as part of the digital program. Barbara Sawhill of Oberlin College discussed her use of student blogging to teach Spanish. Mara Scanlon and Jim Groom discussed class projects that involved expanding Wikipedia articles. Chris Foss showed how he used a wiki to develop an annotated resource for students. Jim Groom did another presentation on his use of the Internet Archives for classroom resource material. Anand Rao and Antonella Dalla Torre did two presentations on student-created mash-ups.

Probably my favorite presentation of the afternoon was a panel discussion between Sarah Allen, Laura Blankenship, Jason Davidson, Steve Greenlaw, Jeff McCLurken, and Deborah Zies. These were faculty from two institutions (UMW and Bryn Mawr) who represented the continuum I have been noting and who tackled the subject of why or why not to adopt technology in teaching. One did not use and did not plan to use technology. Others were in the early adoption stages. Two were actively twittering with the audience during the presentation and represented active users of technology. I am probably reading too much in to this, but I found the fact that UMW was debating this refreshing.

paradigm shift

I continued to follow the events at UMW the next day through Jeff’s twittering as well as tweets from other participants that I follow. I found it exciting to be engaged in both parallel universes simultaneously. I also suspect that my colleagues conducting our Institute found what Jeff and I were doing more amusing than engaging – something those tech boys do that really is not relevant to what they were doing for teaching and learning. And that is the rub. I felt a distinct comfort level up at UMW for a day…but I recognize that I was immersed in a stream of like-minded individuals – a very visible case of homophily described by Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody. I continue to wrestle with aligning these parallel universes, and I wonder if that is where I should focus my energy? As Thomas Kuhn and Joel Barker have pointed out, people with one set of paradigms have an almost pathological inability to see what the other is seeing. The data being presented does not match their preconceived notions and so the data is ignored. I see very clearly a convergence between digital literacy and “the old school” literacy, but I am not apparently making the compelling case to the majority of my colleagues.

Do others feel that rub? I would love to hear from others on their experiences, thoughts and suggestions.

[Photo Credits: catbagan, askpang]

Not I But We…

Keep Out

Michele Martin posted an interesting question this morning on Day 9 of the Comment Challenge: Should We Be Commenting on Blogs. She was reflecting on this based on a post from Sameer Vasta in his Eloquation blog: Rethinking the Blog Comment Policy. Sameer had shut down comments for a year in his blog.

Sameer stated three core reasons behind his decision at that point:

  1. My blog was a personal publishing platform
  2. People had other places to respond
  3. Nobody was leaving comments

Others have noted as well that blogging is meant to be a personal journal – and if one wants to comment, she or he can do so in their own blog.

I thought we were getting away from the “Me Generation.” One of the things I have learned in the past year of swimming in the Web 2.0 stream is that 1 plus 1 equals a lot more than 2. Bud Deihl mentioned in his post that ideas are in the air, and networked conversations occur in multiple venues. If someone wants to disable comments, that is certainly their prerogative. For myself, I gain value when others comment to me and when I comment to others, because the thinking that moved me to blog in the first place is now being stretched and validated.

“I” may blog, but I firmly believe in the “we” that takes those thoughts, analyzes, adds to, and sometimes refutes in ways “I” probably could not do on my own.

[Photo Credit: MonkeyC.Net]

And On the Seventh Day

31 Day Challenge

At least God got to rest…but no rest for those of us in the Comment Challenge!


Our task for today from Michele Martin is to come up with three lessons we have seen so far in this challenge. I blogged Sunday about the number one excuse of “No Time“…but one lesson is that commitment to this challenge is a definite time commitment. I have added CoComment and RSS feed of the updates from Technorati for “comment08” in to my Google Reader. So, this morning thanks to that feed, I had 40 updates to read instead of the usual 15-20. I have already given up on trying to blog daily about this experience, but I have (so far) been able to comment daily to others in the challenge – which I am enjoying. But in hindsight – while there is NO good time for a 31-day challenge – it is certainly challenging to be conducting this in May while completing Spring Semester, finalizing my grading for my students, preparing for two week-long institutes we run for faculty (one of which starts next week), and keeping my own sanity!

That said, the second thing I have learned is the extent of and the interconnectiveness of the conversations swirling in the blogosphere. Several of us have commented in this challenge on the small tight networks versus the large interconnected networks, and this challenge has certainly expanded my world view. It has also shown that to some degree there is no harm in missing some of the comments. The global conversation swirls in blogs, Twitter, emails, and face-to-face conversations such that missing one piece does not mean missing the conversation totally. I attended Ruben Puentedura‘s presentation on Networked Conversations yesterday at University of Richmond (thanks to Terry Dolson for the invite). It was fascinating to hear Ruben discuss his use of Twitter, blogs, and Ning sites for extending classroom conversations – and recognize that I had been a part of some of those conversations already, even though I was meeting Ruben for the first time.

Gull Off Balance

The final thing I learned is to keep this in balance with other life commitments. This past week, I have felt like this seagull – off balance. Yet, I still managed to steal away for four days and visit my daughter in Boston who is expecting her first baby next month. I “will” finish grading the final papers from my grad students tonight. And I just read Jim Groom’s blog post on HIS day yesterday at the same conference I attended. I had to leave at noon for another commitment, so I was not at U of R when they locked down the campus due to a strange man seen wearing a gun holster. Virginia Tech is still fresh in many of minds, so his post helped remind me that there are larger issues in the world than blogging…and yet even his post reminded us that this interconnected conversation is a part of what can be renewing for this world.

I therefore look forward to the next 23 days of the challenge!

[Photo Credit: Fisserman]