Social Media and Education Redux

At Northeastern University, I teach a graduate course on Social Media and Education – EDU 6333.  I have been teaching it for two years, and it is fascinating to work and learn with (relatively) younger Masters students on this topic.

The course is 12 weeks in length and flows like this, shifting between tools and processes:

Course Map

Our Twitter hashtag is #EDU6333.  The course runs in Northeastern’s Blackboard .. but in this Fall’s course for the third week on Communication, we shifted and conducted our weekly discussions in a private Facebook group.  It was interesting to hear some of my students’ perspectives about this shift – viewing communication within social media versus within Blackboard:

…I would have to agree with you that in many courses the discussion boards have been a forced post/response system where students post their required responses and then move on to the next week. I always put significant thought into what I am posting in both initial posts and responses but there rarely seems to be an actual back and forth conversation between classmates. I have to say that in this courses Twitter and Facebook seems to facilitate a genuine conversation, largely because of the notifications of responses in my opinion.

…With this being my 8th class on Blackboard, I have become use to it, but it is not intuitive and I use it because I have to. Not because I want to.

…In previous courses, I found myself completing the baseline of our expectations and not going above and beyond. With the ease and simplicity of using Twitter and Facebook on my phone, I find myself accessing course information a lot more, and I find myself a lot more engaged in the course, time wise and frequency wise!

…Most of us have gotten used to almost instant satisfaction with our social media, in that we are able to search for and view whatever pops into our mind in a matter of seconds. Blackboard would be wise to incorporate tools that allow users to operate more fluidly and with ease, instead of forcing us to click and click, searching for simple information.

…I think Blackboard would do well to infuse various components of popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, into their academic-based platform. Increased accessibility by cell phone and an insta-chat feature should be at the top of their list. These additions would facilitate higher levels of communication amongst instructors and students, as well as encourage contact with class-related content.

…Blackboard compared to Facebook as a discussion platform is similar to comparing penny farthing bikes to cars in regards to transportation. Blackboard is clunky, cumbersome and crude. More often than not, I type up my responses on google docs and then copy and paste them into Blackboard. Even simple tasks such as hyperlinking are using outdated code, requiring it to take a much longer time than is truly necessary. Additionally, consider the image I posted below. It took me only a few short seconds to type the term into my open search bar, find an image, copy it, and paste it below. In Blackboard, I need to find the image, download it, and re-upload it back in order to incorporate it.

…social media can enhance interactions with instructors and peers. Discussion boards do not achieve these goals. They are in my o experience contrived don’t emulate in class discussion nor do they take advantage of existing platforms today’s students use to communicate. In most (not all) online classes I’ve taken faculty do not participate on the discussion board, virtually eliminating all informal faculty and student communication. They are used more as formal assessment like a short paper.

…I have taken over 60 online courses at the college level, and I find myself more engaged in this course than any of the others because of the frequency and conversational format of communication that Twitter and Facebook allow. I really wish other instructors gave us these opportunities to converse more freely!

Now, not all students necessarily were in favor of social media as a learning platform:

…the lack of connectedness and immediacy to Blackboard can be seen as one of its strengths because there are not the same kinds of distractions you would have with Facebook or Twitter. In this sense, CMS platforms create a separation between learning and everyday life which might be beneficial. This is especially important for adult learners who might be working full time or have a family to take care of and can’t feel connected all the time.

…I would strongly prefer to NOT have my classes be based on Facebook compared to Blackboard. I am very diligent about deadlines, so I am not one of the students who needs constant reminders. Another downside for me is that when I come on Facebook, I just want to scroll through some friends and family, watch some funny cat videos, and generally have fun with it. It is good for winding down. If all of my classes notified me each time something was posted on the Facebook page, I would get jolted back into school mentality even during a time I have set aside for not school work, which bothers me.

…I enjoy having a Twitter to communicate with classmates, the conversation flows naturally and quickly between classmates (more like a “real” conversation). On the contrary, it is also nice to have a home base where the material lives for a course such as blackboard. Facebook is a great method of communication but I can also see how it could be disruptive for completing course work (i.e getting notifications on the picture you posted 5 hours ago while trying to complete a discussion post for your course).

…The BB can be utilized as a tool for means of communication among peers and instructors but similar to any social media outlet this varies from person to person and instructor to instructor.

A side conversation this week began as students discussed meeting their K12 or undergraduate students “where they were.”  Rather than Twitter and Facebook that is being used in our course, they suggested that their students were elsewhere:

…I offered Facebook or email; both were met with a chuckle. High schoolers have moved on from Facebook. We discussed Instagram, Snap Chat and Twitter as possible option and settled on Twitter. I’m sure most them have Facebook, but just do not use it much in their daily social online interactions.

…my middle schoolers said they would prefer instagram, snapchat and imessaging as methods of communication, in that order.

…I just sent a Facebook message to my best friend’s son, who is 17. I will say it only took him 30 seconds to respond. He tells me that high school kids have moved to Instagram and Twitter because Facebook is for old people

…I’ve had similar conversations with my 7th grade students. They are all about Instagram and SnapChat now because the pictures are most appealing to them and there is still a text chat feature on both for two-way communication.

To see a possible more up-to-date use of social media in education, I was exploring a class at Virginia Commonwealth University earlier in the week being taught by Jason Coats, Bonnie Boaz and Ryan Cales.  They have a common WordPress site for their three sections of UNIV 200.  They are using Slack for discussions, Flipgrid for weekly video reflections, and blogs for individual assignments.  Cool!  Is this how classes are evolving?

Last week, Jane Hart published her latest list of Top Tools for Learning…expanded this year to the Top 200.  For the first time in 7 years, Twitter is no longer Number One (though it is still a very healthy Number Three).  Facebook is Number 6.  But Slack is Number 20, up 63 places from last year.  If I counted right, there are 78 new tools on this year’s list (of course, it is an expanded list).  And not all meet the definition of “social media” … but many do.

So I am wondering – how would I redesign my Social Media and Education course in a School of Education Masters … taking in to consideration all these new opportunities!  How would you?

I would be interested in your thoughts…

And here is the latest Top Tools list:




30-Day Challenge – Day 24 – Bricolage and Course Design

I have been enamored with the concept of bricolage for some time now. French for “tinkering”, bricolage is the building of something from what is available.  Sherry Turkle applied this to programming, suggesting less an exhaustive specification than a iterative growth process with re-evaluation loops.  Turkle writes:

“The bricoleur resembles the painter who stands back between brushstrokes, looks at the canvas, and only after this contemplation, decides what to do next.”

MacGyverIn the late 1980s, we were all introduced to this concept when each week we tuned in to the television show MacGyver.  MacGyver could solve any problem with the materials laying around him.

This idea is a nice metaphor for how the web has evolved in the past decade.  There are now many options for content creation, communication, sharing, and community building laying all over the interwebs…as some of my colleagues call it.  Over the past five years, we in the Center for Teaching Excellence have tinkered a lot as we explored digital technologies that were now available and probed how they might be useful in an educational context.

Stephen Downes shared a link from Inge de Waard yesterday which summarize a new report released from the Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme out of the UK that explored building online learning solutions that are durable – Beyond Prototypes: Enabling Innovation in Technology-Enhanced Learning.

Stephen’s synthesis of this report:

  • “TEL involves a complex system of technologies and practices…it is necessary to look beyond product development and pay close attention to the entire process of implementation.
  • Significant innovations are developed and embedded over periods of years rather than months. Sustainable change is not a simple matter of product development, testing and roll-out.
  • TEL innovation is a process of bricolage… It also requires engagement with a range of communities and practices.
  • Successful implementation of TEL innovation requires evidence that the projected educational goal has been achieved.”

This resonated with me.  We are in the process of updating our Online Course Development Initiative at VCU.  The OCDI has evolved over the years into a “…complex system of technologies and practices” that does span years rather than months:

  • An online sensitizing activity before joining a cohort to surface preconceived beliefs about online teaching and learning.
  • A week-long cohort process to build community and explore online teaching practices and processes.
  • A three-week online experience to better understand collaborative learning and co-construction of knowledge from the perspective of a student
  • A long-term relationship with a design consultant to develop and teach an online course, providing pacing for development and a safety net for exploration.
  • Teaching the course for the first time and reflecting on successes and challenges
  • Redesign of the course, taking into account the data collected during the first iteration.

Over the past four years, we have engaged 77 faculty members in the development of 74 courses.  Yet I would suggest that we are only in the early days of “sustainable change.”  Some of these courses are still under development or have not yet been redeveloped.  We have the beginnings of a community. As we move forward, we need to continue the process of bricolage…engaging with and building this community.

As part of that tinkering, we should keep Lisa Lane’s comment this week in mind:

“We think of our online classes as being on the web, but most of them aren’t on the web – they’re inside an LMS, isolated from the internet. New online instructors often sense this sterility and add images and videos. But the images are often decorative rather than instructional, and the videos are now embedded, which is great for convenience and less distraction but less suitable for exploration…

…Where are the structured web spaces, the ones where we as teachers know what’s there, but where students can explore? Databases full of primary sources are boring. Where is the equivalent of installation art, where the artist defines the space but the interpretations and experience are left to the viewer?”

Great questions!  The UK report above has some interesting observations:

“…the tools of educational technology have no magical power in themselves, only by being embedded in the practices of teachers and learners do their mediational means come into play…”

“…Technology should only ever be considered as supportive of educational practice, never as core to it…”

“…successful innovations in TEL [technology enhanced learning] are often not new inventions.  They more often involve assembly of technological elements and practices, most of which already exist, into novel configurations, applied in new settings…”

The model presented in the UK report suggests the complexity in creating a sustainable online practice:

TEL Innovation Model

The UK report suggests that it is a misconception to think of “technology” as the innovation.  The innovation is in the mindful use of the technology.  Creating that mindfulness takes time, tinkering, and…as the report suggested…”persistent intent.”

So my 30-Day Challenge question today is:

Day 24 – How might my teaching practice be informed and sustainably changed for the better by tinkering with open resources on the web?

…keeping in mind – stay focused on the learning, not the cool tools…


Graphics: Box Theory,}


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30 Day Question Challenge – Day 2 – Hyperlinked Course

Yesterday, Enoch Hale started us on a 30-Day Challenge to post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for thirty days.  I responded yesterday with a question about design and whether it was complicated or complex.

reimaginetextMy question today really dates back to a wonderful book by Tom Peters, who in 2003 published Re-Imagine!: Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age.  Tom crossed the Atlantic to find a publisher (Dorling Kindersley) that would publish the book the way he wanted.  And what Tom wanted was a print book that acted like a hyperlinked website.  Every page had sidebars with dashed lines linking to points in the text.  Every page had a variety of fonts, colors, and icons…drawing your eyes and moving you in different directions.  Tom recognized back eleven years ago that the world was morphing into a hyperlinked world.

So my question: Day 2: What would a course look like if its premise was the hyperlink rather than a linear chronology?

Michael Wesch in a delightful Youtube video “Information R/evolution (embedded below) noted that digital text is different from print text.  Hypertext has the ability to separate form from content on the Internet. Once form and content have been separated, users on the web with no previous coding experience are able to upload content (text, photos, video, etc.). Hyperlink fundamentally changes user interaction with digital media. Think about the implications of this as a premise for a course.



For me, a hyperlinked course would be a course of discovery.  It would use as a foundation a constructivist approach…but shift into connectivism as networks were built out.  It opens up new opportunities for dialogue and new challenges for assessment.  It would also shift the power structure in the course, empowering students for more self-directed learning.

And it could be a blast to teach!

Thoughts?  What are your questions for today?

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Starting BlendKit2012

This semester, Joyce Kincannon and I are both facilitating two separate faculty learning communities on blended learning.  I am also trying to wrap my brain around the whole MOOC thing.  So what better way than to sign up for a MOOC on blended learning!  Joyce is taking it too, so we will see if we can keep each other on task.  (This while co-teaching our online faculty development course, Preparing to Teach Online).

BlendKit2012 Banner

Kelvin Thompson of University of Central Florida will be directing / teaching / facilitating this course, which runs September 24 through October 29.  Kelvin has set up a Twitter hashtag – #BlendKit2012 – to help with communication and socializing.   I am looking forward to seeing just how Kelvin manages this “class”.  I also look forward to “meeting” some new people through the tweets and blog commentary.

Being an open course, anyone can access the course materials.  Kelvin provided a narrated slidedeck for the orientation and has a set of weekly readings available through the website.  He starts this week with some good questions:

  • Is it most helpful to think of blended learning as an online enhancement to a face-to-face learning environment, a face-to-face enhancement to an online learning environment, or as something else entirely?
    • I see it as something else, requiring a thoughtful design
  • In what ways can blended learning courses be considered the “best of both worlds” (i.e., face-to-face and online)? What could make blended learning the “worst of both worlds?”
    • To me, the best of both worlds means taking advantage of the affordances each provides.  The worst of both worlds (which I have done) is trying to shoehorn a textbook organization into a blended approach (Chapter one face-to-face, chapter two online, etc)
  • As you consider designing a blended learning course, what course components are you open to implementing differently than you have in the past? How will you decide which components will occur online and which will take place face-to-face? How will you manage the relationship between these two modalities?
    • Great questions.  It also leads to a caveat – will your hours face-to-face (and online) be dictated by room scheduling?  I designed a blended approach for my summer course, but that required face-to-face meetings at the beginning and end of the term, and a significant online portion in the middle.  It would not work if one took a twice a week course and made it meet once a week with an online component.
  • How often will you meet with students face-to-face? How many hours per week will students be engaged online, and how many hours per week will students meet face-to-face? Is the total amount of student time commitment consistent with the total time commitment of comparable courses taught in other modalities (e.g., face-to-face)?
    • I would think for accreditation reasons one has to be able to show comparability…

Kelvin asked us to put together two maps of courses we might further develop as blended courses, so I am using ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning.

I am looking forward to seeing the posts of my fellow MOOCers, and learning more about blended learning.  Stay tuned!  (…and whether you are in the course or not, feedback is welcome and encouraged – particularly my good friends in ADLT 641!)


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Pretty Good Looking Camel

I have not blogged in three months…partly from not having the muse to do so, and partly because I have been so darn busy. But given the interesting things I have been involved in lately, I have been meaning to do some reflection … and now is as good a time as any…and of course, I have questions that I hope you can help answer.  🙂

During the last three months, I and my colleagues in the CTE have been focused on exploring how to take our year-long 20-faculty cohort model for developing online teachers, that we have done for the past two years, and scale it to a process that can be delivered to more faculty online in a more frequent manner.  While not a committee in the strict sense, developing a product within a team can resemble the old English proverb:

“A camel is a horse developed by a committee.”

Well, this team is putting together a pretty good looking camel!  And for context, we need to go back a few years.

Two years ago with my colleagues at the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence, we published a white paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.

At that time, the strategic plan for Virginia Commonwealth University – VCU 2020 – did not even contain the word “online.” My colleagues and I understood that the academic world was increasingly being impacted by the internet, and we wished to draw a line in the sand and go on record stating that online teaching was much more than simply positioning content online. Rather, we strongly believed that online teaching required a shift in teaching practice. We have been influenced by Terry Anderson’s 2004 work The Theory and Practice of Online Learning. In fact, the word cloud here was built using the words from his Chapter 11, Teaching in an Online Learning Context.  I love how serendipitously “online learning’ and “teachers presence” lined up in this Wordle, and that equal emphasis is given to students, teaching, and content, mirroring our use of Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s Community of Inquiry model.

Much has changed in the past two years, including a new president and a new provost with a vision for positioning VCU as the nation’s top public urban research university. The new strategic plan – Quest for Distinction – includes a new emphasis in online teaching and learning. Online@VCU has been launched as a move to coordinate, support, and grow online learning initiatives at all academic levels. In the past two years, we at the CTE have facilitated two online initiatives, helping 39 faculty make that transition online. We used a very intensive process involving a full week face-to-face institute, followed by an online course experience from the student’s perspective, and then consultation and peer review as their online courses were built and taught. With the increased emphasis and resultant interest campus-wide, we are moving to the next phase of developing online courses to help more of our faculty colleagues prepare to teach online.

I am blessed to be working with a great tech team.  Jeff Nugent continues to provide both leadership and vision to our process.  Bud Deihl brings a strong sense of storytelling to our team.  And during the last three months, we hired a new online instructional designer in the person of Joyce Kincannon.

We have collectively spent some productive hours mapping out strategies on whiteboards before moving into production inside Blackboard.  What we wish to do is develop a process that will prepare faculty members to teach online, and that involves pedagogy, course design, and experiences within an online community.  Faculty members by nature come to this virtual table with content knowledge and knowledge about teaching face-to-face in their discipline, but in many cases, they find the online environment unfamiliar.  They are walking into their online room and not recognizing the layout.  Where are the chairs?  Where is the podium?  How do they circle the chairs if that is their desire?

We hope through our “Preparing to Teach Online” course to make the layout and the processes more familiar.  We hope to raise faculty awareness of processes, best practices, and tools that have worked for others without inundating them with so many choices that option paralysis occurs.  Finally, we hope to support faculty as they both gain experience working in an online environment and construct their own course.  All of us have design models that we have used in the past, but this is the first time we have collectively worked to build a single course together.

There are good models out there already, such as SLOAN-C’s certification process and the development courses run by Penn State University‘s World Campus and University of Central Florida.  We just do not believe it is cost effective to outsource the training for  all of our online teaching faculty.  Developing it in-house remains an engaging process where our assumptions are continually pushed by each other…resulting I believe in an improved product…a good looking camel … that we know will be even more improved after our first class is piloted.  We do not see this as a drop-in, drop-out model.  We still believe that the best approach involves developing learning communities that can work together through the process.

We still have a ton of work to do to fully flesh out the course, but our initial thoughts for the flow are:

  • A pre-assessment of both motivation and technology skills
  • A face-to-face orientation
  • Online modules
    • Introduction to the Online Environment
    • Development of Learning Goals and Outcomes
    • Selection / Development of Course Content
    • Online Collaboration, Interaction, and Engagement
    • Assessment of Learning and Evaluation of the Course
  • Interspersed consultations with the instructional designers
  • Peer Review of developed courses

For those of you moving in the same direction, any thoughts?  I would be particularly interested in the following

1.  Your ideas about pre-assessment instruments that have worked for you.

2. Time commitment expectations for full time faculty moving through a process like this.

3.  Cohort size.  What is too big?  What is too small?

4.  Compensation or enticements used at your institutions.

We are in the early stages, so your assistance as always would be most appreciated!


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High Concept – High Touch

One of the things I love about Twitter is how unexpectedly a nugget comes across that grabs your attention.  Such a nugget arrived this weekend from Emily Hurst attending the Medical Library Association 2010 conference.


She was forwarding a remark from Daniel Pink, keynoter at that conference.  His comment resonated with me, particularly as I and my colleagues at the Center for Teaching Excellence continue our preps for our summer institute in two weeks.  We will be working with twenty faculty for an intense week of exploration on transitioning face-to-face classes on to the web.

Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I have been working on this summer institute since February.  We have an institute every summer on some aspect of teaching with technology, but this is the first year that we are exploring teaching and learning online.  One could argue that we started down this road last year, when our theme was “networked learning“, but our focus this year is on the totally online class.

cover_thumbAs our White Paper suggested last May, our work with faculty members interested in teaching online has demonstrated to us the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. Another example of that perspective can be seen in this post yesterday from Free as in Freedom: “Here are 6 Tips To Make Your Rapid eLearning a Success.”  While Sumeet Moghe’s emphasis is workplace training, his suggestions can be applied to online course design.  However,if the focus is strictly on design, one misses an important aspect of online teaching and learning.  Rather than design for a classroom of one, which is basically a correspondence course, in higher education one should design for a community of learners – with an assumption that the faculty member will be a participant in that community.

While quality course content is a significant factor, we believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning (and our institute reflects these changes). The unprecedented changes occurring on the web are disrupting the normal practice of teaching and learning and raising questions in the minds of faculty as to whether their own practices should change.  We believe that the practice of teaching online requires a shift toward practices that facilitate learning in web-based environments. Our experience suggests that these shifts are not always transparent to those wishing to make the transition to teaching courses online.

So let me build on Sumeet’s 6 tips from a teaching practice perspective:

1.  Be Task Centered Not Content Centered

Sumeet notes that most elearning still seems to be very content focused.  He correctly (unfortunately) has seen a lot of content, content, content, followed by a quiz approaches to elearning.  So he suggests adopting an activity focused approach to elearning.  I totally agree, and would suggest that by taking a high concept, high touch approach, you will steer those activities towards relevant activities that align with your overall course objectives.  “Task” will vary discipline to discipline, but the best tasks are often those that involve the faculty member with the students.  Co-learning and co-discovery will out do busy work every day!

2.  Create Exploratory Navigation

explore2Sumeet suggests that we need to treat our learners as adults and give them the freedom to pick out the information they need.  He also suggests that providing information in a linear powerpoint rarely reflects the real world.  Sumeet is focused on the web design, but I would push this concept further.  In an age when the world’s knowledge is at our students’ fingertips, it does not enhance learning to even try and give students the content.  Rather, I would read this tip as a mandate to develop opportunities for students to explore and share learning as an integral part of the course.

For instance, in my online class, we spend several weeks exploring legal issues associated with student use of MySpace and Facebook.  Rather than giving my students a reading assignment on a legal case, I have my students explore on their own and share legal cases with each other.  This process gives them ownership of the learning…and results in a much richer flow of up-to-date information over what I might develop on my own.

3.  Mimic the Real World

Sumeet asks an important question.  How do your learners perform the task you are teaching in the real world?  No matter the discipline, the learning online will be more effective if it is relevant to the learner.  The trick is to look for those opportunities to make the learning relevant, and to get the students to reflect on the relevancy in their own world.

4.  Exploit Your Slide Masters

Sumeet in this tip discusses a technique that allows powerpoint slides to load faster.  A good technique…but not really applicable to my discussion here.  Yet, his DRY principle – Don’t Repeat Yourself – is relevant.  Using the same activity week after week gets old.  So exploit your creativity and use a range of activities to engage your students across the entire semester.

5.  Design Challenges, not Assessments

At the end of the week or course, you will be assigning grades to each individual.  So assessment is needed.  But Sumeet’s point is well taken – are we assessing what they remember – lower level Bloom’s Taxonomy skills, or what they can do with their information, which moves one up the levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy?

6.  Be Visual

visual2As Sumeet noted, learners are not going to be engaged by a course site that is loaded down with text and nothing else.  Our students are increasingly becoming used to websites that engage them – visually and physically.  Yet you do not need to be a graphic designer to add visual elements to your course.  Images – and I use a lot of Creative Commons images from Flickr – add interest to your text.  YouTube and the Internet Archive contain a wealth of videos that can be easily embedded into a course site.  Software such as SoftChalk can be used to provide interactive components to your website.

So I agree with most of Sumeet’s points – good design is important.  It is just not the only factor to quality online instruction.  The faculty need to take their design and then use it to connect with their students and facilitate learning.  While we have some neat tools and cool technologies to use in elearning, high concept and high touch remain critical to learning success.

How would you add to my thoughts?

{Photo Credits: Watwood, eflon, ~Dezz~}

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Mixed Signals about Online Teaching

As many of you know, we have spend the past few months preparing for our summer institute.  Each summer, our Center for Teaching Excellence runs an intensive week-long institute on teaching with technology.  Our theme this summer is teaching online, and in concert with our Provost, we are funding twenty faculty to work with us in June at our institute, then attend the Quality Matters online  course “Build Your Online Course“, followed up with working with us through the Fall and Spring semesters as they design and deliver an online course.

As one can see from examining our institute schedule, we are going to spend the week immersed in the pedagogy of teaching online, because as we stated in our White Paper last May, we fundamentally believe that teaching online involves not just the design of content delivery, but new practices as well.

Whether one has been teaching for years or is relatively new to teaching, it is our assumption that one should not just jump into teaching online (no more than one should just jump into teaching in the classroom).  We have, I think, thoughtfully crafted a networking and learning experience for our institute participants to facilitate their development of the skills and practices needed to teach online.  Teaching online takes an investment in time, and this nearly year-long process will assist this development.

So it was interesting to see two very different references to online teaching cross my desk today.


The first was an article in the May 9, Chronicle of Higher Education – “U. of California Considers Online Classes, or Even Degrees: Proposal for virtual courses challenges beliefs about what an elite university is—and isn’t” by Josh Keller and Marc Parry”.  The University of California is rolling out a $5 to $6 million pilot project for undergraduate online courses and degrees.  They are focusing on their 25 high-demand lower-level core gateway courses.  The university plans to spend up to a quarter million dollars on each course.  The article noted that there is faculty resistance to the concept of teaching undergraduates online, although they also quote Frank Mayadas, of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, as noting that piloting online courses is “…like doing experiments to see if the car is really better than the horse in 1925, when everyone else is out there driving cars.”

While I agree with Frank, it is good to see an institution as prestigious as UC exploring the use of online teaching for core courses.  They are taking a serious look at it as opposed to just opening up a bunch of sections and throwing adjuncts into them.

One issue I do have with the article by Keller and Parry is where it mentions the open content at MIT and Yale as if they were also online courses.  They are not – and MIT is explicit about this – they are content and not meant to replace online teaching and learning.  Too many in media and administrations conflate open content with online courses.  Just as a textbook does not replace the facilitated learning in a college course, neither does the online content replace the facilitated learning that takes place in good online classes.

Meanwhile on the same day – and I am not meaning here to be disrespectful to either Magna Publications or to David Penrose, an advertisement arrived in my email:

magna ad

“With Rapid Online Course Design, your faculty members and instructional designers can arm themselves with the tools and knowledge necessary to create quality courses with maximum value in a minimum of time. If your institution is struggling with online instructional design, this upcoming training seminar is for you”


So, for only $229 and 90 minutes, you can learn what you need to teach online!


Now…I just know in my heart that David Penrose is not suggesting this (though the marketers might be and many administrators probably do).  As the many comments in the Chronicle article attest, teaching online is work.  I think that it is fulfilling work and opens access to higher education that many might not otherwise have.  But none the less, one has to approach teaching and learning online in meaningful ways.  One cannot simply take a series of powerpoints, a few multiple choice tests, and call that an online course.


I was therefore struck that, on the one hand, we have a prestigious research university “considering” online classes – or even degrees – and on the other hand, we have an advertisement for an online webinar addressing the high demand for online education and giving institutions the blueprint they need to meet that demand – NOW!

Thoughtful educators will see issues with both approaches.  Teaching and learning online has moved in much of higher education from a pilot phase to a mainstream method of instructional delivery.  As with face-to-face learning, the quality of instruction varies.  I applaud UC for taking a serious look at the design and delivery of quality online courses – an approach we are also taking here at VCU.  It is equally important that we continue to address these mixed signals.  Faculty development needs to clearly focus on processes that improve student learning and student success rather than simply loading content onto the web.

It is one of the reasons I look forward to the next two days at University of Mary Washington. Their Faculty Academy 2010 will once again help me learn processes that indeed do just that.

{Photo Credits: foomandoonian, gagilas, ZeroOne}

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Backwards Translation

I spent most of today mapping out the first four weeks of my Fall graduate course, Instructional Strategies Using the Internet – a totally online course with students scattered over three states. As this is now an Ed Leadership course, Jon Becker and I are taking it from a strictly Web 1.0 classroom focused course into a school leadership-focused course. The intent is to explore Web 2.0 initially, but then shift towards the administrative planning necessary to implement Web 2.0 instruction in a school or district.

As I thought through the first four weeks exploring Web 2.0, I was reminded of something Jeff Nugent comments on often – the challenge of backwards translating Web 2.0 by an early adopter to a late majority population.

This is not a criticism of my upcoming students – they are typical school teachers that did not necessarily grow up with computers like their students – the NetGen generation – have. So while I am probably generalizing, it appears from meeting with them this summer while they were on campus that most of my students will fall in to the late majority category. Rogers noted that the drivers for adoption of an innovation are different for each adopter category, and I think it is safe to say that my enthusiasm for Web 2.0 will not easily translate into the class norm (at least, not without some work).

So as I mapped out the course, I broke the course down this way. I thought that we would spend a week simply exploring the Web 2.0 concept (Michael Wesch videos, O’Reilly article, Cofino First Steps), and have them dip their toes in with RSS feeds in Google Reader and accounts in Delicious. The concept of creating content online might still be foreign to some of them.

My worry with backwards translation is the potential for information overload as we move in to Web 2.0 tools. I am thinking a starting place is Jane Hart’s Top Tools For Learning list, but even that is intimidating to those uncomfortable with technology. Yet, this is a graduate course, and I neither want to water it down nor spoon feed “my” tools to them. My goal is that in week 4, the students will be using some of these tools to present (asynchronously) tutorials on a specific tool that they research to the other members of the course. I do not want to even specify “how” they present – though I do want to introduce them to CogDog’s 50 Ways To Tell a Story.

So, this suggests that we spend a week “exploring” tools, and then spend a week exploring those who have successfully used these tools instructionally. To me, this means setting up a wiki and getting the students comfortable using it in order to map out possible tools that they then would split up to research. They also (with help from lists like this and this) would begin exploring the blogs of fellow educators who ARE using the web instructionally.

This would then culminate with a week of sharing their individual research with me and each other.

See any pitfalls, issues, alternative approaches? This is still on the drawing board, so any input would be greatly appreciated!

What Do Administrators Need to Know about Web 2.0?

This fall, I will once again be teaching an online course for our School of Education on Instructional Strategies Using the Internet. The course I was given and taught last year was primarily a teaching-centered course that had little to do with the target audience, Masters students in Education Leadership. So, with the help and blessing of Jon Becker, we are redesigning the course this year to address Instructional Uses of the Internet from an administrator’s perspective…making it a much more relevant course.

The game plan Jon suggested is to introduce these graduate students (all K-12 teachers) to Web 2.0 first, and then explore tech planning, funding, legal issues, and faculty development. I am excited about this new direction for the course and look forward to its startup in a month.

Part of the course plan is to let the students research and share findings on Web 2.0 tools. However, having met last week with these students, Jon and I found that they are not very web literate, so I am nervous about just turning them loose. One thought would be to start with Jane Hart’s list, have each student develop a tutorial on a different tool and then share that with the class. But would that in and of itself help future administrators appreciate the possibilities and challenges associated with Web 2.0? I thought I would toss the idea out here in the edublogosphere and see what other thoughts you might have on ways to tackle this topic?

Got some ideas?

{Photo Credit: Steve Rhodes}