Evangelizing Teaching

As we approach the end of Spring semester in GRAD-602, our students are beginning to submit their reflections on the book they read for the course.  They had a choice of five books:


It is interesting to see these books through the reflections of upcoming PhD’s and post-docs.  They are just starting the transition from expert student to novice teacher…and the future is both exciting and uncertain.  They have been grappling with their own identity as a teacher through our course.

Our identity as teachers continues to surface in my thoughts…given the interesting times in which we live.  In the last month, as Enoch Hale and I explored his 30-Day Challenge, we surfaced some radical ideas about teaching and learning.  In many ways, we aligned with what Tony Bates noted:

“Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine.”

Here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU, we spend a lot of time discussing both the evolutionary and the revolutionary changes for teaching and learning in higher education.  Our evolutionary ideas probably might make some faculty uncomfortable…and our revolutionary ideas might cause sweat to break out.  At the end of the day, though, I come back to the foundation – what does it mean to “teach”?

Jen Ross, Christine Sinclair, Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne and Hamish Macleod – my professors in the Coursera MOOC E-Learning and Digital Cultures – explored this question in an article this month in the MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching: “Teacher Experiences and Academic Identity: The Missing Components of MOOC Pedagogy.”  They note that the literature on open courses has focused so far on students or the technology, but has been silent on the “matter of the teacher.”  They note that teacher identity is influenced by discipline, the institution and personal contexts:

“…The lecturer will both feel and project a teaching identity through negotiation of disciplinary, institutional, theoretical, professional, and personal stances. Diminishing or mischaracterizing the teacher role could result in a lack of appropriate attention to the ways in which complex negotiations of people, space, objects, and discourse constitute any educational setting, including MOOCs.”

In other words, it is complex!

Focusing on teaching has been central to what I think we have done for the past 7 years at the Center for Teaching Excellence…but I am not sure we have ever “evangelized” teaching.  I started considering that this morning when I read “The Art of Evangelism” by Guy Kawasaki.  Guy noted that years ago at Apple, his job title was “software evangelist,” and then went on to discuss his involvement with a new design company called Canva (which does look pretty cool by the way!).  What I found interesting, however, was his explanation of how to evangelize a product, which I quote in part below:

  1. Make it great. It’s very hard to evangelize crap. It’s much easier to evangelize great stuff. …Great stuff embodies five qualities:
    • Deep.
    • Intelligent.
    • Complete.
    • Empowering.
    • Elegant.
  2. Position it as a “cause.” A product or service, no matter how great, is a collection of parts or snippets of code. A “cause,” by contrast, changes lives.
  3. Love the cause. “Evangelist” isn’t a job title. It’s a way of life.
  4. Localize the pitch. Don’t describe your product using lofty, flowery terms …People don’t buy “revolutions.” They buy “aspirins” to fix the pain or “vitamins” to supplement their lives, so localize the pitch and keep it simple.
  5. Look for agnostics, ignore atheists. It is very hard to convert someone to a new religion when he worships another god. The hardest person to convert to Macintosh was someone who worshipped MS-DOS. The easiest person was someone who never used a personal computer before. If a person doesn’t “get” your product or service after fifteen minutes, cut your losses and move on.
  6. Let people test drive the cause. Evangelists believe that their potential customers are smart. Therefore, they don’t bludgeon them with ads and promotions. Instead they provide ways for people to “test drive” their products and then decide for themselves. Evangelists believe that their products are good—so good that they’re not afraid of enabling people to try before they buy.
  7. Learn to give a demo. “Evangelist who cannot give a great demo” is an oxymoron.
  8. Provide a safe, easy first step. The path to adopting a cause should have a slippery slope, so remove all the barriers.
  9. Ignore titles and pedigrees. Elitism is the enemy of evangelism. If you want to succeed as an evangelist, ignore people’s titles and pedigrees, accept people as they are, and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
  10. Never lie. Lying is morally and ethically wrong. It also takes more energy because when you lie, it’s necessary to keep track of what you said. If you always tell the truth, then there’s nothing to keep track of.
  11. Remember your friends. Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll see them again on the way down.

Guy explained the difference between an evangelist and a salesperson:

“A salesperson has his or her own best interests at heart: commission, making quota, closing the deal. An evangelist has the other person’s best interests at heart: “Try this because it will help you.””

As I reflect on our graduate students and the world of teaching into which they soon will go…I hope that part of their identity involves evangelism.  I hope that they create great teaching and learning opportunities.  I hope that they see their teaching as “a cause”…and love that cause.  I hope that they remember that they are in the business of changing lives, not delivering content.

I hope they teach “Try this because it will help you…”

Peanuts Evangelist


{Graphic – Charles Schulz}

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Exploring EDCMOOC Digital Artifacts from My Global Classmates

In this last week of the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures, I mentioned in my last post that our assignment was to create a digital artifact for this learning experience.  I chose to explore Scoop.It as a way of curating resources from this course, and posted my resulting artifact here.  Now I wanted to go explore what some of my many classmates have done.  I conceptually know that some 40,000-plus started the course, and that 7,000+ were active at the mid-point, but I have no idea how many saw the course through to this final step of submitting an artifact.  However, I have another 36 hours or so before I can begin assessing my three assigned artifacts, so this is more a journey to understand the landscape (and maybe gather baseline data).  After all, I would assess my own work as meeting the minimum standards…but I am interested to see what truly remarkable artifacts there might be out there.

What did the five instructors mean by digital artefact (Scottish spelling – we Yanks use artifact)?  On the course website, they stated that it meant something that was designed to be experienced digitally, on the web. In other words, it would have the following characteristics:

  • Contain a mixture of two or more of: text, image, sound, video, links.
  • Be easy to access and view online.
  • Be stable enough to be assessed for at least two weeks.

So in no particular order…but these I liked:

At A Box of Thistles WordPress site, a cool idea:

“…the idea that old technology gives way to new technology before we know it and at an ever more alarming rate. But somehow we assimilate it into our lives, into our world; the environment adapts and we adapt.  However, there is always some fall out, some long lasting effect be it positive or negative and it is cumulative. So I think my message is that we should embrace technology and the opportunities it can offer us to enhance our lives and our learning but we should also treat it with respect and look to how we can protect and nurture our world so that it is there for generations to come.”

Which led to her artifact on New Hive – a neat compilation of text, images, and video.  I actually like this layout better than Scoop.It!  The tagxedo is more compelling than most wordcloud layouts and fits the theme perfectly.

I next explored Steven Sutantro‘s Prezi on Being Human Based On Local Culture.  Very interesting to see the aspects of digital culture viewed through the lens of someone in Indonesia. This “young and enthusiastic” teacher suggests that “being digital human with local culture will bring harmony and balance in highlighting local action with global technology.”  This brought to mind Tom Friedman’s popular book, The World Is Flat, and his premise that local individuals can have global impact…or use global resources to have local impact.

@jonopurdy (a name I recognize from Twitter) posted a YouTube video as both a digital artifact and a future message to his kids.  Not sure what program he used, but nice mix of videos, images, animations, and audio.

I love that Sally Ann Burnett used Xtranormal to create an animation with two robots debating what it means to be human!  Side note – if the definition of being human is having five cups of coffee, then I am definitely human!

John Love created a visual journey of his #edcmooc journey through a YouTube video.  Basically a screencast…but nice flow of images and voice.

The final artifact was from Buds in January.  It was a voicethread that wove her journey through this course.  Neat use of images to convey emotions and reactions…while using the larger audio as a reflective medium.

Six out of hundreds of artifacts…but you get a sense of the creativity displayed … and the potential these artifacts bring to adult learning.

For those of you in #EDCMOOC, what were some of your favorites that I missed?

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EDCMOOC and My Digital Artifact

As we entered the fifth and last week of the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures, our assignment was to create a digital artifact for this learning experience.  I chose to explore Scoop.It as a way of curating resources from this course, and then to use Camtasia to record a short video that would add my face and voice to the Scoop.It links that I curated.  Nothing earth shattering in my comments, but what I was really about was experimenting with the mix of video, audio, and linked images in a package that could be embedded into a blog – this blog.

So, with no further adieu, here is my artifact for #EDCMOOC:

… and to link to the Scoop.It directly, go to http://www.scoop.it/t/my-edcmooc-resources.

I got this idea from one of my students, who used Scoop.It to curate resources aligned with David Weinberger’s book TO BIG TO KNOW – http://www.scoop.it/t/too-big-to-know

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EDCMOOC, Posthumanism and the Bowels of Christ


Cyborg – www.kamalkrishna.com

We are in our fourth week of the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures.  Last week, we explored what it meant to be human in a digital age.  This week, we focus on posthumanism…and its near twin, transhumanism.  Transhumanism is a movement that supports and affirms the desirability of using technology to eliminate aging and enhance human intelligence and physical capabilities.

As in past weeks, we started with a series of short videos.  Two of this week’s short videos dealt with robots attempting to be human.  Robbie told the story of a robot who became sentient and lived in space, but missed his human friends.  The course profs asked “if Robbie is capable of experiencing loneliness, happiness, faith and friendship, in what senses is he not human?”  It brought to mind the idea of a technological singularity, where improvements in digital intelligence lead to the emergence of a digital superintelligence.  Vernor Vinge first proposed the idea back in the 1980s, and it was further refined in Ray Kurzweil‘s book, The Singularity is Near.  Some welcome the coming emergence (which could happen in my lifetime), and some fear the impact on we humans.

Captured from YouTube

The second clip was about Gumdrop, a robotic vacuum cleaner that dreamed of being an actress and dancing with Gene Kelly.  I grabbed a couple of screenshots of the clip and display them to the left.  Here is a robot that one could genuinely like.  She likes Charlie Chaplin but prefers Buster Keaton.  She wants to act but will not do hallucinogenics or nudity.  Her best skill is cleaning the rug.  Yet, if you close your eyes, you hear “life” in her words.  Again, a movie clip…not reality…but are we moving to a future where machines will be intelligent…and if so, will they have a soul?  Gumdrop seems to!

True Skin was a dark clip of a future world where people will look to enhance their bodies with robotic parts.  The ultimate insurance will be downloading your memories so that if you get killed, your memories can be uploaded into a new you.  Avatar Days looked at several people who played World of Warcraft, and how they continued to visualize themselves as their avatar self when interacting with the real world.  Both of these videos beg the question – which “you” – your physical self or your virtual self – is you?

The readings were interesting but pretty deep.  Nick Bostrom (2005) ‘Transhumanist values’ gave a good background on transhumanism, which sees human nature as a work in progress.  As I read this article, I thought about one of my favorite science fiction books, Cyborg, by Martin Caidin, which was turned into the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man.  As the show opens, we hear each week that “we have the technology…we can make him better.”  Bostrom notes that the history of economic and technological development with the concomitant growth of civilization is humanity’s most glorious achievement, freeing humans from illiteracy, disease, and famine.  Yet, he did not mention the collateral issues of population explosion, limited resources, and global warming.  Transhumanists assume that we will overcome these issues with technology.

Katherine Hayles, (2011) Wrestling with Transhumanism seemed to agree with my pushback on Bostrom’s optimism.  She did not see the coming developments as necessarily evil, but suggested that we should “take advantage of every available resource that will aid us in thinging through…the momentous changes in human life and culture that advanced technologies make possible.

Two readings had to do with education.  “System Upgrade: Realising the Vision for UK Education” (2012) EPSRC Technology Enhanced Learning Research Programme, suggested that education lags the rest of the world in taking advantage of technology to enhance learning.  It suggested twelve themes:

  1. Connect – Exploit the power of personal devices to enhance learning.
  2. Share – Catch the wave of social networking to share ideas and learn together.
  3. Analyze – Use technology to understand better how we learn, and so help us learn better.
  4. Assess – Develop technologies to assess what matters, rather than what is easy to assess.
  5. Apply – Allow technology to help learners apply their education to the real world.
  6. Personalize – Utilise artificial intelligence to personalise teaching and learning.
  7. Engage – Go beyond the keyboard and mouse to learn through movement and gesture.
  8. Streamline – Enhance teachers’ productivity with new tools for designing teaching and learning
  9. Include – Empower the digitally and socially excluded to learn with technology.
  10. Know – Employ tools to help learners make sense of the information overload.
  11. Compute – Understand how computers think, to help learners shape the world around them.
  12. Construct – Unleash learners’ creativity through building and tinkering.

The AtlanticThe other education article was Nicolas Carr’s piece from The Atlantic entitled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” If the report from the UK above suggested that society harness the power of technology, Carr would suggest that technology is altering society…and not necessarily for the good.

I must admit that I have in the past dismissed Carr’s piece, but I have been reconsidering it this week in view of one of my graduate student’s blog post.  “I beseech ye in the bowels of Christ, think that ye may be mistaken” was the title of his post, taken from a 1650 letter by Oliver Cromwell to the Church of Scotland.  Goodman’s point in his post is that Cromwell suggested we can “correct biases in our thinking by considering the implications of opposing arguments.”  Good point, Robert!

So, is “being human” a flexible condition that society re-makes as it evolves?  Can we still “be human” in this digital age where everyone seems connected 24/7 with their smartphones?  I would say YES.  The past decade has certainly seen personal growth for me, and yet I believe that the fundamental values that make Britt Watwood who he is have not changed.  I embrace the possibilities, but I also question skeptically the assumptions that these new technologies bring us.  As we consider how new and emerging technologies COULD enhance teaching and learning, we must consider the implications of the opposing arguments – and make informed decisions.

Next week is the final week of this massive online course.  I have enjoyed the interactions with the professors and my fellow learners.  I still am considering the “digital artifact” that I must turn in by next Wednesday.  A Prezi would be fun and easy…but I really want to explore the possibilities of Scoop.It and see if it lends itself to being a digital artifact for learning.  We will see in the next post.

{Images: Kamal Krishna, Wikia}


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EDCMOOC Flickr Competition

Last week, alongside engaging with the week’s tasks, we were invited to begin experimenting with visual ways of representing our understanding of being human in a digital world.  Several hundred images were uploaded to Flickr.  You can see the entries in Flickriver – and even click interesting ones to vote for the best.

I thought I would share ten that I found compelling.  Credits are all noted below the image.

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/gforsythe/8094652826/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/villy21/8469685474/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/90243669@N05/8461301620/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/trendingteacher/8465963274/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/92507384@N02/8407579347/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/93141791@N07/8469185652/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/92998734@N03/8466586880/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/93164216@N03/8468756725/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/robopixelman/8479332428/

Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/78928794@N00/8468051355/

All in all, a fun and creative exercise!  Now on to week 4.

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EDCMOOC Week 3 and Being Human

edcmooc sign

CC:BY:NC:SA created through http://www.redkid.net/generator/underground/sign.php


We have moved into our third week in the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures and have shifted from examining utopias and dystopias to an examination of what it means to be “human” in a digital age.

This is a timely examination for me, as it gave me a new lens through which to examine the blog posts of my own students in GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.  More on that later.

The week began with quite a few of us uploading images to Flickr to represent our take on this massive course.  To date, there have been 328 uploads to the edcmooc Flickr site.  (WARNING – Time Suck) It is fascinating to see the various visual representations.  Mine pales in comparison to some of the really creative examples displayed…but it was a fun activity to start the week.

In this second block of the MOOC we are asked to question: ‘what does it mean to be human within a digital culture, and what does that mean for education?’.  As in previous weeks, we had a series of videos and articles to review.  We watched a couple of video advertisements here and here that suggested breaking out of technology and being human (though breaking free sometimes required technology).  World Builder involved the creation of a virtual world to help a comatose patient escape her situation, while Made of Meat was a cute look at humans from an alien (and robotic) perspective.  Steve Fuller wrapped up the videos with his TED Talk in Warwick on Humanity 2.0.

Fuller’s talk raised a couple of interesting themes for me.  First was the idea that “humanity” is an artificial construct.  He provided a history of the concept from ancient to medieval to modern times, noting that it is difficult to define what it is to be human.  Neil Badmington in his introduction to his book Posthumanism (2000) suggests that what makes us human is the capacity for rational thought…but will that definition need redefining as AI improves?

The second idea I pulled from Fuller’s talk was how many are reconceptualizing themselves in cyberspace – developing a second self.  This resonated with me.  Do I have a different “humanness” as bwatwood in Twitter or this blog or Facebook than I do as Britt Watwood in person?  Perhaps I do.  Is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Is my physical being enhanced or damaged by my virtual being…and would the answer to that question differ based on colleagues or my wife?

We read two articles on humanness and education.  Steve Kolowich in Inside Higher Education discussed “The Human Element.”  While noting the growing body of research about the effectiveness of elearning, he suggested that the issue of poor retention has much to do with the lack of human touch.  He noted a move by Douglas Hersh to move his college away from Blackboard towards Moodle, so that they could more easily incorporate video and audio components into their online courses.  Hersh suggests that engagement and audio-visual connections go hand-in-hand.  Increasing social presence through visuals could increase engagement, comfort, trust and ultimately retention in online studies.  Hersh’s 2009 dissertation studied the satisfaction and completion rates of a sample of 145 students in his “presence”-oriented learning environment compared to a similar sample taking their courses through a “traditional” LMS. He noted that “students feel more satisfied in their online courses when they feel engaged through human presence design”.

(Talk about human presence…as I type this, I am waiting for the noon Google Hangout session with our five professors….)

That said, I agree with Reggie Smith of the United States Distance Learning Association, who noted that adding flash did not guarantee results – it is the meaningful engagement of both the faculty and students that made the difference.

The other article was Lowell Monke’s “The Human Touch.”  Monke discussed the issues with having an uncritical faith in technology.  He focused on K-12, but suggested that exposing kids to computers early was similar to exposing them to church and Fourth of July parades – rituals to initiate them into a culture.  What I took from his article was that filling schools with technology did not address society’s problems as much as getting teachers and kids to use technology with a human purpose.

Which leads me back to the graduate class that Jeff Nugent, David McLeod and I are teaching this Spring.  Our 25 students are reflecting about the use of digital media in teaching each week – check out our class portal and please engage with our students!  I was struck how some of the posts and comments this week connected with this theme of humanness.

For instance, Laura in her blog post “A Rainbow Connection” noted that she was exploring “networked thinking and its role in the evolution of humanity.”  In the comments, Megan notes “I want to know the people I am “engaging” with.” Laura replies with ” Well, if we are to embark into online education, it’s not about replicating face-to-face but rather reproducing the magic of face-to-face.”

In the comments to a post “To Tweet or Not To Tweet,” @filly47  states:

I am saying this with an open mind. I am not against learning and trying new things but at the same time I am not going to blindly believe that all technology is for good. I have changed my mind on the usage of facebook as a learning medium and do believe that some classes could benefit from twitter (such as the social sciences or ones where opinions are taken) but not necessarily biology. It would take far more than 140 characters to answer a question and personally it would be easier to do so via spoken word. That being said-youtube videos may be the connection that I would be more apt to (spoken word and ability to demonstrate a theory/process).

This same theme of the spoken word having more impact showed up in Caribou Cafe’s post “A Short List of Why I Will Not Be Using Twitter…“, with a desire to answer in person over typing out an answer.  For me, that is the human element coming through again.  Yet, these students are also grappling with their “other self” as Fuller suggested.

In “Digital Tools to Maintain a Digital Presence,” @evanibm notes “Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Google+ all have a place in our ‘individualistic yet craving for connection” or “loving our independent spaces yet craving to be part of a community”, type of lives.  We all need human contact to survive as healthy human beings.”  This view was countered by @magistra14 in the comments in “Twitter, Facebook, and Networks, Oh My!“, which noted “I’m not computer adverse. I repair and upgrade my hardware all the time. I’m also not people adverse…I am just an intensely private person and feel one needs my permission to know much about me, and no one has the right to demand more of me than I am willing to give.”  And @ScienceTeacher noted in the comments in “Web 140.0” that “Maybe there’s something to also showing our students that it’s a good thing to ‘get away’ from technology for a bit…but that’s just my personal opinion.”

So, thank you, #edcmooc team, for week 3 and this discussion of the human side of digital life!

Google HangoutSpeaking of the EDCMOOC team, another fun Google Hangout today.  You can watch it hereBud Deihl and I sat together to watch it, and amazingly (given the number of people worldwide viewing and engaging on Twitter, Jen Ross mentioned one of my tweets and two of Bud’s.  Talk about an instant human connection!  It has been fun watching this team engage with the learning community within this MOOC. One of the things I have appreciated is their own self-reflection on the process.  They are blogging together at Teaching E-Learning and Digital Cultures, and I have enjoyed their posts.  This is a grand experiment, and it is nice to follow their own perspectives, questions, and doubts!

Hamish noted some statistics for engagement this week.  The EDCMOOC had 42,874 people enroll, of which 7,392 were “active” last week (not sure how that was defined).  While that suggests around a 17% engagement, Jen noted that there were probably some who were lurking and learning, and that the team was okay with that.

Next week, we continue to explore the human side of digital culture.  Bud and I continued to talk long after we got off the session about our positive views of this course…and the fact that we see it as a course – and I would suggest those positive vibes come from the human side of this technological experiment.  As Hamish noted, “It’s a Happening!” (…and those of us who survived the Sixties knows what he means!) 🙂

{Image credit: Eleni Zazani}


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EDCMOOC Week 2: Looking to the Future

krupp: Creative Commons CC:BY (Flickr)


We are in our second week in the University of Edinburgh’s Coursera MOOC – E-Learning and Digital Cultures. This was the image that greeted us when we clicked on the Week 2 page – a cross-stitch noting that its gonna be the future soon!  Nice Flickr photo from krupp!

Of course, we are typically pretty bad at predicting “the future.”  I was in high school when the movie 2001: A Space Odessey came out, the movie from which the course banner comes.  This movie vividly pictured a near future where moon colonies and space stations would exist by 1999.  Our current International Space Station is cool, but nowhere as cool or massive as the one embedded in my teenage movie mind.  Now, some 45 years later, the future is quite different from this childhood vision.  As Buzz Aldrin noted on the cover of MIT Technology Review back in November, “You Promised Me Mars Colonies. Instead, I Got Facebook.” Indeed!

Course Banner

Yet, there were things  the movie 2001 got right.  Technology has pretty much invaded our lives, becoming ubiquitous and always on.  Back in 1968, the movie depicted humans conversing with HAL – the intelligent computer on the Discovery spacecraft.  Today, we converse with Siri.

As with last week, the course facilitators began our learning journey with a series of short videos that had quite different views of the future.  The first is a favorite of mine – A Day Made of Glass from Corning. This was the second video in a series, and both give a quite utopian view of the world where technology is seamlessly interwoven with our lives.  The two kids in this video impishly used their tablets to shift the car interior to pink…and I could see my granddaughters doing the same thing.  A similar world of integrated technology unfolded in Productivity Future Vision.

In Sight and Charlie 13, we have a much darker view of the future, where technology is used to manipulate or track people against their will.  This theme shows up often in science fiction literature and media.  One wonders just how accurate the opening of each episode of Person of Interest is.  We may already live in a world where technology is used to track us – if Hollywood is to be believed.

These two world views were also evident in the readings.  In Johnston, R (2009) Salvation or destruction: metaphors of the internet. First Monday, 14(4), an analysis of editorials about the internet showed that people tended to have either a utopian view of the web (transformative and revolutionary in a good way) or a dystopian view (destructive and supplanting humans in a negative way).  Annalee Newitz in an address noted the combination of hope and fear as themes in science fiction (and I thought I was an avid science fiction reader – I had not read half of what she had!).  I loved her comment about “You Can’t Stop the Signal!”  That could be good news or not so good news.  Bleecker, J. (2006) in A manifesto for networked objects — Cohabiting with pigeons, arphids and Aibos in the Internet of Things discussed the increasing degree to which objects are becoming connected to the internet and communicating with humans.  Again, one wonders if one can (or should) stop the signal.

Regarding education and these twin views of hope and fear, the course facilitators focused on the emerging phenomenon of MOOCs (massive open online courses).  They used a blog post from Clay Shirky to provide the utopian view.  In Shirky, C. (2012). Napster, Udacity and the academy. shirky.com, 12 November 2012, Clay suggests that the disruption that MP3s caused for the record industry might be a model of how MOOCs will disrupt higher education in a good way.  Countering this is Bady, A. (2012). Questioning Clay Shirky. Inside Higher Ed, 6 December 2012, in which Bady suggests that Shirky ignores the profit-driven business model driving the development of some MOOCs.

The week’s reading ended with an hour-long keynote address by Gardner Campbell on open education, which I embed below.  Gardner weaves a tale of many different open initiatives and continues to use the T.S. Elliot quote: “That is not it all all, that is not what I meant, at all.”

One image that stood out to me from his talk was how hospitals could be viewed as providing either a home or an institution, and how that view impacts interactions with patients.  I was drawing the same conclusion about online education.  In higher education, are we designing and delivering online education that is open, welcomes learning, and celebrates participation across a diverse group of learners, or are we building rigid institutions with strict rules of access and participation?

Sidebar – totally stoked that Gardner will be keynoting at our Online Summit later in May!

MOOCs are an interesting lens through which to view both utopian and dystopian views of higher education.  On the one hand, MOOCs were noted by the 2013 NMC Horizon Report as one of the top tech trends on the near-term horizon.  The Chronicle quoted Larry Johnson as follows:

Surprisingly, MOOCs have never before appeared in a “Horizon Report,” though the technology was mentioned last September as a far-term technology in a separate report from the consortium, said Larry Johnson, its chief executive officer. Nearly six months later, MOOCs have moved to the forefront of emerging higher-education technology, according to the report.

“It’s unprecedented,” Mr. Johnson said, noting that the closest parallel he can remember was the rise in interest in virtual worlds in 2006. “But even those didn’t catch on as fast as this is,” he added.

On the other hand, there was some recent piling on when a Coursera course on “Fundamentals of Online Education: Planning and Application,” crashed and burned – primarily due to a lack of planning and application.

For even more reading, check out the series of articles this month in MIT’s Technology Review.  The articles focus on the business side of online education, but also suggest interesting fodder for reflection about learning.

We are in the early days.  I hope that MOOCs are disruptive as Shirky suggests.  I also suspect that they will not be as disruptive as the dystopians warn.  As Gardner might suggest, I do not know that we know what we mean when we say “disruptive education.”  I don’t know…but like my little friend here, I say “Hell Yes!”

And…as Gardner ended his keynote with lines from Carl Sandberg’s poem “At a Window“, I hope we are at a window to watch “…and wait and know the coming of a little love” … a hopeful message rather than a dystopian one.

For those in #EDCMOOC, I would as always be interested in your views.  Agree?  Disagree?  Reframe the question differently?

{Image credits:  krupp, krupp}

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EDCMOOC Thoughts on Social Side

I discussed the first week in the Coursera course, E-Learning and Digital Cultures, in my last post.  Now, four days later, it has been interesting to see the social side of this massive open online course unfold.

Friday, I attended the Google Hangout session for the class.  Bud Deihl joined me in my office as we watched:

It was fun to listen to Jeremy Knox, Siân Bayne, Hamish Macleod, Jen Ross and Christine Sinclair – their distinct personalities definitely came through!  Having Bud with me in the room added to the experience, but what made the Hangout even more engaging was the excellent Twitter backchannel going on, which the profs integrated into their comments very well.  Jen Ross confirmed by Twitter that they used Hangout-On-Air – first time I had seen it in action.


Eleni tweeted the stats for the backchannel for that session:


Actually, Twitter has been quite active this week (not to mention that the hashtag was active before the class even started).  Rob tweeted:


I think that it was Sian who mentioned that out of the 40,000-plus who registered for this course, over 17,000 had been active the first week.  As MOOCs go, that is not bad!  For me, what has been interesting is the variety of social media means by which people worldwide connected.

First, blogging, which I have been using.  Not sure of my rationale, but I did not want to be constrained to just four people in quadblogging (which appears to be pretty popular).  Instead, I subscribed to about 20 blogs I randomly pulled of a list generated in Facebook.  I have tried to comment to every blog that I read, and I have had a half-dozen people comment on mine.  I did notice in the Edublogs stats that my hits had doubled over the past week.  So not a big jump in readership but some. Some blogs I enjoyed this week:


  • Rob gave a good background on precourse activity and compared this course to another Coursera course that he had completed.


  • Paula discussed her take on technological determinism.


  • Eric discussed dystopia in science fiction (which was a nice trip down memory lane for me)


  • Helen had an excellent post on posthumanism and cyborg literacies which I enjoyed.  She also linked to one of Sian’s prezis on uncanny digital literacies that was pretty cool.


  • Martell’s interesting take on “the ripples of community and learner support”


  • An Australian’s reflection (which mirrored mine) about where was all the action if 40,000 were engaged in this course?  (Though it has picked up since she posted)

In addition to blogs, one could connect to fellow students through the Coursera class discussion board, Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest, and probably others I am not even aware of.  I noticed that a group in Minnesota had a face-to-face meet up.

For me, Twitter , Facebook, and the EDC MOOC News feed within Coursera remain my main links to this course.  I dipped my toe in to the course LMS discussion boards, but they seem too massive and lacked organization.  One could say the same about Twitter, but at least I know I am dipping into the stream there.  Maybe it is a comfort level thing…I am comfortable with Twitter (backed by Tweetdeck for following the hashtag stream).  I also have not gone into Google Plus much, other than for the hangout session.  Between Twitter and Facebook, I am remaining engaged with people worldwide (and enjoying that).  The News Feed provides new blogs to check out.

I may not be a social butterfly, but I am enjoying the diversity of thoughts, perspectives, and even culture as the course unfolds (neat to remember that it is summer in Australia as I shiver here on the American East Coast).  I am looking forward to week two!

Course Banner


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EDCMOOC Week 1: Utopias and Dystopias

I am in the first week of the five week-long massive open online course (or MOOC) – E-Learning and Digital Cultures, offered by Coursera through the University of Edinburgh.  The course is being taught by Jeremy Knox, Sian Bayne, Hamish Macleod, Jen Ross, and Christine Sinclair.

EDCMOOC Course Entry

To quote from the course information page:

“E-learning and Digital Cultures is aimed at teachers, learning technologists, and people with a general interest in education who want to deepen their understanding of what it means to teach and learn in the digital age. The course is about how digital cultures intersect with learning cultures online, and how our ideas about online education are shaped through “narratives”, or big stories, about the relationship between people and technology. We’ll explore some of the most engaging perspectives on digital culture in its popular and academic forms, and we’ll consider how our practices as teachers and learners are informed by the difference of the digital.”

During this first week, we are looking back at some classic readings on digital culture.  Digital culture is often described as either utopian (creating highly desired effects) or dystopian (creating extremely negative effects).  Martin Hand and Barry Sandywell’s (2002) article on E-Topia as Cosmopolis or Citadel  laid out three utopian claims and three dystopiam claims:

  • Information Technology (IT) possesses intrinsically democratizing properties (U)
  • IT is intrinsically neutral but lends itself to democratizing global forces of information sharing (U)
  • Cyber-politics role is maximizing public access (U)
  • IT possesses intrinsically de-democratizing properties (D)
  • IT is intrinsically neutral but lends itself to de-democratizing forces through ownership (D)
  • Cyber-politics role is resisting and perverting public access (D)

For the first week, we looked at four short videos.  Two that I liked were Bendito Machine III and Inbox.  The first was definitely dystopian and suggested that as each technology comes along, it is adopted with religious zeal, only to be cast aside as the “new thing” emerges.  Inbox was more utopian, suggesting that humans will find connections in spite of the technological issues that emerge.


We also explored a series of decade-old readings (and I found it both interesting and challenging to read these with 2013 eyes).

The first was Chandler, D. (2002). Technological determinism. Web essay, Media and Communications Studies, University of Aberystwyth.  This was 47-pages (and I skimmed) that provided a history of technological determinism.  One of the ideas I thought relevant and interesting was the idea of equating technological determinism with technological imperative – that when we can do something, we are obliged to do it, and it inevitably will happen given time.

Second was Dahlberg, L (2004). Internet Research Tracings: Towards Non-Reductionist Methodology. Journal of Computer Mediated Communication, 9/3.  Dahlberg described three orientations towards the web:

  • Uses Determination – technology is neutral so what matters is how it is used
  • Technological Determination – more aligned with Marshal McLuhan‘s “the medium is the message”
  • Social Determination – the impact of technology on social context

The different perspectives offer nuances to our exploration of digital culture, and as the instructors noted, the same could be said for e-learning.

The remaining readings focused on education in general.   In Daniel, J. (2002). Technology is the Answer: What was the Question? Speech from Higher Education in the Middle East and North Africa, Paris, Institut du Monde Arabe, 27-29 May 2002, the speaker posits that evolving technology is the main force changing society worldwide.  He suggests that we need to look at the big picture, avoid bias, detect the bull that exists, take a broad view, and seek balance.  Noteworthy to me was Daniel’s viewpoint that in America, we tend to focus on how technology impacts teaching, while in the rest of the world, they examine how technology impacts learning.  This was stated a decade ago, so is it fair (or still fair?)?

In Noble. D. (1998). Digital Diploma Mills: The Automation of Higher Education. First Monday 3/1, David Noble argues a dystopian view that digitized course material online was commercializing higher education at the expense of learning.  Two quotes were interesting:

“Once faculty and courses go online, administrators gain much greater direct control over faculty performance and course content than ever before and the potential for administrative scrutiny, supervision, regimentation, discipline and even censorship increase dramatically. At the same time, the use of the technology entails an inevitable extension of working time and an intensification of work as faculty struggle at all hours of the day and night to stay on top of the technology and respond, via chat rooms, virtual office hours, and e–mail, to both students and administrators to whom they have now become instantly and continuously accessible. The technology also allows for much more careful administrative monitoring of faculty availability, activities, and responsiveness.”

Fifteen years ago…and yet I would suggest that some faculty today are still citing this fear as a reason not to move into open resources or use digital technology.

Noble also states: “Most important, once the faculty converts its courses to courseware, their services are in the long run no longer required. They become redundant, and when they leave, their work remains behind.”  Again, a theme I have heard in the past year…and not just from faculty.  In our current GRAD-602 class, several students have discussed their fear of the use of blogging as an academic publishing platform, because in the hard sciences, others might steal their intellectual property.

The final reading is Marc Prensky’s (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants. On the Horizon, 9/5. Recent research has pretty successfully suggested that the digital native notion is not backed by the facts.  Bullen et al(2009) stated that:

“A prevailing view of today’s post secondary learners is that they are fundamentally different than previous generations in how they learn, what they value in education, how they use technology, and how they interact. The notion of the “Millennial learner” or “digital learner” has become accepted as a fact, even though there is limited empirical support for this.” (p. 2)

In another article, Bullen, Morgan, and Qayyum (2011) noted:

“…Our research found that there is no empirically-sound basis for most of the claims that have been made about the net generation. More specifically, the study suggests that there are no meaningful differences between net generation and non-net generation students at this institution in terms of their use of technology, or in their behavioural characteristics and learning preferences. Our findings are consistent with the conclusions of other researchers (Bennett, Maton, & Kervin, 2008; Guo, Dobson, & Petrina, 2008; Jones & Cross, 2009; Kennedy et al., 2007, 2009; Kvavik, 2005; Margaryan & Littlejohn, 2008; Pedró, 2009; Reeves & Oh, 2007; Selwyn, 2009).”  (p. 2)

Bennett and Maton (2010) noted that some of the original authors had begun to distance themselves from the digital native discourse, including Prensky.  Again, these are 2013 views…one could argue that Prensky’s viewpoint permeated much of the early literature about the impact of digital media on learning.

This week’s “readings” ended with one of my favorite Wesch videos, which I include here for those who may not have seen it.

This look back has been informative for me, and I look forward to next week, where we look ahead and explore Shirky‘s and my friend Gardner Campbell‘s views.

…and now that I am posting this to #edcmooc, time to jump in to Twitter and Facebook and find some fellow classmates’ blogs for their views and commenting!

(…and looking forward to some of the 40,000 taking EDCMOOC to comment here!)


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Starting the New Year Open

Happy New Year, everyone.  Welcome to 2013!  I have two “open” new years resolutions.

We have been talking about how the web has become increasingly open, social and participatory for the past four years…yet with the arrival of the MOOC bandwagon last year, “open” took on new significance.  So, as 2013 gets rolling, I and my CTE colleagues are exploring how “open” might change our teaching.

Again this spring, my colleagues Jeff Nugent, David McLeod, and myself will be facilitating a course in our Preparing Future Faculty program called “GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.”  We should have 24 Ph.D candidates or post-docs working on their PFF certification.  As in previous years, we will take our students on an exploration of the social web and the integration of digital technology into teaching at the college level.  Our students will document their journey by blogging on the open web.  In past years, we have used the campus LMS – Blackboard – with links to their blogs in Netvibes.  This year as our first new practice (and resolution), we are moving our LMS to WordPress, so that we can invite the world to join in our weekly conversations.

So check out our website at http://wp.vcu.edu/grad602/ – and if you or your grad students would like to blog with us and be added to our Netvibes page, let me know!

Two of my students from last summer completed MOOCs from Coursera over the fall, and their enthusiasm has prompted me to try one for myself.  So, as a second new years resolution in the world of open, I have enrolled in Coursera’s E-Learning and Digital Cultures class, to be taught by Jeremy Know, Sian Bayne, Hamish MacLeod, Jenn Ross and Christine Sinclair out of the University of Edinburgh.  The course starts January 28th, runs 5 weeks, and Jeremy tweeted last week that over 32,000 have enrolled so far.  I know that blogging will be a part of the course, and I will be using this blog to chronicle my learning for the course.

I enrolled in mid-December, and a small but very engaged subset of the 32K has already been active in Twitter, Facebook, and a host of other sites.  Sandra Sinfield blogged about this pre-course engagement…and listed the following links (the majority of which have been developed by fellow students, not Coursera or the instructors):

Quoting from Sandra -here are quick links:

Space to think & try some new ideas:
•           Keep a wish list with pictures on Pinterest
•          Join our QuadBlog experiment
•          Study Group for the course
•          Feel overwhelmed? Vent here
We can add ourselves to the
•           Google Map
•           Blog list and:
•           Read the rules
•           edcmooc course page
•           course members who themselves are tutors: Group page
Student room:
•         Facebook group
•         Twitter people on the course           (Course hashtag #edcmooc)
Tech Tools:
•           Tech tools for education
•           What’s your recipe?
Journals, articles and videos all related to this course, and to the wider field of MOOC’s and technology:
The library is online at Diigo; we can add ourselves to the group. Tag any link with edcmooc so it’s easier for us to search: Diigo
First question posted in our ‘classroom’:
Q: What is your definition of “Digital Culture” ?

Wow!  Thanks, Sandra, for creating this resource list!

Sandra mentioned that she was already feeling overwhelmed, and I understand that feeling.  My minimal connections over the holiday break resulted in numerous emails alerting me to FB Group postings and tweets … and this with approximately 150 of us diving in to the social media.  I am wondering if 32,000 (or even a percentage of 32K) will bring my system to its knees!  Obviously, I will be refining my filters and alert settings, but I have a feeling it will be continuous or nothing…this is going to be interesting to try and throttle.  And with the numbers in my Coursera course, will I miss any of the social media from my VCU students in GRAD 602?  I want to play in the sandbox and see what happens…but it will be an interesting spring to say the least!

If any of you who have taken a similar journey have tips and tricks for success, please comment to this post and share them!


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