30-Day Challenge – Day 30 – The Questions I Did Not Ask

Back on March 5th, my colleague Enoch Hale posted a challenge on his blog:

“I want to pose an open challenge: Post an out-of-the-box question about teaching and learning each day for 30 days.”

3 month statsI took him up on his challenge…though I suggested “thirty work days”…to which he agreed.  Over the past six weeks, we have each posted 58 questions – 29 each.  In the process, we have both improved in our blogging.  The biggest “challenge” in a 30-Day Challenge is blogging consistently each work day.  It stretched me time wise and intellectually…but it also was a lot of fun.  Enoch and I fed off of each other.  And…not surprisingly, when one blogs daily, one’s readership increases.  I topped a hundred page views for Day 20 (The New Nomads) and Day 25 (The Training Wheel Question).

Enoch noted on his first day that questions can drive thinking forward.  Answers stop thinking, but questions keep thinking moving.  Over the past six weeks, I have paid more attention to questions being asked.  I have started following Warren Berger, author of A More Beautiful Question.  Maryellen Weimer blogged last month about “The Art of Asking Question,” suggesting that if we want students to ask thoughtful questions, we have to model that ourselves.

Tony Bates in his studyTony Bates out of Canada has been asking thoughtful questions for 45 years about distance and online learning.  His post yesterday took me by surprise – “Time to retire from online learning?

First, Tony turned 75 this week (congratulations!). He has decided he has reached the point in his life to stop nearly all professional activities.  At 75, he feels he has reached the right to stop (…which could mean I now have 11 years to continue, since I will soon turn 64…).  He wants to stop when he is still at his best.  He has not taught a full course in ten years, and:

“Given the pace of change, it is dangerous for a consultant to become adrift from the reality of teaching and management. It’s time to hang up my boots before I get really hurt (or more importantly, really hurt others).”

Tony then expressed some concerns about the future of higher education and teaching.  Four quotes hit me…and the emphasis below is mine:

“…It’s a full-time job just to keep abreast of new developments in online and distance learning, and this constant change is not going to go away. It’s tempting to say that it’s only the technology that changes; the important things – teaching and learning – don’t change much, but I don’t believe that to be true, either. Teaching in higher education is about to go through as major a revolution as one can imagine. This is not going to be easy; indeed it could get brutal…

…this is a field that needs full-time, professional application, and very hard work, and I just don’t have the energy any more to work at that level. To put it simply, this is not a profession where you can be half in and half out. Dabbling in online learning is very dangerous (politicians please note)…

…And then there’s MOOCs. I can’t express adequately just how pissed off I am about MOOCs – not the concept, but all the hubris and nonsense that’s been talked and written about them. At a personal level, it was as if 45 years of work was for nothing. All the research and study I and many others had done on what makes for successful learning online were totally ignored, with truly disastrous consequences in terms of effective learning for the vast majority of participants who took MOOCs from the Ivy League universities. Having ignored online learning for nearly 20 years, Stanford, MIT and Harvard had to re-invent online learning in their own image to maintain their perceived superiority in all things higher educational. And the media fell for it, hook, line and sinker. This is a battle I no longer want to fight – but it needs fighting…

…Lastly, I am concerned that the computer scientists seem to be taking over online education. Ivy League MOOCs are being driven mainly by computer scientists, not educators. Politicians are looking to computer science to automate learning in order to save money. Computer scientists have much to offer, but they need more humility and a greater willingness to work with other professionals, such as psychologists and teachers, who understand better how learning operates. This is a battle that has always existed in educational technology, but it’s one I fear the educators are losing…”

I need to reflect on Tony’s post much more, but his very personal reflection lays the groundwork for many more thoughtful questions.  It brought to my mind my final question for THIS 30-day Challenge:

Day 30 – What are the questions I did not ask but should have?

There are obviously many more than thirty good questions left to ask…so while this challenge has ended, the challenge for higher education is only getting more intense.  If more educators joined the open questioning within the blogosphere. maybe we can win some battles.  As Tony noted, this is not a field you can be half in and half out.


{Graphics: Bates}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 5 – New Principles


One of the “fundamental truths” that has informed my teaching for the past decade has been the seminal work by Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson back in 1987 – “Seven Principles of Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” – in which they synthesize fifty years of research to develop their seven principles.

7 PrinciplesArthur Chickering and Stephen Ehrmann updated this in 1996 with their article “Implementing the Seven Principles: Technology as Lever.”  They noted:

“Since the Seven Principles of Good Practice were created in 1987, new communication and information technologies have become major resources for teaching and learning in higher education. If the power of the new technologies is to be fully realized, they should be employed in ways consistent with the Seven Principles. Such technologies are tools with multiple capabilities; it is misleading to make assertions like “Microcomputers will empower students” because that is only one way in which computers might be used.”

Fast forward to 2014.  In the past two decades, “new technologies” have moved from desktop computing to smartphones, iPads, and Google Glasses.  The web has become ubiquitous…I now get emails from my car.

Yesterday, the Pew Research Center released “Digital Life in 2025.”  Based on survey responses from over 1,500 people, it suggests that the future world in which we will work and teach will have the web woven invisibly in our lives and those of our students; that global connectivity could lead to more relationships and less ignorance; and while a revolution might occur in education, the divide between “haves” and “have-nots” could grow.  Also, while networks might grow and become more complex, human nature is not changing as rapidly.  Fifteen themes were noted:

“More-hopeful theses

1) Information sharing over the Internet will be so effortlessly interwoven into daily life that it will become invisible, flowing like electricity, often through machine intermediaries.

2) The spread of the Internet will enhance global connectivity that fosters more planetary relationships and less ignorance.

3) The Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and big data will make people more aware of their world and their own behavior.

4) Augmented reality and wearable devices will be implemented to monitor and give quick feedback on daily life, especially tied to personal health.

5) Political awareness and action will be facilitated and more peaceful change and public uprisings like the Arab Spring will emerge.

6) The spread of the ‘Ubernet’ will diminish the meaning of borders, and new ‘nations’ of those with shared interests may emerge and exist beyond the capacity of current nation-states to control.

7) The Internet will become ‘the Internets’ as access, systems, and principles are renegotiated.

8) An Internet-enabled revolution in education will spread more opportunities, with less money spent on real estate and teachers.

Less-hopeful theses

9) Dangerous divides between haves and have-nots may expand, resulting in resentment and possible violence.

10) Abuses and abusers will ‘evolve and scale.’ Human nature isn’t changing; there’s laziness, bullying, stalking, stupidity, pornography,dirty tricks, crime, and those who practice them have new capacity to make life miserable for others.

11) Pressured by these changes, governments and corporations will try to assert power—and at times succeed—as they invoke security and cultural norms.

12) People will continue—sometimes grudgingly—to make tradeoffs favoring convenience and perceived immediate gains over privacy; and privacy will be something only the upscale will enjoy.

13) Humans and their current organizations may not respond quickly enough to challenges presented by complex networks.

14) Most people are not yet noticing the profound changes today’s communications networks are already bringing about; these networks will be even more disruptive in the future.

15) Foresight and accurate predictions can make a difference; ‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’”

As we continue our 30-Day Challenge sparked by Enoch Hale, my question really rolls out of number 14 above…Day 5: If today’s hyperconnected communication networks are bringing about fundamental changes to our work and study environments, are the Seven Principles of Good Practice still relevant or in need of update?

The Seven Principles have been my go-to lens for determining practical teaching applications, such as the use of blogs for reflection and commentary in the majority of my classes.  Encouraging social media opens up opportunities for faculty-student contact and reciprocity and cooperation between students.  The open, social and participatory web enables the provision of prompt feedback – from both faculty and students.  Time on tasks can be manifested both inside a classroom and on the cloud between classes.  Multiple pathways respect diverse talents and ways of learning.  The Seven Principles work for me.

But rather than viewing teaching through the lens of the Seven Principles, perhaps first I need to view the Seven Principles through the lens of digital life.  Are new principles suggested:

  • by the availability of big data?
  • by 24/7/365 access?
  • by “open”?
  • by … ?

Another Pew report from 2012 – “Networked and Hyperconnected: The New Social (and Work) Operating System” – asked if the brains of multi-tasking teens and young adults are wired differently {not a given}, will they be better (adept at finding answers and solving problems) or worse (lack deep-learning skills, social skills, and depend on the web in unhealthy ways).  Answering the question about the Seven Principles might better adapt us to creating learning situations that work to enhance learning rather than reinforcing poor practices.

Stowe Boyd in the Digital Life report noted that “we have already entered the post-normal.”  In this post-normal world, what are the principles we should use to guide our teaching?


(…and be sure to check out good questions being posed by Enoch Hale and Jeff Nugent as part of this 30-Day Challenge.  Join us!)


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The School of Me

nookbookI just finished reading my first ebook on my new NookColor: Nick Bilton‘s I Live in the Future and Here’s How It Works.  It was an interesting experience, done primarily on the Nook, but thanks to the B&N apps, I also could read it on my PC and on my Droid phone, which I did.  I will definitely be reading more books this way.

Bilton’s book continues themes surfaced by Shirky and others that I have discussed in this blog, but he had some interesting nuances.  One of the fascinating glimpses of the not-too-distant future in his book was that every chapter had a QR code under the chapter title.  Using my Droid, I could snap from the chapter code to supplemental websites that provided additional background information for the chapter as well as videos of Bilton discussing the chapter.  I could easily visualize the future textbooks having similar functionality,qr01 with our students actually using their smartphones for learning!

After reading a book, I like to go back and thumb through it.  Having it now on my PC makes this just as easy to do, and I found that areas I highlighted either on the Nook or on my Droid showed up highlighted on my PC … so the three screens were sync’ed.  Bilton talks about the three screens in Chapter 8, where he discusses the concept of 1:2:10.  You tend to hold your smartphone one foot from your eyes, look at a desktop or laptop screen two feet away, and watch your TV from about ten feet.  Bilton suggests that in the future, we will engage with content seamlessly across all three screens, though designing content to do so raises interesting challenges.  For instance, Bilton imagines a scenario where I could be watching this weekend’s Army-Navy game (GO NAVY!) on TV and have to leave at half-time for an engagement.  Under his scenario, my phone would know that I was leaving my TV and begin automatically providing updates on my phone until I got to my destination and fired up my laptop, where the information would shift over seamlessly to that screen.  I cannot automatically do this now…but Bilton suggests this will be the norm before too long.

In other words, my view of the Army-Navy game would be customized for me and delivered as an experience, not just content.  This individualization and customization theme permeated the book.

One of the most intriguing concepts in this book was in Chapter 6.  Bilton notes that when you take out your smartphone and click “locate me”, a map appears with you in the center.  Maps and charts (maps used at sea) have been part of my life for years.  Mercator came up with the projection used by most map makers over 400 years ago, but maps always were based on places and landmarks.  You would go into a store and buy a map of Richmond VA or Nebraska or the subway system.  You would never go in as Bilton suggests and ask, “Oh, excuse me, can I buy a map of me?”

Yet, when ever I use FourSquare on Facebook, that is precisely what appears, a map of me!


Bilton uses this image of being in the center as a metaphor for life today.  Rather than getting news from mainstream sources, we now use Twitter and Google Reader to customize our news experience.  For many of our students, their main source of news is the “news feed” from Facebook (an application correctly named from their perspective!).  We listen to our own collections of songs on our iPods or customized channels on Pandora rather than using CD’s or radios.  As Bilton describes it, digital will more and more mean “immediate” and “infinite” and “extremely personalized” in the digitally narcissistic world where the customer is always at the center of the map.

It should not be too great a leap to take this shift from content or subject base to personal base and visualize it in the classroom of the future.  Our students are growing up in a world where they are always at the center of the map…everywhere except in the classroom.  In listening to some of the frustrations expressed by my students, I hear of too many teachers continuing to try and keep this personalization out of teaching.  A doctoral student last week defended her dissertation (and did a nice job), but her study of eighteen high school teachers who had been in a 1:1 laptop initiative for EIGHT YEARS found that 15 of the 18 continued to teach as they always had with no demonstration that they had integrated technology into their teaching.  Sad but not surprising.  My students want to change as well, but express concerns that too many administrators and fellow teachers continue to view digital media as simply new ways to do the same old things.

Outside the classroom, our students are experiencing a rich world centered around themselves.  When they buy applications, they do not buy content, they buy experiences.  Driving around town, they can use their phone now to locate local shops or restaurants on the fly..or with Foursquare, locate their friends.  Some are now suggesting that the majority of our access to the internet will be via our smartphones, and when you couple access to information with yourself in the center of the map, all sorts of possibilities explode.

What if we took this concept to education?  What would a school of me look like?

If the student was at the center of the learning process, then instruction would be personalized based on that student’s prior knowledge and abilities.  Personal learning networks would be more the norm, and through networked learning, students would create their own knowledge base (and content).  Students could access not only facts off the internet, but connect to others with similar interests and passions about the learning topic they are studying.  I have used her before, but Wendy comes to mind when looking at a school of me.

One also gets a glimpse if one looks at the nominees for this year’s Edublog Awards. The nominees across the 23 categories are out on the cutting edge when it comes to using digital media for learning (and be sure to vote for this year’s winners).

What would it take to move schools towards a school of me?  Leadership.  Vision.  Risk.  Yet, could a “school of me” be an answer to the challenges facing education…particularly the challenges in which we seem to be falling behind much of the world.  The Asian dominance in this year’s PISA test scores suggests that continuing to educate as we have is a prescription for further failure.

Bilton’s final chapter says “they’re not coming back.” He is talking about traditional consumers, traditional media, and traditional brands.  Yet, while our students have evolved and continue to change, education has for the most part not changed.  How can you worry about going back if you never left?

What are your thoughts?  Can technology deliver a School of Me?  Is it the right direction to take?  I would be interested in your thoughts.

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My Next Summer Reading Plans

A delivery from Barnes and Noble is like Christmas in July.  As much as I like digital, there is something comforting about holding a book.  Here are the next four books I plan to read this summer:


Looking forward to jumping in!

And by the way, they are sitting on one of my favorite chairs, designed by a student in the Interior Design program at Gwinnett Technical College many years ago.  It, like these books, reminds me that we can go anywhere our imagination will take us.


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Next Generation Faculty

My colleagues at the Center for Teaching Excellence, Jeff Nugent and Zach Goodell, have been co-teaching a graduate course this semester here at VCU.  Teaching, Learning and Technology in Higher Education (GRAD-602) is designed to provide students in the Preparing Future Faculty Program with an introduction to contemporary instructional practices and exploration of relevant issues that can serve as both a foundation, and a process for continued growth and development.   I joined Jeff last night as he took their 25 graduate students on an exploration of the changing landscape of learning.


Using clickers, Jeff polled his students on their perceptions of whether:

  • instructional technology has fundamentally changed the way higher education instruction is delivered
  • instructional technology has fundamentally changed the way students learn
  • instructional technology has fundamentally changed the way they as faculty teach

The room was a bit bipolar…which made for some very rich discussion.  What struck me was the difference I was seeing between this next generation of faculty and similar discussions Jeff and I have had with current faculty.

In the first place, about half of the students had their laptops open on their tables and used them to check facts or search out new items to bolster their discussions.  The group struggled with whether things had “fundamentally” changed, pointing out on the one hand that the give and take between faculty and students really had not changed, yet on the other hand, that access to information made the give and take different.  International students highlighted that the digital divide was more a case of access to the web rather than access to technology itself, contrasting Africa, India and China to the United States.

What really punctuated the difference between current faculty and new faculty was when Jeff showed the slide below:


He asked the class to stand, and then remain standing if they recognized and were familiar with ten of the items shown.  Almost the entire class remained standing.  When we have used this slide with groups of current faculty, we usually get no greater than six items where the majority in the room is still standing.

He then asked them to remain standing if they personally used at least five of the items shown.  About half the class sat down, but I was impressed at the number still standing.  He upped the question to personally using at least ten, and then only myself and two others remained standing.  I have to admit that given that my job involves exploration of this landscape, I had better still be standing, but it was also rather interesting that the oldest person in the room was one of the three standing!

Jeff then asked them to stand if any of their professors used more than three of the items in their instruction, and again, only a handful stood.

To me, this was a recognition of the disconnect between where our students currently are (as reflected by this room of bright graduate students) and our faculty in their instructional practice.  I am heartened that the next generation of faculty may break this mold.  Faculty tend to teach the way they were taught, but this next generation of faculty is bringing new practices to the classroom.  They are also asking the right questions about impacts on teaching and learning, as opposed to gadget of the month.

I am looking forward to joining this group as they continue to explore through the semester the intersections of teaching, learning, and technology in higher education.  They are blogging about their journey, which makes for some interesting reading.  Check them out at Jeff’s Netvibes site.

{Photo Credits: San Jose Library, smannion}

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Personal Reflections

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Link to full size image)

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

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

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

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

I would be interested in your thoughts.

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