30-Day Challenge – Day 25 – The Training Wheel Question

My colleague Jon Becker in our Office of Online Academic Programs here at VCU posted an interesting Twitter conversation in his blog post today.  He noted that it started with a live tweet by Jesse Stommel of Jim Groom’s presentation at #et4online. Derek Bruff responded with what he tagged an honest question, and Jon responded as shown below:


Jon went on to quote Steve Jobs that computers were like bicycles for the mind, and that as such, they allowed us the ability to soar.  Jon’s point was:

If computers are like bicycles for our mind (and I believe they are!), the Learning Management System (LMS) is perfectly analogous to the training wheels.  Riding a bicycle with training wheels on is relatively safe and it can get you from point A to point B, albeit slowly. But, one hasn’t *really* learned to ride a bike until the training wheels come off. Taking the training wheels off liberates the operator of the bike and affords her the freedom to really move and soar and do amazing tricks. Taking the training wheels off of the open web liberates the learning and affords the teachers and the learners to really move and soar and do amazing things.

In many ways, Jon’s point is similar to Lisa Lane’s point three days ago that classes within an LMS isolate students.  To mash up her tweet:

Lisa Lane tweet.
Both Jon and Lisa (and Jim Groom) are totally correct.  But my mind returns to Derek’s point…and questions of policy during a period of disruptive transition.  Very few faculty (at least at my institution) have the digital literacy to drop an LMS cold turkey and move to their own domain.  Our twelve schools and colleges, our IT personnel and  our HelpDesk are not staffed to support faculty in the absence of an LMS.

training wheelsSo weaving a path between Jon/Jim/Lisa’s ideal and the pragmatic realities of a faculty wedded to a decade of LMS use, how do we begin a campus wide conversation and develop a timeline to achieve this excellent goal?  To my mind, the training wheels will not come off until we have faculty buy-in and a clear timeline for transitioning, with a safety net for current faculty as they transition to the open web.  It is not a pipedream to visualize a more open (and amazing) educational landscape.  In GRAD-602, we already suggest that future faculty will teach and learn in an open web, making full use of the affordances of the web (and we model what we suggest with our fully open class website).  But we also suggest to these future faculty that they should approach digital opportunities in a mindful way.  LMS systems solve some problems (FERPA, grades) while creating others (stifled creativity).  Before we dump one, we should solve the problems it has already solved…and do it at scale, so that thousands of faculty are not left scrambling at a time they are already loaded down with research, teaching and service commitments.

Derek’s honest question inspired my 30-Day Challenge question for today:

Day 25 – How do we in faculty development support the digital presence of 3,000 faculty without something like an LMS?

Honest question, indeed.  Be interested in how your campuses are tackling this issue?

{Graphics: Becker, Lane, Motorbike}



Enhanced by Zemanta

Group Reflections on OpenVA

cropped-openva_headerMy colleagues in the VCU Center for Teaching Excellence spent an hour this morning debriefing our experience at the first OpenVA Conference held October 14-15 at University of Mary Washington‘s Stafford Campus.  Our Jeff Nugent was on the organizing committee for this conference, with strong input from our colleagues at UMW like Jim Groom and Martha Burtis, as well as cool outside speakers like Alan “CogDog” Levine and Audrey Watters.  It was a homecoming in some regards for our new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success, Gardner Campbell, who spoke at several sessions.

In our podcast, Yin Wah Kreher suggested that we use the 4 C’s thinking routine as a guide for today’s discussion.

  • Connections: How does it connect to what we already know?
  • Challenges: What do we find challenging?
  • Concepts: What are the big ideas?
  • Changes: How have our actions and attitudes changed as a result?

All in all, a great learning experience…it will be fun to think about how “open” continues to impact education in Virginia and globally!


Enhanced by Zemanta

ELI 2011 Wrap-Up

ELI 2011

ELI 2011

Back home in Richmond, VA tonight, but my brain is still buzzing from the excellent sessions and networking at ELI 2011.  My post on the first day of ELI 2011 is here.

David Wiley kicked off the second day with a keynote address on Open Educational Resources and Learning Analytics.  Wiley noted that “open” carried many connotations, so he defined it as free teaching materials with the permissions already given for re-use or re-mixing.  He discussed the “Four R’s” of education – Reuse, Redistribute, Revise and Remix.  To illustrate, he went into advanced search in Google and looked for items with Creative Commons licensing, and found over 350 million items.  He compared this to our out-dated legal system that allows us to be stingy on a scale never seen before.  There were chuckles as he compared academics who do not want to share with your basic 2-year-old yelling MINE, MINE, MINE.  From David’s perspective, openness is the ONLY way to do education.

If one shifts the higher education model away from “you must come to us for the learning” and instead acknowledge that the content is already out there, then new business models are possible.  David mentioned Western Governors University and the new University of the People, where students sign up and pay for assesments, but self-organize their own learning groups.  This would not work for all disciplines, but I could see some real advantages to programs where demonstrated performance is part of the assessment.

The real “ah-ha” moment for me was when David began discussing learning analytics.  We are all used to analytics.  If we buy a book at Amazon or Barnes and Noble online, we always see recommendations for other purchases…based on tracking tons of data of previous purchases.  In a similar manner, David demonstrated how he could look at data for a class and track online activity versus time and GPA ranking.  The resulting waterfall of dots was darker for students with higher GPAs (i.e., more time on task online) and lighter for lower GPAs.  Getting to that type of data is difficult for most faculty, but as the latest Horizon Report noted yesterday, learning analytics are on the horizon.  Increased use of learning analytics will allow for the customization of learning for each student…something I find pretty cool!  For David, the combination of open education resources and learning analytics can lead to processes that allow continuous improvement in teaching and learning.

ELI used IdeaScale to gather and rank questions for David.  This was an interesting use of crowdsourcing to set up the Q&A portion of his talk.  One person asked if computers were replacing teachers.  David said YES – replacing them as broadcast machines and allowing them to concentrate on the human side of teaching.

The next session I attended was with Cole Camplese and Barton Pursel of Penn State on Exposing Emerging Pedagogies: Can Web 2.0 Tools Influence Teaching and Learning? In another example of learning analytics, they looked at usage patterns of wikis and blogs at their university by schools and departments.  They noted that their students have expectations not being met by the university.  Students expect a Facebook-like level of interactivity and get Blackboard instead…which is by just about any measure pretty unengaging.  The Penn State dorms have cable TV but the data shows that it gets little use.  Instead, students watch their “TV” on their computers when they want to watch it (not when it is “on”).

The data showed them that schools tended to adopt single platforms and not the range of Web 2.0 tools.  Information tech students like wikis, but science majors like blogs.  They could also see gender differences surfacing.  Women were more active both in posting and in commenting, including continued conversation after semester’s end.  Some courses found greater traction using a course-wide blog rather than individual blogs, though I agree with Gardner’s tweet:

gardnertweetAfter all, Jeff Nugent and I have both had our students blog individually and then aggregate the class blogs into either Netvibes or Google Sites.

I took a break and hit the “power room” to recharge my laptop.  Luckily, Jim Groom, Matt Plourde and Mike Caulfield were hanging out there as well.  We talked about Jim’s current MOOC on Digital Storytelling – ds106 (worth following on Twitter under hashtag #ds106 for great examples of student work).  That led us to recall one of the better storytellers – Tom Woodward, and the video he and Jim did two years ago about RSS.  I have put a link to that video in my current class for this week’s readings on RSS! 🙂

After lunch, I attended a session by Paul Fisher and Danielle Mirliss from Seton Hall University on supporting a mobile campus.  Seton Hall has been issuing laptops for years but now recognizes that the vast majority of students show up with computers in their back pockets (smartphones) with capabilities that exceed those of the older laptops.  Their surveys show that while faculty heavily rely on email as a ways of communicating with students, 60% of their students do not routinely use email – they text or Facebook instead.  The folks at Seton Hall University are looking for ways to capitalize on the technology their students already possess and use.  The definition of “mobile” is changing and evolving, so they want applications that are device non-specific and carrier agnostic.  They showed some neat projects students completed this year using smartphones to capture video and audio (similar to the NPR StoryCorps project). While this was going on, there was a fairly active backchannel conversation about the original “mobile” devices – books!  That prodded Derek Bruff to post “Here’s my (tongue-in-cheek) take on the book as a mobile device: http://is.gd/vRuuY6“. Loved it!

Dinner Tuesday night was in an unexpected yet delightful place that many of my colleagues knew…but my wife and I just stumbled on – Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe. Good people, good food, and some nice wines. Plus I checked in using FourSquare to note our good time, and they tweeted back a thank you!  Good food and socially networked as well!

Today was spent at our poster session.  I previously posted our slides here. Valerie Robnolt, Ibironke Lawal, Alma Hassell and I had a good flow of people come by and talk, and we had a chance to circulate around to some of the other posters.  Our colleagues Terry Carter, Joan Rhodes, and Fran Smith had a poster on moving learners into the open, so VCU was well represented.  I also enjoyed talking to Linda Futch and Francisca Yonekura of University of Central Florida about their online faculty development process.  And I finally got to meet Kelvin Thompson of UCF…someone whom I have tweeted with for several years!

So, a wrap up of a very good conference! I know that I have missed some interactions in these two blog posts, but rest assured, it is not because these interactions were not important.  Rather, there simply was a lot to process…and I will be doing that for days!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Teaching Online (Versus Online Teaching)


I am heading out for a couple of weeks vacation, but I wanted to try and capture some thoughts about the summer institute our team at the CTE completed on Friday.

My last two posts focused on the first two days.  The further we got into the week, the less energy I had at day’s end to blog, so this will complete my initial reflections.  In reality, the first two days simply laid the groundwork for the bigger issues which rose later in the week.  On Day 3, we mixed theory and practice as we discussed creation of web resources by both faculty and students, such as social bookmarking, RSS feeds, blogs, and wikis.  Day 4 concentrated on assessment – assessment of learning, assessment of student readiness to learn online, and assessment of their courses.  Finally, on Day 5, we explored how rubrics such as Quality Matters , California State University-Chico’s Rubric for Online Instruction, NACOL’s quality standards could inform course design.

online teaching

While I think many in our institute knew what they were getting in to, it really began to sink in during the last three days.  Some had conceptualized moving online as simply a virtual mirror of what they did face-to-face (in some ways as depicted in the graphic above).  In the give and take discussions across disciplines, they began to really grapple with issues of quality instruction, value-added faculty interactions, social presence, and resource demands.

Our group included faculty teaching everything from small doctoral seminars to one faculty member who will have 200 undergraduates in an introductory non-major course. Some worked to design their own courses, other to design courses which could be handed off to adjuncts.  The participants seemed to come together as a community, achieving a degree of openness and trust that was pretty remarkable.  In some ways, they were energized (and angered) by an administration that would assign a non-tenured faculty member to teach 200 students in an online section without TA’s or design help (other than our institute).  While we have pockets that have taught online for years, we had not strategically approached online learning as an institution in the past, and this became evident to them.  The development of this cohort is an initial good step, and they are beginning to recognize both their opportunities and some limitations resulting from the previous lack of school or institution resources.  I am optimistic, because as a cohort, they appear to want online teaching to succeed and succeed well.

The key take-away from the week for me was that they moved well beyond a concept that teaching online meant putting your stuff online towards one in which teaching online called for new and unfamiliar ways of teaching practice.  They struggled as a group to discuss best methods for achieving learning outcomes in both synchronous and asynchronous environments.  They looked at how to tap crowdsourcing to meet instructional targets.

As these final days were unfolding, Jim Groom blogged a related post in”Edupunk, or on becoming a useful idiot.”  He noted this article by Glenn Harlan Reynolds in the Washington Examiner, in which Reynolds suggested that higher education is creating a bubble not unlike the housing bubble, and that the education bubble may soon collapse.  Jim included this Reynolds quote:

My question is whether traditional academic institutions will be able to keep up with the times, or whether — as Anya Kamenetz suggests in her new book, “DIY U” — the real pioneering will be in online education and the work of “edupunks” who are more interested in finding new ways of teaching and learning than in protecting existing interests.”

Jim was taking issue with edupunks as destroyers of higher education, but I would take equal issue with online education as destroyers of higher education.

learning revolution

I am not sure many in our cohort would label themselves as edupunks.  What I am sure of is that they are passionate about their teaching.  What I observed during the final three days of this institute were faculty members who genuinely believe that they add value to the lives of their students, and who therefore want to design online experiences that equal or exceed that value.  As the week progressed, the focus became less on “online” and more on “learning.”  In many respects, they captured practices and ideas that will emerge not only in their online classes but their face-to-face classes as well.

Reynolds may think that this destroys existing issues.  I see this group as adopting and adapting social media and online teaching and learning as a way of strengthening the value that higher education provides our society.

My question to my colleagues worldwide – does focusing on teaching online, instead of online teaching, help us address the growing questions of our relevance and value?

{Photo Credits: William “Bud” Deihl, krossbow, Wes Fryer}

Enhanced by Zemanta

I Am The So-Called Professor

Jim Groom pushes the envelope all the time, which is why we love him!  The person who coined the phrase “edupunk” is back as Rorschach from the Watchmen with a warning for “so-called professors” – you cannot, as Jon Mott suggested at ELI, have corporate learning management systems like Blackboard and edupunk style learning co-exist.  To be free, you must let go of walled garden systems and embrace open education.

Check out Rorschach’s EdTech Journal below:

We need people like Jim to push us out of our comfort zone, but I am not sure we need to totally abandon the LMS as Jim suggests.  If I had to guess which specific presentation upset Rorschach, it would have to be Jon Mott’s presentation on The Genius of AND: Reconciling the Enterprise and the Personal Learning Network.

Jon’s presentation really resonated with me – I am a believer in “and”.  This concept of “and” has come up several times in recent weeks.

Enterprise LMS’s like Blackboard do some things very well, such as administer rosters and handle grades in ways that satisfy FERPA regulations.  You can easily enhance Blackboard by adding aggregated blogs through Netvibes or collaborative spaces for tasks like wikis.  It is not a case as Jim suggests of “open” or “closed”, but rather “open” AND “closed” as the situation fits.

In working with a program looking at online instruction, it seemed that the discussion was leaning to one of “asynchronous” or “synchronous”.  This is another area where AND fits well.  The decision to use synchronous or asynchronous should be based on the learning objectives and the audience, not based on an EITHER/OR model.

In a bit of synchronicity, my office mate Bud Deihl had a blog post that mirrored some of what Rorschach bemoaned.  In “Technology in the Classroom is a Given“, Bud noted that we should not be debating whether or not to integrate technology into the classroom.  Our students are already carrying sophisticated technology in the form of smartphones, netbooks, and laptops into our classes.  As Bud challenges us, we should be looking for AND situations to go ahead and incorporate these technologies into our learning environments.

Jim A.K.A. Rorschach – Keep pushing us to be pure.  We need these mirrors held up to us.  But I will continue to be the so-called professor looking for that middle ground where I can use both traditional and networked learning.


Reblog this post [with Zemanta]