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}



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Rethinking Fundamentals

These are exciting times at our Center for Teaching Excellence at VCUGardner Campbell is reporting next week as our new Vice Provost for Learning Innovation and Student Success.  Jon Becker started yesterday as our interim Director of Online Education.  We are saying goodbye to Phillip Edwards as he leaves for the Ohio State University Center for the Advancement of Teaching, but we will be welcoming a new member to our Center next month.  With Jeffrey Nugent continuing to lead our Center and our eLearning Team, we have a dream team positioned for …

Disruption seems an appropriate word…as online education has been both a disruptive force in the past decade…and has itself been disrupted in the past year with the rise of MOOCS.  As we gear up for the start of our new academic year, particularly with such thought leaders in place, it seems a good time to revisit some of the fundamentals that have shaped my work for the past few years.

cover_thumbIn May 2009, Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I published a White Paper entitled Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning.  Only four years ago, and yet it seems somewhat dated now.  So I wanted to review it and see what still resonates with me and what needs rethinking.

We noted in the introduction:

“In our work with faculty members interested in teaching online, we have experienced the common perspective that moving a course online is primarily about designing and sequencing course content. While quality course content is a significant factor, we also believe that recent changes on the web – toward a more social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to make the transition to online teaching and learning.”

This still resonates with me, yet I have to recognize that much of the “new” and emerging elearning products seem geared towards designing and sequencing content.  In many ways, that describes many MOOCs, though Lisa Lane makes a good point that lumping all MOOCs into one pile is no better than lumping all online education into one pile.  There is also a move by some institutions to shift to self-paced compentency-based programs.  There are positives and negatives to this approach, but it does illustrate a use of digital technology that is worth exploring.  At some level, one could argue that self-paced compentency-based courses are about “learning” rather than teaching.

MOOCs aside, the state of elearning in higher education has continued to grow.  When we published the White Paper, four million students nationally were enrolled in online courses – 20% of all higher education students.  In the latest Babson Survey from 2012, the number had passed 6.7 million, or 32% of students.  Few other education processes (other than maybe the adoption of iPhones and tablets) could boast a 70% increase in four years.  With a 70% growth, there are obviously more faculty than ever involved in teaching online.

We stated in our White Paper that :

“…content alone does not make a course, nor an education…Everyone has access to high quality learning content.  Teaching online therefore means more than serving up content.  Faculty are critical, in that they are the drivers of quality course design, content mastery, and the skilled facilitation of learning.”

I continue to believe that faculty are critical…and not just to design, curate, and sequence content.

Our White Paper suggested three central themes to rethinking instructional practices for online teaching.

  • First, it requires effort to build a learning community in an online class, but that effort is critical.
  • Second, the virtual medium in which engagement occurs can happen across multiple websites, from learning management systems to microblogging sites to blogs and wikis.  The engagement requires true interaction rather than the more passive action/reaction of “read this and then take a quiz.”  Yet, this engagement is critical.
  • Finally, the social presence of both students and faculty is an important component of online learning.

booksIn the ensuing four years since we published this white paper, we have had nearly 80 faculty members participate in our Online Course Development Initiative, and another 60 faculty members complete our online Preparing to Teach Online course.  Another 24 faculty members have attended our three-session Learning Path on online teaching.  One commonality in these three programs is that each faculty member was given a copy of Rena Palloff and Keith Pratt’s 2007 book, Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom.  Each of these programs has additionally been influenced by Randy Garrison’s 2011 update of E-Learning in the 21st Century: A Framework for Research and Practice (Second Edition).  Community (and the Community of Inquiry model) have therefore been positioned front and center in our development of faculty for online teaching.

Given the changes emerging in online learning, my question becomes – Is “community” still a core fundamental principle for online teaching and learning?

For me, it is…but I would love for others to weigh in.

My colleague Joyce Kincannon used a great word yesterday as we discussed this – discourse.  Discourse is more than conversation, it is meaningful debate.  It is “meaning making” spread across multiple individuals.  To be quite honest, it is the discourse occurring in my online classes that keeps my juices flowing and excites me as I teach my courses.  I would suggest that it is the discourse that helps form and grow the community aspects of online classes.  So, building community is critical from my perspective.  I still think that “community” can exist across multiple digital websites or paths…and it can continue long after a course completes.  This past week, I have received several tweets from former students who are continuing our discourse.

All of which suggests that the social presence of both faculty members and students continues to be important.

Is “online teaching” evolving?  Definitely!  Are the fundamentals still core?  For me, the answer is yes.  This does not suggest that we should not explore self-paced digital processes that enhance learning. Just as the web is becoming ubiquitous in our lives, it should (in my opinion) be equally ubiquitous in our teaching and learning.  While some of the “tools” listed in our white paper have morphed or died – to be replaced my new tools – the fundamentals embedded in our white paper still resonate with me, as does our use of Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles as a lens for exploring the use of these digital tools.  While we may welcome MOOCs and self-paced instruction into the repertoire of online offerings, it seems to me that with 32% of college students taking online courses, the “traditional” instructor-led online course will be continuing for the foreseeable future, and the fundamentals we suggested in our white paper will continue to shape those courses – and our development of faculty.

Last spring, MGen Will Grimsley suggested that technology-enabled leadership should take a lesson from .38 Special – “Hold On Loosely, But Don’t Let Go.”  Seems like good advice for the fundamentals of community, networked learning, and social presence in online teaching and learning.

So maybe I am not as disruptive as I think…. 🙂

I would be interested in your thoughts…and any aspects of our white paper that you see as needing updating.


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A Summit and Academy

May is always a crazy time here in the Center, and this has been a busy week leading up to two more busy weeks.  On Monday, our Center of Teaching Excellence hosted our first Online Learning Summit.  Yesterday, several of us did a road trip to Fredericksburg for University of Mary Washington‘s 17th Faculty Academy.  Next week, we start our third Online Course Development Initiative, and the week after, we conduct our EdTech Collaboratory. As I said, crazy…

I have not blogged in a while, so let me try and at least capture some of what we did at the summit and academy.

VCU Online SummitThe online learning summit Monday was a first for the faculty of VCU and our CTE.  In some ways, it started as a trip down memory lane.  Bill Pelz of Herkimer County Community College and the SUNY Learning Network was our keynote presenter.  I had the pleasure of working with Bill at HCCC, and was there as he started Herkimer on its online journey.  In fact, we were recalling that he, I and Ron Carvin gave a presentation to SUNY chairs back in 1998 on this new thing called online learning!  Bill gave the keynote, and he was followed by seven VCU faculty presenting papers.  I have linked to the papers below.

Bill Pelz

The summit was conducted in a room with multiple round tables, and following each set of presentations, the presenters moderated the table discussions to capture faculty perceptions about shifts in teaching practice.  Bill set the stage with his discussion of “technoheutagogy” – a term most had not heard (since Bill created the term) but a term that captured in part the evolution of learning online.  Bill took us on a historical look at first pedagogy (how children learn), then andragogy (how adults learn), followed by heutagogy (self-determined learning).  Bill added the “techno” prefix to move self-determined learning online.

Our first panel presented the following papers:

We really wanted this summit to be a chance for dialogue rather than passive reception of talks.  Following these presentations, we discussed the talks at our tables and collected ideas on what shifts in practice seem most important, how are instructor roles changing, and how does teaching online shape expectations about faculty load.  We also brainstormed support that faculty felt they needed in order to more effectively teach online.

In the afternoon, three more faculty presented their papers:

We again did small group discussions around effective teaching practices as demonstrated by these papers.

Our plan is to collect these table discussions with the papers and publish a conference proceedings from the day.  All the papers contained valuable and relevant information, and I would recommend your review of them.

We spent Tuesday completing our plans for next week, and then hit the road Wednesday morning for UMW and Faculty Academy.


We could only attend one day, but as always, Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy inspires us.  Martha Burtis was unfortunately out sick, but Jim Groom,  Steve Greenlaw, Tim Owens, Alan Levine and others welcomed those of us from off campus and provided a rich selection of presentations to move our thinking.

Giulia Forsythe let us use multiple markers as we played with visual notetaking.  While she had each of note “I can draw!” on our charts, Joyce’s looked a lot better than mine!

Jason Davidson, Mike McCarthy and former student Shannon Hauser showed different uses of the UMW WordPress blogs in their teaching and learning.  I was particularly blown away by Shannon’s rich uses of blogs both personally and professionally.

Grant Potter gave a great plenary on “Tinkering, Learning, and the Adjacent Possible”.  His main point was that creativity and innovation do not often happen in structured spaces (physical or virtual), but rather need open, transparent, and chaotic processes that allow recombinations / remixing of ideas.

Lots to think about from these past few days…and lots to look forward to in the next two weeks!

{Photos shot on iPads by Britt Watwood and Bud Deihl, the FA12 Banner from UMW FA12 website}



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Two Days of MARC

I have enjoyed two full days at the 2012 Educause Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Baltimore.  I previously posted materials from our presentation and my Twitter 2o2 session.  By the way, Skyping Jon Becker in for Twitter 202 went just fine, and Jon added some great observations on the personal, professional, and academic use of Twitter.  Thanks again, Jon, for being a part of this session!

Some overall impressions:

Before they disappear, check out the rich conversation that has  been going on backchannel using the hashtag #marc12.  As of this evening, 818 tweets have been sent.  Jeff Nugent clued us on to The Archivist during our Twitter 202 session this morning, and I just used it to capture these 818 tweets and run some analytics.  Looks like we added quite a few new “tweeps”.  I spotted that Derek Bruff was in the top dozen twitterers for MARC 2012…and he was not even here.  The power of a distributed learning network!

Randy Bass gave a great keynote on “Disrupting Ourselves: Cherished Assumptions, New Designs and Problem of Learning in Higher Ed.”  During his talk, I could not resist shooting a picture with my iPad that showed attendees shooting pictures of Bass’s slides.  As Bud Deihl noted, this was not your granddad’s conference!

Last year, Randy talked about the problem of learning in the post-course era.  His talk yesterday continued this notion of the change needed in higher education.  He talked about courses with low impact versus courses with high impact, and noted that in many cases, those courses with little impact are what we in education call “curriculum”.  The high impact courses are internships, capstone courses, student research and service learning opportunities.

One of the more interesting sessions was by Jim Jorstad, the Director of Educational Technologies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, entitled “Making Teaching and Learning Authentic- Engagement Through Social Media in Politically Charged Times.”  Jim showed how video he filmed of protests in Wisconsin and posted through YouTube and CNN iReports were picked up and widely distributed, which for me was simply another example of distributed networks at work.

Today, Terry Carter and her grad student Jonathon West discussed their student research project.  In “Going Digital: Conducting Student Research in Teams with Web 2.0“, her capstone students used a wiki to collaboratively gather data on a real world problem involving hospital readmissions and literacy, which was cool in and of itself.   What blew everyone away was the student generated digital story at the end to summarize their findings, but also give voice to the patients they interviewed (using actors and Flickr images so as to not violate HIPAA.)

John Shank of Penn State discussed “Learning the Net Generation Way: Reimagining Instruction with Digital Learning Materials.”  A good session for faculty wishing to locate and use digital material, but I thought it was light on “learning” and the so-called Net Generation.  I asked about students building their own digital learning material as a way of learning, and it really was not an area he wished to discuss.  Shucks!

The lunch roundtables were interesting.  I sat in on the Analytics table.  There was a mix of conversation about analytics for academic support, such as recruitment, retention, and logistics underlying academic institutions.  I was more interested in learning analytics at the classroom level.  Of note, an IT member of University of Maryland-Baltimore County noted that his institution would be doing some beta testing of Blackboard’s new analytic service.

That should give you a taste of two days worth of conference.  We wrap up tomorrow and catch the train back to Richmond.


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Blogging Into the New Academic Year

teacherblogMy Fall 2010 online course kicked off this past weekend, and unlike face-to-face classes, the process of getting to know my students is slow but interesting.  Three-quarters have now logged in, but by the nature of the design, it will be a week before many of them begin interacting with each other.  My students are all Visiting International Faculty from a variety of countries, working on their Masters in Education from VCU while they teach in K-12 schools across three states.  I am using the Wimba Voice Board as a way to hear their voices and begin connecting with them.  They were here this summer as a cohort, so I would suspect that they have already formed pretty tight bonds.

As the outsider, I wanted to do something a little different with their introductions.  I originally planned to have them use the game at http://www.gone2thedogs.com that computes their breed as a dog, but as luck would have it, the site went down the day the course started and still has not come back up.  So as a back-up, I redirected students to the dog breed calculator at Dogster.Com.

But that is only the icebreaker.  After teaching online for 15 years and blogging for nearly 3 years, I felt that it was time to practice what I preach and move my students from commenting in Blackboard discussion boards to more open reflecting on the web.

After all, this course is entitled Educational Technology for School Leaders.  In this digital age, “educational technology” increasingly means web-based technology.  Over the last three years, I have found that the K-12 teachers I teach start this course with a real fear of the web.  Part of that is the fear of the unknown…the fear that they will appear less knowledgeable than the children in their room.  But the other fear is based on genuine issues of safety, inappropriate behavior, and lawsuits.  As Scott McLeod noted last year, if we are not working on the web and teaching appropriate use of the web to our children, who will?

So it is time for my course to stop exploring the web and start using it.

blog_instrWith only 13 students this fall, this feels like a good class in which to try this.  Neither I nor they should be overwhelmed.  Following  the good example set by Jon Becker in his Education Politics class, I have created a Google Sites class space to aggregate the RSS feeds from my students.  As they are checking in to the Blackboard space, they are finding links to four potential blog sources that they can use to create their blogs.  The first few to do so are following advice that I got from Jeff Nugent and have passed on to them, which was to suggest that they could blog anonymously.

Bill Kist listed some good blogging guidelines on page 73 of his book The Socially Networked Classroom from Bud Hunt which I am modifying for a graduate level class:

1.  While your blog is your space, treat the one your are using in this class as your academic publishing platform.  Speech that is inappropriate for your classroom is probably inappropriate in your blog.  While critical reflection and healthy skepticism are part of blogging, your comments should always be presented in a way that reflects how you present yourself in your classroom – as a professional.

2.  You are not required to divulge your identity in your blog nor identify your school.  Your blog is a public space on the Internet.  Do not share anything you do not want the world to know.  As a recent video noted, what happens in Vegas stays on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and a host of blogs.  Assume that a future employer will review your blog and write accordingly.

3.  Finally, practice good scholarship on the web.  Link to your sources.  Give credit to others if you use their thoughts.  If you do link to a website, make sure that you have reviewed that link.  If it contains material that might make others uncomfortable, think before you use it.  We will be exploring the darker side of the internet in Module 3, but that does not give you license to pull it into our class.

With the links above, I am obviously focusing on the technology as I help them start, but I also think that it is important that they see this blog as a real departure from education as usual.

They are used to college courses requiring them to work and submit original thoughts (through papers and online discussions), and they are also used to that original material being shut off from them at the end of the semester.  That is the way universities have taught for hundreds of years…and the original learning management systems simply replicated that model.  But as others have been doing (and I have enjoyed watching Jeff Nugent do this with his classes, as well as the neat work up at University of Mary Washington), some students have been given ownership of their own intellectual property.  The blogs that my students create will belong to them…to do with as they will.  I will be grading their use during my course because that is what professors do.  But the thoughts they raise and the reflections they post will be theirs.  They may or may not continue blogging after this semester, but my hope is that they will connect to the larger network of fellow learners…and in the process, become better able to advise the not-so-savvy digital students inhabiting their classrooms.

By next week, they should have created their own blog.  I am going to have “topics” for reflection on a weekly basis, and part of the rubric for grading includes commenting to fellow students.  Their first reflection will be on the “Welcome to My PLE” video I discussed in my July 14th post on the Socially Networked Student.  I am interested in their take on this 7th grader and her use of the web for learning.  Bud Deihl and I used this video in our talk at Elon University and got some interesting push-back from some faculty who only saw an ability to cut and paste.  I am wondering what my students see?  Is she typical?  Would she be welcome in their classrooms?

The students will post by September 10th and comment through September 12th.

I am excited and looking forward to seeing where this use of social media will take my learning and their learning as the semester unfolds.  For those of you who have taken this approach already, any advice will be welcomed!

{Photo Credit: cogdog}

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Day 2 of Summer Institute

We had a great second day in our Institute for faculty transitioning to online teaching and learning.  Tuesday was devoted to focusing on just what a “classroom” meant for an online class.  We explored our learning management system – Blackboard 9 – in the morning, and compared that to two open access options, a Ning and a class Jon Becker developed using Google Sites.

In the afternoon, we examined the use of Wimba for synchronous sessions.  We compared and contrasted asynchronous and synchronous delivery of instruction, and closed with an examination of Twitter as a quasi-synchronous vehicle.

We were fortunate to have Lisa M. Lane as a guest speaker last evening, using Wimba to demonstrate a synchronous class experience. For over an hour, she discussed and answered participant questions on how instructor presence plays a critical role in the success of an online class. Many approach online teaching focusing on the tools, but Lisa reaffirmed the importance of the affective domain – human emotions – in online teaching and learning. Lisa has already taken the audio from our session and mixed it in Slideshare.

It was a great cap on a very good day.

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