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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30-Day Challenge – Day 22 – Asking the Wrong Questions

Same Thinking Same ResultsThis 30-Day Challenge has been intellectually stimulating for me.  Enoch Hale challenged us to ask “out-of-the-box” questions about teaching and learning…which is fun in some ways and very challenging in other ways.  It has definitely not led (for me) to “the same old thinking.”

Our hallway conversations have been just as fun…and have focused on the stimulation that questions cause.  And that stimulation is now coming from multiple sources as I focus on questions.  So I perked up last week when I saw that Matt Crosslin had posted an interesting “question” in EduGeek Journal – “Still Asking the Wrong Questions About Technology.”  Matt was riffing off a Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Taking Notes By Hand Benefits Recall, Researchers Find.”

As Matt noted:

“The basic point is that students that take lecture notes by hand do better on tests than students that took notes on a laptop…I don’t doubt the findings of this report. Taking notes by hand usually does require you to think more. The bigger question that the researchers are not looking at is “what is the best way to use notes”?”

Matt points out that this “…goes back to the bigger problem in education, where we drag technology and teaching down by constraining it to one paradigm of learning…”  Great point.  Research such as this attempts to paint findings in behaviorist terms (stimulus – response) when our educational environment is evolving into a distributed rhizomatic network of learners.

Day 22 – As a community…how do we stop asking the wrong questions?

Last night in our GRAD-602 class, we explored the evolution of web supported course sites, journeying from the early days of Blackboard LMS through more open WordPress platforms, reviewing “learning communities” in spaces such as Ravelry or music fansites, and then exploring ds106, a vibrant learning community that started as a “course” at University of Mary Washington, but evolved into SO much more.  Now ds106 is a co-constructed community where you can “Start any time, it never ends. Design it your way.”

One of our future faculty said “Wait a minute…don’t you HAVE to use Blackboard?”  Fair question…but the wrong question.

Just as asking if you take better notes by hand is the wrong question.  The right question on note-taking, as Matt noted, might be: What is the intended outcome…and will the notes you have taken help you achieve it?  In a future course our GRAD-602 students will be teaching, the question might become “What are the intended outcomes, and will your web course site support the achievement of these outcomes?”.  And importantly -as ds106 models – will your students be able to come back in after the course is over and continue adding to the learning?  In our podcast this morning, Jeff made this insightful comparison between most LMS course websites and the sites like our GRAD-602 or ds106…they invite you to come back.  Great point, Jeff!

Here is our podcast this morning, with Jeff Nugent, Joyce Kincannon, Laura Gogia and I.  Give a listen!

{Graphic: F. Mandon}

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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.


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Unicorns in a Balloon Factory

Just completed the first day at BbWorld 2009 in Washington DC.  The setting has been wonderful – the new Gaylord Resort in National HarborBud Deihl and I are attending together and it has been fun hearing his perspective on the various sessions.

There has been an active Twitter backchannel linked here, so check that out.

Seth Godin of Tribes fame gave the keynote, substituting for Sir Ken Robinson.  While I hated to miss Sir Ken, Seth gave a great talk.  In many ways, it was an expanded version of his TedTalk earlier this year.  But one take away was that education was the one industry Ben Franklin would have no problem recognizing.  He likened those of us in education to workers in a balloon factory.  It is nice work and we enjoy creating our balloons, but every now and then, a unicorn comes along and makes us nervous.  I would like to think that our work in online learning is one of those unicorns…and I kind of like the analogy!

After the keynote, I attended “Back to Basics: Five Elements of Exceptional Technology Enhanced Learning,” by Stephen Laster, CIO, Harvard Business School.  It was a good session and about 120 attended this session.  His five elements:

o Styles
* Learning Styles
* Cannot give every student every choice, but you can drive expectations on how learning will be delivered
* Also consider Teaching Styles
o Designs
* Course design is like creation of symphony
* A flow that comes naturally
* Design starts with objectives and outcomes and navigates based on learning and teaching styles
* BIg Question – How much mass customization can be support?
o Context
* Relevance
* While not perfect, students are pretty good at finding info
* My comment to him – all learning is now online  – he agreed
o Community
* New notion of teams
* Tribes
* Collective learning models
o Adaptability
* Leveraging Unplanned Opportunities
* New communication norms

Laster suggested that these elements gave a common language that geeks and non-geeks could get behind.  He did note that there was no need to mention technology – that technology should now be assumed to be transparent.  He also suggested that the overhead in education is administration, and that the internet makes higher education ripe for consolidations.

Jarl Jonas of Blackboard discussed Creative and Proven Ways to Keep Students Engaged.  It was somewhat a sells pitch for Release 9, but I did agree with his roles of instructors in an online class:

o Space Planner (Suggested students see our classes as blindfolded musical chairs)
* Consistency, flow
* eClass online model – Explain, Clarify, Look, Act, Share, Self-Evaluate
o Host
* First Impressions
* Keep Out the Welcome Mat
* Banners
* Orientations
* Icebreakers
o Pace Setter
* Manageable Segments
* Vary Discussions
* Individualize
o Connector
* Connect to Content
* Alternative Assessments
* Connect to Each Other
* Students as Teacher
* Groups
* Blogging
* Connect to Faculty
o Mirror
*Model what you are expecting of students

The corporate keynote after lunch was focused on welcoming Angel, as well as discussing strategic direction for Blackboard NG – universal access, increased ability to measure results, and increased mobile applications.  Ray Henderson discussed customer support and transparency, and Michael Chasen announced that Blackboard had just acquired TerriblyClever Design, creator of the iStanford mobile phone apps.

We attended two more sessions in the afternoon.  The one on Constructivist Approach to Distance Ed showcased some interesting use of videos but never really discussed constructivism.  The other was on faculty development and why faculty fail to come to training.  Their bottom line was that one cannot force training, so they have shifted their efforts to web tutorials and tip sheets.

We wrapped up the day at the poster receptions.  Bud and I talked to some interesting folks from Valdosta State University (smartphones in ed), West Virginia University (course design), and Texas Womens University (Quality Matters assessments).

Looking forward to tomorrow – Bud and I are on first thing in the morning discussing weaving the social web into Bb to make it more of a learning portal.  I hope we pop some balloons!

Is the CMS Dead? (…and other UMW FA 2009 Fun)

Bud Deihl and I traveled north a few miles to attend the University of Mary Washington’s Faculty Academy 2009 in Fredericksburg, VA.  It was a chance to reconnect face-to-face with some of my Twitter friends like Martha Burtis (see her reflections on this day here), George Brett and Laura Blankenship.

One of the highlights for me was the lunch debate between the Right Reverend Jim Groom and John St. Clair on “Is the CMS Dead?”  In a lively back and forth, the original Edupunk Jim suggested that the course management system was only good for management, not learning, and as such, SHOULD be dead … but appeared to be more undead (I knew zombies would appear at some point in his talk).  John countered that he thought the talk was about CMS – conservative mid-sized sedans – and that he thought most people wanted a sensible automobile and not some do-it-yourself hovercraft!

Both gentlemen gave great passionate arguments to their side.  I talked to Jim afterward and asked why the question had to be CMS “or” open systems?  In the past two semesters, I have used the Blackboard CMS for the things it does well (document and link management, rosters, grade management), but also used blogging, Jing and wikis for collaborative work with my students.  In other words, Blackboard served as a portal and launching point for my students into the open web.  This seemed to me to be a case of “AND” rather than “or.”

I enjoyed the lunch debate, but in reality, the whole day was fantastic!

James Boyle gave an invigorating keynote on “Cultural Agoraphobia: What Universities Need to Know About Our Bias Against Openness.”  Having just come off the Board of Directors for Creative Commons, he was uniquely qualified to discuss this issue.  He started with a history of the internet and how openness was a bug meant to be fixed later, but the internet grew more rapidly than anticipated and openness spawned many wonderful opportunities and profitable enterprises.  It definitely caused problems and concerns, but also amazing positives in the business world, entertainment, government, and education.  Yet, Boyle stated that education has yet to deal with its concerns and instead simply is biased against openness.  He noted that openness meant not only the ability to copy but also the ability to improve.

Thoroughly enjoyed the talk.  Jeff Nugent has recently had us at the CTE discussing licensing our Center organizational web material with a Creative Commons license.

I attended a great panel discussion by UMW faculty on their use of blogging in their classes.  It was a chance to see a very diverse mix of blogs associated with writing classes, art classes, science classes and math classes.  One of the take-aways was that blogs allowed time for students to reflect on critical issues for which there just was not time in 50-minute classes.

Cole Camplese of Penn State University gave an excellent talk on emerging trends impacting teaching and learning.  I loved his observation that we view what our students do as “technology,” but that it is only technology to those of us born before technology.  To the students raised in a wired world, it is simply a means of communication and connection.  I was blown away by the fact he listed that 40% of students at Penn State no longer bring a TV to campus.  They get their “TV” and entertainment straight off the web.  He noted that our universities are still designed as if our students are going to receive our wisdom and reflect it back to us, when in reality, through their own content and knowledge creation, our students act more as amplifiers than reflectors.  At Penn State, they have cast blogs as a form of digital publishing and are exploring ways for students to keep their own digital content.  If blogs are viewed as personal content management systems, then digital expression is seen as a form of scholarship that must be systematically supported.

I was also impressed that a third of PSU faculty reported using YouTube instructionally.  🙂

The last session of the day was a workshop run by Laura Blankenship on “Creating a Personal Learning Network for Yourself and Your Students.”  We will be discussing the same topic at our upcoming Teaching and Learning with Technology Institute in June, so I was interested in seeing how Laura presented this concept.  She did a great job by first focusing on problems that needed solving, and then brainstorming from the group web applications that could be used to solve these problems.  In the course of the discussion, we discussed RSS feeds, Google Reader, delicious, Jott, and a host of other tools.

One last side thought – Twitter was very active among participants, and the hashtag #umwfa09 made note-taking unnecessary.  However, Twitter had scheduled maintenance today which hit right at the end of Cole’s talk, and it was momentarily frustrating to lose it mid-conference (so much so that I complained about it in Facebook!!!)  🙂

Great day – looking forward to Day Two tomorrow!

My BFO of the Week

In getting set to start the Fall Semester teaching an online class, I have been totally revamping the previous course I taught (as you know from previous posts) and have been neck-deep in Blackboard. This week, I had a BFO – Navy lingo for a Blinding Flash of the Obvious!

My BFO – Blackboard may be a Learning Management System, but it remains teacher-centered and not learning-centered.

Now, I am not a Blackboard basher…I have enjoyed using Blackboard for six years. But it does have limitations, and one of them is that it lags the rest of the edtech world in features, particularly those associated with Web 2.0.

I was creating some discussion forums and saw that our upgrade to Bb 7.3 this past May had added a new feature – “tagging”

Well all right now!!!

Tagging is an essential component of user-generated material on the web, and is part of what makes Flickr, YouTube, SlideShare, and Delicious work so well. As described in Delicious (relating to bookmarks, but the same principle applies to pictures, videos, posts, etc.):

“A tag is simply a word you can use to describe a bookmark. Unlike folders, you make up tags when you need them and you can use as many as you like. The result is a better way to organize your bookmarks and a great way to discover interesting things on the Web.”

I thought – “Cool, now students can tag their posts and search other posts using tags!” This would be folksonomy at work in my class!


What I soon learned when I tried out a few threads is that students cannot tag anything, nor can the instructor while replying. It is only when the instructor collects multiple threads that a tag can be added. While this has some marginal usage, it remains Web 1.0 in philosophy. I put tags on my blog posts and appreciate when others do the same. Students have learned to search using tags. Blackboard apparently allows students to search by tags, but only the tags that the instructor has put in on the threads the instructor chooses. This is NOT a folksonomy, but a very teacher-centered approach.

I’ll still use Blackboard…but in many cases it will be a springboard to jump out of into the interactive world wide web…where I can turn students loose and watch the learning occur!

{Photo Credit: shoebappa – Nice picture that combines the concepts of “Blinding Flash” and “NAVY”!}

Moving Beyond Access and Convenience to Learning

Jeff Nugent, Bud Deihl and I were brainstorming about workshops to offer next fall to the VCU faculty, and we began to take apart our normal offerings of the various “tools” associated with instructional technology. Jeff began to draw on the whiteboard (yes…we still go low tech at times….) and laid out the following visualization of how our institution uses our learning management system (Blackboard):

LMS Flow

As validated by the ECAR study over the past four years, students by and large want faculty to use course management systems like Blackboard because of the access and convenience it gives them to course content, assignments, and grades. Faculty likewise appreciate the convenience that it gives them to post materials and communicate with students.

Our challenge is that while a majority of faculty “use” Blackboard, they are not necessarily using it for learning. As a course management system, the focus has been on management – posting material, collecting homework, posting grades. Many faculty are missing a wonderful opportunity to use a course management system as a tool that facilitates learning.

When we in faculty development focus on tools such as Blackboard, we run the risk of reinforcing this faculty and student desire to develop a portal for access and convenience. Focusing on the set-up of Blackboard tends to focus one on design features (course layout, organization, navigation, etc) and on the indirect support features to learning, such as gradebooks, assignments, and loading of course material.

Our focus recently has been more to see Blackboard as a place in which to jump off into social media. As Mike Wesch noted in a recent presentation, students are interested in learning but not necessarily interested in school or classes. One way to change that perception is to give the students their voice and give them responsibility for their own learning. Web 2.0 provides some rich environments for this to occur and the use of Web 2.0 apps links nicely with Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. We have been exploring the use of social bookmarking within classes, blogging, and collaborative writing through Google Docs and wikis. There is no reason NOT to use the access and convenience afforded by the course management system, but one should not stop there.

I would be interested in comments from others on what you are doing to move both faculty and students beyond access and convenience to uses that support active learning.