New Courses and New Play Things

Thought VectorsInteresting days here on the fourth floor of the Academic Learning Commons at VCU.  Today was the roll out of our institution’s first MOOC – Thought Vectors in Concept Space.  CogDog (Alan Levine) and Tom Woodward have been creating magic side by side for the past week – developing a single platform in which six professors, their students, and the world can interact and build learning networks – within a class, within VCU, and within the world wide web.  For an informative “behind the scenes” look at what it took to make this happen, see Alan’s blog post – “Under the Hood of ThoughtVectors.Net.”

On Twitter, people lined up to emulate Douglas Engelbart’s pose.

The Pose.

This course is open to the world … and in talking to some of the faculty teaching it, they truly desire the world to come in and interact with their students.  Check it out.

Today is also the first day of my summer course – ADLT 640 – The Theory and Practice of eLearning Integration into Adult Environments (and no, I did not make the course name up…just living with it).  In keeping with the “thought vectors” firing around our floor, and in keeping with the practice Jeff Nugent and I have done for the past two years, I am also running my course on the open web, rather than using Blackboard.  The website is My students will also be blogging weekly, so check out their links in the Learning Journals tab in about a week.

eLearning is nearly as old as the web itself, but as with any innovation, there have been both early adopters and skeptics. As publishing and managing content on the web has become easier, and as providing online training and courses has become increasingly more popular, interest in providing elearning is high in government, the corporate sector, and education. A common (mis)perspective is that moving instruction online is primarily about designing and sequencing the content. This is wrong.  Rich content is already out there.  Changes on the web in the last decade – toward a more open, social and interconnected space – have necessitated the rethinking of what it means to teach and learn online.  eLearning is not about content…it is about connecting people – as our new MOOC stresses.  New theories are emerging regarding teaching and learning online. We will explore these theories (with a focus on connectivism) and the new practice of eLearning in my course.

This course explores the theory and practice of integrating eLearning into adult learning environments and addresses the many factors that need to be considered in the design and delivery of eLearning.  eLearning offers a great deal of promise to both adult educators and learners, yet eLearning must be implemented appropriately; its use integrated into well established and well-researched pedagogical practices in order to be effective.

ADLT-640 will (hopefully) provide learners with a theoretical foundation and rationale for the successful integration of eLearning into formal and informal adult learning environments. This course begins with an overview of educational theory and social constructivist teaching philosophy before addressing the fundamental issues instructional designers should consider when designing, providing, and assessing eLearning.  This foundation coupled with the practical issues associated with eLearning will set the stage for exploring digital media in ADLT-641, which is taught by Jeff.

My course is a hybrid one, with us meeting face-to-face the first two weeks to explore the theories, then going totally online for a month to apply the theories, and then reconvening face-to-face for the final two weeks to analyze what we do and look at emerging trends.  It is a fast 8 weeks!

3D Lion WeightAs if a MOOC and my own course were not enough, Jeff and I met with Benard Means today to set up our own 3D printer.  Benard and his students have been doing some amazing work digitizing artifacts they recover from the Jamestown / Williamsburg area.  We have a new MakerBot Replicator 5 which Benard helped us set up, and we immediately … and by immediately I mean over the next 45 minutes … printed out a replica of a Jamestown brass lion counterweight.  3D printing and instant gratification are not co-equal terms…but it fascinating to try.  Having a 3D Maker Space on our floor might open up new learning opportunities for faculty and students.

Over the afternoon, Jeff and I played with downloading scanned files from Thingiverse.  Shown below are some practice prints we are doing with Minecraft gear.

3D Printing

{Graphics: Tom Woodward, Alan Levine, Britt Watwood}

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Evangelizing Teaching

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

In other words, it is complex!

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

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

Guy explained the difference between an evangelist and a salesperson:

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

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

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

Peanuts Evangelist


{Graphic – Charles Schulz}

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Sloan Online Conference Days Two and Three

SLOAN Conference logo

An interesting second and third day here at the 19th Annual SLOAN Consortium International Conference on Online Learning.  The second day started early with an 8am keynote by Daphne Koller of Coursera, entitled “The Online Revolution: Learning without Limits.”

Her abstract for this talk made the following points:


“We are at the cusp of a major transformation in higher education. In the past year, we have seen the advent of MOOCs – massively open online classes (MOOCs) – top-quality courses from the best universities offered for free. These courses exploit technology to provide a real course experience to students, including video content, interactive exercises with meaningful feedback, using both auto-grading and peer-grading, and rich peer-to-peer interaction around the course materials. We now see MOOCs from dozens of top universities, offering courses to millions of students from every country in the world. The courses start from bridge/gateway courses all the way through graduate courses, and span a range of topics including computer science, business, medicine, science, humanities, social sciences, and more. In this talk, I’ll report on this far-reaching experiment in education, including some examples and preliminary analytics. I’ll also discuss how this model can support a significant improvement in the learning experience for on-campus students, via blended learning, and provide unprecedented access to education to millions of students around the world.”

Given the hype around MOOCS and her early talks, I was a bit skeptical going in, but she delivered a solid keynote.  She seemed to emphasize that Coursera was in the platform business more than revolutionizing higher education…that Coursera was a good supplement filling a need that life-long learners had – given that 80% of the 5+ million Courserans already have a degree.  She noted that her own degree in computer science was dated, and so the types of courses offered by Coursera attracted (and completion demonstrated) those that wanted to update knowledge and skills.

She was quite proud of the reach of Coursera, noting not only numbers, partners, and courses, but that 14 students in Antarctica were currently enrolled in Coursera courses. #neat! She also made the point that when you reach massive scale, the cost of a course per student approaches zero. She demonstrated some neat applications of both machine grading and peer assessment in physics courses, chemistry labs, and humanities essays.  Of particular note (for me) was a study in which 1200 peer graded essays were also graded by TA’s, and the results strongly correlated.  I thought it was a leap to suggest that peer grading built community, but it is evident that sub-communities do form in Coursera courses.

She took on the issue of retention and completion rates, noting that first of all, completion was not the intent of most.  However, if one measured completion of those who paid and signed up for Signature Track, the completion rates approached 85%.

Sloan07Contrasting her talk was the keynote on the third day, with Anant Agarwal (edX & MIT) discussing “Reinventing Education.” My colleague Yin Wah Kreher captured me madly tweeting during Anant’s talk!  His abstract noted:

“Digital technology has transformed countless areas of life from healthcare to workplace productivity to entertainment and publishing. But education hasn’t changed a whole lot. EdX is a MOOC (massive open online course) initiative that aspires to reinvent education through online learning. EdX’s mission is to dramatically increase access to education for students worldwide through MOOCs on our platform, while substantially enhancing campus education in both quality and efficiency through blended models that incorporate online elements created by the edX team.

This talk will provide an overview of MOOCs and edX, and share student stories that reveal how they are increasing access to education worldwide. The talk will also discuss where MOOC technologies are headed, and how they can enhance campus education. Finally, the talk will provide some recent research results that will allow us to improve education online and on campus, and discuss how MOOCs might evolve in the future.”

I found his talk much more nuanced and positive compared to Koller’s talk.  Rather than “selling” Coursera and pointing to huge (and impressive) numbers, Anant focused on the slower growth of edX and how lessons learned from decades of educational research was mindfully integrated with their approach.  Their first course was one of MIT’s hardest, requiring differential equations and complex problem solving.  They anticipated 2,000 signing up, but 155,000 signed up.  Over  26K did the first problem (indicator of true interest and not “tourist” status}, over 9K passed the midterm, nearly 7200 were certified at the end.  As Anant noted, the press focused on 95% not completing, but he focused on the fact that 7200 completers represented the potential output of 36 years of teaching circuits by the old model…something to be celebrated.  edX has continued to grow and now has nearly 100 courses.

As impressive as the courses and partner institutions are, Anant singled out how other institutions like San Jose State University are using edX MOOCs as “next generation textbooks.”  SJSU’s circuit course that used the MOOC for content and interactions saw a class failure rate drop from 41% to 9%.  Anant saw no difference to using MOOCs as next generation textbooks as he saw in the typical practice of most university courses using a textbook written by someone other than the teaching professor.  Huge implications for both publishing and teaching practice, but this concept really resonates with me!  As Rena Palloff tweeted:

Anant was very proud of the edX platform – OpenedX.  He described it as the GarageBand of education!  The active learning technology that he demonstrated was indeed – as he passionately noted – “very cool!”  He showed a Science of Cooking lab simulation that sizzled when the students cooked their steak.  Homework feedback gives big green checkmarks when work is correct, and green checkmarks have now become a meme on campus.

Overall, the twitter backchannel had some skeptics, but the majority saw this final keynote as a winner.  Well done, SLOAN-C!

Dropping back to Day 2, David McLeod and I did our presentation on “Liberating Students: Harnessing the Power of Open Student-Generated Content.” I have to say that the tech gods certainly smiled on me, as my presentation depended on first the use of Prezi, then playing the embedded YouTube with David’s portion of the presentation, and finally connecting with David at University of Oklahoma by Hangout for the Q&A portion…all in a 35 minute window.  Yet, it all worked perfectly.  I had set my laptop up on top of the podium facing the audience, and during the Q&A, David interacted with the audience like a rock star!

We described how we empowered students to create their own meaningful content outside the confines of an LMS, using WordPress, Netvibes, Protopage, and the creativity inherent in our students to make impacts in student lives…and in David’s case, the wider community.  Our Prezi is below, and I would recommend watching David’s pre-recorded 7 minutes within it, as all of the follow-up questions were directed at his super-innovative Project710 class.

I felt so bad for Lauren Cummins in the session following mine, as the tech gods that smiled on me frowned on her.  She presented on “Social Presence: Creating Online Learning Communities that Empower Student Learning.”   Two doors down from mine, yet she could not connect to her Prezi, and ended up using a Powerpoint hastily constructed the hour before…which was too large for the projection screen, so the words were cut off.  She gamefully pressed on and discussed ideas for creating community. Key was the social presence of both the students and the teacher.  Research has demonstrated that student perceptions of the presence of the teacher lead to higher student satisfaction with the online course…as well as potentially increasing student engagement.

Yesterday I noted that Bill Pelz was awarded a SLOAN Fellow.  At the second day luncheon, numerous other awards were distributed, including one to Kelvin Thompson and Baiyun Chen of University of Central Florida, for their work in faculty development.  I caught up with Kelvin afterwards, along with other BlendKit alums, to discuss BlendKit 2014, which Kelvin is currently developing.

I briefly attended a panel discussion by some of the thought leaders in higher education on “Leading the e-Learning Transformation in Higher Education.”  Most discussed the beginnings of elearning, but I left before I heard any transformative thought…in order to meet up with the BlendKit folks.  I will have to go back and listen to this one, as the make-up of the panel was impressive.

poster2The poster session was lively.  Quite a few posters on a topic that bothers me – processes to proctor tests using video systems.  I know such processes are probably needed…but current state of technology (to me) seems to try and sell a false sense of security.  But as one faculty lamented…if I can just get my students to stop cutting and pasting during tests, that would be an improvement.  With all the amazing enhancements to assessment demonstrated during (in particular) Anant’s edX keynote, it seems that there are better ways to assess students – and use assessment formatively to enhance learning.

<Climbing off soapbox>

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed three days of interaction and engagement with my colleagues at the SLOAN International Conference for Online Learning.  Looks like next year’s conference will be October 29-31 in Orlando.  I understand that the Sebastian Thrun costume was already trending on Twitter as must-wear next year!  I hope to be back.

{Credits: Josh Murdock, Yin Wah Kreher, Britt Watwood}

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Integrating Teaching and Technology

tptechThis past weekend, I was in my old hometown of Atlanta for the first Teaching Professor Technology Conference.  With only 650 people attending, the conference had an intimate feeling to it.  This was one of the first conferences I have attended in which I knew very few people, but friends were quickly made…and I added to my Twitter PLN.

After the opening plenary, poster sessions, and a day of rapid fire sessions (including mine), I awoke Sunday morning with an interesting epiphany.  Online education actually has become mainstream.  Many of the sessions mentioned online instruction, but the fact that the instruction was online was not the point.  The point was how technology … digital technology … was being used to impact learning.  It seemed everyone at the conference was passionate about learning!

For someone who adopted online instruction before Blackboard was created…this rocked!

Friday afternoon, Joshua Kim, Director of Learning and Technology for Dartmouth and blogger for Inside Higher Education, gave the opening plenary talk entitled “The Teaching Professor in 2020: Shaping the Future in a Time of Rapid Change.  A good talk, yet troubling.  With the increasing use of online education and the fascination this past year with MOOCs, Joshua suggested that higher education is in the midst of a historic shift…and that shift could be one that moves education from relationships with students to mass production of learning content and processes.  He suggested that higher education over the past two hundred years succeeded because of the relationships built between faculty and students (and between students).  In an era when rock star faculty can create a “course” that has 160,000 people enrolled, Joshua suggests that there cannot be an implicit relationship between the individual faculty and individual student.  In some ways, it reminds me of the move industrially from craft manufacturing to assembly line manufacturing – which had both positive and negative outcomes. Joshua suggested that you need those relationships for authentic learning … and stated “Authentic learning does not scale.”

True?  I am not sold that authentic learning is implicitly tied to small class size…but I do buy the issue of relationships.  And I agree with Ollie Dreon, who tweeted:


Joshua suggested that higher education might move in similar directions to the airlines, which have unbundled travel into commodities you buy…or very elite high end first-class travel.  The relationship-creating experiences might become our “first-class” education while MOOCs and low cost competency assessment represent “coach-class” education.  Reminded me of the discussions we have had in our CTE led by Jeff Nugent on the idea of the post-course era.

In a blog post, Joshua noted that his three takeaways from the conference were:

  • Faculty Not Satisfied with the Status Quo – Looking to Improve Teaching and Learning
  • Faculty are looking for Campus Partners
  • A new generation of tech savvy faculty will be the future campus leaders

The poster sessions were held Friday night during the reception.  Fun discussing digital technology while wandering with a glass of wine…might be a model for future faculty development! 🙂

One high point for me was as I wandered by the poster of Erin Wood of Catawba College entitled “Engaging the Change: From Hardback to No Back” and heard her say “We got that idea from the Center for Teaching Excellence at VCU.”  Turned out that Erin was a graduate of VCU and had attended a number of CTE workshops while working on her degree.  At Catawba College, she had pointed her colleagues to our website of resources, many of which they have adopted.  One never knows the impact our group might have…but fun seeing a concrete example.

Saturday, Brian Kibby from McGraw-Hill Higher Education gave the breakfast plenary entitled “Gradually then Suddenly: How Technology Has Changed Teaching in Higher Education.”  I initially tweeted that it was interesting that the conference brought in someone from publishing to talk to faculty, yet Brian gave an uplifting talk.  He stood not at the podium but out in the room, and used no technology (other than a microphone).  One of Brian’s strengths is storytelling, and he wove a compelling story that examines the parallels between changes in publishing and changes in teaching.  In both cases, the “customer” or “consumer” is changing.

Brian’s question was whether the culture at our institutions was one of YES or one of NO when it came to using technology for teaching and learning.  Rather than focus on why one should not use technology, he suggested one look for the possibilities and then make it happen.  He discussed the focus on learning analytics and suggested that if one focuses on results, one is use a lagging indicator.  Instead, he suggested we should look for leading indicators, and engagement might be one of this indicators. (So how does one “measure” engagement in an online class?  Page views, time on pages, eye tracks?)

Brian had a recent article in Inside Higher Education that looked at the question of when will we see the complete digital transformation of higher education in the United States?  He suggests that it is started and will occur in the next three years.  Optimistic…but then again, I am an optimist!

Sheryl Barnes mentioned something on Twitter that I had not caught:

Brian ended his session by discussing MOOCs.  After the session, I talked to him and made the suggestion that McGraw-Hill might want to consider MOOCs less as a new model for courses as much as a possible new model for textbooks.  He seemed intrigued with the idea.

The next session was led by Ike Shibley, Chemistry professor at Penn State Berk, on tips for blended courses.  Ike teaches organic chemistry online…reminding us that the hard sciences can be taught online.  However, given lab components, blended makes much more sense.  Ike reminded us that students were not paying for our time or lectures…they were paying for learning.  He suggested that course design should include opportunities for learning before, during, and after each class.  He uses screencasts to cover lower order thinking levels of Bloom so that he can concentrate on higher order thinking in class.

skifailOne interesting question for online faculty lay in how authentic our learning might be.  His metaphor was that it did little good to spend 45 hours talking about skiing and viewing videos of great skiers…and then for the final exam placing the student at the top of the hill on skis and pushing them downhill.  He suggested a climate of rehearsal in courses…formative assessments tied to authentic outcomes.

This conference had lots of practical applications embedded in the sessions.  One tool that Ike demonstrated was PeerWise out of Australia.  Students use PeerWise to create and to explain their understanding of course related assessment questions, and to answer and discuss questions created by their peers.

A team from Anderson University discussed their implementation of a campus-wide iPad initiative.  They saw their initiative not as a technology initiative but as a learning initiative…looking to change practices for faculty and students.  The tablets open up new possibilities for classroom instruction, but faculty have to rethink class policies about use of iPads in class.  What does one do if students do not bring their iPad to class?  Students get AppleCare and supplemental insurance if they need to replace their iPad, and have the option to buy it if they leave early.  Faculty are issued iPads, but they remain the property of the university.

A good comment made by one of the team is that iPads do not mean business as usual.  It is a new tool suggesting new practices, and for active learning to occur in class, one should have students doing active learning between classes.

Another app that looked interesting is BaiBoard, which allows for interactive shared whiteboard through iPads.

At lunch, Ray Schroeder, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at University of Illinois and founding director of the Center for Online Leadership and Strategy at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, discussed the Vortex of Technology.  This link is a Google Site page that Ray used as both his presentation and his handout, something I found rather cool. With my aging eyes, it also helped that I could sit in the rear of the ballroom and bring his presentation up on my iPad to follow along – links and all.

One emerging technology that he discussed was LeapMotion, which uses hand movements to replace mouse or touchpads…very cool!  At $80-some dollars, I see a purchase in the near term!

One of the more interesting sessions dealt with cognitive load and screencasting, by Oliver Dreon, Millersville University of Pennsylvania; and Tim Wilson, University of Western Ontario.  I loved Ollie’s comment that an hour-long (or two-hour long) screencast was not a technical problem, it was a teaching problem.  He suggested ways to chunk material into ten-minute videos.  They noted lots of screencasting options, but suggested that for many, screencasting was an opportunity to create poor material.  At the same time, they repeated a mantra I have heard from Bud Deihl, do not let perfect be the enemy of good enough.

My session was on “Preparing Digitally Savvy Future Faculty,” which I co-developed with my fellow GRAD-602 co-teachers, Jeff Nugent and David McLeod.  Around 30 people showed up at 4pm…so I was stoked!  The Prezi is embedded below:

The last session of the day dealt with service learning and social media, a topic that my partner David McLeod will discuss in our presentation at the SLOAN International Conference on Online Learning in November.  Purdue is doing some interesting things with OpenBadges as a way to incentivize service learning.  Another Purdue app that got some buzz was Backdraft, which allows a speaker to create tweets before a presentation and then release them via iPad as they speak to punctuate their talk.  Very cool!

On Sunday morning, I attended two more sessions.  Matt Cazessus of Greenville Tech led a session on student-led blogging.  He used Blogger to create a central class site, and then multiple group blogs with 4-6 student authors in each for online discussion…in both online and face-to-face classes.  He did a nice job contrasting how boring a Blackboard discussion is versus the creativity of student blogging.  I was following the tweets from Jill Schiefelbein‘s session in another room on adding human touch to online classes, and was struck how we were having the same discussion in the blogging session.

My last session was led by Shawn Apostel of Bellarmine University on using Prezi for active learning in a class.  Shawn shares his Prezi’s before class so that students can edit and add questions or resources…which he then uses in class.  He also creates shared Prezi’s for small group brainstorming.  I have used Prezi for presentations and done the shared editing with co-presenters, but had not considered using it in class.  I did learn a new word – Prezilepsy: sickness caused by unnecessary Prezi swoops and dives around the screen.  #guiltyascharged  🙂


Good to be back in the town in which I was born 63 years ago.  Atlanta has grown from a southern town to a megatropolis of over 6 million people.  When I graduated from high school, the blue domed Hyatt in the lower right of this image was the tallest building in town.  Now, I was sitting in my hotel room looking down on the Hyatt!  I left Atlanta to join the Navy in Annapolis, but spent another 7 years nearby when I was at Gwinnett Tech.  So good to come back to Atlanta!

And good to attend a conference exploring the intersection of teaching and technology.  Next year, the conference will be in Denver October 10-14.  I look forward to returning!

{Images:  Teaching Professor, Shelly Duffer, Britt Watwood}

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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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Exploring EDCMOOC Digital Artifacts from My Global Classmates

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

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

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

So in no particular order…but these I liked:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EDCMOOC and My Digital Artifact

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

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

… and to link to the Scoop.It directly, go to

I got this idea from one of my students, who used Scoop.It to curate resources aligned with David Weinberger’s book TO BIG TO KNOW –

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EDCMOOC Week 2: Looking to the Future

krupp: Creative Commons CC:BY (Flickr)


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

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

Course Banner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Image credits:  krupp, krupp}

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EDCMOOC Thoughts on Social Side

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

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

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


Eleni tweeted the stats for the backchannel for that session:


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


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

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

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

  • Paula discussed her take on technological determinism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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EDCMOOC Week 1: Utopias and Dystopias

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

EDCMOOC Course Entry

To quote from the course information page:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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