30-Day Challenge – Day 28 – Class Knowledge Sharing Paradox

Harold Jarche blogged about the knowledge sharing paradox today.  He defined this paradox as one where:

“….enterprise social tools can constrain what they are supposed to enhance. People will freely share their knowledge if they remain in control of it because knowledge is a very personal thing. Knowledge workers care about what they need to get work done, but do they care about the organizational knowledge base?”

pair of docks

A “Pair of Docks”

He went on to suggest that the more someone in leadership attempts to control knowledge-sharing, the less knowledge gets shared.

“The only way to build useful organizational knowledge is by connecting it to individual knowledge-sharing…The responsibility for knowledge-sharing must remain with the individual, but the organization can collect, collate and redistribute what is shared…The organization’s role in knowledge-sharing then moves from being directive to facilitative.”

I think there are interesting parallels to classrooms…and educational organizations.  My 30-Day Challenge question:

Day 28 – Can I create more sharing of student-generated knowledge or faculty-generated knowledge by working less at controlling it?

The Educause Learning Initiative released this month “7 Things You Should Know About Web Syndication.”  It noted that:

“Web syndication applies the principles of discovery and distribution to the online environment, offering content producers and readers a flexible, powerful, and largely automated means of accessing and distributing content…Information coming from a wide variety of sources may broaden student learning horizons as it inspires discovery, curation, and sharing.”

Six years ago, I led a brown-bag discussion here at the Center for Teaching Excellence on Personal Learning Environments.  Interesting to go back and see that this slide deck has been viewed over 3,600 times.  In a micro way, it suggests how distributed learning has progressed…and how knowledge has been shared  My point in this slidedeck was to use RSS to build an automated way to access and distribute content.  Fast forward six years, and one can now build customized class websites with WordPress that allow for this automated means of accessing and distributing content.  Last week in GRAD-602, we discussed content creation and curation…and we sometimes have a hard time separating the two.  As Jeff Nugent noted in a conversation this morning, we have gone from “personal” learning environments to group learning environments.

The technology is easy…it is the practice that may be the harder nut to crack.  As my colleague Enoch Hale noted in “We are all mutants,” we need to help “…faculty (like our students) imagine new possibilities.”

Part of that hard nut is developing a digital community for faculty that thrives and grows.  We have attempted that in the past with Blackboard, Ning, Canvas, and blogs.  All took off initially and then died within a few months.  The time commitment and return on investment just was not there for most faculty… and perhaps we were trying to control it too hard. For some, though, a loosely formed community did grow – but ebbed in and out – within Twitter.

In our Office of Innovation, we are trying a new space – A Third Space – as a place to aggregate digital exhaust from any of us in the office.  It is a form of web syndication…but is it community?  Would a similar space within a “class” help students take ownership of their digital work…and would it have legs to last beyond the single semester?

I would be interested in your thoughts….

{Graphic: New Wave Docks … but “pair of docks” stolen directly from Harold…) 🙂 }

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30 Day Challenge – Day 11 – Relevancy

NMC Horizon ReportThe NMC Horizon Report Higher Education Edition for 2014 lists six challenges which the review panel believes are very likely to impede technology adoption over the next five years.  These challenges are sorted into three categories defined by the nature of the challenge — solvable challenges are those that we both understand and know how to solve, but seemingly lack the will; difficult challenges are ones that are more or less well-understood but for which solutions remain elusive; and wicked challenges, the most difficult, are complex to even define, and thus require additional data and insights before solutions will even be possible.

These challenges will impact policy, leadership and practice…and it is the area of practice that I find most interesting.  The report raises an interesting point:

“Each of the six challenges identified by the expert panel presents numerous impediments for advancing teaching and learning, but perhaps the most wicked challenge related to these practices is keeping education relevant. Employers have reported disappointment in the lack of real world readiness they observe in recent graduates who are prospective or current employees. With both technology and the value of skills rapidly evolving, it is difficult for institutions to stay ahead of workforce needs.”

The challenges listed for this year:

Solvable Challenges

  • Low Digital Fluency of Faculty
    • “…digital literacy is less about tools and more about thinking, and thus skills and standards based on tools and platforms have proven to be somewhat ephemeral.”
  • Relative Lack of Rewards for Teaching
    • “…There is an overarching sense in the academic world that research credentials are a more valuable asset than talent and skill as an instructor. Because of this way of thinking, efforts to implement effective pedagogies are lacking.”

Difficult Challenges

  • Competition from New Models of Education
    • “…As these new platforms emerge, there is a growing need to frankly evaluate the models and determine how to best support collaboration, interaction, and assessment at scale.”
  • Scaling Teaching Innovations
    • “…Current organizational promotion structures rarely reward innovation and improvements in teaching and learning. A pervasive aversion to change limits the diffusion of new ideas, and too often discourages experimentation.”

Wicked Challenges

  • Expanding Access
    • “…expanding access means extending it to students who may not have the academic background to be successful without additional support.”
  • Keeping Education Relevant
    • “…As online learning and free educational content become more pervasive, institutional stakeholders must address the question of what universities can provide that other approaches cannot, and rethink the value of higher education from a student’s perspective.”

Relevance has lots of layers, like an onion.  Relevance of discipline, relevance of skills, relevance of path.

work4relevanceClay Shirky in “The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age,” focused on the unsustainable fiscal model of higher education, stating:

“…The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.”

It seems that there are connections across these challenges.  Increasing digital literacy of faculty could help address challenges of access, scale, and relevancy.  My question for the 30-day challenge for today is:

Day 11 – In a digitally mediated and data-driven world, what practices will leverage what faculty do best – “…facilitating inquiry, guiding learners to resources, and imparting wisdom that comes with experience in the field” (to quote from the Horizon Report) while taking advantage of the affordances of the web to add value to the higher education student experience?

Figuring this question out could help address our relevancy.  Doing nothing would be wicked indeed.


{Graphics: NMC, Steve Heath}

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30 Day Challenge – Day 5 – New Principles


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

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

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

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

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

“More-hopeful theses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less-hopeful theses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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Connected Learning

connected learning COVER With a hat-tip to Jeff Nugent for bringing this new ebook to my attention, I have just finished reading Teaching in the Connected Learning Classroom, edited by Antero Garcia.  This book is a collection of narratives from primarily K-12 teachers within the National Writing Project, openly sharing their views of “what education can look like.”  The many authors go to some lengths to note that this book is not meant to be “best practices”…but rather “working examples” that model practices within specific contexts of learning.

It was interesting that this book starts with the premise that “best practice” is a misnomer.  In our GRAD-602 class, our students typically raise their desires for “less theory and more practical”…and when given a choice of five books to read about “teaching”, the majority chose Ken Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do.  They want “the best practices”!

Antero states up front:

“…Typically, publications about or for teachers highlight “best practices.” The buzzword-driven form of highlighting a superior approach, to me, ignores the cultural contexts in which teacher practices are developed. The best practice for my classroom is going to be different both from a classroom anywhere else and from my classroom a year down the road. Context drives practice. As such, this is not a how-to guide for connected learning or a collection of lesson plans. The pages that follow are, instead, meant to spur dialogue about how classroom practice can change and inspire educators to seek new pedagogical pathways forward…”

This idea of context really resonated with me!  It applies equally to teachers and students, and in this book, the authors suggest that every teacher become a “designer-in-context”, engaging students as they help co-design the course.  A very constructionist (and connectivist) approach!

Much of this book flowed from an earlier study by Mizuko Ito and others: Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design.  This study defined “connected learning” as:

“…socially embedded, interest-driven, and oriented toward educational, economic, or political opportunity. Connected learning is realized when a young person pursues a personal interest or passion with the support of friends and caring adults, and is in turn able to link this learning and interest to academic achievement, career possibilities, or civic engagement.”

The authors frame their approach as one that breaks through an educational process that is “constrained, silenced, and stifled” – moving instead to one that emboldens teachers while meeting the individual needs of students.  Rather than suggesting “how” one might approach teaching, it provides a series of “whys” – a purposeful approach to sparking creativity.

There are six chapters in the book, each with some underlying foundation followed by three cases.

  • Interest-Driven Learning
  • Peer-Supported Learning
  • Academically Oriented Teaching
  • Production-Centered Classrooms
  • Openly Networked
  • Shared Purpose

Nicole Mirra discussed interest-driven learning.   Her premise is that students will gain more knowledge and higher order skills when the learning originates from issues or activities that innately captivate them.  This “power and possibilities of tapping into students’ passions” reminded me of the premise of our freshmen experience here at VCU, in which students develop their writing and research prowess through self-directed exploration.  Mediated through technology as a shared activity, interest-driven learning occurs at multiple, mutually constitutive levels – personal, interpersonal, and institutional.  Interest-driven learning can serve as a gateway to the other opportunities below.

Cindy O’Donnell-Allen then looked at peer-supported learning, sharing this infographic.


Cindy built from a premise that knowledge does not reside with the individual, but is socially constructed.  Her view of 21st Century learning involves the 3 C’s – collaboration, creativity, and communication.  She also notes that simply putting students together in groups does not naturally lead to collaboration.  It requires the mindful guidance of the teacher, intervening as required.  One factor she noted that increased success rates was to have students reflect on their collaboration.  She also suggested that teachers:

  • Pose the right questions and teach students to do the same.
  • Create inclusive environment to facilitate peer-supported learning.
  • Use new media to amplify and push out learning.
  • Make it about the kids, not the standardized tests.

Antero Garcia explored academically oriented teaching.  He noted the disconnect between forms of learning in traditional classes and the social and cultural contexts of today’s students.  Academically prepared youth should be able to “shape-shift” their skill sets to meet an evolving world.  A word he uses is “authentic” – reframe the learning to make it authentic and relevant to our new media students.

Clifford Lee provided examples of production-centered classrooms.  He quoted Ito’s report to suggest that production-centered classrooms facilitate the use of “[d]igital tools [to] provide opportunities for producing and creating a wide variety of media, knowledge, and cultural content in experimental and active ways.”  I loved that the word “tinker” showed up throughout this chapter…though he does note the need to keep it relevant – ensure that students see meaning and purpose behind what they create.  A good example to go with the cases show in this chapter would be David McLeod‘s Project710 class.

My Twitter hero @budtheteacher – also known as Bud Hunt – explained the concept of “openly networked”…finding value in the wealth of open resources he was both consuming and creating via sharing online.  Learning in this environment is cross-institutional, has multiple points of entry and outreach, and has interactions both in and out of school.  Regarding “open,” he noted that “[t]houghtful teachers choose intentionally what, when, and how they share what they are curious about and what demands their students’ attention.”  To do this, teachers need to be purposefully transparent, while practicing “productive eavesdropping” on the posts of others.

Finally, Danielle Filipiak discusses shared purpose.  She suggested that students “…thrive when surrounded by people who support them in pursuing their own interests and passions, which may be very different from what districts, states, or teachers impose.”  Student engagement with the wider web-based community expands their audience and knowledge base, setting up purposeful encounters that can foster civic engagement.

Antero ends by noting that the practices suggested in this book can involve risk.  They break the old rules.  He also suggests those rules need breaking, stating:

“…I remember distinctly thinking “those students are doing it wrong.” … I didn’t understand that I was naturally ascribing my own rules of use on a cultural practice that was not my own…As such “doing it wrong” is culturally constructed and important to remember when we think about how we will roll out sustained connected learning support for teachers nationally and globally.”

In the afterword, Christina Cantrill of the National Writing Project, noted that her website and “…this book start from the argument that, in an increasingly interconnected and networked world, digital is how we write, share, collaborate, publish, and participate today and in the future.”  She goes on to note:

“…This is why, as Antero Garcia tells us, there are more than “best practices” here. There are important practices and effective-in-their-context practices, as well as “there is a kernel of truth here, but maybe we will approach it differently next time” practices. These are active practices, practices that require opportunities to test, to tinker, to innovate, and to dynamically assess and reiterate…

…No longer is the teacher the only conveyor, the library the only holder, or the museum the only curator of knowledge. Instead the ability to convey, to hold, and to curate now is in the hands of many. This also is why the social and participatory framework of connected learning positions all learners, students, and teachers alike not only as consumers, but as makers.”

This is a book worth reading.  The authors hope to spur dialogue about what is possible in teaching…as do I.  I would value hearing your thoughts about connected learning and the contexts in which we find ourselves teaching today.



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Creating Community as a Resource

Last night in our GRAD-602 class, we explored the question of how important is it to our “teaching” that we understand something about how people “learn”.  Jeff Nugent led this class and had students at their tables first develop their beliefs about learning, and then mapped them on our wall:


As Enoch Hale, Jeff and I debriefed the class this morning, we realized that our podcast today might be an opportunity to make explicit some of the underlying aspects of GRAD-602.  Our design hopes to help perspective faculty first develop a self identity as a teacher, surface their beliefs and begin to critically question them, and equally important, recognize that our use of discourse is beginning to build a practice of seeing each other as a resource within a community of practice.

Our students are, I think, typical of new faculty – they want McKeachie’s Teaching Tips or the one page handout of best practices.  What they have not yet begun to see is that teaching is a lifelong journey, and our fellow colleagues are some of our best resources.  Our practice of weekly debriefs of our class gives us an opportunity to think metacognitively about our teaching, which translates into concrete actions to take in future classes.

So … an interesting discussion this morning.  Give a listen, and use the comment feature to add to the conversation!


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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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!

Course Banner


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Online Learning Theory

I have just finished reading (and enjoying)  Linda Harasim‘s book, Learning Theory and Online Technology (Routledge Publishing, 2011).  She postulates that the learning theories of the past centuries need updating for the networked learning era in which we find ourselves.  Linda frames a new theory by taking us on a historical journey through the development of previous theories of learning.

Linda harkens back to Thomas Kuhn‘s work on paradigms to note that theories influence, shape and determine our actions.  She suggests the human race has had four major socio-technological paridigm shifts:

  • “Speech (40,000 BCE): the development of speech and intertribal communication in hunter-gatherer communities produces recognizable civilizations based on informal learning with characteristic crafts and symbolic art;
  • Writing (10,000 BCE): agricultural revolution interacts with the massing of populations in fertile regions to produce state structures and cumulative knowledge growth based on the invention of writing and the formalization of learning;
  • Printing (CE 1600): machine technology and the printing press interact with the development of global trade and communication, to expand the dissemination and specialization of knowledge and science;
  • Internet (CE 2000): advanced network technology interacts with powerful new models of education and training that offer the potential to produce knowledge-based economies and the democratization of knowledge production (p.17).”

Marshall McLuhan might have added radio and television to this mix, as we do live in a mediated environment.  That said, it would be hard to argue that the internet has not profoundly influenced, shaped and determined our actions in the past decade.  Linda uses this historical context to map out the history of the internet, and then in parallel to lay out the historical development of learning theories.  She starts with behaviorist theories of Pavlov and Skinner, which in a stimulus – response mode, are seen as too rigid.  She then moved into the cognitivist learning theory, with its mind as a computer model.  She suggests that this was instructor-centered and transmission focused.  She then reviewed the next evolution – constructivist learning theory, with active learning and knowledge scaffolding.

To Linda, the introduction of the internet profoundly shifted how knowledge is created and shared.  The previous three theories were based on scarcity of knowledge and experts.  The internet allowed for the social development of knowledge.  Linda therefore proposed a new theory – Online Collaborative Learning (OCL) Theory, which emphasizes active engagement by groups for idea generation, idea organizing, and intellectual convergence.

A weakness in Linda’s book is that she never mentions connectivism as a theory, and yet many of the characteristics of her OCL theory align with networked learning and the connectivism theory of Stephen Downes and George Siemens.  Like connectivism, Linda sees learning as a process that builds on connections inside and outside the classroom.  An interesting point Linda makes is that the role of teacher/faculty is neither “Sage on the Stage” nor “Guide on the Side”, but rather the connection between the students and her network within her discipline.

Linda provides three chapters of cases illustrating her Online Collaborative Learning theory, which I found useful.  She ends her book by noting the amazing growth of the internet over the past twenty years, from a total of 623 websites in 1993 to the present world of Google, Facebook, Wikipedia, and Amazon.  The internet has become a familiar and common aspect of life, yet its impact on education does not mirror this growth outside education.  Linda sees the internet as still an “add-on” and not an integrated aspect of teaching.  I might argue that this is less true of students than teachers, but I understand where Linda is coming from.  She is holding up the promise of online learning.

Having just finished Linda’s book, I am now starting David Weinberger‘s new book, Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren’t the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room .  In many ways, David picks up where Linda leaves off.  David’s previous book, Everything is Miscellaneous, is one of my favorites and very useful in understanding tagging and social bookmarking.  In this book, David notes that society has been bemoaning information overload for thousands of years.  Yet we continue to survive (and thrive).  He quotes Clay Shirky‘s famous “It’s not information overload. It’s filter failure,” but adds an interesting nuance.  Filters in the past removed information.  In choosing which books to place on a shelf, libraries filtered out thousands of other published works.  You only saw the books they selected.  In this digital era, he uses as an example Mary Spiro’s list in the Baltimore Science News Examiner of eight podcasts one should not miss.  While she has filtered out thousands of podcasts, those podcasts can still be found on the internet if one chooses.  In other words, today’s filters remove clicks, but not the content itself.  So filters no longer filter out, they filter forward.  When we use a Google search, the fact that our search returns millions of hits no longer seems overwhelming.  We accept it and usually use the first ten hits.  In Weinberger’s view, the filters themselves have become content, making our network smarter.

I am only through the first chapter of David’s book, but it is a timely piece that continues to nudge my thinking.  If you have read either of these books, I would be interested in your thoughts.

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From Aggregation to Curation

Over the past month or so, we have taken our students in GRAD 602 on a carefully scaffolded journey through web technology to support teaching and learning.  With Jeff Nugent and our graduate fellow, David McLeod, we have laid out how the web is impacting the landscape of learning, suggested the use of Chickering and Gamson’s 7  Principles as a lens for determining the use of technology for learning, and then introduced students to blogging (public reflective practice), Twitter (networked communication), and Diigo (tagging and social bookmarking).  We complete our review of digital technology tonight by discussing the notion that – through RSS – you can rewire the web to customize the information flow one receives, as we are doing with Netvibes.

Yet, as we have prepared for tonight’s lesson, I am beginning to wonder about RSS as a topic.  It seems that the orange icon is disappearing off many websites, as is the functionality.  I noticed this week that Inside Higher Ed still has RSS feeds from its top level news, but that the feeds for subcategories like Teaching and Learning have disappeared.  Feed for the tag “grad602” in Diigo pulls up links tagged last spring semester, but nothing from this January or February (and there has been no response to questions posted in the Diigo Help Blog for this issue).  Another prof at VCU who also has his journalism students using a class tag in Diigo had the same problem, and has shifted back to Delicious for class tagging.

It is not that the concept of pulling rather than pushing information has died.  Lee Lefever’s RSS in Plain English still resonates with me…but this video was done five years ago, and five years in the web is a lifetime.  Feed still seems to be an underlying concept to sites like Facebook and the new social and participatory site – Pinterest.  But aggregation?  My “old school” but go to aggregator – Google Reader – is still part of my daily professional life…but it seems to be getting harder to build my own personal one-stop portal.  Perhaps, as David suggested, this is simply a reality of the web becoming more monetized.  If I am pulling to my reader, I am not seeing the ads back on the pages from which I pull.

So Jeff suggested that we might need to shift our focus from aggregation to curation.  Which raises the question (and it is not really a new question): What is our role as faculty in curating content for our students…and what is their role?  How do you see this playing out in your classes?  Is aggregation an outdated concept?  How do you see your role changing?  Is this role different for K12 teachers versus undergraduate versus graduate faculty?

Let me know your thoughts…

{Photo Credit: Oleg Sh}

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My Teaching Philosophy

During the past spring in the course I co-taught with Jeffrey Nugent, we asked our graduate students in the Preparing Future Faculty program to create a personal teaching project.  Many chose to develop a teaching philosophy.  Several good ones are here and here and here.

It occurred to me that I have not updated my teaching philosophy in quite a few years.  Motivated by the good work of my students, I decided to dust mine off and distribute it here for comments.  How would you “grade” it?  Does it resonate with you?  Does it miss an important element?  Let me know!


Philosophy of Teaching in a Distributed Online Environment

I was recently asked what I looked for in students, and my response was “I want students to be as excited about learning as I am.”  I have been teaching online for nearly two decades, and one of the exciting aspects of teaching online is that the possibilities continue to grow, and with these possibilities come endless opportunities for learning.

I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses, in education leadership and in business leadership.  My approach is similar in both disciplines.  Students are expected to do more than regurgitate “facts” – they are expected to analyze and critically process existing and emerging information to draw fresh conclusions and applications in an ever changing world.  As such, I am a co-learner with my students as we examine existing paradigms and explore new ones.  The world is not a multiple-choice test but rather one that requires higher order thinking skills.  My teaching approach engages students to think in new ways.

I also have in recent years relied increasingly on a network of learners (Twitter, Delicious, and blogs) for my own personal learning, and through this network have seen the power of social processes for learning.  The reflective nature of blogging for instance requires students to think about thinking, which leads to metacognition and the higher order thinking that I seek.  Each student brings unique perspectives to bear, and when this reflection occurs on the open web, it invites other perspectives from outside the course to push, prod, and provoke new reflections.

I believe that good teaching is good teaching, whether one is online or face-to-face.  My teaching has been informed by Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice in Teaching, which I believe hold equally true online or on campus (Chickering and Gamson, 1987):

“Good practice in undergraduate education:

  1. encourages contact between students and faculty,
  2. develops reciprocity and cooperation among students,
  3. encourages active learning,
  4. gives prompt feedback,
  5. emphasizes time on task,
  6. communicates high expectations, and
  7. respects diverse talents and ways of learning.”

An online course is so much more than a correspondence course.  I concur with Palloff and Pratt (2007) that the formation of a learning community is essential in online courses.  If students see me as a real individual, with social, cognitive and teaching presences evident in the online environment…and equally important, they see each other as well, then a community of learners can develop.

My philosophy of teaching evolved from years of teaching both face-to-face and online in military, university, and two-year settings.  As I reflect on my beliefs regarding teaching and learning, I find that my view is threefold:

  • to promote positive learning, modeling what I teach and learn;
  • to spark learner enthusiasm for learning and peer-teaching;
  • and to provide a strong foundation for lifelong reflective practice.

To accomplish this, I apply a variety of strategies based on essential educational principles encompassing learning theory, collaboration, technology application, strategic instructional planning and assessment, constructivism, and reflective practice.  I believe that learning is always evolving, and that I learn as much from my students as they do from me.  I also believe that learning is best when students see the relevance of the learning.  I intend for my ‘passion’ for teaching and learning to always be evident, building a learning community through enthusiasm and empathetic connections with learners.  As a result, my teaching will positively impact the learners, ultimately connecting them to their ‘passion’ and lifelong learning.

While good teaching is good teaching, I strongly believe that the practices one uses for teaching are quite different online.  An expanded version of this philosophy can be found in the White Paper I co-authored with Jeff Nugent and Bud Deihl, Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning (May 2009).  With a community of learners, it makes sense to use a number of learning activities and assessment processes, including formative assessment and peer assessment.  This online community is made up of unique individuals, with differing learning styles, background knowledge, and biases.  These diverse perspectives can enrich the learning environment.  My role is to create a safe environment in which this sharing of learning can occur.

The web has evolved in the past six years to be one that is participatory (just look at Facebook).  It therefore makes sense to create active learning opportunities that take advantage of the affordances the new web allows, such as wikis for collaborative authoring, blogs for reflection, and new video tools that allow anyone to publish multimedia.

We teach in a distributed online environment.  This environment allows for multiple means for communication and collaboration.  My role is to be cognizant of my role to model effective learning practices while I actively engage my students.  Together we can learn more than any of us could learn by ourselves.


Chickering, Arthur W. and Gamson, Zelda F. (1987) “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education,” American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, March 1987, pp 3-7.

Mishra, P., & Koehler, M. J. (2006). “Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge: A new framework for teacher knowledge,” Teachers College Record. 108(6), 1017- 1054.

Palloff, R. M. and Pratt, K. (2007) Building Online Learning Communities: Effective Strategies for the Virtual Classroom, Jossey-Bass.

Watwood, Britt, Nugent, Jeffrey and Deihl, William “Bud” (2009) Building from Content to Community: [Re]Thinking the Transition to Online Teaching and Learning, VCU, http://www.vcu.edu/cte/pdfs/OnlineTeachingWhitePaper.pdf

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