Will AI Do Improv?

There has been a lot on the news lately about artificial intelligence and how it is impacting the future.  Already there are advice posts regarding how AI can enhance education, such as “7 Ways Artificial Intelligence Will Change Higher Education” or “Could Online Tutors and Artificial Intelligence be the Future of Teaching?”.

Yet, this morning as I was driving and listening to Fred Childs on NPR, something his guest said resonated with me.  A pianist noted that even though songs have very clear “rules” in the form of sheet music, whenever he plays a piece, there is improv, because how he plays depends on who he is playing with and what the mood of the audience is.

This idea of improv reminded me of an unexpected flow on Twitter this week in my Northeastern University class on Social Media at #EDU6333.  The current class is a little different than earlier classes I have taught, in that – feeding off each other – they love to add GIFs to their tweets.  Whereas this might have happened infrequently in past classes, it happens every day in the current class.  And I would suggest “feeding off each other” is simply another definition for improv.

Wednesday night, I was grading papers and watching the hashtag feed when the following began happening (I added a few earlier ones, but most posted between 7:45-9:15pm):

Granted, this was only a fifth of the students in the class…though others the next day lamented missing the exchange.  But this is engagement…and dare I say it

It reminds me of the improv associated with teaching…whether K-12 or higher education.  This week we explored constructivist learning and TPACK…yet the dialogue on Twitter went in lots of directions.

We are not at the point yet where AI is a threat to replacing teaching.  After all, scientist last year made a teen robot…and it got depressed.  We have not yet reached the point where machines can empathize with us…though in some ways they are now thinking in ways we no longer understandWith the massive data crunching afforded by the cloud, artificial intelligence may develop new ways to improv in the future.  If anything, we are approaching the time when it will be a natural enhancement to good teaching.  But just as good pianists improv when playing a standard set of sheet music, both teachers and students need to improv when learning together…which is what constructivism is all about!

The Risk of Not Engaging

Tom_Fletcher_British_Ambassador_to_Lebanon_640_001As I was driving in this morning, I was listening to NPR Morning Edition, and they aired a story about British Ambassador Tom Fletcher‘s farewell letter to Lebanon.  Ambassador Fletcher has been at his post for the past three years, a time of tremendous strife with the Syrian conflict so close.

As moving as the story was, it was 5:30 into his interview that I heard something that really resonated with me as an educator.  He was talking about how the British Foreign Office encouraged its members to take risks, and he noted:

“…particularly with social media, the biggest risk is not to be engaged…”

He went on to note that of course there was the risk of saying something stupid, or of saying something that might inflame the wrong party, but that in many ways, the “best use of Twitter” is to use it for discourse and debate.  He noted that diplomacy is full of difficult issues, and Twitter provides a vehicle for “picking arguments and challenging people.”

It would be foolish to equate the rsocialmediatreeisks that Ambassador Fletcher faced with the risks that educators face in their classrooms, but I do like his take on social media and the opportunity it affords to take discourse and debate and move it outside the classroom.  Social media gives faculty the ability to engage with each other, with their discipline in and out of academe, and with their students, in ways we never had a decade ago.  One could “argue” that the heart and soul of scholarship and research involve picking arguments and challenging people (and ideas).

So what is your take?  Is there a risk for faculty in higher education to not engage with social media?

{Graphics: Najib, geralt}

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

{Graphics: Becker, Lane, Motorbike}



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Toe Dipping in Technology

Dipping Toes

As many of you know, Jeff Nugent and I teach a graduate course in the Preparing Future Faculty program called GRAD-602: Teaching, Learning and Technology.  Our 24 PhD candidates and post-docs spend the first 6 weeks exploring different potential technologies, such as blogs, Twitter, Diigo, and other networked applications.  Most of them are familiar with Facebook but had not used other social media.  We are attempting to familiarize them with the notion that today’s web is social, connected, and participatory.  So they are dipping their collective toes.  We are having them blog weekly and are aggregating their posts with NetvibesThe course feed is here.

We are seeing some excellent writing in their first posts, but few have caught on to commenting so far.  That will come with time.  We are also seeing some interesting push-back on the use of technology in teaching and learning.  One student posted today:

“…When this class started I was slightly apprehensive about the idea of creating a blog, but I could see the usefulness of it and I resolved to at least give it a good try. This Twitter thing though…I have to say I have several negative feelings about Twitter and I’ve been against creating one and just kind of hoping the Twitter craze would pass by sooner rather than later.”

 Another asked:

“…how can a teacher measure his or her student’s engagement when the latter resorts to technology? Does technology facilitate to live by seven golden Principles of improving Undergraduate Education? The answer is both Yes and No.”

And a third blogs:

“Doesn’t showing up for class and being prepared to share your ideas and knowledge still count for something? While technology opens education to many in various parts of the world, one of the things that both articles mention is that education is social and collaborative. We still need to discipline ourselves to come together and share ideas face-to-face. There is something innately human in this, and while it can be improved with technology-based material prepared for a variety of people, you cannot take this away without changing the essence of what it means to be human. We learn by doing, but we also learn, especially as youngsters, by following examples. Technology in isolation, maybe even in majority, sets a poor example.”

Okay….I am cherry picking some comments, and the class as a whole is not setting up an “Occupy 602” camp.  But with only 100 minutes a week together face-to-face, I find it fascinating that the conversation is not only continuing between classes in the blogosphere, but surfacing ideas that have not come out face-to-face.

It would be neat and helpful if our colleagues around the world checked out some of these student blogs and joined in the conversations.  These student are still attempting to frame social media in their past frames of reference, and the global networked learning that COULD occur is so much broader than that.

So come on in, the waters fine!

{Photo Credit: Ben W}

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A Thousand Tweets

At the recent NMC Retreat, the hashtag #NMChz had 998 tweets over the three days (at least that I could capture with Archivist).

I copied the text of the tweets, removed NMChz and RT as two obvious repetitious terms, and then dumped what was left in Wordle.

Interesting results:

Wordle: NMCRetreatTweets

Click on the image above to see the full screen version.  The retreat focused on the future of education and the role the Horizon Report could play.  After Horizon, “learning” was the most used word.  Other words that popped out at me were “thinking”, “future”, “online”, “new”, “trends”, and “change”.  What strikes you?

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Two Days of MARC

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

Some overall impressions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Twitter 202

At next week’s Educause Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference in Baltimore, I have been asked to lead an “Experience IT” session  on Twitter 202.  Per the program, “…the “Experience IT” format offers a hands-on, highly interactive introduction to newer tools and technologies so you can explore their potential impact in the workplace and classroom and on your professional development. Please bring your laptop or other session-specific technology (such as smartphone or tablet) to the session so you can engage with the presenter…This session will share best practices in using Twitter as a backchannel in conferences and will offer an opportunity to delve deeper into innovative uses of this online application. When you are through with this session we hope you will tweet your observations throughout the rest of the conference”

I have asked one of my Twitter heroes – Jon Becker  – to co-facilitate virtually and join us via Skype and Twitter.  That in itself should make this a fun session.  Per the conference program, the conference hashtag will be #MARC12.  We will also use #twitter202 as a session hashtag.

In getting ready, we have been guided by work done by Derek Bruff.  Four resources of note for using Twitter as a backchannel in a conference:

Derek Bruff, Encouraging a Conference Backchannel on Twitter –

Derek Bruff, Instructions to the Twitter Team –

Olivia Mitchell, How to Present While People are Twittering –

Ross, C. Terras, M. Warwick, C. and Welsh, A. (2011). “Enabled Backchannel: Conference Twitter Use by Digital Humanists. Journal of Documentation. Vol. 67 Iss: 2, pp.214 – 237.


Jon and I also want to highlight some possible uses of Twitter in the classrooms.  Some resources for these include:

Howard Glasser and Maggie Powers, Disrupting Traditional Student-Faculty Roles, 140 Characters at a Time – http://teachingandlearningtogether.blogs.brynmawr.edu/archived-issues/spring2011-issue/disrupting-traditional-roles

Three Research Studies on Potential Advantages of Using Twitter in Classroom –

Derek Bruff, Gardner Campbell + Backchannel in the Classroom –

Jeffrey Young, Professor Encourages Students to Pass Notes During Class – Via Twitter –

The Twitter Experiment – Twitter in the Classroom, UT Dallas

Finally, a useful website with lots of good Twitter-related links is Andrea Genevieve’s 28 Education and Technology Keywords or Hashtags to Follow on Twitter

Are we missing anything?  Are there other uses for Twitter that you would recommend highlighting in an “Experience IT” session?  Let us know, and join us via Twitter on Thursday morning, Jan 12 at 8:30am EST.

{Graphics/Photo Credits: Educause, Steve Garfield}

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Sorta Like the Sky

rewiredMy wife was shopping at Jo-Ann‘s Fabrics this afternoon, which meant I was across the street with a cup of coffee and my Nook ereader.  I have just started Larry Rosen’s 2010 book Rewired: Understanding the iGeneration and the Way They Learn.

So far, I am only up through Chapter 2, but I came across an interesting quote in Larry’s book that made me reflect on this past week in our GRAD 602 course.  Jeff Nugent and I are co-teaching this course, Teaching, Learning and Technology in Higher Education – part of VCU‘s Preparing Future Faculty program.  We have 24 bright doctoral students / post-docs in the course.

In his book, Larry examines the way generations approach technology, from Baby Boomers like me through Gen Xers (my daughter gags at that term – “What? Named after a letter in the alphabet?”), then NetGen or Millennials, born in the 80s and early 90s, to the latest generation – the iGeneration.  The newest kids on the block have lots of technologies with “i” in them – iPod, iTunes, Wii, iPhones, and of course, my granddaughter’s favorite, the iPad, as shown below.

ipad_mollyOne of my favorite quotes starts the chapter:

My younger brother, Aiden, is only 7 and already he is doing techie stuff that I haven’t even tried.  And he picks it up so fast.  He was on the web when he was 3 and already has a cell phone and knows how to text me.  I can’t imagine what he will be doing when he is my age.

—Adrian, age thirteen”

I cannot imagine either!

On Thursday night, Jeff introduced Twitter to our class.  None previously had accounts in Twitter, and in fact, many had stated they had no intention to start.  When Jeff told them that exploring Twitter was a component of this class and that they would all have to set up accounts, there was a collective groan from the room.  Some of their initial reactions can be found here and here and here.

Those groans were background noise as I read Larry’s book today.  And while Adrian’s quote was neat, the one that blew me away came from Ashley…who helped title this post:

Larry stated (p. 29):

“I have interviewed thousands of children in both formal research studies and informal settings.  I will never forget an interview with Ashley, the ten-year old daughter of a friend of mine.  I asked her why she liked technology so much.  Ashley looked at me blankly and said, “What do you mean why do I like technology? Isn’t everything technology? I guess I don’t even think about it. It’s sorta like the sky, ya know.  I don’t think about the sky.  I just know that when I look up it’s there. Same with technology. It’s just everywhere.” To Ashley, technology is not a tool to use, as it is for many adults.  It is the center of her life…she most certainly is consumed with it and by it.”

Jeff and I have been introducing our students to various web technology tools over the past five weeks.  As Jeff noted in “No guarantees…“, we have used the 7 Principles of Good Practice as a lens to examine whether to adopt a particular technology or not.  So far, these technologies have included blogging, social bookmarking with Delicious and Diigo, RSS feeds and aggregation, and last Thursday, Twitter.  I think I can safely say that our students do not feel that technology is the center of their universes…though thanks to Jeff and I, they may feel consumed by it!

Yet, these future faculty will be facing (live or virtually) students from this iGeneration in not too many years as they teach in higher education.  Larry’s research found that 16-18 year-olds now spend on average around 2.5 hours a day online, not counting the other media with which they are engaged simultaneously.  They are texting on average around 3.5 hours a day.  Nearly half of all high school students have their own computer in their bedroom.

If one assumes that communication is a key element of their lives, then what does that mean for our future faculty?  How connected will they be with their students?  What will be the expectations of these faculty and how will those expectations mesh with those of their students?  I really do not know, but I see the future as both exciting and a little scary.  Jeff and I both gave our cell phone numbers to our students, yet in six weeks, I have not received one text message from any of them.  Will that be true of their future?  If technology is sorta like the sky, what will that mean for teaching and learning?

As always, if you have thoughts on any of these questions. I would like to extend the conversation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great day – looking forward to Day Two tomorrow!