Overcoming Old.Edu

My wife and I have been on the road this week down in the Richmond VA area.  We found a house in Chesterfield, and will be retiring there this spring.

Old SchoolDriving back to Boston yesterday, I had smooth jazz playing on Pandora in the car, and one of the songs that played was “Old.Edu (Old School)” by Euge Groove.  A clever title, but it also fit my thinking about this week in EDU 6323.

The topic this week was Re-Wiring the Web using RSS.  The web experience for users has morphed in the last decade. Initially, the web was simply a destination for users, a place one “surfed” content others created. At that time, there was no effective way to determine when content on a site had been modified or updated.

rssReally Simple Syndication (RSS) fundamentally changed this.  RSS feeds enabled news headlines, blog posts, audio and video files to be automatically updated and easily accessed through RSS readers or “aggregators” like Feedly, Netvibes, Protopage, and iTunes.  One could now control the web!  Rather than having to go out to favorite websites to see if there were updates, content was now served up or “pushed” to individual users through subscriptions that they customized.  When one could now gather dynamically updated web content, the notion of what it meant to access information radically changed.  During this week, my students explored setting up and customizing RSS aggregation tools, considering how they might leverage RSS technology to support personal and student learning.

One of the things I found interesting this week in my students’ reflections was that 90% said that they had never heard of RSS.  Yet, many admitted that they had noticed the orange RSS icon on webpages, but never felt compelled to check out what it was.  I found this most interesting.  We live in a rich media environment which is social, open, and participatory … but that presupposes that one will engage.  I have not bought in to the concept of “digital natives versus digital immigrants”, but Prensky’s idea of “digital wisdom” seems more on the mark now.   As the 2014 Huffington Post article by Jeff DeGraff noted:

“Don’t let the word “digital” fool you in all this talk about how difficult it is for digital natives and digital immigrants to communicate. The truth is that this generational gap between the so-called digital natives (the generation of people born during or after the rise of digital technologies) and the digital immigrants (people born before the advent of digital technology) doesn’t actually have to do with technology. The real issue is that the two worldviews that they represent are so different.”

So what I may be seeing in my students’ reflections is a different worldview from mine – one that may be more “old school.”

Maryellen Weimer noted in her post this week, “Why Are We So Slow to Change the Way We Teach?“, that many aspects of teaching are slow to change.  She suggested that this is due in part to change being harder than we think, that teachers tend to underestimate the complexity of changing teaching, and that many make change harder by going it alone.  My students seem to mirror this.  Several noted that they were glad the class was forcing them to examine something they would not do on their own.  It was interesting that several were immediately implementing aspects of RSS into their classes, where as several others thought it was a good idea and would try it out “sometime.”  I hope that they do!  Those experimenting with Feedly and Protopage seemed excited!

One student raised an interesting question.  He noted:

“…Individuals are only likely to pull in feeds of immediate relevance or concern, potentially blocking out important sources and perspectives in favor of just using what is fed to their aggregator. Additionally, pulling in too much information from news sites or other locations that frequently post new content may lead to information overload, creating the very clutter RSS is intended to avoid.”

Does rewiring the web keep us from seeing alternative viewpoints?  Michele Martin suggested this in her blog post “Understanding Homophily on the Web.” She noted:

“…My point here is that if we are getting a lot of information from and engaging in dialogues with other bloggers (as many of us are), it’s easy for us to forget who is NOT part of the conversations. We end up operating in siloes without even knowing it…”

Wrapped around our discussions this week was Michelle Miller’s fourth chapter from Minds Online about attention.  Miller noted that it is easy to derail attention. Yet, attention can easily be shifted. As Miller noted:

“…The inattentional blindness effect illustrates a broader truth about human perception and attention, that looking and seeing are two different things – and that we are remarkably prone to missing stimuli when our attention is directed elsewhere.”

While capacity cannot be expanded, it can be altered by practice. Actions that become automatic free up the brain to process other information. Attention is highly intertwined with visual processing, which is another facet of online course design that matters. The book explores change blindness, in which changes to the screen are not picked up readily. Most people think they perceive more change than they really do.

Working memory is an area of significant variation among individuals. Attention directs what goes in to working memory, so again, understanding attention is important to creating a learning environment. Miller suggested several strategies regarding attention and online learning.

  • Ask students to respond – Chunk material into short segments and have students do something (answer a question, click on a hotspot, etc).
  • Take advantage of automaticity – Use auto-grading features of LMS’s to provide practice opportunities and feedback, with incentives for completion.
  • Assess Cognitive Load – Positively impact cognitive load through design features. Poor instructions or requiring new features without practice can negatively increase cognitive load.
  • Discourage Divided Attention – The web is full of distractions, but simply informing students that they should pay attention actually increases attention.

A hotspot for my students this week regarding attention suggested that teachers should educate students about multitasking, make materials as seamless as possible, minimize extraneous attention drains, and keep them engaged through compelling activities.

My students and I grappled with how to actually apply this to the classroom.  It has become apparent to some that their own inattentional blindness affects how they are teaching their students, who in turn move forward lacking digital skills to effectively use the web.  Breaking the cycle of “Old School” is hard!

A third transformation is now taking place in a networked world, where the emphasis has shifted from first pulling, then pushing, to now curating and sharing information.  We will explore curation in four weeks, but next week, the focus will be on using Facebook and other social media as learning spaces.

And here is the song that got me thinking in the first place:

Of course, not everything O-L-D Dot E-D-U is bad…but we should be careful not to be too old school!

{Graphics: Duncan Hull, Rodney Calafati}

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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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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Paradigm Shifting Again

RIP DeliciousI have waited a couple of days to post about the “relaunching” of Delicious … primarily because I had such a visceral reaction to it… as the image to the left illustrates.

The old Delicious was my gateway drug into Web 2.0.  Through Delicious, I began in 2007 to connect with colleagues (dare I say “friends”) worldwide who shared similar interests to mine, such as Gabriela Grosseck in Romania, Eduardo Peirano in Uruguay, and Michele M. Martin up in Pennsyvania.  Our connections have evolved over time (as has Web 2.0), so that we continue to connect through our blogs, Twitter, Slideshare and Facebook, but Delicious is where I first made the network connections.

I found Delicious personally very useful.  I could get to my web bookmarks on any computer.  I could in effect organize the web, bundling bookmarks around themes.  I could add colleagues (and students) to my network and follow what they were bookmarking.  I could use it as a vetted search engine to find resources that others worldwide had located.  Through class tags, I could share web resources with my students.  At Gabriela’s urging, I experimented with the use of Delicious in my online class, and presented my results at eLearning 2008 and in the online journal edited by Gabriela – “Instructional Uses of Social Bookmarking: Reflections and Questions.” (REVISTA de INFORMATICA SOCIALA, pages 28 – 39).

One of the more useful features of the old Delicious was the ability to set up RSS subscriptions around networks or tags.  I like to know each day what individuals whose tagging practices I value were curating off the web.  By adding people like Jeff Nugent, Jon Becker, Alexandra Pickett, and Gardner Campbell to my network and then subscribing to the My Network feed, I automatically built an amazing intelligence and environmental scanning process.  It piqued my interest to know what they found interesting.  When the term “edupunk” first surfaced, a subscription to the Delicious tag “edupunk” siphoned from the web a very interesting collection of sites.  Every morning, email is the first thing I check…but Google Reader is the second, and Delicious was an important component of my Google Reader aggregation.

Delicious was originally launched in 2003 and acquired by Yahoo! in 2005.  I joined in 2007, and by the end of 2008 according to Wikipedia, I and my public links were part of a global network of more than 5.3 million users and 180 million unique bookmarked URLs.  The site was sold to AVOS Systems on April 27, 2011 – which was exciting in that Chad Hurley and Steve Chen of YouTube fame were involved.  This week, Delicious was relaunched in a “back to beta” state.

Delicious was one of the first sites explained by Lee Lefever of Common Craft – a great explanation “in plain English” of social bookmarking.  The relaunched Delicious has invalidated much that Lee explains.  With the flip of a switch, Delicious went from a must-have tool in my digital toolbelt to just another web site.

My 5,547 links are still there.  I think ….but am not sure … that my tags are all still there.  My bundles are gone.  My networks have now become friends but what they are doing collectively has disappeared.  RSS functionality is gone, replaced with a Facebook like sharing function.

In other words, the ways in which I have been using Delicious for four years have disappeared.

Granted, you get what you pay for … and Delicious has always been free (though I would gladly pay for the old service).  The new owners warned that they were updating Delicious…I just did not expect basic functionality to disappear.  I am not the only one upset.  Just look at:

One of my favorite recent movies is “Up” … probably because I can identify with the old curmudgeon Carl Fredericksen.  Towards the end of the movie, he is pushing his way through a crowd and he says words to the effect of “Sorry, old man coming through”.  Maybe RSS is dying and friending / sharing are the new norms.  It seems paradigms are shifting once again.  The new owners are probably less interested in the old guys like me that stuck with the old product as they are in launching something hip that connects with the masses.  So be it.  But this old curmudgeon misses his old Delicious and so far has not found the energy to go back and stack what I used to have.

Pile on and let me know what you think.  Am I wrong?

{Up graphic from filmgabber}

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The Interconnected Tool Set

It has been a busy week but I have had some enjoyable experiences.  Last night, I covered Jeff Nugent’s class, Learning with Digital Media, while he was at the POD Conference. Today, I worked with the faculty of the Occupational Therapy program on instructional uses of the web.  In both cases, I got to see light bulbs come on as people realized that it was not blogging, or twittering, or screencasting, or Slidesharing, or any specific tool – it was the mix of tools that made the difference.

With the Mass Comm class, we spent time talking about YouTube and Michael Wesch‘s An anthropological introduction to YouTube.  This class of juniors and seniors were pretty insightful in examining how YouTube, which has only been around less than 4 years, has become a cultural landscape where people are connecting, communicating, and sharing multiple aspects of their lives.  Several of Jeff’s students blogged about the video in his class sandbox.  I particularly liked how one of Jeff’s students, Frances, stated it:

“Throughout the course of the semester, I have been looking at the tools we learn about on an individual level, interacting with them accordingly. I appreciate how Welsh shows the audience how all the tools really connect as a user-generated machine. A video is created in Youtube and tagged through user-generated aggregation sites like Digg and Delicious.  RSS feeds then serve as user-generated distribution. Content can ultimately get more and more views depending on what users like and find interest in. It is truly a massive user-dependent media machine. This knowledge makes me feel like my interaction makes me a part of the process.”

This morning, I met with the OT faculty as part of their every-two-weeks professional development.  A month ago, Jeff had spent time with them discussing what the research suggested about how people learn and how students are using technology.  My job was to follow up with a discussion on instructional uses of tools.  I therefore surveyed them this week to see their level of interest on ten different web applications.  The results were mixed, but in general the interest across the board was high.  So we spent two hours today playing.

We started by creating a wiki in Wetpaint to hold the resources we found.  We then spent time discussing possible uses of blogs.  One faculty is taking some students overseas this summer and saw the blog as a way these students could both reflect on their experience and stay connected with their peers back home.  Super idea!!!  From blogs, we played with Twitter (with a tweet arriving from Jeff at POD).  From some of the tweets they saw, we jumped into Flickr, which led us to SlideShare, and then back to Delicious.  Lee Lefever’s CommonCraft videos got quite a workout!  What they began to understand was how interconnected my network was across all of these tools…and they began to conceptualize how that fit their world.

As I said, a fun day!

{Graphic developed by Jeff Nugent}

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The Facets of Social Networks

David Warlick was live blogging in David Gratton’s session, where he drew an interesting picture from Gene Smith of the features of social networks. David said:


“The Internet has been about community all along, Usenet, forums, chat rooms, geocities Home page and webring and e-mail. To say that things have changed is wrong. What’s changed is that the barriers are gone. What’s changed is the syndication process — RSS.”

Interestingly, I had just commented to Jon Becker in his blog post about “How To Digitally Supplement a PLC” that the key was using the power of RSS to bring the conversation to the faculty.

David went on to note that social networks are all different. Using Gene Smith’s diagram, they are all about:

SN Facets

  • Identity,
  • Presence,
  • Relationships,
  • Conversations,
  • Groups,
  • Reputation, and
  • Sharing

I like this breakdown and am adding to David’s comments. Linkedin and Plaxo are all about identity. Wither and Bebo are about presence. Relationships are in many of the tools and conversations such as MySpace, Facebook, and Ning. Twitter is entirely about conversations (and can be addictive!). Groups are a major part of Flickr, Ning, Facebook and Basecamp. Reputation comes out of forums and followings – the number of posts, replies and ranking. Delicious and Diigo are built on sharing.

David asked how this might apply to education. He noted that students and teachers can ask questions and give directions, with other students and teachers responding. The whole thing turns into content, driving discussion which builds more content.

To me, the key lies in the learning outcomes. If one goes back to Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles of Good Practice, one sees connections between the seven principles and Smith’s building blocks:

Good practice in undergraduate education:

1. Encourages student-faculty contact.

– Tools that encourage relationships and communication work here, including Twitter, Facebook, and even learning management systems such as Blackboard or Desire2Learn. The key is the two-way routine contact.

2. Encourages cooperation among students.

– Groups and sharing help in the collaborative efforts needed for cooperation. Setting up a Ning site can be a useful way to not only build cooperation within a class, but with the global community as well.

3. Encourages active learning.

– The Read-Write web is not a passive environment. As students and teachers learn together through exploration of the web resources, they build knowledge and capacity to effectively compete in global markets.

4. Gives prompt feedback.

– The Read-Write web not only offers 24/7 connectivity, but fosters peer-review and formative assessment. Through the relationships build online, trust is developed and students learn to analyze and critique their own work and that of their peers, driving quality up.

5. Emphasizes time on task.

– The good news (and the bad) is that these technologies and processes expand the time for student work beyond the simple dictates of the course catalog. One of the challenges might become helping students find balance in this always on world, as Jeff Nugent noted last night.

6. Communicates high expectations.

– Through identity, presence, and reputation, faculty can model expected behavior and drive expectations. I have always found that students rise to the expectations set no matter how high, and the new social media gives students the tools to achieve those high expectations.

7. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning.

– One of the positive aspects of social media is the exposure students receive to other cultures and other ways of thinking. This in turn can help drive their creativity and desire to explore new avenues outside the rigid curricula in place in most schools.

Much of the literature seems to paint social media with the same broad brush. David Warlick, David Gratton, and Gene Smith are helping me see the many facets that make up social media, and the multiple opportunities these open for students.

Aggregation Three Ways

I have posted several times about the power of using RSS feeds to make sense of the vast array of information in the World Wide Web. It appears to me that few faculty recognize (yet) just how transformational it is to move from a “surfer” of the web to one where the web comes to you…from push to pull. As I noted earlier this week in “A Bookmarking Fiend“, I use feeds from my delicious account, my news feeds of interest, and the blogs I follow – all feeding into my Google Reader account, to make sense of the world…a world that changes every day.

Synchronicity struck once again! Guy Kawsaki commented back to me in the above post that I should check out his new Alltop aggregator. On the same day, I saw a feed from my friend Eduardo Peirano down in Uruguay which highlighted a customized aggregator that he had set up. There is power in each of our processes, so I thought I would compare and contrast.

GR logo

Guy called me a “power Google Reader user” – though I feel at times more like a power Google Reader stumbler. The plus side for Google Reader is that it is easy to set up and use. To me, it is my daily newspaper. Like newspapers, I can quickly scan the “headlines” and only read the articles that actually interest me. Most RSS feeds from journals, news organizations, or blogs can be established with one click, which is nice. It has become part of my daily routine, but as Lee Lefever notes in his excellent summary video on YouTube, it can be addictive. I find that it does focus me to just the sites in which I am interested, acting in ways as a filter from the unwanted distractions out on the net.

Alltop logo

However, I see the power of Guy’s Alltop. If Google Reader is my newspaper, Alltop is the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble! With a glance and a roll of the mouse, you can quickly scan the top feeds in education…or forty other categories. As Guy and his colleagues point out in their FAQ, one could build their own aggregator but, as they note”…knock yourself out. While you’re at it, you could backup your hard disk, bake your own bread, iron your own shirts, floss daily, tune your own car, and bike to work.”  I love it!  In other words, they have taken the work out of this process for you, and done a credible job. Alltop provides one place to quickly scan the pulse of the field and also spot the feeds you may not be following at the time.

Eduardo is an example of someone who did knock himself out and develop his own customized aggregator. Using Feedraider, Eduardo has built pages of feeds from his daily news (his delicious account, his Twitter account, news feeds, etc), feeds from the College 2.0 Ning site that he coordinates, feeds from Higher Ed, eLearning and Open Learning blogs and news services, and feeds from his friends. Like Alltop, his set up allows you to quickly scan the feeds and focus in on the ones of interest.

Eduardo is out on the bleeding edge of aggregation, but I think his model gives us a glimpse of what is possible. I recommend that you check out both his set-up and Guy’s Alltop…but be careful. As Alan Levine might note, these are both great timesucker sites….you can get lost in the rich information that you find there!