Experiencing Mastery–With Julia Child

Julia Child On Quiche

Julia Child was terrific at teaching us how to cook, eat and live.

I have no monopoly on this insight.

But it’s very enjoyable to be reminded not only how much a very effective and hard-working person can do in a very small space, but also how much Julia Child has to teach us about teaching and learning.

Not long ago, I stumbled across a little half-page essay by Child in a cooking magazine. It’s a miracle of compression. In less than 650 words (about a half a page), Child:

  1. defines quiche,
  2. tantalizes us with a description of the dish,
  3. chronicles the dish’s culinary rise and fall,
  4. whets our appetite for the dish,
  5. inspires us with a story of how make the dish more easily,
  6. gives a recipe for both the crust and the quiche.

All in eight paragraphs! How many of us could teach half as much in twice the space?

What’s going on here? How does Child work this magic?

To start, Julia begins with the result, the end-product: its taste and smell and pleasures. Quiche smells good, and it’s part of welcoming friends into your home. This is very motivating. You think: “I want to do that!”

Second, Julia makes the process easier by dropping out unnecessary or more-complicated steps. Her inspiring anecdote concerns an anxious neighbor who dread making the dough. Julia comforted the neighbor by advising her to skip that hard part: just buy a pre-bought crust. Who would be the wiser?

The effect was magical: the neighbor brimmed with excitement at her newfound ability.

We may call this “confidence,” but learning experts call it self-efficacy: the feeling of ‘I can do it!’ Apparently, it doesn’t necessarily come from experience. Some people just have more of that feeling. But “experiences of mastery” can boost that feeling of self-efficacy, hence preparing us for greater challenges.

That’s what Julia did with her anxious neighbor: made the task simpler so the neighbor could experience a success and feel more confident to approach a bigger challenge. Julia was quite the psychologist!

Cooking is hard. It’s a complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process. Changing the salt here changes the taste and texture there. Kneading more or less there, changing the temperature elswhere––each of these changes the end result. So you might have to go through the same process many, many times in order to get each step just right, otherwise the end result may be inedible.

It’s difficult to do something without knowing where you’re headed. And too much challenge overwhelms us. So these two strategies work very well: (1) emphasize the end result, the goal, and (2) simplify the complex process, in part by reducing the steps.

So are these two clever methods something that applies only to cooking? Hell no!

There are simple names for these methods. The first is sometimes called reverse-engineering. You take the end result and you take it apart to see how the pieces fit together.

The second is an old educational method called (depending on the context) chunking or scaffolding.

  • The idea of chunking is simply: the average person’s memory only holds so much information. So in order to hold a long string of info, break it into smaller bits. We do this all the time when we separate phone numbers into three- and four-digit chunks.
  • The idea of scaffolding is simply to help the learner by building a supportive structure around him––like the scaffolds built around a building to work on it as it’s being assembled.
    • You give someone pre-assembled bits of the work, so the work is easier, and then over time the learner is able to do the more complex task.

If you teach or train, you can apply the same methods to any complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process.

  • Say you want students to learn to write solid argumentative prose.
    • You might start by asking them to take some apart. Identify the argument, the evidence, the reasoning. Reverse-engineer what good writing is.
    • Then you might give the students the argument and have them support it with evidence and reasoning. Or give them the argument and a pile of evidence and have them pick which evidence supports and which undermines the argument.
  • You can do the same thing with scientific experimentation.
    • You might start by giving students a finished scientific paper supporting a conclusion based on hypothesis-testing. Working backwards, you can ask the students to explain why this particular experimental method was used, why another one would not have worked.
    • Or you can give the students the experiment to run so they can collect the data, or give them the hypothesis and the data and ask them to analyze the data to see if it supports the hypothesis or not.

In short, Julia Child was certainly a miraculously gifted teacher. And like all gifted people, she worked tremendously hard. But her gifts and hard work follow underlying principles. And one of the inspiring things about Julia Child is how much we can learn from her about teaching. Namely:

Any complex, multi-step, goal-oriented process:

(1) can be practiced forwards or backwards––and should be––

(2) can be practiced from any step or ‘moment’ in the process to the next––and should be so practiced, e.g., by providing pre-fabricated materials for each step in the process and asking the learner to use them so as to lighten the burden of learning.

Learning is hard.

  • Learning anything complex is harder.
  • Learning a multi-step process is hard.
  • Orienting all your thoughts and behavior towards one goal is hard.
  • Doing them all together is very, very challenging.

Julia Child knew how to lower the difficulty level while keeping us stimulated by the excitement and challenge of a meaningful goal. And she does this the same way we should: by starting from the end, working backwards, and making the steps easier by simplifying them or practicing them separately.

––Edward R. O’Neill

cross-posted to/from blogspot

Tools and Purposes and Other Fairy Tales.

The gift of instructional technology is tools:

  • little tools that do one or two things brilliantly,
  • big tools that do many powerful things quickly,
  • the constant innovation which makes what is hard one day just a click away the next.

And the bane of instructional technology is: tools.

  • Little tools that do a few things poorly,
  • big tools so big they are slow and cumbersome and suck up your time,
  • the constant innovation which takes away your sanity and causes us all to chase the delusion of endless “improvement” which is often only: the need to keep up and to seem to be improving.

Tools are wonderful. Tools are dreadful. When they are new and work, they are magic. When they age and break, they are worse than inert: they aggravate and infuriate; they are deader than the proverbial doornail. And it all happens very, very fast.

Tools are the how, not the why, mere means to ends, and therein lies the problem.

In higher education we are concerned primarily not with means but ends. The human being is the ultimate (earthly) end: her life and purpose and her ability to use her freedom to choose that purpose and to build that life however she sees fit in an understanding that emerges quickly or slowly, early or late, and sometimes even: just in the nick of time.

We subvert the entire meaning of our enterprise when we fixate upon means––tools, that is––and measure those tools only against other tools and not against the purposes towards which our mission points us.

But think about tools we must, for we are IT, and it’s what we do. And so we struggle endlessly against the tendency to focus on the how and to forget the why. It is a mental struggle. It is a moral struggle. Sometimes it almost seems like a physical struggle: a gripping in the pits of our stomachs and an itching and tingling in our legs. As long as we live and breathe tools, we will always be uneasy.

What is the prescription for this unease? How in higher ed can we focus away from the tool and towards the ends?

One way is to focus not on the tool but rather on the use case.

A use case is a term of art. It sounds fancy but it’s simple. A use case is a story. It’s a picture of some things a user does. It’s journalistic: like the “lede,” that first part of the news story that gives you the whole picture but also whets your appetite to know more.

Write a journalistic “lede” without the “how,” and you have a use case: the problem to be solved, the thing our users need to do, the reason that they come to us, their purpose, their ‘end.’

  • Who?
  • Does what?
  • When and where?
  • And why?
  • To achieve what?

Subject. Verb. Circumstances. Purpose. A use case is a sentence writ large, exploded into steps. It could almost be the panes of a comic.

And we are the ones who help to figure out the ‘how.’

For many use cases, I would like to argue that the ‘how’ should always be in three sizes.

Just as in the fairybook bears’ house, in IT-land solutions come in three sizes. Like the bear story, it’s a fairy tale: there aren’t really just three sizes. And they aren’t just sizes, they’re bundles of traits––ownership, complexity, flexibility, and more.

But three is a good number, because looking at and choosing amongst five or seven or ten things is harder. So we in higher ed IT do well to recommend tools in three sizes and kinds.

  1. A free and easy consumer service with just a few functions. It’s not meant for professional use but it’s adaptable for many purposes. It’s not hard to use, though finding all the tricks can take time. And we don’t own it.
    • Think flickr for photos, Youtube for video, Dropbox for file sharing, Slideshare for publishing presentations, etc.
    • We don’t care that we don’t own it. We just need to make the proper warnings about where the data lives, who can access to it, whether the data can be sucked out, our lack of control, etc.
  2. A free service and which has robust-, numerous- and flexible-enough functions that it can be used for many purposes. It takes time to learn, but the learning curve is not steep. And we own and offer and support it, and that means it’s geared more towards the kinds of purpoes our users have.
    • At Yale, think WordPress. Anyone can request a site. There are already-built resources. It can be used for courses, working groups, projects, etc. It can be public, private or community-only.
  3. A specialized service which we have licensed or built, which has a high degree of complexity. It can be used for many different purposes. You can use it a little or a lot. The learning curve is steep. Whether it’s someone else’s or not, we bought it and we provide it and so even if we don’t own it 100%, we get the blame when things go wrong.
    • Think a sophisticated digital asset management service, or even Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, which is licensed by and (in aggregate) is off-the-charts in complexity.

As with many choices, it’s really a table. This one has one binary distinction and four scales.

type who owns it? how many functions? how complex? number of purposes learning curve?
simple, free & easy someone else few simple one or two none or trivial
our un-fussy service us not too many relatively simple more than a few, less than a dozen non-flat
“our” high-end service us a lot complex many, many steep

But tables are for nerds like me, and a list is more human-readable, and this is one of those distinctions we in IT-land often forget, because “I can understand it,” but then I am not the user.

And unlike in the three bears’ house, in IT-land each of the three sizes is “just right” for somebody. Every user is a Goldilocks who deserves her chair and bed and porridge just the way she likes it.

  • People who come to us for simple functions can be directed to simple tools––even if we don’t own them.
    • And we need to have worked out the use cases well enough so that we can give a short ‘getting started’ document or demonstration.
    • We don’t need to know all the answers––as long as the client knows they are using someone else’s pipes.

Unlike many things in IT-land, the process doesn’t have 86 steps.

  • Write the use case, and identify the three choices.
  • Give your users a clear picture of the use case: who does what.
  • Help the users choose wisely, and help them get the right amount of support for each choice.
  • Advise your users appropriately of the advantages and pitfalls––learning curve, data ownership, privacy, security, longevity, etc.

If you can get the users to share their successes, then others will see what success looks like, and they too may come to recognize that one size seldom fits all, but there is often one size for each user that is “just right.”

––Edward R. O’Neill

WordPress Filename Bug

A large Thank You goes out to Heather Klemann of English for alerting us to a bug in WordPress’s handling of certain characters in filenames when you upload files to the Media Gallery. In short, there are certain characters that won’t get handled properly by WordPress, leaving you with a file unreachable from the web browser. WordPress developers are aware of the bug but can’t agree whether it’s WordPress’s problem or a system administrator’s problem. For the time being, you are, unfortunately, the best source for the workaround.

Broadly speaking, you have two nonexclusive options:

  1. Avoid having any of the characters below in a filename you upload to Academic Commons.
  2. When you upload a file to the Media Gallery, verify that it has uploaded successfully by going to its entry in Media Gallery and accessing the View link you get when hovering over the entry. (On a mobile device you may need to tap the filename, then find and tap the View Attachment Page button.) For non-image files, you may need to click/tap the link in the post that then appears to check it.

We’ll follow this one with WordPress and let you know when it’s fixed or that it won’t be fixed. (For what it’s worth, the same roughly goes for Classes*v2.)

Character Description
\ Back slash
/ Forward slash
? Question mark
* Asterisk
" Quotation mark
: Colon
< Less than
> Greater than
# Hash mark
% Percent sign
+ Plus sign

Site Updates, March 2014

Some new things on this site or in progress:

Twitter feed

We’re not the most active tweeters in the world, and we RT as much as we tweet (possibly more than we tweet), but we do think that the things we mention or pass along in that stream are of interest. As of this post, it’s in the righthand sidebar. Of course, you could just follow our account.

Delicious Stream

We were pretty respectable Delicious users once upon a time, back when it was del.icio.us and then some. But we fell off as time went on. Now that we can and do find and share links in many ways, it’s gotten easier again to tie those ways together (in part provided RSS sticks around). I’ve brought the Delicious link feed back — to the righthand sidebar as of this post — and hope it will be of use. Other feeds that we have out there may get brought back as and if we reactivate our work with the backing sites.

Broken Links and Other Cleanup

Every now and then, we run Integrity, a linkchecker, on the site to make sure we’re keeping content accurate where we have control over it. Our rule of thumb is that when we link out, we’re depending on the target to provide a permalink or reasonable facsimile thereof. We’ve sometimes got to dig to find it, but that’s the goal. Site we have read/write access to, however, we need to check on every now and then. We hope you’ll benefit from these, even though we know it’s small-margin work. But trying to keep our corner of the open web free-flowing is work worth doing.

Academic Commons Release Notes for February 2014

Here are the notable changes to Academic Commons between February 1, 2014 and February 28, 2014. We’re a week late on this, in a sense, because we (that is, I) write this update only on Friday, and this is the first Friday after the close of February.

New Plugins

Just one this month: WP QuickLaTeX
From the plugin author, this plugin “Insert formulas & graphics in the posts and comments using native LaTeX shorthands directly in the text. Inline formulas, displayed equations auto-numbering, labeling and referencing, AMS-LaTeX, TikZ, custom LaTeX preamble. No LaTeX installation required. Easily customizable using UI page. Actively developed and maintained.” You can read more at the WordPress plugin page or at the QuickLaTeX homepage.

New Themes

No new themes this month. See one out there that you’d like? Reach us at itg@yale.edu. (Caveat: Themes must be on the WordPress site itself or from a WordPress-recommended vendor and must work painlessly with our installation. We’re on version 3.5.2 as of today, just so you can check.)

Fixes/Enhancements

Though it’s not a fix per se, we want to mention that we are working on a fix to the deep-linking problem. Currently, if you follow a link to something other than the homepage of a restricted site, the login process ends with you getting unceremoniously dumped onto that homepage rather than your intended destination. This happens whether you are trying to reach a post, page, or the Dashboard. We’re very close and hope to have this fixed before the end of March.

If You See Something, Say Something.

I’m not thinking of suspicious packages.

Rather, I’m thinking about the standards and ethics of our profession: folks who support teaching and learning with technology.

In that regard, I saw several things at ELI 2014 which made me want to say something, and that something is basically "What goes on here? What do we as a profession do? And why can we not have a connected discussion about that?

1. I saw a keynote give blatantly wrong facts.

Okay. People make mistakes. Sure.

But this presentation pretended to give a ‘scientific’ basis to teaching and learning.

Should conference presentations perhaps be required to use footnotes?

One writing teacher I know asks this of undergraduates. Students must give a handout that includes:

(1) a short prose summary and
(2) a list of references.

Problem solved? Perhaps. But that wasn’t the only conspicuous absence of professional standards on display.

2. I saw a presentation arguing for a certain model of instruction, but the presentation made no reference to other models, nor to any concepts of learning, nor to any existing ideas.

This was an argument in a vacuum.

If we wouldn’t permit undergrads to do it, should we do it ourselves?

This lead me to a fear, which I now articulate. (See something, say something.)

Instructional technology as a profession seems to have no clear sense of standards of evidence––nor are these even really a part of the debate.

Think about any other discipline. History. Physics. Kinesiology.

  • You know what counts as evidence.
  • But you debate why some evidence is more meaningful than other kinds.
  • There are different schools and approaches, and they’re forced to duke it out.
  • Some standards and references are shared, some widely, some narrowly, while others are up for grabs.

Why should learning technology not be the same?

Nor are such issues just about evidence.

3. A presentation ostensibly about program evaluation offered no goal for the program, no significant research, numbers that were blatantly fudged.

Of course, if there is no goal, there can be no measuring. (Measure what?)

In this case I actually asked during the Q&A if there was any theory or concept or idea of learning driving the process. (I couldn’t ask about institutional goals, as the presenters had basically said “The Provost wanted it,” and it was clear no one after that point had even thought to tack on a goal as a fig leaf.)

The answer was: no, we don’t have instructional designers; we have Ph.D.’s. As if planning learning intentionally and being a scholar are somehow mutually exclusive.

It’s easy to understand this. In higher ed, the disciplines are the guardians of standards of knowledge.

  • The psychologists decide what psychology is.
  • The dance teachers decide whether dance is modern or ballet or rolling around on the floor.
  • The English professors decide what counts as literature and literary analysis.
  • Etc.

But it’s shocking to think that (for some at least) this excludes any role for thinking about teaching and learning––or even planning in its most basic sense.

All of which brought me to the terrible near-existential recognition of a central absence.

Instructional technology as a profession seems to have no shared framework for specifying goals and measuring results––hence justifying the value we create (potentially but not only ROI).

  • What kinds of things can we accomplish when we use technology to support learning?
  • What is the size or scope of our interventions?
    • Are we just making it easier to turn in homework?
    • Are we publishing things that were harder to publish before––like lectures?
    • Are we solving psychological problems? Economic problems? Cultural problems?

Of course, some goals are easy to pick out: convenience, efficiency and effectiveness.

  1. At this point in time, convenience reduces largely to what I call x-shifting.
    • Just as the VCR allowed TV shows to be shifted in time and place, now increasingly-smaller computers allow content and experience to be shifted in time, place and platform. These may not be the only forms of convenience, but they’re paramount.
  2. Efficiency is simply doing more with less.
    • We can promise this––but we mustn’t lie: a small-scale study I did at my prior institution showed what I think we all know. With any new technology, you must put in more time at first in order to save time later.
    • This points up a little-mentioned analogy, which really ought to be the core of what we do in learning technology: learning a new technology is itself a species of learning, hence a microcosm for learning-in-general. Helping people learn to use a new technology helps them to re-see with new eyes the phenomenon of learning.
  3. Effectiveness is where we lose all our bearings. Ideally, we’d like to make teaching more effective, for it to generate more learning. But how?
    • What are the drivers of learning? Where are the pedals and the steering wheel? We don’t have a good taxonomy.
      • Better motivation? Sure.
      • Good chunking for better cognitive processing? Okay.
      • Better sequencing of instruction? Absolutely.

But do we have a clear picture of the whole shape of such goals?

I fear not.

When I see something, I can say something.

Five Takeaways from ELI 2014 in New Orleans

An academic IT conference in New Orleans begs to be told as a story.

But those stories are mostly about good food and good company. (Beignets!)

The actual “what I learned at ELI 2014” squeezes nicely into a list––or rather, a table.

I personally found five presentations (panels, presentations, poster sessions) compelling. Happily, some of the most expert presenters generously shared their visuals–as Powerpoints or PDF’s.

Five Presentations and Some Resources

ONE

{title} Extreme Makeover – Course Edition:
Inspiring Faculty to Innovate and Collaborate in Instructional Design
{what it was} SFSU instructional designers created a course-redesign program
to efficiently support 25 faculty at a time.
{why it’s cool} Staff used a robust and appealing instructional design process for the faculty workshop itself. It wasn’t a question of telling faculty how to teach; rather, the staff actually gave the instructors a positive learning experience and the means to transfer that experience to their own courses.
{the files} The Workshop Process.The Faculty Takeaways.

TWO

{title} Google Glass: Implications for Teaching and Learning in Music and Digital Storytelling
{what it was} Two different use cases of Google Glass in higher education: one liberal arts, one for professional education (communication studies and orchestral conducting, respectively).
{why it’s cool} The two use cases seem indicative of broad types of education (liberal arts vs. professional training), and so though the cases are specific, the implications seem broad.

  • The liberal arts use of Google Glass involves capturing video of first-person experience and then subjecting it to critical thought and reflection through the process of editing––much as one does with prose writing.
  • The professional education use of Google Glass involves allowing the neophyte’s POV to be captured via video and then subject to critique, analysis and supportive mentoring by an expert.
{the files} A Liberal Arts Use Case.[As of writing, the Professional Education Use Case PPT was not posted.]

THREE

{title} Diving Deep into Data: Motivations, Perceptions, and Learning in Minnesota MOOCs
{what it was} Careful analysis discloses that MOOC users fall into two groups: grazers and strivers. Strivers work hard to overcome the inherent obstacles of the format. But English language skills are an important pre-requisite, and their lack is one of the biggest obstacles to learner success in a MOOC.
{why it’s cool} Careful data collection around MOOCs can actually tell us something about who benefits––so we can make inferences about why and even plan the broad distribution of educational materials accordingly.
{the files} The Powerpoint.

FOUR

{title} Assessing Student Learning through the Use of Digital Video and Data Mining
{what it was} “Real-Time Mining of Student Notes and Questions” by Perry J. Samson, a meteorology professor. Samson showed how the LectureTools application let him build assessment into his classroom presentations so he could determine what teaching students needed.
{why it’s cool} The instructor can “assess as he goes,” and the students can review material later, including taking their own notes and sharing notes.
{the files} As of writing, the PPT was not shared.

FIVE

{title} Moving Math Online: Technology Solutions
{what it was} A straightforward workflow for creating online learning materialsthat include handwritten equations.
{why it’s cool} The approach supports many technologies.
{the files} The Tool Handout.

Bright Shiny Objects at ELI 2014

Yesterday, I returned from the 2014 ELI Annual Meeting. For many reasons, I’m highly ambivalent about this conference, starting with the appellation.

“Annual meeting” feels like a corporate shareholder meeting, though I’ll allow that they may have been just trying to get away from calling it a conference or symposium or what-have-you. As well, I understand that the association conducts business at and through this event. However, the name also speaks to a broader sense I have about ELI that there’s not sufficient thought put into evaluating how the conference transpires.

The last time I went, in 2012, for instance, there was an official backchannel run through something other than Twitter. Silly, even way back then. This year, one of the sessions had a topic that was to be “crowdsourced”. Some people I talked to hadn’t heard of the session and the chance to vote on a topic, the topic wasn’t (ever?) announced, and when I went to the room at the appointed time there were all of two people there. Similarly, I had major headaches getting on the hotel wireless network after the first day, but between not needing it for long enough to bother solving the issue and having an adequate connection through my phone, I didn’t discover until my last day that the password had been changed. Though I’m on Twitter nearly constantly during conferences, it’s possible I just missed the notice, but I don’t think so.

Beyond the logistical issues, ELI has always felt very tech-deterministic. Until going to a session from the wonderful Gardner Campbell, I heard nearly nothing about the personal, emotional, affective side of things.

Even there, it was in a chimera session (you can hear me ask about it during the Q&A once the session recording is available sometime in early May) that paired him with a duo talking about the details of LTI integration and ed tech interop standards. He was kind enough to not insist I declare my thoughts on the matter, and did his best to describe the connections between the parts. Just the same, his talk felt more like the conference I wish I had gone to and the second half more like the conference I got.

Some more small parts:
• Applause goes to the ELI organizers for having a hands-on Arduino workshop. I’ve wanted to try this out for quite a while, but never had the right opportunity. On the other hand, why weren’t we allowed to take the kits home with us? If ELI paid anything like retail for the kits, it still would have only been $2000. Not chicken feed, but several of us felt a little deceived. Others suggested the kits might be going to charity; this would be a fantastic idea, but ELI should have communicated that if so.

• ELI didn’t organize any social events. In this case, I’m not concerned whether ELI were to underwrite attendees social interaction financially, but it seems like something that would benefit the organization.

• Predictably, there was some confusion at some points whether the Twitter hashtag was #ELI14 or #ELI2014. Eventually, #ELI14 seemed to struggle to be a space for people to say things publicly yet not in the official record.

Strangely enough, later the conversation on the main hashtag got affected by the alternate universe.

• The app provided by EDUCAUSE worked very well for me, letting me see the whole schedule, mark sessions that interested me, aggregate my marked sessions into a separate agenda, and evaluate the sessions. Really nice. Except that the alerts in the app were extremely sparse and late and therefore not useful. This would have been the place to put notice of the hotel wifi password change, as a makerspace session cancellation was, but nothing. I can’t comment on other features of the app, since I only used the schedule and alerts on advice from a colleague who attended the big EDUCAUSE in the fall.

• Good sessions I attended: “Rapid Evaluations of Emerging Instructional Technologies”, “Experiential Ed Models”, “How Do You Know If Your Faculty Development Program Is Effective?”, “Google Glass”, and Gardner Campbell’s part of “Learning Design, Objects, and Tools”.

• Finally, my strongest ambivalence comes from the continued emphasis on specific tools as the solutions to general problems and from the continued absence of context emphasis. Over and over, I got the sense that presentations started with the use of a tool and — fiat lux — showed how it could help you, too, lose weight, grow hair, retain students, improve efficiency, and reduce cost. Oh, and scale up. Believe me, I deplore the pressure to make public profession of an article of faith: “Technology shalt not lead pedagogy, but rather the other way around.” If we in academic technology are so distrusted by pedagogues (some of whom are us), the problem is in our practices, not in our rhetoric. And yet there we were in New Orleans talking about how this or that tool allowed us to address a problem, explore a new approach, save higher education from extinction. This is a blog post in itself, but it feels a bit like we’ve been bamboozled by the bright shiny objects we are supposed to understand better than most, prestidigitated into thinking that [object N] is the thing, when something always on your head is better framed as something like “posthuman computing” or “wearable computing” or “physiology-integrated technology”. I’d love to see ELI as an organization consider these issues when assembling the next annual meeting slate of presenters.

ELI 2014 – intuition rules

Are there rules to intuition? One rule emerging from the study of the brain is that the mind needs to allow the “brain voices” space in order to synthesize what was learned.  In the 1990′s the LMS was (and can still be) very freeing. It allow students and faculty one spot to share and pass along digital information. But now it binds us to a technology that is a bit dated and doesn’t adapt quickly or easily to other platforms. This is the shackle of a silo. That’s not to say that all new technologies aren’t silos. Case in point, designing an IOS app that must use Apple’s SDK and app store and the moment it was written, it is becoming obsolete. Sometimes shackles can be freeing and sometimes a shackle is just a shackle.

One thing about conferences, you hear buzz words. We hear the buzz of innovation and transformation. This has been the battle cry since I started this job 13 years ago. We practice the art of combining lightweight tools to get things done.  Is that innovative? Is it trans-formative? Possibly. But it’s less dramatic than that, it’s willing to look at the same old same old day after day and suddenly see it in a new combination. In order to do that you have to be willing to work shackled then you have to be willing to break free.

noSilosBuzzword 1: ‘connected learning environment’ – some use use the term ‘learning ecosystem’. It’s the holy grail at the moment and one that AIT seems intent on exploring with good reason. No more silo’s – creating a community of learning tools that are accessible no matter what the platform. LTI’s and mobile apps can help us with this dismantling of silo applications which don’t speak to one another.

big-data-straight-aheadBuzzword 2: ‘BIG data’ – Discussion of data storage and preservation is necessary – it’s the mechanics of beast – just like I need a cup to hold liquid. But the question in AIT becomes how do we provide access, analysis and the “brain voice” space for students to come to the critical thinking part of learning. We can help students accomplish this by applying “backwards planning” – which in my way of thinking isn’t backwards at all. What are the competencies expected? What is the mission and vision of the program/course/discipline? Let’s create a concept map – on paper, with a pen OR on a tablet device with a mind map/drawing tool. The mission or the competency is in the middle. OR, rogue thought here, what the student is hoping to gain from the course. Now let that brain voice take over and start using your creativity based on the facts/ideas/tools you know but put them in a new order. Here’s a concept map I created at the end of the conference:
IMG_0967

A here is a really cool one from this website (which i didn’t know existed!)http://smithsonian-webstrategy.wikispaces.com/ and it’s from 2009 – I see a lot of innovative ideas we still wish for today.
conceptMap_processed

How do we tie the connected learner to big data?  What we need are tools for the end user to be able to SEE the data and make their own intuitive best guess about how it all comes together. Do we really want students to use the word research as a way to  merely to spit facts back to the instructor? Or do we want research to mean “this is how I am thinking”. I think therefore I research. (see Bret Victor’s work here: worrydream.com). And if you get a chance to view the taping of Campbell Gardner’s 15 min introduction to Bret Victor’s work, it will inspire you. (http://www.educause.edu/eli/events/eli-annual-meeting/program-and-agenda)

Bret Victor speaks about the animation of complex concepts (which can be contained in big data) and the use of interactive personal computing. He says that creation is discovery. If we can provide students with a tool to turn in assignments for a static grade but also a tool that provides a window into their thinking, a place where they can make clear how they come to hold the view/argument they are supporting with those assignments, we will enable a generation of students who reduce abstraction and indirection and pursue passion. It is in this arena of visible and immediate reflection that learning happens.

campfiregirlBuzzword 3: Badges – now I must confess I was a scoffer. Badges brought to mind the small stint I did in Campfire Girls (ah, google it, we sold candy not cookies). We earned badges and stuck them on a sash. It was fun, but what I never really considered what was under each badge. I gained either a skill or it was acknowledged that I participated in something. Those badges said to my peers and my leaders that I had worked at something. Suddenly, I’m sold. Let’s say a student is in a course and he passes with a C. If the course had 3 competencies to be gained, it’s possible that the C student only learned one. What if students earned badges for each competency with the help of blended learning (buzzword alert) tools: modules, lecture, in-class second screen back channels).

Here’s a concept map of second screen back channels I created:
IMG_0968

We can enriched student learning by introducing badges across the curriculum. This provides students with tools to tie their learning together and help them make connections beyond their chosen disciplines. Those badges can be mined by potential employers who are searching for specific competencies. Badges can also be related to ePortfolio’s in a meaningful way – the ePortfolio (buzzword) can show tangible digital evidence of a learned competency. If we provide students with areas for reflection and blocks of obtainable goals, we will increase their potential for learning. Many of these buzzwords are from listening to Kyle Bowen, Director of Informatics at Purdue University and his featured session on “Four Big Ideas for What’s Next.” I really enjoyed his talk. It pulled some many things in the conference together for me and had a tone of practicality that I appreciated.

The ideal student will become a systems thinker, a communicator, a creative problem solver and culturally responsible. We “backwards” construct from this ideal and identify tools that enable/enhance the learning process to help students obtain these goals. I believe that is the trans-formative power of technology enhanced learning – providing tools and incentive that allows digital learners to free up some brain space for creative problem solving.

The conference generated some ideas for me outlined at the following website – I encourage you to login to that site comment on those ideas and add your own.
http://idea.commons.yale.edu

Academic Commons Release Notes for January 2014

Here are the notable changes to Academic Commons since January 1, 2014.

New Plugins

Just one this month: WordPress Google Form
From the plugin author, this plugin “[f]etches a published Google Form using a WordPress custom post or shortcode, removes the Gooogle wrapper HTML and then renders it as an HTML form embedded in your blog post or page.”

New Themes

Just one this month: Clean Retina
This theme features, among other things, a customizable header and menu; the ability to set featured images; a choice of one, two or three-column layouts; responsive design; and prepackaged layouts included.

Fixes/Enhancements

The Query Multiple Taxonomies plugin had a problem, displaying “there are 0 entries” in the appropriate context but linked to a missing entry. It’s now hidden when there are 0 entries returned for a query.