Author Archives: Trip Kirkpatrick

Faculty Bulldog Days Review

It's all over but the reflection for the professors and for the CTL organizing staff, and I have finished sitting in on three classes during Faculty Bulldog Days* for spring 2015. Here are some thoughts about that.

Before I talk about the teaching, I can't thank enough the professors who volunteered to have someone come observe their class. We don't have a strong and pervasive culture of openness at Yale, so I thank the professors for standing up and making their teaching work more visible. In the same breath, I want to thank the students in the classes for having a stranger (two, in one of the classes I attended) in their midst. The largest of the class sessions I attended maxed out at 20 students, making interlopers noticeable. Naturally, the five-student class had discussed opening up beforehand, but even the others accommodated visitors seamlessly.

So what about that teaching? Because the sign-up form didn't have a box on it to check for "Yes, I would like any minor mistake or idiosyncrasy made in my class to be splashed across a low-traffic instructional technology blog", I'll only mention things I noticed and liked. (Try not to chafe too much at the vagaries, because even revealing the discipline of a class would pull back the curtain a little too much.)

  • A particularly nice technique I saw was using an un-articulated motif in the class but then at some point in the session raising the motif to a conscious level. If activating prior knowledge contributes to learning, working with this idea at varying scales of "prior" — even within one class — makes sense.
  • Another teacher, in an effort that seemed effective, very noticeably phased in participation over the course of the class. Students engaged in heavier lifting at the beginning, with the professor only nudging along; as the discussion got denser and more challenge-laden (in a good academic way, I thought), the professor increasingly helped portage.
  • In a final example, and at the risk of being banal, one teacher engaged very personally with the work under discussion. Fortunately, the work was comedic, so laughter demonstrated their** engagement, but that personal commitment can make the difference for some students.

Taking on affective filters is a fine line, of course: Are you giving students a glimpse into personal meaning or risking scaring them off something they don't connect with in the same way? My bias is for not hiding how you feel about what you're teaching, for not pretending that scholars hold absolutely everything at arm's-length. By the same token, of course, you have to model critical engagement with the topic and critical engagement with how you feel about it.

I pepper my thoughts with conditionals and hedging, because this was drive-by observation. Some classes gave me prep work, some didn't. Even so, all the people involved in these classes had worked with and through scores of ideas, hundreds of pages of reading, and hours of lecture and/or discussion before I got there and without which I can't form any strong conclusions. This highlights one of the difficulties in mounting this sort of event. While there's no explicit pressure to participate, the implicit social expectations don't go away. If you're an untenured faculty member teaching in front of a high-ranking admin, who may be from a radically different field's teaching traditions, how do you keep it together? There's enough potential benefit (and actual benefit for me) in this event that I hope we do it again, but I hope we never stop trying to make sure it's a scaffolding exercise for the participating faculty rather than an unrewarding chore.

* Honestly, I wish we'd called it something like Classroom Open House or Sharing Our Teaching, or similar, as I don't make the same associations with a prospective student event that I do with this. I do hope, though, that prospective faculty hires are indeed able to sit in on a class or three, and not just in their department of recruitment, during their visits here.

** Gender-obscuring pronouns. Live it, love it.

In an item in yesterday's Yale Daily News about Yik Yak, one professor is quoted as seeing potential there:

[Aleh] Tsyvinski said that as a professor, he rarely gets feedback during the term. He added that he wishes there were an anonymous board, similar to Yik Yak, dedicated to continuous feedback.

Timeline + Map Web Tool Comparison

I prepared this brief for a pair-taught course on monasticism, in which the professors wanted to explore using chronological, locative, and narrative data from historical, ethnographic, archaeological, literary, and visual sources to facilitate sophisticated comparative analysis. In particular, they hoped students would make connections and distinctions between phenomena that were non-obviously juxtaposable. They wanted to present this data visually on a website, using both a timeline and a map, with some navigational latitude available to site visitors.

Best Options

I've bolded the most salient items for each option.

Neatline

Pros

  • Allows points, lines, and polygons for representing locative data.
  • Date ambiguity representation
  • Sophisticated object metadata
  • Baselayer choices
  • Active development, at an academic institution
  • Self-hosted

Cons

  • Nontrivial learning curve
  • Sophistication accompanied by sophisticated interface that can be distracting/annoying for students. Requires solid explanation and clearly defined metadata requirements
  • Interface impermanence
  • Standalone, no embedding

Representative Example:Ibn Jubayr

TimeMapper

Pros

  • Google spreadsheet for data store (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions)
  • Data decoupled from presentation
  • Wide range of media embedding
  • Responsive design
  • Embeddable in other sites, such as WordPress
  • Good with BCE dates
  • Simple setup and use

Cons

  • Interface impermanence
  • Limited customizability, though can be deployed to Heroku
  • Uncertain development, sponsored by not-for-profit

Representative Example: Panhellenic Competition at Delphi

Timemap.js

Pros

  • Multiple options for data, including both Google spreadsheet (with implication of using Google Form for student contributions) and local
  • Data potentially decoupled from presentation
  • Self-hosted
  • High level of GUI customizability
  • Baselayer choices (though more limited than Neatline)

Cons

  • Old code
  • Interface impermanence
  • Mobile interface unknown
  • Embeddable as an IFRAME only, usability unclear

Representative Examples: Google spreadsheet with additional arbitrary data points, Themed data

MyHistro

Pros

  • Entries commentable
  • Dedicated iOS application for mobile use
  • Clear data export to CSV, KML, and PDF
  • Embeddable
  • Easy to use points, lines, polygons
  • Variable placemark colors
  • Can 'play' the timeline like a slideshow
  • Semi-automatic semi-multilinguality

Cons

  • Tightly coupled data and presentation
  • Privileges linear reading, though not a requirement
  • Unsophisticated design
  • BCE dates don't seem to get calculated and stored accurately

Representative Example: Early Mesopotamia

Commonalities

In all cases, you'll have to identify distinct start and end dates rather than using century-level notation. The individual dates don't have to be more precise than a year. BCE dates are often added by prepending a negation sign before the date (e.g. -200 is 200 BCE).

Additionally, it always needs to be said that at any moment, development on any of these might cease or changes in browsers and student browser usage might render the code unusable. Even on the options being actively developed, the development team might make a material change in the interface, altering substantially how it looks and works. Other technological or cultural changes can't be ruled out.

Other Options

Most other choices focus on locative storytelling, constraining a visitor to moving along a linear path:

ITG Helps with a Creative Classroom

We're glad to see Professor Elihu Rubin’s thoughtful use of technology in his pedagogy getting some notice. Late in the spring, Professor Rubin's work on Interactive Crown Street caught some news, and a couple weeks back (don't ask us how we missed it) there an item appeared in Yale News about his investigation with students into New Haven's infrastructure. Professor Rubin and the students in the cross-listed Architecture and Political Science course created an online guide by using Yale's Academic Commons, an instance of WordPress founded and managed by the Instructional Technology Group. Pam Patterson of ITG as well as Ed Kairiss and Edward O'Neill of Educational Technologies supported the course.

Interactive Crown Street Installation Opens

We're thrilled to recommend to you an installation this weekend that we've worked on in various parts:

INTERACTIVE CROWN STREET

A "Pop-Up" Urban Research Field Office
@ 200 Crown Street
Friday, May 2 — Sunday, May 4
Facebook icon

Opening Reception is Friday, May 2, 6.00 pm. Events are scheduled but participants may come and go as they please. Please distribute — Interactive Crown Street is Free and Open to All!

Congratulations to Professor Elihu Rubin, to Florian Koenigsberger, and to the whole Interactive Crown Street crew!

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.

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.

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.