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.

It’s Not Just Weird Twitter That’s Weird

You’ve heard about (or seen for yourself) the phenomenon known as Weird Twitter (too many NSFW for me to crawl through for an example, so here’s a search that will start getting you there), but it turns out that Twitter itself flies the weird flag as well. A little over a month ago they announced they would stop supporting HTTP plaintext connections to the Twitter 1.1 API, requiring everything to use TLS/SSL. Perhaps since WordPress does not develop Twitter applications as a core part of its operations, this change didn’t get filed in their bugtracker until after the switch had been flipped. Properly, WordPress devs contacted Twitter to ask about things, and a Twitter dev seemed to me to say that they would look into some sort of failover, but as of today the oEmbed provider in 3.5.2 still does not work for tweets.

The weirdness comes because Twitter keeps making changes with little regard for third party developers and even for average users. Remember when they decided to not-block accounts that you had selected for blocking? (Later reversed, yes, but still. And it’s not like 75 million sites run WordPress or anything.) Inarguably, Twitter is a corporation whose primary mission as a capitalist actor is to gain money, not a public commons. But whether they call twitterers customers, clients, users, investors, or people, irritating them (us) enough makes that bottom line hurt, too.

As Arlo said, though, that’s not what I came to tell you about. I’m here to tell you that we’ve updated Academic Commons (in part thanks to an old post at “And now it’s all this”) so that embedded tweet URIs are broken now, but should be fixed by midnight tonight. Let us know in the comments whether your site has broken embeds on or after 25 January 2014. WordPress has implemented a fix on their end, but we likely won’t upgrade to that fixed version until the summertime, at which point we’ll all join hands with WordPress and Twitter and sing a happy song.

I can’t even come up with a good image for weird twitter, but maybe that’s best considering many deny its existence.

Pushing WordPress

Color photograph of a woman pushing a gigantic hay rollSince we are in semester-open mode, I get to do one of the things I really like doing for ITG, which is getting out and talking with/to students and instructors in class. Nearly always — and such is the case right these days — I’m there to talk about Academic Commons.

Once upon a time, ITG had grand visions of building an aggregated source for many tools, documentation, and ideas around key educational technologies such as mapping, wikis, and robust cross-linked annotating. Alas, our eyes were bigger than the increases in our staffing budget, and as everyone knows, people are more important (and expensive, and their [our] importance is indicated in part by the expense) than software to running a good educational technology outfit. Currently, consequently, Academic Commons equates to Yale’s institutional WordPress installation, used respectably across Yale College. Not surprisingly, writing-intensive disciplines and courses make the most use of it. Of these, the Department of English makes the greatest concentrated use, thanks in part to many hours of work by departed ITGer Robin Ladouceur as well as the efforts of former ITG intern Sam Gamer.

Strangely enough, though, I will only visit five class sessions in these first two weeks of classes. On the one hand, I could assume that all the other classes using WordPress sites are comfortable making their site their own in part through shared discovery. On the other, I’m a little worried that courses limit their use of the platform to what’s obvious. Given that only about 25% of students in classes I visit have any experience with WordPress, and only about 50% have experience in any content management system (I ask each time), it’s not unreasonable to think that there are opportunities being missed to use WordPress for something more complex than a shared editable space. (Not that that’s all bad, etc. etc.)

This past term, however, an instructor used WordPress more nearly like an LMS, even assigning grades to student work in the site. This term, one instructor is doing the same, and another course (instructor + TF) will be mounting an online exhibition, following a bit along Charlotte Parker’s excellent model, produced as part of her senior project in American Studies. As well, more instructors in English will use WordPress sites for workshopping texts this term. (Currently we use Digress.it for this, but CommentPress seems to have restarted development and I will be re-evaluating it.) Signs of hope, or continued outliers? I don’t know, but I’m going to keep on trying to get the word out to both students and instructors about the possibilities.

[Creative Commons licensed image via Flickr user BailyRaeWeaver]

We’ve Missed You

Color photo of hand-made origami card reading "welcome back"No, really! It’s been great to take a hiatus from blogging for ITG, but it just isn’t the same without being able to talk to you. Yes, you. And you, and you, and . . . especially you, there, in the back.

What did you do on your winter recess? We all had a mostly restful time. Some of us left the country to visit family, some of us went farther north in this country and ended up needing to replace a chunk of our car’s clutch the day before our birthday. (This second one was not me.) We all disconnected for a little while and are ready to start the term.

What are we seeing on the horizon for this term? For one thing, we’re going to start rolling out in this space more information about what’s happening with Yale Academic Commons. We haven’t done a great job keeping the Yale community using WordPress updated with when we add or retire Themes or Plugins, nor with when we are upgrading the WordPress core and what the major changes are with that core upgrade, and that’s going to get better. For another, we’re undertaking some strengthening of our group’s ability to work in certain areas of contemporary academic technology, most notably GIS. In collaboration with GIS specialist Stacey Maples of the Yale Library, Alina and Trip are going to raise their own skill levels and assemble a small handful of workflow patterns for some kinds of GIS work so that you can incorporate thinking about it more quickly and easily into your pedagogy or coursework. Finally, in March we are planning a showcase for some of the work faculty do in their classrooms with mobile devices, primarily iPads. This event will likely take place toward the end of March in the TEAL classroom at 17 Hillhouse Ave., and will give you a chance not only to talk to peers about how they make the most of mobile affordances, but also to try out some mobile devices and consider whether/how you might integrate them into your teaching.

These are just a few of our undertakings for Spring 2014, but we’ve always got more irons in the fire. We’re also always open to hearing what the Yale community thinks is important. What gaps are there in your pedagogy or coursework that academic technology might address? What great tools or processes do you use now that more people should know about? Tell us in the comments or at itg@yale.edu.

[Creative-Commons Licensed Image via Flickr user joybot]

Twitter API in Academic Commons

Some time ago (in the middle of 2013), Twitter changed how external applications (such as on your mobile phone or, say, your Academic Commons WordPress site) requested and received data. Consequently, your widget may have stopped displaying your tweets. Inexcusably, we have not published a how-to for fixing this until now. The documents for how to get your tweets into your site as well as how to publish your posts out to Twitter may refer to plugins unfamiliar to you; as part of clarifying the situation, we found that at least one of the plugins previously available failed with the new Twitter rules, so we replaced it. We would prefer questions about the instructions mailed to itg@yale.edu, but comments about their content may be left on the pages themselves.

Digital Humanities Summer Institute 2013

Crossposted from my own site. Delayed for no particular reason.

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be able to attend the 2013 edition of the Digital Humanities Summer Institute in at the University of Victoria, in Victoria, British Columbia (w00t! international travel!) and figured I owe the reading public a report.

First of all, this certainly feels like a big event. Once upon a time it wasn’t that many people (the site archive doesn’t list participants until 2004, but we can see that the 2001 edition had 2 courses), but it has grown tremendously over the years, hitting 22 courses and nearly 500 people here in 2013. And that’s not taking into account the three events put on by the institute but not in the summer. Consequently, while I can understand people talking about making lifelong friends at the event, I think these days that’s harder unless you return over multiple years. It was big enough that I didn’t feel bad skipping some of the planned events in order to go out for lunch or just let my brain rest a bit.

Second, I highly encourage anyone considering attending to see whether they can score a seat in Jennifer Guiliano’s course on “Issues in Large Project Planning and Management”. This was what I took, and it may have changed my work life. It would be fair to say that I am a convert to project management thinking and practice, though the former may be more important than the latter. Some of the more important lessons from the course for me:

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