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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

American Studies Senior Project Exhibit

This is the second in a series of three posts on the digital exhibitions I worked on this spring. If you need to, you can jump back to part one. Part three is up, too.

In April, I gave an update on our Academic Commons in which I referred coyly to a senior project on which I was a technical consultant, and now that it’s up and live, I can talk about it a bit less obliquely. (Yale tends to interpret FERPA fairly conservatively, and until it was clear that the student, Charlotte Parker, was going to finish the project and make it publicly visible, I wanted to maintain her anonymity.)

Humanities students don’t tend to execute digital projects at Yale, especially not for their senior projects. Certainly, they engage in digital scholarship in a consuming sense by reading primary or secondary sources in technology-mediated ways, engaging in online research, or taking in digital media. In some ways, they are producers as well, but generally only in that baseline way we take for granted, that is by typing their essay on a computer. They may even submit their essays for assessment electronically, but my suspicion is that most will (by requirement or choice) at least backstop that submission with a paper copy.

So it was with real excitement that we accepted a request to work with Charlotte Parker ’13 on her senior project for the American Studies major. Charlotte was strongly influenced in her life by family friends who had connections to the Spanish Civil War and to America writers involved in it, and had been working at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library for some time. These factors joined together in an idea for an online exhibit of Beinecke material related to American writers’ search for a way to write the truth(s) that they saw on the ground in Spain as well as related to writing truth in general. As such, Charlotte would have to engage in curation and analysis of a collection of materials and to engage with technological opportunities and restrictions for making her work publicly available.

Our first encounter with Charlotte came as a request for an Academic Commons site and I saw no reason to recapitulate her process of selecting a project environment, so WordPress was our site of investigation. Part of the reason for selecting our Academic Commons as the exhibit tool was that the Beinecke would like to see more student exhibits using their collections (as would many of us), and the existing infrastructure was the easiest slope. As it worked out, it was also a thoroughly appropriate tool, since Charlotte’s focus in her project was going to be less on establishing a metadata-rich repository than on presenting critical writing alongside selected objects. (In the third of this series I’ll relate an investigation into an alternate tool representing the metadata-rich branch of possibility.)

In a couple project meetings, Charlotte and I decided that she would play in an Academic Commons site with the knowledge that I could undo anything she needed undone and that she would do some legwork to figure out how she wanted to theme her site. Fortunately, she was participating in a HackYale course on website UX and bootstrapped her research and learning there. As with Academic Commons for the software, there was an intellectual infrastructure present and growing that meant we could focus in the project work on the questions of scholarship and technological implementation. Naturally, this meant also that we didn’t take the opportunity to walk through a critical examination of the technology qua technology and discuss how the choices being made affected the argument. For this reason alone, the next time we consult on an independent student project I will do my best to have at least one meeting of everyone significantly involved. No Yale student should graduate without critically examining technology at some point.

An interesting aspect of the project was my indirect partnership with Nancy Kuhl (about whom more in a subsequent post) at the Beinecke, who was Charlotte’s work supervisor as well as a mentor for the Beinecke-based research. We never had a team meeting for the project, something that might have been beneficial to Charlotte and something I will agitate for the next time we work similarly with a senior project. At least at some level, I think it would also have benefitted her advisor, me, and Nancy to sit however briefly around a table and have Charlotte walk through the project timeline with us. She was very well organized, as far as I could tell, but even so there was some of the usual flurry of activity hard upon the project submission deadline that would be nice to avoid. (Then again, I tell all students I encounter that a dirty little secret of the work world is that projects are not planned and executed substantially better than college-level projects.)

Springtime Is for Exhibits

This is the first in a series of three posts on the digital exhibitions I worked on this spring. You can jump ahead to part two. Part three is up, too.

Or at least that’s the way it felt for me this spring. For one reason or another, my large projects this term ended up being three different forms of gallery and library exhibits, each filled with undergraduate scholarship. I’ll discuss each in turn, just because they were each interesting enough that they deserve proper space for consideration.

One that I knew coming into the term I would have was the second instance of something I first worked on in the spring of 2012. Professor Laura Wexler (American Studies and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies) is deeply interested in photography and its role in our lives. In particular, she has run since 1999 the Photographic Memory Workshop at Yale and offers a seminar titled “Photography and Memory”. You can read my writeup of last year’s project, but one thing that I neglected to note then was just how excited we were about this: To our knowledge this way of getting student scholarship into the YUAG was entirely novel and this level of public exposure of undergraduate research is rare. Not all the students last year were undergraduates, and possibly even most were not, but even for graduate students at Yale, short-form scholarship for a general audience is uncommon.

Somewhat predictably, this year’s edition was easier in many ways, but because I knew that was likely, I decided to bring things up a bit where I could. Where I noted in last year’s writeup that “This kiosk came together in a flurry of effort and coordination,” I conveniently omitted that the recordings were done very much in a duct-tape-and-gum manner. The recordings were done in a spare room in our offices, in our conference room, and in a spare office at Photo + Design. In each case, I used Audacity, a half-decent microphone we have, and was the sole engineer and producer. There’s a fog of perfection at Yale that makes doing things this way feel illicit, which is of course one of the attractions. But I also didn’t want to bias gallery visitors against the installation just because it wasn’t professionally recorded. Consequently, I skipped all mention of that.

This year, the recording process was also how I wanted to focus on ratcheting up the assignment from our perspective. Surely, Yale of all places has a push-button high-quality recording studio for student work? Alas, no. Some of the residential colleges have studios, and good ones, but they are limited to students in those colleges. Doubtlessly, we could have gotten around that requirement, but I’ve been there and would not have wanted a fellow student using up my college’s resources on the down low. Naturally, the School of Music and the Music Department have their own studios, but there again, they are reserved for students in those units. Enter the Yale Broadcast & Media Center studios. All signs pointed to them as the best place to get this done. The one catch, which wasn’t one, was that the work we were doing there needed to be disseminated in some way, and since we were doing audio work, we needed to make a podcast out of it. I can’t call that a catch, because being pushed to make our work more public is a Good Thing.

This brings me to the major difference from the course side this year, which was that the assignment was baked into the syllabus. Last spring, the assignment was added after the start of the course, and possibly even after registration, which very much threw the students. We can look on the students’ reaction more or less charitably, but possibly the most nearly neutral way to see it is that Yale students are very busy, and bristle when they encounter academic surprises. I mention this change at this point in my recap because I believe it is half of why the recording sessions went so smoothly this year. The other half is that we had a proper studio and a proper engineer in Phil Kearney from Broadcast & Media, and the students knew they needed to perform. (It didn’t hurt that more than one student had some experience with Yale’s student radio outfit, but most did not.) Consequently, most students got their reading done — and done well — in one take. The downside of that was that we spent far too much of the 30-minute slots I had allotted (based on last year’s efforts) with time on our hands. I couldn’t have asked for a better engineer, though, than Phil, as it wasn’t until we had gotten most of the way through the student sessions, with only one reschedule, that he said, “You know, we could just schedule them 5 or 6 at a time and just have the next one go when the previous one is finished.”

So I thank Phil for his skill and his patience, Professor Wexler for doing this assignment again, Davids Odo and Whaples from the YUAG for their work on the image and coordination side, and Thomas Raich of YUAG for going above and beyond in getting this kiosk up and running when driver and OS issues exploded 10 minutes before I was due on a train to Washington, D.C. I look forward to next year and how we can continue to integrate student digital scholarship with cultural institutions on campus.

Postscript

The exhibit is still up in the (gorgeously new) Study Gallery at the YUAG, so if you can, do head over and see it. Neither YUAG IT nor I (nor Professor Wexler) are thrilled with some sloppiness of the touchscreen we needed to use this year, last year’s being already allocated for other needs. But if you do go and find the cursor unresponsive, just touch far away from your target and then try again. We’ve found that tends to be better than repeatedly trying to move the cursor by small increments.

Student Work Kiosk at the Art Gallery

Recently the Yale University Art Gallery installed a touch-screen kiosk populated with work from Professor Laura Wexler’s seminar titled “Photography and Memory”. For the kiosk, we recorded students reading a short paper (or an excerpt of the same) written in response to one of the photographs displayed in the YUAG’s study gallery space as part of this course. Thanks to the YUAG’s touchscreen, visitors can browse the kiosk by person or by work to hear the students’ scholarship from the seminar. Along with short and full audio files from the student readings, the kiosk presents pictures of the students and the works discussed, as well as transcripts of the readings. This kiosk came together in a flurry of effort and coordination among Professor Wexler, the YUAG, ITG, and the Photo + Design group of ITS. The kiosk will only be up for another couple of weeks, so go take a look today!

students and instructor around the kiosk

ELI 2012, Day 3 (Final Day)

(Cross-posted and edited from my own site.)

On the third and final day of ELI, I managed to get my barbecue-stuffed self to three sessions, only two of which were worth the effort. The first one of the day was S. Craig Watkins from Texas speaking on “Beyond the Digital Divide: Reimagining Learning in a World of Social and Technological Change”. While the presentation had flaws, it was ultimately an engrossing examination of a new sense of the notion of a digital divide. Where a decade ago the term was used to discuss issues of access, primarily along economic lines, Watkins reframed the argument to look at issues of participation and mastery. I do wish he had included data on racial/ethnic groups other than white, African-American, and Latino in the presentation.

Session #2 for the day was another chance to see Gardner Campbell in action, this time in talking with a team from Virginia Tech on “Living, Learning, Cyberspace: A Program-Wide Blogging Initiative for Virginia Tech’s Honors Residential College”. In fact, one of the key strengths and weaknesses of the session was that the team included — gasp — a student. While the student was a self-described introvert and struggled having the majority of the session on her shoulders, it was also a rare opportunity to see a fledgling learn and to watch communities of practices replicating themselves before our eyes. As Lave and Wenger noted in their original work, “legitimate peripherality can be at the articulation of related communities,” and a conference such as ELI is a clear example of an that interstitial space.

Of the third session, the less I say the more charitable I will be. To be brief, I’ll just say that Catherine Casserly‘s talk on “Sharing and Protecting Ideas and Knowledge in the 21st Century” misjudged her audience substantially. Put another way, if her introduction to Creative Commons and their licensing offerings, as well as OERs, was new to the majority of the people there, I don’t think it’s a conference I’ll benefit from attending any further.

(There’s an archive of the tweets at The Archivist, in which I am ambivalently proud of featuring prominently. The links above and in previous posts to the sessions will take you to pages containing video if there is any.)

ELI 2012, Day 1

(Cross-posted from my own site.)

It’s been a whirlwind day, and I’ve been more or less up since 3.30a EST this morning, so I won’t guarantee lucidity or accuracy. But that just means that I am being unafraid about getting into the messy business of learning, to paraphrase Gardner Campbell.

Speaking of Gardner, I finally had a chance to see the man live and direct in a panel debate on learning analytics. I should rather say Learning Analytics, since part of what came out of the panel was a proper problematization of the notion of analytics. Whose analytics? What analytics? What is being measured? What is being ignored, hidden, obscured? The other members of the panel were Randall Bass of Georgetown’s Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship, John Campbell of Purdue, and John Fritz of the University of Maryland – Baltimore County.

At times, the fissures between those we could broadbrush as pro-analytics (J. Campbell, Fritz) and anti-analytics (Bass, G. Campbell) loomed large. Campbell (G.) and Bass spoke of long timeframes and patience, Fritz and Campbell (J.) spoke of what we can do now and of timeframes less than 5 years. Bass used a coinage of “slow analytics”, explicitly connecting with the Slow Food movement. Campbell (G.) began with comments about his background with Milton, Bass discussed his 20 years of engagement with educational research and noted his PhD; Campbell (J.) and Fritz didn’t refer to their backgrounds at all and spoke of the need to address issues of scale.
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