Tag Archives: travel

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:

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.

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:

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.

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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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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