Friday, October 24, 2014

Taking the Red Pill and Reclaiming Hosting

This blog has moved to 

Numerous metaphors seem apt here. I have been toying with the idea that Tim Owens and Jim Groom have been promoting for some time now: A Domain of One's Own and Reclaim Hosting. When I first heard the idea, I was not too keen on it because I was working in a community college with students very new to technology and with luddite faculty who were hostile to and afraid of technology. I couldn't imagine trying to get first generation college students with little exposure to computers and saying "oh yeah, you are not only going to learn how to save your paper to a thumb drive but you are going to host your own website on your own domain." But what is interesting to me right now is that I have students at Humboldt State who do not want to go online at all because they are afraid of all the corporate control of their information - they have heard Snowdon and Zuckerberg and want no part of that internet. Jim and Tim are providing that alternative.

"Founded in 2013, Reclaim Hosting provides hosting support for individuals and institutions that want to build out spaces online for personal portfolios, digital projects, and more." If you are interested in learning more, I would encourage you to explore Mary Washington University's Teaching and Learning Technologies page. Closer to home, Chris Mattia at California State University, Channel Islands is experimenting with the idea as an alternative to a learning management system. We have departments here at Humboldt State University that are using Wordpress blogs to run their courses, but Reclaim Hosting takes that one step further and hands the keys over to the students.

All I can say is that it has been surprising and fun. The technologies have advanced to such a state that anyone really can do this. My blog has been with Google since 2005. I had even older blogs on that are fortunately lost to the mists of time. I like this direction. This is a good time to get students, to get everyone, to think about who owns your information and what you can do about it. This is what I think the principles of Connectivism should lead to - not to just be a node in the network, but an active, aware node.

"This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill: the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes." - Morpheus, The Matrix 

This blog has moved to via Reclaim Hosting. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

mLearning Initiatives at Humboldt State University

This just in from Morgan Barker, an instructional designer at Humboldt State:

Hello Staff & Faculty,

I would like to personally invite you to campus sessions centered around the topic of mobile learning. The eLearning department will be holding a monthly 2014-15 Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) session. Come join us -grab a cup of coffee and a croissant, during the session.

Sessions will run like an open mike forum - the perfect venue to start an academic discussion, ask questions, share your mobile lessons or learn from the campus community.

Fall Session Dates/Times - BYOD Mobile Learning Sessions

The Fujitsu iPAD
Friday, September 19th
Theme - Facilitate Classroom Use - mobile lessons, all disciplines
SH 117 9-10am

Friday, October 17th
Facilitate Collaborative, Content Sharing Elements, all disciplines
SH 117 9-10am

Friday, November 14th
Facilitate Field Journals, all disciplines
SH 117 9-10am

More Information - What is Happening at HSU with Mobile Learning? During Spring 2014 the College of eLearning facilitated a semester-long Faculty Learning Community (FLC) on mLearning that created a fun and safe environment in which faculty collaboratively explored, applied and shared mobile technologies and pedagogies to enhance student learning. Take advantage of these resources:

Cannot make these sessions? We will continue the use of #mobileflc and our tagboard mentioned above. This is a great way to see the conversations and add relevant content.

More and more events like this will be happening here as they are in the rest of the country. I am really interested in how these tools can change how students learn. I was very skeptical at first because when the iPad first came out, I saw it only as another consumption device and I associated "mlearning" with proprietary platforms. It is a different world now - the web has gotten to be a much more creative place to be since the dawn of Web 2.0 and it is really worth looking all of the ingenious uses of networks and even the simplest of tools. These events are the follow-up events that grew out of the mLearning Faculty Learning Community that Kim Vincent-Layton and Morgan Barker led last year - I highly recommend this and if you are on campus, please stop by. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Time Saving Tips for Online Teaching (2014)

English: A clock made in Revolutionary France,...
 A clock made in Revolutionary France,
showing the 10-hour metric clock.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We often hear that online learning takes a lot of time for instructors. I have found that it can, but when a course is set up in advance, using the appropriate tools, a lot of time can be saved. A little work and planning in advance can save teachers a lot of time when it will really count. Many of these techniques make for a more engaging experience for the students and make teaching online less stressful for instructors.

Note: this is an update of a post from 2012 that adds tips that teachers have sent in since then. Thanks everyone! Here are some of my favorite time-saving tips. Please add to them through the comments or via email.

1. Create a "Welcome Letter" that not only introduces the instructor and the course but gives detailed instructions on how to access the course and where to get help.

2. Use a "Week Zero" that opens up before your class. Create a module in your online class that is always open that tells students how to use the online tools for your course. This module would be a good place for links to online student services that may be available to your studnets.

3. Create a comprehensive syllabus.  Use the syllabus to let students know how to find tech support, tutoring, and a librarian. If your college does not provide online tutoring for students, be sure to check out OpenStudy which provides free, facilitated, online peer tutoring.

4. Use a syllabus quiz. Creating a quiz or syllabus scavenger hunt will help students understand how your course is organized and where to find help. I found this to be even more effective if it were worth a few points.

5. Make your course easy to navigate. Keep as much content as you can no more than two clicks away. Use a consistent format week-to-week or module-to-module. Remove buttons or tools you are not using.

6. Schedule your time. Do not work on your online course because you can; work on it because you have scheduled the time. Let the students know your schedule. Access your course consistently (e.g. three times a week) and respond to email promptly (with-in 48 hours).

7. Be strict about forms of communication. If you give students multiple email and messaging accounts to contact you, be prepared for students to use them. Some instructors do not receive class related email but take course related questions only through the learning management system. Some will only use email. Some only take assignments in drop box. Make sure you are clear about how you want to be contacted.

8. Automate your course as much as possible. Take advantage of the time-release feature of announcements and other content in the tools that you are using like your learning management system. Record and reuse lectures. Let online tools handle as much of the grading as you can.

9. Distributing and exchanging documents. Use the assignment feature of your LMS instead of e-mail. Encourage students to share documents using Google Docs or Dropbox.

10. Centralize question and answers. Use a discussion forum for “Frequently Asked Questions.” Create a FAQ page. Ask students to ask questions in the forum rather than e-mail so everyone benefits from the answer.

11. Use online groups with a deliverable. Let the students do the work. Do not respond to every posting, respond to the group deliverable.

12. Use a "common responses" file to quickly paste in answers to common questions. This file can be a Google Docs file that you can open on any computer.

13. Allow students to facilitate online discussions. Giving students an opportunity to discuss what they have learned in their own voice can really help students learn.

14. Use a detailed grading rubric to help answer questions in advance.  Teachers can create rubrics online using tools like RubiStar.

15. Encourage student-student interaction and study groups. Give them the space to solve problems.

16. Communicate to the entire class regularly. Use audio and/or video each week. Try to anticipate problems or sticking points in a class and record a video to address these issues. We like to suggest tools like Screencast-o-Matic. A YouTube account is also very handy.

17. Save a tree. If you are still printing out papers, learn to use the "Insert comments" feature in your word processor. Downloading papers, printing, then scanning and re-uploading is an enormous time sink. Find out if your college uses "TurnItIn" or some other such service with quick grading tools for documents. If you have not learned how to do this, it will make a huge difference. (And yes, we still have teachers doing this.)

What about you? How do you streamline your online teaching process? Leave a comment below if you have any time saving tips.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Open Textbooks at Humboldt State University

English: The Jolly Giant Commons while briefly...
The Jolly Giant Commons (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I presented the other day at Humboldt State University's conference "Institute for Student Success." I was really pleased that the organizers seem to recognize economic barriers to education as a factor in student success. I am also very excited about some of the work already in progress here at HSU with open textbooks. Last year, I worked with Chris Callahan, one of our Biology instructors, to put his BIOL 102L online - human biology with a lab. The course used chapters from two open textbooks, numerous videos from Kahn Academy and elsewhere. The labs combined some simulations from Smart Science as well as a collection of experiments that the students could do in their own home. One of the requirements of the lab report had the students take pictures of themselves actually doing the experiments. It is amazing what some of these students could accomplish with a hotplate or a microwave in their dorm rooms!

One of my goals with this presentation was to find other faculty who might be interested in open textbooks or who may already be working with OERs and open textbooks: I was not disappointed.

Laura Hahn and Scott Payton of HSU, and Lance Lippert of Illinois State University have written a textbook in Wikibooks called "Survey of Communication Study." The text is for the capstone course for the BA and the interesting part is that the capstone includes having the students edit and update the textbook. As an instructional designer, I am always interested in new models of open textbook creation and I think this is very innovative. It has the potential of combining open textbook authoring with portfolio assessment. This is a great answer to the question "who is going to maintain and update an open book once it is published?" This turns the "textbook" into a living community of scholarship rather than a static object of consumption.

There are other projects here that I will be writing about later so watch this space! Good things are happening at Humboldt State.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Death of the Book Redux

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Wittgenstein (from Wikipedia) 
I don't know if this is related to climate change or the polar vortex, but the yearly declaration that the book is dead or dying is early this year. Naomi S. Baron, in her article "How E-Reading Threatens the Humanities" is the latest. Never mind the fact that with every new change in technology, there is resistance to the change. Socrates was suspicious of writing itself because it took away from relying on memory. Writers like Sven Birkerts have been writing wistful epitaphs on books and culture for years, if you are not familiar with him, his book "The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in the Electronic Age" might be hard to find now in paperback but it is available in a Kindle edition.  The article is filled with anecdotal evidence from experiences with her students and she asks:

Are students even reading Milton or Thucydides or Wittgenstein these days? More fundamentally, are they studying the humanities, which are based on long-form reading?

As a former English teacher, I would say that is not their job but ours as teachers. It is our job to show them why Milton, Thucydides or Wittgenstein are relevant. The humanities have always been in crisis because most students expect to get training in college that will allow them to get work afterwords. It is our job as instructors to show them that despite that goal, everything they learn in humanities courses will only help them later.

When I first entered college in the 80s, I read about the death of the book, the death of the humanities, and read articles about the importance of a liberal arts education. This is probably just the nature of journals like the Chronicle of Higher Ed, but you rarely see articles like this from state or community colleges. They always seem to come from the hallowed halls of the Ivy League where instructors can afford the luxury of sitting in big libraries reading old leather bound books. What these instructors are really afraid of is the change in the technology. The technology makes paying hundreds of dollars for a text irrelevant and wasteful. There are too many new ways to deeply engage in an online text. I would recommend that anyone who is interested in this read Innovating Pedagogy 2012, the first article is called "New pedagogy for e-books." There are a number of tools that allow for commenting, highlighting, and discussing texts. I would especially include here:

  • NB from the Haystack Group at MIT's CSAIL. This site allows instructors to upload PDFs and then students can bookmark, highlight, add comments, and discuss the text with the class.
  • Diigo allows students to bookmark, highlight and comment on online texts and then share those bookmarks.
  • Bounce - Students or teachers can select regions of a webpage, annotate, and share the URL of the annotated page with others, who may also comment.
  • Google Docs - Any text can be uploaded to Google Docs and shared with a class that can highlight and comment on that text.
  • And just about any wiki like are good collaborative spaces to share and comment on texts. 
There is something exciting about holding a device in my hands that is connected to the largest library in the world. I can thoughtfully read on an iPad because I can annotate a text, bookmark, connect with others who are reading the text and if the author is alive, I can even send an email.

I see both sides of the argument - we do lose something whenever new technology is introduced. But sometimes we gain things as well. Every shift in communication technology has led to some kind of disruption, but also a benefit. We should learn from that history: moveable type got rid of scribes but eventually lowered the cost of books. One of the many ironies about all of this is that I know more people reading the classics right now because they are free downloads via Kindle, Google Books, Gutenberg, and the University of Pennsylvania's Online Books page.

We have a Biology teacher here who used an online, open textbook (openly licensed via Creative Commons) for his online and face-to-face Biology courses. Our survey tells us that these students felt that there was no difference between their experiences with the etext than with a commercial hardcopy except commercial text was too expensive!

It is up to instructors to work out how best to use this technology. There is a right way and a wrong way. Instructors should be asking questions about how best to leverage the technology into new opportunities for teaching and learning. There are a lot of tools here to harness towards the end of making the humanities engaging. Where Baron sees distractions, I see opportunities for engagement and deep learning. What Baron is really saying is that the old methods of teaching do not work in the connected age; I am not sure why that is news.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Why Connectivism is a Learning Theory

Domains of major fields of physics
Domains of major fields of physics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
David Wiley recently made a comment on his blog, in response to a very succinct posting by Stephen Downes, that the learning theory Connectivism, though he is sympathetic to it, was incomplete. I am not sure what to make of that. I understand David's point that terms need to be carefully defined. A solid theory needs operationally defined key terms. But I am not sure that Connectivism is really incomplete. There are a lot of great theories out there that work well and are very useful but are not "complete" in every sense. Einstein thought that his theories of relativity would lead to a Universal Field theory and because his work does not account sufficiently for quantum mechanics, in that sense his theory is incomplete. But it is still quite useful and irreplaceable in many fields of study and in practical application.

When Einstein first published his theory it had to go through years of refinement and testing. That is the process. There are still things being worked out with Darwin's Theory of Evolution but the days of wondering if it is valid are long behind us. It has been proven, observed, and tested. There are still evolutionary mechanisms to be worked out and the history of evolution will take more field work.

Looking at the history of theories, I am beginning to think that the discipline a given theory arises from is often the one least capable of evaluating it. But that is where all of the experimental and observational evidence is going to come from. Most of the criticisms I have read of Connectivism boil down to the new theory is not like the old theories. A theory is meant to provide a conceptual framework for viewing and understanding phenomena. As an instructional designer, I have a purely practical approach. I am only interested in a theory's usefulness, but for me, a theory must
  • account for current theories (either through refutation or inclusion)? A theory shouldn't just account for a given phenomena, it should do so in some measurably better way (more complete, elegant, etc.).
  • sufficiently explain where we are now.
  • make predictions. Any theory that can't predict anything is basically a conjecture at best.
  • be subject to testing. Here I would emphasize that the theory should change what we do based on experiment and empirical data.  
In my experience, Connectivism has met those four conditions. Those shouldn't be the only ones but as an instructional designer, the theory accounts for current issues in my work in ways that other theories do not. 
Stephen Downes speaking at D2L09.One of the problems of learning theory is that it is usually an interpretation of learning based on a psychological school of thought, sociology, or philosophy. It would be difficult for learning theory not to come from those disciplines, but learning theory seems to get stuck because while the derivative disciplines may have moved on, the learning theory often does not because educators are not participating or doing research in the parent disciplines.

New theories come about when the current theories no longer account for new information or phenomena. This is what made Connectivism particularly important to my work. The theory was created by Stephen Downed and George Siemens (Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age) at the same time that networks and social media were impacting education in some profound ways. Some of the phenomena that Connectivism accounts for are phenomena that many educators fight against: online classes, social media,  MOOCs, student-driven learning, etc. Connectivism for these instructors will never be a valid theory because they will never be comfortable with some of the implications of the theory: it would represent a profound change in their world view that they are not ready to accept. Connectivism is a learning theory because it accounts for the changes we are seeing in our society and in education in ways that the older theories cannot. Even social constructivists have a hard time wrapping their minds around social networks.

With that said, I am no ideologue either. I have my own bones to pick with Connectivism. It is still unclear to me how learning "may reside in a non-human appliance." It should either be the case or not. My definition of learning requires someone to actually do the learning. I see non-human appliances storing information, processing information, even mimicking pattern-making (chess computers). I don't understand how learning resides there. That is my "why a duck?" moment with the theory. It also feels like a left over principle from another theory that is not necessary for Connectivism to be a strong theory on its own.

But Connectivism is not just an explanatory or descriptive theory. As an instructional designer, I can use it to help analyze the success and failure of a particular course. So how would I test it? There are a number of ways. First, we build a course design rubric based on the tenets of Connectivism, and compare the success and retention rates, and course satisfaction (for students and teachers). Second, we repeat the experiment, and share the finding so others can reproduce the results.

The jury is still out for Connectivism. This is as it should be! The jury should always be out for all theories if we are going to engage in the scientific method and reason together. 
Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Connectivism - The First 2000 Years

English: picture of 18th century english Tatle...
I would like to highly recommend a book I am currently reading to educators interested in Connectivism. It is called Writing on the Wall: Social Media - The First 2000 Thousand Years by Tom Standage, the digital editor at the Economist. The point of the book is that social media is not a new phenomena but it is something that we have been engaging in for millennia and that it is part of being human. The book is interesting, well-researched and brings pieces of history that have been floating freely in your head together in some unusual and useful ways. He ties how we used to communicate with everything from cuneiform tablets, pottery shards and graffiti together with Twitter, email and Facebook. Some of those themes are discussed were discussed here in postings about the Silk Road as a network, The Republic of Letters, and other postings. I have also written here about Connectivism being "nothing new" and, for me, that is a great compliment to a theory - it means that we can use the theory not only to account for where we are now and where we are going, but also use it to analyze where we have been.

How this vision informs instructional design is that we recognize the social dimension of learning and how learning experiences happen in networks. Instructional design and teaching is the facilitation of these networks. The one-way delivery of information is a one sided "conversation" that has some use. I can gather information through reading a book or hearing a lecture, but I learn when I discuss it, through writing, talking, meeting others (in whatever medium) and make connections.
Enhanced by Zemanta