Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Our Online Course Development Process

This is a posting of an early draft of our online course development process. I am posting it here as an example of sharing documents for the Health Information Management class I am co-teaching this summer. BUT, if you have any questions or comments on our process, I would appreciate any input.

Read this document on Scribd: Online Course Development

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Conceptualizations of Information

Luddites often fear technology because of the sense that it is something alien to human nature. There is this feeling that if we are using technology that somehow we are moving away from something essentially human. I would argue that our use of technology is part of our humanity and that the Rousseauist ideal of man in harmony with nature is a myth that never was. We invented fire as soon as humanly possible because it was damn cold. How do we communicate this new, vital information with others? We invented languages, drew pictures, and held workshops! Seriously though, our minds are so complex, they take in a huge amount of information at anyone time (consciously and unconsciously) that organizing information is probably the world's third oldest profession. I would like to look at one particularly early ordering of information. My wife, the most rational animal I know, hates hearing me talk about this because the idea sounds like I am saying that the ancient Chinese invented programming and computers. She believes, with little other evidence, that this is some marijuana-induced ramble from the 70s. Even if it were, it would only be additional proof of the archetypal nature of organizing information from chaos. Care for a brownie? Let us continue then.

The I Ching, the book of changes, consists of 64 chapters. The chapters contain cryptic poems describing our possible relationships to nature and one another. Each chapter is titled with two hexagrams made up of trigrams, each trigram is named after an element or a condition of an element (water, air, mountain, etc.). Each trigram is generated by three lines that are either yin or yang, female and male, dark and light, the bianary opposites. One is meant to randomly access the information using a stick gather method or the throwing of three coins to generate the lines. (The lines can be classified as static and moving as well.) The earliest methods of generating the trigrams come from the reading of heated tortoise shells thrown into cold water. The cracks were then interpreted and the appropriate poem or reading recalled or read. (A true master could see the cracks in a rock and refer them back to the I Ching!) So here we have a database of information, a formula or program to access the information (that even starts in a binary code!), and action taken based on the information. The idea was that the user was engaging in a random process (all randomness guided by the tao) and that by freezing that moment in time by the throwing of coins, one could get of sense of where it was going and where it had been.

You do not have to think that this is a computer. But it is a formal system for organizing and retrieving complex sets of information. It is probably 1200 years old and there are earlier examples than this. It shows that this is what the human mind does; this is what it was meant to do. Creating methods of visually communicating information is as natural to us as a walk in the woods.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

New Media Festival Video Workshop

Connectivism is Nothing New

To quote Wikipedia "A hyperlink is a reference or navigation element in a document to another section of the same document or to another document that may be on or part of a (different) domain." The act of linking two things together is a critical act. The connection is first created (connectivism?) in our mind based on other connected thoughts that are in turn linked to our personal experience, social, and historical milieu (constructivism). Creating references between two "documents" is as old as recorded history. And what is a document? According to Wikipedia, "Anything serving as a representation of a person's thinking by means of symbolic marks." There are many instances of documents through out human history of containing "hyperlinks" to other documents. In the east, many of the sutras are actually written references or guides to mandalas and other art. One of my favorite chapters of the Illiad is the shield chapter (18:478) where I have long felt that the description of the shield is obviously a reference to another work of art, a sculpture perhaps, and in turn, the arrangement of images in the shield is a critique of the society and world that created it. So the Illiad was an oral tradition, referred to by a written document which also refers to a work of art (the Shield of Achilles). The shield itself was a graphical representation of the complex relationships of humanity and the cosmos. Now if that is not a hyperlinked text what is?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Theatre and Technology

I made some flip remark on Twitter after looking at that I have a theatrical relationship to technology. Scott had asked us if anyone had been using the video conferencing chat site for education. All I saw there were young people in chatrooms. It looked very 1997 (I have to stop using that as a critical term). I logged into a chat room there with the screen name "DatelneNBC" -- someone there said that half the room left when I did that. We then joked around for a few minutes about how if I was actually there with Chris Hanson that I did not have anything to worry about and that I was free to leave. Back in 97 I used to go on CUSeeMe with my Mac SE next to my real computer. At the time, the SE would in no way support the net in such a way that teleconferencing was possible -- but it looked like I had the SE actually teleconferencing. I also occasionally had an alien puppet with me. My primitive b/w camera made it look really cool. It would occasionally trip people out.

I was told later that I was completely on the social end of and that it really is worth looking at as a teaching tool/meeting room.

It did get me to thinking about Grotowski's idea about the "Theatre of the Poor." That basically theatre can occur where ever two or more are gathered. Things like sets are in the end extraneous. Theatre, according to G, is a series of choices about communication and expression. We engage in theatre in our face-to-face life all the time -- we decide what role we are in and then make choices about how we choose to express ourselves. Those same choices happen online. You can consciously choose a role or persona (and maybe something absurd like alien puppets) and make discoveries or critiques of communication. But in the end the technology is superfluous -- it is the communication. Grotowski was not a huge fan of technology, especially in the theatre, but I saw one of his sets that had two chairs and a single light so even he relied on technology :)

I present myself to my family in one way, my students in another, and old college chums in yet another. I think I have a blog or other web application to support all of those roles. I had one of our students in my summer class first follow me on "geoffcain" at twitter and I warned her that most of those postings were about instructional design, and I don't think I am going to issue that caveat again. I really don't want to discourage people from getting to know me. My intent was not to have her not follow me but to warn her that she might get a bunch of postings on how to adjust settings in photoshop. But then why shouldn't she see that that? It is part of who I am! I have to learn to own that. It is funny how conscious I was about those roles. LiveJournal is great because I can post recipes to my family or talk about golf with others and not have to subject people I work with to those postings -- I can target many audiences with one tool.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Should we use publisher content in online courses?

I think it is fine if instructors use publisher content. The problem comes in when inexperienced online teachers confuse content for teaching. We try to show through our course development process at Tacoma Community College that the instructor is there to facilitate interaction and not just deliver content. There has to be a process in place where instructors understand what an online course is and how to review content for interactivity as they create the course.

Also on the downside are the fees that publishers charge the students for this content. I personally do not like access fees on top of what they are already paying — but if we don’t mind supporting courses with $200 textbooks, why should be be concerned with the fees? Again, I think we should be using open sources texts and course materials. In the best cases, some of the commercial material really supports the teaching and is appeals to a wide variety of learning styles; more often than not, they are test banks and hastily thrown together multimedia or flash objects. In a consumer culture, we tend to think we have bought an end product and say “how do I adapt my course and teaching style to these materials?” In an open source culture, we get the product and say “great, how do we get started in adapting this to our needs?”

Often, publisher materials are no bargain — the instructors (the better ones) still have to wade through the .pdf libraries and test banks to cull and adapt the best materials and to check and see if the material meets the course objectives. I have seen course cartridges loaded into courses only to watch instructors, over the course of a year or two, significantly edit and adapt the material: in other words, the material did not match the goals of the course or the teaching style of the instructor until that instructor put in the work anyway. In the meantime, the course is no bargain for the students either.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008


Okay, I look at a lot of widgetware every week but I am really excited by this. This is not a new tool exactly -- they have been around for a bit but this is the first (to my knowledge) web 2.0 tool that allows you to share Power Point presentations with embedded sounds and music. I typically use (which now allows you to link a podcast with a presentation), but this seems like an easier solution.