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. 
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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.
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Monday, April 21, 2014

Scientific Discovery and the Creative Commons

Tim Spuck's students discuss their search for ...
Tim Spuck's students discuss their search for T Tauri stars with renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson at the American Astronomical Society conference in January 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In a recent episode of Cosmos: a Spacetime Odyssey, Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke of the dissemination of scientific ideas and publishing as part of the scientific method: "Science requires openness to flourish: our understanding of nature belongs to the world." Ironically, in the same week, I visited our university library to discuss how the College of eLearning and Extended Ed could support their work and one of the librarians told me that they had to drop the journal Nature because it is too expensive. For our little institution it would be over 10k a year for the basic journal - forget about specialty journals. The old model of publishing hampers scientific progress! It certainly limits the examination and testing of ideas to only the colleges that can afford those particular journals. What happens to us if the genius that will cure cancer can only afford a state college? Or is in another country? How much do we lose when the responses, counter-arguments, and reproduction of experiments can only come from a particularly privileged perspective? We all benefit from diverse points for view, including the original investigators. Yes, I would like it if some alumni were able to pool their resources and get us a subscription to Nature and its associated journals. But I would like it even more if more journals followed a Creative Commons model and opened research up to everyone. I loved what the Creative Commons website has to say about this:
The more we understand about science and its complexities, the more important it is for scientific data to be shared openly. It’s not useful to have ten different labs doing the same research and not sharing their results; likewise, we’re much more likely to be able to pinpoint diseases if we have genomic data from a large pool of individuals. Since 2004, we’ve been focusing our efforts to expand the use of Creative Commons licenses to scientific and technical research. (Emphasis my own.)
There are new models of scientific publishing that include openness. Even Nature is taking advantage of open licenses in a limited way.

Another exciting development is the Directory of Open Access Journals which searches 5,622 journals at the full-text article level.

Everyone benefits from open access to data and information. Lets serve the research, not the business models. As the Berlin Declaration on Open Access puts it open access scientific literature should be publicly available, free of charge, and on the Internet "so that those who are interested can read, download, copy, distribute, print, search, refer to and, in any other conceivable legal way, use full texts without encountering any financial, legal or technical barriers other than those associated with Internet access itself."
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Friday, April 11, 2014

Connectivism, Neuroscience, and Education

English: Human brain.
I have never been comfortable with proclamations by educators or scientists (and yes, there is a difference) about how the brain works. The logical fallacy goes something like this: "we have isolated a mechanism in the brain, learning takes place in the brain; therefore, we now know how learning works." Whenever a psychologist says something smug like "the brain doesn't work that way" (around 1:21), I want to pull my hair out. The latest theories about how the brain supposedly works also include huge gaps in our understanding of how the brain supposedly works and plenty of lines of research that may one day soon give us a more complete picture of how the brain supposedly works. The idea is that if we know how the brain is supposed to work, then we will somehow know how we learn. There are so many layers here though that it seems to be an impossible task. First, it assumes a purely mechanistic view of the mind and learning. Not that we have to get metaphysical, but this could be something that is so complicated that thinking of the mind as a flow chart or a network may not even scratch the surface of what is really happening. When educators talk about what neuroscience has to say about learning, we have to remember that neuroscientists aren't even sure what neuroscience has to say about neuroscience. It is a difficult field because each year brings in a new raft of technologies that reveals more and more about the physical properties, chemical reactions, and neural connections in the brain. But I think there is some promising work in neuroscience that we should be keeping an eye on as educators. One of the more interesting lines of research includes the mathematical models around "deep learning." I think this is finally getting at the complexity necessary to account for the complexity of thinking, language, and learning.

Deutsch: Phrenologie
I think there are some promising avenues of discovery in the work of Gary Marcus that could one day help address how we learn. Gary Marcus describes deep learning this way: "Instead of linear logic, deep learning is based on theories of how the human brain works. The program is made of tangled layers of interconnected nodes. It learns by rearranging connections between nodes after each new experience." In other words, the brain is not seen as a series of connected flowcharts but as intersecting nets of connections that create patterns.

Additionally, Geoffrey Hinton describes the brain as a holograph. Daniela Hernandez writes about Hinton in Wired saying that "Hinton was fascinated by the idea that the brain stores memories in much the same way. Rather than keeping them in a single location, it spreads them across its enormous network of neurons."What I like about Hinton is that he says that his work involves creating computer models of intelligence and he seems to avoid the heavy handed proclamations of discovering how learning works. His work discusses "machine learning" which is an entirely different concept. I think it is very important to remember that we are talking about models and not "how the brain works." The networks involved in learning are even more complex than his model because our layers include language, behavior, culture, society, etc. Never mind the chemical and quantum connections in the brain. It is just possible that one day Hinton's work can speak to the complexity of the interplay of all of those networks and their seemingly infinite interrelations.

How does this shape my practice as an educator? I teach workshops on concept mapping and have used concept mapping in my classes, not because I feel that they somehow mimic the way the brain learns but because it is an engaging learning and teaching method that provides opportunities to utilize visual and kinesthetic learning modalities as well as using critical analysis. In other words, it is a method of teaching and learning that engages multiple ways of knowing. And it may also be a good metaphor for how learning may occour in networks, including neural networks. I have seen this discussion around the learning theory, Connectivism. I think we could go into any learning theory and use it, somewhat clumsily, as a way to discuss how learning arises out of the formation and interplay of network, but fortunately George Seimens and Stephen Downes have done a better job with their work around Connectivism.
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Friday, April 04, 2014

Reports on the Death of the Book are Greatly Exaggerated

William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
I was at a poetry reading at the library a while back and one of the poets had a poem about how lost in cyberspace everyone is and the implication was that he was seeing the end of print culture and the book. Never mind that there was not an empty seat in the house to hear a poetry reading on a Thursday night! But there we have it - technology is phasing out the book. But it is just changing media. We don't need hand copied books either. More and more books are being written electronically and read on electronic devices. This isn't news. What is funny is to watch people with one foot in the old paradigm trying to make sense of the new. This includes myself. I have always thought of books as something that I had to own. They are objects to be held and even if they are not held in my hand, they must be contained in something that I own!  I had a funny thing happen the other day. I was downloading an ebook onto my iPad and I got an error message that said my iPad was full. I was incredulous. How could this happen? I have 16 gigabytes of space! I went through Kindle and iBook to take a look at what happened. I downloaded a lot of books. My electronic book shelves had swelled to the autodidactic, polymathic, bibliomaniacal proportions that my home bookshelves used to have. I got onto a vintage, historic cookbook jag and that cost me some room. I have the Washington DC Cookbook from the turn of the century which allowed me to send my actual hard copy to my Best Man, Steve Boutchyard, who is currently in culinary school. But I also have a copy of Beeton's and numerous others. I had the complete works of Poe; a raft of Elizabethan playwrights that are not Shakespeare as well as the complete works of the Bard; numerous volumes of Balzac; a complete library of philosophical works; everything related to Art History that is free in iTunes and Google Books that is downloadable and the list goes on. And so here I am, just like I was in the 80s, before I had a computer, with book shelf issues. I have noticed an uptick in people talking about classic literature and I think it is because so much of it is freely available in accessible formats via places like I also have a couple of ebooks that I actually bought that I am reading with no small amount of irony: I am reading an electronic book about a physical archive where the author is able to convey in deeply poetic detail what it is like to work with the physical texts that go back hundreds of years in the Paris police archives.

English: A Picture of a eBook Español: Foto de...I still own a lot of physical books, but not nearly as much as I used to since the dawn of the internet. I love a good physical copy of a book as much as anyone: there are some books that I have that are gorgeous old books with fine bindings, thick paper that has the wire ridges where the paper dried on a screen, and beautiful fonts that press deeply into the paper. They have a texture and presence that you can't get from an etext. That said, I was looking for a book on Ausonius on line today and I found what I was looking for on Amazon and the physical book was going for $540. And you can bet they are not being as thoughtful about design and fonts as they once were. Needless to day, the electronic version of an equivalent text from Google Books at no cost will suffice.

In the late 90s, I thought that there would be no limit to the amount of books I could put on a computer. So how I could eat up 16 gigs is just incredible; a bit is the smallest unit - a 1 or a 0, on or off, a byte is 8 bits which make a single character, 10 to 15 bytes go into a sentence, and a megabyte is 1,048,576 bytes, and a gigabyte is a 1000 megabytes. And I had 16 of those! If you are using an Apple or Android product, you probably already know about the iBook and Google Book apps, but there are other sources of free books. If you want to fill up your iPad or eReader quickly with free books I would suggest spending a rainy afternoon browsing:

  2. The Online Books Page from the University of Pennsylvania
  3. The Internet Archive's Digital Books Collections
  4. Forgotten Books  
  5. The Sacred Text Archive
  6. World Digital Library
  8. Libravox - free audio books

On top of all of that, there are the numerous texbooks that are licensed with the "Creative Commons" license that you can download through various repositories like the Open Textbook Library and College Open Textbooks. There, I just exploded your iPad!
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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

When is a MOOC not a MOOC?

Statue of John Harvard, founder of Harvard Uni...
Statue of John Harvard Wikipedia
The Comical of Higher Ed has a headline that says "Harvard U. Will Offer Exclusive MOOCs to Alumni." After reading the article, the reader learns that what they are doing is giving alumni access to segments of courses and course content. The alumni are not taking a class. If it is not "massive," if it is not "open," and it is not a "class," it is not a MOOC! It is just the "online" part - it is an "O" not a MOOC.

I need to put together a collection of articles that maps out how the CHE has gotten MOOCs completely wrong, and thereby polluting the discourse around MOOCs with misinformation, exaggerations and over-simplifications. It is a huge disservice to the academic community. They seem to have attempted to help by writing up an article about George Siemens.

There are a number of great discussions going on around universities, journals, and the web about what MOOCs are and their possibilities (especially cMOOCs). It is a shame that the CHE misses the boat so often. 
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Friday, January 31, 2014

Open Textbooks and Student Success

Cable Green
Cable Green (Photo: Jeffrey Beall)
The tirelessly brilliant and ubiquitous Cable Green sent out today's announcement from Creative Commons about the U.S. PIRG Education Fund report called, “Fixing the Broken Textbook Market: How Students Respond to High Textbook Costs and Demand Alternatives." This report reinforces what the research is already showing - open textbooks can be a significant contributing factor to student success. The results we saw with projects like the Kaleidoscope Project was that students were actually doing better in courses that were using openly licensed, free textbooks. There are a number of reasons for this, but one of the reasons at College of the Redwoods was that the faculty created textbooks were written for a particular student population to solve particular problems. The books actually addressed the needs of the community. You can still find articles out there about the so-called suspect quality of open education resources, but they are being written by folks who have not looked at what is out there now.  Articles like “The cost and quality of open textbooks: Perceptions of community college faculty and students” by TJ Bliss, John Hilton, David Wiley, and Kim Thanos go a long way to dispel those myths as does "A Preliminary Examination of the Cost Savings and Learning Impacts of Using Open Textbooks in Middle and High School Science Classes," by David Wiley, John Levi Hilton III, Shelley Ellington, and Tiffany Hall.

Commercial textbooks have their own myths to deal with - like whether or not they are reliable!

This is a very dynamic time to be involved in open textbooks!
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Humboldt State's Moodle Office is Makes the News!

Humboldt State University
Humboldt State University (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Our own inimitable Bill Bateman's video tutorials for Moodle 2.5 are featured at the Moodle News Website as were four of his videos for 2.3.

Bill is the lead Moodle Support Specialist in Humboldt State University's Moodle Office located on the third floor of the library. Bill's team manages the day-to-day operations of the learning management system, one-on-one student support, one-on-one faculty support as well as going out to faculty offices and classrooms. The Moodle Office is a good place to drop in for help and a cup of coffee. And if all that wasn't enough, Bill still takes the time to produce the video tutorials. The instructional design team and I rely on the Moodle Office pretty much on a daily basis.

Moodle News is the international hub for all things Moodle. It is the brainchild of Joseph Thibault a Course Manager at, and Mel Benson, a writer who runs, a site to share and explore Moodle ideas. She is also Moodle tech support for a school district Minnesota. Moodle News is a valuable resource for all things Moodle: it "is a collaborative project bringing order to news and information pertaining to the open source project and learning management system called Moodle. We scour the web for the freshest, most interesting and valuable Moodle information and publish it here."
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Friday, January 17, 2014

#Rhizo14: "Cheating" as Learning Modality

Illustration for Cheating Français : Illustrat...
I have had to address "cheating" in education is a very real way here at Humboldt State. I have instructors who are new to online learning and that is one of the first things they asked - how do we know the students won't cheat? I usually direct faculty to resources for designing assignments and tests to minimize cheating and how to promote an environment of academic integrity. I wrote a blog posting on academic integrity and ways to minimize cheating last year.

I used to have some students in one of my English classes who would ask me what they had to do to get an "A." I would tell them to follow the steps in the assignment and turn their work in on time and they would get an "A" and they would say "no, really, what is the system here?" They assumed that there was a back door somewhere or some way to game the system. They thought I was a bad teacher because I wouldn't tell them. I wouldn't let them in on the secret. Many of my students saw the end of education, the assessment or final paper as "the product" of education. What I taught though was the process of learning. There were a lot of steps in my class and not really any short cuts. I think that there is a lot to the gamification of learning. I think that letting the students loose on the learning outcomes of a course and letting them discover what the relevant information might be that would address those learning outcomes would teach them a lot about learning. It would also teach teachers how to write precise learning outcomes!

The traditional fears about cheating baffle me. I always say that if the questions you are asking your students can be answered by Google, you are asking the wrong questions.

For every act of "cheating" there should be a corresponding action for "legitimate" learning:

              Cheating                   Rhizomatic
Copying sources without attribution Share sources (social bookmarking) - teach citation
Looking at someone else's work  Collaborate - Students can create collaborative knowledge via wikis
Buying or stealing the answers to tests Have students create the test questions, debate answers
Sneaking notes into class Open book, open internet tests
Downloading papers from the internet Assignments use the latest news and student experience
Recycling papers Have students create assignments that are relevant

There are some faculty who think that students who do not buy the textbook are cheating. Often, this comes from professors who do not know how much their textbooks cost. Jordan Epp and I discussed the idea of hacking the syllabus a while ago when he told me about a student who did Google searches on the weekly learning outcomes from the syllabus rather than buying the textbook.
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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Using a Blog-Based Environment to Support a Community of Learners

Presentation notes for: "Using a Blog-Based Environment to Support a Community of Learners"
Institute for Student Success, Humboldt State University
Presenters: Daniel Fiore, Riley Quarles, Claire Knox, and Child Development Faculty

Riley introduced everyone by saying that the network of blogs (Wordpress) created with the Child Development department began with solving a problem: communication. Claire Knox pointed out that there was learning that they wanted visible to everyone, they wanted everyone participating in the conversations. They wanted the learning to not be locked down behind a learning management system. Resources for the presentation are at the Child Development site for the Institute.

They created a network of blogs to support their program. The network of blogs arose from the users - the needs of the faculty. All of the course blogs reflect the interest and needs of the individual classes. The blogs serve as eportfolios.

The department blog provides calendars, advising, and a link to all of the other classes. The site supports online and hybrid courses. It allows students to feel and be connected throughout the program.

They also wanted to engage alumni in an open site. They are expanding the community to include former students. Students create their own blogs that feed into course and department sites. They are using RSS feeds and categories in Wordpress.

Blog posts help students get to know one another before they work together in the class or in other classes. This has increased the sense of connectedness and community.

The students sign up for a blog at, send the address to the instructor, the instructor puts them into a plug-in that gathers the students postings that are labeled or catagorized according to the class instructions. The pulg-in automatically pulls in all of the materials that the students tag to the class blog. Instructors and students then comment on the postings.

The blogs allow students to explore topics further. The instructor was using the blog to post more articles and resources and the students began to do the same on their blogs.

Carole said that she is not a technological person but found that Wordpress was easy to use and the program allows the faculty to go at their own pace in using these tools. The blogs assignments were good tools to discuss web presence, communicating online, and our web history. They had conversations about how the blog can represent the student to prospective employers and how what you put online represents you.

They want the students to carry their experiences in the program and their relationships after they leave the program. Learning management systems do not allow that. They want the learning community to continue.

All of the course content from the courses stays visible. Students can look at other classes and see how course materials are related to other courses. They begin to link what they are learning to their other classes. Students can go and look at any courses that they are going to take in the future. They can see how all the courses fit together. Faculty can also visit the sites and find new ways to make connections to other classes in the program. Typically, faculty in purely face-to-face courses might not have that opportunity. The blogs also serve as a community orientation site.

They have also had a lot of discussions about privacy - there are some materials that they put into Moodle (the learning management system). Observations of children or copy written materials,  for instance, need to be kept private.

Even though the environment looks structured, the community created by the students and their comments represents another network within the network - this is like the idea of rhizomatic learning posited by Dave Cormier. There are opportunities here for collaborative learning and team-based projects. Blogs allow students to communicate their processes, to reflect on how they learn. Peer instruction and support can begin in this network and follow them throughout the program (also much like Eric Mazur's ideas on peer instruction). This is also a good example of students learning through their connections with one another (connectivism).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

#Rhizome14: Community as Curriculum

English: Bamboo with rhizome Français : Pousse...
This is my introductory post. I am participating in a MOOC facilitated by Dave Cormier called "Rhizomatic Learning - The Community is the Curriculum." Dave's 2008 article "Rhizomatic Education: Community as Curriculum" has informed many of my education projects since including courses, student orientations, professional development, as well as my own teaching which has included English and Health Information Management. Back in 2008, I participated in an early MOOC, Connectivism and Connective Knowlege '08, and Dave's article was an essential node. You will notice that on the side-bar of this blog (if you scroll down) you will find the resources for my presentations on the "Connectivist Classroom" and that article is always there. It is also on my reading lists for new instructional designers. I am participating in this MOOC for a number of reasons but one of them is that I am in the middle of developing an online orientation to online learning called "eLearning 101" that I want to run as a MOOC.

I think it is important to practice what you preach and to give back to your community. I have been to too many workshops on "active learning" that were one-way dumps of information. We need to model and practice. I feel as an educator, I want to help shape this new knowledge landscape. That is the difficulty of this kind of education. I can't get a certification and then shift into neutral! Degrees or past accomplishments don't mean anything in this environment - you have to participate.

Another reason to participate is that the tools, methods, and people in online collaborative education are always changing. It is important to stay connected!

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