Apr 032014

It seems every other day I learn of some online tool or system that can be used to improve education, and many of them are free. Today I learned of NowComment and got to try BlueJeans.

NowComment I haven’t tried yet, but it was recommended by a colleague. With it you can upload files or use public docs and create discussion forums on them. You can also sort comments, skim summaries, create assignments, hide comments, reply privately, and much more. Accounts on NowComment are offered for free.

I actually got to try BlueJeans web conferencing. It was easy to set up and get started. While in the webinar it had the feel of a Google Hangout–smooth and distraction-free. I checked their website for pricing info, didn’t find any, so I assume it’s expensive.

Recent Developments

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Jan 172014

I’d like to start with a quote:

“a) teaching by telling does not work for most students, b) students who are part of an interactive community are more likely to be successful, and c) knowledge is personal; students enjoy themselves more and develop greater ownership over the material when they are given an opportunity to construct their own understanding.”

~ from the POGIL website. (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning)

I’m serving on the local OWU steering committee for the recent Mellon grant on digital scholarship, and it’s exciting. We’ve got some great projects firming up.

The OWU Radio Station is getting set to launch under new management and in a new space this semester. I’m working on the CPU now.

And, if all goes well, I’ll launch our own EdTech at OWU and Beyond LibGuide as well. This will be a central hub for educating faculty on developments in instructional technology.

Stay tuned.

Dec 092013

Jonathan Freedman (UM at Ann Arbor) writing for the Chronicle places the MOOC movement properly (IMHO) in the long history of middlebrow education:

Knowledge becomes a commodity you can buy rather than a product of a process that takes time, effort, and patience to master. [Bill] Gates’s words speak to a view of cultural attainments that we call middlebrow.

While Freedman connects MOOCs genealogically to lyceums and chautauquas, I also see connections to the self-help / self-improvement movements of the 19th & 20th centuries, as well as to oft-compared mail-order education. These options are not bad, especially for the upward-aspiring masses, and MOOCs are offering such a commodified education to the broadest market ever. Therein lies their promise and usefulness.

I’m confident that Universities will remain places where students learn that time-consuming, challenging process of critical problem solving and moral leadership. MOOCs are no competition there, especially when the single-most important factor in learning such life skills is the personal relationship with one or more significant mentors.

Freedman has some good recommendations for traditional brick and mortar colleges, and they align nicely with my own thoughts of op0en educational resources (OER) being a burgeoning public commons.

Instilling in the public a taste for culture and imparting scientific and social-scientific knowledge beyond the classroom was once part of the university’s mission.
Nov 042013

So far, I’m pleased with the welcome I’ve received to this massively open online course (MOOC) E-Learning and Digital Cultures. It’s almost as if the course was designed by digital natives.

Along with the usual course welcome page there was also a “How to Study EDCMOOC” page that addressed the common problem of “This course is out of control! I can’t keep up!” and offered these specific tips:

  • Read selectively: you are not expected to engage with every single area of course content
  • Choose one or two media streams only to focus on: you can’t be everywhere at once
  • Let go of the notion of ‘being on top of things’ – this is also impossible – instead, enjoy the serendipity of the random encounter
  • Relax, select, investigate, think, write when it makes sense to write, and write in a space that you enjoy
  • Forget traditional online teaching methods: there are around 17,000 people on this course, only 5 teachers and 8 Community Teaching Assistants

and this video:

I already feel more at home.

Nov 042013

I was working with a student this morning, assisting her to learn WordPress and build a professional portfolio site. She’s doing an independent study this year on the use of technology in education–right up my alley. She asked if I had heard of Box of Tricks. No, but when she showed me the site and its list of over 200 tried and tested internet resources, there were many there that I was familiar with. It was nice to have a little collegial exchange sprinkled amongst our mentor/pupil session, one of the many reasons I love my job.

Oct 232013

(Just off the top of my head, including all technology from chalk boards to smart phones. A general perspective on tech, a higher ed perspective on teaching…)

  • Meeting the learner “where they’re at”. College-aged students are immersed in technology so much more than any other generation before them.

  • Engaging multiple learning styles through multiple channels. Speaking and music are good for auditory learners; writing on the board or using presentation software is good for visual learners; students taking notes is good for kinetic learners. Can you see how a mobile device like a tablet computer can please all of these learners at once?

  • Keeping students’ attention. Most folks have a good sense for what is a good presentation and what’s boring. Prezi.com used to have a cute introductory video showing an audience falling asleep while the presenter’s shadow looked like she was holding a carving knife instead of a pointer. Technology used well has the potential for a “Wow!” factor; technology done moderately well will at least help keep your students awake.

  • Collaborative learning. Discussion boards, blogs, wikis, social networks all foster conversation and collaboration. Most learning management systems have a group feature allowing instructors to easily split a class up into groups, each with its own tools. And with the Internet, why not collaborate with another class in another part of the world?

  • Immediate feedback. Clickers, or audience response systems, including Poll Everywhere, allow teachers to assess the engagement of a class in more quantitative ways than simply reading body language. Take a step back from the classroom and mastery or other short quizzes the night before make sure everybody’s on the same page.

  • Active learning. Gamification of education is a big trend now because games are active, engaging, and rewarding. World of Warcraft and Minecraft, what to speak of Civilization and others, have many educational uses. Students can also be engaged in active learning in and between class times researching, fact-checking, demonstrating, etc.. And, of course, there’s bringing a guest speaker to class via Skype or Hangout and allowing the students to ask questions and interact.

So there aren’t any good excuses for a good teacher not to use technology.


Oct 012013

I signed up for the E-learning and Digital Cultures MOOC long before Foundations for Teaching for Learning, but it wasn’t available until now. It starts November 4th and promises to be a better, more relevant course. #edcmooc

Aug 262013

It’s Monday, the start of a new semester and academic year at Ohio Wesleyan, our busiest time of the year. It’s also the start of week 4–the final week–in Foundations for Teaching for Learning, the Coursera course I’ve got to be failing because I’ve been so busy with other job-related duties and obligations.

And this situation points out one of the biggest failures with MOOCs: the staggeringly high drop-out rate. Reported by Inside Higher Ed in March, it was around 90%! Because MOOCs are using a 1 to many (hundreds of thousands in many cases) or hierarchical pedagogical model, it’s nearly or probably impossible for one instructor to keep tabs on so many students, and there doesn’t seem to be any process or structure in place for getting students to keep tabs on other students. If one fails to watch the course videos and/or turn in the assignments it goes unnoticed by other students, the instructor, and any of the MOOC administrators. I failed to receive any inquiry as to what was going on and why I wasn’t participating. Furthermore, the discussion forum threads that I posted to and subscribed to haven’t seen any other activity–If they had I would have received an email notification. This makes succeeding at a MOOC entirely up to the student and their own gumption. Free to all, but we have to do it all on our own. The MOOC just puts it all out there for anyone to access (if they sign up for it) and pursue on their own. In other words, it’s like an online video tutorial unless you make some friends in the class and share the journey with them. If you don’t, you’re completely on your own.

I’m intrigued by an alternative, the DOCC proposed by FemTechNet. Instead of a massively open online course, it’s a Distributed Online Collaborative Course. As Anne Balsamo, co-facilitator of the first DOCC and Dean of the School of Media Studies at the New School in New York,  says, ”Who you learn with is as important as what you learn.”