Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Code of Life, she says. We're Cyborgs, she says.

A short essay in the New York Times has been on my desk for months, yellowing at the edges, waiting to be noticed. It's there as a reminder that I've been meaning to say to my higher education friends "Hey, there's something important here, and we should talk about it." So here it is, The Code of Life, where Juliet Waters shares how simple coding has changed the way she looks at the world. Some of the issues she addresses resonate with how we live, teach, navigate the digital world.

"The biggest surprise has been the recovery of the feeling that my mind is once again my own. The “always-on” agenda of mobile technology, now visible to me in the very design of the devices, could not manipulate me as easily. Where my devices were interrupting my work or my life in these ways, I’ve had an easier time filtering and controlling them," she says.

I address this notion of owning your space all the time when explaining digital literacy. I teach meta-control of digital objects to my students. I yell responsibility from the rafters regarding core curriculum for the 21st century. I often address how the next generation is assumed to (ALL, universally) have a high technical understanding. They don't. They have gadgets, and use them in singular ways. They ARE a little more fearless with new gadgets than the previous generation. Young people are increasingly visual and love to take pictures, often selfies, but few of my students blog or tweet or reflect on who they are presenting as their digital self. 

Waters addresses the power that a deeper understanding allows, even the simple power of being able to look behind the curtain of html. She also delves a bit into the hysteria of those who aren't interested in new literacies - especially the kings of text who resent giving up their supremacy - and how little they understand of the world most of us now inhabit, plugged into our smartphones, ipads, ipods, tablets, kindles...often all at once. We are all cyborgs now, as Amber ase so eloquently tells us, but we do NOT need to be slaves of our machine culture or the people watching us from the analog world. We are free.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Nudging Students to Success

I like to think about the work of Thaler and Sunstein (Nudges: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness), and about putting their ideas to work in learning design. 


For those of you who follow my research meanderings, you know I've been talking about Nudge Analytics, mobile nudges, and even more mobile nudges for awhile now. I'm excited about the evidence that Persistence Plus and University of Washington Tacoma have been able to gather related to mobile, whole-learner support in course performance and behaviors. (In our latest look at online math classes, 20% of PP participants made use of UWT tutoring center services while only 4% of the non-participants did. That's a huge behavioral difference, no? We nudged them to get help if they felt they were struggling. All you have to do is ask and advise.)  

So, it got me thinking...why aren't instructors doing the same with course tools available to us in the LMS? Ok, now available to some of us in some LMS. Next-gen LMS like Canvas that has amazing data tools under that pretty engine. I'm going to be presenting on this topic a number of times this Spring as I collect ideas and innovative practice for nudging, so I started the conversation at UW Bothell last week at a workshop/conversation there. I'll keep sharing, refining, asking questions in the upcoming months and I'm asking here. 

How can we use the tools in Canvas to nudge, remind, encourage, personalize, prompt, and support students - especially busy, working, distracted, stressed students - to better results? I note that I add the "especially" because this is the population going to college - the new traditional - that is seeing their safety net eroding daily. This is the population that can't afford rising tuition or increased debt. This is the population that struggles with jobs, kids, and an education system that ignores learning diversity, age, experience, preferences and needs. We are an instructor-centric, hegemonic blob that is allowing our vain desire and ravenous need to be Harvard (or UW Seattle) to blind us to the needs of our students. We're not Seattle; they're not elite, privileged, protected. 

I was reminded of the difference when I was at the mothership -UW Seattle - giving a talk on mobile nudge results. I received some strong push back regarding "pampering" and how it's not the instructor's job to "nurture" students. I was told that students "not mature enough" might not belong in college. Wait, what? A 30-some year old mother of three, juggling full-time work, student loans and parenting isn't mature enough? I think the mothership is ready to take off for Exclusivity Island. And that's ok, but there's a whole planet of learners that see a college degree as more and more necessary and they're looking to places like UWT and the state of Washington community colleges (ALL on Canvas) to help them get to their goals. We're not doing well at that and I'd like to talk about how we could do better by nudging, supporting, sharing and caring them to graduation. 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Visiting the Realm of Conjecture

Many of you know that I lost my friend, mentor, collaborator, boss - true north guide - last month. Debra Friedman passed away from a very short battle with lung cancer. I hear her voice in my ear in so many moments, and if you knew her or would like to hear her voice (in a text fashion, but still we're academics here), her last publication came out posthumously this week.

Conjecture, Tension and Online Learning is something we worked on for much of the time we've been together at UWT - two years! - as we sipped local wines, ate in "Grit City" speakeasy joints, cafes, wine bars and pubs of our Tacoma Theater District neighborhood, walked Max in the park of our new city. 

We loved our new campus, loved its urban-serving mission, its "new traditional" students, its historic warehouse architecture. We loved it all and worked hard to create a learner-focused, urban-serving university for the 21st century. Debra was a visionary and a tireless advocate for education as social justice. This piece, her idea,  was a struggle to understand why the faculty we admired would so often fight change, fight innovation, fight doing the right thing. Or, as Debra used to say, to "just do the work." Here, our last finished project together and her last publication, is what we learned. 

Friday, January 31, 2014

Voyages of Discovery

Hi. I just read a short post by Clay Shirky, titled "The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age." You should read it. We should talk.  He's the fellow who consistently is able to point out how the Emperor got drunk and ripped off his clothes. How the collective Royal Highness of Higher Education forgot that he's a servant-leader and his responsibility is to the people, not a rich elite and privileged court. How his coffers have emptied while protecting the lifestyles of the royal classes. How there are rumblings amongst the poor and unwashed and if he isn't careful, his head will roll. 


Shirky reminds us that our public universities still look like 1940, where only 5% of the population - the very wealthy 5% - got college degrees. World War II and the GI Bill changed that, and now, when a college degree is one of the few options out of poverty, the end of the Golden Age is coming at us like a bullet train. “Of the twenty million or so students in the US, only about one in ten lives on a campus. The remaining eighteen million—the ones who don’t have the grades for Swarthmore, or tens of thousands of dollars in free cash flow, or four years free of adult responsibility—are relying on education after high school not as a voyage of self-discovery but as a way to acquire training and a certificate of hireability.”

Here's the thing to hold onto: acquiring training, learning skills of the mind, becoming educated for the digital age can still be a voyage of self-discovery. For those of us who never read Faulkner or Milt Friedman or Carl Sagan, the path to a degree leads us to new ideas, opinions, dreams. And yes, we want it mixed with relevance, technology, accountability so that we're prepared to demonstrate value for the painful debt taken on. The people have been patient, but it is a very very bad model when you ask the working class to pay a back-breaking surcharge so that the royal court can spend summer in the Galapagos studying the habits of starfish. 

An affordable, flexible, meaningful education doesn't mean the end of the Golden Age, it means the beginning of a new one. One for more than the 5%. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

That Moment the Milk Turns Sour

Happy new year, gentle reader. May all the mistakes and missed opportunities of 2013 be forgotten as we move forward into a brave new digital space. Well - wait -perhaps mistakes not forgotten, for those will surely be repeated, but accepted with a bit of grace. So let's take a quick look at the messy, crazy conflation of higher education, technology and social media that landed in our laps in the last few weeks and see if grace is anywhere to be found.

Dec 20: Rebecca Schuman (aka Pan Kisses Kafka), the beloved defender of adjuncts and all things post-privilege, writes a blog post,  "Naming and Shaming" a program that gave interview candidates 5 days to arrange trips to the MLA conference. In her forthright style, she gave the program hell for being so inconsiderate of cost and stress to applicants chosen so late and with so little chance of the interview making a difference. She was right, speaking truth to power, but it's very hard for good, privileged, last-gen people to hear that we are now an abusive, corrupt, dishonest institution feeding off adjunct labor and churning out new PhDs who mostly have not a chance in hell of ever finding professional work. 

So what happens when the Academy is called out to face our own demons in the new, digital world of blogs, commentary, social media, and shifting netiquette? Bad things. 

Dec 23: A well-respected, FEMINIST, pridefully-tenured professor (aka Tenured Radical/Claire Potter) who blogs at the Chronicle, posts the next day with Job Market Rage Redux, accusing Schuman of being a drama queen, of chronic rage, and of "on line hissy fits." Hissy fits? Let's ignore the fact she'd never make these sexist language charges against a man, and that she instantly lost years of work building up "digital street cred" as a radical thinker in higher education. Let's note here that a good person in a position of power used it not just to protect the status quo, but to attack a young voice defending the not-privileged. Let's note that Potter is not unique and the Academy has protected itself from criticism, change, and adaptation since the industrial age died. Radical no more, Tenured Radical spent days defending her attacks and responding to horrified comments from the community with attacks on them too. 

The whole topic of the need to CHANGE, long simmering in higher education, seemed to come to a boil in moments, centered around abuse, privilege and adjunctification. Maybe that's how it happens. The milk seems fine until that moment you open, sniff and gag. The topic took on a life of its own with many other blogs, tweets, comments and new bloggers hopping into the fray (see this from Dec 27, and this from FB Jan 1, and this from Jan 5, and this from Jan 5...).

My fave post, although she took much heat later for the analogy, was done by Karen Kelsky (aka The Professor Is In)  in her response "How the Tenured are to the Job Market as White People are to Racism" (Jan 1). Kelsky's analyis is reasoned, thoughtful, and distressing. It's all distressing. No one wants to be on what Schuman calls "a sinking ship," especially when your whole career was on that boat. 

So, dammit. I had a therapist once who told me that "We only change when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same." Maybe the Academy is at that tipping point?




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

From now on our troubles will be out of sight

Or even better, exposed to the world in the brightest light?

I love Pinterest! Another tech example of some tiny webby idea that didn't have a "purpose" except the obvious: let people pin up web images - linked quickly and easily with simple search tagging. It's an online, social pin-up board. How simple and silly is that?

And then, something more than the sum of the parts emerged. Themes became gorgeous reflections of how we see the world (Sunset...), collections became shared commentaries on life (Is there anything more disconcerting and funny than #Nailed It?) and we began to collectively re-imagine the instantly meaningfully visual in a visual age. 

So I start with that odd wander through thoughts on Pinterest as a way to say "Happy Holiday Season" without having to say anything. Let's see it. Wander in and just let the collective vote your visually-aware self to recognition of the season's look and feel and meaning - the way we did with the 647 Repins and 100+ Likes of this link to Central Park in the snow. The Pinterest community hopes yours is as merry and bright as the way we imagine it should/could be. 

But I can't stop there. This is not my wish for you. I wish you quiet time away from the chaos of the roads and stores and expectations, and if you're one of my ID peeps,  I send you to this lovely Pinterest collection started by Tracy Parish on Instructional Design/eLearning Books. She asked the ID community to pin their fave books, and maybe even tell why. They did, and they did a great job. Some of my faves are there at the vote-getting top of the heap, and others are now on my list. 

Let us rest, let us read, and let us renew so that we can charge into 2014 with our troubles in or out of sight. Your choice. Feel free to pin it.


Monday, October 21, 2013

Shout out for multiple choice tests

Don't drop your jaw, your drink, or your keyboard but today's post is in praise of the multiple choice test. 

Readers know that I've pondered "best practice" with quiz agents in recent years, due to the surge of the LMS, and I've promoted the rich feature set in quiz options. 

So many options. Randomize questions, randomize answers, allow multiple attempts, accept highest attempt, and even the wide range of question types now available. It changes the game, certainly, but it's still a "multiple choice test" (said with disdain in my best teaching excellence voice) and I cautioned time-savings for us ("It grades itself!") vs meaningful learning. 

I was torn. I loved allowing multiple attempts as a self-assessment tool and loved the tie to research on value of in-situ, timely feedback. 

So, ambiguity in place, I was doing a workshop recently exploring the "flipped classroom." Participants who had tried flipping noted difficulty in motivating students to do the work before coming to class - a requirement in flipping. We talked about solutions and the best offered? Use of multiple choice, online exams that closed before start of class. A required pre-quiz gives students incentive to prepare, read, study before class. Participants offered the idea hesitantly, for it was recommending - yes, that inner voice again - multiple choice exams.

OK, here's the news for which my stories prime the pump: researchers recently publishing in Psychological Science (Little, Bjork, Bjork, & Angello, 2012) make a convincing case that, when constructed properly, multiple-choice tests can and do engage the productive retrieval process and do so effectively. More than that, the authors claim that multiple-choice can actually help with learning in a more effective way than cued-recall as multiple-choice questions aid in recall of information pertaining to incorrect alternatives, whereas cued-recall questions did not. 

Read it and weep, ancient souls still fighting the adoption of the LMS and online learning resources. Combining the deep feature set of online tests with the evidence for value of reinforcing retrieval and enhancing understanding of incorrect, common choices puts me firmly in the "I love Canvas, I love the LMS, I love self-assessment" camp. 

Thanks to ISPI for publicizing to the design community  and for those who can get through the firewall via your university library, here's the primary research. 

GREAT reads. Guilt relievers. Emotional support for new practice in time-saving teaching and deeper learning.