Tuesday, December 27, 2011

HE: Academy Awards for Learning Tools

It may not seem to have the glamour of Hollywood, but many of us wait eagerly for Jane Hart's yearly top 100 Learning Tools list. My peeps and I use free, subscription and installed tools all year and then more than 500 of us vote on tools that made a difference in designing teaching and learning. 

Many of the top tools have been the same for years, but perhaps this demonstrates how effectively some learning technologies are being adopted across curriculum, pedagogy, depth of technology infusion? Others are newcomers and may surprise you.  

Granted, some seem a far stretch to be called a "learning tool" but Jane's definition is generously broad: "This could be a tool you use to create or deliver learning content/solutions for others, or a tool you use for your own personal learning," and the definition permits all of us all to stretch out of the "teaching and learning management" box. Thus, the rise of Twitter the last few years. Open, connected, social, constructed learning. Jane's yearly list always fills me with hope.  

This year, you'll find much you'd expect and some new surprises. You'll be elated by the wealth of information derived from crowd-sourcing and feel dismay that there are so many tools/so little time to learn them all. Hurray to Jane for concisely sorting the votes and annotating the tools each year. 

Bookmark her site. Capture the Top 100 link and go back to it again and again for just-in-time advice on a specific tool when you need it. As we enter 2012, may your life be filled with new ideas and possibilities as we collectively explore the learning design community's top 100 tools for 2011. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy grateful thankful learning

Thanksgiving Eve: So, I've been at my new school and my new job for a month, and now, I have to heartily agree with students who tell me that "learning is HARD!" It's also - when you're engaged in the doing - exhilirating, exhausting, exciting, satisfying, and consuming. I've learned so much the last month and I don't even know how we'd go about assessing the learning. I've learned systems and culture and processes and people at UWT. I'm learning where we have challenges and where I might contribute.

I've learned about the landscape and history of Tacoma. I'm learning how to be a stranger in a strange land of the winter rain forest after living my entire adult life in the desert. I'm learning to drive my stick shift Mini on very steep hills. I'm learning by doing. And doing most of it alone. I've learned that I'm stronger, more organized, and have more resilience than I could have imagined. 

So, where's this all going on the GridKnowledge blog? If this is the place I capture new ideas for higher education, what have I learned that I can share? 
  • Be fearless. The dividends are huge.
  • Be open. People don't notice wrinkles as a sign of age. Instead, they notice your willingness to learn, adapt, listen and grow as a sign of youth.
  • Be digital. Store your knowledge in the brains of friends and colleagues that share. Google wisely. Follow the right people on Twitter. Use an RSS feed and skim the blogs of people you admire. Share and share alike. 
Products of the above?

  • There's a great new faculty resource coming out of the Teaching and Learning Center at UWT. A small group on campus, dedicated to assessment, was granted a bit of money from the UWT Founder's Fund to capture best practices in classroom assessment. Check out the Assessment Toolkit Site they set up and pick one, just one, excellent new practice to try in your classroom or online. 
  • The University of Washington is thoughtfully and methodically evaluating the new platform that they've chosen as the next generation learning management system: Canvas, by Instructure. I now have a site  in development, and am finding much that is lovely and very thoughtful in the architecture of this LMS. UW has gone to much effort to construct a help site for the rollout, which is currently being done in a limited pilot to best get rich feedback and support systems in place before production. It seems faculty at UW have waited a long time for a centrally-supported LMS and perhaps, with the choice of a very innovative system, it will have been worth the wait. 
  • BEST for last: I learned that Google released their Scholar Citations this month! W00t! Yay! Hurray! I love love love those guys. Here's my profile. It took me about four minutes to set up. Seriously, this will change much of the way academics publish their citations, not to mention finding like-minded colleagues and new research ideas. Thank you, Google!
    Want to get started? Here's the entry page.
    At UWT and want some help? Kelly Fitzgerald and I will be doing a workshop Dec 7-8 at lunch to share hints, explore use, talk about incorporating into UWT faculty profiles. Stop in.
I have to quit now. There's so much more to learn and I'm off to do just that. Happy, grateful, joyful Thanksgiving! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A myth and a hoax

Here's a spot-on,  "babies need milk" Chronicle article posted recently on The Myth of the Tech-Savvy Student.

Conclusion I draw from the piece: we've said it often and long enough that it should be a given in higher education:
  • we have an obligation to ensure that our students graduate with a digital literacy
  • that literacy should not be assumed or confused with an ease from technologies built on games, smartphones, iPods, or electronic texting and shopping
  • thoughtful technology should be infused throughout the curriculum
  • thoughtful leadership should be insisting on digital literacy with the same commitment we put into writing and critical thinking. (Don't get me started on our neglect of quantitative literacy; that's a whole new blog post.)
  • it should happen yesterday!
But, as the article points out, the majority of HE faculty (and certainly the ones with tenure and the most power in defining curriculum), are aging baby boomers who keep a distance from the fast-paced changing world of technology. They tell students that laptops aren't allowed in class. They suggest that Google is not to be used to double-check or refute the spoon-fed, expert knowledge they are imparting to the students via their lecture. They deny the value of crowd-sourced knowledge. They use the LMS in uninteresting and classroom-replicating ways. They disagree with everything the digital generation believes to be true about collective and participatory knowledge and learning.

They miss a great opportunity to teach, to define a scholarly approach to digital skill-building, to give our learners the tools and skills they'll need for the world we will all be facing.

Our students may be gadget-savvy, but most of them are not yet digitally literate. Neither are the faculty. If one wanted to start somewhere to begin thinking about what digital literacy might look like, one would try the mother of crowd-sourced knowledge, Wikipedia and notice how sad their section on digital literacy in education appears. WE could change that, if we tried.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Why I Love Online Learning


My first week at the amazing, lovely and vibrant UWT ended with a presentation to the faculty on - what else? - Why I Love Online Learning! Putting my cards on the table, letting them know who I am, what I do, and how I can help move new technologies into the curriculum if they love online learning too.

And how I love not only online learning, but all kinds of online learning. LMS, PLE, social, collaborative, reflective, asynchronous, hybrid, new remote communication possibilities, and more. Here, there, and in new ways of teaching and learning in the classroom.

We did a break-out after my brief #show&tell and it seems I  have collaborators and doubters. But the doubters were kind and articulate ("It's the Tacoma way!").

So, what did I tell them about WHY?

  • Not just because I'm a technology monkey ("Ooh, pretty new bright shiny object. Oh wait! Look! Another pretty new bright shiny object!") 
  • And not just because online learning has changed so much and so inventively in the last few years. 
  • And not just because the LMS has changed how quickly and strategically we can deliver consistent, quality learning experiences.

No, not just for those reasons. More importantly, for the reasons to the right. We are a nation going to college, and the new, "traditional" student is not the student of the past. The students we see today don't always love the classroom ("always" being generous here), They don't value the lecture format, don't crave text-heavy learning experiences, and don't take pride in the carefully crafted/APA format/scholarly essay. They don't live on campus, work few hours, or have time to kill.

And not many of them make it to graduation.  Students enter with high hopes,  but a recent report suggests that the US spent 4 BILLION over 5 years on community college students who dropped out the first year. It's better, but not good at the 4-year institutions. Students are going increasingly into debt ($100 billion in student debt??) just to find that they weren't prepared. Not for the cost, the rigor, the time, the effort needed. Approximately 50% of them will leave with great debt and little learning to show for it.

Something must change. WE must change. We need to use the tools and resources now available to create new learning experiences that are accessible, affordable, flexible, engaging, and relevant to the new learner (all of us, all ages, all races, all economic levels) as s/he comes to us with faith, heart, hope in hand. We can change the numbers above because we now have the tools.
And that's why I love online learning!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Six Tips on Doing Research in Graduate School

Google Scholar and bit of RefWorks

Packing up for new beginnings in Tacoma. One of my last projects at ASU was to do a few talks on research and scholarship for graduate students here at the College of Public Programs.  21st century learners need 21st century tools. Our lives changed with the rapid transition to the information age. So did our scholarship. Students need digital help to find, evaluate, capture, sort, and re-find knowledge they need.

So, kudos to the School of Social Work at CoPP that brought me in (along with a number of other important resources) for a Graduate Student Success Day. What I said, in a nutshell, with some pics: "Smart is no longer what you know. It's how quickly you can find and effectively evaluate what you need to know, when you need to know it." My talk was about tools that help us do that.

Here's a quick animated (Flash) summary explaining how and an accompanying text summary below:

1) Use Google Scholar
2) Get to Google Scholar by entering through the Library page, so that it is Library aware
3) Set your library and bibliographic manager choices in Scholar Preferences
4) Use RefWorks to quickly capture annotated bibliographies, effectively storing part of your brain (the part you'd forget or lose in a heap of paper) in the cloud. 
5) When writing your papers, use RefWorks to create your bibliographic citations on the fly by moving your citations to a temporary folder as you write and producing bibliography to paste at end
6) Serious scholars should take the time to download and learn to use Write N' Cite, the free software that plugs into MS Word, making it RefWorks aware. Write your papers this way for maximum effectiveness.

Despite your faculty never telling you about them. Have a heart...tell your faculty. Scholarship entered the 21st century of digital access while we napping. And that's where Google Scholar rocks. Using the same ranking and referral logic it applies to its search engine, it finds and RANKS scholarly resources on the topic of your search. This is a game changer. Students no longer wander through library online resources, wasting time reading crud. They're directed straight to the most significant resources of that topic, and shown the number of scholarly sources that cited that piece.

AND that's just the start, but sadly it's where those who have discovered Google Scholar often stop. At my seminars on scholarship, I talk about the importance of setting your Scholar Preferences.

Scholar Preferences: click the little wheel at the top right of most browsers when you're in Google Scholar. There's a preference, called Library Links, that allows you to choose and access your own University Library's online resources so that you can click in, authenticate, read the article online. (Many/most scholarly resources still aren't free without subscription. Setting preferences for your own University Library lets you in directly.)

Don't stop there. At the bottom of the page, there's another preference for Bibliography Manager. You need one. Good University Libraries support RefWorks, which I happen to believe is the slickest and most customer friendly scholarly tool out there. If you've wandered to this blog from somewhere outside HE, there are free bibliographic managers, like Zotero, or one-time purchase ones like Endnote (which Scholar also supports) but when a University pays BUNDLES for a RefWorks license, it is a great gift to scholars and you should learn to use it.

So, use Google Scholar preferences. Set your prefs so that you can access materials from your Library with one-click and import into your RefWorks account with one-click. It will save you countless hours in front-end finding and storing. Import and annotate every article you read, when you're reading it.

On to RefWorks. If you don't have an account, go get one. Capture annotations, great quotes, search terms in your annotation and note fields. You'll forget what you read, but RefWorks will remember and retrieve it when you need it. Thus, making you 21st century smart.

I'll stop there as RefWorks is supported by the Library and the librarians offer support and training. But they might not show you how to set up Google Scholar so here you go. Happy trails, do good and do great research!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy Trails and Endless Learning Adventures

If you haven't heard yet, I'm packing my bags and heading west. I'm not stopping till I hit the Puget Sound in beautiful Tacoma, WA. After 20 years in the Sonoran desert, I'll be embracing rain forest where I'll join the University of Washington Tacoma as Assistant Chancellor of Instructional and Learning Technologies.

It was a very hard decision until I got there for a visit. A gorgeous campus, constructed from century-old historic warehouses, saved and transformed into amazing classrooms and collaborative learning spaces. A beautiful town that is rich with history, culture, green, the Sound, parks, distinct neighborhoods, and what seems to be an engaged, blue-state group of people. I think I can be happy there and change will do me good. Besides, there is increasing evidence that embracing change helps you live a long, healthy, active life. Time for me go.

Mostly, of course, I'm heading to Tacoma for the job. I'll have an opportunity to work with open, committed faculty and wonderful IT groups both at Tacoma and the centralized UW technologies at Seattle. Great resources are in place to create amazing e-learning environments. With these resources in place (nothing outsourced!) and a caring, learning-centered culture, I'll be at the corner of Commerce and Easy Street. All it will take to infuse technology into that mix is effort, passion, research and a few good ideas. W00t!

Final draw: the Chancellor at UWT, Debra Friedman, shares my vision of a HE that needs to adapt to the changing population now entering college and the changing needs of the society that awaits them. She wants me to help all willing faculty of the campus create learning that engages students not just a few hours a week in a classroom, but 24/7 whenever and wherever the learner is best able to engage. She wants programs that will serve the nearby military base so that Lewis-McChord soldiers don't have to end their education when they ship out. (Serve those who serve us.) She understands how hard it is for the nearby reservations to send their leadership away for an education when they're so deeply needed at home. She knows some learners don't thrive in a classroom but love to learn and deserve to have their needs respected in the educational system. She knows older learners have commitments that often preclude the standard "butt in seat" classroom time-measure of an education.

All this as way of explaining the where and why regarding announcement of leaving my beloved desert and ASU's fascinating, NASCAR-like experiment in transforming higher education. Kudos for creating a bold, brawny (perhaps a bit brutish) New American University. It's been amazing. I was here 20 years, I did my best, and now it's time to go. Happy trails. Do good, be good, be fearless, and have buckets of fun. Come visit in Tacoma!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

eLearning? iLearning? oLearning? What??

My head is spinning. My professional body is losing it's connection to the earth. I swear this story is true. At ASU, they now divide online courses into i-Courses (traditional-program students taking internet courses) and o-Courses (online-program students taking internet courses). Students who normally register on their own without problem are now lining up outside advisors' offices, physically and virtually. Online and on-ground. On-phone and on-form. They're confused by the vowels. They want a course. Taught by their favorite professor. It's in the schedule of classes. They can't take it?

No, they're an i. It's an o. They're an o, it's and i. It's a mess. And it doesn't help that every school or program interpreted the i-o vowel memo differently, and so each program labels the course designations differently.

Wait, we haven't even started with the head-spin and body levitation yet. What IF same favorite instructor as above offers an e-course (my own neutral term), and their program WANTS to offer this course via the internet to ground-students and to online-students? They want the instructor to teach it only once. Well, the instructor must open TWO sections for that same course, so that the administrators can keep separate count of the students. I swear this is true. Students in the same degree program, taking the same online course, divided by whether they live near campus or not.

It's my job to explain the logic of this decision to faculty and to help them step through the maze of creating two sections but one online experience. And it gets worse. The administrators of ASU Online (administrators that support the Schools' fully online programs--the o-students) chose a different LMS than ASU's Blackboard; they chose Pearson eCollege Learning Studio. A house divided by a platform for which Pearson can't even decide on a name. Pearson? eCollege? Learning Studio? You choose. No one knows.

Still, this is not the problem. Like Valdemort, an LMS need not be named. We know it's there; the name is minor. The real hurdle for instructors is that they have used Blackboard for a very long time and are told (often very late in the game) that they need to use the LMS with confused name because o-students will be in the course. Thus, if the i-students take the class, they must experience the LMS they've never seen before so that o-students will not. Small worry that the instructor must teach in an LMS they've never seen before.

Caveat: What if it's an i-course (not an o-course) and an advisor decides that it's needed by an o-student to graduate or to meet a pre-requisite? Then, without the extra o-section or o-LMS, the advisor sneaks the o-student in the i-course. And guess what? Just as in busing in the 60s, the e-learners (my vowel again) get along fine.

Change is hard. In a culture-bound institution, it's much harder than it needs to be. But bless our administrators' hegemonic hearts, they ARE trying. (Students and faculty would say that they are VERY trying.) On the bright side, whether named with an i, an o, an e...more fully digital e-courses are appearing each term. And our students are lining up to take them.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Talk to Me! Click. Vote. Tweet.

Thx to UNC-Charlotte for the pic of students clicking
One of the culture shocks experienced while offering workshops to Chinese students at Sias International University was the silence out there. They didn't ask questions. They didn't want to answer questions when asked. Turns out they didn't want to embarrass ME in case I didn't know the answer. I explained that American professors are comfortable not knowing the answer, and we encourage questions.

Now, I'm thinking, I didn't quite tell the truth. OK, I hope that I told a theoretical truth, but in practice, we know we're generally asking the few, eager, extroverted, usually attention-seeking students in the front rows. We know their questions and we know our answers. What if we really did want students in the back rows to let us know what they don't understand? There are new and interesting ways to ask them, even in large lectures and I'd like to think aloud about a few of them.

First, the infamous "clickers" or more formally "classroom response systems" (CRS). Clickers can be a great way to get low-stake feedback. For those new to these hand-held gadgets, here's Wired's take on the subject. But, the classroom setup and the individual devices can be both pricey and hard to manage. Too often
purchased by the students and poorly used by the instructor, the cost and cumbersome management can cause some resentment.

Some say the technology is not the pedagogy, and all we really need is fingers or paper. Anyone who knows me would predict that I'd easily agree with first statement, but think the absence of anonymity in public voting with fingers means you sacrifice honest and unworried responses. There is great value in digital voting, especially when used to "talk back", to tell me what was understood, to share confusion and give me a chance to see where I got it wrong in teaching. For that, I love all the instant voting/digital tools. And if the voting can leverage gadgets already in the students' pockets? Bonus.

So I want to mention PollEverywhere, which is a great alternative to clickers. Web-based, it allows students to respond to questions via whatever they have: smart phone text, Twitter, Web page. It allows us to leverage what our students carry AND ask them what is not known. I like the low stakes entry, as the software offers free polling when asking for less than 30 responses. Instructors can test in small courses or in doing group work, and if you love it, ask your director/dean/CIO to purchase a site license for unlimited responses. It changes the large lecture experience.

Another way in to the participatory learner is to use Twitter via SAP's interactive PowerPoint Twitter tool. Ask students to create a Twitter account and send you Tweets that are compiled dynamically right in your PowerPoint presentation. I love this plugin, and have found it invaluable in teaching and in presentation settings where I know a number of people would otherwise be zoning out.

It occurs to me that "blended learning" could also be used to describe a F2F class that logs into webinar software (Adobe Connect, WebEx, GoToMeeting, ... you choose) and make use of the chat, poll, discussion notes feature of real-time participation.

Lots of choices. We'd be using them if we really want to "know that our students know what we need them to know" (Tom D'Angelo). All of them would tell us. If we asked the right questions. In the right way for our increasingly diverse learners. Assessment amplified, and delivered via a plethora of software and devices now found in our pockets, backpacks, app-ready devices.

Friday, June 17, 2011


Not a standard topic for Grid Knowledge, but I did go for a symposium on creating positive change, so I'm making the leap that anyone interested in emerging trends will be fascinated by the sites, smells, sounds and solutions now seen in the world's new super-power.

Amazing, astounding, breath-taking. A new China. It was an enchanting trip, better told with 100 pictures than 1,000 words so here's my Picassa sets semi-sorted and labelled:

Now the words, for there are so many stories and so much learned:
At Sias International University (site of the WAFW symposium), I saw college students studying from 6am til 11pm. At Xi'an, I saw a city weaving it's place as ancient city with a new focus on smart industry.

In Beijing, I saw a city reinventing itself overnight. Light rail anywhere you might want to go, installed in a few short years. (In Phoenix, we fight for years to run one short line and still quibble over the value of public transportation in a West owned by the wealthiest drivers.) Beijing was Ming's Tomb and the Forbidden City; the Summer Palace and lessons from Dr. Tea. It was the crazy, all-night "walking street" of food and trinkets and treasures. It was elegant meals and live centipedes eaten on a stick. It was breath-taking.

In Shanghai, oh the sites and sounds and smells and markets and gardens. They say Beijing is China's DC and Shanghai is the mainland's New York City. I suppose that's right. It was exciting from early morning till I couldn't keep my eyes open at night. It was Old Town Shanghai and endless skyscrapers; the public gardens and the crowded, colorful markets; it was high culture and all-night massage shops. It was a shopper's dream, and although I am NOT a shopper, I couldn't resist visiting the beautiful pearl and silk markets and the not-legal designer back alley stores. I loved it all, spent too much, ate almost everything (rank, "stinky tofu", yes; live centipedes on sticks...no). It was my favorite city because I was there with my friend Elena Zee, where she was raised and her family showed me more kindness than I deserved. Plus, I got my colleague and symposium travel partner/pal, Kathy Puckett, to come with me - so even the travel from Beijing (including missed connections and 24-hr layovers) was a lifetime memory of fun.

I can't begin to describe how little I understood what Fareed Zakaria speaks of when he writes about "Post American World 2.0" until I saw China with my own eyes. There, children in kindergarten are learning English. The government is moving to create a strong, modern infrastructure. The people have a hope, energy and enthusiasm about the future that the USA seems to have surrendered to bickering and internal discord. There is excitement in the streets and people do their best or "eat bitter" without complaint, working to create something new.
I want that for my people as well. I want that for students at ASU. I want that love of the future to exist in me.

Not that it was all good. Many believe it's moving too fast, and there are consequences to ignoring problems with environment, growth, relocation, and the taste of capitalism becoming a hunger incompatible with a firm, Communist government. There's also Tibet, Mongolia and the Western China regions beginning to raise up and ask for recognition of identity. We don't hear much about this, and the Chinese hear less, but it's happening. Because the 21st Century is a new time and a new story for China.

It went by too fast: I saw so much, learned so much, have already forgotten too much. I have to go back, and travel that massive landscape more slowly. Till then, my memories are recorded in piles of digital shapes and colors up at Picassa. They're only a poor simulcra of my experiences over 17 days, 5 cities...but it's a start.